The many lives of a silver object_2019

Rohde, H., Huycke, D., Engel, C., SILBERTRIENNALE INTERNATIONAL/ SILVER TRIENNIAL INTERNATIONAL, Stuttgart: Arnoldsche Art Publishers, p. 17-18


In the moments before the auction in an antique shop starts, one can notice, between an unclear number of art objects, a vase-like item. This grey and soft shiny object seems to have been neglected in its near past; oxidised, dirty, even humble, and by consequence, overlooked by many people. Although, when the piece is put to the front to take bids from the audience, it attracts the attention of some connoisseurs. The bidding starts and the price goes up, further than the inattentive observer would have expected, until the piece is finally sold. Apparently, the buyer felt it is not just any vase-like object but a special object with meaning and importance. 

Coming home the new owner impatient but carefully cleans and polishes his new purchase. This seemingly simple gesture turns out magic, little by little changing the matt and grey surface into a new promise. What was before dark and matt now shines and vaguely reflects the colours and shapes that surround it. Could it be, that the material is silver? 

Little dents and scratches in the surface show traces of life and use, evoking the presence of time and history. The outside skin which was before covered under the patina now uncover beautifully executed ornaments, filigree, chased relief and detailed engravings, which suggest a certain importance in the former life of the piece. Undoubtedly the maker of this work of art has put an enormous amount of inspiration, energy, love and time in it, the one who ordered - or first bought it, surely paid a lot of money for it.

The further the cleaning advances, the more details are revealed causing moments of awe to the observer. It becomes obvious that this piece is surely made by hand, by a real master of his craft. This vase was designed, drawn and made with a lot of knowledge, the surface area decorated with precision and care.

After the act of exploring and cleaning, the new owner feels to have discovered a real treasure: not only by the probably high monetary value and the history it stands for, but also through the fact of spotting and recognizing the object between lots of other, on first view more attractive, things. It is a treasure because of what it now exhales, the changes it has undergone, which reveal the connection of fine craftmanship and knowledge.

Punched in the metal at the bottom of the piece, one can discover several stamps in different shapes, which before were hidden under the patina. Through a magnifying glass the stamps show detailed signs, images and numbers, confirming the suspicion of material value and of being made by somebody in a certain time and space. These ‘signatures’ together with the ‘fingerprints’ of the artist, are the witnesses of life, use and sublime creation.

The act of cleaning was done very carefully and with a feeling of giving a new life to something, which subsequently does not look new but now radiates a gorgeous quality instead. This tale comes to an end, when the piece is carefully wrapped in silk paper and put in the box, which once has been made specially to fit this piece. The one who released the hidden beauty, decides to give the piece away as a special present. Another life of the object is about start. What the purpose of the piece will be from now on - a contemplative or decorative object, or used as a vase - is of subordinate importance. It is a beautiful and original gift with a past and present, ready for the future. 

The protagonist in this story – the vase-like object – is not made from any material. It is made from silver, a white, precious metal with exquisite processing qualities and symbolic powers, used throughout our civilisation for special items and exclusive events. Silver is used in celebrations and ceremony’s, for trophy’s, and to decorate beautiful tables to bring people together. Whether the vase or actually any silver object is something new or old is irrelevant, because through the alchemy of gentle polishing it was reborn and now ready to start a new life. 

The fact that an object is made from silver makes a difference in two outstanding aspects: while it is not determined to be used only once or kept for a little while and thereby has the power to outlast generations, it also becomes a carrier of history and meaning through the marks that the times of use leave on the surface. Silver is collected and re-used, repaired when damaged but never thrown away, which makes it today a critical and sustainable material that looks forward to the future. From this point of view silver is gaining meaning in our every-day culture, where sustainability becomes one of the most important qualifications of the objects that surrounds us. 

On top of this, silver surely has been the material par excellence found and discovered in treasures and graves, being the subject of conquest and war. However, in an exhibition where colourful glass, monumental ceramics and silver objects are displayed together, the silver piece may have to struggle for attention. On the immediate, visual level silver objects are often smaller and less colourful, while attention goes easier to the large and striking objects. Finding a special silver piece between other objects on that auction needed just some special attention, as if it were in the nature of the precious material to be found.

Thereby the task of the contemporary silver artist is not only to rely on the aura of the material but to make attempts to transcend the silver tradition and to keep pushing the boundaries of the material. The artist has to take the challenge to work with new and strange ideas and break free from the things we know or pick-up long forgotten ideas and principles and show them in a new light. Working and thinking out of the box, with a material pregnant with meaning and history will give the discipline new oxygen.