Melissa Cameron: Marfa, TX. Bilk Gallery for Contemporary Metal and Glass. Until October 12.
If you have ever visited any ancient sites, you will no doubt have noticed the many pottery shards that still litter the ground - the poignant evidence of a once living community. In our post-industrial age the nature of our detritus will more likely be in the nature of manufactured metals (and plastics).
Melissa Cameron has always been a scavenger, picking up and collecting items of interest from the ground. In 2017 when she was living in the United States, she visited Marfa - a small desert town in Western Texas. It was formerly the site of an army base, POW camp and refugee centre. The American artist Donald Judd moved there in 1971 and until his death in 1994 devoted himself to making it a centre for contemporary art. In buildings around the town he constructed art installations and later built specially designed art spaces. It is now administered by the Chinati Foundation.
On her Marfa visit, Cameron was intrigued by the profusion of small pieces of steel that included screws, cement tags and wire that scattered the ground around the US military base and the town itself. The finds she collected were carefully geotagged using a phone camera and located on a map of the Marfa area now in the exhibition. Each found item that the artist has made into jewellery has its exact found location documented as if it were part of an archaeological excavation. Each jewellery piece is unique but is also part of the artist's larger narrative.
It was only on her return to Australia in 2018 that Cameron began to examine this cache of finds in the light of her art practice. The result is the present collection of necklaces, bracelets, brooches and earrings. What was discarded detritus has either been transformed, in the case of the linked chains, set in pendants like the nails and screws or more simply refashioned as wire pins, brooches and earrings. Rust or dirt has been removed from each found object and they have been covered with a layer of clear vitreous enamel. This gives a hard glossy surface to the steel but is transparent enough for the object to retain its integrity. In two brooches (6248-1 and 6248-2), Cameron has used some of the Marfa dirt on the surface of the brooches underneath the enamel to create surface texture.
In some works Cameron has used gold in an interplay between its preciousness and the austerity of the metal found object. Gold is used most strikingly and delicately in the bracelet and necklace of steel and gold links (5804 and 5810). In other works it is used to embellish and decorate the metal and bring a warm gleam of light and colour.
In a series of pins and earrings enamelled wire has been twisted into simple shapes and screws have been fashioned into attractive pendant earrings. In one work (5849c), steel wire has been seemingly twisted to make a graceful brooch that evokes the concept of traditional jewellery in its flowing lines but it is in a more minimalist and sophisticated idiom.
In the Strata series which is among the most successful combinations of material and design, small screws and nails are embedded between layers of stainless steel to form structured pendants. This is a nice visual continuation of the narrative that the artist has constructed around her body of work. The found object is shown embedded within the newly created work as it was once embedded in the structural fabric of the town where it was found.