iBefore crossing the canal, heading off to study a BA ‘Edelsmeden’ (a.k.a. Jewellery Design) at the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, Japanese art student Mika Yamakoshi was studying the foundation course at Central Saint Martins. While she is now going through a journey that involves creating pieces consisting out of hair — more than anything else — her classes pose the question ‘what is jewellery?’, which she explores together with her four course mates on the rather secluded course. We learn about how experimental Rietveld is, and in what ways it has influenced her practise and conceptual thinking about jewellery as a discipline.

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“We are a very small group compared to CSM’s BA Jewellery. I’m in the second year and we are a group of five. We have workshops, but it’s not only about jewellery techniques. For example, we have had a dance workshop, a performance workshop, a biology-based workshop, and so on.”

What were you doing in Japan before going into foundation at Central Saint Martins?

I was working as a hairdresser for about 6 years. I started to think about learning design or art through that job.

Have you always wanted to go into jewellery, or did the foundation course at CSM help you to choose?  

I wasn’t sure if was the right direction for me at first. That’s why I chose the diagnostic pathway, where I could try fashion, textiles, and product design classes as well. Then I realised that I enjoyed jewellery the most. I didn’t plan to continue studying, because I was planning to go back to Japan and work again after foundation, but I decided to continue the discipline on a BA level.  

How do you feel about your current personal practice compared to what you have first learned at CSM? And what you are learning now at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie?

When I started at CSM, I didn’t really know about design and art, and I had never even heard about ‘contemporary jewellery’. Everything was new. The projects were so brief — it was like doing short distance sprints. But how I work at Rietveld is almost the opposite: it’s like walking. Projects are long-term and they are quite open. There was even a period when nobody had a common theme. So I can wander, make a detour and I don’t need to set any goals. I can do lots of experiments with different materials and I am open to many possibilities. This makes my research diverse. But on the other hand, it’s easier to get lost, which has happened to me last year. Through this experience I felt I had to determine my perspective and philosophy on jewellery.

Is your course workshop-based or is it more conceptual?

We are a very small group compared to CSM’s BA Jewellery. I’m in the second year and we are a group of five. We have workshops, but it’s not only about jewellery techniques. For example, we have had a dance workshop, a performance workshop, a biology-based workshop, and so on. We also learn theory in class, and we read philosophy and art related books. I feel we have strong concept-based studies, but I still think it’s very experimental.

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“We discussed the topic: “what is jewellery” and I often noticed people say that “jewellery is activated on body”. Wearable or not, we never ignore the body, but we just interpret it in so many ways.”

Have you ever felt you had to obey to any of the industry’s predefined sections: fine jewellery or contemporary jewellery, for instance? Where would you place yourself, then?

When I thought about jewellery before, I used to think of those sections, because categorising helps me clarify which direction to take, or how to define my personal taste. But since I’ve started to study at Rietveld, I naturally think less about categories, and to be honest I don’t even know if it’s necessary to think about them among jewellery.  

Do you usually feel that you have to stand up for jewellery as an art medium?

At the Rietveld Academie, jewellery is considered as art — that’s what I strongly feel. A good example is the graduation show earlier this year. There were large-scale works and pieces that were not necessarily wearable. I would’ve understood it if some people thought it was not ‘jewellery’. Each of the students had their own tastes and they were all so different. If we stick to the idea of “jewellery pieces have to be worn”, and expect works to be shaped like conventional necklaces, brooches, earrings and so on, anything like this graduation show would’ve never happened. We discussed the topic: “what is jewellery” and I often noticed people say that “jewellery is activated on body”. Wearable or not, we never ignore the body, but we just interpret it in so many ways. These things make the department unique. I’m curious how CSM students would answer this question.  

Do you miss anything about CSM?  

I miss the library so much! The library was where I spent the most time and it is where I got a lot of inspiration… I also miss the busy coming and goings, and the “friendly rivalry” among the students a bit, because I feel Rietveld is more individualistic and people focus on self-exploration.

What is next for you?  

Last year (in my 1st year) I made works that were not wearable. I’m satisfied with what I’ve made, but I want to think more about the relationship and interaction of the body and jewellery again. I also want to work with hair, since it was my starting point to think about jewellery. I’ve already started to use it as a material, it’s a bit gross… but exciting.  

Words by Colombe d’Humieres

All images courtesy of  Mika Yamakoshi

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