Turda necklace, 2009, hand coloured polycarbonate by Svenja John. Photo credit: Gallery Funaki

Turda necklace, 2009, hand coloured polycarbonate by Svenja John. Photo credit: Gallery Funaki

One will find it easy to think of the words ‘Syntax’ and ‘Contingency’ in Svenja John’s latest pieces at the Gallery Funaki titled ‘X-Branen’. The complex but sturdy structural ‘skeletons’ have an obvious syntactic relationship while the intricate composition of individual pieces into a singular expressive form takes it one step further by revealing an architectural idea.

The word ‘Contingency’ manifests itself in the pieces through their natural yet scientific forms. Some look like a snowflake while others almost symbolise a digital diagram. 

I was taken by the purity of the material used by the artist. The individual pieces are added to each other without screws or bolts. Much like the human skeleton.

In fact, the name of this collection ‘X-Branen’ translates to ‘X-Bones’. The letter ‘x’ possibly suggesting exposure and expression. The pieces, in my opinion, are not beautiful. They are communicative. I liken the forms to tribal necklaces made of bones, worn by indigenous tribes in certain parts of the world to symbolise status and achievement. A comparison can be revealing.

I think the artist’s use of macrofol, a material used in mass-produced goods such as CDs and roofing, is perhaps an attempt to create an 'artificial bone necklace'. In other words perhaps, creating artificial status and a false sense of achievement. I find that terrific because it is accompanied also by empty spaces in between defining a space without filling it. I see a direct relation to the illusion of false culture or the failed attempts at incorporating local culture in many art forms. Whether Svenja John had been successful in incorporating local culture or not is not relevant, because she has very successfully created highly communicative works of art. Few artists do that successfully these days, or even bother to.

I find the pieces more insightful than ornamental. Clearly, despite being jewellery, they were not meant to be worn (too often), but (more often) to be hung or laid out on display. So it is perfectly fine that I do not find them beautiful, because they are meant to communicate, and communicate they did.


By Steven Chu

Steven Chu is a Burmese-Australian architect and the Founding Director of Alter Atlas.

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