Interview with Goldsmiths' Company New Designers 2015 Award Winners Karen Westland and Ieva Mikutaite - Part One

by: Mandana Oskoui, Helen Dobson

09-Jun-16

In this blog post, we talk to Glasgow School of Art graduates Ieva Mikutaite, who won the New Designers Goldsmiths' Company Jewellery Award in 2015 (pictured above left) and Karen Westland, who won the New Designers Goldsmiths' Company Silversmithing Award (pictured above right).

Why did you decide to pursue a career in the jewellery industry?

Ieva: I was attracted by jewellery ever since I was little. It’s quite funny, I don’t really wear much. I think I prefer making it at this point in my life. I always wondered what it would be like to be able to make it yourself and I always wanted to find out more about that. I never studied art or anything like that because my parents did not want me to do that especially my father and I ended up studying something that wasn’t my cup of tea but I got through it and then I started working in an office which was not my cup of tea. Eventually I thought I am not 100 years old yet, I can still change my life and I think that sometimes you need to experiment to see if you can get in a place where you feel happier so that’s how I decided to get into jewellery. I had it as a hobby for a few years before I made my final decision but the longer I did it, the more I enjoyed it, and I thought since I am doing it already I might as well learn how to do it in a more professional way.


Karen, I know that you work with 100% recycled materials. Do you think that's something that defines your work?

Karen: I know that once graduating and having done a couple of exhibitions no one seems interested as such in it. It’s always a positive once it gets into conversation but I think in terms of jewellery and silverware it's always the aesthetics and immediate things that are valuable about your work. I think as a maker you have that responsibility whether it visually changes your work or not, it’s important to try and maintain some sort of ethical standard. But then if you can try and direct the industry into an improved way of working, I mean my processes are nowhere near perfect yet, there are still lots of things that I need to improve on but just making those small footsteps, I think that kind of progression is important to identify each initial attainment and try and make things a bit better.


Karen you have won many awards and bursary, have these awards helped you progress your career, network or gain experience? So it’s not just the New Designers Award, you’ve got the Precious Metal Bursary, the Peter Wylie Davidson Memorial Prize and the GSA Sustainability Prize.

Karen: I would say that the most important thing is the reassuring that what you are doing is ok, you are heading in the right direction particularly with the sustainability one because of the amount of effort that goes into trying to always source materials. It’s usually difficult and having some people identifying the hard work that goes into making something, it’s rewarding in a way.


So what is the Sustainability Prize?

Karen: The Sustainability Prize is a general prize in the Glasgow School of Art for fine art, design, architecture or anything else. I was thinking I can’t get it because there is going to be an architectural building that’s all eco friendly but it was just the different types of 3D printing I was exploring like recycled materials and having to make things by hand. It was the process and documenting that but also just trying to find the right suppliers and making a list of all the connections and things that will help in the future and the Art School was trying to promote sustainable practice.


Your piece that won the New Designers Silversmithing Award was inspired by space exploration obviously you got an interest in that where does that interest come from, how did you research it?

Karen: My main interest is social environment issues. Every project we have in Art School was kind of a moral social or environmental issue that I would look at and I think that for space, I just find it bizarre that we always look at space and why do we invest so much money into something like that when we could be investing into poverty or issues already on earth. But at the same time space exploration does actually help things like identifying issues of climate change so I think it’s a very complex and interesting too, maybe it’s solving problems or maybe it’s not. Is it environmentally friendly or is it completely destructive? It’s a strange industry.


Ieva, why did you choose you choose to do kinetic jewellery and what did you find interesting about it?

Ieva: I find it challenging but conquering the challenge is the most satisfying thing to me. Ever since I started making jewellery something had to move in my pieces I couldn’t make a still piece there had to be something, at least a tiny little part that moved. I find it fascinating and I find it playful and it’s along the lines of my idea about childhood and exploring things. Plus I wanted my jewellery to do things that people might not necessarily expected to do. For example if you look at that piece that contracted and you didn’t know that it can expand it has like a hidden secret that ‘s interesting to discover and you could just hand it to someone and let them play around for a while and see whether they can come up with the fact that it expands. I thought it would be quite interesting to experiment with that and I would like to continue. It’s really difficult and it makes my work more expensive that I would like it to be as well so it’s kind of an issue at the moment but I am trying to work on it.


So what’s the biggest challenge about making something new, is it ensuring its smooth movement?

Ieva: With my pieces I think the biggest challenge is to assemble everything. Even the preparation because there are so many small parts that you need to include to get the piece done. All the rivets and the tiniest bits of tube which I can only handle with tweezers so all that takes time and it’s a challenge.