We live in testing times. The progress we have made with regards to gender and sexuality acceptance is under threat from the very democracies that pioneered them. This makes the work of artists such as Sari Rathel even more profound. She uses jewellery to deconstruct gender as we know it. In a conversation with CreativPaper Sari talks about her brand Rathel & Wolf, gender identity issues faced in the modern world and how its important for artists to raise awareness about the issue.
What do you look for in an artist before you collaborate with them?
I love collaborating with people who have a similar mindset, no matter what field they are from, so if we get on as people, the collaboration is most likely to be successful and can grow organically into something exciting.
We absolutely love your project ‘Gender Blender’, could you tell us a bit more about how that came about?
I did extensive research into what role jewellery plays within the movement of gender deconstruction for my dissertation during my MA at the RCA. Before the French Revolution, it was the men who were bejewelled. It is incredible to think mainstream dress codes haven’t, regarding gender, really changed that much in western society. Luckily in recent years, where the gender norms have been questioned more and more, and the rigid lines are beginning to blur especially in fashion, men have started to adorn themselves again.
While writing my dissertation I read a lot of Judith Butler, who claims that the norms and roles we are enacting in life are learned and copied from society and deeply embedded and therefore not so easy to change and disrupt. In my Gender Blender project, I wanted to interrogate this idea by exploring how jewellery can be a tool for deconstructing gender. So, I created a fictional wardrobe full of jewellery pieces which are all inspired by stereotypically male or female body parts, where the wearer is invited to “try-on” the body parts to get an idea what it could be like to have for example “breasts” or “balls”. The smaller pieces like the nail rings and the armpit pieces adorn and highlight areas we would normally cosmetically modify to fit into expected roles.
There is definitely a certain clean aesthetic when it comes to your work, are there any designers or artists that have had an influence on you?
As a German you can’t deny a certain influence, the Bauhaus has on your aesthetic but I also really love the architect Peter Zumthor and Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures.
Could you tell us a bit more about your jewellery brand Räthel & Wolf?
My amazing friend Ricarda, who is also a jewellery designer, and I met 5 years ago when we were studying in France. We both ended up in London for different reasons, but both share the same passion for jewellery and adorning the body. After having won the ITS Jewelry Award in summer, I really wanted to use this momentum and Ricarda, and I teamed up to start our own jewellery label Räthel & Wolf. Being from different jewellery backgrounds, it was the ideal match and extremely fruitful and exciting to join forces.
We are still in the start-up phase of our jewellery studio and will launch our first very own collection in September 2017 for London Fashion Week.
As RÄTHEL & WOLF we are interested in the body of the wearer rather than their gender, and therefore are creating jewellery which can be worn by any and everybody. Our designs have a clean and bold aesthetic, exploring new ways of wearing jewellery.
We are also very keen on collaborating and have just finished our first project with the fashion designer Paula Knorr for her A/W 2017 collection which was presented during London Fashion Week this February and is currently shown in Paris. Ricarda and I also enjoy sharing our knowledge and have just held a jewellery workshop at the AA (Architectural Association School of Architecture) which was really fun, and the outcomes were amazing. For now, we have another collaboration lined up with a menswear designer and have just started designing for our debut collection, so there are a lot of exciting things to come!
Do you pay attention to trends?
Living in London there are so many different people and trends surrounding us, it is important to find your own language and create your individual standpoint. We make jewellery in a fashion context, so clearly, we pay attention to trends, but we are more exited to add to and create discussions through our jewellery around current topics such as gender identity and body awareness. We always work directly on to the body so I would say our biggest inspiration are the never-ending contours of the human form.
What led you to choose your current medium?
I grew up in a family jewellery business, and funnily enough, my first word was “Kette” (“necklace” in German), so I guess it was clear pretty early on which path I was going to take :)
Who is the ideal Räthel & Wolf customer?
What are your thoughts on the current socio-political state of the world with regards to gender identity as an artist?
Being in a creative and open-minded surrounding, especially in a metropolitan city like London, it is super exciting to be a part of progress with gender-related issues, such as the growing acceptance of non-binary identifying people. But it’s easy to forget that you live in a bubble where gender identity is something everybody can decide and choose for themselves and people are treated equally. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all once I look outside, there is still so much progress to be made, which is why I think as an artist and designer it is important to look at the bigger picture and raise awareness and discussions about such relevant and current topics. Jewellery was the first form of art, and there is no country or culture on the planet which doesn’t adorn themselves, so jewellery is always linked to identity and personal expression and is, therefore, the ideal tool for us to get our thoughts and ideals out there.
What does Sari love to eat?
I love liquorice.
We would like to thank Sari for talking the time out to answer our questions. You can find out more about her work via the links below.