From an interview I did for the lovely people at Oh Marie! A Dutch design and lifestyle magazine.
Hi there! Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?
I’m Ann and my business is Totem Works! By day I work in a unique family run music shop. At night I make bold colourful fun Memphis inspired jewellery. Both are creative, slightly chaotic, but always very satisfying. I opened my little online shop last October and finally went on Instagram to see what people thought about my designs. I’m now developing my first proper collection of matching necklaces, earrings and pins badges.
Why the name Totem Works?
I see my pieces as little building constructions, made up of different shaped beads, colours and patterns. Each bead has its own unique personality, just like the animals from Native American totem poles. There’s also a real connection between folk and tribal arts and Memphis design, particularly African print influences in Nathalie Du Pasquiers designs (which I love!). While I was researching this link I came across an exhibition called: Totemism: Memphis Meets Africa curated by Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort. The combination of modern and primitive in materials and designs all made sense. ‘Totem’ just seems to sum up many of the pieces I make.
One the most exciting places for me is a workshop, any kind of place where people make things. This is like going into a toyshop for me, the difference is I get to play use the toys (tools and materials) to make even cooler toys (the end product). I shortened it to ‘Works’ as I think it sounds like something is always going on, always developing. This is exactly how I work.
When did you start to make your necklaces and where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
My necklaces are actually an act of rebellion. Yes, rebellion! Back at university I did a craft degree, but the tutors were so serious and a little too old fashioned. After I graduated, I just had to do something fun and frivolous, and it had to have colour. Looking back now, I can see why I was so attracted to the designs of the Memphis group – it was a complete departure of what I had done at university. In this, I think my motivations were really similar to those who started this amazing design movement. It was a reaction to what I had done before. I started to make and develop ideas about a year and half ago.
Here are some of my early designs…[insert pics]
Inspiration is always evolving, but I always try to go back to the source of an idea or a design that I like. I ask questions like: How did the artist/designer first start their process? Where did they get their inspiration from? For example, the spotty squiggly prints designed by Aleassandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass were largely based on bacteria. I’ve made some dotty bacterial designs for some new necklaces and earrings, and I’m now looking at real microscopic images of viruses and bacteria for print ideas and maybe some fun virus pin badges. I hope my viruses will be something people will want to carry around with them!
The designs of the Memphis group and other postmodern designs are full of references to older design styles all mixed up together, from 50s kitsch to Neo Classicism. I think it’s a great place to actually learn about the history of design and objects, as well as ideas about how to put together things that have no apparent historical connection.
I also find inspiration simply from the materials I works with. I spent about a year in search of interesting beads, and even drilled holes into wooden game pieces to make my own beads. I just played with them, stacking them in various combinations and hi lighted their different shapes with colour and pattern. The way I put together my Totem Pow necklaces is something I came across just by playing and experimenting.
What is it that you like so much about the 80s?
I’m an 80s kid, so it’s all quite nostalgic for me. From office buildings to little girls pencil cases, cars to clothes, everything seemed bold, colourful and fun. I don’t think I could live any place or time where everyone dressed the same or had conservative tastes. It was really a great time to be quite indulgent and expressive outwardly (although I’d probably give some of the hair styles a miss!).
For me, one thing that says everything about the 80s is the kids tv show Wacaday! Hosted by a crazy guy called Timmy Mallet who looked like he had drunk too much coffee that morning. It could be a rainy miserable day in August (a typical English summer) but you could get up and watch a guy who looked like he just walked off a beach in the Bahamas, with a giant pink and yellow mallet hitting everyone over the head. What more could you want as a kid?
The Wacaday set was so typically 80s, full of bright clashing colours and patterns. And Timmys crazy glasses are an absolute classic. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was something in the zeitgeist that made everything seem optimistic and didn’t take things too seriously. As I’m older now, I get to really appreciate that 80s aesthetics on a more sophisticated level. It’s a good excuse to become a kid again, but I think I’m doing it with a bit more purpose now.
What’s the best thing you ever thrifted for your products?
These cool vintage Czech beads (probably from the 80s). A guy had a whole box full of old stock still in their packaging. I love the old vintage screen printed cat graphics. I have a friend who makes presentation boxes and booklets. She had some nice leather left over from a project and gave it to me. That small gift resulted in me creating my Supreme and Totem Pow necklaces. I used it to make the tassels and it just wouldn’t have worked without the tassels. Thanks Becky!
If you could ask Ettore Sottsass one question, what would it be and why?
What did you eat yesterday? You can tell a lot about someone by what they eat. If it sounds good to me, then Ettore would be a man after my own stomach. As a creative person, I imagine he’s someone who would really appreciate sensory things like texture, taste, smell. All these things have memories attached to them, so they can evoke any number of moments in your life. Not a design question, but I think having a meal with Ettore would be really interesting start to a conversation.
What’s your favourite movie and why?
There are too many! Ok, here’s a simple premise of the last film I saw that I really loved: A man goes to a holiday retreat with other people, all are there to find a partner. If they don’t find anyone in time, they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. Sounds really strange and intriguing? This was The Lobster starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, really dark and surreal film but absolutely hilarious all at the same time. Most films are quite predictable, but I didn’t know what was going to happen next, which was so refreshing. And the ending was absolutely perfect. My friends and I left the cinema with wonderment and laughter.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got in your life?
Two things: Persistence and don’t be afraid to make mistakes (sometimes that’s where you will find the beginning of something great). The latter you will always do, and persistence is something you need to get over the mistakes!
Where can we see and read more about you and your work?
You can find me here: www.totemworks.co.uk
And what I’m up to here: http://instagram.com/totemworks