Chapter 4: Practical Investigation 1
4.1 Made to be worn? The contemporary display of jewellery and the body
This chapter documents my own practical response to contemporary jewellery and craft display, offering a point of reflection within this study. As identified, the body is of central importance in discussions of display within the crafts. The first practical investigation explores theoretical discussions regarding the body, considering developments in human culture, society and physical evolution that affect the sense of self and community in the area of jewellery. The practical implications of the body are also identified in the works of contemporary jewelers, and I explore how such notions of the body may inform my own practice as a jeweller when addressing the theme of display.
Theoretical discussions on the body reveal a commonality between each of us, observing that every individual body shares a natural, physiological unity. Marcel Mauss’ observation: ‘The body is the first and most natural instrument of man’ (Mauss 1979: 104), illustrates the common bodily functions of everyday life; the body’s technical capabilities are the fundamental tool available to the human race. The individual body, however, reveals an awareness of what distinguishes one person from another ‘understood in the phenomenological sense of the lived experience of the body-self’ (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1987: 7). This notion of the embodied self introduces to the natural body the idea of individualism, to which physical and social variations can be applied.
Social theorists recognize that the human condition is constructed from the material and cultural conditions in which people are located. As a consequence, variations in how we conduct our bodies, from how we eat to how we walk, are subject to environmental influences. Mauss’s ‘body techniques’ theory suggests that common activities such as walking require a natural, biological grounding, but that these activities are also socially learnt and altered culturally across societies (Mauss,1979). Jewellery, as discussed in Chapter 2, works as a social signifier to represent the wearer’s individual tastes and desires as well as projecting the jeweller’s creative expressions on to the world. Each is shaped by, and representative of, cultural factors that illustrate the relationship of jewellery to the social body. This construct of the body has been described as ‘a natural symbol for thinking about relationships among nature, society, and culture’ (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1987: 6), thus indicating that the reasons why and how people adorn themselves are embedded in both the individual and social framework of human personality.
The multiple theoretical discourses that build on Mauss’s ‘body techniques’ are reflected in the performativity of body art, which recognizes that ‘the body is a process, not a fixed object’ (Jay 2002: 65). The body’s close relationship with jewellery implies a correlation between the worn object and bodily processes. The process of dressing, a specific activity engaged in by the body, can thus be seen as something that extends beyond the simple notion of covering the body with clothing (Entwistle and Wilson 2001). The adorned body should not be seen only as an object or site of display; memories, body rituals, tastes and preferences draw body discourse towards the mind and behaviour. The sociological perspective on ‘dress’ may be seen as an embodied activity that is informed by the environment. This relates closely to analysis of the meaning of jewellery, because the theatricalization of the body is revealed both in our choice of decoration and our bodily reactions to the objects that decorate us. The relationship of the body and the crafted object is subject to cultural and material influences. Objects, Sandra Flood observes: ‘come into our lives, changing our habits, provoking emotions, trailing social messages’ (Flood 2002). Objects can influence human life, as bodily responses accommodate their function and physicality. Attachment to and sentimentality towards the material content and symbolic meaning of an object may develop, as when the choice of whether to use a mug or a teacup and saucer is influenced by occasion, environment or social protocol. The performance of the body can be integral to ritualized forms of tea drinking, from the tea ceremonies of China and Japan to the Victorian era’s tea culture. All depend on the use of the correct objects in order to carry out ceremonial or socially-driven behaviour. The vessel’s form may also direct the body’s behaviour, as when the delicate structure of a cup and saucer demands that the drinker should adopt a certain posture.
In terms of domestic art in pottery, Dormer claims that these ‘familiar forms’ can be described as an anthropological constant (Dormer 1986: 24). Following this principle, objects that annex the notion of function in favour of ‘self expression’ and ‘delight’, are seen in the creative expressions of studio craft (ibid.). Despite these developments, contemporary pottery retains an element of familiarity. Teapots still have a spout and a handle, and are primarily displayed in terms of both function and appearance. Such objects retain their historic familiarity with the body, and also evoke bodily movement reflective of Boden’s notion of ‘enactive’ (non-indicative) psychological mechanisms’ (Boden 2000: 297).
In terms of regulating the natural and social body, Foucault defines a third bodily influence: the body politic (Foucault 1979, 1980). The social struggles faced by the individual and social body and the unequal division of power informs a new level of analysis, referred to as ‘the regulation, surveillance, and control of bodies (individual and collective) in reproduction and sexuality, in work and in leisure, in sickness and other forms of deviance and human difference’ (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1987: 7). This form of regulation is enforced in order to stabilize the political body and to provide social well-being by asserting control over the social and individual body. The shift from natural to social and political body consists of ‘physio-psycho-sociological assemblages of series of actions’ (Mauss 1979: 85) that immerse such actions in cultural history. These individual mechanisms combine with habitual processing to complete Mauss’s notion of the ‘total man’ (Mauss 1979: 101). Such theoretical debate illustrates the complexities of the body and reveals it as a vehicle for expression that underpins the body’s involvement in the arts.
Artist François Pluchart describes the reflective nature of the body and its ability to mirror the life experiences that mould an individual:
What it is: the body is the fundamental ground. Pleasure, suffering, illness and death inscribe themselves on it and shape the socialized individual in the course of its biological evolution (Pluchart 2006: 218).
The portrayal of both individual and social constructs in terms of the body locates body art in the everyday, thus bridging the gap between life and art. For the viewer, the body is a recognizable form with identifiable expressive and sensory capabilities; further, our individuality provides ‘open-endedness of interpretation’ (Jones and Stevenson 1999: 1). The body is involved in the creative world not only as a form of expression but as a key element in how the artwork is perceived: in performance art, the artist’s body becomes a tool of communication that uses the subjectivity and physicality of the performer to reach their audience. The body can therefore be an emotive tool of expression, whether such experiences have left a trace on the skin’s surface, made emotional marks or altered the body’s behaviour.
In jewellery, the object is often materially or spatially separate from the body, and is not necessarily worn by the maker. The jeweller may draw on the viewer and/or wearer to play an integral role in the communication. Our opinions, tastes and desires are shaped by experience of the world in which we live, thus influencing the ways in which we interpret creative works. In The Artist’s Body (2006), Tracey Warr and Amelia Jones document the body’s multiple capabilities with regard to art and performance by exploring the processes and gestures that shape the expressive body, and discussing how these can be seen in the technical and ritualistic actions of creating artistic work. In this light, the body’s physical and mental complexities and the various applications of the artist’s body can be used to support the notion that jewellery’s association with the body is an extension of the making, wearing and viewing process. Among questions raised is the subject of how such involvement can be expressed in a gallery context.
Concepts associated with the living body alter constantly, which can render the surrounding theoretical discourse problematic. The body’s physicality and mentality has no universal template, so it has become common to refer to the plurality of the body in respect of its differential qualities (Fraser and Greco 2005). Another significant area is the distinction between body and mind, which has its origins in Cartesian dualism. This derives from philosopher René Descartes’ theoretical separation between consciousness and reason (the mind) and emotion and material (the body). Descartes prioritizes mind over body, a notion that further reinforces the idea of the differentiating nature of the body among individuals. In order to understand social activity, or the body’s ‘everyday routines, conditions and requirements’ (Turner 1992: 3) the lived body – an assimilation of both body and mind – is necessary. The challenges in terms of display of incorporating the ‘lived’ body within the museum or gallery environment are compounded by considerations of space, conservation and security.
Paul Sweetman discusses the disembodiment of the display case in a fashion context, suggesting that the body’s ‘corporeality comes into play only implicitly, as an inert or unfeeling frame to be decorated and adorned’ (Sweetman 2001: 59). Such detachment is manifested in the use as a display method of the mannequin, an inconsequential mount on which clothes are presented so the influence of the body is absent. The movement of everyday living is integral to clothing and registers on its very fabric, yet this mode of display is devoid of such life. Elizabeth Wilson captures the importance of the body within fashion and the ineffectuality of the mannequin in the costume museum:
We experience a sense of the uncanny when we gaze at garments that had an intimate relationship with human beings long since gone to their graves. For clothes are so much part of our living, moving selves that, frozen on display in the mausoleums of culture, they hint at something only half understood, sinister, threatening, the atrophy of the body, and the evanescence of life (Wilson 1985: 1).
Set apart from the complete body, the displayed dress provides only a suggestion of the garment that focuses on its construction and history. Such a representation, lacking factors such as way the fabric moves or sounds as a reaction to the active body, can only be seen as incomplete.
Jewellery also has a strong link with the body, so similar claims can be made of current methods of jewellery display. As discussed, conventional display methods such as cabinets, frames, mounts, plinths and shelving place importance on the static rather than the lived object. Objects of an aesthetic nature may benefit from such time-honoured forms of display: McAlpine and Giangrande note the plinth’s ability to draw the viewer’s attention to the proficiency of the work, which is presented in a manner that complements object’s proportions and is devoid of distractions. Jewellery’s association with the body and the use of the glass case in which to display it are as problematic as the shop window dummy in terms of clothing display. In the museum, historical motivations and the need for preservation influence the display of jewels previously marked by the body. In Jewellery Moves: Ornament For The 21st Century, Amanda Game notes the problems this presents:
Static and put out of reach behind glass in a case, jewellery loses much of its power. It is meant to hang from an ear, rest against skin, encircle a wrist, move and turn, be run through the fingers (Game 1998: 7).
Game shows jewellery as an interactive form, made to be worn or caressed – a notion important to both historic and contemporary work. A piece of jewellery can become an experience, whether in material or metaphorical terms. Exhibitions such as Beyond the Body: Northwest Jewelers at Play (2005) and Touching Warms the Art (2008), as noted in chapter 3, have responded to this notion by developing interactive environments that foreground wearability. These offer a phenomenological response to jewellery, bridging the gap between object and viewer.
With regard to the mind/body divide, the absent body is an influential area of discourse in association with jewellery display. The body is not merely an inert object on which jewellery is hung; it responds to social influence, personal experience and processes that are intrinsic to jewellery design and development. The preferences, desires and concerns of a specific culture can be articulated through jewellery and its function. As a site of human experience, the body is an inherent, palpable presence yet may also be signified by its absence. Noting what he sees as a general unconsciousness of our own bodily presence Drew Leder says: ‘one’s own body is rarely the thematic object of experience’, (Leder 1990: 1). He cites the process of reading, during which attention shifts to the imaginable concepts evoked by the text, so that the body becomes unthought-of and metaphorically absent.
As the body is primarily absent in traditional methods of museum or gallery display, body awareness depends on the viewer’s understanding of jewellery and ability to imagine the object when placed on the body. The absent body, however, plays a significant role in contemporary jewellery display. The replication of body parts and representation of the human form through material and construction methods provides reference to the body’s integral role in jewellery design. This process can be seen in Gijs Bakker’s Photo Fragments (1990–92) where coloured photographs of various parts of the body are used to represent the intended function of his jewellery designs. Gerd Rothmann’s Von Ihm für Sie (1990) is a disembodied wrist cast in gold, which both creates a wearable object and signifies the idea of detachment from our own bodies. The lack of bodily presence other than the wrist allows the viewer to replace it with their own experience, directing thought to the viewer’s own wrist. This area is fundamental to the actions of everyday life but is easily overlooked. It is doubtful whether anyone would even recognize their own wrist if it were to be cast and presented in a similar method to Rothmann's bracelet.
The notion of the absent body is also seen in the contemporary works of Naomi Filmer, specifically her 2008 Lenticular series, and Christoph Zellweger’s body piece IE4 (1997) as discussed in Linda Sandino’s Studio Jewellery: Mapping the Absent Body. Zellweger’s design aesthetic, as the title suggests, represents an inner portrayal of the body, simulating valves and arteries in polystyrene and nylon tubing. These works suggest an alternative way of presenting the body as ‘an externalization of the inner body, of that abjection which has formerly been hidden in applied arts; the secret body which has finally emerged’ (Sandino 2002: 107). The recent progression from outer to inner body reflects scientific developments in prosthetics and bioengineering over the last 20 years, and is symbolized in the replication or abstract reference of the biological body. The resulting wearable objects are displayed in a traditional way, whether by photography or in a display case, yet somehow signify the static object’s ability to refer to the absent body.
The role of the body in craft is also one of construction and design. The body is a tool that facilitates the shaping and transformation of raw material. The making process is a felt experience involving visual and tactile processes that allow the maker to become ‘lost’ in his or her own creativity. Such experience is not always transferred to the viewer by the finished object, but may be alluded to by traces left on its surface. Andrew Lord’s ceramics have a rough, imperfect finish that captures the relationship between maker and craft. The object’s surface becomes a form of interaction; a surface of the handmade. Maker and writer Julian Stair describes how the tactile characteristics of the handmade can evoke an unconscious affinity between the craft object and the body, and thus between viewer and maker:
Craft objects communicate by triggering associations or a sense of recognition in which the viewer or user is drawn into a shared experience with the maker through certain tactile qualities, or a particular detailed care in making or a sense of time invested (Stair, 2000: 78).
Stair highlights the ability of an object to ‘arouse a felt recognition’ that connects the observer through the visual representation of the making experience. Similarly, the unfinished edges and visible solder lines of silversmith Vladimir Bohm’s square vessels in Famosa (2005) encapsulate the making process: their imperfections visually represent the hand of the craftsman.
The observations of the absent body documented in this chapter have informed my own practical aim as a jeweller, identifying an area of contemporary jewellery that considers the role of display within the creative process. My practical response to this research follows the conventional modes of jewellery display that makes use of the presentational function of plinths or glass cases that prevent contact with the displayed artefact. The intention is to develop a practical approach that locates ideas from within craft such as the body, ownership and wearability that will inform the way jewellery is presented and experienced in the gallery space.
My practical approach began by observing jewellery on the body. People wearing jewellery were photographed in different locations, producing a collection of images that captured the moving body as snippets of information that provides momentary glimpses of worn jewellery as flashes of metal or plastic. As discussed, the notion of ‘dress’ is an everyday process that is informed by the individual, social and political body. The way jewellery is placed on and off the body, for example, is responsive to an object’s form and material content, often becoming ritualized in its repetition. This form of behavioural response is continued throughout the day, creating a dialogue between body and object. The use of photography emphasized the interaction between the body and the worn object, capturing within a still image gestures or movements that go unnoticed from day to day.
As a response to this exercise, I documented bodily behaviour and jewellery in an everyday environment in two films (see DVD, Earring in Motion and Pendant in motion). One film focuses on an ear and the earring that adorns it, while the other focuses on a necklace. Filming took place only when the participant felt comfortable in front of the camera, allowing the natural movements established between body and object to be recorded. By reducing the speed of the film and projecting the moving image to a large scale on a gallery wall, the gestures or movements created by the body become exaggerated. The process creates a visual portrayal by magnifying the interactive quality of an object that might have been overlooked in real time. The moving image commands attention so that viewers are directed to notice the blurred outlines of the slow-moving jewellery and heightens the viewer’s awareness of their own jewellery.
The film’s function is similar to that of the exhibition props promoted in Hall’s guide to jewellery display, which was used for reference. Hall describes ‘contemporary portraits’ as a space-saving device that adds a historical context to the objects presented (Hall 1987: 174), but in this practical outcome the supporting material becomes the focus, thus raising questions about the relative importance of context and physical object. In the films, the design of the jewellery does not impose and it is not defined by fashion due to the fact that they are seen only as shifts of shape, light and shadow. It thus serves as a template by which the viewer can consider their own jewellery’s relationship with the body.
The moving imagery continues to inform my practical work, and is used as a template on which an item of jewellery may be based. The resulting form is intended to capture the transitory relationship between the body and the worn object. Silhouettes of the moving object taken at intervals from frames of the film were transferred to pierced silver, thus retaining the visual information gathered in the observational film. The preciousness of the metal alludes to the traditions of jewellery’s history to produce an object that can be displayed in a conventional glass case. The silver outcome, devoid of decorative detail, alludes to the piece’s wearability rather than to its aesthetics and craftsmanship. This creative exploration illustrates the potential effect of the absent body on conventional display methods and confirms that display can influence jewellery design.
Contemporary jewellers are investigating ways by which to provide a tangible display of the unmediated relationship between object and the body. These presentational methods are used to evoke a memory or sensory experience, leaving a lasting impression on their audience. Dinie Besems explores the processes of the social and individual body as a means by which to activate a jewellery object. Tearbucket (1995), a ring with an upturned dome, functions as a container for a single tear. The captured tear, recorded in a photograph, represents a bodily process and evokes human emotion. Similarly, Besems’ Chalk Chain (1994) actually records body movement by leaving chalk marks on its wearer’s clothing after it is removed. This practical exploration of bodily behaviour and the notion of ‘dress’ aims to capture the unconscious movements of the body through the wearing process. Each chalk trace signifies the ritualistic movements of the body. Thus, Besems uses jewellery as a vehicle for her ideas, exploring the relationship between jewellery and people in order to establish a lasting impression. Liesbeth den Besten describes these ‘conceptual jewels’ as ‘jewels for the mind; once you have seen them you carry them with you as an imprint on your memory’ (Besten 2011: 109). In an interview with Besten, Besems said:
Actually I don’t think jewellery is really interesting. I don’t want to make a chain or something else. It is just that I have an idea, an image, something I want to explore. And then it turns out that you can reach people by adapting it to the body. So therefore I work on the skin, but also under the skin (Besten 2011: 109).
Jewellery’s association with preciousness is documented in the memories and associations the wearer or owner of an object places on it. The work of Mah Rana focuses on providing the viewer with information about the wearer and wearability. Rana establishes a sense of ‘being’ by the portrayal of memories and personal attachments to jewellery and the objects we wear, detailing an emotive response within the project rather than focusing on the physical object. In Meanings and Attachments, photography is used to document ownership and sentimentality by listing the reasons behind the wearer’s choice of adornment. Images of the wearer and their jewellery are accompanied by a written description that provides the work with a personal narrative. The work is not about a design made by the jeweller, but offers insight into the body’s relationship with a personal possession. Both image and text form a descriptive methodology from which the independent viewer can learn, and to which they can relate. Rana’s work has the ability to contextualize an object and offer informative layers within its presentation so that ‘a memory-trace lingers like a scent upon our possessions long after they are lost and decontextualized’ (Casely-Hayford 2002). This remark illustrates the emotive power of the jewellery object and shows how supportive documentation can provide context and meaning in terms of memories and experiences associated with an object. The wearer’s choice of jewellery has the ability to unveil aspects of their personality and can be used to create or change body image. In the gallery environment, detached from ownership, the viewer is able to project their own perceived personality on to the displayed object.
Marie-José van den Hout explored this concept in Jewellery, the Choice of Schiedam (1997), which was created in order to introduce contemporary jewellery to a wider audience. Twenty-five women were invited to select a piece from the collection of Nijmegen’s Galerie Marzee, and explain their choice. Photographic portraits of participants wearing their chosen item line the exhibition wall, with the relevant piece displayed on a table in front of each image. The exhibition catalogue offers explanations such as:
The necklace I chose in the end is bold and cheeky, as well as being sturdy and very distinctive. It’s made from thick, felted wool – a ship’s rope in the shape of a collar (Valk 2005: 26).
Such descriptions provide insight into the way in which others view the displayed objects, offering a comparative format to which viewers’ own perceptions can be applied. This process is characteristic of the contemporary jewellers identified in this study who use a collaborative style of working.
My own use of participants signals an ambiguous approach to jewellery design that is informed by the involvement and interpretation of others. It is achieved by a combination of mediated methods including film and the physical object, in order to explore the relationship between the body and object in a way that is compatible with the gallery space. This method uses a body-esque narrative to engage the viewer within the wearing process, even though they never come into contact with the displayed object. This narrative incorporates the role of the individual wearer and the contextual principles that relate to the social body.
4.2 Contemporary jewellery: a transient concept
As a response to the practical outcome with regard to capturing bodily movement within an object, it was necessary to consider the implications of the body and the object’s material content. Wearing or engaging with an object can influence how the body behaves and functions, dictating bodily processes such as eating and drinking, as well as socially learnt gestures such as stroking and hugging (Boden 2000: 297). The second part of this practical investigation aims to consider the impact of such processes on the material content of an object. This will unpack the transient implications of material properties and processes as a practical consideration in terms of display methodology.
The concept of jewellery was traditionally based on materiality and the symbolic communication of permanence, preciousness and power. The De Beers diamond company’s 1947 advertising campaign A Diamond is Forever encapsulated the physical durability of a diamond and its eternal symbolism of unity and wealth. It is a notion that no longer defines the discipline of jewellery design. The exploration of jewellery’s conceptual content initiated in the 1960s was instrumental in the dematerialization of the jewellery object and contemporary concerns surrounding the craft process. This chapter continues by looking at transience in terms of a jewellery object’s materiality and the importance of process to the creation and consumption of jewellery. It will begin with a historical account of jewellery’s materiality and the museology of conservation, taking into account the discordance between principles of display and the ideology of contemporary arts and crafts. The notion of the dematerialized object and the inclusion of representational modes of multimedia will be explored in order to address jewellery’s transition from the tangible to the intangible.
With regard to silversmithing, goldsmithing and jewellery design, the notion of transience can be explored by addressing the symbolic nature of patina (McCracken 1988; Sandino 2004). Metal is prone to visible decay when the material interacts with the environment, causing a tarnished appearance. Patina is the oxidized surface that appears on metal over time, as seen on coins. The discolouration of each coin is seen as a new layer or film that overlays the coin’s surface. The environmental impact of patina symbolically refers to ageing, allowing an immediate judgment to be made about whether coins are recently minted or have been in circulation for some time. Sociologist Grant McCracken observes that in the 18th Century, patina's implicit reference to ageing signified the heritage and prestige of an object. He describes patina's transience as a representation of the object’s experience, noting: ‘as they come into contact with the elements and other objects in the world, their original surface takes on a surface of its own’ (McCracken 1988: 32). Thus, involvement with the world and the body can alter the material surface of an object, as evidenced by scratches, dents and corrosion acquired during its lifecycle.
The emphasis on permanence and preservation that surrounds the tradition of the gallery space sits uncomfortably with this transient form of materiality. As theoretical considerations of patina suggest, the material content of an object will inevitably alter over time. Christoph Zellweger's work shows the effect of time on certain materials. The latex tubing of Chain (1994) has deteriorated badly, so the object now inhabits a metaphorical ‘no man’s land’ between an object to be worn and a something that is too fragile to touch, set against the gallery’s concern for preservation. This work, which ironically is part of the Craft Council’s permanent collection, encapsulates the challenges associated with displaying transient design in the gallery space. The tentative approach now taken when handling this piece drew this rueful comment from its designer while in conversation with the Crafts Council’s Director of Programmes, Claire West:
I was amused by the footage of everyone touching it with gloves. It was not my intention that it should ever be touched with gloves. It has a life and life creates a patina (West 2009).
Zellweger’s response signals acceptance of the transient nature of material, and seems to contradict the notion of permanence in the gallery space. Objects that reflect states of transition, whether in terms of the creative process, function, observation or time-based performance, can present a challenge for the gallery space. The notion of transience will be explored, and issues surrounding the contemplative environment of the gallery space will be opened up to consider various alternative mediums by which tangible forms of presentation may be provided.
The notion of transience in contemporary design provokes the exploration of concepts and ideas that challenge notions concerning jewellery as an object and its material content. Bodily involvement and artistic expression have prompted a migration from the traditional sites of neck, wrist and ears to explore the creative freedoms seen in contemporary jewellery. This development challenges communicational methods of display that involve viewer or wearer interaction, because of the use of ephemeral material that may substitute representational media for the crafted object. In the art world, the term dematerialization is commonly used to describe concept-based work with little material content that may rely on photography and other media to record it (Lippard 1973). The term has been criticized as being inaccurate, and the use of photographs to record such work sits uncomfortably with those who view a photograph as an object in itself. The materiality of an object and the ephemeral principles that surround the making process will be explored, in order to illuminate the representational methods used to present such a process in the gallery space, and to assess their value.
As noted, the work of contemporary jeweller Naomi Filmer focuses on the role of the body in jewellery design and in turn addresses the notion of transience. Ice Jewellery (1999) takes transient design to the realms of dematerialization by using ice to form a wearable piece. The body and surrounding environment creates a tangible impact on the worn object causing the material to melt. This is seen in the disintegration of the object’s form, the dripping of liquid and the final smash as the last of the ice breaks away from the body and hits the floor. An impression is also left on the body in the form of goosebumps, traces of liquid on the skin’s surface and the lowering of body temperature. This process suggests that transient design can be a bodily experience for the wearer, showing that an object’s life cycle can be felt as well as seen. Linda Sandino describes how the work as ‘an eclectic approach to materials in a practice unhampered by functional requirement allows jewellers to pursue materiality to its limits in terms of meaning and substance’ (Sandino 2004: 290). Sandino suggests that there is a contemporary push for creative freedom within jewellery design as makers relinquish functionality in favour of transience. It is not, however, accurate to assert that functionality is absent from Filmer's work. The ice is shaped into a wearable form and displayed on mannequins that suggest its wearability, if for only a short time. This wearable function is not permanent, yet its intended relationship with the body is implied.
In the 2007 MIMA conference, Alternative Presence: the Collection, Display and Interpretation of Contemporary Craft Collects, Filmer suggests photography is an inappropriate method for capturing this time-based piece. She is concerned that the drips might be mistaken for resin and the sense of material lost in this static form of representation. Instead mannequin hands were used to provide an abstract indication of how the ice sits on the body, and the melting water was collected in bowls at the base of the display. Ralph Turner says:
as the cold liquid circumvented the body’s protruding bone, it discovered channels in the skin’s surface, filling deep hollows of the shoulder blades before cascading over the arms and torso (Turner 2000: 55).
The sounds created by the dripping liquid are what holds the interest, though Filmer herself admits that this aspect of the piece was overlooked. The sound of dripping water symbolizes the ephemeral nature of the jewellery, and highlights an alternative approach available when displaying this piece of work. Filmer's ice pieces are designed as an intimate experience. The frozen forms are not only a source of decoration for the body, but can become part of the wearer as their senses are evoked. This material quality might have been developed to establish a tangible way of presenting an ephemeral interaction with the body that can be experienced by the viewer, and to establish a methodology that reflects the notion of wearing.
The maker’s involvement with the made object is the subject of frequent discussion within the crafts. The maker’s mark contains information about the making process and suggests the unique quality of the handmade, often revealed in impressions left on the object’s surface such as handprints on a handmade brick. A contemporary extension of the maker’s mark is evident in the narrative principle of exhibition methodology that involves the communication of craft objects as a process. As discussed in Chapter 3, the presentation of varying approaches to design in Process Works (2007) and the portrayal of the workshop environment in CraftCube (2010) reveal the skills and processes involved in the object’s construction. Both draw on an inclusive method of communication that shows aspects of an object that are only implied in the final form. They challenge the relative importance of the physical object and the time-based narration that contextualizes an object through multimedia methods. It is the juxtaposition between preservation and conceptual or functional intent that directs this investigation towards exhibition design and alternative display methods.
The notion of approaching display in terms of movement and interaction challenges conventional attitudes to museum design and provides new strategies for communication and the learning experience. Methods of electronic communication that contribute to the physical state of an exhibition may displace or support the displayed object (Witcomb 2003). As discussed in the contextual review, technology may contribute to dynamic modes of exhibition design. At this point of the investigation, my own approach is developed to explore in practice the implications of materiality and dematerialization within craft display. I have created a delicate piece of wearable jewellery inspired by an Elizabethan ruff to visually represent the curatorial challenges of addressing preservation and ownership when presenting a craft object. The design, crafted from lace soaked in porcelain slip, is extremely fragile and disintegrates when touched. Its appearance or physical state, which is intended to embrace the transient quality of the material, is designed to evolve over time due to its delicate form and interaction with the audience. A steel framework that supports the delicate form is set over a hidden speaker connected to a microphone. This detects and amplifies background noise and the approaching footsteps of the viewer. Over time, these auditory vibrations effectively destroy the piece, producing an interactive demonstration of material transience (see A transient concept - film).
This approach typifies the approach of contemporary craft practitioners who actively explore the role of the audience and the contextual environment in which their work is displayed. Clare Twomey’s ceramic work illustrates how craft can use group interaction to destabilize the material content of an object.
Her use of porcelain in Consciousness/Conscience (2003) explores an ambiguity between the object and the body, embracing the individual and their reactive response. Twomey invites the public to walk over, and therefore break, a ﬂoor covering of porcelain tiles. The connotations of preciousness that surround the material lock the participant in a struggle with conscience: they do not know whether to experience the deconstructive qualities of the work or to step away in order to preserve the display. Importance is placed on public interaction, combining Twomey’s knowledge and expertise as a ceramicist with themes of time, space, dialogue and preciousness. Twomey works with other makers to realize installations that involve the production of thousands of multiples, such as the V&A installation Trophy (2006), and A Dark Day in Paradise (2010), which was shown at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion. Her work has moved from the confines of the workshop and studio to fill and interact with the artistic arena and public spaces. It operates amidst the concept of transience in terms of materiality, in which work can be destroyed in order to allow the viewer to interact physically with its material properties and tactile implications. It is a notion of ownership in which creative control can cross from the artist’s vision to an area influenced and directed by the viewer. One example is when people are invited to take objects away with them, demonstrating a relinquishment of control after an art or craft work enters the public domain. This establishes an interactive process which explores the collaboration between maker, viewer, curator and owner in terms of authorship and their relationship with gallery. Twomey says: ‘Some of these works have taken years to make, moments to destroy, disappear or be stolen or become somebody else’s possession’ (Sterling 2009). Thus, as she notes with regard to her contemporary approach, in terms of craft display the gallery can shift ‘from container of objects to context’ (Twomey 2007: 33).
My practical aim is to define an approach that continues the work of contemporary craft practitioners who actively explore the interactive role of an audience within their work. In continuing my observations of materiality, I propose to explore methods of display providing permanence to the live performance that conform to the gallery setting. This approach is investigated by developing a presentational system that documents the changes that occurred during the porcelain ruff’s deterioration. The taxonomic association with the photography of jewellery is used as a classification tool to record historic jewellery design and material content. Photography, which is also demonstrative because of its ability to communicate construction techniques visually, has conventionally been used in teaching manuals and jewellery source books. This method of communication offers the pupil step-by-step references that support an instructive text. In my own work, this didactic approach to photography has been adapted to provide a practical way to capture and record the stages of a live performance as an alternative to film. The series of static images allows the viewer to study the object’s material content and contemplate the changes in each image. Photographs showing the porcelain’s deterioration are arranged in a chronological line directing the viewer’s movement across the wall space of the gallery. In accordance with dynamic methods in exhibition design, I introduced two auditory clips to accompany the visual information, which are played separately at each end of the wall display. At the beginning of the sequence, the sound of footsteps and other accompanying noises from an audience is heard. The sound, which is taken from the original performance, represents those involved in the porcelain’s destruction. As the viewer progresses along the row of images the sound of smashing ceramics begins to replace the sound of footsteps. The emotional reaction to this cacophony of destruction further reinforces the performative aspect of my work (see A transient concept – audio recording).
My intention, informed by current craft exhibitions that use didactic methods to communicate the making process, was to portray the transient qualities of materiality using a similar narrative. This notion was developed by considering the progressive state of the completed jewellery object, using a combination of auditory and visual modes of communication. The alteration of the object’s form and material appearance resulted from viewer interaction, symbolizing the everyday wear and tear that is integral to the lifespan of jewellery, and illustrating the dilemma surrounding preservation and the intended function of the displayed object. The result was a division between the original performance of the object and the representational material. The exhibition method questions the integrity of the presentational material and its ability to replace the physical object in an attempt to replace material transience with permanence. Both practical outcomes demonstrate alternative ways of suggesting bodily involvement using multimedia methods and display principles in the construction and presentation of my work.
Thus far, my methodology has drawn on my practice to provide responsive realizations at pivotal points of my research, in order to contextualize and reflect on my findings. As a result, my initial practical experiments have suggested that digital media is a key tool when making and presenting contemporary jewellery. As observed in Dinie Besems’ discussion of ‘conceptual jewels’, an approach is taken by the jeweller to create a lasting impression on the viewer by using jewellery to represent or create a bodily reaction. Digital modes of presentation also enable the jeweller to engage the viewer. The use of audio and visual forms of communication has emerged amongst contemporary jewellers, who, over the last decade, have considered how their work is presented to an audience, as seen in the representational methods of Mah Rana to the site-specific installations of Clare Twomey. These practitioners, who address the body and transience of materiality, are linked by the audience participation that informs their work. This carries the current dialogue concerning craft into the wider field of the visual arts. The practical strategies used by contemporary craft practitioners via their investigation of social and cultural meaning highlights the relational practice within the crafts that will inform the next stage of this study.