Of Earrings, Tears and Jewellers: The Sculptures of Vanessa Brown

by Anna Kovler

Oct, 2018

Resting somewhere between dream and reality, Vanessa Brown’s sculptures test the boundaries of the familiar. What we normally encounter on a small scale, like a pair of earrings or a cigarette, take on impossibly strange proportions in her metal and glass works. The oversized earring clasp jumps out first. Immediately recognizable as that loop that enters the earlobe, securing ones earrings in place, the detail stirs uncanny feelings, suggesting another dimension where objects mysteriously bend and shift. Unanswered questions arise. Are these still earrings? Even at that scale?  

It is said that jewellery says something about a person. Standing nearly ten feet tall, Stained Glass Earrings + Stand (2018) might feel imposing if not for its pastel shapes and slender steel lines. Yet below the soft surface other meanings dwell. On one earring, the shape of an eye discreetly cries light blue tears, hinting at more complex realities below the surface of objects of costume or decoration.  

Brown’s sculptures hail from a liminal space, like the moments between a state of sleep and wakefulness, when the dream you are in isn’t fully over but you’re not in the real world yet. Her oversized ashtray earrings refer to the similarly ambiguous space of a cigarette break. “I always understood smoking as a break,” she notes, “the break would be my little way of going outside and pulling aside the zipper of reality. I think of this installation as ways to access other places, like a portal, and communicate from those spaces as well.” 

Working with metal on a large scale and embarking on collaborations with jewellers, Brown’s practice addresses the gendered history of artistic labor. For her 2016 exhibition The Hand of Camille, the artist took inspiration from Camille Claudel, a sculptor known for the emotional intensity and heroicism of her figures. During her career however, Claudel was limited in the scope and scale she could work on, as women artists were still severely disadvantaged at the end of the 19th century.  

The exhibition currently on view is part of the installation Late Night Trip to the Jeweler’s, which was shown at the Esker Foundation earlier this year. As the enigmatic title suggests (what can one possibly do at the jeweller’s at night?), these works offer playful, surreal and sincere mediations on everyday objects and the psychic spaces they inhabit.  

Vanessa Brown’s Pages From Late Night Trip to the Jeweler’s opens at Arsenal Contemporary Toronto on October 26, 2018 as part of the Art Toronto West End Gallery Crawl and runs until December 22, 2018. It was produced with support of the Esker Foundation Commission Fund.