Broken pianos are a girl's best friend: Rose Rouse meets Simon Fraser, a jeweller who is challenging traditional ideas about what is and isn't precious

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Indy Lifestyle Online
SEATED in his east London workshop, Simon Fraser has a curtain cord bearing a pebble from Derek Jarman's Dungeness beach home, one of his own beads and a ring normally found in a pig's nose slung casually around his neck. 'British people should stop buying jewellery that looks as though it's something Granny left for them,' says Fraser, a jeweller and long-time rebel.

He would like to see our ears clasped by his 'tartlet' collection, featuring false nails and the odd eyelash set in an electro-formed copper tart - camp vaginas for the ears, in fact. One gallery (he declines to say which) has just returned this collection for being too over-the-top.

'I like my jewellery to fight, get drunk and fall down stairs. I want it to get involved with life,' he explains.

To support his theory that jewellery does not have to come from the family-heirloom school of production, Fraser will be taking a piano apart in 24 hours at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, this weekend and turning it into outlandish pieces of contemporary jewellery, including crowns and girdles. These will be auctioned for London Lighthouse, the Aids charity.

'A piano is an object with specific cultural values,' Fraser says passionately. 'It represents a set of outdated ideas in a social context. I mean, secondhand pianos are worth only pounds 50 these days. It will be transformed into exciting pieces of jewellery.' Even the cast-iron frame will be melted down into a series of pendants.

Fraser, a college lecturer as well as a jeweller, is interested in the broader significance of jewellery. He talks about the elements of status, politics, social performance and sentiment involved in the decoration of the body. 'By wearing gold and diamonds,' he says, 'you're just announcing, 'I've got more money than you, bitch.' ' Disapproving of the 'financial context' of gold and diamonds, he uses very thin gold plating. 'I like it when it discolours so there is something ambiguous about the surface,' he says.

Other people, especially buyers, tend to describe Fraser's work as directional. 'In American buyer-speak, directional means terrifying,' he says, laughing raucously. Admirers of his work often have theatrical inclinations. Rose English, a performance artist, wore six- inch eyelashes created by Fraser for her last show. 'Rose inhabits these eyelashes which are in the shapes of carnations and riding crops,' says Fraser. 'She invites the audience to trim them.'

Derek Jarman, the film- maker, is another aficionado. Fraser made him a necklace for his hilarious canonisation by the self-appointed gay order, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. 'It was made out of English flower bulbs,' says Fraser. 'They were set like diamonds, only in cardboard, with tags explaining the type of flower and expected size. The back had a chain containing photos of dicks with tags announcing their size.'

The necklace was then planted amid much bubble-

blowing and paddling in the waves at Jarman's Dungeness home. Ever concerned by social issues to accompany his outsized sense of frivolity, Fraser went on Fuji TV (a programme sponsored by Fuji and shown on Sky) to discuss his dog-biscuit necklace with Paula Yates. 'That was all about food politics,' he explains. 'A supermarket had just opened in Camden with a whole aisle of different types of dog food. I talked about the waste - you really only need one brand.'

Even at art college in Sheffield, while others concentrated on neat silver teapots - 'the Scandinavian aesthetic prevailed, dragging the undertones of puritanism behind it' - Fraser made brooches of thatched cottages out of reindeer hair and ebony. 'I always liked unorthodox materials,' he says, confessing to a penchant for plastic wood, gold feathers and nylon.

In the Eighties he produced thousands of brightly coloured nylon ear-rings for Japan. 'They wanted anything wacky,' he says. He had just completed an American deal for a beachwear collection - 'seven-inch blue-and-white ear-rings, which you could lie on the beach or swim in' - when the stock market collapsed. As did his orders. He went clubbing for three months to recover.

The Royal College of Art, an MA and the cultural deconstruction of jewellery-making followed. These days he prefers to make specific pieces for customers and galleries. 'I've always been serious about my reasons for making jewellery,' Fraser says, 'but I like to keep a sense of humour. Using humour, you can be emotive and open up discussion.'

'Alchemy with a Piano' is at the ICA tomorrow and Sunday.

(Photograph omitted)

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