Building on Ornamental History

Showcasing three solo exhibitions, Bridge 12 features the saw-pierced recycled objects of Australian metal smith, Melissa Cameron; Jacquard tapestries by New York textile artist, Betty Vera; and ceramic vessels patterned with quirky, figurative drawings by Kevin Snipes. These concurrent exhibitions reflect the high level of craftsmanship being produced by contemporary artists in the U.S. and abroad today. ?The exhibition is open and free to the public November 9, 2012 ?through March 30, 2013.

Participating artist Melissa Cameron will visit SCC to teach?Building Jewelry?from Found Objects on?Saturday & Sunday,?March 2, 3 from?9 am?4:30 pm.?In this two-day workshop,?offered in partnership with Construction?Junction and Pittsburgh Center for Creative?Reuse, she will guide students in the adaptive?reuse of repurposed objects for the creation?of wearable jewelry. Students will learn the?skills of drilling and saw piercing to re-create?the shapes and designs of their chosen?found objects in their own uniquely fabricated,?wearable artwork.?

The following essay was written by Marilyn Zapf on the work of Melissa Cameron for the Bridge 12 exhibition at SCC.?

? I like elements which are hybrid rather than ??pure,???compromising rather than ??clean,?? distorted rather than??straightforward,? ambiguous rather than ?articulated,??…???Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 1966
? ???Hybrid, compromising, distorted, ambiguous: the patterns and?elements Melissa Cameron creates for her Recycled Series?flirt comfortably with a weighty lineage of ornamental history.?Often drawing from archetypal decorative imagery, the artist?nimbly transforms her designs from two to three dimensions.The finished pairs of objects are at once sculptural, aesthetic,?functional, and structural, and result in a graphically striking?and critically poignant contribution to a long-standing debate?on the nature of ornament.
Tobacco Tin Set (Pin and Void Box, 2009
Painted recycled metal, mild steel, silver
? ? ?Writer and architect Robert Venturi theorized a particular?type of relationship between decoration and a building?s?fa?ade. The play between various elements of an edifice, he?suggested, should point to or imply unity. This preoccupation?with a ?whole? formed through a network of parts is present?throughout Cameron?s work on display at the Society for?Contemporary Craft.?
? ? ?Architectural theory is useful when considering?Recycled?Series?not only because of its overlap with ornamental theory,?but also because the artist originally trained in the field.?Her objects similarly reflect such programmatic techniques?of making and interest in structuring space.?

Bamboo Plate Set (Pendant and Altered Platter), 2009
Recycled bamboo, stainless steel cable, silver
? ? ?Using found objects Cameron engineers self-supporting?systems of pattern by piercing delicate, blueprint-like designs?out of tin boxes, compact cases, and bamboo plates. The?intricate fragments are then reconstructed into new forms?that can be worn on a lapel or around the neck. Finally?the objects are displayed side by side as diptychs or triptychs.?The connection between the new structure, the?Cigarette?Case Neckpiece?for example, and the?Cigarette Case Void Pendant?are still perceptible, even though both have undergone?significant transformation.?
Cigarette Case (Neckpiece and Void Pendant), 2009
Recycled silver, stainless steel cable, silk thread
? ? ?The patterns crafted by Cameron are equally as important?as the forms they create. Often the ornament is developed?through derivative mutations of a single element?in many?cases a rotated, elongated, translated, mirrored, or bifurcated?quatrefoil. With its four symmetrically intersecting circles, the quatrefoil was a common architectural motif throughout the?Renaissance and has provided a fruitful source of inspiration?for the artist. The shape can be found in both Islamic and?Christian designs, such as the Florence Baptistery Doors, and?demonstrates how patterns change in meaning over time,?reflecting shifts in cultural values and power. By employing?such charged imagery, Cameron knowingly situates her work?within such a historical narrative.
Red Tin Set (Pin and Void Brooch), 2009
Painted recycled metal, mild steel, stainless steel, silver
? ? ?Venturi would appreciate the ornamental lineage referenced?in Cameron?s work through the use of quatrefoils, scrolling?acanthus leaves, and Greek crosses. He was a proponent of?pillaging the dress-up box of history to create new decorative?compositions for his buildings; combining different parts of?artistic genres to create a new ?whole?.
? ? ?The relationship, however, between part and whole, fragment?and original, are not always straightforward in Cameron?s?work. Frequently both the found object and the structure?created from piercing into it have been manipulated into what?are arguably new entities. Take the Red Tin Set for example?the first pair created in this series. Not only is the spacious, red,?radial structure wearable, but the remaining container becomes?a brooch as well. So although viewers are confronted with two?fragments of the original tin, they are simultaneously?beholding two completely new objects.?

Cold Handle (Brooch, Altered Container), 2012
Recycled mild steel, stainless steel, vitreous enamel, silver
? ? ??Difficult whole? was the term Vernturi used to theorize?the interplay between parts of a fa?ade and the perceived unity?of a building. Cameron?s work could also be described as such.?Her jewelry is difficultly and technically constructed, involving?significant amounts of skill to achieve. Her structural patterns?are difficult to fit within previously held conceptions of?ornament as purely decorative. But ultimately the finished?pieces exemplify ?difficult wholes? because they successfully?stage an exchange between objects and decorative imagery?recycled from the collection of history.

Marilyn Zapf is a freelance writer and historian of craft and design. Former Editor-In-Chief of the blog, Unmaking Things, and recent member of the collective, Fig. 9, her work has also appeared in publications, such as Crafts magazine.