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Anna Davern on Australiana, biscuit tins and Craft Victoria…

Interview by Lucy Feagins of The Design Files

Anna Davern greets visitors to her city studio with an infectious smile and a warm, friendly welcome… so it’s no surprise to discover that much of her work also has a cheeky sense of fun about it! Inspired by kitschy images of Australiana with their references to native flora and fauna, Anna collects 1950’s biscuit tins, painstakingly slicing out the bright saturated images emblazoned on their lids, and giving them new life as unique assemblages to wear or to keep. In their own jovial way, these creations give a nod to the past – and seem to acknowledge the diverse and colourful nature of contemporary Australian culture.
But if there’s one thing that characterises Anna’s prolific creative output, it’s variety. Alongside her uniquely Australian keepsakes, Anna also creates intricate object-based work and striking silver jewellery, often finished with bright vintage beads and gemstones. Her earrings have a distinctive, vibrant personality about them – organic dangly forms, slightly irregular in shape, with tightly-packed colourful beads woven between their silver edges. Whilst varied, Anna’s work always seems linked by a brilliant sense of colour and fun – it’s as if each miniature creation is infused with Anna’s own cheerfulness and unique sense of humour!
Anna is another veteran of the Melbourne jewellery community – she’s been working from the same studio in Flinders Lane since 1994! She shares the space with fellow jewellers Nicky Hepburn and Cass Partington. After 15 years together, there really does seem to be a magical connection between these three talented artists.

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Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I’ve been practicing as a jeweller for over 15 years now and so many different choices have led me along the path I have travelled. When I was at school, I was good at science and maths and so when I went to uni I thought this was the direction in which I should go. But after 3 years of study and no achievement of a degree I realised that that path wasn’t for me.
I did some short courses in life drawing and jewellery making while attempting to pursue a career in film and television and pretty soon worked out that my desire to make ‘things’ outweighed my desire to make films, although an element of story telling still informs my practice.
I did my undergraduate degree at Sydney College of the Arts in Jewellery and Object Design and then completed my postgraduate studies at RMIT in Melbourne.
I’ve been working from the same studio in Flinders Lane since I moved to Melbourne in 1994.

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How would you describe your work? What common themes link each of your designs?
I love to make things that people want to touch, hold and wear and my work reflects a variety of influences and obsessions. I have an interest in the sentimental nature of jewellery and the miniature object, and my work is characterized by the use of floral and botanical references.
I am also interested in investigating an idea of ‘Australian-ness’ and I enjoy playing with cultural stereotypes to investigate notions of national identity. I use the images from old Bushell’s tea tins, Arnott’s biscuit tins and other tins scavenged from garage sales, op-shops and roadside skips. The images on the tins are used to construct fantastical hybrid creatures and strange altered landscapes and are part Aussie folk craft, part comment on cultural intervention, part humorous acknowledgement of the hybrid nature of contemporary Australian culture.
My interest in re-using biscuit tins to make jewellery stems from the practice, by early Australian artisans, of “making do” and using whatever materials they had to hand to build their domestic objects. I have a beautiful chest of drawers that is built from old orange crates and I’ve always loved the ‘bush pantry’ in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, which is a rotary food safe built from an old 44 gallon drum complete with circular shaped drawers.

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You are described as a contemporary jewellery and object maker. How does your object-based work complement your jewellery? Do you clearly distinguish between these two areas when starting work on a new project, or do your creations flow freely from wearable to object-based?
It depends on what ideas I’m working with. If what I want to ‘say’ lends itself to being wearable then I’ll work out where it belongs on the body. My recent work has been concerned with identity so the brooch is the obvious format to use. In the past I have been interested in the physical engagement with objects so my jewellery has been more body focussed. I was interested in studying that physical response to an emotional reaction and that desire to touch and engage with small objects.

What have been some favourite special projects, exhibitions or collaborations you’ve been involved in?
Undertaking a residency at the Estonian Academy of Art in Tallinn in 2007 is one of the highlights of my career so far. Another is the collaboration I did with Brigette Cameron for the scarf festival at Craft Victoria in 2005. Brigette is a textile artist whose practice involves ‘performance knitting’. During the festival Brigette occupied the windows of Craft Victoria in Flinders Lane and invited 4 different artists to join her and make work responding to the theme of colour over the 4 days of the festival.

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One of the main challenges faced by independent designer / makers is the challenge of working alone. Do you work alone or do you share your creative space? How do you keep connected to the design community, and who do you bounce off for valuable feedback?
I work from my light filled studio on the eighth floor of a building in Flinders Lane, Melbourne. I’ve been in the same studio for 15 years and have been sharing the space with Nicky Hepburn and Cass Partington for the last 10. I need to share my workspace. I love the camaraderie and the company. I occasionally entertain the idea of working from home and saving money on studio rent but never for very long. I love Flinders Lane and most of my suppliers are in the city. Craft Victoria is a great resource for keeping connected to the design community. They organise lots of events around their exhibition program and Craft Almanac, the monthly newsletter, ensures I’m up to date with the latest.

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Where do you turn for creative inspiration – nature, travel, books, the web?
Nature and traditional jewellery designs, old magazines, op-shops, graphic design, architecture, everything!

Which designers, artists or creative people do you admire?
Kara Walker, Helen Britton, Karin Seufert, Kirsten Coelho, Louise Weaver, Fiona Hall, Peter Tully…

What would be your dream project?
Working with the Quay Brothers.

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