The synaesthetic silversmith talks to Katie Treggiden
Silversmith Anna Brimley talks about the effect her neurological condition has on her work, the importance of handling craft, and the gratitude that inspired her latest collection.
Tell me about 'Pomanders of a Synaesthete' the collection of three silver vessels you recently donated to the Crafts Council’s Handling Collection.
I had made scent-carrying vessels as jewellery before, but I wanted to work on a larger scale and I had been toying with the idea of pomanders (perforated bags or boxes containing aromatic substances that are used to scent clothes and linens) for a while. I formed the vessels by hand from sheet silver, needle-felted the interiors for carrying the scents, and created my own perfumes.
How does your synaesthesia affect your work?
Synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which your sensory experiences are combined. For me, spoken sounds conjure flavours and edible textures – and temperatures, smells and colours are also closely linked (when I was very little I used to ask my child-minder why certain words tasted like cheese sandwiches!). Understanding my condition has become a real creative focus. The Pomanders were a pleasure to make, because I was able to experiment with new materials, textures, colours, and create and combine scents. The colours and scents I have put together are a direct response to my synaesthetic experiences.
The Handling Collection enables members of the public to touch and physically interact with objects – why is that important?
I didn't realise the Crafts Council had a Handling Collection until this commission, but I am so pleased they do. It’s so valuable for engaging people with craft. Physical interaction with an object is infinitely more powerful than viewing it alone. Your relationship with an object is about the way it feels, the way it moves, and yes, the way it smells!
Why is it particularly important for Pomanders of a Synaesthete to be in this collection, rather than locked away in a cabinet?
Interaction is what completes this piece. The combination of sensory elements is harmonious for me, but the experience will be different for everyone. I am keen to understand how people feel about the colour-scent combinations I have chosen, so the display box is designed to capture feedback. I hope it will start a conversation about the importance of our senses, and highlight how differently we each experience the world.
You proposed this commission to the Crafts Council as a result of your time on their Hothouse programme.
Yes – it was my way of saying thank you. The programme was fantastic at the early stages of my career, and equipped me with tools and contacts to fall back on. My peers, mentors, and professional contacts have been, and continue to be, invaluable. As well as opening doors, Hothouse helps you to ask and answer difficult questions, consider your values and direction, and build your confidence as a designer-maker. I feel so indebted to the Crafts Council for their support.
Besides your experiences of synaesthesia, who or what inspires you?
The click of a button, the smoothness of a good pen… touch and movement capture my imagination far more than aesthetics (as a child, I collected toothbrush handles that felt nice to hold!). I am inspired by Theo Jansen’s mastery of kinetics, Simone Ten Hompel’s work in silver, Gary Schott’s sense of humour and use of materials, and Wayne Hemingway’s clarity of vision.
How did you become a metalsmith?
During my Contemporary Crafts degree at Falmouth University metal was my least favourite material. The accuracy and patience required was infuriating and daunted me for most of my degree. Finally in my third year I had a project for which fine metal was really the only material that would fit my designs, and everything changed. After my first success with a tricky solder, I was hooked. I was forced to slow down and appreciate every part of the process - every drag of the saw, bend, or hammer affects the structure of the metal. I am still learning and find it an immensely satisfying material.
What's next for you?
In May, I built a multisensory exhibition space in collaboration with an artist in Stroud as part of SIT Select Trail. I loved the freedom to change the scale of my ideas, try new materials and expand my skill-set. I am excited to explore this direction further. I will also be taking part in 'EtsyUK: Four Corners of Crafts’ at Tent London during the London Design Festival.
See more of Anna's work on the Crafts Council Directory