by Muireann Charleton
Within the treasure trove of rich objects currently on display in Dubh/ Dialogues in Black exhibition at the Oliver Sears Gallery Dublin, is a precious object that instantly conjures up possibilities for the future, as well as reflecting the promises of our past. A commanding neckpiece, that only the most magnificent nape might hold, was created by Irish designer Angela O’Kelly and is an eye-catching piece in this show. O’Kelly studied Jewellery and Silversmithing at Edinburgh College of Art, a programme that fosters critical thinking around the intricate relationships formed with objects we use to express ourselves through display on the body. One of the most striking aspects of O’Kelly’s neckpiece is its acceptance and respect for the age-old tradition of majestic neckwear in Ireland. In a tribute to the ancient Irish treasures in gold, such as the late bronze-age collars on display at the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street, Dublin, O’Kelly has exchanged precious gold for contemporary materials combining fabric paper, felt sheet, handmade felt, platinum leaf, labradorite beads and dyed nylon. This use of non-precious materials mixed with precious, reflects aptly the diverse lives that many of us live today.
O’Kelly navigates the parameters of textiles, jewellery and sculpture, reflecting that contemporary designers are working across disciplines, no longer constrained by rigid definitions within design. A true innovator, O’Kelly integrates traditional craft into her pieces while forging an open and hybrid discipline. Her way of designing and creating reflects the wider movement of crossbreeding specialties in contemporary design. She commands craft and material application alongside an industrial aesthetic and not opposed to it. Utilizing materials that express our age, such as Perspex, dyed nylon and plastic, she makes personal ornaments that express the many dimensions of our 21st century personalities.
Angela O’Kelly’s sculptural arm pieces are category defying – are they art or craft? Either way, woman can wear them to express a multitude of attitudes. They are in some ways reminiscent of Japanese-American sculptor, Isamu Noguchi’s ‘Akari’ light sculptures and lamps, which are now considered icons of 1950s modern design. Like Noguchi, O’Kelly also feels for the quality and sensibility of lightness in materiality. There is strength to her sculptural arm pieces though, which belies the delicate nature of paper. If a function of contemporary design is to command attention and display strength and splendor at once, then O’Kelly’s creations are a tour de force of Irish 21st century design.
Angela O’Kelly’s work is currently on display at the Oliver Sears Gallery, 29 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 until March 15th 2012.