Silver has been enjoying a quiet resurgence for some time now, but this month marks the beginning of an 11-month celebration of the material. Organised by Contemporary British Silversmiths, the UK’s leading association for design-based contemporary silver, Silver Speaks is a nationwide programme that includes exhibitions, events and conversations designed to demonstrate the diverse applications of the material, from the traditional to the experimental, the sculptural to the functional.
The highlight of the programme is a major exhibition, Silver Speaks: Idea to Object, curated by design and applied-arts critic Corinne Julius in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum. Opening March 8, it features specially commissioned work by 18 of Britain’s leading contemporary silversmiths and traces the making processes from sketchbook to final piece. Pieces in the exhibition, while not for sale at the V&A, can be bought through the Contemporary British Silversmiths website.
The work on show here is varied. There are functional, domestic pieces such as Angela Cork’s Pillow cutlery set (£3,500, second picture) in sterling silver, which demonstrates this renowned maker’s distinctive use of crisp, clean lines and perfect proportions. Then there are beguiling abstract artworks like Animus (£72,000, first picture) by Kevin Grey.
There are also many objects that merge form and function and blur the distinctions between art, design and craft. Silver and Leather Clutch (£7,600, third picture), by recent graduate Kyosun Jung, for example, is both an alluring handbag and an intricately wrought piece of silver art – the central panel is made from silver wire that she has bent and soldered into place and then hand-engraved.
Internationally acclaimed maker Adi Toch has made a set of three Britannia-silver pouring vessels (from £1,480, fourth picture) mounted on stilts. Quivering on their slender legs, they have a playful energy that invites interaction. NHS healthcare manager-turned-silversmith Juliette Bigley has also made vessels but, where Toch’s are unequivocally solid, Bigley’s Two Bowls (£6,200 for the pair, fifth picture) are more ambiguous. One of her handmade sterling silver bowls appears to be solid, but is in fact hollow, while the other has only the suggestion of form.
“Britain is the world’s centre for modern studio silver,” says Julius, “and silver has become a medium of choice for the expression of ideas.” This exhibition brings those ideas to life, and the result is both beautiful and fascinating.