You might have noticed something a little different about the entrance and shopfront of Pieces of Eight jewellery gallery of late. Rainbow stalactites and crystals jut upwards from the bottom half of the circular glass and steel shopfront, while long wigs dyed in fluoro hues hang from the top half. There’s nothing subtle about the installation – which takes the form of a psychedelic crystal cave – but it’s not meant to be. The bright colours, crystalline textures and intriguing mix of synthetic mediums, from the resin crystals to fake hair, are the work of Kate Rhode, celebrated local sculptor and artist turned jeweller.
Dubbed Hybrid Geology, Rohde’s installation is an invocation of the artist’s relationship with the natural and the manmade. “I’d say I have a kind of strange relationship to the natural world,” says Rohde. “I really love it, am hugely inspired by it, but have no desire to experience it through anything other than secondary sources like books and TV.
“My other concern with [the natural world] is that I always want it to be more spectacular, colourful and exciting. I grew up in a forested area just outside of Melbourne and used to find it a bit bland – all brown and green. I know there are much more exciting places in the world but I guess it’s fundamentally a response to the environment I grew up in, and a yearning to be somewhere else.”
Her work seems like a kind of dream world; an almost childlike conjuring of the forest area she grew up in, with a shot of trippy colours. The underwater cave scene she has created in the gallery’s shopfront certainly does take you elsewhere. The bright colours are entrancing and after a while, it’s easy to forget that much of the installation is made from wearable jewellery pieces. The rhino horn-like resin structures along the bottom of the window, for example, actually sport stacks of bangles that, at a glance, look like salt crystals but in fact also feature hidden flowers, hooves, paws, antlers and heads.
Rohde’s preference for fluorescent colours and a synthetic, magical take on the natural world has become something of a signature. In 2010, she collaborated with Romance w as Born to create hairy headpieces and other dinosaur-inspired decorative pieces for the label’s Renaissance Dinosaur collection.
Shifting from sculpture to jewellery may not have been the most straightforward transition, but Rohde is conscious of focusing on her specialty in installation-based work, even when she’s working with a fashion label. “I can’t say I was really thinking about fashion, I’m personally fairly unconcerned with what’s in [fashion] at any particular time,” the artist admits.
“I always think of things in terms of sculpture and installation, since that’s what I have the most experience in. For Hybrid Geology, I was thinking about what is an interesting way to present these pieces, it could be an installation or a really elaborate piece of visual merchandising.”
Rohde plans on going back to her sculptural roots in the future, building larger resin structures and even animals to help grow and develop the strange, beautiful and vibrant worlds she creates.
Hybrid Geology shows at Pieces of Eight Gallery until May 19. Kate Rohde’s jewellery is also available from Edition X.