One of the most important international events pertaining to contemporary jewellery is Schmuck, an annual, specially curated show coinciding with the International Trade Fair in Munich, Germany. Besides trying every year to have enough really innovative work on hand to apply for the show, I always look forward to the catalogues of Schmuck, for they are a rich source of stimulation and inspiration on various levels. The catalogue for 2012 proved no different.
This year’s selection for Schmuck was made by Viennese jewellery collector Dr. Karl Bollmann, who mentions the following in his curatorial statement: “Anyone who thinks jewellery is essential, more than a reflection of vanity, elitism and exploitation, is bound to have doubts. Was Kant right to say that jewellery was detrimental to true beauty? Isn’t any attempt to embellish the personality a striving for false appearance? Can and should externals reflect the inward person?” The collector goes on to clarify: “I took on the task of making this [jewellery] selection because I wished to find out, perhaps one last time, whether jewellery that has substance, exists. If it did, it would express something of universal validity” (Schmuck 2012. Munich: Gesellschaft für Handwerksmessen).
This got me thinking..… To me, the notion of a “universal validity” of jewellery, or then the possible lack thereof, is an interesting and challenging question, not least because I am a jeweller and like to think of my work as having some validity. When, why and to whom would jewellery be essential? What would “essential” mean in this context? Is jewellery, or any other form of adornment or embellishment, really only an attempt to falsify appearances, or is it an attempt to externalize something internal?
Before attempting to formulate an opinion on the above, I should probably mention that I tend to engage with this question from the perspective of the maker or the artist, and not necessarily the wearer, for I do not generally wear jewellery. Why, you ask? Mostly out of habit – when working physically in a studio it is not practical to wear jewellery, and so, over the years, I have come to know myself as ‘unadorned’.
Thus, from the perspective of the maker, I tend to agree with the following notion by influential artist jeweller Fritz Maierhofer: “is it not true that one of the origins of art lies in what we have trivialized as ‘self-adornment’, the first form of individualisation which brings us to maturity as complete beings?” (Koschatzky, G. & Aigner, C. (eds). 2006. Fritz Maierhofer – Jewellery and more! Stuttgart: Arnoldsche). Whilst I observe around me that wearing jewellery is a means to individualize and complete the Self, as an artist jeweller I strongly feel that creating jewellery makes me a more complete being. To me, creating jewellery is a means to investigate and reveal the internal structures and invisible dynamics of the Self and, perhaps more so, an attempt to communicate my existence as a human being in a sincere, truthful manner, which happens to be visual and tangible.
Bollmann in a way echoes this notion of self-communication in his summary of the jewellery he was presented with: “everything was represented, everything that could be thought and felt, and that never ceases to be thought and felt around the world” (Schmuck 2012. Munich: Gesellschaft für Handwerksmessen). All of the pieces Bollman engaged with represented for him something that essentially spoke of being human, which referred to the intellectual and emotional capacities of human beings, two of the perhaps most defining attributes of being human.
Every Schmuck artist communicated his/her existence as a human being through his/her work, and inevitably so, I believe. For in creating (which is always in some way related to making oneself vulnerable, exposing oneself), we bring our history, baggage, hopes, fears, thoughts, emotions, opinions, strengths and weaknesses to the table, consciously or not. We acknowledge, celebrate, question, interrogate, humour, encourage and portray what it means to be human. Even our choice of medium refers to something inherently human: by choosing jewellery as a means of expression, the body, or at the very least the presence of another being, is brought into the equation. By inviting, reaching out to or perhaps even relying on somebody else to partake and share in our creative expressions, we arguably reveal another essential aspect of being human, namely that we are not islands.
Perhaps, then, it is safe to propose that as long as every creative is completely true to him/herself within his/her creative context – being courageous in the earliest sense of the word, namely ‘telling the story of who one is with one’s whole heart’ (Brown, B. 2010. TED Talk: The power of vulnerability [Online])- (s)he cannot but “pull the strings” of another human being; our creations cannot but gain some degree of universal validity. Does that then not give jewellery its essential quality, for both maker and wearer?
“everything that could be thought and felt, and that never ceases to be thought and felt around the world”