An exhibition of hand-crafted metal objects, Placeholders explores what happens when the intrinsic value of an objects material is seen to be more valuable than the centuries of tradition involved in its creation. Throughout history metalwork has been melted down to create new objects or be hoarded in bank vaults, disregarding the original craftsperson’s hand, most only seeing value in the material itself. Yet as fewer artisans carry on these skills and traditions, we are in danger of losing the craft completely.
This new body of work by silversmith Gretal Ferguson questions the future of these traditions. Made to resemble the metal in its molten pre-worked state, each piece is displayed using common gallery hanging methods, a placeholder for what once was. The laboriously formed objects are left blank and without function, suggesting the growing absence of skills required to rework it.
Q&A with Claire de Carteret/Writer
What is the significance of gender as a theme in your practice?
I think any woman in a traditionally masculine field has this constant pressure to prove herself. Every time you deal with a new supplier or need to outsource a process you have to put on this show of knowledge, it’s like a performance so you can be taken seriously. It’s hard for that not to seep into your work. It definitely comes out in my concepts at times, usually after I’ve had to deal with some particularly misogynistic bullshit. The funny thing is it’s only when you’re dealing with people outside the wider silversmithing community, internationally the industry is very balanced when it comes to gender, there’s a lot of very well respected and successful female smiths.
In your practice metals are an important material for you to explore your ideas. To what extent does the material process inform your concepts?
The material process is almost always an integral part of my works concepts. I’m a craftsperson, so the craft is going to be a huge part of my work. Silversmithing is not a fast process, the shapes I make could definitely be made in simpler ways, but it gives you a lot of time to consider the work, not just aesthetically but conceptually.
The work unfolds in a way it wouldn’t if the process was quick and less laborious. Realising recently there isn’t really going to be a next generation in Australian silversmithing due to the loss of so many well-regarded courses is something that’s really permeated my entire practice. So I guess in this case it’s more the impending loss of my material practice that has informed my concept.