Visiting the studio of Romanian contemporary jewelry designer Alina Carp.
In the back of the car, there is a four-year-old boy, with long, blond hair and a fantastic smile, curiously looking at me but not saying a word. In front, sits the mother, a woman with big, green eyes, driving confidently . The traffic is chaotic as always. When the car stops for the red light, the woman turns to the little boy and her face suddenly lights up, as she smiles to him. Then she continues driving until she reaches her house in Mogosoaia, 14 km away from Bucharest.
The big gates open and the woman’s secret realm is revealed: an old linden tree, that was pruned by the gardener about five years ago, when she moved here, but that now explodes in green leaves, deep shadows and sweet smells; a little, crazy dog that runs around the car, and which in a second disappears into the little boy’s arms; a small house which is her studio.
The woman is Alina Carp, a contemporary jewelry designer, who won the Autor Awesome Award at the Autor Contemporary Jewelry fair in 2013. Whereas classical jewelry, like pearls and golden necklaces express security and are the certification of social status – why rock the boat – contemporary jewellery is different, she says. It’s a strong statement and it forces you to abandon the safety zone. It brings you in the center of attention and it creates buzz. “I am rather shy, but when it comes to driving and picking a piece of jewelry, I’m totally uninhibited,” Alina adds.
Flo, one of Alina’s cats, takes advantage of her absence and climbs on her desk in the studio. He now reigns among the pieces of the collection she prepares for the Joya fair in Barcelona. The radio is on, broadcasting some jazz music.The noises of the highway also get in, but like distant whispers. This is her shell, her space, her universe.
In the other room, Alina’s mother has brought for us some popcorn, two little plates with hazelnuts and some Earl Grey tea, which smells so good. With every little detail, I’m being absorbed into a different universe, where time and cats move slower.
Everywhere you look around there are boxes, hosting Alina’s previous jewelry collections: boxes from Ikea, boxes inherited from her brother, boxes from years ago. One by one, she brings them on our table and tells me about the pieces inside.
How come has she decided for jewelry design, instead of being a doctor, for example? She answers that she actually studied medicine and worked in a pharmaceutical company until two years ago when she quit. Alina was a product manager for antibiotics, a very successful one, but jewelry was her escape and her true passion. “The jewels were created after work, I had such a great energy. I was sometimes working until 3 a.m. and then waking up at 7 a.m. and going to work.”
A ‘private collection’ sign was attached to her collections for a long time. She started exhibiting in 2005, but she didn’t want and couldn’t separate from the pieces she created. They simply weren’t for sale, even if people wanted to buy them. But after her twins came along, a boy and a girl – her greatest jewels, she says- time suddenly shrank. And it continued to do so, until she understood she needed to quit her job if she wanted to continue with her passion. There was simply not enough time to work, or to go to exhibitions. She didn’t tell her husband, or her mum about her decision, she just quit. And it’s been two years since then. It’s not always easy, at least financially. Time is still short, and doubts sometimes rise, but meanwhile, new pieces of jewelry come out of her imagination and of her hands.
A little girl enters the room shortly after we’ve started talking. She has curly, dark hair, but not as wild as her mother’s. Then the boy also comes in, both wearing huge slippers. “I was in a hurry to come get the hen,” he explains when his mom asks him about the shoes. Next to this room, there is a small garden, where a hen walks around a bit dazed. Alina bought the hen and a rooster for the kids, but the rooster died meanwhile. She didn’t tell the boy about it. “I told him he went away, and probably he’d come back.”
Alina starts working in her studio at 8 a.m., when her husband takes the kids to the kindergarten. Creating every single jewel takes a lot of time. “Look at these little pieces. Sometimes I just stay for hours looking at them, which one goes better with which. It’s a lot of contemplation involved. And you try to make the best decision, and it’s not always the best one. The pieces which fail, I call them meatballs,” she says laughing.
At 2.30 pm she takes the kids from kindergarten, and for the rest of the day they stick to her. It’s funny, but it seems like everybody wants to get inside the studio and stay around Alina, even the animals in the house. While we talk, another cat silently gets in the room and climbs on the cooker. She has no big expectations, except for being left there. Alina kicks her out, but totally futile. In ten minutes she’s back in the room. Then it’s also the hen asking for attention.
Alina has made jewelry since she was a little kid. She started with her father’s paperclips. She took a dozens of them and turned them into a necklace.
Then the clay work followed. She made a necklace for her mom out of a few balls of clay and painted them when she was in her 7th grade. She still keeps that one, in a box, close to other necklaces she made along the years. When she finished high school, Alina did think about studying at the University of Arts, but in the end she didn’t. Her older brother was already enrolled there. It was less risky if she took a safer route, like medicine. And she really enjoyed it for a long time.
Some of her works have a certain unpolished look, and one of the curators of the Joya fair in Barcelona was particularly fascinated about it. Perfection is not the standard anymore and art should be more like of an open-ended book, rather than a piece with a clear meaning. The collection she is now working on seems the best one so far. It’s very elegant and mysterious, and it makes you wonder about the inner world of people- about the wonders that can arise from down there.
“Jewels are not precious only if they are made out of precious metals,” Alina says. “Rings can be precious even if they are made out of a rusty wire, a wood washed away by rain or a fragment of a toy,” Alina wrote in an essay.
I notice that all the rings she designs are very thin, so narrow that I’m asking myself who could ever wear such tiny rings? Then I observe her delicate fingers and the answer it’s quite obvious. “I create the rings to fit my fingers, because then I can also wear them, and if somebody wants to order a certain ring, they can simply ask for it, and I’ll make one their size.”
The table is soon covered with tens of rings, necklaces and silver colored brooches, scattered among the tea cans, the little plates with nuts and popcorn and the other objects. All these amazing pieces are born inside this studio. Her husband sometimes tells her that her studio is like a shell, that she is too isolated, and probably she does miss a bit the social aspect of living and working in Bucharest. But at the end of the day she likes this shell of hers where she can create whatever she wants.
During the two hours we get to talk, there is no other sign from the kids. “My mom keeps them inside, other way they would have come over.” But it’s almost their bed time. Alina will soon go to their room and tell them a story, as she does every evening, without exception. She even started making up stories. “I told them once about some little kittens who weren’t good and didn’t listen to their mommy, but they got the analogy right away.” And her little girl told her, “Mom, we are like those little kittens, right?”
By Diana Mesesan, features writer, [email protected]
(photo copyright: Diana Mesesan for Romania-Insider.com)