WHAT IS IT? Blurring the lines between visual art and contemporary jewelry
In mid May a friend and I took a day trip to Ferrara to eat some good pumpkin ravioli. When wandering around, we stumbled on a surprisingly good exhibition entitled, VIOLENCE, L’arte interpreta la violenza (art interprets violence). The following images are select works from the show. I kindly encourage you to ask these questions while looking:
IS THIS ART OR IS THIS JEWELRY?
OR IS IT NOT THE SAME GOD DAMN THING?
Curated by Lola Bonora and Silvia Cirelli, the group show was part of the XV Biennale Donna, or Woman Biennial , and located in Ferrara’s Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea (or PAC Museo). If not already clear, the works shown do not belong to the realm of contemporary jewelry, YET THEY COULD. On the surface, both pieces are obviously aesthetically linked to similar work being produced by artist-jewelers, and when more thoroughly investigated, their conceptual underpinnings act as confirmation to the relationship between the two realms.
Had this work been a part of a contemporary jewelry exhibition and the artists from a background of jewelry as well, how would the framework of the show been different? The first image, Peso (or Weight), 2006, is by Regina José Galindo, a performance artist I have previously mentioned on this blog because of her similarities to practices found in art jewelry, namely her devotion to the body. Peso is described as a framed lambda print on forex, made singular by the physical absence of the chained object that adorns the wearer in the photo. If Galindo were a contemporary jeweler, I would be willing to bet the object itself would also have been on display. Whether or not Galindo would have hypothetically made the chain by hand perhaps does not matter in this case due to the strong visual connotations the piece carries with it. The audience would also probably know whether or not she had done so, as the written framework usually highlights this aspect and more clearly communicates the materials used when it comes to conceptual work in jewelry. If it wasn’t hand made, the chain would have most certainly been indicated as a found object. In the present context however, the audience knows nothing of make or material and that’s because it really doesn’t matter. As such, the idea, the message and the visual impact is all the more highlighted and not weighed down by material discourse like it so often is in contemporary jewelry.
Below is a similar work of artist Gisbert Stach entitled, Fitting, 2008, a 29 minute video showing a woman being repeatedly adorned with chains until she is holding 30+ pounds of weight on her upper body. This piece was not a part of VIOLENCE.
Fitting was a piece included in the exhibition What’s in a Frame?, a collateral show during Schmuck 2012 in Munich. Although part of a contemporary jewelry fair, here we can also ask ourselves, IS THIS JEWELRY OR IS THIS ART? When considering work like this, especially in relation to a piece like Galindo’s, the question becomes almost unnecessary and silly. I’ll mention that chains adorning the woman in Stach’s film were also not on display. Like Peso, they simply did not need to be; Fitting was much more about the collective power and physical burden. Gisbert can be described as a trans-disciplinary artist heavily tied to contemporary jewelry yet is not limited to any particular medium. He also regularly makes work with Rose Stach and they exhibit as a duo.
Naiza H. Khan’s installation for VIOLENCE included four galvanized steel armor sculptures entitled, Armour Suit for Rani of Jhansi (2008), Armour Lingerie IV (2007), Armour Lingerie V (2007), and The Robe (2008), as well four photographs from the series, New Clothes for the Emperor. When considering if Khan’s works had been part of a contemporary jewelry show, the audience would probably assume that the artist had personally made the armours, but here we do not know, and again, it is not so important. I myself would be interested to know one way or the other; kudos to Khan if the metalwork was done herself. Is the question of who made the work a shared curiosity or is it my background as a jeweler that has sparked this interest? As a maker, I also walked around the hanging armours and thought about how well or not-so-well they were made. This is another typical discourse in contemporary jewelry when distinguishing weather the work is good or bad, but in this scenario, it hardly matters.
Below is a poor photograph of the write up for Khan’s work.
The show’s specific theme of violence meant that most of the included work had a strong and central tie to the physical body, an obvious fundamental seen in the most interesting works within conceptual jewelry practice. Although much less visually linked on an obvious scale, I found Galindo’s prints, No perdemos nada con nacer (2000) to be similarly relevant. Like Khan, the use of photo documentation as an effective tool for reading the work remains to be underutilized in works in jewelry artworks. Here we can take note and follow the example of how Galindo gives her work a very specific environment that without which would fail to mean much of anything.
Yoko Ono’s adaptation of her 1965 performance, Cut Piece, can also be abstractly tied to the world of jewelry. The performance, which included a seated Yoko Ono and an invitation for members of the audience to come on stage one by one to cut off pieces of her clothing, emphasize the necessity of interaction as the functioning role to the success of an artwork. “Yoko Ono’s body becomes in itself the performance with an exchange of roles where the spectator is turned into the protagonist,” states the writeup; the point of which mimics the inherent foundation of jewelry objects once adorned and living in the world. The statement also mentions subordination, the passivity of women and the lightening of spirits, concepts that are historically buried beneath jewelry’s societal past, truths that can almost always be dug up from any jewelry object if looking to find it.
Loredana Longo’s site specific installation for VIOLENCE, Floor#5 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, utilizes recognizable, found materials (once worn clothing) and visitor participation to communicate the magnitude of a past event. Longo shares the sentiment that her work is not complete until truly engaged, the same way that some jewelry artists only see their work as complete when worn on the body. Tactile and physical demands are present and therefore imperative, tampering with the approach to the artwork that ultimately exploits a specific emotional ingredient and connection. Here is one strong example of where visual art and contemporary jewelry share a common ground.
Lydia Schouten’s installation, A Virus of Sadness, is also worth mentioning here. I think it poses questions to the likes of whether contemporary jewelry works could ever rise to a similar occasion and demand a larger and more thougful framework for exhibition. Do objects, small ones at that, harness the same capabilities to tell a story like this? Works in jewelry are capable of being equally confrontational. Are we interested in thinking bigger?
Perhaps the biggest question to ask is whether or not a contemporary jewelry artist like Stach or anyone else working similarly (Shari Pierce could have kicked some ass in this show particularly, Christoph Zellweger and Hilde De Decker are worth noting for thinking more abstractly exhibition wise… just to name a few) would ever be included in an contemporary art exhibition. After all, our world exists on a parallel and basically invisible track to the fine art world. We need some cross pollination. But first, and like I said earlier, we need to think bigger. Taking cues from exhibitions like VIOLENCE will benefit just about everyone, jewelry related or not.
Shari Pierce, detail of 300 Sex Offenders from Within a 5 mile Radius, installation
Shari Pierce, Detail of 300 Sex Offenders Body Piece
Blue and White Jean Dress with Small Blue Flowers, Age 42: USA, Part of She LL Project