Brexit… and jewellery?! I bet that’s two words you never thought would go together. But Brexit is one of the things that’s inspired Jordan Furze’s work. Along with mushrooms.
I bumped into the recent Birmingham School of Jewellery graduate at International Jewellery London and was immediately struck by his passion for jewellery and politics.
Find out why he believes politics and jewellery have a lot of shared history and how his first customer said to him, “I don’t know if you’re an idiot, or a genius.”
How would you describe your jewellery?
I used to call the objects I make ‘art jewellery’, but that term seems to suggest that the unusual thing about this piece of jewellery is that it’s trying to be Art, rather than that the unusual thing about this piece of Art is that it’s presented in the form of jewellery.
Thankfully, in the early 20th century Duchamp put forward the idea that the Artist has a sort of magic power to declare anything Art and that was enough to make it true, so now I just call the pieces I make Art. Of course, anyone is welcome to challenge that description and call it whatever they want, that’s the wonderful thing about it!
What materials do you use?
The current collection on Brexit uses a huge variety of materials from dirty bronze and cheap spray paints to rather radiant 23ct gold! The important thing about the choice of material for me is that it makes sense in the context of the work. For example, a crown made from precious metals and gems would tell us one thing whereas one made from paper and card will communicate something totally different.
There’s almost a grammar to the material world; this material, in this form, in this colour, creates this experience for the audience. As long as I feel the material reinforces the narrative I’m trying to create I’m open to using anything and everything available to me.
You’re inspired by politics – isn’t this an unusual subject matter for a jewellery collection?
Yes and no. I think that when we think of jewellery we immediately think of objects made to be beautiful and that are generally inoffensive, but actually jewellery has always had a place in politics and the social narrative. I’d point to the myriad of jewels, wands, and sceptres that help to affirm the importance and political power held by Royalty, or the chains a mayor might wear to indicate their office, the badges and buttons given out at political rallies or on the bags of rebellious teenagers.
Even the most typical examples of ‘traditional jewellery’ say something about the social background or aspirations of the person adorning it. Tim Carson, the Punk movement, Dauvit Alexander, Berlin iron jewellery, Madeleine Albright, ‘Brooch Warfare’ etc etc. The list of jewellery in politics (or politics in jewellery) is almost endless!
We don’t talk about politics much at The Jewellery Spot! What is it about politics that you find so interesting?
Politics is everything. It’s the clothes I buy and the drinks I choose to drink. It seeps into everything. Every choice we make seems to tell those around us something about our politics, or something about our narrative.
I find it fascinating how much of our politics can be affected by the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and who those around us are. How companies like Cambridge Analytica can abuse our perceptions of ourselves to declare an information war with customised propaganda. How we choose to act in a certain way towards those like us and differently to those we deem the ‘other’.
You recently created a piece themed around Brexit – What is it about Brexit that you find so inspiring?
Brexit is interesting in lots of ways. It’s such a broad issue that starts to metastasise into something else entirely. It becomes a topic that can be anything for anyone. Whatever our personal worries or fears are, Brexit can either solve or exacerbate it. I think, deep down, I feel like Brexit is a sort of national identity crisis.
Comparable to the Punks, the questioning of the class structure post-WWII, or even the political upheaval after the great depression, and that whatever direction the country ends up taking the process itself has, and will continue to, fundamentally change the perception of Britain, the notion of ‘British’ identity (and the identities of each nation within Britain), and how we view the political system. I find it inspiring because it’s big, it’s furious, and it’s happening relentlessly around me.
Do you have any plans for follow up pieces as the story continues?
It’s hard to say, I think I said broadly what I had to say with my most recent collection. Right at this moment the truth is that all the reflecting outwards and responding to the issues surrounding Brexit has made me feel like it’s time to work inwards. Although you never know, work tends to direct itself as much as I direct it.
Where do you create your jewellery?
I was, until graduation, using the absolutely fantastic studios in the School of Jewellery, Birmingham, with guidance and help from all the lovely people that work there. However, I’m waiting to get back into a studio at the moment so most of my jewellery ‘creation’ is purely theoretical in the form of scribbles on napkins, notes in my phone, and the occasional fully formed drawing or waxes.
What’s your favourite piece in your jewellery collection?
That I’ve made or that I own? My favourite that I’ve made has to be the ‘Chain for Brexit’, it’s so ridiculous and chunky it makes me laugh to think about someone actually wearing it. That I own, I’m lucky enough to have my very own piece of Super-Frilly-Lover Sally Collins neckwear that’s delicious, and massive, and in-your-face.
You recently graduated from The Birmingham School of Jewellery, what’s next for you?
This is a behemoth of a question! I know I’m staying on to study for my Masters and I know that I’ve got a few galleries to exhibit at this year and next. Beyond that who really knows? Hopefully you’ll see me in Munich for Jewellery Week and Schmuck sometime in the near future!
What’s the piece you’re most proud of creating?
I have a love/hate relationship with all my work. In a way I’m proud of everything I make whether it is successful or not, but I also want to keep moving forward and part of that is, in a way, distancing myself from the last piece to focus on the next.
What’s your favourite part of being a Jewellery Designer?
In a way my favourite part is the exhibition. It can be draining and difficult at times but it’s the first real opportunity you get immediate feedback from someone uninvolved in the process. It’s interesting because often the pieces you’ve grown to love while making can end up being the ones that least affect or engage with the audience.
And the pieces you’ve grown to dislike (or have issues with can do the opposite). Perhaps it’s a stark reminder that the part of my brain that does the higher function thinking and decision making and the part that comes up with the ideas that pay the bills are not one and the same?
What’s your proudest moment of being a Jewellery Designer?
I think the first sale I ever made will always stick in my memory. A woman called me over from across the room, told me I should be embarrassed at the rude content of work, picked up a piece as an example, and then said to me “I can’t tell if you’re an idiot or a genius.” She bought the work immediately.
Do you work directly with customers or sell your work to galleries?
I do a bit of both, sometimes it’s fun to work alongside a customer and make something customised for them and sometimes it’s nice to make something for yourself and get it into a gallery.
What’s your design process?
My process is hectic, it usually starts with broad research into a topic I’m interested in, maybe fetish or enamel processes. That’s then followed by the frantic writing of key words and little diagrams for how I could incorporate this idea or that process. I then come back to that page of notes some weeks later and have to decipher what any of it meant (this is the most stressful part).
What I do decipher I make into test pieces and somewhere along the way a final piece materialises. It feels more like throwing myself in a direction and letting the destination be decided by the process itself than a systematic approach to produce a desired outcome.
How important is jewellery design to you?
Tracey Emin said that when she can’t make, she feels like she is physically dying. I totally understand.
What do you love about jewellery?
I love the unassuming nature of jewellery, how it can go by unnoticed and be so engaging or powerful when it is. I have a friend who had a long and in-depth conversation with a man about art and jewellery only to be shocked at the end when she had noticed he was wearing a fully inflated, bright red, party balloon ring for the entire conversation.
How did you start creating jewellery?
I started making jewellery as rebellion. I went to an all-boys school and while all the macho personalities around me in Design Technology were working away on making the biggest chair, or a go-kart with welded steering system, I was making the prettiest, smallest, most complicated pieces of jewellery I could muster up. It was possibly the softest and most private rebellion that ever happened in that school.
Why did you fall in love with jewellery design?
I fell in love with the processes primarily, sand casting, laser cutting, lathing, it didn’t really matter. I just loved seeing what I could do with the tools around me and what other people hadn’t done yet.
What are your aspirations for your business?
I think because I see my work as art it’s hard to view it as a business. It’s bittersweet selling thing. While you’re getting paid (and it’s genuinely a joy to see someone find something they love), it’s also like losing a piece of yourself. I immediately want to remake the thing I sold so I can have it too. I would like to have my work in galleries and to be paid enough to keep making. If I could do that, I’d be happy.
Where do you feel most inspired?
I always feel ready to take on the world after having a nice conversation with a nice person, but historically my best ideas come to me as I’m about to fall asleep. And my best work is usually made after sitting, for what feels like an eternity – staring at a piece before attacking it and suddenly it being done.
It isn’t an answer but I guess where I feel most inspired is somewhere between where the good conversations are, where my bed is, and where I’m staring at my work?
Who else inspires you?
There are so many people. Louise Bourgeois because of the brutal honesty and openness in her work. Grayson Perry because he champions the avant-garde and the twee. Edvard Munch because his work feels as poignant now as 100 years ago.
Sally Collins, Drew Markou, Jivan Astfalck, Rebecca Steiner, Sian Hindle, Anna Lorenz, all brilliant designers, makers, artists who have encouraged me or set me straight and whose jewellery or objects feel sincere and an essential part of them.
What inspires you?
It’s really hard to say anything in particular. I feel motivated to make things and to express thoughts or feelings through them in a way I might not be able to through words. I don’t know where the inspiration for that ultimately comes from, I genuinely think anything could inspire my work. I’ve done it about books, people, events, even mushrooms once.
How do you juggle all the different aspects of the job?
There’s a freedom in this type of work, you choose what you’re doing and when you’re doing. How much of this or that I want. Or if I want to focus on designing or making one day, paperwork or photography the next.
Of course, in the end it all has to be done and that can be frustrating. Especially when you’re stuck filling out forms which you should have done a week ago for days when you feel like you need to be in the studio. Outsourcing some of the work, organising your time and using it efficiently helps. The sooner you finish the job you hate the sooner you can start the one you love.
What advice would you give to people looking to buy jeweller from independent makers?
I think communities and blogs like this are fantastic for showcasing and finding emerging makers. Otherwise there’s websites like Klimt02, BenchPeg, ArtsThread and so on who always have articles and updates on independent makers.
You could start following the jewellery schools on Instagram (School of Jewellery, Central St Martins, UCA Rochester to name a few) to find graduates. Or you could go to events like Craft Space, Great Northern, and New Designers. Once you find someone you like, follow them on Instagram and I’m sure they’ll showcase some of their favourite makers. We’re a fairly close-knit craft and once you’re in, you’re in.
A jeweller has to be very multi-skilled – i.e. web designer, photographer, tea maker etc! How do you find that?
Variety is the spice of life and it means there’s never a dull day. It can be challenging learning the next new thing to keep up-to-date but the independence, feeling of self-sufficiency, and sense of progress make it all worth it.
Jewellers often have to work quite flexible hours, how does that fit in with the rest of your life?
I enjoy the work-flow, being able to choose what hours I work and what days I don’t. Of course, it’s also highly self-motivating. There’s no one telling you when to be in or how long to work for. But if you enjoy the work and enjoy being busy, it’s fantastic.