Brooch, 'Compressed brooch', anodised aluminium / copper / plastic, designed and made by Susan Cohn, Melbourne, Australia, 1984-1987
Susan Cohn is one of Australia's most innovative, influential and well-respected jewellers, metalworkers and designers. Articulate and provocative, Cohn's technical inventiveness and sophisticated conceptual aesthetic has pushed the parameters of contemporary jewellery design, making and dialogue in Australia. In addition she has contributed to the field in other ways, offering traineeships at her studio, Workshop 3000, taking on the chair of Craft Victoria and lecturing and writing on design.
Cohn uses form, materials, technique, content and wit to explore and challenge traditional notions of authenticity, preciousness and value. She melds mass production techniques with handwork and industrial materials with precious. She wants people to wear her jewellery not because of its material value or preciousness but because they form an aesthetic, emotional and associative attachment to it.
Cohn's work engages directly with contemporary life, reflecting on broader social and cultural issues including ageing, recycling, cosmetic surgery and safe sex. In particular she draws on street life and the way ordinary things are transformed into ornament and become complex cultural signifiers.
This brooch is part of her Compressed brooch series begun in 1984 'to spike pretensions surrounding a jewellery competition' (Cohn 1989). It reflects her interest in serially produced items and mass production techniques. The bar brooch is made from recycled coloured aluminium scrap left over from the anodising process. Made with a simple press tool which compresses the aluminium scraps into a rectangular shape, the narrow bars are bound with plastic hair ties. Conceptually the brooch is based on the scrap metal industries car compaction machines. The pin that is used to attach the brooch to the wearers clothing resembles the ring pull on a drink can. The result is a beautiful, finely crafted brooch which derives from and visually speaks of its origin as industrial waste and whose industrial technology combined with intricate handwork creates an ambiguous reading of mass production and customised one-off at the same time.
Susan Cohn (b1952) first trained as a graphic designer with Garry Emery before turning to jewellery making and completing a Graduate Diploma in Fine Art, Gold and Silversmithing at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) in 1986. In 1980 she co-founded and later assumed sole ownership of Workshop 3000 a jewellery workshop located in Flinders Lane, Melbourne.
'The thing I like about jewellery - and that extends to tableware - is the intimate association, working on something for someone that is going to have a particular meaning for that person and is going to become part of that person's life' (Sydney Morning Herald, Jan 4, 1997, Spectrum 3)
Metal is Cohn's favoured material and quite early in her career she discovered the lightweight flexibility of aluminium, a relatively cheap material whose anodised surface could be impregnated with an almost limitless range of dyes. It was also suited to mass production techniques because it could be pressed into shape rather than using time consuming gold and silver-smithing techniques. Anodised aluminium facilitated her fascination with serially produced works where a form could be easily repeated but individualised through different surface treatments, inclusions and joining techniques.
An astute cultural commentator Cohn's seeks inspiration in street culture, technology, communication devices, cults, symbols and utilitarian object. Her work has referenced the Walkman, dental braces, security passes and keys. Values and value judgements are turned upside down as she uses her work to report on society, its concerns and values in a thought provoking and often witty manner. Cohn has an ability to make the ordinary, extraordinary in form and content.
Made by Susan Cohn in her studio Workshop 3000 in Flinders Lane, Melbourne. Cohn established this workshop, initially with Marian Hosking and Harry Rowlands in 1980 as a place to work, and to provide an access space to others. She has also offered traineeships to emerging jewellers and metal smiths.
The brooch was made between 1984 and 1987.