Jason Hall's jewellery operates around a smart discovery, which, plainly stated, is that the things which we have in common are also the things which keep us apart. This idea was first realised in The Gate Between series of 2002, in which the kowhaiwhai-like wrought iron patterns of gates throughout suburban Aotearoa became sterling silver brooches coated with house paint. That which we have in common – such as a scrolling, curvilinear design – is that which keeps us apart, because twenty years of debate has made it clear that Pākehā can't use Māori art without controversy. This isn't a sign of a shared visual heritage.
The work in Ornaments for the Pākehā plays with this idea. The bone pickets of Home reveal the central tension of being Pākehā. Our cultural forms don't come from here, just as the white picket fence of the colonial villa sits apart from the land it dissects. Yet, made of bone, these brooches don't belong anywhere else. Aotearoa is the final resting place.
Hall's faceted stones speak of the same issues, but point to a more specialised jewellery history represented by the Bone Stone Shell exhibition of 1988. For Hall, the European technique of faceting precious stones is the most honest way of connecting himself to the land, and to his inherited past as a contemporary jeweller in Aotearoa. Like the bone pickets, these faceted stones don't project a seamless and unproblematic belonging. The facet comes from elsewhere, but the stone, literally taken from the earth, is an argument that they don't come from anywhere else.
The full stop to all this is the musket ball pendant. Cast from a musket ball dug up from the battlefields of the New Zealand Wars, the pendant is silver, just right for slaying the myth of One New Zealand. It is a piece of jewellery that neatly turns the bullet around, aiming it forward in time to the descendants of those who fired the first shots back in the 19th century. For the Pākehā who has everything, and that is most of us, you can even get the gun barrel brooch to go with it.
Hall's jewellery isn't easy, but it is important, tackling the fundamental denial – of history and of responsibility – that currently exists at the heart of Pākehā identity. These are real ornaments for the Pākehā, but they are never ornamental.
- Damian Skinner