ALL THE WORLD OVER: THE GLOBAL AMBITIONS OF CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY
Flux and Fixity
How adept is contemporary jewelry at negotiating a world in flux? Making the most of flux requires fluidity, an ability to embrace movement and change with ease and grace. The opposite of fluidity is fixity, a quality that, in the globalized world contemporary jewelry now inhabits, represents a stubborn clinging to place, a refusal of the possibility of belonging everywhere and thus nowhere specifically. In a time when fluidity is prized, what value can a commitment to fixity have for contemporary jewelry practice?
Searching around for recent jewelry that might represent flux, I came across Otto Künzli’s Himmel brooches, which are based on maps of airline routes. The German word Himmel means both sky and heaven, so it is at once a physical and metaphysical location. As Künzli puts it, ‘In our Himmel you can find aircraft and clouds and skyscrapers but also angels and dreams and ancestors.’ (Künzli 2011) And this, which also seems important: ‘Although my brooches are based on the maps of airlines it is after all not important to recognise particular routes and I do not support any speculation in that direction . . . Instead I wish and hope that my brooches evoke imaginative journeys to fantastic, wonderful, inner and outer places and realms.’ (Künzli 2011)
Künzli’s brooches celebrate new constellations generated by a condition of being endlessly on the move, in transit. These brooches are literally nowhere, floating outside of place. They are a perfect sign for the globalized, freewheeling, de-territorialized jewelry practice which, I think, is contemporary jewelry’s most celebrated response to a world in flux.
This talk is based on a series of oppositions, especially the binary of international and local, so in contrast to Künzli’s celebration of nowhere in the Himmel brooches, I would like to propose Warwick Freeman’s Earth Ring. Remove the nylon sphere and the ring becomes a receptacle in which soil can be stored.
Like a geologist taking a core sample, the wearer/owner of the ring literally digs their jewelry into the ground to gather a piece of the earth from the place that matters most to them. Earth Ring belongs to the same modern world of mobility as the Himmel brooches, since it assumes the wearer will be in transit and thus need to take a relic of home with them. However it doesn’t revel in a state of nowhere-ness and it seeks solutions for remaining connected to place in spite of all the movement. If Künzli specifically asks that we refuse region or place when considering his brooches, Freeman makes place and region – through soil, the very earth itself – critical to the meanings of his ring. Here, fixity stands in contrast to flux.
I think the same binary is visible throughout the jewelry of Künzli and Freeman. Both jewelers have, for example, grappled with the critique of preciousness that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s as perhaps the key agenda of contemporary jewelry. For Künzli, preciousness is tackled in a witty fashion. In the Beauty Gallery series, a marker of value is repurposed from fine art into the world of jewelry and thus made ridiculous – or at least conditional and conventional rather than natural. But note how this maneuver also depends on jewelry being literally dematerialized into the photograph and thus into the world of images. These aren’t images of people wearing jewelry; rather, the photograph is the work, which exists in no other form. (Outside of the image, all you have is a picture frame and a person, not a piece of jewelry.) Künzli’s objects disappear into a medium of reproduction, which is the way most of us experience most contemporary jewelry in this global age. There is no location to his work and no requirement to know local references.
This is quite different from Freeman, who is also working through the implications of the critique of preciousness in his jewelry in the 1980s. In New Zealand, the issue was not to eradicate preciousness from contemporary jewelry, but to refurbish the concept and create a new kind of preciousness that spoke directly to the issues that mattered to New Zealand jewelers and their audiences. Gold and diamonds gave way to paua and oyster shell, to bone and stone, which were elevated as signs of New Zealand identity, of an emerging awareness of living in the Pacific and of relationships between settlers and indigenous people. To understand this contemporary jewelry and its appeal to the wearer, it is critical to understand local references. Freeman’s jewelry is specifically located in place. Local references matter.
Stories of Art (Jewelry)
So let me be a little controversial and suggest another way to articulate the difference between these two jewelers. Otto Künzli is a Swiss contemporary jeweler living in Munich who makes contemporary jewelry. Warwick Freeman is a New Zealand contemporary jeweler living in Auckland who makes New Zealand contemporary jewelry. Künzli, in other words, doesn’t need a qualifier to define and locate the kind of jewelry he makes, whereas Freeman does. Saying this is to say that the global, freewheeling, de-territorialized jewelry practice has come to seem universal, while the local or regional jewelry practice has come to seem the opposite.
What I am speaking of here is the debilitating effect of locating yourself, of regionalizing your position. By claiming or revealing a located identity, you risk losing power and authority, since you are no longer universal. This is the same problem addressed by Whiteness Studies. White men can speak for humanity, whereas anyone with any kind of ethnicity or gender can only speak for their ethnic or gender group. Only if you have no specificity can you speak for everyone and set the terms of the debate. To bring it back to our context, it is as if Europeans were contemporary jewelers, while the rest of us were New Zealand or American contemporary jewelers – and thus only able to speak about, or from the perspective of, New Zealand or America. Of course, as you are no doubt thinking – and as Whiteness Studies has theoretically argued – whiteness is in fact an ethnicity, just like Asian or African or Native American. The mystery, the problem, is how whiteness came to be invisible and thus universal. Back to jewelry again. As I have come to see it, a European jewelry discourse is masquerading as an international jewelry discourse. And therefore the challenge, as I have come to see it, is to find ways to denaturalize – or regionalize – European jewelry so that it doesn’t speak for contemporary jewelry from some universal position, relegating the rest of us to provincial standing.
The problem begins with what we might call the standard story of contemporary jewelry. In his book Stories of Art, James Elkins considers the ‘shapes’ of art history presented in various books, ‘the plots, or the outlines, of the stories of art.’ (Elkins p.xii) Any narrative of art history excludes some artworks and includes others in an attempt to mold the practice of art into a satisfying pattern. What’s remarkable in this process is the dominance of the modes of western art history. As Elkins suggests, we apply terms like ‘baroque’ and ‘classical’ to non-western art, but we don’t do the reverse, defining European art through the conceptual and historical categories of art from China or India, for example.
The standard story of art is the story of ‘how western art progressed from archaic symbols to highly naturalistic styles, and then how modern artists turned away from naturalism and became skeptical of the world of appearances.’ (Elkins 58-59) It runs basically like this: 1) Egypt and Greece, where human proportions were studied mathematically; 2) the near-loss of that knowledge in the Dark Ages; 3) the rediscovery of classical knowledge in the Renaissance; 4) the elaborations of baroque and rococo; 5) art turning against its naturalistic heritage with modernism. Because western art is unique in its pursuit of naturalism, or at least the vigor with which it pursues this goal, naturalism becomes the story of western art. And because the sequences of western art history shape all art history, all art production is compared with the standard story, no matter how inappropriate this might be.
Does art history also propose a dominant narrative for the history of contemporary jewelry? After comparing as many historical accounts of contemporary jewelry as I could get my hands on, I would say the answer is yes. What I identify as the standard story of contemporary jewelry is best captured in Peter Dormer and Ralph Turner’s book The New Jewelry: Trends + Traditions, published in 1985. Let me briefly show you how the story unfolds.
The narrative begins in West Germany, where jewelers such as Hermann Jünger, Frederick Becker and Reinhold Reiling form the foundation. They are celebrated because they emphasize contemporary jewelry as a medium for artistic expression, but also because they initiate significant networks on which the practice of contemporary jewelry is founded. Jünger, for example, taught many students at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts who went on to teach in Europe, America and Australia. After mentioning other German jewelers such as Claus Bury (a cult figure who introduced acrylic) the authors conclude with Otto Künzli, whose ‘intelligent, skeptical questioning’ encouraged German jewelry to become more critical and conceptual.
Dormer and Turner then move to the Netherlands and the jewelers Gijs Bakker and Emmy van Leersum, who not only introduce new materials such as aluminum but also connect contemporary jewelry to its cultural moment and encourage it to become more democratic. The story stays in the Netherlands with B.O.E., a revolutionary movement reacting against the ‘dominant clinical approach’ of the Dutch Smooth style.
Then comes Britain, as a result of the stimulating exchange that developed between Dutch and British jewelers in the late 1970s. The major claim to fame here is the movement towards ‘wearables’ in the work of people like Susanna Heron and Caroline Broadhead.
At this point, the authors can define the new jewelry as a movement emerging from Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, Austria and Switzerland. It is characterized by ‘a desire to avoid clichés in design; a desire to make exciting, robust and, where possible, cheap ornament; a desire to make adornment that can be worn by either sex; a frequently expressed distaste for jewelry which is vulgar and merely status-seeking; and always an interest in ensuring that the ornament works with and complements the wearer’s body.’ (Dormer and Turner 14)
Now Dormer and Turner introduce contemporary jewelry from America, making clear that it embodies some significant differences from what’s happening in Europe. ‘In the United States,’ they write, ‘the current tendency is to regard jewelry as mini-sculpture rather than wearable ornament which has to be worn in order to be seen properly.’ (Dormer and Turner 14)
The story of American jewelry begins with Alexander Calder, who is a great example of the ‘jewelry as sculpture’ school of thought and the narrative takes in other modernist greats such as Margaret de Patta. Mention is made of assemblage and then the importance of body sculpture or body adornment within American contemporary jewelry. Dormer and Turner allow that some Americans like Marjorie Schick are doing interesting work, even though ‘the main innovations in this field are currently occurring in Europe.’ The authors don’t really make much of this connection, since they believe that American showmanship and theatricality pulls the work in another direction to British jewelers like Broadhead or Heron. American jeweler Richard Mawdsley is invoked as a marker of the ‘gulf’ between Europe and America and yet, by quoting Janet Koplos, the authors show that function – wearability – is still important to Mawdsley and American jewelry as a whole, even if it assumes a very different form from contemporary jewelry in Europe.
Dormer and Turner’s historical narrative concludes with Italian jewelry, which fits nicely at the end. Important Italian jewelers have also been sculptors, which connects neatly to the jewelry versus art issue that is central to American work. Italian jewelry is very distinctive, like America, but links to European minimalism – even if it isn’t quite as radical as what’s happening in other parts of Europe.
This narrative is contemporary jewelry’s standard story, its equivalent to the struggle towards naturalism in western art. The core of the story is not a search for realism, but the critique of preciousness and the struggle to liberate jewelry from restrictive notions of value, so that it becomes available for artistic expression and experimentation, a deeper engagement with society, and a new awareness of the body and the wearer. Schematically it appears like this: 1) Germany, with traditional goldsmiths introducing artistic expression into their work; 2) the Netherlands, with the socially and materially radical experiments of Dutch Smooth; 3) New Jewelry emerging through the fusion of Dutch and British jewelers; 4) American and Italian jewelry, as alternative traditions with varying relationships to European jewelry; 5) the new jewelry spreading around the globe.
If you were updating Dormer and Turner’s book you would add a section about the dissolving of differences between European and American jewelry, the end of America’s idiosyncratic jewelry tradition as it becomes part of the mainstream thanks to greater contact with Europe. It would also be necessary to discuss the emergence of a new kind of global jewelry in the last ten or fifteen years, a product of the internet age and the internationalization of the contemporary jewelry scene, in which regional differences largely disappear. But the critique of preciousness would still serve as the best structuring device for the narrative. In the 25 years since The New Jewelry: Trends + Traditions was published, no other story with the same force has emerged. All contemporary jewelry historians tinker with this basic narrative.
Europe Versus America (and the World)
Dormer and Turner describe the axis of their book as being ‘European-American’ and they suggest that the reason is because, ‘on the whole, the new jewelry that is produced outside western Europe and the United States is derivative from it.’ (Dormer and Turner 20) Yet they don’t seem to notice that their axis is unbalanced. The countries that the authors identify as making good work, such as Canada and Australia, on the whole look to Europe, not America. Canada’s 1983 exhibition Jewelry in Transition was inspired by Jewellery Redefined, an exhibition of European work held in London in 1981. Australia has strong links with Britain and Europe and the visitors heading Downunder are mostly European: Hermann Jünger, Claus Bury, David Watkins, Otto Künzli and so on. It’s not that American jewelers don’t visit, just that they don’t have the same impact.
And then there is the obvious power dynamic of Europe coming first, being the center against which the difference of American contemporary jewelry is articulated. American jewelry is the not-European jewelry, the Other. American jewelry fits into Dormer and Turner’s book because the new jewelry opens up space for alternative approaches, but American jewelry is not necessarily an example of the new jewelry and therefore not central to the story. The new jewelry, which emerges from the critique of preciousness, can be defined before American jewelry is even introduced into their narrative. You don’t have to know about American jewelry in order to know about the new jewelry.
In many historical accounts America fits awkwardly into the standard story of contemporary jewelry. It is notable, for example, that Fritz Falk and Cornelie Holzach can tell the story of contemporary jewelry in their book of the Schmuckmuseum’s collection and never really mention American jewelry. According to this view, nothing critical to the development of contemporary jewelry happened in the United States. Imagine reversing the situation. Could a plausible narrative of contemporary jewelry be written in which Europe was similarly overlooked? A book telling the story of contemporary jewelry that is mostly filled with American jewelers and a sprinkling of European, Japanese and Australasian makers would not act as a valid account of contemporary jewelry. It would be a regional history and it would probably require the qualifier of ‘American.’ The point is that there is no requirement to deal with the whole world to tell contemporary jewelry’s story. The standard story of contemporary jewelry is in fact the story of European jewelry. This local narrative becomes an international one and as a repository of the best European jewelry, the Schmuckmuseum is, de facto, a world institution, even if most of the world is in fact missing.
Some of my thinking about these issues has been shaped by the work of political scientist Dipesh Chakrabarty, who speaks about the challenges of ‘provincializing Europe.’ As he suggests, ‘Third-world historians feel a need to refer to works in European history: historians of Europe do not feel any need to reciprocate.’ (Chakrabarty 1992, 2) While European historians can produce their work in relative ignorance of non-western histories and this has no discernible effect on the quality of what they do, the same is not true for non-western historians. If they chose to ignore western histories and theoretical terms, they appear outdated or old-fashioned. You’ll recognize this condition in relation to contemporary jewelry discourse.
This situation, says Chakrabarty, is not just a result of cultural cringe on the part of non-western people, or cultural arrogance on the part of Europeans. Instead, it emerges from the social sciences themselves, which are founded on the notion that only European history is theoretically knowable – which is to say, only European history produces the fundamental categories that shape historical thinking, whereas all other histories are about empirical research that fleshes out the skeleton of knowledge generated by Europe. The social sciences are founded on the idea that Europe represents an achievement of maximum development and sophistication and all other histories will be understood by their difference to the European model. Everyone else is left with the project of ‘positive unoriginality’, in which the basic models have already happened in Europe and await to be imported and identified in local contexts.
And yet, as Chakrabarty rightly suggests, the answer is not to be found in simply rejecting European categories of thought. Instead, the challenge is to uncover the historical processes through which the Enlightenment reason, which has not always seemed self-evident to everyone, became ‘obvious’ or common sense in contexts far beyond Europe where it originated. How, he asks, might European thought be ‘renewed from and for the margins?’ (Chakrabarty 2000, 16)
What does this mean for contemporary jewelry? Under the current framework, European jewelers make contemporary jewelry, while American jewelers make American contemporary jewelry. This points to one of the things at stake in revealing the Europeanness (the regional quality) of European jewelry discourse: it is a matter of undoing exclusion and introducing equality. Another reason to care is that, by revealing the discourse as regional, we can undo the pretend universality of European jewelry. The story of contemporary jewelry cannot be told by reference to Europe only, as what happens in other places – the uneven development – is a central part of the history of the practice.
An example: one of the reasons that Dutch jewelry from the 1960s appears universal is because it seems like a complete and proper expression of the critique of preciousness. (New materials, a democratic intention, the freedom to experiment.) But it only seems complete because the full story of what the critique of preciousness entails is obscured.
When you bring in the strange form that the critique of preciousness took on in New Zealand, say, Dutch jewelry stops seeming universal and starts seeming like a regional expression of this investigation or theme. It becomes one way of tackling it amongst many, rather than the only or most important way against which all other explorations of the critique of preciousness must be compared.
Ambition and the Local/International Binary
The problem of the standard story of art and the binaries that it throws up is something that art history is grappling with across all forms of visual art. The difficulty is that binaries have an awkward way of surviving attempts to disrupt them. It is relatively easy to swap values, so that, in our case, American jewelry becomes dominant and European jewelry becomes the submissive partner, but doing this leaves the power structure intact. As Hegel noted about the master-slave relationship, the slave doesn’t just have to free themselves, but they have to free the master too. In other words, liberation is about disrupting the hierarchy, not just reversing it. American jewelry doesn’t just have to free itself, but it also has to liberate jewelry from the rest of the world, as well as Europe.
If this talk were a play, all the critics would comment on a disappointing third act, in which the early promise of the script is unrealized. I wish at this point I could unveil some brilliant proposition that would solve the problem, but I am just as stumped as anyone else who thinks about these issues. I’d like to finish this talk with what is a rather modest proposal to rethink the binary of local and international by suggesting that the two terms do, within ambitious jewelry, interact in a dynamic way.
The best jewelry in the world is ambitious, a term that stands for a quality of seriousness and commitment, of intelligence and historical awareness, a willingness to stand up to a long tradition of contemporary jewelry and stake a claim to importance. There are lots of ways of being ambitious. Ambitious jewelry can emerge from a kind of globalised, freewheeling, de-territorialized approach in which, being located nowhere specifically, the jeweler is at home everywhere. (For the sake of argument, let’s call this European jewelry.) Ambitious jewelry can also emerge by paying close attention to history or identity or regional traditions and putting down roots in specific geographical or cultural locations. (For the sake of argument, let’s call this American jewelry.)
Whether operating in a state of flux or a state of fixity, ambitious jewelry works to establish itself as part of an international jewelry discourse. It is neither provincial nor parochial. It is aware of the wider world, of the larger global scene to which it belongs. What I am calling ambition is really the ability of a jeweler to take the values of contemporary jewelry and remake them in terms of their own cultural situation. Everyone does this – and anyone can do this, which means the field is open, and all that matters is how well you do it. We are very familiar with how globalized, freewheeling, de-territorialized jewelry practice does this, but we are less agile at reading the same dynamic in contemporary jewelry that appeals to place.
I want to touch on three jewelry practices that have been useful to me in thinking about these issues. Jorge Castanon is from Argentina and I first saw his work in an exhibition that took place in Mexico City, as part of the Gray Area symposium in 2010. In a context where a sensitive awareness of materiality was a dominant theme, Castanon’s jewelry stood out. I knew nothing about the context of Castanon’s jewelry, or the particular meanings that his materials and combinations might assume for a local audience and yet the authority of his investigation is clear to me when I look at his work.
The particulars in this case are not necessary to experience the ambitions of the jewelry, which relate to the engagement with materiality that is one of contemporary jewelry’s special capabilities. In an artist statement written for Schmuck 2011, the international exhibition held in Munich, Castanon defines his investigation in terms of absence, of cavities and containers that are inhabited by mute presences. As he puts it, ‘I rescue objects and materials that were on the way to oblivion and come back to communicate a minimal story.’ (Castanon)
The jewelry I find so convincing because of its authority in grappling with the place in which Castanon finds himself working, is a product of an encounter with the larger, international practice of contemporary jewelry. Castanon opened a studio in 1990 and began working seriously as a jeweler, gleaning his knowledge of the practice through contact with other local jewelers (many of whom were trained overseas) and through whatever books or internet contacts he could access. In 2000, seeking as he puts it, a qualified opinion about his work, he travelled to Philadelphia, where he met and discussed what he was doing with Helen Drutt. This in turn opened up greater connections with the international jewelry scene, leading to exhibition and travel opportunities. The work of Castanon’s that appeals most to me, that seems a good example of what I mean by the term ambitious, is undoubtedly affected by this contact – mostly, it seems, in its shift away from narrative and figuration and the obvious stories of the pre-2000 jewelry, into the minimal stories and yet beautifully eloquent constructions of found materials in his recent work. There is no doubt his contact with the importance of materiality within the field of contemporary jewelry has clarified his own sense of what is possible and what his own work is seeking to achieve. While Castanon’s materials are deeply connected to the local and his jewelry is concerned with the novelty of his own situation, his approach is anything but provincial. He actively seeks the implied critique – and stimulation – of international jewelry practice.
The same dynamic of the international playing an important role in the local is found in the work of Areta Wilkinson, a Maori (indigenous) contemporary jeweler from New Zealand. Wilkinson is concerned with developing a Maori framework for contemporary jewelry. This does not seek to copy or repeat Maori forms of adornment, which are also being made in the present, but rather uses the materials and traditions of contemporary jewelry as it has developed internationally to create jewelry that reflects Maori ideas about the world, the body, or the roles and functions of adornment.
Wilkinson explores equivalences between Maori forms of expression such as the pepeha, a pithy phrase or saying that reflects tribal history and belonging and contemporary jewelry’s ability to present highly symbolic, poetical and meaning-rich statements in small, worn objects. Wilkinson brings the self-reflexive or self-conscious nature of contemporary jewelry – what separates contemporary from all other forms of jewelry – to bear on the world of Maori adornment. In doing so, she can ask questions such as what it means to be Maori in the modern world and what kind of jewelry will be most able to capture the complexity of tribal identity in the present and future.
Her work emerges from the encounter of two things: contemporary jewelry, which she would define as a critical studio craft practice which makes objects that are grounded in an awareness of the body; and Maori systems of knowledge, which place people in specific relationships to each other and to the world and which sometimes use objects to mediate these connections. The strategies of international contemporary jewelry are essential in this process and the fact that Wilkinson applies them to a very specific, local problem that will not be of relevance to most of the rest of the world, doesn’t mean that her practice is provincial or in any way opposed to the international.
Finally, I’d like to talk about Roseanne Bartley, a New Zealand-born jeweler living in Australia. Bartley has developed a process she calls surface archeology, which involves collecting discarded consumer materials from specific locations (her neighborhood, or further afield). Contemporary jewelry provides Bartley with a mechanism of transformation, by which rubbish becomes riches and the traces of history and experience can be re-animated or re-valued. As she puts it, ‘Through a recuperative practice I re-imagine the ugly/useless aspect of the discarded object, and transform it to a state of “wanted-ness” through the reifying language of jewellery.’ (Bartley)
One of the most dynamic aspects of her work is the way it traffics in questions of social relations and networks. Within the practice of surface archaeology, this is expressed by her willingness to make outside the studio, working on park benches or picnic tables, for example, so that the process of making is available to the wider public that is using the same spaces from which her raw materials are collected. Her project Seeding the Cloud: A Walking Work in Process, structures the duration and distance of the walk by how long it takes to create a necklace from found plastic and fake pearls on a string of a pre-determined length. The necklace is made in public, using a drill and other equipment that Bartley carries in her bag.
She has pushed even further than this, in works such as the Human Necklace, which is, as the name suggests, made from people who, for a short period of time, form jewelry in public spaces. The language of jewelry becomes a way to capture various forms of experience, to trace networks and social relationships – in this case, Bartley’s residency in Barcelona, away from the infrastructure of her studio and equipment; and the performance of Catalonian dance in a public square which, viewed from above, reminded her of garlands or necklaces.
It’s easy to think of such a detailed focus on the local as being a kind of dead-end, a fast track to myopic vision and yet Bartley’s practice gives serious thought to the big questions facing contemporary jewelry – specifically, its future as a practice in a world where the relevance of contemporary jewelry is constantly – and rightly – questioned. In her desire to engage deeply with specific places, Bartley articulates a strong claim about contemporary jewelry’s place within the relational turn that characterizes recent contemporary art and culture and suggests a way out of the ghetto that is the ultimate destination of craft’s love/hate relationship with fine art. The critique of preciousness is turned outwards again, refreshed as a tool through which contemporary jewelry can engage with the wider world. If the international is critical for ambitious jewelry that locates itself in the local, as I hope I have shown, we shouldn’t forget that the local might also offer something important to ambitious jewelry that chooses to de-locate itself in the international.
The Destination and the Journey
According to Mark Ravenhill, cultural institutions like theatres and concert halls have followed many models over the years, including a form of parliament (the community gathers to witness key questions for society) secular church (contemplation of higher questions away from the distractions of everyday life) people’s palace (common people living like royalty for a short time) and even the fun park. But in the contemporary age, the dominant model is the airport business lounge, which allows you to step out of time and place, to be pampered and feel part of a new internationally mobile elite. This creates a problem. As Ravenhill writes, ‘Great art is made from a great paradox: it is grounded in the local, the specific, the ephemeral, yet it achieves the metaphysical and cheats time and place. The floating world of international co-productions and festival art doesn’t allow for that local starting place: work is being made in the first place (sometimes literally, often metaphorically) in the business lounge.’ (Ravenhill)
Too often, cultural institutions present parallel programs: the high-profile international event that represents excellence, and the local community event, which is a kind of penance for the other. We forget that the greatest art is usually created when there is no division between excellence and community. And we wonder why we can’t manage the contradiction of the exclusive luxury of the business lounge and the desire to let everyone inside. The message that ‘We’re a business class lounge with an access policy’ is self-defeating. It also does a poor job of arguing what art is for and why it matters.
Now I have to confess that I read Ravenhill’s article while sitting in Air New Zealand’s business lounge at Heathrow airport. I love being pampered as part of the highly mobile global elite. And yet I still want to finish my talk by asking how this might be relevant for contemporary jewelry. So much of the contemporary jewelry scene feels like an airport business lounge, where the same people circulate from event to event, and the jewelry, while of very high standard, could in fact be made anywhere. I’m the first to admit that it’s very nice in the lounge, but what are we giving up by sealing ourselves off in the nowhere-ness of the airport, prioritizing the journey rather than the destination? To return to where I started, what do we gain when Künzli’s Himmel brooch and its celebration of the potential of travel is placed alongside Freeman’s Earth Ring and its reminder that everything falls back to earth – to a specific place – eventually.
Bartley, Roseanne, Artist statement 2011.
Castanon, Jorge, Artist statement for Schmuck 2011.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh, ‘Postcoloniality and the artifice of history: who speaks for “Indian” past?’, Representations 37, Winter 1992, pp.1-26.
Dormer, Peter and Ralph Turner, The New Jewelry: Trends + Traditions. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1985.
Elkins, James, Stories of Art. London: Routledge, 2002.
Künzli, Otto, email to Damian Skinner, 1 May 2011.
Ravenhill, Mark, ‘Global art: nice canapés, shame about the show’, The Guardian, Tuesday 10 May 2011. (Accessed 13 May 2011)
Damian Skinner is editor of AJF.
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