BOIL BEFORE AND AFTER WELDING

I’m a journalist. I write. “Yes, I noticed”, you might reply with a smile. But it’s a fact that needs to be established as it’s the premise this entire piece is based on. The fact is that people working with words (or even abstract concepts) develop, in time, a pressing need  to ‘make’. To create objects. Things you can see, you can touch, things with texture, with weight. This is the beginning.

As I have said, I write. A good part of my writing is about creativity and people that are creative
in a wide range of fields. But I also like jewels and enjoy working with my hands – sometimes words are so drained of their meaning, that I feel an object I have made with my own two hands can be more eloquent than an entire sparkling conversation.
Besides, I like materials and textures; whenever I see something beautiful, I want to touch it. My handiness was, however, lacking the clearest, most appropriate means of expression. Sunday teahouse workshops, as beneficial as I find them to be when it comes to clearing my mind, were something of filler. It wasn’t enough, and I needed a more complete experience. That was the feeling I had when I finally discovered the Assamblage School’s jewellery classes: serious, intense, and no-frills but with a certain something that suggested long term commitment. it is like when you’re told, “I’m looking for a serious relationship.” You decide to either stay or leave – there’s no middle ground. I decided I was going to stick with it.
One month later, when I was asked how the jewellery course went after having completed it, my default answer was a straight and simple, “I can’t wait to get to work.” “Work? What work?”, they’d ask with intrigue.
Apparently, it was only obvious to myself that the next logical step after being done with the course was to start making my own jewellery. That was, after all, what I had learned. To me, working with metal, melting it, and enchasing stones into it conveyed something that was more real, more concrete than words. They found it an audacious and remote endeavour. A general chat about my experience would typically play out like this: “No, we weren’t sitting tamely at our desks, watching slides; our hands were permanently busy with files, hammers, Bunsen burners and tweezers. We worked. You immediately noticed my ring, said it was gorgeous. Yes, I made it.” So with that, I have decided to turn the experience into a written piece.

SHIP’S LOG
DAY 1. I’m nervous. I feel like I’m going to take an exam. And the fact that the route is the exact same one I had been taking from my place to the university (the workshop is in Cotroceni) for four years is not really helping. There are eight workbenches, all more or less fitted with familiar equipment. The course is conducted alternately by David Sandu during the morning classes and Andreia Popescu in the afternoon, but they’re both here on the first day. They start talking, sounding very relaxed. Everyone else follows their every word with such tense concentration that I suddenly imagine David is about to ask us, “And have you noticed the purple giraffe that has just passed through the room?”
Later on I would realize that all the countless stories David would tell (about the National Treasury dwarf, or how he and the soldiers looked under the skirting boards for a diamond the Royal Family had sent), nonsequitur though they might have seemed, were in my opinion his own brilliant way of diluting an almost palpable tension.

David and Andreia complement each other well; they seem to have their own communication system that allows them both to know at all times what has been said or asked of the other. Andreia is unflappable – despite having three of my colleagues tugging at her sleeve, she goes through explaining to me the point she was making, without skipping a word. Then,having answered three other completely unrelated questions, she gets back to verifying if I understood and picks up exactly where she left off. If I were as focused when writing my stories, I’d win a Pulitzer.
They are both very composed, listening to what you have to say and helping you look for the answer; they don’t seem to keep their eye on you at all time, but I soon came to understand why that is – they have no need to see you to know what you’re doing: “Your
flame sounds wrong”, David remarks to someone, with his back to the class. An hour later, an indiscernible hiss prompts Andreia to comment in a calm, slightly amused voice “Ah, you put the piece directly in the acid.”

DAY 2. I set the alarm time on my clock 15 minutes later than yesterday. That’s a good indicator that I’m a tad more relaxed. I’m still a little childish, though, in my actions and my emotions – “I mustn’t be last in my class,” I tell myself, “my project can’t be the worst one.”
Just like school, except I like it here. I like it a lot. A whole lot. Today’s dilemma is an existential one: figuring out when apiece is finished (when have I filed, buffed, or burnished it enough?). Similar lines of questioning follow: when has perfection been reached, or when
have you come as close as possible to it? When can you tell yourself “enough!” and move on to the next piece?

DAY 3. No one wants to go out for lunch, while David and Andreia repeat with a resigned tone what they must probably tell each series of students, “you need breaks, they allow you to rest your hands and your eyes.” Obviously, we meet this with resentful glances, feeling cast out. It will only be a couple of days later that we realize how right they are. We’re too serious and at the same time too childish. For instance, having decided to take the evening course as well, with Alis Lalu, causes me to feel the most infantile joy at the thought of having three days out of five where I don’t have to leave the workshop till late in the evening.

DAY 4. I’m starting to feel the weariness. I have problems waking up, but I leave feeling I’m going to be doing this forever. And the most surprising thing is that, for someone easily bored, always looking for something new and exciting, the sensation is unbelievably pleasant. I enter the workshop as David is just concluding one of his stories: “… each and every single course I’ve done something for the first time. There’s no such thing as one single solution. I do something a certain way; a student tells me it’s easier the other way around. And sometimes they’re right.
Sometimes, their way is the easiest, even simplest.” The class has been over for fifteen minutes, and we’re sitting there, hunched over our work desks – eight people pretending to be invisible, anything to stall for just a few more minutes before having to leave the workshop. Suddenly, we get the idea that our status has changed: we’re artists now, aren’t we? And artists don’t go by the rules, do they? David calmly announces, “We’re going to wrap things up at half past five, if that’s OK with you.” Not too surprisingly, at about
quarter to six, he’s equally as calm while in the middle of an explanation about welding.

WEEK 2. Dinner chats with the classmates are starting to settle. “Are you already making jewellery?” “Where do you want to have your studio?” “You think you can manage without the punches set?” We’re all extremely different, but we share something that we really love and this is slowly and subtly starting to bind us.
The journalist side of me is fascinated by people, by how the same input information gets filtered and transformed into an entirely different image with each separate individual. We all bend the same strip of metal, but one aims for quality, another to create something beautiful, while a third one wants to recreate himself. I, too, know what I want: I want to come in every day. To file, measure, cut, melt and start over again. Yes, I even enjoy doing these menial tasks myself. It’s nothing mystical or emotional. I only have to ask myself, “Would you do this?” “Yes, yes I would.” Every day it brings me into this state of pure bliss. 925/1000 pure.

SIDE NOTES. There, now you have the whole picture. And, since I promised the film would come with extra footage, here it is, below; the things I found out about myself, about metal, about people and about jewels.
A jewellery class is a surprising mix of philosophical dilemmas and very concrete technical operations. It is a creative course, but can only operate after acquiring an impressive amount of technical knowledge – a sum of sine qua non actions, a sequence where each step means nothing without the one before and the one after, where creativity is not feasible without technique and technique is inane without creativity.
If you happen to be an architect, this image – the technical / aesthetic alternation – can most certainly ring true with you. Contemporary jewellery-making is, from some standpoint, miniature architecture, where moments of artistic visual glory are well tempered by the hours upon hours of calculations and increasingly precise blueprints. Out of eight working hours, almost three are spent with a calliper in hand, measuring, calculating. It is, at times, almost an oxymoron: if the concept of “classes” involves learning, trial and error, doubts and rebounds, imperfections, erasures and inkblots, on the other end of the spectrum jewellerymaking is so close to the concept of perfection that “jewel” has become a superlative – the most precious, beautiful, and valuable, the epitome of whatever positive quality one considers most important.
Speaking of which, my appreciation for jewellery designers has grown exponentially, because now I ‘know’ what each item can mean something, I know exactly how many hours of work are behind each new piece, each flawless sphere, and I know a halfmillimetre
wide line of a different texture involves four different consecutive minute operations.I In short, I know the process. The somewhat abstract respect that I used to hold for this kind of endeavour has now become more concrete, focused upon the person behind it all.

DO YOU EXECUTE OR INNOVATE? This was the first dilemma the course posed. Creativity versus discipline. Do you make the beautiful or the complicated? Do you follow the project to the letter or do you make it in your own way? These were wonderful questions to ask because you find out so much about yourself! The choice was to choose between creating the perfect objects on the one hand, and learning all there is to learn while sacrificing the image in exchange for accumulating information on the other. I am absolutely certain these kinds of choices define us throughout most of our moments in life. For example, when we shop for clothes or throw a party, when we choose a kindergarten for our child or decide on a certain dog to be our pet.

SOMETIMES, THINGS ARE TEACHABLE. Following the end of the course, I was faced with a particular question more than once that seemed to always be asked with a wry smile, “But do they actually teach you anything?” The first time I heard it, I was at a loss for words. Seriously, how can you even ask such a question when I’m talking about bushing tools, and Bunsen burners, and platbands, and small nozzles that allow for a much finer welding? But the issue was only cut-and-dried in my mind, because the two weeks of classes had taken place so naturally, with such remarkable ease. I entered a jeweller’s studio, he sat me at a workbench exactly like his own, equipped with the exact same tools like his, and taught me everything he knew (or rather everything that could possibly be fitted inside the allotted time) To me and my seven classmates. And yet, the question was coming up. Many think this is the kind of job you have to steal. Like a trade secret.
David doesn’t subscribe to this point of view. He’s been making jewellery since he was thirteen, having studied with generous teachers who didn’t keep the details of their craft a secret. So he feels similarly that there’s no reason why he should do otherwise. Starting a jewellery school would have made no sense whatsoever if you didn’t intend to share the secrets of your trade with those passionate about learning them. As a matter of fact, since 2010, when he created the Assamblage School of Modern Jewellery, his participation at fairs and shows has been almost entirely dedicated to promoting the classes that one can attend here.
The intensive ones that are taught by him and Andreia Popescu, and the evening one with Alis Lalu, even the one- or two-day workshops on set subjects or the weekend classes. By the way, you know what the first thing David said to me was when we first met in April at the Autor jewellery fair? With a charming smile, he said, “You know, out of the 70 participants at this year’s edition, 20 had at some point something to do relasted to Assamblage schooL”. Need I tell you how proud and touched he must have been of this fact? QED.

ONCE AGAIN, OF WORDS AND OBJECTS. David insists a lot on the meaning of things, the logic behind a certain design. Nothing should be left to chance, because you’re not making trinkets, but you’re telling a story, and the more coherent your logic, the better it is perceived by those watching your creation. “There’s chemistry between materials, just like there’s chemistry between people.” David is not a poet, and yet he likes words. He likes playing
with them and what he can turn them into; my guess is he treats them like he treats silver. He melts them, bends them, boils them, oxidizes them, all until they reach their most expressive form. In fact, he often talks about the semantics of materials, so that he finds linguistics terms that can apply to  metal, I don’t see what he wouldn’t consider
employing jewellery techniques to words.
David is an Arts graduate, he has hadnumerous displays (in cities like Basel, Vienna, Bucharest, Venice, etc.), and he was the first Romanian artist to participate in the most prominent contemporary jewellery fair, in Inhorgenta, Munich. His position as the official supplier of the Royal House of Romania is not so much a surprise when you consider these
achievements. Regarding the Assemblage School classes (detailed at large on www.assamblage.ro), he doesn’t think there are too complex things to be said. “You can’t
teach yourself jewellery on your own. Creativity cannot manifest itself in the absence of certain techniques, thus the necessity of a place where you can acquire the necessary professional and technical vocabulary.” An answer that, I think, fits a surprisingly large number of questions.