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Artist Profile| Melinda Young

In 2004 Sydney based contemporary jeweller, Melinda Young, travelled to Broken Hill. Ten years later she returned for a residency funded through the Country Arts Support Program (CASP). The residency included delivering jewellery making workshops for adults and children. Melinda says her current exhibition at Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, silver city dreams, is a reference to the time she spent dreaming about returning to the town after her first visit.

She spoke to Robyne Young about the warm welcome she received in Broken Hill and the workshops, the influence of landscape on her work and the exhibition.

Melinda, as part of your two week residency you conducted two workshops with participants encouraged to bring along found items to create their jewellery from. What was the response to the workshops?

The attendees were all amazing artists working across media from painting to textiles with practices ranging from a hobby based interest to professional artists including basket weaver Anne Evers and jeweller Wendy Moore*. As with all workshops, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet these artists and the 2014 workshop particularly became by the end of the day a forum to exchange ideas and techniques and learn from each other.

Teaching workshops with found materials is also, I have found, a wonderful way to learn more about places. I have taught these kinds of workshops in many different locations around Australia and also in new Zealand and the objects that participants bring to the table never fail to fascinate and teach me so much about the specifics of the place – this was particularly true of the Broken Hill workshops I taught during my residency there – the experience brought a great deal to the resulting body of work.

You’ve referenced the exhibition title to the dreams you had of returning to Broken Hill after your first visit in 2004. What was it about Broken Hill that made you want to return?

I have a deep love for the landscape of that area – of the outback and for the town of Broken Hill and this was one of the main reasons why I wanted to return and work in the area. The collections I created as a result of the residency pay homage to the dreamscape of the silver city and some pieces have an obvious relationship to the landscape and are made from the materials found within it.

You are known for the constraints you place on your work. Did you impose any constraints on the jewellery you developed for the exhibition?

In making the work for this exhibition I set some basic rules and tried to use as many materials as possible that I collected in Broken Hill during the residency.  However, as the body of work and the narratives for the collection developed I found myself sourcing materials that had a resonance with my experience of and ideas about the place.

I also included materials gathered near my home in Sydney’s inner west as I felt that the story being told was in part not only the story of the Silver City, but my relationship to it.

On my return from the residency I produced a series of sky and land paintings. These sat in my studio for a number of months before being cut up and made into neck pieces and brooches. Some of these have ‘found’ materials attached to them; others have seeds and other plant matter cast in silver attached to them.

In your artist statement for the exhibition you describe some of your works as being ‘more poetic’ and that they ‘imply stories from behind closed doors; domestic tales of men and women, of life, labour and land’. Can you talk a little more about this?

It was important to use certain materials in the exhibition to help to tell some of the stories – the bullet casing and antique lace neckpieces for example are the only particular reference to a specific incident in the history of Broken Hill – the death of Alma Cowie during the Picnic Train Battle of 1915. Other stories are imagined. The Love Song series for example is a collection of pieces including jewellery boxes and a ceramic rose that tells an imaginary tale of love and loss.

I tried throughout the collections of work to tell little, suggestive stories through a combination of title, materials and form, as well as the very deliberate sequencing of collections of work on the gallery wall, with the work constructing sentences.

Although the work made for this exhibition was a response to the experience of being in Broken Hill, in hindsight there is also resonance with other rural and outback towns.

Finally, I’m intrigued by the name that you have on Instagram as the ‘unnaturaljeweller’. Does this name have particular significance?

‘Unnaturaljeweller’ was just a fun name to use for Instagram, however it refers to an ongoing collaboration with my dear friend, Lauren Simeoni, who is based in Adelaide that is separate to my individual practice. Our collaboration has seen us sharing materials (artificial plant foliage), making and exhibiting together since 2008 under the ‘unnatural’ moniker. We have had about 12 two person exhibitions together in galleries around Australia and New Zealand, taught numerous workshops, presented a conference paper and curated an exhibition featuring the work of ten Australian jewellers that toured to San Francisco, Christchurch, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.

The exhibition titles have all featured the word ‘unnatural’ in them and various iterations have included: ‘unnatural, naturally’, ‘unnatural tendencies’, ‘unnatural acts’ (the group show).

Find our more about Melinda’s work at

Find out more about the project on Instagram: #silvercitydreams

silver city dreams is on at the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery until 24 May and will be at Studio 20/17, 2 Danks St Waterlo, in September.

*Wendy Moore wrote extensively (and generously) about the workshop on her blog, After the Monsoon