Brooch, 'Hybrid Cuttings', silver / plastic / Broome pearls, Helen Britton, Perth, Western Australia, 1997
Helen Britton (b.1966) has a background in design, printmaking and textiles, having started studies in NSW (1984) and completed first-class honours in metal and three-dimensional design at Curtin University, Perth (1994). She is currently (1997) teaching at Curtin University. Her work imaginatively combines precious materials like silver and pearls with non-precious materials like plastic, thus continuing the practice since the 1970s of using 'alternative materials' to question the meaning of 'value' in relation to jewellery. In this particular series she is exploring her interest in genetic engineering and its manipulation of botanical forms, as part of the history of the construction of the concept of nature. These 'hybrid and graft' works were shown in an exhibition entitled 'Savage Princess Comes to Town', but the accompanying essay ('Savage articulations: the Politics of Vision and Objects in works by Helen Britton' by Estelle Barrett for Craftwest) did not discuss them. The following email correspondence elaborates on Britton's theme:
Patricia Anderson has probably told you that I have expressed interest in some items of your jewellery, recently shown at the Crawford Gallery. I hope to be able to acquire at least some of those I have reserved, although this process takes a little time. I will keep you informed about it all.I was particularly interested in the 'Hybrid Cuttings' brooches and the 'Graft' rings. They seemed to say quite a bit about how you bring different materials and ideas together into new forms and ideas, and I liked the botanical metaphor with this process.I notice that this aspect is not discussed in the essay by Estelle Barrett - perhaps they are new works? I would appreciate some more information about your ideas regarding this group (10, 16, 17, 29, 34). If you have anything already written, perhaps you could send it to me. If not let me know by email, and I will try to contact you by phone.
Regards, Grace Cochrane (24 September 1997)
Thank you for your message about my work at Crawford Gallery. I was delighted to hear of your interest in my work. I would like to fill you in a little about the hybrid cuttings, grafts and Estelle Barret's article. Estelle's article was originally written for Craftwest and was very restricted in its length by that publication. As a result it was difficult for Estelle to discuss much of the specific conceptual background of individual groups of works. I do feel, however that the article did capture some of my interests and ideas. Whilst all my work is linked through theoretical research, specific groups of work do form as discrete entities.The Hybrids and grafts are an entity that I am currently developing and are, for me, some of the most conceptually interesting of my current practice. I am interested in genetic engineering and its manipulation of botanical forms. Along side this I am interested in the history of the construction of the concept of nature. This includes of course the colonisation of the new world the collection and classification of its flora and fauna. The hybrids and grafts reflect the collision of these interests. They are in effect mutants, on their own slightly frightening evolutionary tangent, part plant, part machine, part animal- cyborgs- keen to graft themselves onto a passing body. They also represent a collision of materials, reducing and questioning heirarchical notions of preciousness - Domestic plastics and Broome pearls, and they also reference resource waste and disaster - plastics should be precious - are these the cuttings from the garden at the edge of an ever expanding industrial waste dump - Donna Harraway's "Terminal Efluvia"?
This is a very brief outline of some of my ideas that come from long term interest and research. I am currently doing a MA by research at Curtin University where I am writting about my work and these issues with (I hope) a little more clarity than I have done here. Also I am making large hybrid cuttings, about 1 metre long, cast in aluminium, in fact I will be casting the first one tomorrow in the foundry at Curtin. I hope this gives you a little more insight, and I look forward to hearing from you,
Regards, Helen Britton (29 September, 1997)
Made by Helen Britton in Perth, 1997.