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Untitled (Hanok)

Untitled (Hanok), a work commissioned by Objectspace for 'Cook & Company', Tāmaki Makaurau. Hand carved limestone from the quake-demolished Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Lined with 24k gold leaf.

The largest survey of work by leading Aotearoa jeweller Octavia Cook, this exhibition expands on her long-held interest in the two-fold condition of jewellery: as a social artform when worn on the body and a repository of private or secret meaning. Cook is joined in the exhibition by seven practitioners spanning craft, design and architecture – Gerard Dombroski, Turumeke Harrington, Steven Junil Park, Nicholas Stevens & Deborah Smith, Isobel Thom and Anna Wallis. These makers were commissioned by the artist to design their own storage systems to house an imagined collection of jewellery. The resulting structures assert that the life of jewellery is in living collaboration with its owners and the spaces it inhabits after being worn. A selection of pieces from Cook’s own jewellery collection echoes this assertion, positioning the maker, commissioner and caretaker in conversation.

What kind of life (real or imagined) does jewellery have within your storage system?

I imagine that pieces of jewellery would be like spirits inhabiting this structure. The stucture is also
like a piece of jewellery, but instead of having its precious materials on the exterior, it hides them
inside, keeping them a secret for itself or for the pieces of jewellery kept within. I wonder what
pieces of jewellery do when they aren’t being worn. What do they do when we can’t see them,
during their own private time?

What informed your response to the brief? You may like to speak to your discipline/making practices, any influences or key thinking behind your work.

I am interested in how jewellery can have value beyond its material worth. Pieces that hold special
significance to an individual contain qualities that exist within that person’s internal world -
emotional, spiritual, sentimental value that can’t be seen. I wanted this piece to reflect this idea of
hidden value that exists beyond physical characteristics. It is lined with gold foil in its interior but it
also embodies the invisible memories of the materials. I wanted to make use of the limestone that I
salvaged from the quake-damaged Basilica here in Ōtautahi. Millions of years ago this stone
formed from the calcareous bodies of marine creatures. The earth’s movements thrust the stone
out of the water where it lay quietly for a very long time until being mined from the Mount Somers
quarry. It was cut down and used in the construction of the Christchurch Basilica. It stood like this
for over a hundred years until it was shaken apart by the earthquakes. I then cut it down further to
make this work. I wonder where it will be in a hundred years, a thousand, a million? The materials
of jewellery are often long lasting, they outlive our fragile bodies.

What is your relationship with jewellery?

I don’t wear a lot of jewellery but I’m fascinated by how old the practice of making and wearing
jewellery is for our species. It’s very clear that the desire to adorn ourselves is a very old instinct
and exists broadly across cultures. There is an element of magical thinking in jewellery that I am
really drawn to. These small, seemingly un-functional items can hold special meaning or power, I
wonder if this is partly due to the fact that they aren’t necessarily functional. I don’t wear jewellery
out of practicality but when I do it feels special and intentional.

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