in Conversation with Surabhi Sahgal
MASieraad is a new Jewellery education foundation initiated by four renowned jewellery Icons: Gijs Bakker, Ted Noten, Ruudt Peters and Liesbeth den Besten towards ‘Challenging Jewellery Education’ in The Netherlands. MASieraad takes a broad view of jewellery, and encourages asking questions of jewellery, critically – as art or design. MASieraad recognizes the making of jewellery, in its intimate, symbolic, human and material facets, as a learning model for contemporary design.
Masieraad has collaborated with PXL-MAD School of Arts Hasselt, in creating a two-year Masterclass programme, MASieraad Hasselt-Amsterdam. As the foundation gets ready to invite its second cohort of students, the supervisory board explains why we need to Challenge Jewellery education, and what is different about the curriculum at MASieraad H-A.
SS: Gijs, Ted, Ruudt and Liesbeth: Individually, you are all pioneers of contemporary jewellery and jewellery education. What made you start a new Jewellery Education system of your own?
LdB: We are all a bit bored about the ‘jewellery system’. Today there is an infrastructure of commercial galleries and museums, platforms, fairs and jewellery events, and jewellery makers all seem to know exactly what ‘contemporary jewellery’ should look like, but at the same time jewellery seems like a dead end. We have the ambition to broaden up the field, by not focusing on one specific aspect of jewellery – that is designing collections for the gallery.
RP: We need people to go deep into themselves and find out what they want to add to the jewellery field. And that was the reason that four years ago, I said to Gijs, Liesbeth and Ted, “Hey, c’mon! we need to talk together to give a booster, something new, to get a fresh input into jewellery.”
But it’s not about being friends together that helps create this new form of education, it is about being opposites together. And letting dispute allow for a better education, for a better situation for jewellery. So, we are not together for our friendship.
SS: What do you think, is the relevance of questioning and learning about Jewellery making in today’s times, especially in the context of uncertainty posed by the pandemic?
RP: When we started MASieraad, there was no pandemic. We wrote all our statements of MASieraad, we came to ‘palpable’ and ‘human’ as some of the core aspects of jewellery. These statements arose because we highly believe in them. The fact that they can now be contextualized to the pandemic is something that came later on. For me, what is most important is that jewellery is a physical thing. You have to touch, cuddle jewellery. It is a corporeal thing. It’s not something that you can learn through zoom education.
TN: Well, jewellery is not necessarily palpable to me. Jewellery can be also an abstraction – a thought, a concept. But when you want to make a physical piece it’s important to touch it and sometimes the making process inspires the final shape of the piece. In that sense I agree with Richard Senneth’s ideas about the hand of the maker. And scientifically it is proven that there is a connection between your brain – the creative part, and your hands. On the other end I am more a supporter of the conceptual approach.
LdB: The most important thing is to find your own ‘voice’, which doesn’t mean style, and which can be in between different fields. An artist, designer or craftsperson should be able to question, reflect, and transmit ideas – it is the basis of building a sustainable practice. I do think the pandemic, which will have a lasting effect on our way of living and working, could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It is now the time to think about radical visions for the future in the fields of the use of materials, production and sales. Even in jewellery – not our primary necessity in life – new visions are needed.
1.50m distance board meeting MASieraad 2020, Image: Gijs Bakker
SS: What is the kind of curriculum that MASieraad will offer to the students?
GB: The four initiators, Ted, Ruudt, Liesbeth and myself, will work together with a partner teacher. All 4 of us have chosen the partner teacher to be different from ourselves, to allow for a broader perspective. In the first year, we will work on projects. There will be 3 projects – one led by Ted, one by Ruudt and one by myself, along with our partner teachers. In those projects, we work on the theme of Challenging Gold. Gold – as a metaphor for value, power, politics; and we will research this theme in the three different projects.
RP: The second stage is more about personal development and everyone can have totally different outputs. For some people the brain is more involved, for others the belly is more involved, and that’s fantastic! So, the training is divided into two parts – in the first stage, we have the input – where you ‘eat’ the knowledge, and then in the second stage – you shit it out. So, the knowledge becomes you, and finally it comes out through your body – and your whole personality, your whole being, your inner, your outer- your making ability- becomes part of this. It is a very physical way of creation.
LdB: Theory at MASieraad is an integral part of the curriculum of the first and partly second year, when the Master thesis is submitted. I will introduce students to aspects of the history of jewellery from a multicultural perspective. My lectures are not about styles but rather about how jewellery functions as a small object with human, intimate, commemorative, social, political, religious, ritual, distinguishing, and classifying implications. Besides this my partner-teacher Monica Gaspar will introduce students to the theory of objects, and ways to activate jewellery.
SS: How is the MASieraad system different from conventional Jewellery Education?
LdB: The 3 designers aka makers aka artists, in our team, Gijs Bakker, Ruudt Peters, and Ted Noten, are all in their own right, pioneers of contemporary jewellery. Gijs Bakker is the designer who, from the very beginning, together with his wife Emmy van Leersum caused a break in thinking about jewellery, and jewellery design. Opposed to Bakker’s rational design attitude is Ruudt Peters’ approach inspired by religions, cultures, and spiritual affinities, while Ted Noten embraces a conceptual attitude. Together they represent a broad spectrum of contemporary jewellery. Their different attitudes and opinions might cause friction, which is an interesting context for the emergence of good ideas.
GB: All 4 of us see jewellery in a completely different perspective. And in this lies the strength of this special course, being exposed to 4 opinions that are wide and different, and yet open to new ideas. There are many master courses where you as a student have the entire 2 years completely for yourself, you can make what you want to make, and the professors are there to guide you. Our course, in that sense is completely different, because the first year is composed of projects, and you are strongly confronted with your co-students during group projects. Most of all you get 4 teachers that are completely different, almost fighting.
RP: We are so totally different, with such a wide range of input, that the student will have to make up his or her mind. In some educations you have only one professor, who is the lead. He or she is giving one direction. In our case we have 4 directions. And the student needs to choose. Or get parts of all 4. Here you cannot just align with your professor to keep them happy, you have to come up with something where you take your own individual position, not just follow. That is when they will start analysing where they are, what they do, what is the need to put something else in our society.
TN: And do not forget we will have other people coming in from other disciplines giving lectures and seminars in order to better define the aura of jewellery – and establish that jewellery does not end up by making only brooches, miniature sculptures and autorenschmuck. There are hundreds of possibilities to explore and deepen jewellery. And that is our goal – diversity. Moreover, being spread across 2 cities, 2 cultures and 2 countries, allows wider opportunities for exploration and exposure.
SS: What were your experiences, observations and learnings with the first cohort of students at your Challenging Jewellery course at the Sandberg Instituut?
LdB: We were only indirectly involved with the students, especially in the second year. The program was led by others, by BLESS a design and fashion company from Paris and Berlin. The students formed an interesting mix of different backgrounds, interests, ages and nationalities, and they were self-willed enough to eventually follow their own path. It is interesting to see that such a group of students is able to learn from each other. The performative aspect of some of the projects and presentations they did in Amsterdam and Shanghai was very good. It was the first time that I worked with students who focused completely or partially on writing a novel, and with great result. One of these is actually still busy making a film – very intriguing. Whatever most students were busy with, either making jewellery, doing workshops with interested people, making a film, or designing an online tool for wearing jewellery – there was a good vibe and drive no matter the fact that these two years were not an easy ride. There was a strong focus on collaboration and I think we all have learned a lot from this.
The final graduation at Het HEM together with the other Sandberg Instituut Masters programs was a true eyecatcher in an interior-photographic wallscape, created by the students in collaboration with Bless.
RP: In the Challenging Jewellery course with the Sandberg Instituut, students tried to work with BLESS in a group, as a company. And I found that very, very interesting and fruitful, to make a change in jewellery and in the jewellery world. It was really nearly impossible, it was a very difficult exercise, to get people who don’t know each other, starting a company, work together, to create together. That’s not easy. In the end, they had an interesting outcome with their exhibition at Het HEM – it created a new perspective on how you can see jewellery in different ways.
TN: Agreed, a difficult, almost impossible teaching concept from BLESS, but in the end fruitful. But we learned that in our new concept of an academy the students need a basic ground from where they can start “playing”- and we are offering them 4 football fields!
Performance during the Challenging Jewellery fundraising raffle; Image: Ruudt Peters
SS: Has your view for the next masters changed after the Challenging Jewellery course?
LdB: It’s not at all that we are not satisfied with the results of Challenging Jewellery at the Sandberg Instituut. But in order to really have influence on education, and to compile the curriculum, we decided that it is important to be much more involved in teaching, hence the 3 workshops by Gijs Bakker, Ted Noten and Ruudt Peters and my own theoretical program for the students. But teaching takes time and energy and discussion, which is the reason why we all choose a partner-teacher next to us. As you see, discussion is an integral part of education at MASieraad H-A.
RP: We have learned a lot about the process. We have seen that input is a very important measurer of education. We have a more specific, smaller subject – Gold, in the beginning, but encourage being focussed on a narrow aspect of the theme. To keep the window small and wide is a challenge for Jewellery, a challenge for the students too.
TN: Setting a theme is a perfect starting point and it can still go many ways – from a gold brooch to a manifesto transcribed in the jewellery domain, a social comment, a political comment and even an abstraction in other disciplines could work.
Artefacts from the Gold Museum, Bogota; Image: Ruudt Peters
SS: What is the relevance of being located across the 2 cities of Hasselt and Amsterdam?
RP: Hasselt is a very beautiful provincial town in Belgium, with a cultural and technical environment. The quality of being in a small town is that you can concentrate highly. It’s a good way of living. It is like a monastery or an ashram, where you can focus on your quality, your work. The other thing is that the school has extremely good equipment – from old fashioned jewellery tools and machinery, to technology of today – 3d printers and everything. That is very helpful for the students to learn from the traditional things and incorporate new technologies.
On the other hand, Amsterdam is a small metropolis with a wide range of culture and a lively jewellery community. It’s not a big city, it’s a big village – a big village with everything like New York, we have the opera, the theatre, there is a fantastic movement, there is a jewellery scene, there are a lot of artists living here, and its fantastic. There is a lot happening – but you can do it walking. In Amsterdam you can walk on your feet and in Hasselt you can do it on your hands like an acrobat! Both poles are essential for education. Reach out for new insights into Amsterdam and delve into silence in Hasselt. In Amsterdam you eat, in Hasselt you shit!
TN: Haha. Not sure if Hasselt likes this but said in a more convenient way:
‘Amsterdam is a prostitute and Hasselt a necessary monastery.’
L: Museum Square, Amsterdam https://www.archetoys.nl/ ; R: Z33, House for Contemporary Art, Hasselt, https://architectura.be/
SS: Who can apply for this course?
RP: We would like to have a wide range of students on the course. What we want is that people from different origins start to learn from what we as jewellery makers can provide the world. The whole very fragile way of making and creating and putting it out in the world is a value for all kinds of other professions. Like architects, designers, bricklayers, plumbers, shoemakers – etc. It is precisely the mix of different disciplines that can continue the jewelry development.
GB: Of course, to enter this course you need to have a Bachelor, but it can be a Bachelor in any field, it doesn’t have to be related to the Jewellery field.
It is often also those students who are still struggling with their talents and do not know how to target them. They are receptive to asking questions, they want to know more, they want to be able to do more. I see it as my job to confront them with the dogmas around the metier ornament, aimed at further exploring their private talents. In a diverse selection of students, group projects can open their eyes to other cultures, different ways of life, different political views.
LdB: students without a technical or artistic background in jewellery can apply, and are welcome to study with us. However, it is mandatory for them to follow a technical course in the first Master year.
SS: What about students coming from places where contemporary jewellery is not as evolved as in Europe? How can people from these places contextualize this learning if they come to attend this course?
LdB: This is an interesting question which touches on a real issue I think in contemporary jewellery (CJ) and that is that the ‘language’ of CJ is global – and white, whereas it would be very interesting to have more diverse voices being heard and seen in CJ. There are only a few countries in the world that somehow manage to keep up an original perspective – sometimes this has to do with the existence of a certain tradition such as stone cutting in Finland, or the aesthetics of the Padova school of jewellery in Italy, or with the existence of a strong bicultural community such as New Zealand and Maori traditions. But overall CJ tends to swallow and digest everything and flatten it to something recognizable, edible and sellable all around the world. I think it is important that we are very much aware and critical about ‘aesthetical engineering’ in the sense of calculated manipulation of direction.
TN: Evolving is not only a cultural thing, evolving is a universal thing and in this internet age, there are no borders anymore…
RP: I would say, the application would be most successful if we have from each continent, one student. All those cultures have a different position towards jewellery. And I think the quality would be to learn from each other in our western situation. For example – if one student from India is coming to Europe – the first thing I would ask, ‘please bring your own things with you – not learn from us, but to teach us what you are doing’.
At the moment when you are strong enough to develop your own culture with the knowledge you gained, using the method you practice, you can go home. That doesn’t mean that you apply the western taste into India, no. You apply a method of thinking into the Indian way of making. Then the Indian way of making will change, not completely, but in microns. But it changes deeply. It changes at the conceptual level, in how it will be used, not just in the aesthetics, but more in the deep-rooted question of what jewellery is.
SS: How much would it cost to study at MASieraad? Do you provide financial assistance and encouragement to students without the financial means?
GB: The cost of the course is 14000 Euros each year, for 2 years. Till now we don’t have any grants, but we are searching for possibilities for people, which might be limited to one or two students only. On the other hand, we know that there are grants to study abroad in different countries. For instance, there is a foundation in the Netherlands that grants money to study abroad for Dutch students.
SS: How do you view the future of Jewellery (and of the future students of jewellery making)?
GB: We view the field of Jewellery as a very broad field, ranging from ornamentation, like in costume jewellery, going to production jewellery, industrial jewellery, commercial jewellery – big quantities, some new explorations in new technologies as well as a small upcoming niche calling itself art jewellery. For us it’s all jewellery – and from that field, we explore the world. And all these domains are equally challenging. It’s about expressing ourself at a small scale.
TN: The jewellery field still has to learn a lot more about marketing and PR, and about showing that jewellery infact has more impact on human kind then the arts did. But we have no legacy, hardly any library of what happened and happens within contemporary jewellery. And of course, jewellery for most people, still is a diamond placed in a gold setting. As long as this is the measure, how many karats the diamond is – and the weight of the gold, we have to come up with very strong statements to challenge this perception.
RP: The future for MASieraad students will be very diverse. It is precisely because of the different perspectives of the teachers and their partner-teachers, that MASieraad approaches the broad spectrum of jewellery – from fashion jewellery, and design to art jewellery. From our knowledge and background of the field, we can stimulate the students to take a position in order to make a socially relevant difference.
All they need is to fight for a place in the universe as makers. And I believe that we as the core teachers can support our students to find their place in society.
MASieraad Hasselt-Amsterdam starts in September 2021 and is accepting applications till 17th January 2021. Further information and application details can be found on the MASieraad website: https://masieraad.com/
Surabhi Sahgal is an architect and jewellery maker based in Chandigarh, India. Currently pursuing an Internship with MASieraad, Surabhi handles social media engagement for the foundation, while learning and developing her own jewellery practice.