Thursday, October 6, 2011

Danyka Van Buuren: Musing on a sustainable practice

 Danyka Van Buuren

If we project the apocalyptic future we’ve heard so much about in recent years, its easy to feel terrifyingly overwhelmed. Our model of capitalism, overproduction and over-consumption is simply not sustainable. When one imagines a world where resources are scant, crippled by the effects of environmental collapse, jewellery is perhaps not the first object one might think of as existing within the bounds of necessity or value. Ostentation and seemingly functionless ornamentation would appear exactly that – useless.
Sometimes  I feel the need to justify my purpose as a crafts person. In particular, being a jeweller.
Admittedly, I never intended to create works that fit under the slippery title of “sustainable”. It isn’t that I don’t believe in the value of sustainably-minded craft practice – in fact I believe craft must evolve to this model in order to have a viable future. I am a little wary about its use as this decade’s buzz-word, which I think devalues what sustainable craft and design stands for.
I must confess, my Picnic Gems series began from a much more self-centered place. In 2007 was in a favourite high-brow op-shop of mine, rummaging amongst several boxes in the ‘to be sorted pile/return to charity’ when I happened across a box of old, dirty, melamine picnicware. It reminded me of caravan parks, school camps and my grandparents kitchen.
I picked up a trio of cups – sunshine yellow, lime green and bright orange.  They were coloured on the outside, with a warm white lining, and small, circular, finger-sized handles. Marked on the base with “Ornamin Ware – British Plastics, Melbourne”. They weren’t in mint condition, to say the least – they were battle-scarred: coffee stains, scourer scratches, tiny chips, even scorch marks. They had lived. I took them to the counter, where the owner smiled, somewhat sympathetically, with me – “I remember these. 1960’s, I believe. Two dollars each.”
 I took my cups back to the ANU School of Art workshop, where I hacked away at them with a jeweller’s saw and files – and out of a hell of a lot of dust emerged my first Teacup Ring – the handle lopped off the cup, carved through its yellow and white layering into an object unto itself. 
The process of making them remains just as rudimentary. The addition of a silver band liner allows for smaller sizes, hallmarking, and helps elevate the perception of the object from ‘plastic’ to ‘precious’.

 Image: Tea Cup Stack, Danyka Van Buuren

 After my initial discovery, I hurriedly returned to the op-shop to purchase more cups – excitedly relaying my story to the shopkeeper. She seemed disappointed, hurt even. “Well, if you’re cutting them up, I almost don’t want to sell them to you... Five dollars each.” I pondered this: it wasn’t my intention to denigrate the memory of the objects, their history, design, moment. I thought of it more of an appropriation, a celebration.
 Once I had bled the shop dry of the melamine teacups, I turned to other sources: eBay, Vinnies’, garage sales, estate sales, the tip. More often than not, I ended up with a whole set of melamine crockery, which I had to add to my ever-expanding hoarde of handle-less, functionless cup remnants and lonely saucers. I had begun to create a more useless mess than I started with, which to me seemed a little senseless. Thus spawned the Picnic Gems works. I began cutting up my remnant crockery. I layered cut and broken pieces of plastic crockery between coloured resins, and cut back into the resulting blocks, exposing the striated layers of colour and revealing the shapes and forms of the source material. The ‘rocks’ of material are hewn into freeform faceted, gem-like shapes, which are turned into wearable pieces. Picnic gems are visually reminiscent of banded agate or sedimentary stone, and perhaps remind us that the material has a history – a kind of ‘social geology’.

Image: Teacup Rings, Danyka Van Buuren

To me, sustainability isn’t necessarily about using a material that is branded “eco-friendly”, it isn’t simply about cleverly reinventing everyday objects. It represents a necessity for a change in the way we think about consumption, and broadly, a shift in attitudes towards the lifecycle of objects. Theoretically, every plastic man can make is recyclable in one way or another. It’s just that for the large part, we don’t.
 On some level, I wanted to capture that sensation I first experienced when I found those first cups. The idea of objects with antecedent history – the translation and evolution of those ‘object stories’, imbues them with a new sense of value. It makes them precious. Jewellery is an especially useful format for this – it already has its own language of value. We can easily identify a gemstone as a precious object. We can imbue a ring with meaning.

Image: Plate Shards, Danyka Van Buuren 

Recently, I have begun to attempt to make this ongoing series of works a completely closed-loop process: my aim is to create no new waste in the fabrication process. I have begun collecting the dust of the ground plastics created during the process (which is a lot, believe me) to use as an ingredient in the resin which I layer between the plastics. Incidentally, this has made the material harder and more durable, much to my delight! In a way, the work dictates its own direction: a kind of iterative loop of ideas and meaning.
It is my hope that these works can carry this message beyond my bench and into the minds of it’s wearers.

 Image: Picnic Gem Brooches, Danyka Van Buuren
 All images copy right Danyka Van Buuren

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Danyka work can be purchased at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre Shop
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