Lin Cheung

Lin Cheung Spill by Lin Cheung Vignettes by Lin Cheung
Wear again again by Lin Cheung
After Eight Royal Albert by Lin Cheung

Lin Cheung makes jewellery and related objects inspired by her observations of human nature. Elegant, restrained and subtly decorated, these pieces are beautiful in their own right, but to Cheung the ideas they convey are far more important than their superficial look. She says,'For me, the ideas come first and I use the material as a means to an end, to explain the ideas'.


How would you describe yourself professionally?

I simply like to say that I make jewellery and objects. I don’t call myself an artist as I am slightly uncomfortable with the word – I find it too broad to describe what I do – and the making process is a very important part of my practice, something which I think the term artist doesn’t necessarily emphasise. On the whole you can use the objects I make so there are boundaries to my work which I don’t think you get as an artist. I don’t mind the term craftsperson, but it’s not one I really use as again I think it’s too broad and vague. Perhaps jewellery artist is a more precise definition of what I do.

When did you first decide to work with your style of conceptual jewellery?

It goes back to my time at Brighton where I did a BA in wood, metal, ceramics and plastics. There was a great emphasis on making items to suit an idea and we were encouraged to question why we were making as much as how we were making. I found this way of working quite attractive especially as it gave you a lot of freedom to explore different areas. I enjoyed working in metal at Brighton and so when I went to the Royal College of Art I did my MA in silversmithing, metalwork and jewellery. Many of my tutors at the RCA that time were from the New Jewellery Movement and they encouraged us to look at ideas before choosing a specific material or process, encouraging us to explore all kinds of different materials.

Your jewellery is very ideas-based. Where do your ideas come from?

My ideas crop up all around. I enjoy observing life and human nature in general and I’m drawn to ordinary objects. I like watching how we use, value, wear objects and attach meaning to them. An idea develops and then I just begin to explore it until I work it into a little comment on human behaviour. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking, mulling over concepts and noting down my ideas, often a small model or prototype is made to test out one or two ideas. I don’t really do any sketching these days as I prefer thinking through the meaning of things in my head rather than visualising what they might look like on paper.

Is there a general theme behind your pieces?

Half of what I do is about trying to elevate the value of jewellery – not the physical value but the cultural/artistic value. I find it strange that it’s not given more emphasis in cultural histories and I want to try and redress the balance by making it more important conceptually. I’m interested in creating pieces that are mini art forms not just decorative objects. I am trying to widen the field and bring thoughts and ideas into an object. Jewellery is overly perceived as a commercially marketed commodity, but in reality every piece once owned, has a much more interesting and sometimes profound story to tell.

How have your ideas developed over the years?

At the start of my career I started off closer to home. My jewellery was all about my own memories of wearing things and my relationships. Now I look at all kinds of things, although my objects are still very much grounded in the personal/human sphere. I try to use them to work out the way we live and what we are doing here – it sounds very philosophical and yet I still don’t have any answers!

Are there any specific ideas which you are exploring at the moment?

Many of my ideas can stay for a long term and I often re-visit them over a period of time. One idea I’ve recently been exploring again is connected to used or unwanted jewellery. I’ve been making objects inspired by how you might re-wear old jewellery, creating little devices to give old pieces a different setting and re-present them in new ways. For example, I’ve made a series of brooches which you can pin old earrings on to. The strange thing about this work is that for the first time I am using really bright day-glo colours. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that these colours act as a type of highlighter, drawing attention to objects. The brooches are in bright flocked materials or fake leather and reference traditional jewellery boxes – providing a special new setting for unwanted jewellery.

How important is your collaborative work to you?

I am increasingly interested in collaborative projects. It can be quite lonely sometimes being a maker especially when you are working on a big, solo project so it’s great to have someone with whom you can bounce ideas off in a productive way. I really enjoyed working this way with Laura Potter for the museumaker project at mima earlier on in the year. For me, the collaborative process acknowledges that a creative process isn’t solo, that I’m not just one maker working on my own in a studio, but that other people are involved. I develop my ideas by talking to people and the collaborative process allows/encourages these outside influences as well as giving you more confidence to experiment with new ideas as you have another person to support you.

How important is it to you that your pieces are worn?

I like my jewellery to be wearable. I think it comes across better if it’s worn and is more accessible. Wearing my jewellery is a way of bringing my ideas to life. I recently made a jewellery collection etched with mirror writing so that only the wearer could understand the text (by looking in a mirror). They were inspired by my current preoccupation with unwanted/discarded jewellery. I researched this idea by looking at the jewellery collected by the charity Heart Research UK which included some very precious and rare items. These pieces were put up for sale and I was struck by the impersonal catalogue descriptions of each piece, so I etched the lot numbers and descriptions onto a series of pendant shaped lockets to reference them, but it was only by wearing them and looking in the mirror that these secret texts were activated.

Do you mind that not all the owners of your jewellery ‘get’ the ideas behind them?

I try very hard to put across my ideas clearly but you can’t force people to understand them and of course the owners bring new meaning and significance of their own to each piece. I think it is also great that someone just wants to buy and wear my jewellery, without worrying too much if they understand the thinking behind them!

Why do you tend to work predominately in metal?

I tend to work with metal as it suits many of my ideas, not because it’s intrinsically precious or beautiful. It comes in a huge variety of forms and alloys lending itself to being both hard and soft, precious and commonplace, warm and cold – and our perception and preconceptions of it is perfect for telling a story with. It is also a wonderful material to work with and I get a lot of joy from making and designing with it. I have got to the stage in my career when I have enough confidence in my technical skills to be able to push an idea forward a bit more than the material. I use the material to explain the idea rather than to show off any technical skills. Once I feel I have expressed an idea satisfactorily I tend to leave the material alone without adding any unnecessary embellishments.

Interview by Diana Woolf