It’s unsurprising that artist Sophia Emmett, a resident of Newcastle, New South Wales, works with material like coal, as the city is the world’s largest exporter of the substance. Working with coal, meshed nylon and found graffiti, the Australian, who trained initially in glass, has made a career as a jewelry artist producing fashionable bracelets, earrings and necklaces from material which is both sustainable and durable. Emmett’s first show in Japan is being held, until June 27, at new art space I AM in Higashi-Nagasaki, Toshima-ku. I AM is owned and run by creative duo Rie and Vaughan Allison, who also run the popular Mia Mia coffee shop also to be found in Higashi-Nagasaki. The cozy suburb of Ikebukuro is emerging as one of the capital’s new hot spots of creativity with a spate of new restaurants, cafes and projects opening in the past year. The town has recently seen a huge interest by domestic and global press with Popeye magazine featuring Mia Mia on its May 2021 cover and Monocle tagging it as one of the global neighborhoods to watch. It’s a huge recognition for a town which has lived, for so long, in the shadows of nearby locations such as Nakano, Ekoda and Koenji.
Emmett’s debut show in Tokyo is also I AM’s freshman exhibition and is proving to be a major hit with locals and visitors alike. Tokyo Art Beat spoke with Emmett in a recent interview, by email, about her work and exhibition at I AM.
Tokyo Art Beat: You work with salvaged materials. Do you have an interest in art and sustainability?
Sophia Emmett: My aim is to create thoughtful and beautiful pieces that people can cherish. In each piece of jewelry there is a story of something reclaimed and then of something loved.
I have three lines of jewelry. One made from coal, the idea of using coal was to engage people in the conversation about how we use raw materials, the real cost and how and why we value things.
The graffiti I find in Newcastle Skate Park peels off the walls. I like to use materials that would otherwise be discarded to encourage people to find beauty in unexpected things and use resources that would otherwise be rubbish. “Each shard is like a little layered history representing generations of graffiti artists, their self-expression and creativity. I want to celebrate that.”
The third line of jewelry is made from PET Plastics and is 100 percent recyclable. All the silver I use for findings is recycled.
TAB: You trained as a glass artist and are known for using “black glass”, or coal as we know it. What attracted you to working with coal and will you return to using orthodox glass as an artistic medium?
SE: I moved to Newcastle, which has the largest coal exporting port in the world. We are surrounded by coal mines. Coal is all around me. The burning of coal is the main cause of climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels. A lot of people have never seen a piece of coal. It takes millions of years to form, it is a beautiful material. By making jewelry from coal I wanted to start a conversation about the real cost of burning fossil fuels. Not just the short term gains but the ever lasting effects it has on all of us.
Glass is my first love. I will always use glass in some form. With my larger sculptural piece I use glass, I also make glass jewelry.
My past experience working with glass has definitely influenced my mesh pieces with the techniques I use. I live near the ocean and swim almost every day in summer. I am constantly finding amazing sea creatures and seaweed that supply me with a constant stream of inspiration for forms and ideas.
TAB: Your current exhibition, at I AM in Tokyo, is a collection of work using materials such as meshed nylon. Could you explain more about this exhibition and how it came to be? Do you know Vaughan and Rie Allison? Have you met before?
SE: I have not met Vaughan and Rie in person but I feel like I have. They are so warm and inviting. I had planned to come to Tokyo but unfortunately because of the pandemic I could not. Vaughan and Rie lived in Melbourne Australia; they saw my work in galleries there. They contacted me a while ago to ask if I would be interested in showing my work in their space.
TAB: How would you describe your work?
SE: The founding principles of my work are: proportion, simplicity and beauty. Using found and unvalued materials to challenge our perception of their significance. Finding beauty in surprising places and creating thoughtful and considered jewelry pieces for people to cherish. I like to think of my pieces as small sculptural forms. Apart from creating a point of interest, the most important thing for accessories is to be comfortable and joyous. Form and function.
TAB: How did you become interested in jewelry as an artistic medium? Can your work be classified as “wearable art”?
SE: I have always loved the sculptural nature of jewelry. It is like carrying around your private art collection. With glass blowing you need a lot of equipment, with making jewelry my work space is a lot more portable.
TAB: Looking to the future, what are you working on? Will you have any future exhibitions in Tokyo?
SE: I love working with the mesh and I am planning to make a larger, more sculptural form. I am also keen to get back into the hot shop to blow some glass and also combine the two materials. I would love to have another exhibition. Tokyo is such a lively, vibrant city.
Sophia Emmett at I AM until June 27
I AM: 4-27-8-101 Nagasaki, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Holidays 12pm–7pm