When you talk of fine jewelry, are spikes, horns, pegs, gears and clamps the things that come to mind? They sound more like tools from a torture chamber, rather than material for a delicate set of cuffs and earrings.
Nevertheless, this random assortment of medieval hardware is the preferred medium of artist and sculptor Michelline Syjuco. It’s what defines her trademark look. From these odds and ends she creates her unique “sculptural jewelry.”
“You’ve got to see the skull bag with horns,” Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre of the art and design gallery Firma insist as we head toward Syjuco’s home studio in the south.
Not only is it a beautiful piece, Toledo confides, eyes narrowing; “It also makes a nice weapon.”
Vijandre and Toledo are paying a visit to the artist to check on the progress of her new collection, which is set to be unveiled during cocktails at Firma on Feb. 13.
From the unusual description of her work, I am a bit wary of what to expect. Will her studio be littered with rusty battle axes and morning stars? Will she meet us dressed in chainmail and a glossy suit of armor?
Although we arrive unfashionably early, Syjuco receives us graciously into her private showroom. To my relief, she is more Queen Guinevere than Brienne of Tarth, her wavy hair flowing generously over her shoulders, the hem of her black dress gently skimming her knees.
I make my way into her showroom, encountering a number of brightly colored skulls balanced delicately on top of a white bench, each one bejeweled and shimmering. These are the bags that make up the much anticipated Yorrick collection, the curiously macabre centerpieces of her upcoming show.
True enough, two long horns stretch outward from the temples of one glossy, red skull, its sharpened tips covered in stainless steel. Two parallel chains at the skull’s peak act as bag handles, while matte steel plates fill in the skull’s eye sockets. A large, red gemstone is bolted to the center of the skull’s forehead, reminding one of a Hindu bindi.
Also notable among the skulls is one dipped in deep purple. It is slightly edgier in appearance, with various steel bolts, antique watch gears, and spikes embellishing its entire crown. Large hazel gemstones peek out from the eye sockets and nose cavity, while its mouth flashes an intimidating grin of pointed stainless steel spikes.
To say that these bags make an impact is an understatement. They shock, they bewilder, they seduce.
And these are exactly the contrasting, uneasy impressions that Syjuco wishes to convey.
“I like to cross boundaries,” she explains. “Hopefully the collection will blow people’s minds.”
The rest of her collection is equally as bold. There are no meek pieces tucked away in the corner.
Adding to the memento mori theme are a handful of miniature skull rings in brass, steel, and various bright colors. Each is adorned with miniature gems.
Other pieces put a slightly blasphemous spin on religious iconography, such as a large cross necklace with writhing snake detailing.
Perhaps the most subdued pieces in the collection are blond wood bracelets and a pair of clutch bags refashioned from discarded railway tracks. They are fitted with symmetrical patterns made of metal hardware. They bring, in the artist’s words, a “futuristic feel to antique wood.”
An interesting quality of the artist’s current collection is its ironic portrayal of metals as delicate and pliable. A loosely crumpled ball made of brass sits on a cuff, crumpled in a way that makes the brass look as thin and bendable as a sheet of paper.
Large brass drop earrings take on a wavy shape, as if they were liquid. Each piece of jewelry is packed with “movement.” They do not sit mutely on their wearer, but seem to carry a life of their own.
It reminds one of Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s malleable use of bronze for his “Three Men Walking” piece (1949), in which men are shaped in bumpy and uneven strands. Far from being still and solid, as is the tendency with bronze, the men take on a kinetic, frantic character.
The collection will mark Syjuco’s second solo exhibit, following a string of well-received collaborative shows since 2008. Her 2009 exhibit “Armadillon” was included in that year’s Ateneo Art Awards.
It will be Syjuco’s first solo exhibit at Firma, the shop which has nurtured the careers of new designers for over 10 years, including the young Bea Valdes.
As has been the case with all Syjuco shows, expect the unexpected.
“Theater of the Mind,” a solo exhibition by Michelline Syjuco, opens at Firm at Greenbelt 3 on Feb. 13, 6 p.m. Call 7574009 and 0915-7859544.