Every March in Munich, Germany, the Fashion Week of art, craft and design takes place. It is the International Trade Fair for the Skilled Trades, or Internationalen Handwerksmesse München.
“It's a global focus for our discipline,” says Dr Rohan Nicol, Head of Jewellery & Object at the ANU School of Art and Design. “The key practitioners, players in the field, are all present and watching. And Talente is one of the significant pillars of that.”
Talente is an exhibition that has been running since 1980. It invites applications from makers under the age of 35 from all over the world in all areas of craft and design. Each applicant can only ever enter once. So it was a masterstroke that two recent graduates put forward by the ANU School of Art and Design were not only among the 90 international participants, but that they were two of the eight TALENTE 2020 prize winners. And if that weren’t enough, the two were also the only participants selected from the southern hemisphere.
The two ANU recipients were Isabelle Mackay-Sim (B. Arts ‘15, B. Visual Arts (Hons) ‘19) and Kristina Neumann (B. Design Arts ‘16, B. Design Arts (Hons) ‘19), who both won the 2020 Talente Prize Gestaltung (Composition/Design).
“In our sector, it's quite amazing to get that recognition, because people really notice,” says Dr Nicol. “They check out where these graduates come from. And to have two from our school is really significant and important.”
Head of Ceramics, Mr Rod Bamford, agreed: “Talente is a premiere international award for design, craft and technology. The winners from ANU this year showcase a significant achievement for the students and provide an important platform for their careers.”
Isabelle described the win as feeling slightly surreal, and said it made her very proud of her work.
“The Talente prize is fantastic motivation to continue working towards exhibiting internationally, and gives me confidence that I can hold a place in the global art world, further than my (much beloved) local art scene,” says Isabelle.
“For an emerging artist this is hugely significant as I want to reach as broad an audience as possible. I have already had a few opportunities arise directly from the prize, and hopefully this will continue!”
Kristina said she was “completely and utterly over the moon” over her Talente prize win, as well as for the opportunity to exhibit her work overseas. She adds, “The annual exhibition always comprises of such an interesting array of work from emerging artists and I feel very lucky to be amongst them.”
The three pieces of hers that were awarded the prize were part of her Honours body of work, which she created in the Jewellery & Object workshop.
“During my time there, I got to connect with an amazing peer group, access wonderful lecturers and some of their thinking and it has also provided me a number of opportunities to exhibit nationally and overseas as well!” Kristina says.
Her works were a personal response to anxieties around housing affordability.
“I drew on features from my family home, and created wearable works with talismanic qualities,” Kristina says. “This included the use of 'Canberra Red Brick' as well as taking the window sill and using it as a motif within the three works.”
The winning body of work by Isabelle was called 'This dream of flesh’. She describes the pieces as “large sculptures, about torso-scale, that mimic folding or sagging flesh. They are glazed in sugary pastel colours, which creates a tension alongside the visceral forms.”
“They abstract the body to portray perceived imperfections in a new light,” Isabelle explains. “When abstracted in this way, elements of the body that are typically reviled in Western culture, like fat or cellulite, become intriguing and attractive.”
Mr Bamford says her work raises questions about how we think about our bodies, change them, what is an acceptable body form.
“Isabelle’s work carries the sense of aesthetic ambiguity, at once comfortable but slightly disturbing,” he says. “Her work points to the future, a post human vision.”
“It’s clear she is a talent to watch out for. Her work is original and striking yet seductive, also provokes with timely questions.”
Another lecturer in Ceramics, Ms Joanne Searle, said Issy was one of her best students: motivated and always ready to give back through mentoring other students, showing commitment and promise even at interviews.
Isabelle equally had praise to give to her Ceramics classes and teachers.
“My ceramics studies showed me the sheer breadth of technical possibilities that can be achieved with clay,” she says. “Learning from the staff in the ANU Ceramics Department gave my practice a solid grounding in both the technical craft of ceramics, and the conceptual thought needed to create artworks.”
In speaking about Kristina as a student, Dr Nicol says that she was “always enquiring” and “deeply committed in a holistic manner to the discipline”.
“She saw opportunities to contextualise her learning at every point of her degree, by working in the gallery sector, and by immersing herself in conferences, symposia and events dedicated to the discipline.”
On the Jewellery & Objects workshop, which has now produced many award-winning students and alumni, Dr Nichol says the facilities provide the opportunity to do materials-based enquiry that are not available anywhere else in Australia.
“Part of what gives Jewellery & Object a competitive edge is the fact that we are one of a suite of five craft-based disciplines, all co-located at the ANU School of Art and Design. That provides us with a rich ecology in which our students can come together and immerse themselves in a diverse range of ideas and practices.”
“But it's not just the disciplines,” he adds. “The high quality academic expertise that is drawn out of those areas is also a major factor.”
Kristina concludes, “The Jewellery & Object workshop has helped shape me into the artist I am today.”
As for the future, Kristina will be spending the next nine months continuing to research, develop and create a body of work looking at changing social attitudes to housing in Australia in a contemporary jewellery format. That work is supported by an ArtsACT Homefront funding grant, which was designed to support the local arts sector through the impacts of COVID-19.
“Additionally I will be exhibiting work during the Jewellers and Metalsmith Group of Australia conference which is being hosted in Canberra in July 2021, as well as a small solo exhibition at M16 which was an ANU Emerging Artist Support Scheme (EASS) award,” Kristina says.
“In March 2021, I will be moving to Germany to undertake a Masters of Fine Arts in Gemstones and Jewellery at Trier University of Applied Sciences which I am very, very excited about.”
Isabelle is working on two exhibitions happening in Canberra that have now been postponed to next year.
“These exhibitions will feature sculptural work that represents my continued exploration of the abstracted body, as well as some works that explore the realm of functional ceramics.”
To view Isabelle Mackay-Sim’s Talente Prize works and stay up to date with what she’s up to, visit her website and follow her on Instagram @isabellemackaysim.
You can follow Kristina Neumann on Instagram @kristina_neumann_ and find her winning works there too.
This news story was originally published on the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences website.