Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Modern Alchemy

Like a rare orchid, a bracelet design fascinates.

The jewelry designs of Berlin-based artist Ulrike Hamm are almost indescribable. They're at once naturalistic and futuristic, and certainly keep one guessing as to the material.

Educated at the Lehrwerkstatt der Gold-und Silberschmiede-Innung in Hamburg, the Universität der Künste in Berlin and the Fachhochschule für Gestaltung in Pforzheim, Hamm is trained in the venerable tradition of Renaissance goldsmiths, though her work defies historicism in all respects but her incredible technical skill. The "stubborn, mysterious... and unpredictable" medium she has chosen? Parchment.

To find each piece of parchment requires hours of sorting through skins, followed by hours of clever experimentation with its surface. Like a medieval alchemist, Hamm transforms a common material into precious ornament.

“Various influences such as heat, cold, moisture or acidity bring parchment to its mechanical limits," she explains. "I develop three-dimensional forms out of a flat surface and test different dying and printing techniques on it. I dye pre-cut parts in various stages in a colour bath, and while they are still elastic I shape and assemble them into jewelry." Adding that "the parchment shrinks during the drying process and shapes itself according to its inherent growing patterns."

For Hamm, the delight is in the process, the curious and playful interaction of a material's natural tendencies with an artist's manipulation. .. and just how willing it is to let her interfere.


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