20th April - 2nd May 2009
"Jacqui Chan's Exotic Blend"
"The use of 'found objects' is prevalent in contemporary jewellery in New Zealand. Materials
unconventional to traditional jewellery practices and of little monetary worth are deployed in critique
of issues at the heart of jewellery: value, preciousness, and craft.
My interest in non-traditional materials and objects is for their layers of stories and associations.
People are naturally drawn to things that relate to themselves in various ways. Certain things have
mnemonic significance such as Nana's button tin we coveted as children, while other have widespread
iconic value such as the once ubiquitous glass milk bottle, or more recently, the all-pervading ipod.
In this regard these objects can be powerful records of memories or narrative devices, and they
thereby inform individual and group identities.
Growing up initially in bicultural Whakatane and later the homogenous Pakeha-dominant South
Island, there was little reflection of our Chinese half in life outside our home. It was therefore
somewhat natural that our sense of Chineseness became entwined with domestic objects. Rice
pattern bowls, our Chinese teapot, painted fans, shitake mushrooms, and the mahjong set were dayto-
day evidence of our cultural heritage and imagery with which to imagine China.
These days, as I fossick for materials I once again find myself drawn to an eclectic range of cheap
domesticware and food packaging: Crane-painted laquered rice bowls, cloud-seated immortals on
pressed bamboo trays, iridescent $2 shop plastic items, mythical maidens on egg roll tins, and of
course every variety of English, Kiwi and Chinese tin tea caddy. These discoveries serve to piece
together a fabricated material culture - one of 'half-caste' Chinese-Pakeha or 'Chinkeha', and Chinese
And as you can see, I am particularly drawn to tea tins. They speak of cultural exchange and
amalgamation. The history of tea is both turbulent and expansive: empires and colonies, opium
and warfare to secure trade of this exotic commodity. The tins reflect this historic exchange in their
borrowed and counter-borrowed imagery. English tea tins (originally developed to keep this luxury
item under lock and key, and an integral component to the English high tea), flaunt their exotic
roots with oriental maidens, cloud-shrouded mountains, bonsai trees and Chinese inspired blossoms.
This imagery is echoed in Chinese and Hong Kong made tins designed for export. Their depicted
classical imagery is arguably equally distant from modern China as England. Through England, New
Zealand inherited its steadfast tea drinking tradition. Choysa and Bell captured a sense of the local
through native flora and fauna painted tins. New Asian tins evoke a plethora of Chinese imports,
giving rise to current controversies over international trade - especially with China - and attitudes to
the 'Asian Invasion'.
So, stories abound, then comes the hard part - cutting them up. As much as I love the kitschy
imagery I must transform these objects. I cut, pierce and fold these treasures with playful irreverence
constructing my own contemporary Chinoiserie. Excessively repeated scallops and folded decorative
tabs embellish and reinforce non-standard geometric forms. These folded structures are not instantly
recognisable but are strangely familiar: blossoms? tin toys? clouds? limpets? packaging? the cheese
grater? origami? sequins?"
Jacqui Chan, 2009