Gerrit Rietveld Academie Gymnasium
performed by Marilyn Volkman

Welcome to year number two, and our program. Please take out your cell phones, open instagram, search for ‘challenging.jewellery’ and follow. When you see the first post, live, tap it to reach our feed, and then, periodically, refresh your screen, to see new live content added throughout the presentation. If you don’t refresh, you might miss some images throughout the talk. Challenging Jewellery, is about building a persuasive collective, driven by a common interest in team spirit and the relevance, of the silent side of beauty. The initiative is operated by way of a fully-functioning company structure. The collective that forms, will naturally extend beyond the temporary program’s time frame of two years. Tutors, guests and participants form an intergenerational mix, that’s characterized by its potential to challenge the subject of jewellery on a fundamental level—how it relates to our present time…

Now, to have succeeded in, one of these things, let alone all of them, would have been a very big deal. Let’s be honest, we haven’t felt prepared. Our course began in total darkness. That’s not a metaphor. Our first meeting was in a closet at the old Sandberg. No lights, totally dark, completely sealed off. And in that box we talked for hours. We got to know the sound of each other's voices, we explained our histories, shared our goals. We dug deep to find the one value that most potently described each of us. All without being able to see a thing. Then, we packed up and headed to a commune. The program continued with four idyllic days on that commune where the logic was simple: collective labor in exchange for room and board. Whether it was cooking a meal, backfilling the plumbing on a new house, or designing recycling bins; teamwork, automatically kicked in. But on the final day, as we began to pack up our things, disperse to our cars and trains and buses, to return to our respectives lives, in our corners of the city, and reconvene at the Sandberg once more -- crisis set in. What began as problem solving straightforward tasks on a commune, became group paralysis once we were responsible for putting the tasks on the table. We felt at once paralyzed by lofty goals, and trapped by the freedom to do whatever we want.

(continues below)


Mentioning all this now is not to take a bath in our own despair, or ironically call out hardship in front of our peers. No, it’s to give insight into the positive learning process, triggered by our collective challenges, and failures. We all know, there can be a vicious cycle in group work. What starts as a utopic self-supporting effort to move forward through the contributions by each member, quickly implodes. When one individual or another, doesn’t recognize the gravity of someone else’s idea, not due to a lack of interest, but because of divergent values. When one individual or another, experiences a complete and total loss of appetite for engaging in difficult conversations. When one individual or another, not sure of what they want, but feeling insecure, and unable to burn deeply for an idea, inadvertently extinguishes that very flame in their neighbor... and then it travels, from one, to another, to another—leaving the entire group cold.

When people feel excluded,
When communication breaks down,
When big promises are made,
When people don’t come through…
The challenge to work together, is replaced by the safety of working alone.
But the fact just might be...

...that in a world of destabilized coordinates, we take solace in working alone; and in this time apart, we’re able to reflect on what it means to attempt to be a part of a larger whole. It’s different for each of us, but from the outside looking in, when everything falls apart, and we choose to continue forward in search of the emotional substance we need to push ideas -- One word comes to mind: and that word is, fearlessness.

The fearlessness to try and plant our defined values into society.

The fearlessness to find structure beyond the master’s program.

The fearlessness to realize that sometimes questioning a system, takes the risk of coming away empty handed.

So rather than a summary of our accomplishments from the last year, we have for you some conclusions:

It takes time to understand one another, to grasp the weak and strong sides, of each person in a group, to accept an individual to the degree of w anting to work with them. And it takes time to build up trust, and nourish confidence, before any large benefits, can be seen...

Everything I’ve described to you so far, is what we’ve been through in the process of coming together, falling apart, and reconvening as individuals. (chuckles)

That said, We’re really happy that temporary programs go on for two years... and not just one. So here’s what you can look forward to in year two, of CJ:

‘Jewellery as Currency'. Whether used for ritual, status, identity or cash—Jewellery flows through society as condensed value. ‘Jewellery as Currency’. This series turns a critical eye to the transmission of that value, by asking how meaning comes from material. All the while, bearing in mind that jewellery is essential to the realm of craft. A series that looks into the social, practical and spiritual potential of jewellery, paying close attention to the liminal boundaries between handcraft and mass production. ‘Jewellery as Currency’ will first reach the public in Shanghai with an exhibition at San W Gallery on November 18th, and there will be a closing show, with live events at the New Center, of Contemporary Jewellery and Design from December 4th to 8th, with a full schedule of workshops in between.

As a part of ‘Jewellery as Currency’, CJ will be holding a lottery on November 8th. Keep following us on instagram so you can take part. And in Shanghai, we’ll also be living and working together for three weeks, further exploring what shared space means in a collective sense. In residence, we’ll also investigate ‘the workshop’ and craft, as a carrier of human heritage, and a point of departure for preserving and transmitting essential aspects of humanity passed down through generations -- and how that process relates to technology today.

As a group, we do spend a lot of time thinking about the ways in which jewellery functions as a condensed form of currency. And alongside this, we’re also considering, in a very practical sense, the way currency functions in our work and collective relationships. To be specific, we’re interested in reducing the role of money, and increasing the role of collaboration in the development of our ideas.

So that’s why Challenging Jewellery has developed a new platform that values work and knowledge differently - It’s a bartering system called Go ahead and visit the website, create an account, post your own skills, advertise your needs, review the strengths and needs of other members, and trade them directly. Our hope is that we can reduce the anxiety around working in isolation, and tear down the funding barriers that prevents us from making, ideas, happen. Again, you can register at, create an account, and list the skills you want to offer and seek.

As a side hobby, Challenging Jewellery has developed a call Agency to explore small problems through object-oriented solutions and services. If you have a small problem, maybe we can help you. Simply call the number, leave us a message, and we’ll get back to you. 06-8408-5888.

You can think of us a loose constellation of entities, from which a collective desire develops its own internal points of coherence, that inevitably shift and transform over time, as conversations often do.

Thank you.

written by Marilyn Volkman in collaboration with BLESS and Challenging Jewellery