Moray Gallery

Elfi Spiewack: Un/familiarities

6-26 April 2024

They are mysterious, these works. Incongruous conflations of familiarity and strangeness, depth-less image and three-dimensional object, art and jewellery.

The settings are the timeworn, colour-skewed reproductions of eighteenth and nineteenth century Romantic paintings with their dramatic cloudscapes, nostalgic pastoralism and suggestions of intimacy, a canon of familiar images ejected from their place above the mantelpiece or beside the bed to gather dust and disfiguring light in the $10 bin of the op shop or garage sale.

Into these, jeweller Elfi Spiewack embeds set gems, slivered bone and polished stone, using the materials and techniques of fine jewellery to add a startling vitality, disrupting assumptions of medium, value and aesthetic norms.

The choice of materials is subtle, dictated by the mood, colour and narrative of the imagery, while violating the norms of both art and jewellery. If the value of art is determined by the reputation of the artist, and the value of jewellery is dictated by the materials used, here the ‘art’, discoloured and discarded, is pierced with precious metals and the natural beauty of agate, jasper, basalt and shell, set according to the highest standards of the jeweller’s craft.

Accompanying these framed works, are pendants of large slices of raw stone, polished to expose the extraordinary beauty of pattern and colour redolent of the landscape from which they came and in which they can be worn again.

Spiewack has been this way before. In her Osseous series of 2015, she integrated animal bones and synthetic hair into wearable jewellery. In Splendour Moot, Adornment Re-Framed (2017-now), she adorned portraits from the Baroque and Victorian periods with finely crafted brooches and necklaces. 

But the paradoxes of this exhibition also evoke the everyday strangenesses of Covid times when, as she says, the old story was disturbed, nothing made sense: “It was a new reality.”

LINK to ODT review of Un/familiarities by James Dignan