2017 Summer School – ‘Social Object Studio’

The social turn in contemporary art, craft and design

By Dr Kevin Murray, Adjunct Professor, international curator and co-author of Place and Adornment: A History of Australasian Contemporary Jewellery.

16 – 23 January 2017, RMIT School of Art Summer School

This course is created for designer-makers, artists, jewellers, ceramicists, writers, graphic designers and those whose practice involves crystallising communities.

It delivers theoretical frameworks, understanding of the social practice field, modes of ethical engagement and pathways for professional practice.

New trends in contemporary art, craft and design are focused around the social object as a way of connecting people together. Relational aesthetics is evolving towards more focused means of collaboration. New participatory pathways are emerging in contemporary craft practices. Product and communication design increasingly invests the object in story and shared meaning.

This summer school investigates the creation of social objects. It will include key theoretical perspectives that help us understand how objects work. How do objects help constitute a community? How do gifts create relationships? Why do we become emotionally attached to objects? How do objects tell stories?

Examples will be shared from both traditional and contemporary practice. We will consider customary objects, including amulet, love tokens, mementos, medals, thank yous and promise objects. These will be complemented with new examples, including platform art, social practice and ethical design. You will leave this course with a prototype social object ready to be implemented.

As a student in the 2017 course, you can also participate in the Tirgan Project, a cross-cultural collaboration towards social inclusivity with the Mahe Mehr Institute of Art, Tehran.  For more information, go to http://bit.ly/SocialObjectCourse

Joyaviva in Bolivia

Street stall selling materials for the mesa dedicated to Pachamama.

La Paz street stall selling materials for the mesa dedicated to Pachamama.

La Paz is a key stage in the journey of Joyaviva across the Pacific. Though due a dispute with Chile, Bolivia has been denied its access to the Pacific, at least symbolically Joyaviva brings the spirit of the ocean to Bolivia.

Many of the folk traditions of Bolivia have inspired the development of Joyaviva, particularly the figure of El Ekeko who appears in the Festival of the Alacitas. La Paz was the venue of a charm school, which produced some wonderful stories.

We weren’t able to formally exhibition Joyaviva in La Paz because our local host organisation Jalsuri Foundation had been closed down. But determined to bring Joyaviva to La Paz in some manner, an event was staged in which key works from the exhibition were displayed.

The discussion that followed revealed some very interesting points.

Why are the traditions of luck so rich and varied in Bolivia, compared to other countries? One reason is the use of coca leaf as a regular stimulant. Coca is seen to induce the kind of magical thinking that produces the complex rituals and objects in Bolivian culture. Also the mixture of Catholic and indigenous cultures has produced many hybrid beliefs, such as El Ekeko. This implies a Aymara and Quechua cultures that resisted extinction during colonisation.

Where does the power of amulets come from? There are obvious answers, such as the placebo effect, symbols of emotional support from others and identification with cultural traditions. One less obvious element was the way amulets channel the power of dreams, connecting our living reality with the more unconscious forces that appear in our sleep.

Given the presence of a touring international exhibition, the discussion turned to the state of design in Bolivia. In terms of participation in international design projects, there are number of issues that Bolivians face. Due to isolation, there is often a lack of confidence in sending work to foreign exhibitions. There are also relatively few spaces for showing design as art in La Paz, (there are more in Santa Cruz). There is great potential for designers to work with artisans, though it is difficult to make changes in traditional techniques that are passed down through generations.

Given these issues, it would be good in an ideal world for Joyaviva to start again in Bolivia, building a network in La Paz that is interested in the challenge of developing new designs from local folk traditions. This might be an opportunity to explore partnerships between designers and traditional artisans. With luck, this might be possible. Is there an amulet for that, or is it just a dream?

Photo on 8-4-14 at 2.03 PMAnd this tattoo by Gabriel Duran inspired much discussion about its use as an amulet in Bolivia.

See previous report of workshop in Bolivia.

Joyaviva en Bolivia – 29 julio

Joyaviva pays respects to El Ekeko – Joyaviva rinde homenaje a El Ekeko (29 julio).

Joyaviva regresa a La Paz, la fuente de tantas tradiciones ricas. Por favor, únase a nosotros en el aprendizaje de cómo los diseñadores de hoy han interpretado la tradición de que el amuleto y discutir su futuro para Bolivia. (Joyaviva returns to La Paz, the source of so many rich traditions. Please join us in learning how today’s designers have interpreted the tradition of the amulet and to discuss its future for Bolivia.)



Amuleto: Joya viva a través del pacifico

Podemos adaptar el amuleto tradicional a temas actuales como dar exámenes o hacer conexiones con extraños en una ciudad? Invitamos a ustedes a la presentación de amuletos modernos y a la conferencia a cargo del curador el Dr. Kevin Murray. Conferencia apoyada por el Consulado Honorario de Australia en Bolivia

Martes 29 de Julio a horas 18:00

Circulo de la Union

Calle  Aspiazu # 333

La Paz, Bolivia

A partir del 21 de Julio escribir a rsvp@joyaviva.net

Contemporary Amulets – Joyaviva forum in Mexico City 10 April 2014


Contemporary Amulets

Forum and preview of Joyaviva, at Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares, 10 avril, 18:00-20:00

How do amulets work? Is there something we can learn from the tradition of amulets? Can the negative function of amulets to protect criminals or make curses be turned around for the good? What is the special place that Mexico has in contemporary jewelry movement?


  • Dr. Carlos Zolla Márquez, coordinador del Programa Universitario de Estudios de la Diversidad Cultural y la Interculturalidad (PUIC-UNAM)
  • Martacarmela Sotelo (Mexican artist in Amuleto) Conceptualising ideas for their materialisation 
  • Melissa Cameron (Australian artist in Amuleto) Contemporary jewellery in the streets of Melbourne 
  • Hanna Hedman (Swedish artist) Amulet or talisman?
  • Kevin Murray (Curator of Amuleto) Luck by design: The challenge of the contemporary amulet

In partnership with Otro Diseño