Essay

[Sur]face value

Deadweight Loss: The Value of Making

As a rule, Moniek Schrijer’s works are not intended for consumption. There is a coup d’état at play when one looks at such a resourceful practice – one which challenges the conventions of contemporary jewellery by subverting systems of value through a rigorously attuned material sensibility, imbued with her impressively deft craftspersonship. Schrijer’s use of materials can be read as a survey of unconventional ephemera – gleaning from reserves that bring forth cues or questions around defunct technologies, the human body or the objectives of market consumption.

The indelible nature of Moniek Schrijer’s pendants, as they have been presented today, aggravate those market value systems by introducing a new set of rebellious standpoints. They rest inside plush boxes – razed, open and propped up for view – mounted on their indented textured planes, like pharaonic relics. Schrijer’s Surface Studies (2016-2020) are perhaps pendants no longer – resting in their tomb-like containers lined by tactile materials (leather, sheepskin, cotton) that evoke anthropomorphic qualities, as they speak of physical resting points; a sensation of adornment that was once placed against the human form. Yet here we are, wondering how to consume these works which occupy the inside of a concrete clay container. Schrijer’s geological compositions say more about the pendant format than they ever could were our bodies to wear them – they implore us to ask: how are we to present or adorn ourselves today?

The process of conjuring these unlikely interrogations often begins, for Schrijer, by grouping material resources that distort the notion of jewellery making – once perceived as an act of constructive feedback with one’s environment. What Schrijer presents, instead, is the environment itself – or rather a portrait of the environment, wherein her presentation of materials such as pounamu and lambskin, sitting atop one another in works like Wetland Oasis (2019), breach conventions of ecological phenomena. These elemental compositions say as much about the jeweller and her strategies of presentation as they do about the spatial cohabitation of material provenances. There is a complex thoughtfulness at play where her juxtaposition of materials is concerned. Just as Mara Tranquillitatis (2019) traverses a placid lunar basin and Dallol (2019) surveys an acidic hydrothermal Ethiopian landscape; the distant geologies that were provided by Google Earth have allowed Schrijer to interpret historic, geographic and cosmic associations with the human body. These painterly portraits of topographical landscapes rest on metallic surfaces like a shallow skin that is pocked with gemstone constellations (citrine, uranium glass, pounamu, rose quartz, smoky quartz). Each of Schrijer’s material cues performs sets of rudimentary gestures – fused in unison, these elements navigate delicately between the flat plane and three-dimensional space, as they simultaneously proclaim: we cohabit this world, at a time and in a state that is unlike any other.

A notion of otherworldliness may also be witnessed when one experiences works by Schrijer that explore the obsolescence of technological ephemera. Earlier iterations of her Slide Pendants from 2016 were presented in a 50 x 50 mm slide- projector format, producing photo-diagrammatic silhouettes against the gallery wall that evoked an array of phenomenological usages of form with list-like precision; a biomorphic blob, a hand-like claw, a diving bird, a cameo, a round-toothed comb – and so on, for over eighty consecutive projections that the viewer witnesses as the carousel turned from slide to slide. The surrealistic air of the fleeting projections may be interpreted as Schrijer’s memory, retention of information and associations made with this mode of communicative technology; it has been fragmented but now somehow reorganised. Reformatted to present us with a display of abstracted formations – but wait there’s more! – you may also wear this experience and attain a 3 x 4 inch photogram print that is produced through the exposure of your silhouetted slide plate under a projector, over a sheet of baryta-coated photosensitive paper.

When such an illusion transfigures a singular object of oxidised brass, and that object produces a (negative) documentation of itself – are we still permitted to classify the object as a piece of jewellery? The aforementioned questions around representation, consumption and communication are once again raised in Schrijer’s work – in a manner that is sophisticatedly illusive yet resultantly elegant. Certain notions of material values ascribed to objects of desire are held against the physicality of technology from a bygone era; an editioned object that now offers a unique silhouette from the artist’s mind. In this way Schrijer puts forth challenges around the ideas of ownership, originality and image consumption; through works such as her Slide Pendants (2016–17) we become privy not only to her playful nature, but also attain a deeper understanding of the highly political nature of craft today.

Another sensitively orchestrated distortion is created by Schrijer’s
more recent works – shifting our perceptions around over-consumption, toward obsolete or deadweight matter. Works such as Money Bags (2020) and Line (2020) highlight the idea of banality where formal executionary ideologies are concerned – as explored in Glen Adamson’s book Sloppy Craft (Bloomsbury, 2015). Adamson’s consideration of the post-disciplinary vernacular proclaims a study of material surfaces that ‘explore[s] the possibilities and limitations of the idea that [contemporary] craft is messy or unfinished looking in its execution or appearance, or both’. This discourse investigates the possibilities of material excavation, as well as process-driven sensibilities – both of which Schrijer champions, when it comes to uniquely communicative techniques and presentations of contemporary jewellery.

Scale and scope are playfully addressed by Schrijer, as the near- impossibility of an object’s proposed wearability and its material provenances are questioned within a framework that relies intimately upon the human body as its format. Line works as two aluminium spirals that are connected with a sterling silver necklace. The rod’s gradient converges with a cascading fringe of flattened anodised aluminium. The work surveys material excess, performing as a body- length hanging sculpture that offers a refreshing perspective on scale and balance. The space between our bodies is juxtaposed with materials that are acquired and consumed. This discordant thread of human intake is magnified further in Money Bags, which presents a disarray in the literal and metaphorical chains of habitual capitalist consumption. Executed mainly through recycled materials, Money Bags is composed of branded metal mesh coin purses, wallets and handbags. Schrijer playfully explores this historic alignment of workmanship and value through her use of a textile that is gesturally composed with associations of femininity and luxury.

Moniek Schrijer’s work excavates superfluous matter through a process- driven disciplinary practice. The possibilities of adornment and understanding in Schrijer’s compositions come from carefully mined sources of imagination – ideas that transmit a highly critical set of viewpoints on unmaking and making. The abundance of practical information offered by Schrijer’s work proposes caution: materials that we engage with today may well be consumed, but at the peril of imminent obsolescence.

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Inspired by the value we ascribe to the objects that surround us in daily life, Deadweight Loss explores contemporary making at a moment when ideas of craftsmanship and the handmade have returned to consumer popularity. An obscure economic term, ‘deadweight loss’ refers to the point in the law of supply and demand where an equilibrium between goods in the market and buyers cannot be met. This results in a market imbalance. Three artistic approaches by makers Moniek Schrijer, Laurie Steer and Cat Fooks speak to this tension – between the work being made and it finding a willing home.

Moniek Schrijer is a contemporary jewellery artist from Te Whanganui-a- Tara who holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts (2012) and a post-graduate diploma from Whitireia New Zealand’s Facility of Art (2013).

Recently Schrijer’s work was included in the ground-breaking exhibition Non-Stick Nostalgia at the Museum of Art and Design in New York (2019), curated by Kellie Riggs, and the major national contemporary art survey Sympathetic Resonance at The Suter Art Gallery in Nelson (2019), curated by Sarah McClintock.

Schrijer’s practice is characterised by the skilful adaptation and alteration of materials collected largely from second-hand and recycled sources using a variety of traditional and unconventional jewellery techniques that allow for her pieces to move between the jewel and the object, the flat plane and the third dimension.

In 2016 Schrijer was awarded a prestigious Herbert Hofmann Preis during Schmuck in München for her piece tablet of, and in 2017 she was the Asia New Zealand Foundation/Wellington City Council artist in residence in Xiamen, China. Her work is held in significant private and public collections in New Zealand and abroad.

Areez Katki is a multidisciplinary artist and writer, born of Zoroastrian lineage in India and raised in Aotearoa. Drawing from historic and social research, he addresses the value of craft sensibilities through a research- driven contemporary practice. Over the duration of his career Katki has focused on the significance of materiality from the domestic realm through personal processes of fabricating textiles and an ongoing engagement with their narratives. Culminating in richly contextualised bodies of work, since 2015 Katki has raised questions around the political nature of craft, proclaiming his role as a craftsperson within the realm of contemporary art.

Since early 2020 Katki has been based in Pōneke, Wellington, where he has been working on his Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. He is represented by Tim Melville Gallery in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland. His works are held in various private and public collections in New Zealand.

Moniek Schrijer, Money Bags, 2020. Image: Samuel Hartnett