Review / Rings designed with ‘wit and intelligence’

craft / “Ring Master”, Bilk Gallery, Palmerston Lane, Manuka, until December 24. Open Wednesday to Friday, 11 am to 5pm , Saturday 11am to 4pm. Reviewed by MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE.

DIRECTORS of Bilk are performing as ring masters of twenty artists who were invited to explore the notion and design of the humble – and not so humble – ring. 

“Ring Master” is a celebration of this ubiquitous piece of jewellery.

While a ring is generally thought of as being a circular band worn around the finger, there are other rings worn for personal adornment. A ring might be made from the ring-pull on drink cans to precious metals with precious stones. These days rings are worn on any finger and the thumb, often several at once.

This is a wonderful exhibition and there are a couple of artists whose work has not been shown regularly in Canberra. There is a wide range of materials, from resin, nylon precious metals and precious stones.

There is a lightness of touch in some works on exhibit. Mikki Trail is showing rings which hint at romance – or not. “A Lure”, “Reel Me In”, “Don’t Rock The Boat” and “The One That Got Away” all in silver. They’re whimsical and a play on words.

Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro is showing a number of “Jelly Rings” from coloured polymer resin. Pale pink, green and amethyst globules sit comfortably on the finger, and are very jelly-like.

Bin Dixon-Ward, who recently had a solo show at Bilk, is showing kinetic rings that shake when worn. Giving these rings another lease of life, she has made stands for them to sit in. I particularly like Dixon-Ward’s attention to detail, for example having two bands to keep the large and wobbly tops in place on a finger.

Only one artist is showing a ring to be worn around the wrist. Julie DeVille takes the conventional setting of an engagement ring and has expanded it to “Nanna’s engagement bangle” using cubic zirconia instead of diamonds as the three main stones. She is also showing “Nanna’s engagement ring”, a white gold ring whose dark colour conceals the precious metal.

Three artists are also concealing the precious materials used in their rings. Godwin Baum is exhibiting two rings in iron and gold. Titled “Magnetic rings”, the gold is hidden when worn.

Cinnamon Lee is showing a series of “Trapped” rings, where the silicon nitride balls are wrapped in the rhodium plated silver bands. Sean O’Connell is also hiding silicon nitride balls in “Knuckleduster Ring” in 9ct rose gold.

The Bilk family: Helen Aitken-Kuhnen, Johannes Kuhnen and Mio Kuhnen are all showing rings, including a plain gold band and a gold ring with a superb Burmese ruby from Johannes, rings with precious stones and simpler silver rings by Helen, and “Lava, Lava, Lava” rings in silver – some gold plated – by Mio.

This exhibition shows the very high standard of contemporary jewellery that we have come to expect from Bilk, and it is combined with wit and intelligence.

The line from the nursery rhyme sums up this exhibition: “Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes/And she shall have music wherever she goes”.

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