Kim Paquet’ s career path is rather unique. Having first started out as a social worker and then moving towards jewellery, she now manages to combine these two aspects of her life in an artistic practice that addresses social issues such as marginalization and precariousness. A graduate of the École de joaillerie de Montréal in 2017, Kim Paquet furthered her studies at NSCAD University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2020. The ÉJM invited Kim to recreate her graduation exhibition Misconceived in its gallery space, and for the occasion, she tells us about her career, her practice and her various concerns as an artist.
You first went through the École de joaillerie de Montréal before going to NSCAD, where you completed your bachelor’s degree in 2020. What did this new study experience bring you as an artist?
My time at NSCAD helped me discover a creative process that fits my practice and my personality. Having received my technical training at the ÉJM, I found NSCAD to be an inspiring and stimulating place to get out of my comfort zone on a personal and artistic level. The search for new materials, the exploration of new techniques and constant sharing with my studio mates have become central elements in my process. Having the opportunity to open my practice to other mediums and to briefly explore the world of sculpture allowed me to discover new working methods and different ways of thinking, in addition to stimulating new questions about my interpretation of jewellery.
Left: Overwhelmed, brooch, 2019. Spray paint can, stainless steel.
Right: Excess Bagage, brooch, 2019. Spray paint can, cement, paint, varnish.
Your background as a social worker seems to have an enormous impact on your creative work, both in the themes you explore and in your particular way of engaging the public in your work by making it democratic and accessible – I am thinking particularly of your work with the Phoenix Youth Shelter and immigration services in Nova Scotia. How do you see the social vocation of your work as an artist?
In Halifax, it was my first time working with jewellery in a social setting. All the workshops I gave, both with homeless youth and with youth and families involved in the immigration program (ISANS), made me very unsettled. I think the term ‘vulnerability’ is the best one to describe my experience. This feeling has been transmitted in my own process, without me even realising it, and it has allowed me to connect more with my practice. Questions around identity were central to these workshops. For me, art is one of the most sincere and authentic ways to connect, especially with people who find it difficult to integrate into a standard-filled society. These sincere contacts, on an equal basis, without expectations or restrictions, generated a climate of trust conducive to stimulating learning, as much for their personal development as for mine. Whether through these workshops or through my creations, I consider that part of my work is to open a door to discussions on subjects that can sometimes be taboo, such as homelessness, drug addiction and mental health.
Can you see an opening towards relational art in the cultivation of these connections with others?
For a long time, I considered jewellery as an outlet for my daily life in social work, a way to break free by creating something concrete. Until my experience in Halifax, I had no clear intention of moving towards relational art, voluntarily choosing to separate these two aspects of my life. I think that in order to practice any kind of work involving helping people, it is really important to know yourself well and to understand your own emotional balance. And I realise that for me, the same applies in the artistic field. My creative process helps me find answers to some of my questions and to find that balance. Now that I have a better understanding of this, I would say that the thought of moving towards relational art has become a more realistic option in the short to medium term.
How did you initially make the transition from social work to jewellery?
When I was working for the DPJ in a Youth Centre, I started making handcrafted jewellery from recycled materials. I had a fascination for metal parts from belts, handbags, old costume jewellery and hardware. I liked to give value to these old pieces of metal, sometimes without doing much to them. The simple process of transforming them into jewellery gave me a lot of satisfaction, even if the result was very artisanal. I took part in a few small markets and festivals for the fun of being in contact with people and making sales. I liked to see the connection between my creation and the person who chose it. I will always remember the feeling I had the first time I saw a stranger in a shopping centre wearing one of my necklaces. It’s as if something clicked at that moment. So I met a guidance counsellor and they told me about the CEGEP jewellery program. I knew absolutely nothing about this world and I had very little knowledge of the arts in general. I took the plunge without knowing what to expect and I never wanted to go back!
Badge of Honor, brooch, 2019. Spray paint can, stainless steel.
In the series of works you are currently presenting in the exhibition Misconceived, at the École de joaillerie de Montréal, we notice the recurring use of spray paint cans in your pieces. Can you tell us about this particular choice of object around which you have built this collection?
In the summer of 2019, I researched and explored some of Nova Scotia’s abandoned sites. I totally fell in love with the RCAF Beaver Bank Station. This facility, built in 1953, was operated by the United States Air Force unit. In the mid-1970s, the base was converted into a concrete plant, only to be abandoned after a few years. This place full of history is now a dream destination for graffiti artists. A unique place to leave your mark, but also to discover the dark corners of an old building in decay. I was fascinated by the abundance of abandoned, rusty, decomposed spray paint cans on the ground, alongside the works on the walls. I collected about sixty of them. The number of these and the fact that they were all unique inspired me. I wanted to transform these forgotten objects and to restore their purpose; that of serving as a medium of expression. During my years at NSCAD, I came to understand that in my practice, the creative process is as important, if not more important than the final result. For me, deconstructing, deforming and cutting these objects in order to make them wearable was a way of restoring their value and identity, even if from an external point of view, they look like a pile of rust.
Above and on the left: RCAF Beaver Bank Station
Right: Kim’s workspace in the NSCAD Port Campus sculpture studio
How do you approach the link between street art and the marginalized populations you refer to?
For me, street art is ephemeral. Street art is there, whether we are aware of it or not. The city walls are decorated, colourful, covered with messages… but as we go about our routine, we don’t notice them anymore. And overnight, they fade away; cleaned up or covered with another graffiti. Nothing is permanent. Working with homeless drug addicts in Montreal, I came to realize that my relationships with them were much like that. One day they could be solid, concrete and meaningful, while the next day they would come to an end, another discourse and everything would have to be started all over again. Our way of interpreting street art, whether it is a professional and organized work or a simple message on the corner of an alley, can easily be compared to the way we perceive the marginalized populations who live on these streets.
Are there particular artists or movements that inspire you, both aesthetically and conceptually?
Instinctively, when I create, I don’t tend to look at the work of any particular artist or movement… Possibly due to a lack of knowledge. But for the creation of this collection, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and to approach things in a different way. I was supervised by Craig Leonard, an interdisciplinary artist and professor at NSCAD. His approach and knowledge led me to question the function of jewellery and to draw parallels with the world of sculpture. The aesthetic approach of sculptor John Chamberlain and the conceptual approach of Rachel Whiteread and Richard Serra have, at one time or another, taken an important place in the process of creating this collection.
I admire the work of the French relational artist Yann Dumoget. His idea of creating graffiti in public spaces and asking visitors to add to his own work is particularly appealing to me. I really like the idea of considering one’ s own work as unfinished and leaving space for the public’s innocent performance. The collection Misconceived was exhibited at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, in Halifax, as my graduation exhibition. It was important for me that at first glance, my works were not identified as jewellery, and that I could thus raise questions about their function, their value and their connection to the body. Decaying objects collected from the same abandoned building were included among my works. Visitors were invited to touch, move and explore the forms, weight and texture of the pieces in order to discover their functionality and, perhaps, challenge their initial perceptions.
You have been selected to join the artist-in-residence program at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto. How do you plan to develop your projects in relation to this new experience?
I see my next adventure in Toronto as an opportunity to work on the more commercial aspect of my practice. I love exploring the artistic side of contemporary jewellery and this will definitely be an ongoing process for me in Toronto. In fact, I would like to find a balance between the two. I want to create a coherent image of who I am as an artist, but also as an entrepreneur. Collaborating with fashion designers, photographers or other artists, as well as networking within Toronto’s artistic and entrepreneurial world would be great! You know, when I was talking about the feeling I had when I saw someone in the mall with one of my designs… I think that’s what I’m in the mood for right now! I also have a few names of organizations that I would like to contact in order to evaluate the possibility of organizing workshops with underprivileged teens and young adults. I am always up for a challenge and I like to seize opportunities, so… stay tuned!
Defective Band-Aid no. 1 and 4, brooches, 2019. Spray paint cans, stainless steel, polystyren, concrete, resin, sterling silver, morganite, rough diamond.
Misconceived is presented in the ÉJM’s gallery space from August 24 to October 9