Design Anthology - Asia Pacific Edition
Artist Zoë Veness explores material intricacies that straddle and question design and art
Alove for model making discovered during undergraduate studies saw Zoë Veness experimenting with acetate, drafting film and paper to investigate numerical systems including the Fibonacci sequence. Although she originally intended to translate these folded designs into metal, Veness found working with paper so intriguing that she began to produce brooches and necklaces, their humble materials and intricate forms challenging the preconceived notions of value associated with jewellery.
Exploring the space between wearable and standalone objects led to the creation of looped and linked forms that ‘are still connected to the body through the language of jewellery’, but rest on plinths rather than skin.
Veness relocated from Sydney to Hobart in 2016 to teach, finding the Tasmanian capital an ideal setting to refocus her practice after completing a PhD. In Hobart, she began working with leftover samples of copper and brass, creating a series of pins to commemorate the 62 lives lost in the catastrophic Tasmania fires of 1967. These took the form of rose petals, a symbol of remembrance and colonisation. She hadn’t worked with symbolism before, but the context prompted change. ‘In Hobart, the tension between settlers and Indigenous communities is really strong — you feel it,’ she notes.
Subsequent bodies of work have been inspired by the alpine landscape at the summit of Hobart landmark kunanyi / Mount Wellington. ‘You can sense deep time up there. Being into detail, I was viewing it through a jeweller’s eye,’ she says. ‘I quite like trying to capture something massive in small things.’ For her 2017 solo exhibition New Terrain in an Old World, held at Craft ACT, she paired photographs of the mountain’s dolerite rock and lichen with small-scale brass and copper bowls. ‘I like making objects that have a function — it’s my designer training coming in — and yet they’re art objects as well,’ she says.
Veness avoids harsh chemicals, preferring traditional pH solutions and flame to create patinas. ‘My torch is magic, especially with brass. It creates beautiful colours that change over time,’ she says. This unpredictability contrasts with the precision required when working with paper, where a one-millimetre change can affect a design. ‘I’m really enjoying letting the material speak the way it wants to,’ Veness says. She relishes pushing materials to their limits, and while she feels she has done this with paper, she admits she doesn’t think she’ll ever ‘totally understand’ metal. ‘You work with the material; you don’t control it,’ she says. Despite shifting her focus from one to the other, Veness embraces both as complementary approaches — precise and clean, dirty and unpredictable.
The loop is another key motif in Veness’s practice. She’s currently developing vessels and ‘jewellery for the wall’ that incorporate twisted, soldered and rolled metals. It’s full circle for the designer-maker, who has her early folded designs in mind. ‘When I was a student, I used acetate with the view to translate it into strips of metal. I was so engrossed in how to make patterns into numerical codes that I never got there. Now I’m returning to that idea.’