ENGRAM: Sabine Pagan

ENGRAM is a solo exhibition by contemporary jewellery designer Sabine Pagan. The exhibition will feature rings, photographs and video extending Pagan’s ongoing investigation into themes of architectural environments, place, materiality and memories. Here jewellery is used as a conduit for speaking about our relationships to objects and environments and, in turn, about how their materiality and histories affect us.

Sabine Pagan is a Swiss‐born Australian jewellery practitioner with a career spanning over 20 years. She has worked in both Switzerland and Australia as a practicing artist and academic, completing a practice‐based PhD in 2016. In 2017, she resumed her career as a full‐time artist, dividing her time between commissions and exhibitions.

Sabine Pagan. Site Specific. Print. 2016. Photography: Grant Hancock




ˈɛnɡram/ noun
  1. a hypothetical permanent change in the brain accounting for the existence of memory; a memory trace

In ENGRAM Sabine Pagan, Swiss born jeweller, gemmologist, educator and scholar, brings together works spanning jewellery and objects. Always the artist at work, Pagan’s solo exhibition demonstrates trajectories and inventiveness. In Engram we experience imminence as we witness ongoing inspiration from moments in time, place and space where the sensorial informs her aesthetic and is paramount in her approach and design.

From earlier exhibitions and Pagan’s own writing, and indeed the sheer presence of her rings, we know that architecture is a persistent intellectual and creative driver in her work. We know too, that Pagan is masterly, adventurous and innovative in a range of materials from the copper-alloyed metals to the precious gold and silver all the way to materials better known for their engineering and architectural properties, such as steel, monel and Delrin™.

In part Pagan describes her work as ‘a constant re-imagination’. In conversation she returns to themes and forces: …investigative practice and thought, the related and the relatable … artefact, trace … atmosphere and materiality. Through the scale of her works we experience the evocation of grandeur and the practice of the delicate and vulnerable through engineered precision. Pagan’s works sit between the public and the private, at times site specific as seen in In Situ[1], in rings Engram and Coalescing and more loosely and recently, in her series Nocturne.

Pagan also works on commissions and limited editions of jewellery. Indeed it was a recent commission and extended dwelling on the relationship between her client and her client’s experience of travelling in Australia that led to the work in the form of brooches and wall pieces. Newly referencing seascape, Pagan stresses that ‘memory trace is examined directly through my experiences of places and in finding a way to bring these memories to life through materials.’

As an experienced maker, Pagan is acutely aware of the relationship between the body and the tools. ‘The process of making is not only informed by recollecting places through memories; it ensues through the inseparable connection between the hand and the tool. In ‘Nocturne’ series, I no longer need to think about ‘how to hammer’; it is the rhythmical movement of the hammer that dictates the making… Memory trace is all around me; it inhabits my studio environment, is embedded in my bench and tools; handles of files and hammers held over the years, the essential bench peg and the leather skin below it collecting the residues of materials, all bear witness to the process of making by hand. In ENGRAM, however, the concept of memory trace is also revealed through the physicality of the work.’ In the Vals Valley ring series, for example, the notion of erosion can be seen and felt: on the one hand the chiselled surfaces suggest that these works may have been part of the world for a long time; on the other hand, the fine silver imprints Pagan takes of the rock facades are evocative of capturing a moment in time before the rock undergoes transformation through ‘wearing’, in the sense of both eroding and wearing the ring.

In experiencing and engaging with Pagan’s ‘definitely wearable’ jewellery and her installation objects, I find the connection between object-hand-place and the heart-felt, to be the breath-taking miss-a-beat of something utterly captivating and immersive. This is something that comes with exquisite precision and especially as it is disturbed by the lure of texture and its hinted-yet-obvious impermanence that is inevitably present in any architecture despite effort to stamp security and durability onto structure. Pagan’s work has a kind of dangerous allure. It is incisive and beguiling, but then it tilts. And, of course, the angles and angling of much of her jewellery is 'tilted', angled, encompassing slides and sliding emotions. A kind of teetering between the solid and the intangible - 'sands of time'—cliché followed by cliché—the 'well worn', worn well: Art!  This too is in the waves and sands and openness of sky in the brooches. And it is, then, an expression of trace, and trace that lurks in memory… en, Greek—within, imponderability or question; where is memory? In Pagan’s work, one is left to question the provocation and evocation of memory while unable to locate it, all the while it is invoked through almost excruciating precision, only to be teased away through surface, texture, shimmer, reflection, angle, juxtaposition… For me, Pagan’s genius lies in the clinical playfulness of the deadly serious.

Pagan’s is work that transports one beyond the object and in so doing we move with and beyond her, with and beyond her and her work, the object, the artist, the wearer, the observer… a memory trace – the presence of the ephemeral-more, conjured through design and this jewellery makers deep knowing about intimacy and performativity, connecting and connection, tactile interactions. And, there is what we come to experience and see: deep knowing about materials, space, place, the hand and the body. Perhaps we recognise the more than ‘hypothetical change’. Engram perhaps lies in Zumthor’s ‘thresholds, transitions, and borders…’[2], anchored by Pagan in fine design and the infinite existence of memory beyond…


Vicki Crowley,

Freelance scholar.




[1] In Situ I is a wall print featuring a ring currently on tour and exhibited by the JamFactory, Adelaide.
[2] Peter Zumthor, 2006, p. 86, on architecture and the building of atmosphere, in Thinking Architecture, Basel: Birkhäuser.