Chapter 6: Practical Investigation 2
6.1 Immersive aesthetics
This chapter is a response to the first practical investigation, which considered the role of the body and materiality in the presentation of contemporary jewellery in my own work and the work of others. Additionally, an understanding of the social concerns now prevalent in art and craft discourse has introduced the concept of relational aesthetics as a means of activating the viewer, and of exploring potential relations between an audience and craft display. In order to define a strategy intrinsic to the crafts, subsequent practice may be defined as ‘immersive aesthetics’.
Many writers have discussed the importance of immersion in terms of installation art, including Claire Bishop, who distinguishes the strategies used from those employed by conventional, ‘disembodied’ forms of art display:
Instead of representing texture, space, light and so on, installation art presents these elements directly for us to experience. This introduces an emphasis on sensory immediacy, on physical participation (the viewer must walk into and around the work) (Bishop 2005: 11).
The first-hand immediacy experienced by the viewer of installation art is different from the experience of the viewer exposed to the work of those who address immersion by the use of digital media, such as video and sound artists. This distinction highlights the role of art practices that emphasize sensory engagement with the viewer but do not rely on physical participation in order to create an embodied experience. Art critic, journalist and artist Polly Ullrich discusses the handmade techniques of video artists who aim to address the decentering and dematerializing effect of electronic media via techniques that are demonstrative of the body, and that locate their work in the everyday. She summarizes the aesthetics of immersion as ‘an event of the body or in life’, focusing on digital artists who engage with bodily processes in order to invest in ‘the visceral aspects of human perception and consciousness’ (Ullrich 2004: 211).
The immediate interactions and collaborations identified by Bishop have been discussed in terms of craft and contemporary jewellery, under the umbrella of relational aesthetics, in which a correlation between an autonomous group of contemporary jewellers working in and beyond the gallery space has been made. By locating this study in the institutional setting, the focus has moved away from the physicality and immediacy of relational practice towards representational methods. This locates immersive aesthetics as a means of establishing an embodied experience, which is designed to address the division between the viewer and jewellery when on display.
The work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, a key artist for Nicolas Bourriaud, illustrates how relational concepts can inform both art and craft practices. This principle can be illustrated by comparing Gonzalez-Torres’ work with that of contemporary jeweller Suska Mackert, in which immersive aesthetics can be defined. Gonzalez-Torres’ 1993 work Untitled (Placebo-Landscape-for Roni) consists of multiple sweets wrapped in gold cellophane that are spread across the floor of the gallery space. This arrangement evolves over time as visitors take away their choice of sweet and stocks are replenished in order to retain an ideal weight of 1200lbs (544kg). The work embodies the concepts of identity and mortality that run throughout Gonzalez-Torres’ work, engaging his audience with themes of violence, US domestic and foreign policy, homophobia and AIDS. Here, the weight of the candy refers symbolically to his partner and those who have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS. It also refers to the discomfort of the artist: as the sweets were dispersed, ‘he felt that it was an invasion of his self, like the demise of his own body’ (Rosen 1997: 46).
The active engagement of the audience in order to establish and evoke meaning contradicts the learnt etiquette of the museum environment in which the ‘do not touch’ mantra is representative of conventional protocol. This engagement emphasizes the importance of audience in the activation of the work in terms of symbolic meaning through the involvement of their senses. The material presence of Gonzalez-Torres’ sweets and the participation of his audience explores not only the corporeal effect of relational aesthetics but also evokes memory and the sensory connotations that imbue the objects on display. The crackle and glint of the cellophane wrapper and the sugary sweet taste has the power to summon up childhood memories, past experiences or desires. This sensory experience can also be distasteful because of the title of the piece, which refers to the placebos used during drugs trials organized in the development of cures and antidotes for AIDS. This understanding suggests pain, loss and grief in every sweet.
Suska Mackert also uses viewer participation within her practice, which engages with relational principles. Though she is described as a jeweller, there is a distinct absence of made jewellery in most of her projects. Mackert relies on symbolism and conceptualism, using photography, typography and installation to represent the haptic aspects of making, viewing and wearing contemporary jewellery. Her work exists among images of jewellery distributed through mass media and advertising rather than in a physical form. In her site-speciﬁc work Middlesbrough (2005), Mackert adorned the ﬂoor of a low-cost jewellery shop with gold leaf lettering, investing hours to create the statement: ‘Materials with a shiny surface reflect light, while elsewhere the light is fully absorbed’. The commercial setting of a shop is not one normally associated with the display of art or the conceptual portrayal of contemporary jewellery, unlike the gallery space that housed Gonzalez-Torres’ mountain of wrapped sweets. The live space of Mackert’s work and its position on the floor means that the text is mainly overlooked because of the everyday shopping needs and behaviour of the consumer. As the space is occupied the gold lettering, and symbolically the time spent creating it, is slowly worn away by the viewer’s shoes. The value of the lettering and its message becomes blurred and tarnished, reflecting the continual stream of advertising and mass media; it thus becomes part of the network of visual information that is received on an everyday basis, often remaining within the subconscious. Those who notice the glittering addition to the shop floor also become aware of their own detrimental effect on the work.
Critic Love Jönsson describes Mackert’s approach:
Making use of a variety of media, she underlines that jewellery’s complex grid of relationships between maker, object, message, wearer and spectator cannot be analyzed solely from the viewpoint of the physical encounter (Jönsson 2005).
Though Mackert’s lettering is not something the audience can take away to enjoy or experience in their own time, the installation is informed by the sounds, smells and bodily behaviour associated with the shopping experience because of its setting. Whether this triggers excitement or dread, the visual portrayal of consumer jewellery evokes the processes of finding, considering, buying and owning. Mackert’s use of photography to capture this allows the work to become associated with ‘an imagined sense of consumption’, as noted by Deborah Cherry in her discussions of the body’s role in relational aesthetics (Cherry 2007: 22). Cherry suggests that this presents a perceived experience, in which the embodied viewer becomes immersed.
The common theme addressed by both artists is the material gold and its ability to offer sensory engagement. Gonzalez-Torres’ candy represents an aesthetic dialogue between himself and artist Roni Horn. In 1990, Gonzalez-Torres encountered Horn’s sculpture Forms from the Gold Field (1980–82) during her solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The work involved a single gold sheet laid directly on the gallery floor. Gonzalez-Torres responded to its preciousness and the subtle possibilities that it proposed, suggesting that the piece was ‘a new landscape, a possible horizon, a place of rest and absolute beauty’ (Gonzalez-Torres 1996: 68). The experience evoked by both artists pays homage to the complex meaning of gold. Nancy Spector, chief curator at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, describes this as a form of poetry reflective of symbolic materiality: ‘The fragile beauty of the works suspends commonplace meanings attached to gold as a source of wealth and extravagance, inviting instead a kind of poetic reverie on its materiality and symbolic resonance’ (Spector 2009).
As with jewellery, the connotations of preciousness and wealth run through the history of adornment, provoking the claim that Mackert’s use of gold is ‘a disrespectful, somewhat extravagant way of handling the material’ (Jönsson 2005). This comment suggests that the material content of relational projects has the power to evoke memory and incite dialogue, drawn from personal, subjective and emotional associations with a jewellery object or material. Jeweller Mah Rana recorded the humanizing comments of the wearer in Meanings and Attachments (2007), a pre-launch exhibition commissioned for the opening of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. The off-site exhibition documents the personal relationship between wearer, object and image when two participants, Sarah and Kendra, are asked to comment on their own gold jewellery, their response reflects current trends and fashion, and also signify the variations in personal association towards material content:
‘Silver’s more for going out’.
‘And what’s gold for?’
‘Common; for knocking about on the streets.’ (Rana 2007)
Bourriaud claims that Gonzalez-Torres’ collaborative work explores ‘differing aspects of the monumental: the commemoration of events, the continuity of memory and the materialization of the intangible’ (Bourriaud 1998:55). This approach takes account of the identifiable relations established between artwork, artist and audience through sensory engagement and memory, as well as physical interaction which encourages the viewer to pick up and touch displayed objects in the gallery. It signifies a move from the monumental and public – such as the mediation of HIV and AIDS – to the personal, intimate encounter suggested by the fact that the weight of the pile of sweets corresponds to the body weight of Gonzalez-Torres’s dead partner. The result provides a trail for the viewer to follow, thus permitting direct immersion in the politics of the body. In Mackert’s piece, the viewer, whether participating directly or viewing the photographic images that document the work process, is drawn from the wider cultural arena of commercialism and society shaped by mass media, to the ritualistic performance of shopping and bodily behaviour in which the actions of the individual have a direct impact on the gold lettering and represent a progressive experience of immersion.
The critical jewellery object, as outlined in chapter 2, defines an area of contemporary jewellery that is informed by the arts. The intention of this approach to jewellery design is to move away from making a physical object and look towards ways of presenting jewellery as a language. This approach is responsive to the observations gathered during this study when investigating the display of contemporary jewellery. Immersive aesthetics presents a practical strategy that can be used to evoke a bodily engagement between audience members and the jewellery on display. This is done by embracing the sensory or memory-led responses of an audience to craft and its relationship with the body. The result is embedded in principles such as materiality and form, which provoke certain bodily behaviour, as previously discussed. Activities such as wearing or making provide a contextual framework to inform jewellery practice, and offer accessible, bodily processes from which to consider how jewellery is communicated to an audience. Such methods are informed by work-in-progress exhibitions that provide an inclusive presentation of craft practice and offer parallels with relational art. As Bourriaud notes: ‘formal fields’ allow the maker to consider spaces in jewellery design in which interaction and collaboration take place, thus providing platforms for practical enquiry that critically address contemporary jewellery and its role in society. The commercial environment, as seen in Mackert’s work, offers a practical commentary concerning the jewellery shopper and the venues they may inhabit. This creates a body of work that can be recognized by the viewer because of the familiar setting of the shop, and as a result encourages further dialogue.
These ‘spaces’ or ‘fields’ can be explored by the use of presentational methods such as photography, film or audio-commentary, which supply a tangible reference to craft processes and facilitates immediate discussion of the relations they depict. The work of Maisie Broadhead, for example, is an illustration of the kind of collaborative approach that is the focus of this study. Broadhead replaces the first-hand interactions of practitioners such as Ted Noten and Yuka Oyama with photography, as a means of engaging the viewer and challenging their perceptions. Her work is informed by studio craft practitioners who challenge function as a means of critical interpretation, an approach that saw the creation of ‘unfulfillable’ objects such as a dissolvable vessel or a vase covered with pinholes. Broadhead uses presentational techniques to activate her own critical interpretation of jewellery through the process of image making. In Jewellery Depicted (2009), Broadhead uses photography to capture re-staged historical paintings as an embodied backdrop for fabricated jewellery objects that are appropriated from the original artwork. Broadhead thus investigates the role of representational methods in the development and presentation of contemporary jewellery. For example, her contemporary reinterpretations of classical paintings, such as Nipple Pinch (2009) and Keep Them Sweet (2010), explore the photography of jewellery as ‘a collection of distorted and hidden half-truths’ (Broadhead 2010). This method engages the viewer with the concept of value, immersing them through their own discovery and perception of the jewellery object and its material content. Keep Them Sweet is photographed against the backdrop of a scene that is a reworking of Simon Vouet’s 1640 painting Allegory of Wealth. It contains an item of jewellery, Sweet Necklace, which in the reinterpretation is seen as a length of silver beads, though the actual object itself is partly formed from sweets. This aspect of the piece, which is kept hidden from the lens of the camera, replaces the monetary value of precious metal with the symbolic value of childhood memories and the sensory experience of smelling and tasting the edible beads.
The emotive content is continued because Broadhead calls on her friends, family members and associates to stage her images, so the actual relationships of real people to the jeweller and to the subject matter contribute to the layered narrative. Broadhead thus demonstrates an investigative approach that highlights the potential of what Glenn Adamson sees as: ‘the nebulous marginal space between the image of craft and the craft object’ (Craig, 2011). Dialogue within this space engages with concepts such as appropriation, replication and forced perspective as a theoretical framework, allowing Broadhead’s choice of representational media to explore and exploit the consequence of presenting jewellery by photographic methods. It also challenges the viewer’s understanding of the photographed piece, thereby offering a tool for display that allows both jeweller and viewer to consider moments of production, distribution and consumption within contemporary jewellery discourse.
6.2 Displaying a critical jewellery object
This chapter considers the role of the craft image in a jewellery exhibition and its impact on my own practice as a jeweller. The headings below detail four practical projects I have developed as part of this study. The process employed in this investigation was not rigid or reductive but formed an exploratory response to my theoretical understanding as well as formalizing key aspects of my practical research. As a result, each outcome is designed to be exhibited in the gallery space in order to demonstrate the critical value of the craft image as a presentational tool. The outcomes are developed to explore in practice the use of props and backgrounds within display design, in a way that introduces a facsimile, as well as considering the digital capabilities of macro photography, the portrayal of the worn object and promotional imagery.
6.3 Necklace, Bracelet, Brooch
Liesbeth Den Besten has discussed the jeweller’s use of presentational media with regard to photography and its ability to establish a contextual narrative with the object it depicts. In addition to her article ‘Beyond the Showcase’ (2004), Besten’s On Jewellery: A Compendium of International Contemporary Art Jewellery (2011), dedicates a chapter to the practical developments that have taken place between jewellery and photography since the 1960s. One of the elements she considers is the notion of ‘functional photography’, which is defined as an object-focused approach involving jewellery that is photographed alone, abstracted away from the wearer. Besten summarizes this minimalist and popular method by which ‘the artistic integrity of the piece is not obscured by any circumstantial intrusion’ (Besten 2011: 34). Techniques such as lighting or style of backdrop offer the photographer the potential for variation, and the object itself may indicate an aesthetic influence that derives from the time in which the image is produced. This object-led method has predominantly been in evidence from the 1970s to the present, and was in stark contrast to the prevalent use of young models with heavily made-up faces to present the large-scale pieces being made between 1967–1970.
Besten also considers ‘art photography’, a label she primarily associates with the 1980s, which involved photographs commissioned by the jeweller. Ruddt Peters is among those who asked art photographers to make their impression of his jewellery collections for publication. Besten discusses the role of photography as a compositional element within jewellery, in that it is used for its imagery or material content within the object’s making in order to establish symbolic or layered meaning. Most notably, photography is discussed as a research tool for jewellery artists, and this notion is intertwined with this study. This approach was formed as a way by which ephemeral ideas and concepts could be documented, recorded or presented, in response to the conceptual works being produced from the 1970s onwards. Examples of this technique range from the capturing of the dematerialized marks made by Gijs Bakker’s ‘invisible jewellery’, through the abstract light patterns that adorn the body in Suzanna Heron’s light projections, to the recent works of Lisa Walker. Walker likes to capture casual snapshots that reveal the questionable quality of her pieces, which in turn reflects the concept of value that is being addressed in her practical work. In the light of these distinctions, and the notion of the craft image, the role of photography is significant in the presentation of contemporary jewellery in terms of technique and visual language. As part of this ethos it is important to consider the technological and social developments in both photography and contemporary jewellery, and also the wider cultural context, particularly with regard to the internet and the diverse, relational platforms from which craft is mediated.
Comparisons to commercial jewellery can be made, with regard to the capabilities of digital manipulation and doctoring techniques open to current photographic technology. These include methods such as the ability to retouch images that are afforded by digital programs, for example the removal of blemishes and red-eye reduction, as well as various tools that enable alteration of an object’s scale, texture and colour. These manipulation techniques carry implications of directing the viewer’s attention to specific aspects of the image, and are evident in the development of pictorial advertisements. By the early 20th century, according to writer Raymond Betts, the consumer was ‘dazzled and compelled by contrived images that transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary’ (Betts 2004: 62). This approach has become instrumental to advertisement art, in which the styles of communication have evolved in order to seduce and inspire the consumer. This is art that incorporates manipulation afforded by technological advances in digital photography and programming, and it is also influenced by computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM). There are processes by which the lens of a camera may distort the object’s surface when capturing light reflection, as well as the various means of selecting a camera angle, framing, shutter speed and aperture size. It is therefore questionable whether an image can now be regarded as a true representation of a jewellery product.
No less than the photographer or computer-aided designer, the jeweller now possesses the technological tools by which to emphasize a polished surface or the reflectivity of a gemstone. This process can enable the refinement of an object’s form to the extent that it becomes a complete transformation. Technological capacity also extends to the placement of the jewellery image on the body of a photographed model using Photoshop techniques, computer aided design and recent developments such as Holition. The latter is described as a creative service agency in which augmented reality platforms are developed to create 3D digital experiences for retail. This form of retail experience has the capacity to project products on to the viewer through digital applications that can be used both in store and online, thus serving as a virtual reality mirror. The resulting images can allude to the notion of wearability, and the jewellery essentially becomes a worn object despite never coming into physical contact with the wearer.
The role of photography in jewellery is symptomatic of the importance of visual imagery in today’s culture. A photographic image is easily transferable, and can be shared and presented through a range of internet sites, groups and organizations as well as in publishable formats such as books, magazines and business cards. The affective qualities discussed in relation to the craft image, also indicate that an object’s narrative or meaning as constructed by the jeweller is not completed in the final coat of varnish or the buff of the polishing cloth. Photography is thus a part of the ‘crafting’ process by which meaning can be shaped and refined in the form of presentational techniques. My first practical investigation, Necklace, Bracelet, Brooch (2011), consists of three images. Each contains a physical component made using conventional craft methods commonly associated with jewellery such as a bead, a link and a setting. This is photographed and repeated to produce an image that suggests a wearable jewellery object, in a method that looks to the process of transforming traditional forms of jewellery via photography into digital, malleable components. The photograph of the bead, for example, provides a repeatable template so that each unit or ‘bead’ can be adjusted in size and digitally strung together using Photoshop. Both the physical object and the photographic manipulation of the object are thus combined to create a mixed-media presentation of contemporary jewellery that sits between craft image and craft object. The resulting imagery considers the role of digital technology against the tradition of handmade crafts. The single physical component, made using the conventional materials and techniques associated with a traditional jewellery outcome, offers the foundation from which the craft image is produced.
The practical outcome therefore explores the alternative techniques and technologies that are available to today’s craft maker. The conceptual ‘space’ in which I operate addresses the conventional structure by which craft practitioners photograph their work in order to document, promote and ultimately sell it. The imagery I have produced in this project provides a creative exploration of Besten’s ‘functional photography’.
In the crafts it is standard practice to create business cards, postcards and presentational imagery using a digital format. This is a process usually put into operation only when a craft object has been completed, and functions as a communicative tool in terms of publishing a design in the public sphere. My intention, by actively engaging the viewer in this process, is to establish a dialogue that considers both the jeweller’s and viewer’s relationship with the craft image. The digital construction of jewellery, established through both photography and the physical object, aims to interrogate the viewer’s understanding of the jewellery images they may encounter every day. As with the work of Broadhead and Mackert, the recognizable is employed to draw in the viewer. Standard forms, such as a brooch or necklace, are easily identified, presenting a universal template by which critical evaluation can be applied to alternative jewellery imagery. After inspecting the work and discovering the means by which the image is constructed, the viewer is encouraged to consider the wider context of mass-produced imagery in jewellery and its potential to inform or mislead, to promote or construct meaning. The large size of each image is designed to reflect the oversized posters used in commercial jewellery advertising campaigns in order to draw a connection between the jewellery image that is seen shop windows and the object’s they depicts. The project identifies a visual means of presenting to an audience the making process that exists between craft and digital media, using a method that in turn questions the value of the facsimile as a means of exhibiting contemporary craft. The deliberate play on authenticity in the construction of this work intends to create an analytical assessment of an object’s materiality and technique, within the craft image, that throws light on existing and potential developments in representational tropes within jewellery display.
Photography's capability of portraying a certain aesthetic or of reinforcing the social or symbolic meaning of an object sets up the camera as a creative tool. As noted, photography can be instrumental in the process of crafting an object and its meaning. This second practical outcome therefore aims to explore the craft image and photography’s immersive capabilities in terms of re-assessing display methods within the encyclopedic museum. This involves re-presenting an object which would normally be displayed in a museum display case and instead by its use to reveal a particular narrative embedded in an object’s materiality. The use of photography can be employed to focus on concepts such as the maker’s mark and patina in order to investigate an immersive strategy towards the crafts. No less than supportive text, imagery and props that can be used to construct an account of an object’s life cycle, photography can also become a curatorial tool, recording and communicating its history or lifespan from craftsmanship to ownership.
Modern digital technology can be used to unveil aspects of an object that are not normally seen by the viewer in the conventional museum setting of the display case. Macro photography offers the potential for engagement with the visual narrative that can be deduced from an object’s surface. This extends Besten’s discussion in terms of photographic capabilities, as well as suggesting a merger with science: the macro lens can produce a larger than life-size or close-up image, revealing detail invisible to the naked eye. Macro photography is now regularly used by the medical and forensic professions to capture and record the finest of details of a specimen for further study. Its potential to uncover a visual layering of meaning in the form of patterns, textures and colours on an object’s surface, suggesting a pre-existing narrative, is what drives this enquiry. A jewellery object was selected from the V&A archive and photographed, with the intention of re-presenting it in close-up images. The magnification of the object’s surface reveals a landscape of colour within the polished and, in places, tarnished metal (Figures 34 and 35, below). Scratches, indentations and scuffs gathered over time are brought in to focus, alluding to the time when the object was worn and handled. Marks, or scarring on the surface of the metal, offer visual clues to the crafting process, thus enabling the viewer to assess the level of skill required for its construction and finish. The macro lens is thus able to operate in the same way as the critical eye of a jeweller, during the process of achieving the required standard of finish. In this process, the composition of intricacies becomes the focus of my work and highlights the object’s relationship with craft, materiality and wearability. The aim of the re-presentation of a conventionally displayed object was to highlight the value of exhibition methods in contemporary jewellery and enable recognition of the vicissitudes of its history through a visual narrative (see, Re-present series).
It is important to note that photography is not used to replicate, digitizing the original object in order to preserve its physical state in a way that resembles the traditional approach to archiving, but to uncover its contextual information. As Walter Benjamin notes with regard to the replica: ‘in photography, process reproduction can bring out those aspects of the original that are unattainable to the naked eye yet accessible to the lens’ (Benjamin 1936: 299). This in a sense becomes a journey for the photographer as well as the viewer; there is an element of ambiguity and discovery in capturing imagery through magnification as each photograph is able to uncover an untold story.
The resulting imagery stands for the object’s life cycle, documenting each knock, abrasion or discolouration to reveal aspects of its material content, how it was made and how it may have functioned in everyday life. These additional pieces of information have the power to immerse the viewer in the object’s social background by referencing the absent body. This works in a similar way to the ‘felt recognition’ of Andrew Lord’s ceramic series Breathing, Biting, Swallowing, Tasting, Smelling, Listening, Watching discussed in Chapter 4 (Stair 2000: 78), where Lord’s choice of material and form are symbolic of the bodily process of making, revealed in the surface of each object. The fingerprints or teeth marks left on the ceramic forms relate to Lupton’s ‘framing devices’, providing a visual portrayal of the maker’s presence in the appearance of the piece. The value placed on the handmade, or the aesthetic of the handmade as opposed to the ‘perfection’ of technology, recognizes the importance of the marks made by the marker, or what Dormer describes as ‘warm fallibility or friendly flaws’ (Dormer 1990: 166).
The material properties of an object, for example the marks made by the maker, tool or machine, can also have symbolic meaning. The value of an object’s material content is often associated with its rarity, and is particularly seen in jewellery which is made from precious metals such as platinum, gold and silver as well as with precious and semi-precious stones. The ‘eternal’ connotations surrounding a diamond, and gold and platinum’s resistance to tarnishing, both signal permanence of value and materiality. Silver, and base metals such as copper, brass and bronze, are prone to visible decay caused by oxidization, a principle that can be discussed in terms of symbolic value in respect of their reaction with the environment. The conceptual significance of patina, which in line with Grant McCracken’s sociological observations provides an object with historical currency, signifies heritage and family lineage in the signs of ageing. McCracken’s theory of patina involves ‘suggesting that existing status claims are legitimate. Its function is not to claim status but to authenticate it. Patina serves as a kind of visual proof of status’ (McCracken 1988: 32). His comments illuminate the value system in place during the 18th Century, which considered both the physical and symbolic properties of cultural goods. This observation illustrates how the involvement of an object with the world can physically alter the appearance of a material’s surface. This alteration is evident not only in corrosion, but in the scratches and dents that represent the life cycle of the object. In relation to his analysis of authenticity, Walter Benjamin considers the auratic stature of an object:
The authenticity of the thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced (Benjamin 1936: 299).
Benjamin’s view suggests that an object’s visual narrative may project a felt experience that reflects the time and techniques used in the construction of the object, as well as the way in which its existence and placement in history are represented. The contemporary work of Lin Cheung investigates the relationship between an object and the body by documenting the scratches and scuff that have been acquired by an object in use. Wear and Tear (2008) comprises of multiple locket-shaped pendants, each bearing their own tarnish or mark. Each provides a visual reference of the scuffs, scratches or dents that are gathered on an average item of jewellery during use, or the marks produced during the making process. These indentations, however, are purposefully made by Cheung, and offer a symbolic value rather than portraying a natural accumulation of patina. This process provides permanence and significance to the concept of patina, as each mark becomes a unique, decorative addition to each locket silhouette. Similarly, contemporary silversmith David Clarke engages with the patina found on discarded or unloved silverware in order to juxtapose the old and the new, as seen in his series of modified teapots. Clarke dismantles second-hand teapots and recombines their elements, resulting in a transformation of form that often leads to the creation of new objects. This deconstruction and formation of silver components, soldered together with the rough and raw contrast of lead, redefines the decorative functionality of the original object. The result is a patchwork of patina and finishes that challenges the notion of status and documents the object’s journey from its origin through to its reinvention.
This perspective of course sits in contention with the views and work of conservationists, and with jewellery’s historical association with the everlasting as demonstrated in the use of precious, often hard-wearing metals and stones in order to signal the permanence of value and materiality. Patina can be seen as undesirable for an object or artwork, resulting in strategies that are employed to preserve artefacts from its effects. For example, it was necessary to halt the darkening of Theodore Gericault’s paintings in the Louvre, caused by the tendency of oil paintings to accumulate dirt and suffer from yellowing of the original vanish, or the image would no longer have been visible. The documentation of a similar process of change using macro photography feeds into the discourse surrounding materiality in terms of museum conservation strategy. It interrogates what may be revealed or overlooked in the display case by identifying and signifying aspects of materiality and craftsmanship through microscopic observation and abstraction.
The large scale of each presented image in the exhibition will reflect the approach seen in the majority of virtual realities. This creates an artificial world ‘that renders the image space a totality or at least fills the observer’s entire field of vision’ (Grau, 2003: 13). This presentational technique encloses the viewer within a visual space, thus allowing them to become immersed in the large-scale medium. It may readily be applied to a wide variety of objects, offering a multi-faceted narrative through each magnified landscape, and portraying a scene that is normally kept at arm’s length behind the glass of the display case.
6.5 The embodied object
The conceptual content of patina and the maker’s mark is demonstrative of an active object. The wearer of jewellery provides an informative narrative, in addition to that proposed by the making process and the transitory nature of materiality. The jewel as a worn object becomes enveloped in the performance of the body. In terms of contemporary jewellery, this principle has caused a number of jewellers to investigate ways by which they can provide permanence to an object in motion. This practical investigation will explore moving imagery in order to document and provide tangibility to the behavioural mechanisms induced when wearing a jewellery object. What is being recognized here is an object’s ability to become embedded in a network of gestures, movements and ritualistic behaviour that instigates a social narrative between object, wearer and the viewer. For example, a series of processes are carried out when dressing the body in preparation for the day ahead. This may involve bathing, combing hair and the application of beauty products, which can be described in terms of ritualistic behaviour. Joanne Eicher classifies the dressing of an individual as a collaborative process between both ‘body modifications’ and ‘body supplements’ (Eicher 2000). This collaboration includes enhancements or alterations to the body such as tattoos, piercings or choice of hairstyle, as well as additions such as perfume, clothing or make-up. Taken together, these processes can be seen as a system of bodily actions that provide ‘a total sensory system of communication’ (ibid: 4). There is no need for verbal explanation, because observers are able instantaneously to assess any bodily modifications and supplements, at the same time remarking associations or differences between individuals.
In the context of jewellery, such body modification or supplements can be historically traced. Traditional associations conflate jewellery with a significant announcement or the celebration of an event, whether it is an engagement, wedding or anniversary. A ring, for example, can carry multiple connotations; the preciousness of the material and its circular construction symbolises an eternal quality, while the type of ring – engagement or wedding – signals the status of the wearer. Jewellery thus has the ability to contribute a layer of communication to the body through aesthetic expression and symbolic representation. Throughout history, this has been used to illustrate social standing, from the ostentatious display of royal jewels to body adornment rituals of tribal societies. Body modification such as implants and scarification are still, as previously noted, used as a means by which to represent the self (Pitts 2003).
The notion of ‘dress’ as an everyday process that is ritualistic in the way it repeats and is performed by the body, activates additional layers of meaning in the design and function of an artefact. This principle was outlined by jeweller Esther Brinkmann, in an interview with Roberta Bernabei:
Jewellery influences our gestures, our way of moving; and it can change our silhouette and our behaviour. Complementing oneself with an object, with a piece of jewellery, causes a change in our attitude, induces a different kind of self-awareness and calls for a more intimate relationship with the body (Bernabei 2011: 81).
This intimacy with the body can be revealed by a collection of unconscious movements, signals and habits made in response to the wearer’s environment and the object that adorns them, whether by twisting a wedding ring round the figure during a conversation or running a pendant up and down its chain while deep in thought. These are a system of actions that respond to an object’s materiality and the social context in which it is worn.
The aim of this research, therefore, was to generate an approach to jewellery display based on the observed interactions between wearer and jewellery that is part of their everyday adornment. Based on the practical outcome produced in the first practical investigation in Chapter 4, the challenge was to develop a system that gave permanence to the movement of worn jewellery, rather than producing a physical object that reflected movement through its form. This was carried out by focusing on the recording and presentation of moving imagery that depicted a range of gestures and the movement of a jewellery object. I was able to achieve this by filming a number of different people wearing their own jewellery. Each participant was engaged in conversation in order to put them at ease and thus capture the natural behaviour and movement of the body. The camera is focused on the jewellery object so that such movements of the wearer could be captured during the recording of each conversation. A gesture or unconscious movement is thus identified, reduced in speed and presented on an I-pad or digital picture frame. Within the resulting film, the viewer cannot physically interact with or control the object’s movement, but is able to immerse themselves in another wearer’s bodily experience. The intention behind this approach is to enable the viewer to become aware both of their own bodily gestures and of the jewellery that is worn from day to day, as a response to the visual information gathered within the project (see, The embodied object – film 1 and 2).
The immersive qualities that affect the viewer’s state of perceptual engagement with the recorded movement are developed by reducing the speed of the film, in a method that using visual techniques similar to those of Bill Viola and Bruce Nauman. Within their digitized imagery, a relationship between viewer and artwork is established, often through sensory perception. As with Viola’s video installations, the references to human life are established by the use of techniques including extreme slow motion, contrasts in scale and multiple or layered screens. This is another approach seen in Nauman’s work, in which he used an industrial, high-speed camera to chart his performance of simple activities that could later be reduced in speed. These ‘slo-mo’ films were often shot in black and white and captured Nauman manipulating parts of his body, perhaps stretching his lips with his fingers or pulling a length of gauze from his mouth. Poke in the Eye/Nose/Ear (1994) uses a close-up of Nauman’s face as he methodically pokes himself in the eye, nose, and ear. The enlarged image, reduced in speed, enables the audience to focus on the feature he is manipulating, thus exaggerating the brutality of such behaviour. The process transforms a straightforward, almost mundane action into a visual portrayal of human vulnerability that aims to heighten viewers’ awareness of their own bodies.
My own films are reduced in speed and presented on a small sized screen. The use of the I-pad or digital picture frame, hung on the wall of the gallery space, is intended to suggest the presentation of a photography exhibit. Owing to the film’s slow movement, their format is not immediately obvious. The audience is encouraged to investigate and observe the images to realize they are films not photographs, to interpret their purpose, and in turn, apply the same level of attention to the viewer’s own body and jewellery. The humanizing techniques of sensory engagement discussed here accord with the notion of the ‘aesthetic of immersion’ discussed by Polly Ullrich within digital art. It is by encouraging spectator introspection concerning the material or human relations in everyday life that the gap between viewer and artwork is bridged, generating a heightened sense of self-awareness amongst audience members. This is similar to the principle that operates in Marie-José van den Hout’s photography and the accompanying descriptions that detail the choice made by the wearer in the project Jewellery, the Choice of Schiedam (1997). A dialogue signifying the aspects of the wearer’s personality, tastes and style can be established, illuminating characteristics of the wearer that can also be gleaned from the varying movements captured in this project. It is thus demonstrated how jewellery display can record the non-verbal interplay between body and object, wearer and viewer. By focusing on bodily behaviour, the ‘ordinariness’, as shown in Filmer’s use of an audio recording of breathing as part of her installation Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft (2007), reveals how the familiar or mundane can take on a new life when it is abstracted from the body or, in terms of this project, slowed down in movement. This results in a new importance or meaning that identifies and redirects the attention of the viewer towards their own body.
6.6 The jewellery image
As discussed, the ubiquity of the replicated image within the public domain provides a wide audience access to a growing body of jewellery designs and images that can be found in photo stores, on the designer’s web page and in the exhibition catalogue. My fourth practical outcome considers the role and availability of the jewellery image, using duplicate copies as a raw material from which to construct alternative approaches to jewellery display, and to continue the exploration into immersive and narrative structures. Among the visual catalogue of jewellery images available in the commercial field, a subconscious and often detached relationship is established between the representational image and that of the viewer or consumer. This responds to the visual mass of promotional and semiotic material that forms part of everyday experience, and incorporates a network of advertising, logos and branding. Promotional images of commercial jewellery that portray the ornamental object both on and off the body are designed to seduce and entice in a way that enhances its appearance, often in a particular style or set-up that supports branding used by the jeweller or jewellery company. The affective properties of craft-as-image have led this study to uncover a narrative that investigates the relationship between makers, object and craft image. Consideration has been made of how this chronological process, from designing through to documentation, can be perceived and understood by the viewer. This chapter has defined how the craft image can be seen as a continuing stage of the craft process, and is often used as a research tool or defining outcome of a jeweller’s work. This, rather than the actual object, may command the viewer’s attention. The documented portrayal of artistic jewellery objects remains, however, predominantly within the confines of Besten’s ‘functional photography’, thus removing the jewellery object from the body and providing a promotional or presentational tool that is widely used because of its capacity for mass reproduction and easy circulation to a wide audience.
As a response to this ‘functional’ portrayal that is derivative of artistic jewellery promotion, this project uses alternative presentational methods in the form of an audio recording to depict a personal anecdote or aspect of the making process that is not evident in the replication of promotional imagery. The material for this investigation was gathered by requesting the participation of a select number of contemporary jewellers. These were drawn from jewellers exhibiting in various London galleries through the months of July and August 2011. My approach produced a diverse selection of jewellers with different backgrounds, techniques and experiences to form the basis of this investigation. The intention of this project was to explore presentational methods that attempt to engage the viewer through a combination of display, curatorial and practical methods. With this in mind, each jeweller was asked to submit an image of their work in digital format, plus a written text of between 10–500 words. The call for submissions was designed to gain a collection of stories in association with the image provided by the jeweller. It aimed to provide a personal insight into the design, making, wearing or documentation process experienced by the jeweller in relation to the photographed object, and was designed as a counterfoil to exhibitions such as Process Works (2007) that use a display strategy which researches and illustrates varying attitudes, approaches and styles to making.
This project explores the narratives embedded in the craft image, with the intention of humanizing the mass-produced imagery that is increasingly evident in the crafts. The subjective descriptions offered by Vicki Ambery-Smith in response to her client’s brief, for example, contrast with the sparse prose summaries made up of lines of a single word (‘Twelve texts’, by Stephen Bram), which were submitted by Lisa Walker to accompany her work (see Appendix A). This reveals aspects of the jeweller’s approach to making and their creative styles, to which my own choice of presentational method is added with the aim of engaging or influencing the viewer’s interpretation of these descriptions.
Three of the narratives submitted by the group of jewellers who participated has been selected for the exhibition and is re-presented to the audience using a recorded soundtrack (see The jewellery image – audio 1, 2 and 3). The audio stream aims to present the jeweller’s text not only in an alternative format but also as a means by which to reinterpret the narrative. This was done by using the skills of a voiceover artist adopting a range of vocal styles and accents, alongside a selection of volunteers from alternative professions. This device is intended to introduce a new layer of meaning and additional characteristics to the submitted narrative, thus establishing a narrative trail from the original image, through the description submitted by the jeweller, to its display. Each step provides an alternative interpretation that is symbolic of the varying attitudes, opinions and conclusions applied to a mass-produced image as it circulates in the public sphere.
This layering of presentational methods can be seen in Who’s Afraid of Representation? (2006) by the Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué. In this, the audience is confronted by a series of presentations that depict the work of 1990s performance artists. These acts are not performed live to the audience but are read aloud, using a narrative taken from The Artist’s Body (2006) by Amelia Jones and Tracey Warr. This text is a discussion of body art and performance during the 1970s and 1980s by artists including Barry Le Va and Chris Burden. The readings derive from descriptions of the artists’ actions and have been reformulated for the purposes of the work to be heard as a first person narration. This extract assumes the persona of artist Gina Pane:
I pinch myself. I punched myself. I made myself bleed. I got this ladder and put sharp nails and razors on each rung. I took my shoes off and climbed the ladder barefoot. I slashed myself. Once I ate raw meat... (Mroué 2005).
The dispassionate delivery contrasts strongly with the often shocking content acts to enhance the horror or violence that featured in many of the artists’ investigations of the body. Though this approach does not mediate the emotive experience of seeing, hearing and perhaps smelling these acts first-hand, the abstracted, retold version takes on its own layer of meaning. This sets up an array of questions and interpretations from a new audience, such as: ‘Who are these artists?’; ‘Why are they doing this?’; ‘What is that look on their face?’ and ‘Did they cry out or were they controlled?’ The process has thus gone from the body of the performer, to the documentation of text and image and finally to the voice of the reader, questioning what impact the process has on the artist’s original intention. Does the role of representation dilute the artwork’s content or signify the importance of audience interpretation? Could the layering of presentational methods go on, or is it a case of ‘Chinese Whispers’, in which the content will eventually be altered completely?
The intention of my practical project is to confront the role of display using re-presentational methods in different media in order to immerse the audience. It operates within the dialogue between jeweller and the mass-produced imagery of their work, providing contextual information that initiates understanding between jewellery and viewer. Information regarding the jeweller’s decision-making process, craft, style and personality has been volunteered, and is in turn exhibited in relation to my own investigation of display and presentational techniques. The style and delivery of the audio recording provides a different interpretation of the original text, influencing how its content may be perceived. The consequence is left open-ended; it is for the viewer to experience and to project their own visualization of the original image on to the wall space, which is lit and deliberately left bare.