Chapter 2: Defining Jewellery
By definition, jewellery is usually associated with preciousness and personal adornment. Historically, jewellery functioned as a carrier for gemstones and precious material; it is commonly perceived as a signifier of wealth (Dormer and Turner 1985: 24) in the form of small-scale objects attached to, worn by, or related to the wearer. This understanding of jewellery places it in a role that is primarily associated with fashion and commerce, and has hierarchical connotations because of its function as a symbol of status. From this perspective, jewellery tends to be diminished to a standardized functional form such as a necklace, bracelet or ring (Derrez 2005: Turner 1991).
Since the 1960s, jewellery makers, writers and critics including Peter Dormer, Ralph Turner, Bruce Metcalf and David Watkins have explored what jewellery means in order to challenge pre-conceived notions. Surveys such as The New Jewellery: Trends and Traditions (Dormer and Turner, 1985) and Europe and America: New Times, New Thinking (Turner 1996) offer a theoretically-grounded discourse that addresses the definition of jewellery. Turner defines his text as an ‘eclectic rummaging through symbolism, mythology, metaphor and ethnic cultures’ to define a collection of work in a way that runs ‘parallel to conceptual idioms’ (ibid.,1996: 8), thus introducing a concept of jewellery that is influenced by craft as well as art and design.
Dormer and Turner define jewellery as ‘a shrewd monitor, reflecting the ups and downs not only of money and fashion, but also of political, social and cultural change’ (Dormer and Turner 1985: 178). This interpretation identifies a structural shift from the ornamental interests of the jeweller to the exploratory concerns of the contemporary maker, and a desire to challenge and extend preconceptions of the notion of jewellery. In both texts, analyses of contemporary jewellery designs from the 1960s–1990s reveal a plethora of making strategies that reflect cultural and social changes. The creative development of contemporary jewellery has been shaped by this interrogation of the validity of jewellery as an art form, and the role in this of art school training. The jewellery is used as a vehicle of expression for the jeweller, who is able to engage with the subject area’s anthropological undercurrent by the use of symbolism and conceptual exploration.
After the end of the Second World War, cultural and social attitudes began to make an impact on the way in which jewellers approached their designs, creating a contextual backdrop that initiated a new way of thinking. Makers, determined to depart from the material essentialism and clichéd understanding of existing modes of manufacture and began to develop individual ‘signatures’ not previously associated with commercial jewellery (ibid., 8). The new, democratic approach to jewellery design was influenced both by modernism and by developments in technology and industry. The use of precious materials was reassessed, informed by concerns about affordability. The most notable period of expression and creative exploration, which took place in Europe during the 1960s and 1970s, became known as the New Jewellery Movement (Turner 1976; Dormer and Turner 1985; Metcalf 1989; Dormer and English 1995; Turner 1996; Gaspar 2007). Jewellers began to reject the elitist expressions of the past and instead to define a new concern that allied inexpensive, mass-produced material to a conceptual ideology. The quest for materials and meaning that departed radically from conventional ornamentation and its monetary significance informed the way in which jewellery-making was taught. In the UK, this ethos was embraced by art schools and a generation of jewellers and their practice became known as Contemporary Jewellery. Alternative names for the movement in the rest of Europe and America included Creation Jewellery, Art Goldsmithing and Studio Jewellery.
Work from The Netherlands was hugely significant, and Emmy van Leersum and Gijs Bakker were leading figures in this creative revolt. Art historian Liesbeth den Besten claims their quest was ‘against the cult of status and costliness and for industrial and mass culture developments’ (Besten 1987: 36). At this time, an exploration of mass production and a minimalist approach led to simplistic, affordable pieces that grasped current industrial and cultural developments. Conventional jewellery aesthetics and their association with wealth and status were rejected in favour of a new freedom of style. Makers such as Frans van Nieuwenborg, Nicolaas van Beek and Françoise van den Bosch stripped away the ornamental connotations of previous decades with collections of collars and bracelets formed from lightweight, malleable and inexpensive materials such as aluminium.
The impetus towards artistic expression and conceptual awareness was informed by developments in modern art and art education during the 1950s and 1960s, thus taking the exploration of new techniques to extremes. Under this approach, a focus on the body was heightened by exploration and exploitation of the qualities of the human form, influenced by the artistic movement of reductivism. Jewellers including Claus Bury and Gerd Rothmann drew on their goldsmithing education and challenged tradition by engaging with Pop Art imagery. These jewellery artefacts referenced the skill and technique acquired from their academic background, while incorporating alternative materials such as acrylic and the visual perspective of artistic expression through form and colour.
In the next decade the common principle of minimalist forms and the body inspired many jewellers. A significant development was the notion of conceptual jewellery. Gijs Bakker’s 1973 Shadow Jewellery (Turner 1991; Koplos 1994) involved binding a length of gold wire round an arm, leg or wrist then removing it. The removal of the gold left the imprinted skin as the focal ‘jewel’, symbolizing the current disregard for precious metals. This visual image is reinforced by the imagined physical sensation of pulsating, pinching, tingling and relief in the imagined experience of wearing the piece.
Another approach was demonstrated by the collaborative group Bond van Oproerige Edelsmeden (BOE) or ‘the League of Rebellious Goldsmiths’ (Dormer and Turner 1985; Falkenhagen 2004). Though short-lived, the movement’s pioneer Marion Herbst was joined by a number of jewellers who supported the socio-political ethos of the time but strove to find a less inhibited approach than that described by Bakker and Van Leersum. In Gold + Silber, Schmuck + Gerät. Von A. Dürer bis zur Gegenwart, an international jewellery exhibition held in Germany in 1971, contemporary goldsmiths embraced a new-found freedom through the influence of technology and fine art (Turner 1996).
Paul Derrez, founder and director of Amsterdam’s Galerie Ra, defined this return to handcrafted precision and depth of design as a new ‘goldsmith sensibility’ (Derrez 1987: 16). In ‘The New Jewellery. Death of a Movement’ (1987), he summarizes the limitations of New Jewellery principles, citing the ready availability of cheap material that resulted in an output of similar designs using recognizable forms: ‘The trends in form and material had been so easy to pick up and imitate that a mass of superficial works was the result’ (ibid.). His observation marks the drive for individualism that took hold during the late 1970s and the need to readdress the minimalist stance of the previous decade; in essence, to question and challenge what defines jewellery as a discipline by exploring methods that went beyond the exclusion of precious materials. Self-taught jeweller Wendy Ramshaw extended the conceptual and craft parameters of jewellery by turning her work on an electric lathe. This choice of form was an individualistic expression that combined tradition with innovation, and took a stance against handmade craft practice.
The 1982 exhibition Jewellery Redefined at the British Crafts Centre aimed to demonstrate why the notion of jewellery should be redefined. Creative practitioners were invited to respond, but few entries were received, a fact bemoaned by Hermann Junger: ‘The entries from painters, sculptors, glass and ceramic artists, photographers, fashion designers and so on did not materialize’ (Junger 1982: 44). Despite this lukewarm response from practitioners outside the field, makers within the discipline began to push at the boundaries that defined the notion of jewellery. During the 1980s they began to draw on fashion, textiles and performance-based work as a means by which to challenge traditional ideas of jewellery design and extend its framework. This development paid homage to jewellery’s relationship with the body and established the importance of photography in order to capture the transient quality of bodily movement and the worn object.
British contemporary jewellers including Susanna Heron, Caroline Broadhead and Pierre Degen began to address preconceptions surrounding the notion of jewellery. Heron’s 1977 Jubilee Neckpieces demonstrate how she embraced the ideology of working with the body, a principle further encompassed by her series of light projections. Heron developed ways of attaching rigid circles of Perspex to various points of the body, thus dividing and vibrantly adorning it. For her light projections, an array of abstracted shapes was projected on to the surface of the body and captured in photography, highlighting the body’s role in jewellery and the concept of adornment. Sarah Osborn describes a performance between the two that is: ‘...strangely inhuman yet so obviously flesh and muscle grabbing twisting harsh light’ (Osborn 1980: 4), thus indicating a collaboration between material – in this case light – and the body, which react, activate and highlight to capture the preciousness of the projected shapes and the body in motion.
Broadhead’s bracelets demonstrate the influential role of clothing. Her 1984 work 22 in 1 (arm piece) is a concertina of cotton and nylon that extends along the entire length of the arm. Pamela Johnson observes: ‘These body-scale works are not bounded, discrete objects, rather they dissolve the boundary between jewellery, garment, skin, subject/object’ (Johnson 1999: 22). Broadhead’s approach noticeably envelops the body, blurring the boundary between where the body stops and where it begins, and with it carries the cultural and metaphorical significance of garments and fashion. The body’s ability to convey a message is also demonstrated in Degen’s 1992 New Work. Degen explores the full extent of jewellery’s definition through his use of the body, addressing construction, movement and material. The enlarged scale of his work interrogates the limits of the space which jewellery can inhabit. The large construction, attached to other limbs, is designed to frame the body. The piece, which suggests scaffolding, responds to the body’s movement and offers a performance-based challenge to the wearability of jewellery. This engagement with art, design and craft practices has prompted alternative approaches to jewellery’s traditional clichés, and highlighted an ability to challenge the existing boundaries in Western European jewellery that has influenced the categorization of contemporary jewellery.
The final chapter of Ralph Turner’s Contemporary Jewellery: A Critical Assessment 1945–75 outlines the creative potential and freedom embraced by jewellers in the second half of the 20th Century (Turner 1976). ‘Jewellery Without Boundaries’ concludes with a selection of images that communicate a loosely-defined notion of jewellery design, presenting face painting and ballet dancers alongside Bakker’s Shadow Jewellery. These multidisciplinary examples, accompanied by a brief description giving only name, date and material content, are unified by a performance-based narrative and a conceptual exploration of ornamentation and the body. These principles are represented in each image, that moves away from the idea of jewellery as ‘ornament containing precious stone[s]’ (Turner 1976: 196). Turner suggests a German word that might be used to illustrate jewellery’s expanding boundaries:
Schmuck: ornament: decoration, adornment; trimmings, trappings pl. finery, adornment, get-up; jewel(le)ry, jewels pl; unechter – imitation jewel(le)ry, trinkets pl; fig.; flowers pl. (of speech etc.): .. potential f. jewel(le)ry (Turner 1976: 196).
The potential range of interpretation encompassed by this definition suggests the difficulty in pinpointing a primary definition or explanation of contemporary jewellery. As critics such as Derrez have suggested, no classification seems able to identify and encompass all positions from which the makers of new jewellery operate. Thus, the term ‘contemporary’ not only refers to a temporal definition of designs produced in reaction to the ideological stance of the 1960s, but also engages with the development of perspective and attitudes that has been, and continues to be, formulated since the New Jewellery Movement.
2.2 Contemporary jewellery
Exhibitions, conferences and publications offer a disparate array of definitions that aim to dissect jewellery’s ‘contemporary’ label. These indicate that there is a gap or a need to redefine the various classifications that exist within the field, including fine, fashion, costume and commercial jewellery. The need to address the roles of technological development and material investigation along with the skill-based traditions of the goldsmith is implicit. Events such as 2010’s Gray Area symposium at the Biblioteca de Mexico in Mexico City demonstrate the questions now being asked within the field of jewellery. The symposium’s website introduces the concept of a ‘gray’ (grey) area as a descriptive summary to illustrate contemporary jewellery’s current stance:
Grey area: [grey air-ee-uh] an intermediate area; a topic that is not clearly one thing or the other. A grey area is a term for a border in-between two or more things that is unclearly defined, a border that is hard to define or even impossible to define, or a definition where the distinction border tends to move; something that is open to interpretation (Gray Area symposium 2010).
The grey association here signifies a subject without a clear structure and with an ambiguous identity, and is symbolic of jewellery’s interdisciplinary involvement with a diverse range of subjects, techniques and materials. It chimes with the symposium’s primary aim to provide an interactive platform in which questions can be raised, allowing common concerns within jewellery to be highlighted rather than placing prominence on conclusions or solutions. The intention is to bridge the gap between makers from across the world, and to endorse the relationship between jewellers, researchers, writers and promoters. Questions featured on the Gray Area website include: ‘What is contemporary jewellery?’; ‘What does it mean for different cultures?’ and: ‘Does it really have the powerful force that helps to shape our attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviours?’ These questions are fundamental to current discourse that attempts not only to define jewellery but to identify its current cultural and social impact. They are questions that have historically been asked and presented in the work of the individual jeweller. Critical reflection is extended by questions such as: ‘Is it necessary to redefine the way contemporary jewellery is shown, perceived and consumed?’ which reveal awareness of audience, whether this hopes to gain an introduction to the subject or to undertake a contributory role within jewellery discourse.
This notion is also reflected in analytical discussions that aim to define jewellery globally, as seen in geographically driven exhibitions such as 2010’s Jewelry as We Know it, formulated on Thailand's history of jewellery, and Think Twice: New Latin American Jewellery. Attitudes within French jewellery, summarized as ‘undergoing a spectacular evolution’, were similarly shown in the 2009 touring exhibition Also Known as Jewellery. This showcased 17 contemporary French or France-based jewellers, who aimed to address jewellery’s contemporary meaning, and was intended to provide a platform for an under-exposed community of jewellers to a worldwide audience.
Publications including On Jewellery (Besten 2011) and Thinking Jewellery: on the Way Towards Theory of Jewellery (Lindemann 2011), demonstrate the theoretical implications of jewellery’s ‘grey’ period. Both draw on alternative definitions that have gained popularity, such as studio jewellery; art jewellery; author jewellery and auteur jewellery, and are used to grapple with jewellery’s contemporary definition and unified by the engagement with artistic practice in order to provide jewellery with a supportive framework. Auteur jewellery is defined by Liesbeth den Besten with reference to ‘auteur cinema’, or films that are characterized by the filmmaker's creative style; a creative vision that informs and develops through the author’s body of work. This definition is also used by Wilhelm Lindemann with reference to a small, autonomous group of contemporary art practitioners in the latter half of the 20th Century. Following the general trends of contemporary art, the auteur jeweller is able to undertake a process of introspection in order to question jewellery’s assumptions. This demonstrates a critical approach to their work, questions their choice of discipline and informs a personal design language. Lindemann claims:
Auteur jewellery represents a reflection with artistic means on the social conditions to which it is subject and, for instance, also addresses the societal implications of jewellery, the uses of ‘noble’ or ‘base’ materials or the social distinction conferred by jewellery (Lindemann 2011: 12).
Material content has been identified as a tool that can address political and social concerns regarding the affordability and accessibility of jewellery, a radical departure from its previous engagement with monetary and symbolic value. This principle has since become associated with current social and environmental concerns regarding the handmade, sustainability and ethically-sourced materials. This depth of critical reflection can also be seen in the ways in which jewellers are addressing questions such as why we adorn ourselves and the impact that this has. Physiological, ethnological or psychoanalytical analysis has also been used as a means of addressing the theories proposed by Dormer and Turner that see jewellery as a social and cultural signifier. Theoretical framing devices such as psychology and philosophy have led to the identification of various types of social behaviour, using subjectivity and intersubjectivity as a means of critically examining the notion of jewellery (Hushka 2010). Jewellers including Ken Cory, Don Friedlich and Lisa Gralnick explore the non-verbal interplay between viewer, wearer and object was examined by Jack Cunningham with regard to narrative jewellery. He defined a triangular relationship between ‘the maker – the originator of the artefacts statement, the wearer – the vehicle by which the work is seen, and the viewer – the audience who thereafter engages with the work’ (Cunningham 2009). These examples, consider the unconscious and conscious placement of jewellery on particular parts of the body, as well its power of provocation in turbulent political and social circumstances.
Gralnick’s 2007 piece Military Brooch 1940 from the Gold Standard Part III series was designed to reflect the brutality of World War II and is inscribed with the legend ‘work makes free’. It comprises a circular arrangement of gold teeth and blood-red garnets, alluding to the painful historical impact of concentration camps and the removal of gold teeth from prisoners’ mouths. It is a poignant reminder of the freedom that never came for the Jews who were forced to make jewellery. Its placement within a gallery setting rather than on the body offers a meaningful context to Gralnick’s work. Rock Hushka notes: ‘The brooch is forever removed from the body and fulfils its new assignment as a museum-ready statement of identity filtered through a metaphor of jewellery’ (Hushka 2010: 49). This dialogue investigates the complexity of human interaction, whether of negative or positive emotions, using jewellery as a vehicle by which theoretical and subjective concepts can be explored as an artistic statement. The separation of the jewellery from the body reinforces Gralnick’s commentary, and the gallery environment presents the object as one to be studied and preserved, allowing the jewel to be assessed as an artefact. Such work demonstrates a form of jewellery design that engages with the viewer through contemplation and interpretation. The jeweller’s abstract approach to the object enables metaphorical or symbolic meaning to be deduced.
The 2005 exhibition Maker, Wearer, Viewer, Contemporary Narrative European Jewellery, curated by Jack Cunningham, demonstrates the role of narrative within jewellery by presenting a collection of designs that capture a figurative narrative. Here, material and form engage to incite layers of meaning that is revealed by the imaginative power of the viewer, thus allowing personal meaning and associations to be applied to the displayed object. Exhibitor Helen Britton, for example, uses the small scale of her jewellery objects to invoke the vastness of physical and environmental spaces. Britton’s Two Brooch Structures (2003–04) use silver, paint and plastic to create an interlocking form of floral patterns and interwoven shapes to create a miniature world of nature. This form can also encourage the viewer to contemplate alternative spaces from the constructed complexity of cityscapes to the planetary system of the universe. Cunningham’s association between jewellery and narrative can be viewed as a characterization within the art-led definitions of jewellery. This principle is evident in the number of makers who invest a jewellery object with the symbolic and emotive capabilities of storytelling. Jivan Astfalck explores jewellery’s symbolic value to create work that is illustrative of a personal history (Astfalck, Broadhead and Derrez 2005). The work of Melanie Bilenker, Lin Cheung and Rory Hooper uses recognizable forms such as cameos and keepsakes in a practical and conceptual engagement with jewellery’s function (Cheung, Clarke and Clarke 2006), in order to analyse concepts of adornment. These practitioners demonstrate a focus on the jewellery object as one of contemplation that remains unworn and is presented away from the body. The marketing, distribution and presentation of art objects through galleries indicate an alternative art structure that has become influential within the discipline. As Lindemann notes with regard to auteur jewellery, this form of working ‘has, above and beyond the artistic message specific to it, also adopted to a greater extent the distribution forms and response modes of the art sector’ (Lindemann 2011: 13). Jewellery has become collectible, thus replacing its primary function as an object to be worn.
Amsterdam’s Galerie Marzee is one place where jewellery is celebrated as an object to be collected. Established in a former granary on Nijmegen’s waterfront, it offers a large gallery space in which contemporary jewellery and silverware is promoted. Spread over four floors, the building houses a warren of display cases and plinths, including a glass-fronted room at the front in which jewellery installations are presented. This allows jewellers such as Hilde De Decker to present larger scaled, sculptural pieces in a neutral environment.
Jewellery with a narrative content is not a recent phenomenon, as noted by Turner: ‘Jewellery as a means of self expression is by no means a new departure. It is possible to trace its development from man’s early beginnings right up to the present day’ (Turner 1973: 1). The desire to adorn the body can be described as an anthropological staple, revealing social and cultural systems that inform our understanding of humankind. The choices made when decorating the body and the object’s symbolic value are illustrative of the individual characteristics of the wearer and the collective constructs that shape a social collective. This perspective, which links jewellery with concepts of the body, will be further discussed in Chapter 4. Of contemporary jewellery, Hushka notes: ‘Jewellery becomes an object that mediates and bridges an artist’s intent to the wearer, who then carries the artist’s statement into the world’ (Hushka 2010: 46). The body may thus be seen to activate the jewellery object, with the wearer as a mobile form of display. Jewellery’s wearability invests the object with meaning, showing how a narrative can alter according to the context in which it is viewed, from display case to worn object. The adorned body can thus be described as the theatricalization of the self. Amanda Game says:
The power of jewellery to explore issues of identity and personal narrative is second to none. Every time we put on clothes, and select a piece of jewellery to wear, each one of us makes a very conscious statement about ourselves and the society to which we belong (Game 1997: 15).
This principle illustrates the social standing of jewellery throughout history from the ostentatious display of royal regalia, to the clay plates placed in the lips of people in tribal societies. Body modification, including implants and scarification rests on the boundaries of jewellery as a method of representing the self and individualism and continuing historic cultural rituals (Pitts 2003). Jewellery’s portrayal of meaning reflects human dynamics and has the power to generate a response: it communicates at an emotional level, revealing the choices made by the wearer and the ways in which the viewer interprets such meaning. Social and cultural significance is communicated through the body’s reactive response to an object, whether emotional or physical. Margaret Boden’s psychological analysis suggests that a response to jewellery and other craft objects can be evoked by factors such as social context. Her examples range from jewellery worn by Viking chiefs to the heavily-laden, jewel-encrusted adornment of the British monarchy. The precious nature of the material and the detail of the workmanship emphasize jewellery’s ability to signify the status of the wearer, and the influential role of objects in provoking a physical or psychological response. Boden says: ‘They arouse affordances of many different kinds, both ‘bodily’ (such as drinking or sitting) and ‘social’ (such as stroking, hugging, fearing, or respecting)’ (Boden 2000: 297).
Boden’s ‘psychological mechanisms’ refer to craft’s intimacy with the body and its ability to evoke bodily movement. This quality links the crafts to everyday processes such as eating and grooming, thus grounding the craft object in human history. Biological references can also be made as a way to explain natural behaviour and curiosity towards such objects, for example the desire to run hands over textile fabric. Bodily habits integral to an object’s identity reflect jewellery’s ability not only to symbolize the character of the wearer and to reflect cultural considerations, but also to make an impact on the viewer or wearer. This observation is reinforced by Sandra Flood’s suggestion: ‘Objects are not passive in their impact: they came into our lives, changing habits, provoking emotions, and trailing social meanings’ (Flood 2002: 99).
Jewellery’s connection with the human body, through bodily response and personal adornment, signifies this discipline’s ability to communicate to a large audience (Metcalf 1989). This accessibility allows an intimate connection between jeweller and wearer or audience, both physically and through interpretation. The viewer is able to identify with aspects associated with jewellery such as working with the hands and understanding of materials; sensibilities that may be deemed a felt experience and can be imagined because of our everyday experiences and prior knowledge. Maker and writer David Watkins claims that the emotive qualities embedded in the handmade, and the social importance of the jewellery object, allows it to become: ‘a testing ground for questions, provocations, emotions and allegory’ (Watkins 2002: 92). This assessment of jewellery design reinforces the relationship between the object and those who make, wear and view it, and define a platform of artistic contemplation that aims to question, challenge and provoke and also of a discipline that is fundamentally engaged with the body. It is this assessment of the body, established in a narrative of wearability that defines jewellery from the arts. Besten highlights the contextual placement of jewellery as a prevalent way of establishing meaning. In ‘Reading Jewellery. Comments on Narrative Jewellery’, she claims: ‘Jewellery is quite different from fine art while being mobile, wearable and therefore semantically changing according to the context and conditions under which it is viewed’ (Besten 2006).
The examples of narrative jewellery given describe objects that are presented in the gallery space and predominantly follow the structural set-up of the display case. These present a potential area of investigation regarding the presentation of wearability, the body and social or symbolic consequence within the gallery or museum space. As Besten says: ‘a conventional showcase exhibition cannot handle this phenomenon’ (ibid.). The function of wearability and its engagement with social behaviour, interaction and the felt experience presents a problematic approach in the gallery environment and defines my area of study. It questions how the relationship between viewer, maker and wearer may be addressed in terms of display methods. In terms of auteur jewellery, Lindemann notes: ‘Traditional jewellery in public spaces has until very recently been kept and exhibited mainly in palace and cathedral treasure chambers or ethnographic collections’. He goes on to describe how ‘the adorning function of jewellery as decoration worn on the human body has been obscured compared to the art object as such with the content of its message’ (Lindemann 2011: 13). In response to this concern, an assessment of existing display methods within the jewellery and the wider field of craft will be carried out in the next chapter, giving prominence to the theme of display, changes in contemporary craft practice and what this means for the presentation of a craft object.
2.3 Locating my research
This chapter documents the varying discussions surrounding the contemporary definition of jewellery, the influential role of art practice within the discipline and the limited discourse that actively discusses promotional and display techniques as a practical and theoretical structure within jewellery. These observations demonstrate a growing interest towards presentational methods that diversify from the artistic strategies currently outlined in auteur, author and narrative jewellery. Instead, the voice of the jeweller is replaced by that of an audience, allowing the viewer to inform both meaning and content in their work. Cindi Strauss, curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts and design at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, emphasises the emergence of jewellers who are exploring an intellectual territory of ideas, alongside those of aesthetics and technology. In a talk ‘Crossroads of trends and traditions: Emerging American jewellery artists today’, delivered at the 2010 conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG), Strauss compares the value system currently in place in contemporary jewellery with the hierarchical classification of value in the art world. She asks whether idea-driven or theoretical concepts are considered more important than practical use within contemporary jewellery, observing that, ‘jewellery about ideas seems to be the dominant style of work being made today. It is also the type of work that museums, galleries, and collectors are gravitating towards displaying and collecting’ (Strauss 2010). This response derives from Strauss’ conversations with leading American jewellers and academic figures, and reveals that educative programs are encouraging artistic expression and contemplation. Lectures from visiting practitioners and courses immersed in art, craft, design and material culture are factors which lead students to question the field in which they work, informed by theoretical structures and systems from established fields, such as the arts. As a consequence, Strauss observed:
Emerging jewellers are also considering issues of design and presentation in relationship to their ideas and the execution of those ideas. Culture, history, handwork, emotional connections and context all factor into today’s teaching methodologies (Strauss 2010).
The contextual placement of ideas informs the work of contemporary jewellers. This awareness that has also led to consideration of the object’s life after the design has been completed. Venues including galleries, pop-up stores and alternative websites reveal an awareness of how their designs will reach and feature within the public sphere. These communicative platforms bridge the gap between the jeweller’s workshop and the wearer’s body to highlight the importance of the viewer. They influence the type of work being produced and also reflect the issues of presentation that emerging artists consider across a range of disciplines.
A clarion call for improved communication is evident among the varied discourses surrounding the concept of contemporary jewellery. Monica Gaspar says: ‘the current strategy is to overcome the limited definition of innovation understood as simply a break against a background of a supposed evolution in time’ (Gaspar 2007: 15). Gaspar believes that innovation that is based solely on the New Jewellery Movement’s rejection of tradition can limit the ways in which jewellery is explored. Instead, she promotes the idea of ‘creating space’ in which to become comfortable, to gain the ability to reflect, and to define and explore the definition of contemporary jewellery. She supports the need to explore alternative platforms for discussions, including the internet and other forms of public space: an engagement reflective of technological developments that indicates a desire to reach, engage and expand into a wider audience.
Benjamin Lignel notes contemporary jewellery’s subsidiary connotations and lack of clear definition alongside the arts. He feels that reluctance to devise ‘assertive promotional strategies’ is a cause for concern (Lignel 2006). In a 2010 blog entry ‘CCTV’ he says: ‘I do not believe that our practice will ever find public recognition unless we cater to people other than ourselves.’ His argument is a response to the Gray Area symposium (2010), which asked how contemporary jewellery is presented and discussed with audiences beyond those directly connected to the field. He concludes that such symposiums, conferences and exhibitions provide a creative, discursive and growing platform for discussion, but that this form of discussion has yet to fully reach an outside audience. Lignel’s observations suggest that methods of communication such as display could provide a fresh viewpoint among the continual re-evaluation and re-definition taking place within the contemporary jewellery field. The purpose of this text is not, therefore, to provide a detailed analysis of the varying methodologies and distinctions under the umbrella of contemporary jewellery but to observe a potential consequence of jewellery’s diversity.
A small number of autonomous contemporary jewellers use the gallery space as an investigative area in which to address display methods and the role of the viewer. The theme of collaboration runs through the work of makers including Yuka Oyama, Ted Noten, Suska Mackert, Maisie Broadhead and Naomi Filmer, who use it as a way to engage actively with an audience. Since 2002, Oyama has worked with people in Europe, Australia and Japan for her project Schmuck Quickies, and Noten swapped his own rings with those of visitors in Wanna Swap Your Ring? in Tokyo (2011). This approach allowed Noten’s work to evolve and change shape, from the initial set-up of a wall installation to a menagerie of jewels, each accompanied by their own story. These examples demonstrate a move towards empowerment of the viewer that relies on audience participation to activate or complete the work. The jeweller facilitates a set of interactions between work and viewer, amongst audience members and between jeweller and viewer by providing a practical environment that invites dialogue and/or physical interaction. This is in direct opposition to the conventional display of a craft object in a gallery environment that evokes an individual experience, a principle that has led to a growing number of contemporary jewellers staging ‘interventions’ in public spaces (Besten 2011: 107). Collaboration is also evident amongst these practitioners in terms of combining disciplines, working with other makers, designers, writers, photographers and theorists, as may be seen in the number of jewellers and curators who use the expertise of filmmakers. Create 3D and BluLoop helped to produce the animated image used in Naomi Filmer’s Lenticular Series 1 (2007), and multimedia production company The Light Surgeons produced an animation for Angela Jarman’s CraftCube Collection (2009). Collective making is also seen in the group 60/40 that was established in 2008 and involves the production of ideas formulated by ceramist Claire Twomey, silversmith David Clarke and bookbinder Tracey Rowledge. As well as the collaboration of Lin Cheung, Laura Potter and Ted Noten who worked as part of Museumaker in 2011, a national project to explore the creative potential of museum collections.
This collaborative approach can also be seen as an investigative strategy in the contemporary field of research jewellery; a systematic investigation into and study of materials, techniques and concepts in order to establish ideas or reach new conclusions within the jewellery discipline. This definition can be seen in the work produced at the Royal College of Art (RCA), as part of the Centre for Jewellery Research (CJR): ‘The ability to find answers to questions about the behaviour of materials and technologies in the production of artefacts is a key area of applied arts research’. The RCA website describes a process of investigation that is intended to explore the impact of digital technologies on the function and context of jewellery. Liesbeth den Besten concurs with this definition of the artistic process, observing that the definition of research jewellery suffers from obscurity because it is primarily located in Italy (Besten 2011: 10).
This form of investigative study has led to research projects that have explored collaborations with parallel subjects such as science and technology, thus investigating the meaning of contemporary jewellery and its impact on other fields. For example, the experimental project Biojewellery (2003) was initiated as a response to an interaction design brief set by the RCA. Students were encouraged to ‘produce provocative objects which would generate a debate about how we perceive the benefits and problems associated with biotechnological advances’ (Biojewellery 2003). This collaborative alliance between scientific researchers and interactive design was an investigative approach to growing bone outside of the body, a process initially developed to repair damaged bone tissue for transplantation into patients. Bioengineered bone tissue was developed from cells extracted from two participants, and attached to a bioactive scaffold on which the cells were encouraged to grow. The resulting organic material was then crafted into a ring. The joining of two people’s bone tissue became a metaphor for the joining of two people in marriage. The ‘marriage’ of science and jewellery design allows scientific processes to be illuminated in terms of something more familiar.
Further evidence of what Gaspar describes as ‘cross-pollination’ between disciplines (Gaspar 2007: 15), can be seen in the 2007 research work of Jayne Wallace. She investigated the potential of integrating digital technology and contemporary jewellery as part of a reaction against mass-produced gadgets and digital objects that carry little emotional meaning. Wallace approached their design and development from the perspective of contemporary jewellery, and the project led to the development of digital jewellery that is invested with personal and emotional significance.
By assessing the role of the viewer it is possible to define an area of contemporary practice that operates between art jewellery and the process-led investigations of research jewellery. The work of Ted Noten and Naomi Filmer demonstrate ways in which jewellers are exploring craft values through their interaction with an audience. Filmer’s 2007 work Lenticular Series at the Victoria and Albert Museum uses digital presentation to engage the viewer in an embodied experience. Her exploration of auditory and visual methods emphasises the importance of the body in her own work, and successfully communicates the concept of wearability within the gallery environment. Her use of multi-sensory methods such as the sound of a person breathing is designed to provoke awareness of the audience’s own bodily actions. This auditory strategy is supported by the presentation of holographic imagery depicting a moving body. Filmer’s use of technology to explore alternative ways of symbolizing the body, from visual to auditory methods, is used to activate the objects on display. Other representations of the body are used alongside the static object to build a sensory portrayal of the absent body.
Recordings of breathing, the stroking of hair and clearing the throat are heard, helping to create what Filmer describes as a ‘body-esque’ environment (Filmer 2007: 13) It thus explores what Drew Leder terms ‘a series of impersonal horizons’ as a means of engaging the viewer (Leder 1990: 2). These impersonal bodily actions, such as the rhythms of breathing, are automatic processes that do not intrude upon out conscious thoughts. Filmer describes the process:
Out of the ordinary...what is more ordinary than being in your own skin, being in your own body, the sound of your own breath? But as soon as you take it out of context of inside your head or standing next to someone... you’ve removed it from the context, it becomes quite incredible, it comes quite surreal (Filmer 2007).
This approach demonstrates a progression from Filmer’s earlier work, such as the rigid structures of Mouth Piece (1996) which dictate the positioning of the wearer and contort the body to the jeweller’s specification, and her use of ice and chocolate to create wearable objects in Ice Jewellery (1999) and Chocolate Mask (2001). These refer clearly to the conceptual work of Gijs Bakker and other performance-based jewellers of the 1960s and 1970s. Filmer uses the physical form of an object as a tool; a component that actives a process that reflects bodily behaviour and comments on the notion of preciousness. She draws the viewer’s attention to areas of the body not normally associated with jewellery and decoration by, for example, using the concept of ornamentation to highlight the inside of the mouth or armpit. Filmer’s Lenticular series is distinguished from her earlier work by her investigative approach to recording such movements or interactions. The works interrogate how an audience may experience the wearability of the displayed object despite having no physical contact with the work. This method addresses the psychological or social engagement of an object through what is conventionally the unmediated experience of an object. It also uses an approach that investigates display, using visual and auditory methods that are audience focused and reactive to the gallery environment.
Ted Noten also uses a collaborative approach as a way of exploring new digital technologies and engaging an audience. He is informed by a desire to break away from the traditional gallery route and become an independent curator of his own exhibitions, and has organised events such as TedWalk (2008), which presented his work using a catwalk show. In 2011, he used taxi drivers as ambassadors of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) in his project Art Rehab, part of the exhibition The Modern Jewel in Time and the Mind of Others. Their cabs became mobile sites for the location of his jewellery in a bid to bridge the gap between gallery and outside world (2011).
Noten has also developed an interactive website from which his work can be distributed, as well as unusual methods for producing or dispensing his jewellery in a theatrical or symbolic way, such as a robotic arm or vending machine. The work of Dinie Besems, who studied at the same art school as Noten, also reveals an independent approach: both have explored ideas through series or batch production. Noten, who is known for his acrylic bags, encloses mundane or unexpected objects in a resin outer shell, thus offering a symbolic commentary on the nature of ownership and preciousness. Examples of Besem’s jewellery, however, have been designed using a mathematical tool developed by Luna Maurer following the principles of Delauay and Voronoi. The complex patterns produced by this mathematical approach question whether a computer programme can give form to beauty.
In later work, Noten began to focus on serial projects in order to reach a wide and varied audience. Besten describes him as ‘one of the few jewellery makers who have succeeded in bridging the gap with their audience and who are recognized in the fine art world as well as in design and fashion’ (Besten 2011: 112). Noten’s multidisciplinary approach to jewellery explores the value of participation in order to establish meaning. For Chew your own Brooch (1998), participants were invited to buy a piece of chewing gum, chew and make a form from the pliable gum, and return it in the supplied box. Noten cast the returned gum in silver, attached a pin and returned it to the participant. The process symbolized the transformation of an everyday, worthless material into something precious, in a process developed and experienced by the participant. Value was thus placed on the making process and the sensory experience of chewing the gum, thereby relinquishing the control of the jeweller and empowering the viewer. Noten also collaborated with a video artist to make a film of a woman chewing gum, in order to present the principle behind the project. He thus ensured that the project engaged with an audience beyond that of the gallery space and was transferable into varying digital formats as a means of presentation. Such consideration of ways in which to connect with an audience, as well as the notion of giving permanence to the process, reveals the open-ended potential of collaborative projects. Similarly, Noten’s Silver Dinner II (2003) involved a solid silver bar that was sawn into pieces during a live event. Each section was weighed, sold, and made into a pin. The context by which each piece was sold draws attention to various processes of jewellery production, including construction, selecting, buying and selling. The audience was thus integrated in the practical processes that underpin the often-intangible processes of jewellery and consumerism.
The work of Filmer and Noten is distinguished from the artistic explorations of jewellers previously mentioned, in that their work displays a shift away from the physical object that places process above final outcome. In her discussion of their work, Besten says it is:
best understood in a jewellery context, even though the street is an alluring ‘playground’. Their work does not often look like jewellery, but it makes jewellery understandable as a language (Besten 2011: 114).
Besten goes on: ‘their crafts background succours their work and at the same time determines the content’ (ibid.), thus illustrating the fact that the conceptual and non-functional expressions of contemporary jewellery demonstrate a wide and varying freedom for practitioners. Such work seemingly detaches itself from the conventions of jewellery, yet it can be argued that such jewellers still operate within the parameters located in jewellery discourse. This effectively defines a new specificity within contemporary jewellery that looks to collaborative methods of engaging an audience within the societal perspective of the discipline.
2.4 Contemporary jewellery and the critical object
The differences in contemporary jewellery practice identified in this study has seen digital media inform the way jewellery is presented, becoming both tool and material in the making process. Photography, video, audio and visual installations, and even the internet and social networking are included. The introduction of alternative methods of expression within contemporary jewellery in the last decade, in both public and virtual spaces, will be investigated in terms of the shift of focus from the craft object to that of group collaboration and ways of presenting the making process. This aspect has led to the production of jewellery work and representational methods that are compatible with the digital age. This aspect has been discussed by Besten, whose uses the description ‘on the fringe’ to explore the work of practitioners who engage with the social and critical investigations of the author or auteur jeweller, but are not bound by the need to produce a final, tangible object. Such practitioners thus explore the conceptual freedoms and open-ended questions of art jewellery and research jewellery.
The value of placing prominence on a process rather than the crafted object must be interrogated, as must the investigation of ways of recording and presenting the tangible and intangible, in light of Lindemann’s observation that jewellery can be anything (Lindemann 2011: 13). This opinion departs from that of those who regard this strategy as a loss of self within jewellery, by removing the essence of materiality that locates jewellery within the crafts. Yet this is not the first time craft’s core principles have been challenged in order to instigate critical discourse. Just as the New Jewellery movement rejected the use of precious and semi-precious materials, examples of studio craft challenged the functionality of the craft object, as documented by Howard Risatti in A Theory of Craft: Function and Aesthetic Expression (2009). This examines how craft practitioners considered the conceptual role of the body within the static object. The function of an object is deemed a pivotal aspect in the identity of craft. Risatti says: ’it is around function that form, material, and technique revolve as a constellation of elements necessary to bring the craft object into being’ (Risatti 2007: 281). This comment highlights functionality as the fundamental principle that drives craft practice, which may be challenged by the artistic expressions of a new generation of craftspeople. In New Ceramic Presence (1961), Rose Slivka suggested the term ‘painterpotters’ to describe makers who regarded function as a secondary concern, realigning their approach to avoid ‘immediate functional associations’ (Slivka 1961: 36).
The idea of function can be addressed through conceptual means as an exploration of crafts identity, reflecting a shift in attitudes within contemporary craft practice. Yamaguchi Ryuun’s 1990 Tide Wave is an interwoven form that reflects both Japanese basket-making traditions and modern abstract sculpture, for example the work of Naum Gabo. The fluid structure exists on the margin between the non-functional aesthetic and the handmade qualities of basket weaving. Howard Ben Tré’s First Vase (1989) is an oversized glass vessel that retains the form of a container or everyday object, but at more than 55 inches merely implies function.
The term ‘Studio Craft’ reflects the shift from workshop to studio practice that was influenced both by academic thinking and art’s own conceptual endeavours within minimalism. Creative developments during the 1960s and 1970s encouraged craft practitioners to explore metaphorical meaning and abstract concepts that proposed critical objectivity as a way of separating craft from fine art. The diminishing concern with function was replaced by engagement through conceptual means with what Risatti calls ‘critical objects of crafts’ (Risatti 2007: 285). This notion is informed by critical discourse within the arts that explores the parameters of craft. The resulting conceptualization stems from a knowledge rooted in craft principles, including an understanding of material and traditional hand-making techniques.
An alternative critical reflection will be defined by a comparative study of studio craft objects, including Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). Risatti cites Duchamp’s ready-made urinal as an example of the establishment of meaning due to the act of insertion, thus provoking critical discourse surrounding sculpture that remains outside the field of craft and defining a critical discourse primarily associated with the crafts.
The conceptual exploration of function in Risatti’s ‘critical objects of craft’ reflects on the work of Margaret Boden. Risatti referred to her 2000 article ‘Craft, Perception and the Possibilities of the Body’, by describing ‘objects whose aesthetic/artistic potential is concentrated in their exemplary but “unfulfillable function”’ (Risatti 2007: 285). This echoes Boden’s observations concerning the relationship between the craft object and bodily actions. Psychological mechanisms of the body that respond to the craft object are highlighted, indicating both human biology and craft’s associations with domesticity and the everyday. Everyday actions including drinking and stroking can be used by the contemporary practitioners to initiate critical dialogue by bringing unconscious processes to the fore. Examples including a water-bottle made of icing sugar and a perforated vase chime with Boden’s definition of a ‘useless’ artefact. This concept plays with the user’s expectations of the craft object in order to establish functionality within the object’s conceptual narrative.
This study’s aim is to develop an area of contemporary jewellery that considers the role of display within the creative process as a means of locating ideas from within craft. By focusing on themes such as the body, materiality and its humanising power, the intention is to develop an approach that can both inform practice and critical discourse. This approach will remain embedded in craft attitudes and processes, while investigating digital media as a means of communication that does not, and should not, replace the importance of the made object in craft exhibitions. Risatti’s exploration of the critical object in relation to finding new ways to engage the viewer with craft theory through practical means is important to my own study. For this reason, the term ‘critical jewellery object’ will be used to define my own output, and that of other makers who actively look towards presentational methods in order to engage the viewer. The critical jewellery object is developed from a practical investigation of display, focusing on visual and auditory methods to make, record and immerse the viewer in jewellery discourse. This is an art-led approach to contemporary jewellery that moves away from making a physical object and looks toward palpable ways of presenting jewellery as a language. This approach is responsive to the development of distribution methods and communicative platforms currently being used in jewellery beyond the gallery space, including the internet and an increasing number of interactive public spaces. As noted, it may be said that makers who operate on jewellery’s ‘fringe’ are actively exploring or reacting against jewellery’s comparative isolation from the art or design world. This comment helps to define a strategy that both recognizes the role of the viewer and introduces practical and theoretical frameworks from the arts, such as relational and immersive aesthetics which are addressed in chapters 5 and 6. This collaboration, as seen in studio crafts, is designed to engage an audience within concepts of craft, including materiality, the individual and social body. In order to establish such a structure, a contextual study that investigates existing display methods in jewellery and craft is needed to locate my argument.