Melbourne based artist and jeweller Anna Davern is currently showing in the internationally touring exhibition Transplantations – the exhibition showcases narrative jewellery by 12 artists from the UK and Australia addressing themes of place and culture. Anna is a renowned Melbourne jeweller whose production and exhibition work has been shown worldwide, here Anna discusses her working process, conceptual themes and her involvement in the educational collective NorthCity4.

ABOVE: A Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath 2011. Reworked biscuit tin, sublimate printed steel, garnet beads, silk thread, copper. 145x70x5mm

Transplantations exhibition presents British and Australian narrative jewellery addressing themes of place and culture. Your work within the exhibition “plays with history by reworking and repositioning the material” – there is an underpinning of violence in this work, tell us more about the concepts in relation to the exhibitions theme.

The main conceptual focus of my art practice is an examination of Australian cultural identity. So you can imagine that I was really excited to be involved in this exhibition. I address issues of colonialism and multiculturalism by using the images of kitsch Australiana found on old souvenir biscuit tins and other historical imagery that I print onto metal. I rearrange and reconstruct these images to create fantastical hybrid creatures and strange altered landscapes. I like to think of my work as part Aussie folk craft, part comment on cultural intervention and part humorous acknowledgement of the hybrid nature of contemporary Australian society.ABOVE: The Duke of Devonshire 2011. Reworked biscuit tin, sublimate printed steel, garnet beads, silk thread, copper. 120x60x5mm

Australia has a dark and violent history, but the kitsch images from the souvenir items that provide me with my material inevitably ignore this dark side. In the repositioning the images I have incorporated an element of violence but there is humour there too. I like to think that the incorporation of humour into my work acts as a buffer, a kind of cushioning around the more difficult elements of Australia’s dark history. This is not to say that I want to make light of serious issues, rather that humour puts the viewer at ease and in so doing, they’re more comfortable to investigate the ideas further.

ABOVE: Absent I (2006) found tin placemat, found lolly tin 180 x 120 x 5mm  (previous work)

Curiously the use of materials and approach to making seem to differ greatly between the British and Australian jewellers, do you feel this is due to the conceptual content of their work or the way in which jewellers are educated in each country?

I think it’s great that the works are so different. My practice is generally focused on Australian cultural identity and this is a result of growing up in this country and being influenced by the culture here. This, in turn, influences my choice of materials and techniques. My understanding of transplantation is influenced by the migrant’s sense of loss of the ‘motherland’ whereas the British jewellers would probably not see transplantation in this way. I also really enjoy seeing work that has a regional flavour and I get a bit bored with jewellery that doesn’t exhibit cultural influence and instead emulates bland abstraction.


Both your exhibition and production works utilise the ‘sublimation’ technique, talk us through the similarities and differences in your approach to the two sides of your practice.
I have been working with the imagery from old biscuit tins and tin trays for a few years now and I enjoy being able to use a material with which I am familiar and that is traditionally associated with jewellery – metal – but that also has the ability to tell a graphic story through words and pictures.

I started researching how I might be able to determine what is printed rather than relying on finding the image I want or working with what images I have available. The technique of sublimation involves using heat to embed a printed image onto metal that has been coated with a plastic surface. It is a great technique to use as I can do it in my studio and I don’t have to employ industry, which would involve printing in the thousands rather than individual images.

I was looking at making a series of works that made reference to traditional jewellery making and the damage that the mining of gemstones can do to the environment and to communities. I was printing images of gems onto different shapes and I realized that it would be possible to create a range of reasonably priced earrings and neckpieces using the sublimation technique to create oversized fake versions of traditional styles of jewellery. It’s kind of a homage to one of the initial tenets of Contemporary jewellery which was to react against the use of precious materials. These works are also an alternative to the real thing at a time when the real thing may no longer be affordable nor palatable.

Twice you have collaborated with artist Lucy James (exhibition The Voyage of Captain Foley… and the launch of a jewellery range as part of the Supermarket exhibition), what did you learn about the process of making and your own practice through collaborations? And who is next on your wish list of collaborators?
I love collaborating! Particularly with other like-minded narrative collage artists. Lucy and I had a lot of fun working together and we both learned the techniques of the other’s practice. I taught Lucy how to saw-pierce and she taught me about working with paper. I have since started doing paper collage sketches and have incorporated paper into some of my wall based works. It was kind of a liberation to realise that they didn’t have to be metal! Who do I want to work with next? I’d really like to do something with media artist Andrew Phillips. I have made dioramas in the past and I love the incorporation of movement and interactivity so a progression to screen based work would be great. His work is also quite funny and very subversive and I think it would push me to think more abstractly about the narrative structure of my work. He’s my partner so I should be able to get him to answer my call!

You are one of the founders of North City 4, a Brunswick based artist run initiative providing “ A new way of looking at Creative Education” – tell us about the landscape in which NC4 was born, the space itself and community it serves.
At the end of 2010 I was sharing a studio in Flinders Lane and we were facing a doubling of our rent due to gentrification. I had also recently lost my job teaching casually at TAFE after funding cuts forced the closure of the course. I was doing a bit of private teaching work in my studio but I just didn’t have the room to accommodate students. I remember having a conversation with Ali Limb about this and I was probably just having a complain but the next day she rang me with this IDEA. And this IDEA sounded really exciting. And it sounded like something I had always wanted to do but didn’t know it. And I knew it was right and I knew I HAD to be involved. I’ve copied her original email to me after the conversation below, so you can understand how excited I was.

Hi Anna

I hope I didn’t sound to full on today but I just wanted to sound you out and see if you were up for a conversation about the potential of a shared co-operative type project.

I’m only thinking at this stage but I believe there is a lot of potential in the idea of starting an independent active community.

I’m excited about the possibility of a space where people can take their work seriously but also help each other to obtain a really lovely work environment and attract interstate and potentially international speakers and workshops as well as providing a space for those involved to teach.

Some of the thoughts I have had

  • finding a warehouse or factory space in Brunswick or that sort of area
  • creating a sustainable workshop
  • have studio space let out to committed makers
  • run workshops, seminars etc
  • working with like minded and reasonably established people to create a financially viable and rewarding work place
  • to share the responsibility so no one person bears the burden
  • ability for people to have flexible work lives
  • Have an outdoor area for vegies and social events
  • basically keep it fun and relaxed but with integrity and credibility

And here we are!

Northcity4 is an incorporated association so we run as a non- profit organisation with a commitment to supporting Melbourne’s contemporary jewellery and small object making community. We have nine fully tenanted affordable studio spaces for long term tenants, as well as our project space which can accommodate 4 artists who take short term leases to work on 6-12 month projects.

We are committed to a sustainable workplace and sustainable work practices and we advocate sustainability for our supporters and stakeholders.

We have comprehensive cultural and education programs which provides professional development opportunities for Melbourne’s contemporary jewellery community as well as providing short jewellery making courses to our local community.

And we have this great space in Brunswick where people can come together to talk, engage, discuss, debate, and to learn and make.

What artists/thinkers influence your work?
This is such a difficult question to answer. There are so many artists whose work I love and writers who’s work has inspired me. I would have to say that the biggest influences on my work have been my teachers over the years; both at Sydney College of the Arts and at RMIT, but also the artists I have worked for and learned from in their studios.

What’s next for Anna Davern?
Northcity4 has taken up quite a lot of my time over the last couple of years so I’m committed to putting on a large solo show next year. I’m still in the beginning stages of research so I’m really enjoying playing around with images, materials and ideas, making mistakes and having Eureka moments.

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