The person I am interviewing once believed she was an undercover fairy. Oh, alright, maybe only until the age of nine. This should not come as a surprise to most of us. Our world, after all, is constantly being built by imaginary and imaginative personas we create and walk hand-in-hand with. Don’t we know it? From the days of our first discoveries until the last minute of our stories, our undercover parts of self are, off and on, our privé consultants or personas we occasionally wear as a seventh ‘thinking hat’ to go about our business out there in everyday life. In all likelihood, they are the crème-de-la-crème of ‘thinking hats’, the most soulful, maybe; the most courageous of them all, for sure.
The person I am interviewing today is not nine anymore. She is not a real life fairy, but who are we to know for sure! Kenzie Wallace is an artist. Early on during her career she decided to create an artistic avatar to represent her creative and professional endeavours.
Meet Jérôme Dauphin—an eccentric, confident French art jeweller, currently based in Dundee, Scotland. His critically acclaimed works have been described as both charming and uncanny and are a hot topic within his industry. ‘Realising that these days, people buy into the experience associated with the maker of products, I hoped to examine how far the artist’s narrative could be pushed by creating a character and attempting to generate interest within the contemporary jewellery world. While operating under a pseudonym, I examined how artists reinvent themselves. By changing my online identity, I completely altered other people’s view of who I was. In turn, this allowed me to explore how creatives thrive through the use of social media, what the latest trends are in art jewellery and the relationship between the artist and those who help to promote them. The theme of anonymity within publicity was furthered enhanced with striking jewellery pieces depicting to what extent changing someone’s appearance affects their identity’, Kenzie explains often. ‘By changing my online identity, I altered other people’s view of who I was and this allowed me to collect unbiased data on how creatives thrive through the use of social media and the relationship between the artist and those who help to promote them. If you had a chance to look at the website, each description is a tool for not only making Jérôme more tangible but for highlighting different aspects of the way the jewellery world operates. Some are positive and some not so much, such as inflated prices, the latest trends in art jewellery and how artistic careers rely on the generosity of others, which can make it somewhat cliquey in a sense. It's also been very interesting to see people's reactions when they discover I'm Jérôme Dauphin, it tends to be that they find his work quite political when it's presented by the pseudonym but mostly comical when presented as myself. I like to think it's both! ’, she noted when I first asked her to elaborate on why she initiated this personal-turned-social experiment.
Here’s Kenzie. And her masterpiece fabrication: Jérôme.
Jérôme, will you introduce your creator to us, please? How would you describe her personality and aspirations?
I'd say Kenzie is determined, creative and open-minded. She finds the most enjoyment in learning about people or discovering new places. Her biggest dream is to have an original idea – there must be one out there! She has an ever-growing bucket list of aspirations like everyone else, but is more than willing to accept any opportunities that pop up unexpectedly. Ultimately, she probably just wants to be like me.
Kenzie, please introduce your artistic avatar, Jérôme, and the story of his ‘life’.
Jérôme is an art jeweller, he enjoys travelling, people watching, anything on the absurd side and one too many glasses of wine. His favourite pastime is using his art when encouraging others to see his point of view. He knows he’s n o t egotistical but that jewelry is a cutthroat business so a little bit of self-confidence never hurt anyone. Although claiming to be French, Jerome is actually a Scottish creation (France seemed a tad more upmarket on the design front). He also claims to have won a great deal of awards, but is really more of an advocate for the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ approach.
What are you two up to together?
We’re experiencing artistic differences. We’re off to the ‘New Designers’ trade show together and have a couple more themes we’d like to collaborate on, but I’d quite like to play about with other personas and see how the public’s reaction varies from each one. Jerome would like to remain the centre of attention.
Which is the first memory you have of yourself, Kenzie?
I would re-enact the programme ‘Art Attack’ frequently growing up, particularly the massive art projects. I’d be left in the living room to play and ten minutes later the settee would be hauled apart and all the clothes I could find would be meticulously sprawled out as part of my ‘installation’. On one such occasion, I had found permanent markers and decided that writing my name and drawing across the walls would be the perfect treat for my mum. I even managed to cover the entire room up to waist length (as high as I could reach) in less than ten minutes. Such talent! Unfortunately, the critics slated my contemporary art piece.
Where did you grow up and in what kind of ways has your hometown and its culture affected your personality?
I’m from a sleepy seaside village, my back garden joined onto a field and there are more trees than people. It’s a very idyllic setting. We even have ruins of Macduff’s castle and caves filled with Pictish and Viking carvings. It gets even more exciting when you see the graffiti beside these historical artefacts, lovingly spray painted by the local neds. For such a small village, there is a vast range of eccentric personalities and definitely not a lack of confidence. With so much nature to explore and interesting people to watch, I think it really helped push my imagination - until the age of nine I even had myself convinced I was an undercover fairy.
What would you create if all the resources and assistance were available and why?
A working pair of wings. Beautiful, shimmery, bug-like ones made from recycled materials so we could all afford a pair because wouldn’t flying feel wonderful?
How has ‘project Jerome’ helped your work so far?
It’s really helped me to understand the operations of the jewellery and art world like how creatives thrive through the use of social media, what the latest trends are in art jewellery and the relationship between the artist and those who help to promote them. I think it can be hard for artists who work alone in their studios to gain experience of these things and it can often be a shock when it comes to self-promotion and selling their work. This experiment has definitely opened my eyes up to everything that’s involved in the entire process. More importantly, it gave me a stronger insight into my own personality--as hiding behind a pseudonym encourages you to explore new things you’d otherwise be more hesitant to do – if things go wrong never admit to being your alter ego!
Has this experiment, the fabrication of Jérôme Dauphin, offer you any lessons about people, including lessons about your own self?
Jérôme has definitely shown me how willing other people are to help creatives out, in any way they can, and that there’s never any harm in asking, so long as you’re polite. It was also really interesting seeing how people’s views changed on Jérôme when they found out that I had created him. Mostly it was giggling because I had drawn a beard on myself, but it did open up a lot of interesting conversations on gender and identity. Being Jérôme has really shown me the different layers people have to their personalities. I view him as an extension of myself and hadn’t considered just how narcissistic I can be, unapologetically so. I truly believe that vanity is what gets us out of bed in the morning.
In one of your social media posts, you write: ‘It [jewellery] can urge you to think about serious causes, it's linked to the evolution of our thumbs and even has the power to heal.’ Please elaborate on this.
The jewellery that I love best is political, I’ve always felt that art with a purpose and a deeper meaning is more interesting than pieces that are purely aesthetical – not that they’re not important too, of course! The history of jewellery is pretty complex; some scientists claim that we wouldn’t have thumbs if it weren’t for our ancestors wishing to adorn their bodies and therefore increase their chances of finding a mate. Our hands, as we know them, have since allowed us to create many other wonders but it’s pretty cool to think that it could be potentially all thanks to jewellery. Since then, our relationship with the pretty pieces we wear has continued to blossom and there are all sorts of studies proving the benefits of jewellery to our physical and mental health. For example, if I gave someone who wasn’t feeling well a little trinket that I’d created out of silver, solely for them, and decorated it with precious stones, I could tell them all about how the materials are linked to healing the body when held close. Whether this is true or not (people are in two minds), the placebo effect could help them to feel better. Even knowing that I had taken the time to show I cared about them would have a positive effect on their mental state. Basically, jewellery is the answer to everything and you should make more macaroni necklaces!
‘Punch Me, Punch You’ was a knuckleduster designed to harm the wearer if violent and was created using silver and amethyst, known for their healing properties. Please elaborate on the philosophy behind the artefact and the messages you want to communicate here.
‘Punch Me, Punch You’ highlights how every action has a reaction and that, like all good children know, you should really treat others how you’d like to be treated in return. I think jewellery can help in altering our behaviours. This is especially true when pieces make you feel empowered or, in this case, taking that control away by restricting movement. By looking into the function behind a piece, it becomes more than just something that adorns the body but a sculpture, a story or even a lifestyle choice.
What kind of subjects and messages have not been communicated through your art yet but are in your… to-do list?
I’m currently playing with the idea of altering everyday objects until they become unrecognisable but stay true to their main function: to find hidden beauty in something as mundane as a hairbrush. I tend to find inspiration with things I come across in my daily routine so I can relate to what I’m doing and go from there... although, I find my process is very organic and themes and outcomes change until they’re an entirely different project from my original plan. I think it’s better that way; I like using art as a tool to discover things I didn’t even know I had wanted to learn.
Can negative reaction to art be a positive thing?
I would say so. It means people are engaging with your work and actually taking the time to form an opinion on it. If no one dislikes what you’re doing, the piece is more than likely the equivalent of a magnolia wall. That being said, praise does generally feel better than being booed at.
In Jerome’s website we read: ‘project ‘Weight’, a contemporary gold medal, took Jérôme Dauphin four minutes and 17 seconds to sculpt out of milliput. ‘He’ gave his mould to another artist who cast it in gold, he then multiplied its cost by ten and rounded that number off to the nearest 100,000. The piece was sold for £500,000. He then made an exact copy of the piece and attempted to sell it anonymously for £54,000 but as Jerome Dauphin's name is unattached to the second medal, it remains unsold!’ How do you feel about this, Kenzie?
Although this story is slightly hyperbolic, to say the least, things like this do happen. I know as a maker, I should hate it and want art to be all about talent but the almost corrupt politics of the art world really interests me, I’d find it exciting if it weren’t for my guilt of being amused by it. It seems that collectors have too much power in dictating what pieces are worth and that these people don’t know all that much about art but have an unending supply of money. That being said, it creates a bigger buzz around the art and design world, and that’s got to benefit us all?
In your storytelling you use imaginative and imaginary plot and humour to illustrate and promote the political messages of your projects. We find such context in presentations such us ’Fingertips’ . How much of a part do the storytelling that surrounds the artefact as well as the communication and promotion of the final product play in art?
For this intervention any physical objects were mostly viewed as props. I found this useful in validating Jerome’s existence; as I was claiming to be an established designer and didn’t necessarily have the technical skills to back it up, little anecdotes help to explain the pieces and get my points across. I feel as though people buy into the story attached to art and products just as much as they do the actual piece, so branding and a strong sense of personality are almost as important as artistic talent.
Will you ever ‘kill your darling’, Kenzie?
Nope, I think it might be love...
*Kenzie and Jérôme can be found here.