The Earring Show is a unique exhibition that highlights contemporary craftsmanship, and aspects of present-day culture. Over the years, we have worn earrings for a multitude of reasons. In this year’s Show, the design, technique and materials used, and/or the conceptual basis of the earrings, which includes culture, political statements or personal meaning, all shed light on the incredible talent of contemporary artists from around the world. The exhibition will feature 122 artists and just over 250 pairs of earrings that have been handcrafted for the event.
This post is divided into two sections. The first highlights several earrings in the Show with notable technique, materials used or design. The second part provides examples of earrings with interesting conceptual backgrounds. All the information used in this post is taken from written materials provided by participating artists, including artists’ statements. Unfortunately, space does not permit to include all the earrings submitted to the show. However, this post presents just a few examples that reflect how this exhibition reflects contemporary craft and contemporary culture.
contemporary craft: technique + materials + design
Today, many jewellers still use ancient practices, while others incorporate the use of newer tools. Artists participating in the Show used traditional practices such as lost-cast waxing, soldering, welding, hand engraving and the practice of filigree. Additionally, a significant number of artists combined the use of present-day technology, such as the use of CAD or 3D printing, with practices such as lost-cast waxing. Other artists relied more heavily on 3D printing to produce their pieces. The use of technology within jewellery making communities remains an ongoing discussion in this sector.
Makers continue to incorporate a variety of different mediums in their jewellery – and this year, there is certainly a breadth of variety in material used. Tania Scott and Lise Saurette’s earrings feature seaweed, flowers and kelp gathered from the Arctic and Tofino, respectively. Gabriela Sierra, Anthia Barboutsis and Marina Louw’s earrings incorporate precious gemstones and metals, often playfully alongside other materials. Cicy Ching and Bridget Catchpole designed their earrings using recycled materials in protest against environmental degradation and mass production. Other materials in the Show include ceramics, resin, enamel and textiles.
There is a wide array of designs in the Show this year – from statement studs to hanging sculptures, and almost everything in between. A handful of earrings have interactive pieces, such as Meichan Yuan’s piece that features a vase with removable flowers (to be worn as earrings or a brooch); Vanessa Shum’s earrings include a pinwheel that spins on a frame; Dingyuan Liu’s earrings that also feature spinning parts; and Claudine Gévry’s earrings feature chargeable LED directly in the earrings. There are also several spectacular ear cuffs submitted this year. The variety of earrings reflects the contemporary moment in which the artists from around the world are empowered to design their earrings as they choose, for the purposes they choose.
contemporary depth: conceptual bases + themes
Earrings cannot be divorced from culture. The pieces often reflect different aspects of the artist’s identity, who are rooted in a particular cultural time and place, such as geographic, lifestages or otherwise. There are a number of conceptual themes that emerged through the artists’ statements this year, including philosophy, women, societal issues and nature as inspiration. Here are some instances of the way different concepts informed the artist’s work:
- Lei (Yuna) Zhang is inspired by a famous quote that states books are the ladder of human progress; she believes they are the driving force of life. Her earrings use an abstract geometric pattern of stairs to express the ladder of human progress and the desire for growth and progress.
- Anna Kovbasiuk’s earrings are inspired by Sargassum and Turbinaria, two algae that have the potential to fatally harm, or serve as a medicine. Sargassum, when filled with bacteria, has the potential to lethally harm a person’s health. Turbinaria is used as an alternative medicine to treat multiple diseases. Through her earrings, she urges us to ponder on the fact that every choice we make has consequences.
- Yifan Kang’s earrings are inspired by the peacock’s tail (Cauda Pavonis) in alchemy. Alchemists burn materials to ashes and then purify them to ‘let them regain life again’; the change of colour between black and white is called the peacock’s tail.
- Sara Farhangi’s ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ earrings are aimed to amplify the voice of men and women in Iran who are fighting for their rights, such as freedom and democracy, a movement triggered by the unjust death of Mahsa Amini.
- Emily Yue’s earrings are titled “Taint,” and touch on issues of how the female body is perceived; she writes how women can be labelled through the lens of purity and ‘taintedness’, which can create a dichotomy that separates women into categories like merchandise. The earrings aim to reflect this problematic concept.
- Anica Lin’s earrings explore the concept of female fragility, and what it means to find power within it. She shares that her personal interpretation of female fragility is translated through her experience as a victim of sexual assault. She writes that ultimately, she wants the wearer of the earrings to feel both empowered and fragile.
- Iliana Lawerence designed earrings that look like cow tags for cattle (QR codes included). In her statement, she discusses how with the advent of dating apps such as tinder, there is a danger in mindlessly presenting ourselves like livestock – while the owning tech companies profit immensely. She hopes her earrings provoke conversations of substance on these issues.
- Bridget Catchpole makes her work using post-consumer plastics to draw attention to human-caused climate change. Her art practice focuses on the global problem of plastic pollution; she collects single-use plastic debris for her pieces in order to shift perceptions of plastic consumption in the waste stream. Through her work, she invites people to reconsider the ‘material of a thousand uses.’
inspired by nature
- Many earrings submitted were inspired by the nature in B.C. – whether by its rainforests (Bev Ellis), the seemingly ceaseless rain (Laraa Cerman) or the sea (Melissa Hudson, Rosie Harris).
- Kate Gardiner’s earrings are inspired by the Rangelands, an area in western New South Wales. Every curve, color, and shape has been inspired by elements of the land – its trees, form, the sky at night or the soil.
- Many artists designed their earrings based on what they see in nature, such as a cracked open geode with crystals inside (Hilary Ginger), jellyfish (Jessica Chicoine) or butterflies (Jiawen Ye).
There are tremendous tools, materials and teachings available to creatives around the world. The way in which craftspeople choose to make their craft has greatly expanded, paving the way for new ways of engaging with jewellery making. Yet, in looking at the earrings in the Show, it is obvious that it is the identity of the artists who have shaped the final pieces – the tools and techniques become only as valuable as the artist deems them. All of the earrings, with or without a conceptual background, make a statement – either practically or through what they omit – a statement on the nature of adornment, definitions of beauty, on methods or cultural realities. Artists may refuse to work with technology, only use recycled plastics or adhere to only a handful of specific methods passed down through their practice. The final pieces may also provide space to invite both the craft community and the general public into deeper discussions on societal issues – a unique way to provoke sometimes difficult, sometimes joyful discussions. Today, in many parts of the world, we have the freedom to make, wear, exhibit and engage with contemporary craft. It is a privilege and joy to celebrate contemporary craft in our present-day culture through The Earring Show 2023!