Silver Speaks: Idea to Object - at the V&A Silver Galleries

A new exhibition at the V&A demonstrates the ideas behind 18 specially commissioned works by expert silversmiths.

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How do craftspeople come up with ideas for their work, develop and make them? As someone who writes about contemporary craft, I’m constantly fascinated by the creative process, so when I was asked by Contemporary British Silversmiths to curate their show in the V&A’s Silver Galleries, I knew how I wanted to explore this theme, and encourage craftspeople to make and sell.

Hence Silver Speaks: Idea to Object, an exhibition of specially commissioned works by 18 silversmiths. The display, designed by rising design star Marcin Rusak, contains sketches, drawings, photos, models and the processes used to make the objects as well as the final pieces themselves.

The exhibition demonstrates the complex ideas that lie behind their making and the high level of skills and methods used by contemporary silversmiths, from the traditional to the most cutting edge. These silversmiths love the metal’s varied qualities and appearances and what, in their hands, it can be made to express.

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A number of makers are inspired by nature. Abigail Brown’s monolithic silver vessel with applied enamel lichens, Boscawen-Un, stems from her lifelong interest in ancient monuments and the lichens and moss that grow on them, while Rauni Higson’s Brushstroke platter draws on the wild landscape of Snowdonia.

The Scottish landscape inspires Hazel Thorn’s Wrapped Birch fruit bowl/centrepiece, made of fused silver and gilding metal and Hamish Dobbie’s Growth Vase with its hexagonal components that echo the geological formations of Fingal’s Cave on Staffa.

Water is the key to Nan Nan Liu’s sensuous Waves sculpture, and also to Clive Burr’s enormous Ice Windows bowl, inspired by childhood memories of the seaside in wintertime.

Winter scene: Clive Burr’s Ice Windows bowl is inspired by childhood visits to the seaside

Collecting found objects while walking through the landscape influences Stuart Cairns’s To Make a Thing, strange utensils made from silver and discarded articles, and Cara Murphy’s Juxtapose cups, whose found sea-worn brick handles insert, somewhat suggestively, into a succession of silver beakers.

For some silversmiths like Anna Lorenz, it is dense cityscapes and architectural spaces that fuel the imagination to make her Urban candle holder. Kyosun Jung’s silver and leather clutch handbag also comes from her research into contemporary architecture, as well as fashion and fabrics, along with the study of the Bokjumeoni, a Korean lucky pouch.

Other pieces look as if they derive from the urban, but are inspired by philosophical or mathematical concepts. Mary Ann Simmons’s 12:24, a faceted bowl, is based on her interest in geometry and box making. Rebecca de Quin’s Vector, a set of four vessels, looks architectural, but is derived from how she thinks about making and surface decoration.  

Inspiration: Hazel Thorn’s Wrapped Birch fruit bowl/centrepiece echoes the Scottish landscape

Other makers look at historical conventions, for example Rajesh Gogna’s silver and acrylic Retro-ism Ice Tea for One ice tea set, stems from his interest in how silver “lives” when placed on furniture, while Juliette Bigley’s Two Bowls refers to our emotional and physical place in the world. Adi Toch’s Soft Vessels on Stilts look like museum displays of ancient clay pots. They quiver on their slender stilts, but each pours beautifully. Angela Cork’s Pillow cutlery set originates from her celebration of the handmade, combined with her interest in making cutlery that feels comfortable to hold and is also visually balanced. 

The Victoria & Albert Museum shop will stock work by makers in the show from Monday June 6, and all the makers have work for sale. All can be contacted via the Contemporary British Silversmiths website.

Silver Speaks: Idea to Object, runs at the V&A Silver Galleries, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, until January 31 next year.

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