Peta Kruger on reimagining jewellery in Steam Mill Lane

Bright, angular and playful, Peta Kruger’s style is distinctive. She hails from Adelaide, where an internship at Jam Factory studios for design developed into a full-time career as a jewellery artist. Earlier this year, Kruger was approached by Lendlease to reinterpret her tiny artworks into large scale installations suspended above Steam Mill Lane in Ultimo. From intimate, wearable art to bold floating structures, we chatted to her about the process of re-imagining her practice, and bringing her bright colourful work into the Darling Square precinct.

If you'd like to see and learn more about the artworks for yourself, join us on a Tastes and Sights of Chinatown Tour.

You’re a jewellery artist and this is your first public work. From making very small pieces you’ve now tackled a large scale project. What inspired you to take this on?

I hadn’t really considered making large public works but Lendlease approached me and they thought my jewellery would be interesting and different at such a scale. It’s basically what I do on a small scale but tenfold. I think there’s a nice connection there, I’m most interested in public art. Quite often they’re just big pieces plonked in spaces and I like something that comes from an intimate place. Jewellery is an intimate little artwork that you can wear and it says something about you. I hope some of that intimacy translates to the space. You can walk around them and it hopefully makes the space more inviting. It gives you a sense of the character of the lane and I think that’s what jewellery does on a person too.

Photo courtesy of Aspect Studios.

Photo courtesy of Aspect Studios.

What brief were you given for this work in Steam Mill Lane?

The brief was quite open. But a response to the site was important. They identified the area as culturally rich and historically layered. I also saw it as a space that’s been constantly transformed. So it’s a nod to those ideas and I interpreted that with the day and night element of the work. I also just wanted to create an intimate space in the laneway, enticing people to stay a while and identify it as a place of discovery. And by having different views of the artworks by day and night, I thought it would encourage people to return and see the place completely transformed.

How does the work change?

During the day they look like abstract signage made from geometric panels. Then at night those colour panels darken in the twilight, and the lights inside shine through the gaps and illuminate them in a different way.

Photo courtesy of Peta Kruger

Photo courtesy of Peta Kruger

Is there a particular sentiment/message, personal or otherwise, behind the work you have created?

I think it’s important to me that the work is open to other people’s interpretation. I think the meaning is always changing in public spaces and now that it’s up I look at it with a new interest to see what it’s doing. I quite like the way the pieces float. I like that when you look up at the artworks and see how they are situated against the architecture and the surrounding space you see a new composition. And since it was installed I thought of the title “Night and Day” which is in reference to a song by Cole Porter, famously sung by Fred Astaire. And I just like the idea that city night lights are quite romantic, and the turning on and off of them, almost infinitely, is like a heartbeat of a city, that repetition. I also realised that the floating has a nice connection to the water in the harbour. It’s hard to represent all these ideas but I think abstractly they’re there if you look for it. I keep finding new meanings.  

Were there challenges in reinterpreting your work this way?

Absolutely, challenges at every stage. At the same time, the whole team couldn’t have been more helpful in realising what I had envisioned. A lot of metalworkers fabricate and manage whole projects themselves whereas I was able to step back and look at the look and feel of them. And then we had experts in every area work on the engineering and the fabricating of the pieces. So there were already master craftsmen in different areas so I was very lucky to have access to their skills. And didn’t go through trial and error which is what I’ve had to do in the 10 years of my jewellery practice.

Photo courtesy of Aspect Studios.

Photo courtesy of Aspect Studios.

Do you want to explore public large scale works further? Do you foresee other works like this down the track?

Possibly. I love designing. It just depends on all the right conditions. This one was really an amazing opportunity. Especially the way Lendlease allowed me to think about the whole space without many limitations. I’m lucky to have such an experience so it will be hard to find something better than that.  

How did you come become a jewellery artist?

I’d met friends in jewellery who sparked my interest in it. And I found it satisfied my itch to tinker with metal in a shed. Jewellery encompasses fashion and a bit of design and mathematics, so it blends all my interests into one.

How is your jewellery practice evolving? What’s next for you?

I’ve actually got a show in Canberra at the moment, a selection of jewellery with some connection to the artwork in Steam Mill Lane. After that I’m going to continue my masters in jewellery by research. I’m looking at the way jewellery can be a network to connect people, for example wedding rings is something we’re all familiar with and it connects you to your partner but it also connects you to the wider concept of marriage in society. And if you think of it abstractly, they’re almost like nodes, invisible links between us. I came across this interesting word, in ancient greek the word “cosmos” meant the universe and it also meant jewellery. So maybe back then, they also considered jewellery to be meaningful, it wasn’t as flippant as an accessory - maybe it meant something deeper. I’m making jewellery and reflecting on that, and connecting it to bits of history and finding unusual references.  

Kate BettesComment