Artist Lisa Walker has drilled a hole through the screen of a 1999 Apple iBook laptop and pulled a rope through it. That’s a necklace. And so is a stuffed squirrel on a skateboard. So are five old mobile phones, strung together on a plaited cord. Nine stilettos, connected in a loop, form a bracelet. And little Lego men, bound together, are jewellery too.
The intriguingly titled She wants to go to her bedroom but she can’t be bothered is a 30-year retrospective of New Zealander artist Walker’s practice as a jeweller. You could wear everything in this show, even the old rotary telephone. Plenty of it is impractical and unorthodox, and far from conventionally beautiful. But it’s all – technically – jewellery.
“Can’t you tell?” Walker asks me as we wander through the show.
Most pieces are made from objects sourced online, found or gifted to her, twisted and appropriated just enough to bring them into the sphere of something wearable and decorative. Walker’s work asks us to broaden our definition of jewellery away from the pretty and the opulent. Practicality aside, everything can be understood by its relationship to the body, and how we use it as adornment.
“I learned a long time ago that within [jewellery-making] I can still include a lot of other information,” she says. “Art, my life, politics … lots of other stuff can enter the work.”
A string of taxidermied ducklings is a necklace too, cute and fluffy, but dead. The Discomfort stretches far beyond the physical.
Some of Walker’s earliest work is on display too, from her university days at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin. These pieces are more recognisable as adornments. Rings are made from wire and gold, and you can actually tell where your finger might go. But they’re still experimental, and completely Walker’s own.
I ask why everything she does is jewellery.
“Why not?” she responds.
I don’t back down. Walker thinks for a moment.
“It’s big enough for me,” she says. “I did step out once for about six months, and I made a series of what I called ‘objects that are too big to be jewellery’. They couldn’t be attached to the body in any way.”
I point at the laptop with rope through the screen.
“A lot of people would say this is too big to be jewellery,” I suggest.
“Everything can be worn,” Walker says. “It would be a bit uncomfortable. Your neck would get sore. Old [iBooks] weren’t light.”
Lisa Walker: She wants to go to her bedroom but she can’t be bothered is at RMIT Design Hub Gallery until May 4.