Halifax-based jeweler and metalsmith Tom Ferrero brings his out-of-this-world exhibition of knives to Fredericton.
Deep down, a part of Tom Ferrero wishes he worked for NASA. An explorer by nature, Ferrero loves hiking through the woods just as much as imagining space travel to far-away planets.
But in the hierarchy of contemporary art, science fiction isn't the most esteemed subject matter. And Ferrero knows it. So the assistant professor of jewelry and metalsmithing at the Nova Scotia Craft and Design University was more than a bit hesitant about marrying his art making and interest in science fiction and space exploration.
"For a long time I really contemplated, 'Do I really want to go down this road?'" says Ferrero, installing his show Artifacts of Fantasy at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design gallery. "[But] if you make something well then people are receptive to the stories that you're trying to tell, even if those stories are more whimsical."
In Artifacts of Fantasy Ferrero presents nine ornate extraterrestrial knives made of precious metals, plastic, wood, bone and gems. Each knife tells a story about another imagined culture and how it evolved differently than humanity. From the first knife to the last, Ferrero's work becomes less knifelike according to traditional definitions. The final piece doesn't even have a blade, but perforating implements. It also has two handles and a rotating axis and wheel.
Making work with an alien mindset was freeing for Ferrero. It forced him to challenge himself, as well as the viewer.
"I was just trying to get wilder and more diverse, seeing how far I could push myself and still have people accept my definition that these are knives, because some of them are really pushing that. I wanted to see how far I could take people out of their comfort zone but still be able to relate to them.
"I really tried hard to make each piece as diverse both physically as well as conceptually as possible."
Of course, Ferrero's own personal esthetic can be spotted in each work, even if they're supposed to be worlds apart. There's the embellishment and ornamentation, contrast and colour, and elaborate surface detail.
And Ferrero made sure not to go too far conceptually. Each piece is still modeled on human anatomy.
"I want people to relate to them. Being able to physically or conceptually wrap your mind around how you would hold the object by default brings you closer to the object. But they're still fantastical enough that you get the effect that they're from somewhere else and have specific a function even if you don't know what that function is."
Accessibility has guided Ferrero's art practice. Growing up with a very traditional accountant for a father and a freewheeling artist for a mother, he always was driven to make work that would appeal to both. With Artifacts of Fantasy he wanted to create pieces that would appeal to artists as well as anyone who has seen a sci-fi film.
And Ferrero was shocked by how much people connected to the work when he first exhibited the series at Indiana University Art Museum, where he completed his master's degree. Although he had written backstories in the catalogue for each piece, he found the viewers' responses far more imaginative.
"This body of work hopes to explore other cultures whether they be human or an undiscovered place within or outside our solar system, but give them a very approachable human side" This is my way to at least entertain my interest in science and bring more attention to the real prospect of these things actually happening. I think it's just inevitable."