Strength in Fragility
Words by Rebecca Freezer.
I want my work to look fragile but in fact be really strong.
In fragility, Sarah Rothe imbues strength. Inspired by both the inherent qualities of titanium and the fragility in nature, Sarah’s work encapsulates something traditionally delicate and ephemeral - a poppy petal or dragonfly wing - into a durable personal ornament to be passed down for generations.
Rothe’s latest solo exhibition sees a departure from her usual methods of manipulating titanium to create bold, wearable piece that reference science fiction, historical fashion and an array of arthropods. In her own words:
I have adopted an experimental approach and created a playful menagerie of elements. These elements reference and reflect the delicate nature of the natural environment around us. Juxtaposed through the use of very thin and delicate titanium.
Titanium shim with its extreme thinness (between 0.05 and 0.075mm), has an even greater lightness and malleability. The finished works hang in delicate layers and fold like fabric. Rothe hammers, scores, textures, and forms by hand her materials alongside industrial processes like laser-jet and water-jet cutting.
Each work is comprised of a multitude of these hand formed components with the intention of creating a fun and playful naturally unnatural world.
Instead of using dyes or chemicals, the array of vibrant and shimmering hues that are characteristic of Rothe’s jewellery are achieved through refraction and electrical processing (anodising). The exact shade of cobalt blue visible in this collection of work, for example, requires a jolt of twenty-six volts.
Rothe’s jewellery is held in high esteem in permanent public gallery collections, including Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse Museum) and the Art Gallery of South Australia. In 2012 a brooch made by Rothe was given as a gift to Hilary Clinton during her visit to Adelaide.
Rothe graduated from the Adelaide College of the Arts (formerly the Adelaide Centre for the Arts) in 2006 with a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Applied Design (Jewellery Design). Rothe was an Associate of JamFactory’s Jewellery and Metal Studio, 2007-2009, becoming Head of Studio from 2018-2019. She owns and operates Sarah Rothe | jewellery & design, Adelaide.
STRENGTH IN FRAGILITY
We spend five minutes with jeweller Sarah Rothe to discuss the ideas and materials behind the new works in her exhibition Strength in Fragility and how they re-invigorated her love for making.
How would you describe your approach to designing and your methods of making?
The work in Strength in Fragility has been one of exploration through new methods and materials. Although still working in titanium, I have focused heavily on titanium shim. Paper thin titanium in 0.075mm thickness. It has offered a new way of manipulating and forming the metal I haven’t previously been able to achieve. Scoring, punching, cutting and forming the metal though a series of experiments and trials, still maintaining an organic feel, has allowed me to create even thinner coral and organic forms.
What is it about titanium that makes it your favoured material?
I was originally drawn to titanium for the unique way it colours with heat and anodising. But it also offers a whole range of characteristics unlike other metals. Titanium also has a range of challenges that require some extra forethought and planning. I really enjoy working around these constraints and finding different ways of working with the titanium.
Sarah Rothe, Untitled Brooch, 2019. Photo: Courtesy the artist.
Sarah Rothe, Unpredictable, they are a fortitude and a frailty neckpiece, 2019.
You have spoken previously of the organic fragments that your mother sends you through the mail. What treasures has she sent you recently and how have these been interpreted into wearable objects?
The latest finds were Blue Tiger Butterflies. These were a major inspiration in this exhibition. I have quite literally interpreted these into colourful titanium butterflies.
In what way has Strength in Fragility pushed your practice in new directions? Can you tell us about the ideas behind your work in this exhibition?
I went through quite a number of technical challenges with the work for this exhibition. It looks quite different to my initial thoughts and visualizations of how it would come together.
However, it has also forced me to investigate other ways of working with titanium. What was going to be a more minor feature in the work - titanium shim, is now the major component. It pushed me to experiment a lot with the material in a short amount of time, and includes mainly hand working and forming the metal into organic, coral and leaf like forms, while including some laser cutting (which also came with major challenges on such thin metal). I have treated this exhibition work as more experimental then I am used to working, but I am very excited to continue to experiment with paper thin titanium.
This exhibition has come at the perfect time, where it was able to pull me out of some personal challenges I have been going through. Strength in fragility has also proved the perfect title to embody more then just the work, and reflects on challenges of the past two years. It has reinvigorated my love of making and provided a sense of excitement in my creativity that I have not felt for a long time.
Strength in Fragility is showing at JamFactory, Adelaide in Gallery Two from 13 December 2019 - 9 February 2020.