Märta Mattsson is an alchemist of sorts, turning the repulsive world of dead animals and insects into intriguing objects of beauty through her Art Jewellery. Her plans to be a biologist was thwarted when she could not stomach dissecting animals in her High School science classes. She went on to study silversmithing and entered the world of Contemporary Art Jewellery using dead insects, parchment and taxidermy. Fascinated by the concept of 18th century cabinet of curiosities, she creates her own wonders for people to marvel at today. She now has three pieces in the collection of the National Museum in Stockholm, has exhibited widely both at home and abroad and is one of Sweden’s top Art Jewellery designers . This Spring her pieces are on display at many different galleries all over Stockholm for Art Jewellery 2016, a National Museum initiative.
How and when did you get interested in Jewellery Design?
I had an interest in biology and art. My family share a very deep love of animals and, as a child, my parents would take me to art exhibitions. I used to love going through my mother’s jewellery box, and had a diary where I would draw pieces of jewellery containing semi-precious stones and metals. I had then wanted to be a goldsmith. As I got older I changed my mind and wanted to be a marine biologist instead, but just couldn’t deal with dissection in my High School science classes.
While at a language course in Spain after graduating from the science program I finally made up my mind and decided to study jewellery instead of biology. Although later during my artistic development both my interests merged. I then started my own fashion jewellery brand making jewellery from things like metal wires and plastic toys. At the age of twenty I started to study silversmithing.
What attracts you to the polarity between repulsion and attraction?
My bachelor’s graduation project “Wear Your Fear” was addressing cognitive behaviour therapy, on facing our phobias. I worked with 6 people who suffered from different phobias like claustrophobia and fear of balloons. Later during my Masters at the Royal College of Art in London I was dealing with my own fear of insects and parchment. I was repulsed by insects and also experienced very ambiguous feelings about the insect world, not wanting to look but unable to look away at the same time. That resulted in my first piece, Beetle Juice where the cavities of the beetle is filled with yellow stones, the “juice”. I enjoy giving decaying materials a new lease of life, turning them into objects of astonishment.
Where do you get your insects from?
I buy all my insects from a dealer in Taiwan, it is a legal enterprise and there are no endangered species, I am very careful with that. I buy my parchment from a dealer outside of London who has been around for 130 years. I am a vegetarian myself, and like to know that the animal skins are all coming from an ethical source.
Art Jewellery is gaining in popularity and is considered in the same genre as Fine Art and Design. What sets Art Jewellery apart from other jewellery?
Conventional or Fine Jewellery is connected to status, wealth, personality and adornment, Art Jewellery on the other hand adds additional layers and meaning to the pieces. The artist in the making of it can tie it to emotions and concepts, the use of different materials, a deliberate message and process.
Is it a challenge to create such works of art and to also make it wearable?
The challenge with the materials that I use is making it strong enough to wear. The fragility can be an issue and some pieces are not suitable for everyday wear. I could make them as sculptures but I intend for them to be worn on the body, for it to bring about conversations about people’s phobias and thoughts on the pieces.
How do your creations come about? Can you share your process?
I often go with my gut feeling, I see inspiration in things around me, especially when I travel. A recent trip to Easter Island has resulted in a whole new line that I will exhibit soon using parchment and inspired by the Polynesian islands. I like to constantly develop and reinvent myself.
What is your biggest challenge in working with insects and other organic matter?
The fragility of it and working to stabilize the material in small details. It is also an emotional challenge as after 7 years, I still find them repulsive to work with and am still addressing my phobias. I even started eating insects last year to add another layer to my own journey to conquer my fear.
You have exhibited both internationally and in Sweden, how has your jewellery been received here? Do your pieces sell well in Sweden?
It has been very well received. People have found them intriguing but the major difference is that Swedes are very concerned about where the insects come from, and about the ethical issues surrounding it. This is, interestingly enough, rarely an issue anywhere else where my pieces have been shown. For me it is very important to address the ethical concerns so I am surprised that I don’t get more questions in this area while exhibiting abroad.
Is there something you would love to try that you haven’t done yet?
I have worked with lots of different materials and new techniques, some of which I have come up with myself. I am learning all the time, there isn’t really one thing that I could think of right now.
What is next for Märta Mattsson Jewellery?
This summer I am participating in three exhibitions. In June I have a solo exhibition, “Death Occupies The Space Between Us”, at Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen in Holland. I will also be part of the exhibition Juvelerarkonst at Läckö slott curated by National Museum that opens on the 11th of June. In August I have an exhibition on our trip to Easter Island together with Swedish jewellery artist Klara Brynge and WALKA (2 Jewellery Artists from Santiago) at Gallery Four in Göteborg. Our project “Everywhere and Everyone is an Island” is a traveling exhibition and we will also hold a lecture at Världskulturmuseet about our journey and project.
During the Autumn I will hold a workshop in Shanghai and in November I will have a solo exhibition at Project Container at the National Museum – Design in Stockholm. So I have lots of interesting things to look forward to this year.