Eléna Gee is one of the leading figures in Aotearoa New Zealand’s contemporary jewellery history. Closely associated with the groundbreaking local jewellery movement commonly referred to as Bone, Stone, Shell, during the 1980s and ‘90s Gee developed an accomplished body of work that was singular in the field of the time.

Working with a range of materials that included plastics, stone, precious, semi-precious and industrial metals, locally sourced and found materials, Gee’s work departed from the formal concerns for which the Bone, Stone, Shell era is best known. Challenging her materials rather than seeking to simply elevate them, Gee prioritised abstraction over formalism, to pursue an inward-looking, subjective language that would exceed simple linkages between body and place.

 

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Eléna Gee (b. 1949, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand) is a contemporary jeweller based in Henderson, New Zealand. Largely self-taught, throughout her career Gee developed a rigorous studio practice, extending her skills through workshops with leading international jewellers including Arline Fisch, Herman Jünger and Otto Künzli. From 1970 -1981 Gee lived and worked in Australia, where she exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions including the Crafts Council of Australia Annual Exhibition (1973) and the Crafts Board of Australia touring exhibition Objects to human scale (1980).

Following her return to New Zealand in 1981, Gee became a member of a number of important New Zealand-based craft and artist collectives including Fingers, Details and the Association of Women Artists. She tutored and led workshops in both Australia and New Zealand, accepting a teaching position on the influential Craft & Design course at Carrington Polytechnic (now Unitec) in 1986 and a three-month tenure as craftsperson-in-residence at Nelson Polytechnic (now NMIT). 

The Dowse Art Museum invited Gee to curate the inaugural New Zealand Jewellery Biennial exhibition, Open Heart (1993). Her own work would be included in the two subsequent editions curated by Kobi Bosshard (1996) and Richard Bell (1998) respectively. Further exhibition highlights include Schmuckszene, Munich Germany (1993), Mau Mahara, New Zealand Crafts Council touring exhibition (1991), Antipodean Dreams, Auckland Museum Te Paenga Hira (1990), Bone, Stone, Shell Foreign Affairs exhibition touring New Zealand, Australia and Asia (1988), and Skin Sculpture, City Gallery, Wellington (1982). Her work is held in private collections in New Zealand, Australia and the United States of America as well as the collections of Auckland Museum Te Paenga Hira, Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, The Dowse Art Museum and The National Gallery of Australia. 

Elle Loui August is an independent writer, researcher and exhibition-maker who works from Fount-Via design studio in Te Rimu Tahi, Ponsonby. Her previous exhibitions for Objectspace include Mirror Grain: Ann Verdcourt, Katrina Beekhuis, Charlotte Drayton (2018), Sione Monu: Kahoa Kakala: (2017) and Beauty is in the Street (2016).  She has developed exhibitions and events for a wide range of exhibition venues across Aoteaoroa New Zealand, from artist-run initiatives to academic contexts, including the research-driven projects Mercury, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland (2016); The day is a fume, The Physics Rooms, Ōtautahi Christchurch (2014). She has written extensively on craft and visual art for galleries and publications, most recently contributing the essay Te Marama/The Moon: After Lina Bo Bardi(2019) to the touring design exhibition, Present Tense: Wāhine Toi Aotearoa.

Eléna Gee circa 1987, New Zealand. Image: John Daley. © Te Papa. Te Papa (F.012325/11)

Eléna Gee, necklace, 1986. Collection of Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Eléna Gee, box containing pendant, brooch, ring, seal bone, coral, silver, lexan, 1987. Collection of Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand.

Eléna Gee, shell casting, silver, c.1991. Collection of the artist.