Collection and Exhibitions

Object in Focus: Chain & Red Chain by Christoph Zellweger

Chain and Red Chain by Christoph Zellweger, 1994. Photo: John Hammond, 2009

Chain and Red Chain by Christoph Zellweger, 1994. Photo: John Hammond, 2009

Object in Focus: Chain & Red Chain by Christoph Zellweger

In 1994, two astonishing items of jewellery were made by the Swiss-born jewellery maker Christoph Zellweger: Chain and Red Chain. They were exhibited together at the 1994 Work/Ethics exhibition in Sheffield, but today reside in two different institutions. Chain was acquired by the Crafts Council in 1995; Red Chain, purchased for the Cleveland Crafts Centre’s collection in 1998, is now housed at mima, Middlesbrough.

The sculptural pieces are similar in style and configuration (both are 270cm long), but there are marked differences. Chain has had a deliberately decayed appearance from the start, with oxidised metal parts and yellowed latex, but Red Chain was notable for its shiny new aesthetic, boasting gleaming steel elements and brilliant red latex tubes.

Sadly, by 2009, both are in a sad state of disrepair, with Chain close to total collapse. The metal components are still largely intact, but the latex has deteriorated to such a degree that neither chain can now hang as originally intended.

In their current condition, Chain and Red Chain present a crucial yet fascinating dilemma for the maker, curators and conservators involved, as to how, and if, they should be maintained, considering Zellweger’s statement that Chain ‘is not intended forever.’ Broadly speaking, this case sparks debate about both the ethics and the practicalities of making and collecting jewellery made of such ephemeral materials as rubber. After purchase, what are the possibilities for conservation? Is there ever a case for an artist repairing and even remaking pieces like Chain and Red Chain? These and other questions are raised in three interviews: with the curator (James Beighton, mima); with the conservator (Cordelia Rogerson, Modern Materials Specialist Conservator, The British Library); and with the maker (Zellweger himself) in the hope of finding a solution for these most mysterious and beautiful works. Amanda Fielding, Curator at the Crafts Council at the time of its acquisition, contributes an additional account of the nature of Chain.

All interviews conducted by Sarah Brownlee.

This exhibition has been developed in partnership with mima.

mima’s Red Chain was purchased with assistance from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund in 1998.

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