Being a rather academically and philosophically inclined person, I enjoy reading all kinds of written material on contemporary jewellery to engage and stimulate my own thinking about and writing on the subject matter.
One of the most important international events pertaining to contemporary jewellery is Schmuck, an annual specially curated show coinciding with the International Trades Fair in Munich, Germany. Besides trying every year to have enough new 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.
Over the recent two years a very noticeable shift has taken place within the realm of contemporary jewellery as subjectively represented by Schmuck: overtly conceptual, highly intellectualized content seems to become less prominent, whereas more emotional work (for lack of a better word), with a strong sense of beauty is becoming all the more prevalent.
As Rüdiger Joppien, curator of Schmuck 2011 mentions in this statement, “jewellery has become an important segment of contemporary art to an extent unthinkable just a few decades ago. It combines design, aesthetics of materials, artisanry, experimentation, research, zeitgeist, worldview – in short there is hardly any other activity so suitable to reflecting the state of our world” (Schmuck 2011. Munich: Gesellschaft für Handwerksmessen. Page 9). If a less intellectualized approached to jewellery becomes apparent, what then does it reflect about “the state of the world”, and us as creators?
I believe that the jewellery we make (and here I am specifically referring to that kind of jewellery which is created in total artistic freedom and independence of mind, i.e. not necessarily the often rather predetermined work we create for commissions) reflects in part the opportunities, multiplicity and complexity of the world around us, but even more so us as individuals. For many of us, creating jewellery is a means to engage with what it means to be a human being in this time and age – we bring our hopes, fears, thoughts, emotions, opinions, strengths and weaknesses to the table, consciously or not, and so attempt to deal with what we perceive around us: constant flux, increasing uncertainty & unpredictability, instability, decay. The decisions we make whilst creating a piece of jewellery, from choosing an idea or design to selecting the appropriate technique, material, colour, size and function all reveal something about us as individuals, and by implication about our view of the world and our place in it. As Fritz Maierhofer, a seminal European jewellery artist aptly put it: “My language – imagery – is formed from observations, reflections and experiences, and perhaps also from my longings and desires” (Koschatzky, G. & Aigner, C. (eds). 2006. Fritz Maierhofer – Jewellery and more! Stuttgart: Arnoldsche.)
Perhaps then it is not surprising that jewellery artists from around the world gradually move towards a more feeling, expressive, moody aesthetic, often strongly connected to or associated with elements derived from nature. Generally, pieces concern themselves more with fragility and fragmentation (reflecting or referencing the external world), but also with positive human notions such as joy, memory, celebration, belonging, harmony and balance (perhaps counter-acting the realities of the external world). The fact that many of the pieces are characterized by “a return to careful craftsmanship” only accentuates the overall perception that there is a “rise of a new aesthetic concern” (Joppien, R. in Schmuck 2011. Munich: Gesellschaft für Handwerksmessen. Page 9) to which I certainly look forward.
Photo: Angela Tölken