Malin Henningsson | jewellery as a sculpture
This week we are exploring the world of Swedish jewellery designer Malin Henningsson. Her unique sculptural approach to jewellery-making and philosophy of jewellery being a wearable art results in pieces that are timeless works of art rather than just a seasonal decoration.
WHO IS MALIN, TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOU?
I grew up in the countryside – on a farm just outside Halmstad in a small town on the Swedish South West coast that is known for its beautiful beaches and a great summer vibe. I still keep this place close to my heart. It is the only place in the world that truly and always feels like home. Still, I knew quite early on that I was not going to stay here. I have always been interested in art and crafts, which meant I had to move away eventually.
After high school I took a two-year foundation course in silversmithing and blacksmithing in a small village called Dals Långed, located in a deep forest, 120 km away from the nearest larger city. Soon after I was longing for civilisation and moved to Stockholm. I decided to study Art History for a year at Stockholm University and after that I was accepted at the Jewellery Art Department at Konstfack University College of Arts Crafts and Design. When I got my Bachelors degree three years later, I became tired of jewellery and decided to switch my focus to textiles and fashion so I took my MFA at the Textile Department. It felt like a natural step to take. In fact, it was the best choice I could have ever done! The approach to the body there was quite different and I was able to develop my own way of working. I felt freer and started to work in a bigger scale.
YOU SAID THERE WAS A PERIOD IN YOUR LIFE, WHEN YOU BECAME TIRED OF JEWELLERY. WHAT CAUSED IT?
Looking back I’ve realised it was not actually working with jewellery I was tired of, but rather the way I had been taught to approach it. The very small field of Contemporary Art Jewellery is a quite unique world that I have never been comfortable in. Most art jewellery ends up in exhibitions at galleries and are seldom sold or worn. Though I see my jewellery as an art, it’s essential for me to make jewellery for people, not for galleries. I want my jewellery to be worn – to be a wearable art. When making a piece of jewellery I approach it as a sculpture, but a sculpture made to relate to a body.
THERE ARE SO MANY DIFFERENT PATHS WITHIN ART & CRAFTS ONE CAN TAKE. WAS JEWELLERY MAKING YOUR DREAM FROM THE VERY BEGINNING?
Not at all! At first I wanted to work with blacksmithing and sculpture. That’s why I got into the two-year blacksmithing course. Here in addition to blacksmithing you where obliged to learn silversmithing as well. I was not at all fond of making jewellery in the beginning. I thought it was too small and detailed. I did not understand it and never wore jewellery myself at that time. Somehow during these two years this had changed and I decided to continue with it.
WHAT HAS PROMPTED YOU TO ESTABLISH YOUR OWN LABEL? WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT MALIN HENNINGSSON JEWELLERY?
I felt there was a lack of interesting jewellery on the Swedish jewellery scene. Even though I see a lot of problems with Art Jewellery in general, I really like its expressive qualities. I wanted to take the best from Art Jewellery – its playfulness and disrespectful attitude towards material hierarchies and traditions, and distillate this into a commercial and wearable shape.I think the way I treat my jewellery – as a sculpture – is quite unique. I put a lot of attention to the small details, and I try to make each piece into something more than just a jewellery. Also the unconventional architectural and geometrical shapes make it one of a kind
HOW DOES A TYPICAL DAY IN YOUR LIFE AS A DESIGNER LOOK LIKE?
Usually I wake up quite early and take care of emails at home. I try to be at the studio at 8 am. There I start off with a cup of coffee. That is a must :)! Then I work until around 6 pm. Until recently I worked almost all my awaken time, but after getting a “wake up call” I have started to reconsider things in my life, valuing other things than work.
In fact my work day depends a lot on where I am in the process of making jewellery. At the moment I am planning many new projects and a new collection. I am in an early stage and therefore trying to get as much input as possible. Going to exhibitions, searching trough flee markets, reading books, collecting interesting materials, etc. This means that my days vary a lot. In a couple of weeks the sketching period will follow. Parallel to this creative work, there are a lot of administrative duties, production and special orders that I take care of.
WHERE IS YOUR STUDIO BASED IN? WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT ITS LOCATION?
It is located in Stockholm, south west of the city centre, in a suburb called Solberga. It is quite close to where I live which of course is convenient. I share it with five other creatives. We all met at the Textile Department at Konstfack. None of the others work with jewellery, which is really good because they perceive jewellery in a different way than I do. This is great for my creative process. The best thing about the location, except for being close to where I live, is that it is not in a “cool” area, therefore it is really cheap. It is also close to an industrial area where I often go to buy material and the nature is just around the corner – I often find a few roe deer feeding just outside the door!
HOW DOES YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS LOOK LIKE?
I start off with an inspiration period when I try to get as much input as possible. Collecting materials and images, details, creating a mood board that summons the feeling I am looking for. I usually find the feeling quite quickly, the tricky part is to “put it into words”/ to visualise it – especially finding the right materials for visualising it. After creating a mood board, the sketching period takes over. I start playing with materials and 3D shapes quite early after, I do not sketch on paper that much as I think it limits me. This part of the process can be described as ‘laying the puzzle’. I build shapes and structures, take photos take it apart and rebuild in another way. I then go back to the images and continue the same process in the computer rearranging, making collages. Then I go back to the object again and continue. I often come to a point where I get stuck and need to bring in a new material, shape or texture before finally finding the momentum when everything is right. I often work on a number of different objects at the same time that cross-fertilise each other. It is a long and winding process but it is so rewarding and satisfying when it comes together.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION FOR YOUR WORK, HOW DO NEW IDEAS COME TO YOU?
I find inspiration in art, architecture, photography and everyday objects that surround us. I am very open to visual impressions; it can be trivial things like how a garbage bin is screwed together, the glimmering surface of a piece of charcoal or an interesting contrast between a toaster and a red crystal that just happen to be placed next to each other.
HOW HAS THE NOTION OF ‘JEWELLERY BEING WEARABLE ART’ INFLUENCED YOUR WORK?
I am not fixed on any idea of how jewellery should look, or what material it should be made of. I create the shapes, and I use the materials I feel will be suitable and communicate the feeling I want to express. I want my jewellery to exist as an object; both on its own and in relation to a human body. I treat them as sculptures, as pieces of art that can be exposed on a body. I am therefore very picky about every little detail. I do not use standard locking mechanisms or other pre-fabricated details unless they contribute to the overall expression.
WHICH MATERIALS DO YOU PREFER TO WORK WITH?
I have been working with brass and stone (raw and unpolished ones) for quite some time now. I like these a lot. I love the living surface of brass, the way it ages. The different structures and colours of stones really intrigue me. Lately I have been working with charcoal, plaster, wood and bronze. The problem with some of these materials though is to make them last without loosing their visual qualities.
WHAT TECHNOLOGY/TECHNIQUES DO YOU USE?
Mostly I use ordinary silversmithing techniques like sawing, soldering, gold-plating, etc. Since I work a lot with stones I have had to learn a bit about stone cutting, using special diamond drills and grinding tools. I often use new materials in every project, so I constantly need to develop my craft skills. This is something I find very rewarding and that often generates further new ideas.
TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR CURRENT COLLECTION – NOVEL SPACE. WHAT INSPIRED IT?
The Novel Space collection is made of two parts – ‘Novel Space – SiO2’ and the second part, ‘Novel Space – CuZn’. It is inspired by a room. A room I have seen many times but never visited. It is an intriguing place with many different structures, hard and soft units working together. It is a room somewhere in between something physical and a dream. The collection tries to capture the visual feeling and the dreamy air of this space.
ANY FUTURE COLLECTION PLANS?
There is a new collection coming along that will be launched in the autumn. As I mentioned before I am in an early phase and I cannot really tell you yet how it will end up. Some months I visited a bronze foundry to make tests, so it seems bronze will probably be the foundation of this collection. I am also in an early phase of another exiting project that I unfortunately cannot say anything about at the moment.
FINALLY, WHAT DOES MINIMALISM MEAN TO YOU?
Minimalism for me represents the reduction of shallow decoration, letting strong visual shapes, materials and textures do the talking. This does not however mean a lack of detail.
LEARN MORE ABOUT MALIN HENNINGSSON