Chapter 1: Introduction 

1.1 The research, its aims and objectives 

Plinths and lockable cabinets have become a definable feature in the display of jewellery, providing a presentational format that is responsive to the gallery’s conservational efforts, security needs and the space available for presentation. Conventionally, craft collections arranged in a display case are presented in groups with shared characteristics such as function and material content. Methods used to contextualise objects presented in this way include chronological and geographical structures. This encyclopaedic approach is prevalent in discipline-led craft galleries and museums, using a format that helps to create knowledge and understanding for the viewer.  

Another example of a conventional form of display is to showcase the work of an individual or small group of designers. Makers such as Karl Fritsch regularly exhibit their work as a collection, presenting multiple pieces within the display case. This format is used to encourage the viewer to make comparisons between each object, thus establishing a narrative that focuses on the objects’ form or materiality. 

The taxonomic mode of displaying craft collections removes the object from its expected function. Jewellery’s conventional mode of being, for example, is when worn on the body, providing a mobile form of display. The body allows the context and conditions in which a jewel is viewed to change, informing a continuous dialogue between wearer, object and the viewer.  The interaction between the wearer and the worn object is then altered once the object is presented behind the glass display case. This presentational format enables jewellery to be observed and interpreted as an object of contemplation, where artistic or sculptural value is brought to the forefront. The role of the conventional showcase has and will continue to provide an effective form of jewellery display in terms of security and conservation, as mentioned above. Additionally, this approach also finds significance in the display of artist-led jewellery which has seen jewellers correspond with trends in art and society. The varied names accredited to such work, including ‘author jewellery’; ‘auteur jewellery’ and ‘narrative jewellery’ define a sense of objectness that carries the voice of the maker and responses to display methods found in the arts. This approach to contemporary jewellery will be discussed in chapter 2 in order to locate this investigation within current practice. It is the problematic notion of wearability and ownership in jewellery display that provides the foundation to this study and begins by looking at methods of display that explores the relationship between body and object. 

Wall mounts and domestic furnishings are among the presentational strategies that are designed to contextualise the jewellery object within an everyday narrative, and may also be illustrative of ownership. Methods such as these are built upon the structures and techniques commonly associated with jewellery display, as documented in handbooks such as On display: A design grammar for museum exhibits (Hall 1987) and Collecting and displaying (McAlpine 1998). Margaret Hall describes these techniques used in the design of museum exhibitions as ‘props and backgrounds’ (Hall 1987). Similar supporting material is also evident in the development of digital technology and database systems used for exhibition design. Digital screens, access to a museum’s website and mobile phone ‘apps’ are all part of a network of communication that aims to support the viewer’s learning experience. The digital format allows the public to source information in the exhibition space and beyond, providing contextual information that includes information about its history and its relationship with the wearer. This helps to place the object in everyday life, and enables the viewer to understand an object when it is in use. 

An assessment of jewellery and craft display methods reveals scant practical or theoretical effort to address the relationship between jewellery and the body. In response, this study draws on key theoretical and practical discussions in craft and the work of others to define display as a critical tool in contemporary jewellery. This involves the exploration of existing display strategies used in galleries and museums; the work of contemporary craft practitioners that actively consider the presentation of their work and identifying parallel strategies within the arts in order to provide this study with a supportive framework. 

One pivotal point that defines this investigation is the role of the viewer, signifying an area of contemporary jewellers that seek to actively engage an audience with their work. This ethos became evident in the early 1990s, when jewellery makers began making installations to show their work in the gallery space or in site-specific locations. Ruudt Peters recognises the interactive potential of the viewer by removing his work from the display case, with the intention of creating an interactive dialogue with his audience. Projects such as Picasso (1998), involve work suspended from the ceiling, with each pendant presented in its own tent made of transparent violet material. The audience is encouraged to investigate, touch and feel each object on display, presenting an interactive ideology that also informs exhibitions such as Beyond the Body: Northwest Jewelers at Play (2005) and Touching Warms the Art (2008). These exhibitions actively encourage bodily interaction from the viewer by inviting them to pick up and wear the jewellery objects on display. This approach is a significant departure from the display case, but is of necessity restricted to the display of objects made from cheap, durable materials that are designed specifically for physical interaction. 

The use of interactive display techniques that correspond with trends in art and exhibition design identifies a small group of contemporary jewellery practitioners that look to develop a system of interactive encounters. Makers such as Yuka Oyama, Ted Noten, Suska Mackert and Naomi Filmer aim to create an environment or space that allows for human interaction and social engagement to provide the content of their work. Alternatively, the role of digital technology and the worldwide distribution of jewellery images, ideas and interactive discussions via the internet enforces a growing importance of an empowered viewer. This in turn raises questions regarding the intended destination of a jewellery object, how contemporary makers are presenting their work to a wider audience and what impact this has on jewellery practice. In reference to this study’s original objective; to address the relationship between body and object within jewellery display. This project proposes to develop a form of art jewellery that considers the role of display within the creative process as a means of locating ideas from within craft. This includes issues regarding the body, materiality and its humanising power that can both inform practice and critical discourse.  

 

1.2 Analytical frameworks 

The meaning of jewellery and its associated definitions is addressed in chapter 2, providing a contextual review that locates my research and its significance within the field of art jewellery.  The review identifies current concerns amongst craft writers such as Glenn Adamson, Benjamin Lignel and Monica Gaspar who observe the diverse meaning of contemporary jewellery and the consequential effects when defining jewellery’s position in, or alongside the visual arts. These observations define a desire within the crafts to be understood and experienced by a wider audience. In addition, curator Cindi Strauss highlights the current value system placed on contemporary jewellery, identifying a preference toward ideas over function amongst contemporary jewellers and galleries. An approach that has seen a growing trend amongst jewellery practitioners to move away from the gallery space, opting to use alternative, interactive platforms to distribute their ideas. This is supported by an assessment of current display techniques in the crafts and is documented in Chapter 3. Both chapters will identify gaps in existing design and literature in support of the proposed aims and objectives detailed above. 

Chapter 4 will seek to question methods of display in jewellery by presenting a practical investigation based on two themes: the body and materiality. This chapter begins by addressing the absent body in relation to jewellery display by exploring the existing work of others and assessing these findings in my own practical outcome. Jewellery’s role as a social signifier will be discussed in terms of the individual and social body, by defining the bodily processes that are evoked via the relationship between body and object. This demonstrates a socially-led approach to contemporary jewellery, because the wearing of, or engagement with an object can influence how the body behaves and functions. It is also illustrative of the choices that can be made by an individual and the personal, bodily experience of wearing or using an object, which reveals the role of the individual body in craft. In addition, the learnt behaviour of the social body can be seen in the bodily actions of the user in response to an object and its cultural function. Researcher, Margaret Boden explains how previous experience and socially learnt behaviour towards craft’s material content, form and function can dictate ‘bodily’ processes such as eating and drinking. This presents a relationship that is also informed by ‘social’ affordances such as stroking and hugging (Boden 2000: 297).  

In response, my practical work develops ways of recording the reactions of the body when wearing an object within the creative process. The use of video is employed to document the ritualistic behaviours of the body by gathering visual material which is then interpreted to create a piece of jewellery using craft techniques. The aim is to develop an approach that references the absent body of the wearer by exploring the behavioural intricacies of an object in motion.  

The outcome of this practical investigation directs discussions toward the theme of materiality, dealing with concepts of transience, the tangible and intangible and patina. This is again developed through my own practical experiments, culminating in an ephemeral piece that explores audience participation. The aim of this project was to develop an interactive process that actively alters the appearance and form of an object. This process would then allow for the investigation of photographic and auditory methods to record and re-present the material consequence and provide permanence to the original display. This defines a creative strategy that considers the conservational concerns of the gallery space by using presentational methods in order to evoke the senses of viewer and to engage an audience. 

Both research and practice detailed in the first practical investigation highlights the work of Suska Mackert, Lin Cheung, Laura Potter, Maisie Broadhead and Ted Noten. These contemporary practitioners use their work to address the system of actions and exchanges that exist in and beyond the making process. Spaces designed for social interaction are created by the maker in order to explore the conception or application of a jewellery object, and thus to empower the viewer. Communal engagement can be seen in projects such as Yuka Oyama’s Schmuck Quickies (2006), which offer a social commentary on the jeweller’s relationship with the wearer. Oyama works directly with the wearer’s body, allowing audience members to become participants in the construction of each jewellery design. The focus of her work is the use of jewellery as a vehicle by which to address modern isolation, in which mass production and the instantly available disposable product limits awareness of construction and handmade skills. Her pieces are made from recyclable material and found objects, and the intended wearer becomes instrumental in the construction and design of their own piece. The strategic rejection of precious material reflects social and environmental concerns and is a reaction to generic and mass-produced commercialism. The interactive nature of the live performance draws the making process away from the maker’s bench, thus creating an inherently social structure in jewellery design that pays homage to DIY craft culture and the more political stance of Craftism. Material available for construction is donated or collected at each ‘performance’ location, so the design and material content of the work produced also reflects geographical influences. This collective engagement is illustrative of an approach that is rooted in the arts, and provides a framework that informs my methodology. Nicholas Bourriaud’s theories on relational aesthetics have been drawn on in order to construct a socially-led approach to contemporary jewellery that empowers the viewer. 

Bourriaud's definition of the relational is of ‘a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space’. (Bourriaud 1998: 113). This artistic strategy offers an alternative approach to artwork that derives solely from the individual views of the artist by embracing the interactions of audience members. This is a strategy that is intent on facilitating the social interaction and connectivity that informs the theoretical and practical content of relational artwork. Chapter 5 will explore the importance of intersubjective relations and the open-ended nature of human interaction within relational art, by using a method that is designed to ‘represent, produce or prompt’ a bodily experience (ibid.). It will develop a practical approach to the display of jewellery that investigates not only the inclusive rationale of the ‘work in progress’ exhibition, but also the emotive qualities represented, produced or prompted by a craft object as a means of engaging the viewer. 

The collaborative principles established between relational aesthetics and the crafts will be discussed in terms of communal craft activities such as knitting circles and pottery workshops. This will identify current craft practices that engage with the communal production of objects, thereby enabling craft skills to be learnt and shared, as well as exploring the social meaning embedded in such strategies. In Chapter 6, which outlines the second practical investigation, this theoretical argument will be applied to my practice. This approach is designed to engage the viewer of jewellery by using presentational methods to evoke the senses or memories of audience members. The aim is to present a body of work in the exhibition space that is rooted in the theoretical framework of relational aesthetics, and from which the concept of immersive aesthetics may be defined. 

1.3 Outcomes 

Four practical outcomes have been produced in response to this definition of immersive aesthetics, each of which represents a practical response to my research and signifies a point of reflection within this study. The second practical investigation, as documented in Chapter 6, will be presented in an exhibition that is designed to engage the viewer by representing a stage or concept within the crafting process.  

The first of the four practical projects, Necklace, Bracelet and Brooch, comprises three large-scale images of jewellery pieces constructed using photography and Photoshop. The intention of this project is to investigate the role of the craft image, exploring the relationship between craft photography and the maker and the ways in which the craft image is interpreted by the viewer. The second outcome, Re-present, explores the social meaning of patina in the re-presentation of a museum object using macro photography. Large scale photographic images portray a landscape of colours, scratches and dents that detail an object’s history. The third, The Embodied Object, is an extension of the Made to be Worn? project developed in the initial practical investigation and outlined in Chapter 4. It presents a method of recording and presenting the social and body politic within the worn object by filming an object on the body. It focuses on the use of film to detail the ritualistic behaviour and actions of the body that reveal the individual and social relationship between body and craft object. The final project, The Jewellery Image, uses audio recordings to explore presentational techniques as a narrative tool in jewellery display. In this, a selection of voice-over artists and volunteers read descriptions of specific pieces of work that have been provided by a selection of contemporary jewellers. The jeweller’s original descriptions are therefore presented to an audience in the gallery space using the voice of another person. This action obliquely refers to the open-ended stream of interpretations that are placed on the craft object once it has been removed from the jeweller’s work bench. All four outcomes illustrate concepts within craft discourse that are part of an immersive strategy designed to present, produce or prompt a bodily engagement between the viewer and contemporary jewellery.  

1.4 Methodology 

My research takes on the form both of writing, through which I assess current display techniques, as well as significant histories associated with the body and materiality in jewellery and the crafts. This contextual research is then developed through parallels made between contemporary jewellery and relational aesthetics, from which immersive strategies in craft display have been developed. Additionally, my research continues in the form of making, resulting in two initial practical outcomes and an exhibition, providing a showcase for the project’s visual outcomes. The relationship between my writing and practical work form parallel explorations of the same issues. The resulting thesis and exhibition document an exploration of ideas concerning methods of display and its theoretical and practical implications in contemporary jewellery practice. 

This strategy is employed to define a growing number of contemporary jewellers who seek actively to engage an audience with their work using various strategies. This approach is informed by the growing range of platforms employed by craft practitioners in order to engage a wider audience, including the internet, pop-up sites, craft fairs and community-based projects. These offer a wide range of interactive outlets, in comparison to the limited aegis of the conventional display structures associated with the museum environment. The approach I have developed is representative of the practical developments currently taking place within jewellery, and will define a contemporary practice that moves away from the autonomy of the craft object and focuses instead on the relational processes and social interactions involved in the making and application of that object.  

This investigation recognises that craft’s value resides within the material content and physicality of an object; it does not propose to replace or override the importance of the physical object in the development of jewellery practice or its role within the gallery space. Rather, it aims to illustrate a concept of display, embedded within an immersive strategy, as an emerging area of critical investigation in both theory and practice.  

In this thesis, my work has been represented through images. In order for it to be fully understood, however, it is important that the final work is seen in the context of an exhibition. The illustrations included represent a selection of what will be exhibited in the final exhibition and thus complete my body of research. The thesis includes a DVD containing a three-dimensional scan of the exhibition space, visual imagery and audio recordings that are presented in the exhibition.