champagne dreaming worn flat

australasian 'contemporary wearables'
Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

A record two hundred and twelve entries were received for the Toowoomba Gallery Society's sixth biennial award exhibition for Australasian 'Contemporary Wearables', and exhibition which is currently touring throughout Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. These awards are emerging as a major national showcase for designer/makers in the field . In 1999 the awards event provided a further eight acquisitions for Toowoomba city's growing wearables collection. These included English limewood brooches by Catherine Truman, Joung-Mee Do's silver pendants referencing Korean Pojagi textile, and a Viliama Grakilic 'Ritual ' necklace 'paying tribute to Aboriginal culture'. Of the eighty entries on tour, the majority are metal-based neckpieces, brooches or brooch groups.

Creative semi-precious jewellery and metal design was established in Australia under European influence during the '60s at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. This tradition is epitomised in Gin-Minn Chua's cylindrical implements using stainless steel, titanium and perspex. Perhaps the offspring of biros and hypodermics, these variously encase magnetic or injector pin devices as fasteners. Sharply sleek, and metro-hip, they have a discreetly startling presence as wearable items.

Up to a dozen of the entries reference 1970's experiments in dramatic macro body ornament with innovative materials nurtured by Sydney's Helge Larsen and Darani Lewers. This influence is most noticeable in the stainless steel micro-mesh 'boa' format body wraps of Melbourne's Vanessa Raimondo, one of which also was acquired by Toowoomba city. Two entries, by Sydney-based artists, of bonded and coated papers present well in the cool climate of a gallery. They demonstrate an austere and refined use of this modest medium, in the tradition of the Bauhaus masters. Karl Kowalczyk's necklace/bracelets suite effectively exploits the tensile life and kinetic potential of fine stainless steel wire. Such metal-aware design refers to the work of the 1960s by Freidrich Becker, a German engineer turned jeweller. lt adroitly sidesteps the need for plodding and painstaking construction and finish.

The exhibits present crisply enough against the flat surfaces and white walls of a gallery, especially when augmented by little black dresses, black leather jackets and the clink of champagne glasses. But now the fizz has gone, and the exhibition tends to present as a 'trickledown' exercise. The more refined pieces have an architectonic blandness. The more raw or heavily worked pieces have a pudgy innocence. Some are an odd mixture of both, a few matched with equally contrived titles, like for example So, Who's a Pretty Bird Then. Entries include student work along with that of senior designer/makers from a more comfortably expansive era than today. Yet even the younger work seems uninformed by any lean, feral or streetwise intensity, or the new urgency of our present, less accommodating, times.