East to West - Pauline Bern & Alan Preston

There’s method in the madness: the deadline is upon us so Pauline drives from Devonport to visit Alan at his Muriwai home.

PAULINE BERN: I always enjoy the chaos of your workshop with its crazy clutter of gatherings, tools, equipment and buried treasures. I have to tread carefully and can spot the latest pieces of Road Works emerging: that transformation from ordinary to extraordinary.

It's exciting to see for the first time the proofs of your book [about to be published].

'Between Tides, Jewellery by Alan Preston' . There are plenty of images tracking the very defined, strong pieces and the simplicity of your work and the lovely evolution of forms - such a contradiction to the joyous chaos of your workshop.

ALAN PRESTON: The book gathered a momentum of its own and is much larger than the original proposal. A good part of the text was based on conversations with Damian [Skinner] that he recorded and then made sense of.

PB: Doubt that we will make much sense: two jewellers yacking and lacking the historian's sense of order and editorial purpose.

East coast/west coast dialogue referencing PB's Mend pipi shells and AP's Airworks gannet feather necklace and Foreshore pins:

PB: The recent work was simultaneously emerging from our coastal locations without our realising it - when we saw the work displayed in Melbourne in the same show and recognised the lovely coincidence of your shell shards looking as though they would take flight and my domestic obsessive stitching applied to the very ordinary pipi: one from the wild west, one from the gentle Waitemata.

AP: The shells were accidental - coming from the pin show curated by Otto Künzli in Munich. After doing the shard, I moved on to doing all the others… bird-like and controlled by what you can find down there [Muriwai].

PB: I like that… the chance discovery that imposes a quality, shifts you and can demand a new solution. Sometimes I am pushed or challenged with a new 'found' form but I think I should stop looking at my feet and you do too!

AP: Yes I do, sometimes the bits I gather just sit there in the bottom of the car. It would be nice to do something with them.

PB: I could really do with a coffee Alan, if that is ok. I'm struggling to give this conversation any sort of momentum! Good coffee

Style/fad/era dialogue

AP: It is ok to make those conscious decisions to avoid a particular imagery/form to be different from someone else's work.

PB: If you have your reason and your own method, then it doesn't matter, but there is usually a defining trend that changes over time: we are used to referring to the 'Bone, Stone, Shell' movement that has come to define the Contemporary Jewellery style of the 80s and, in a very general way, our generation of makers. I have been thinking of a suitable easy-label version for the current era:

Textile, Glue, Paint, Tabs, Fake Diamonds, Plastics

AP: The textile thing, that's happening now, happened with our generation but we did it with metal.

PB: The 'soft' we couldn't/wouldn't have used that in the 80s, it had to be very hard and durable, it had to be in metal. Using textile techniques but in precious metals. Perhaps we were too influenced by the feminist movement.

AP: I wonder how much they refer to it versus actually doing it, ie knitting, sewing. And there wasn't any of that junk kitschy stuff either. We're still in that tradition of hard stuff, aren't we, except in my use of muka.

PB: Talking of hard, your Road Works are grunty!

AP: Interesting that the Mend shells did not go into that area.

PB: I use thread not to embroider or decorate but I stick with darning, patching, blanket stitch - only mending techniques but it still is textile, soft.

AP: Of course we not only work with found non-precious materials but also found imagery: mine is often from architectural sources like the Pitt St Methodist Church windows. They became apertures in pearl shell, iconic shapes as brooches and necklaces. I have my eye on the University Clock Tower where the symbols are repeated but in a hard-edged Deco style. Work develops out of itself and there is an evolution from one to the next…

PB: Yes our eyes are always searching, extracting nment: pot scrubs and plug holes! There was certainly a bit of madness turning 80 metres of gold wire into a Scrubber necklace.

AP: What about the Ring Project? What came next?

PB: The Ring Project lead on to the Scatter brooches, trying to keep that minimally made feel, knowing when to stop.

The development is often cyclical, loops back, finally finding a solution or it never moves and dies on the workbench.

AP: I had that too with my Kowhai Seed necklace; I want to shift it to a brooch. I do have an incipient one still sitting on my bench, waiting…

PB: It is interesting we can have these objects we come up with in our heads but there are the problems of the mechanics, the restraints of getting them on the body.

Durability issues

AP: People expect their jewellery to be mended but not their clothes.

And they expect it to last forever. Eg; with textile glue and paint movement, People need to be sensitive to that. We now tend to include materials that are vulnerable and easily damaged.

PB: Yes that lead to the decision in moving from the ring format to the brooch where there is less chance of wear and tear. But I still wanted to maintain a sense of fragility.

AP: I enjoy the marks and dings on a worn metal ring.

PB: People are mad to want them polished off.

People want to polish their wedding rings…

But crude matt acid finished work end up being polished with wear.

AP: Same thing happens with big robust rings. Vulnerable to being caught on things. When they sometimes come back they have all these marks of wear and tear.