7.1 Research summary and evaluation
The intended destination for contemporary jewellery once an object has been made or an idea has been realized varies, as observed throughout this study. The artistic explorations of jewellers from the 1960s to the present day have introduced a range of designs and concepts destined for the display case, an approach to jewellery display that utilizes the art environment to showcase designs that are to be observed away from the body of the wearer. This investigation into craft display identifies an area of art jewellery that aims to address the distance between the object and wearer by engaging the viewer. The investigation has resulted in a body of work, both written and practical, that uses presentational methods to create an emotive experience for the viewer in order to communicate the role of the body and notions of ownership. This thesis and accompanying exhibition look toward ways of making and presenting contemporary jewellery that inform both theory and practice.
The body plays an integral role in the design, application and meaning of a jewellery object and signifies the distinction between jewellery and Fine Art. The actions of the wearer enable an object to become mobile, thus altering the meaning of jewellery according to the context and conditions under which it is viewed. The choices made by the wearer when selecting an item of jewellery, their behaviour towards that object and the environment in which they live, all inform a social narrative through which the jewellery object can be understood. This narrative reveals that jewellery can be a powerful and effective means of communication while it is on the body, a message quite different from that which is projected when the same object is presented in a display case. This socially-led investigation of jewellery display methodology has been driven by the phenomenon of ownership and wearability.
This research began by exploring common methods of display used to present contemporary jewellery in the gallery space. Chapter 3 outlined the practical and theoretical efforts that were undertaken in a bid to address the relationship between object and viewer. This investigation directed my enquiry towards modes of display that communicate the role of the body in contemporary jewellery and are designed to engage an audience.
As my research progressed, two key areas of investigation were used to access both existing and potential ways by which to represent jewellery and the body in the gallery space. The first of these areas identifies strategies used by contemporary jewellers in order to communicate their work to a wider audience. This involves collaboration between jeweller and audience in order to emphasize the importance of the role played by the viewer in the construction and display of contemporary jewellery, and engages the viewer by enabling physical interaction during the making and application of an object. It can be used to establish knowledge of the viewer’s tastes and prior knowledge, thus informing a social narrative within the crafting process. The investigation reveals how contemporary jewellers are creating interactive spaces in which an audience can experience and engage with the crafts, offering a contrast to the display case as a socially-led tool for jewellery’s presentation.
The second area of investigation is the exploration of bodily processes as a means by which to contextualize the object on display. This considers the ways in which the individual and social body is explored in contemporary jewellery, with the aim of developing methods that delineate its anthropological foundations. This area of investigation marks a move away from the display of the craft object as an autonomous artefact, and towards the presentation of an interactive process. Developments in digital media over the past decade have led to an increased emphasis on photography, film and auditory methods as alternative modes of expression in the crafts. This approach is informed by developments in communication in both public and virtual spaces, including the internet and social networking. Display methods that are compatible with the digital age have been explored in order to identify viable ways of presenting the movements made by the body, with the aim of establishing a critical discourse.
The methods employed during this study enabled me to draw on my own practice as a means of establishing ways of representing the individual and social body that are compatible with the gallery environment. The initial practical investigation, as detailed in Chapter 4, focused my enquiry on audience interaction and bodily processes. As a response to my contextual findings, a combination of digital media and traditional craft techniques were used to record and represent the absent body in the gallery space. This resulted in two practical outcomes that were intended to provide a permanent display of the transient relationship between the body and jewellery. Observations were made of jewellery while on the body, using digital media to capture and present the detailed movements and behaviour of the wearer. This approach was developed to incorporate audio and visual methods; these were intended to represent the implications for the craft object of audience participation. Digital methods of presentation was used as an alternative mode of interaction to touch, and allowed viewers to experience the materiality of an object through a combination of sensory methods. Both outcomes were designed to present or prompt an emotive reaction from the viewer in response to jewellery on display.
The second practical investigation, as outlined in Chapter 6, represents my main practical response to this area of enquiry. The final four outcomes continue to explore the role of digital media and the creative potential of presenting a craft process in order to investigate social interaction and bodily processes in jewellery design and display. This approach is developed by introducing relational practice as a supportive framework that informs my theoretical and practical enquiry.
Relational aesthetics were used to discuss current social strategies evident in contemporary jewellery and to examine how these have informed the conception and display of contemporary jewellery design. This approach also helps to assess the ways in which contemporary jewellers are creating meaning in their work through the use of social interaction. Audience participation and live performance allow the viewer to inform the outcome of a jeweller’s work, which draws the crafting process away from the maker’s bench and makes it accessible in the public arena. The approach I have developed explores Bourriaud’s ideas to construct an alternative method of display that is informed by the social context of jewellery design. The distinction between the relative concerns of the contemporary artist and those of the jeweller has been located in the role of the body. The subjective views of the individual artist have been defined as primarily political in comparison with those of the jeweller, whose concerns are intrinsic to the body. This distinction informs a strategy of display that considers the relevance of the body in the crafts but is nevertheless compatible with the gallery setting.
7.2 Representing a critical jewellery object
The development of immersive aesthetics focuses on relational strategies that evoke a sensory response or trigger a memory from the audience. This process uses digital media to provide a permanent display of the social interactions and bodily processes that are evident in contemporary jewellery which considers the role of viewer in the gallery space. The presentational techniques chosen in this study provide both material and concept in my work. The use of photography, moving imagery or audio recordings invite the viewer to apply their own understanding or experiences to interpret the works on display. This is an approach that references the visual language that is emerging in the work of a number of contemporary craft practitioners. The result demonstrates the importance currently being placed on the craft image and its ability to engage the viewer in concepts of materiality, form and function.
This immersive approach to jewellery display is not intended to replace the craft object, but proposes an alternative approach to craft display in the gallery space. It reveals how the display of jewellery can be used both as a creative strategy and as a research tool by implementing methods that are reflective of the creative freedoms seen in art jewellery, but is not restricted to the creation of a final piece. Instead, this approach demonstrates the open-ended development of research jewellery in which process is foregrounded in order to inform jewellery discourse. This method extends the inclusive approach seen in the work-in-progress exhibition by exploring the relationship between maker, wearer and viewer. The use of digital media to communicate concepts of the body in jewellery display thus invites audience members to reflect on and reinterpret their own relationship with contemporary jewellery.
7.3 Contribution to knowledge
The future value of this study lies within the practical and theoretical consideration of the role of the viewer in the conception and presentation of contemporary jewellery. This enquiry is located in the wider context of relational art, which has allowed a small group of contemporary jewellers to develop a strategy that places increasing emphasis on audience participation. This rationale has been extended to encompass concepts of the body in jewellery display that promote the perceptual engagement of the viewer. This has in turn revealed the emergence of a visual language in contemporary jewellery that is compatible with the digital age. The enquiry is therefore designed to inform craft discourse by providing a coherent discussion of modes of jewellery display that are designed to support and communicate craft concepts.
This is not the end; potential areas for further investigation have become evident throughout this study. For example, the impact of an exhibition on the viewer could be analysed by gathering and reflecting on audience feedback. This insight into audience perceptions could then be used to inform the reinterpretation of the work in question. Another area that could be further explored is how display techniques may be developed and applied outside the gallery space. It has become clear that the internet, social networking and alternative collaborative environments, whether physical or virtual, are a widespread and evolving means of communication in contemporary jewellery practice that offer enormous potential in terms of contextualizing my argument. The role of immersive aesthetics within alternative modes of presentation also holds the potential to inform this line of critical discourse, by exploring the social relationships afforded by digital media and how they change according to the context in which jewellery is presented or experienced.
This thesis and accompanying exhibition have illustrated methods of communicating the affective qualities of the craft object and its relationship with the body through the craft image. In answer to my original research question, which sought to consider ways of presenting the tangible and intangible in contemporary jewellery, I have shown how visual language can establish a dialogue between object, viewer and the maker. Further, though the wearable narrative of an object focuses on presentational methods of display rather than the presence of the physical object, I have shown the perceptual possibilities of digital media. This has demonstrated the creative potential of immersive aesthetics by considering the jeweller’s involvement in display practice. This is a strategy that places importance on the viewer rather than the wearer in order to inform the design and wider presentation of contemporary jewellery. In doing so I have demonstrated how the body-centric context of contemporary jewellery can inform the way in which jewellery is presented in the gallery space. As a result of my investigations into the recording and presentation of the intimate human relations that inform the discourse concerning contemporary jewellery, I have uncovered and presented an alternative way of viewing jewellery that effectively opens up the display case.