When Bibi van der Velden isn’t designing jewelry, she can be found in the sculpture studio with her mother, Michele Deiters, as one half of the Dutch creative team BibiMichèle. Their sculptures are the fruit of a longstanding collaboration, a close mother-daughter bond turned seamless creative partnership, that produces striking artworks. Their second exhibition together, opening today at Tayloe Piggot Gallery, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is a continuation of their exploration of the nature of time, and the lifecycle.
“Our first exhibition at Tayloe Piggot, Confronting Time in 2021, was about how we grasp moments, preserve them, and make the most of life,” van der Velden tells me on the phone from New York, of a show that explored themes of nurturing and reflection through representations of heads, hands and giant breasts – Rihanna is now the proud owner of a Wall of Tits created during that period. “We felt we could go further with that concept, Permanent Transience refers to the idea of solidifying something in time, through our art and the materials we use.”
The new show is a continuation of theme, if not form, with fruit and flowers captured at their peak, right before they begin to fade and die, caught in translucent alabaster at a moment of perfection. Petals unfurl, nuts crack open, and seeds appear to spill out of a pomegranate. On second glance however, the kernels are tiny breasts, pouring forth from the ripe fruit, in a work inspired by van der Velden’s participation in the Life, Women, Freedom movement during the Iranian revolution.
“The pomegranate is the symbol of Iran, so this piece represents women breaking free, the tiny breasts are bursting out of the fruit as they can no longer be contained or hidden,” she says. “I love the symbolism of the pomegranate,” continues Deiters, “as the women were struggling to free themselves, Bibi was voicing their frustrations. I admired her greatly, when she stood in front of the Iranian embassy with a megaphone,” she says, of a protest event organized by her daughter, from her home in Portugal.
Elsewhere, gold ants scuttle over a perfect clementine in a nod to van der Velden’s Memento Mori jewelry collection, a meditation on life and death in gold and gemstones. The carved plume of smoke that inspired her 2021 collection, Smoke, is also on show, surely the ultimate example of a transient moment captured. While her mother focuses on sculpture, jewelry and art form two halves of a single creative practice for van der Velden, nourishing each other in turn: “it’s fun to look at what’s happening in jewelry and bring that back into sculpture and to play with both mediums. The gold ants on the clementine are made from recycled gold, a material which has already lived many lives in its own life cyle.”
A super-sized walnut also draws the eye. “I love the walnut for the process,” Deiters says. “We made a large-scale walnut – we opened it out and half of it came out as a nut. We asked my grandson what he saw, and he said a brain. We had a piece left, so we made a piece of shell that had cracked open next to it – people think we actually cracked the walnut, I find it interesting that they don’t look deeper or question.” “There has to be space for people’s own expectations,” adds van der Velden. “We didn’t use human form in this show — apart from the breasts — but there are so many comparisons to be made, some of the pieces feel like touching human skin.”
Van der Velden grew up playing and creating in her mother’s garden studio, but the pair didn’t begin working together until 2004, after a collector of Deiters’ sculpture and van der Velden’s jewelry commissioned them to work together on a piece for his sculpture garden. “We had always helped each other out on various projects, but when we eventually formalized our practice together, the dynamic was incredible,” says Deiters. Simon Levie, former director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, believes their practice to be unique: “Bibi and Michèle complete one another, automatically complementing and fusing their energies. Just as naturally they see into each other’s brains while working and don’t shy away from building on each other’s thoughts.”
While Deiters describes herself as “more laissez-faire, a person who goes with the flow”, she says her daughter has always had “incredible drive, almost and anxiety about using every minute well. This works well in our work, one of us can be very focused then the other picks it up — its like magic for us.” They both agree their intuitive, symbiotic working practice is very special, and it’s tangible in the works themselves, born of two creative minds working as one.
Up next, will be a show back in Europe, for which the pair intend to embroider certain elements of their current themes, searching for the beauty in decay as time marches on. “Maybe it’s also about acceptance of growing older, perhaps on a subconscious level,” suggests van der Velden. “In a good way,” finishes her mother: “the fortunate thing is that you have the opportunity to get older.”
Permanent Transience is open at Tayloe Piggot Gallery, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, September 21 – October 22, 2023.