National Treasure

18 december 2013 / fashion / words kate nicholson

Taiwan’s contemporary jewelers have long struggled in obscurity, but a new generation of organizations is shedding new light on their craft.


Experimentation is key in work by Yu-Chun Chen, one of the founders of MANO.


In Taiwan, institutional, economic and public support for the field of contemporary jewelry lags behind the decades-old scenes in European countries like Germany or the Netherlands. Makers from Taiwan must travel overseas to further their studies and careers. Those that stay at home work as designers in traditional jewelry studios or commercial fashion companies or leave the field completely.



Rings by Min-Ling Hsieh, also a MANO founder (left) and Shu-Lin Wu specializes in ceramic jewelry (right).


Recently, however, a few passionate individuals and organizations are attempting to address the gap that is leaving young, trained Taiwanese art jewelers with no clear future. The National Taiwan Craft Research Institute and a handful of local universities run high quality metalsmithing courses; Bomb Metal and Fry Jewelry, established almost a decade ago, is arguably Taiwan’s first gallery dedicated to selling and exhibiting experimental jewelry; and in just the past two years, local artists have founded a score of jewelry studios and collectives such as META’METAL, I-San13 and Bench 886. These efforts, coupled with the establishment of MANO Contemporary Jewellery & Object, a commercial jewelry gallery and knowledge exchange platform founded in Taipei early this year, mean that a viable career path might be just around the corner.


Han-Chieh Chang’s brooches.


While living in Europe, contemporary jewelers Yu-Chun Chen and Min-Ling Hsieh began organising yearly exhibitions of international conceptual jewelry in Taiwan through their company, MANO Contemporary Jewellery Curation. They quickly realized that an annual event, however well received at the time, was not enough to inspire the local making community and general public long term – so they teamed up with Shu-Lin Wu and Carissa Wen-Hsien Hsu, also jewelers who lived in Europe, to open MANO. “It’s better to have a small base for one year or even longer, always there so that when people pass by you become [a part of] their lives,” she explains. “At least now, if [people] talk about contemporary jewelry, they will say, ‘I know. I’ve heard about it,’ instead of ‘What is that?’”

Around 40 percent of the jewelers that MANO represents are Taiwanese; the remainder come from other parts of Asia and the West. This ratio is due in part to necessity—“there are not so many local artists,” says Hsu—and in part to a desire to offer career opportunities to Taiwan’s young makers. “It’s not so interesting if we have a gallery that promotes only foreign artists,” she says. “We want the Taiwanese jewelry community to grow.” Indeed, some of the artists represented by MANO “are really local,” says Hsu. “They have studied only in Taiwan and have a different kind of work.”


Ying-Hsiu Chen’s sea creature-like pendants.


Gieh-Wen Lin describes herself as a “modern nomad,” having spent half of her life in Taiwan and the other half in Europe. Her ancestry is Seediq, one of Taiwan’s 14 indigenous groups, and she regularly references her heritage in her work. Han-Chieh Chang uses enamel and metal to create brooches that replicate the walls of the Southern Fujian-style red brick houses that are fast disappearing from Taiwan’s rural and urban landscapes. “What I yearn to capture is a sense of [Taiwan’s] precious culture and tradition, to arouse a common memory,” she says. Ying-Hsiu Chen’s large sea creature-like pendants are made by squeezing super light clay through stocking material. She was influenced by the shells and corals that are scattered across the white sand beaches of Penghu, the tropical archipelago in the Taiwan Strait that she calls home.


Alice Bo-Wen Chang’s metal, resin and acrylic pieces.


One of the gallery’s recent exhibitions, called Wear/Aware, explored the ways in which young artists in Asia incorporate their culture and life experiences into their practice. Alice Bo-Wen Chang , one of the three Taiwanese jewelers included in the exhibition, trained and worked as an architect in Taiwan and the US. This background is clearly identifiable in her angular metal, resin and acrylic jewelry pieces. Her works, which are both machine and hand cut, reference the model building and plan making skills that she developed in her previous profession. “My work is about geometry and its relationship to the body,” Chang says. “This concept has driven me to use photo-etching, laser cutting and 3D printing for the repetitive patterns.”


Ara Kuo finds influence in her family’s brush factory.


Ara Kuo, who also has work in Wear/ Aware, is a graduate of metalsmithing and jewelry programmes in Australia and Italy. Her deceptively pretty works, made from silver, pearls and bristles, are influenced by a childhood spent in her family’s brush-making factory in Taiwan. “When she was little, the first time she drew something, it was not with a colored pencil or crayon, it was with a calligraphy brush,” says Carissa Wen-Hsien Hsu, who curated the exhibition. For Kuo, “these shapes or materials immediately bring back [memories of] home.”


Neon tubes in earrings by Cheng-Syuan Liu.


Among the Taiwanese jewelers represented by MANO, many work with media that the four gallery founders thought would be difficult for local audiences to accept: Cheng-Syuan Liu makes earrings that combine neon colored acrylic tubes with sterling silver; An-Chi Wang’s brooches are made of wood and silver, although she does not limit herself to just those materials; and Janny Huang Yokota’s delicate pieces are made from diverse media including silver, cement, enamel, paper and found objects such as coral and rocks.


Wood and silver brooch by An-Chi Wang.


Contemporary jewelers flit deftly between design, art and traditional craft, a position that can make their artwork difficult to classify and, more practically, to market. Surprisingly, the pieces that the MANO team thought would be more commercially viable—those that featured gemstones or were made using

precious metals—have been received in much the same way as the jewelry made using alternative mediums. Carissa Wen-Hsien Hsu cites a recent exhibition of plastic-based work by Japanese jeweler Jun Konishi as proof. “We thought plastic would not be [easily] accepted as jewelry in Asia or Taiwan but [his works] sold quite well,” she says. Only three of the 19 one-of-a-kind brooches remain in stock.


Janny Huang Yokota’s jewelry pieces with hidden spaces.

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