Colombe d’Humières, second-year French jewellery student at Central Saint Martins, is wearing turquoise suede pants and a flower-print bomber jacket, but all I notice are her piercing blue eyes, staring right at me beneath her half-closed eyelids. She’s only 21, but already she has a clear idea of where she wants to go and who she’d like to be.
When she was younger, her high-school teachers frowned upon the idea of her going to an art school, which only sharpened her resolve. She never wanted to be a jewellery designer, thinking it was a too restrictive, narrow-minded field. This changed swiftly in her first year of foundation at CSM where she learned to think about jewellery as “experimental sculpture”. For Colombe, jewellery is art. Her thought process is that of an artist and her jewellery a way of expressing ideas about time, memory and the human body. She wants to push the “illusionary” boundaries between different creative fields, through her own work and by collaborating with other artists and designers. She talks with a light French accent, occasionally tripping over words as her mind wants to say more than her mouth can handle.
Her own creative process is an explosion of energy. She usually starts her projects with a selection of random objects, combining them in different ways. One idea rapidly turns into ten and soon she’s running around the craft studios like a five-year old on Christmas morning. Her work is an exploration of those multiple possibilities, rather than one finished product. This makes the process just as important as the product. When technicians advise her on how to craft a piece, she’ll usually turn it down and go for a technique that’s “faster, more exciting or simply more fun”.
“What am I doing? What is art? All these mindfucking questions you have to ask yourself all the time.”
It may come as a surprise that this adventurous rebel likes to spend her weekends wandering through the galleries of the V&A and the Louvre, looking at antique jewellery. But what inspires her is the craftsmanship, the technique behind these age-old objects. And this is also what she wants to represent in her work. By creating rough and unfinished-looking pieces, Colombe is making the process visible.
In this sense, Colombe clashes with a more traditional view on jewellery. Where most see jewellery as something solid, timeless and precious, Colombe wants to create movement, show imperfection, have her work modified by its wearer. “Jewellery should always be personal”, she says, which is why she’s interested in the idea of bespoke creation, finding inspiration out of the dialogue between her and the wearer.
Take her latest project for example. Asked to make a headpiece, Colombe created a flower-like construction using see-through balloons filled with gold wire to form petals. The friction between the latex and the model’s hair creates static energy. The longer the model wears the hat, the more static her hair becomes, making her hair stand straight up even after she’s taken off the hat. The absence of the piece becomes a presence in itself.
Recently, Colombe started writing for us, as a way to sort out her own curiosity. Colombe doesn’t like writing, but she loves asking questions. “What am I doing? What is art? All these mindfucking questions you have to ask yourself all the time.” Interviewing someone else is a way to have them answered. As a child she remembers exhausting her family and friends by constantly asking tedious questions with a political intent.
And she hasn’t stopped doing so. For her, creating jewellery always means questioning the very concept of jewellery. “My process and my subject are always about the story and the history of jewellery.” Jewellery is stuck in a preconceived idea of what it’s supposed to be, and she’s here to set it free. According to Colombe, jewellery can learn a lot from contemporary art, a field in constant conversation, always analysed and asking to be criticized. “In jewellery no questions are needed. It’s marble.”
And that’s not the only way contemporary jewellery should learn from the art scene: “Contemporary art. It’s in your face straight away. It’s already there, it’s in institutions, in galleries. You don’t even have to open your eyes. But with jewellery it’s different, you have to be curious to find the innovating artists.”
As she describes these thoughts, her small hands soar through the air around her, illustrating her thoughts. They look rough and damaged, her nails are bitten and her skin burned, scratched and cut. The colours of her previous works are still imprinted into them. In a way, her hands carry a mark of every piece of jewellery she made before, a still of her work in progress. Colombe’s latest masterpiece.
Words by Aya Noël
Photography by Oliver Vanes