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In Conversation with Jeweller Katheryn Leopoldseder

“When I make, I start with a feeling and a sense of what I’m trying to say.
I add and subtract and try things until it feels like it’s saying what I want it to say." – Katheryn Leopoldseder.

Even amongst changes to her routine and a rescheduled show, Katheryn Leopoldseder has had a year rich with collaboration and cross-pollination. Join us as we chat with Katheryn about her eventful year, her experience with the Pivot program, and her upcoming work, New Day.

What has your experience been as a resident artist for the Pivot 2021 program, and how has it affected your practice, and the body of work you are working on?

Pivot came along as the perfect opportunity to develop New Day. It is an exhibition I first conceived of and started working on about two and a half or three years ago. I originally conceived of it—in my mind I saw the whole show—so I then applied for an exhibition at the Convent and thought, “I know what I’m doing! I know how to achieve it! Let’s get the ball rolling.”

As I started developing the work, I realised there was a much bigger story to tell. I made the first lot of pieces—the ones that had been part of the original show—and then thought, “there’s more that I have to do!” So that led to me initially postponing the show and developing it into this bigger thing. And, in that time, friends of mine got on board and chipped in money to facilitate me making the rest of the pieces. I did an artist talk for them, to show their employees what they were investing into. They are civil engineers, and there’s actually a lot of crossovers: working with metal. I’m sort of doing engineering on a small scale.

They fell in love with the stories behind the work but they’re quite analytical and were like, “it’s been so great listening to you talk about the work. Is there a way you can create that sort of engagement in the show, beyond just showing the objects?” They came up with the idea of a QR-coded digital experience that adds some of the rich stories, that are behind each piece, to the experience of the work.

When the Pivot opportunity came up, I thought, “that’s the perfect environment to document these works in situ, in some of the Convent rooms.” While they will be displayed in the traditional gallery situation, people can use their phones to scan a QR code and take them to that artwork in a room that would have a relationship to that piece, or to sound, or to a snippet of an interview with someone.

You create jewellery pieces for people who understand the story or legacy behind a piece. Tell us how jewellery can have a narrative.

There’s not the same public understanding of contemporary jewellery and body adornment as there is for things like painting, music or other artforms where that ground has already been prepared. People come to sculpture or paintings already knowing that they need to go through a process of questioning what the elements of it are, why did the artist chose those colours or that symbol. A lot of people don’t ordinarily ask those questions when presented with jewellery. They just flatten it down to, “is it sellable? Would I wear it? Is it pretty?”

Since I was a little kid, I’ve made jewellery, and it’s taken me years to know why. It relates to how people feel about themselves, how they want to present themselves, people honouring one another. You can’t separate how jewellery relates to the body. It is my medium because it relates to the body and identity. There is a rich history of symbolism and meaning behind different items of jewellery—like a crown—that also add a whole lot of meaning to the form.

You mentioned QR codes in New Day, which have been a big part of our lives living with COVID. Has that aspect of contemporary life changed or given amplification to New Day?

The irony is that we came up with the QR codes to do this show before the pandemic had really unfolded! It’s bizarre how it has fallen into line with how people are experiencing art and the outside world. It has amplified the collaboration that is an essential value of the Convent community.

For example, when ANAM [Australian National Academy of Music] first moved in, they had a series of Meet the Artist events. I gave a talk for them, and afterwards, they came back to me and offered to be involved with my exhibition. As we’ve made digital content during Pivot, I realised there is an artwork that has sound associated with it. So, I contacted ANAM and put the call out for artists to create some sound or music to become part of the QR-coded experience. I’ve had a great response and people are working on that now. I don’t know that I would have thought to do that without Pivot and this QR code element to the project. A lot of cross-pollination has come out from having this element.

I usually work by myself—spending days, weeks and months by myself! And now we are all in isolation, but this element is super collaborative. Being a working mum, my day is usually very short and disciplined. For the last few years, I have missed a lot of cross-pollination opportunities because I have had to be so disciplined to keep everything going. But this has reinstated that collaboration—just in a really different form than usual!