Artisan’s current exhibition in Brisbane brings together two talented designers of small objects: Elizabeth Shaw and Xiaohui Yang.

Their work comes from the discipline of jewellery, yet with good humour and intelligence they both stretch the boundaries of their craft. Here, ideology is at work while the signifiers play.

The two artists met at the Queensland College of Art in 2008 when Yang was undertaking her Masters Degree, and Shaw was a lecturer and Convenor of Jewellery and Small Objects within the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University. Yang is now a lecturer in the Jewellery Department of Shandong University in China, and Shaw is a Senior Lecturer at QCA.

In this fascinating exhibition, the artists’ work explores their unique histories and cultural identities. In Yang’s work this means an investigation into what it is to be a Chinese artist who has spent time with the social conventions and tropes of western culture – in particular the Australian versions.

In several of Yang’s pieces the use of fragments of the humble tape measure act as a signifier of distance from the original intent of jewellery as something precious and wearable. Are they small objects of sculpture or reworkings of what we consider as wearable art? However the viewer might read the signs in her work, the attention to craftsmanship is evident in all her pieces.

Throughout the exhibition, the work of Shaw and Yang complement each other in the re-coding of signs and tropes in delicate ways. However in the work of Elizabeth Shaw, the reworking of found objects is the common thread that binds her works together- sometimes quite literally. Shaw works with what comes her way. From the ‘found’ objects, a new narrative is forged in often surprising ways. She makes her silvery work come alive through a repurposing of her collected/found/given materials. In these small acts of transmogrification, Shaw is also engaging with the ethical issues of adaptive re-use and sustainability which have long fascinated her.

While both artists readily acknowledge that not all the work would fit within a genre of wearable day-to-day jewellery, we can admire the ways in which their materials of choice are brought to life with fresh connotations from new juxtapositions. And in these re-workings, we see why the two artists work so well together in this delightful exhibition that asks us to look closely at the witty ways in which they display their talents.

Image: Photo by Lisa Brown
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