In her pivotal publication on contemporary jewellery (1) Helen Drutt writes “And there we have it – jewelry: an art of small objects and large subjects” (2).
Jewellery - whether we consider the traditional or contemporary one- conveys any kind of messages: it has to do not only with mere adornment, but with identity, power, religion, affections and memories (3): it is, undoubtedly, a small, but complex system made of different languages and fragments of life originated by severe techniques and peculiar intuitions.
Therefore, this post will try to highlight the oeuvres of four contemporary jewellers whose research on memory flourished by using different materials: from pictures to silk clay and silicone, framing everything in that small world of objects which convey more than one message and map our laws of affections.
And just because I always focus myself on hybrid territories, this post will combine jewellers and poems, because even verses are little small worlds, full of large subjects. As contemporary jewellery does, also poetry is a small complex system made of fragments, whose richness is given by the verses, ruled by the laws of composition. As contemporary jewellery, also poetry conveys and maps, in small words, our worlds of affections.
So, contemporary jewellery, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways (4)”…
Bettina Speckner, Untitled, brooch, photo etching in zinc, silver and diamonds, 2006.
We are made of memories and stars, this is what I think each time a look at Bettina Speckner’s pieces. Her works, focused mainly on the use of photography as an element of the composition (5), are reworked with a delicate, humble intervention by the author in order to recreate a balanced and elegant construction.
In this piece, where a fragment of landscape is framed in an oval structure, a cascade is rhythmically constellated of tiny precious stones: the inner cadence of the composition always reminds me of the constant murmur of the waves and their recurrent coming and going.
It is probably for this reason that I’ve matched Bettina Speckner with Edmund Spenser (6), in particular with the renowned Sonnet LXXV from the “Amoretti Sonnets”, composed in 1594 and published in 1599:
One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I write it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize,
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eek my name be wiped out likewise.
Not so, (quod I) let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse, your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name.
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.
Both in the Bettina Speckner’s piece and in Spenser’s sonnet, the recurring water and its cadence give the rhythm to the entire composition; both the tide as the cascade are two perfect images of a regular, cyclic moment in Nature that the two authors try to catch. Moreover, in both compositions this attempt to immortalize beauty, the one of nature in the case of Speckner and the one of the Lady in Spenser, is perfectly achieved, thanks, above all, to that hint of immortality we can easily detect.
Christine Jalio, Past, Loss, Future 3, Brooch, silk clay, silver, foam clay, 14 x 5 x 15 cm, 2015. Photo by: Olga Kontio - From series: Past, Loss, Future [courtesy of Klimt02]
We keep our memories with us, and carry them as weights: no matter if they’re about loss; about tiny, small granules of happiness or of regret: we keep them alive day by day. We keep them secretly hidden even if they appear suddenly…because they’re always around the corner.
But one day, all the memories we keep will lose their weight and, maybe, we’ll learn to look at them with a tender smile. These are my thoughts each time I wear one of the silk clay brooches made by Christine Jalio.
The Finnish art jeweller says about her collection “Past Lost and Future that" “The collection tells a story of aging, personal loss and life before and after big turning points in life. The pieces have a sense of comfort and safety to them and look very heavy, but are actually really light. Like a person who carries great sadness within, I wanted my pieces to be very quiet and scream very loud at the same time. Every piece is unique, it is entirely impossible to make two of a kind “(7)
This piece, made in a silk clay blush shade reminds me clearly of something as sweet as one of those chewy candies of my childhood and my first feeling is smiling tenderly, but this brooch also fascinates for its aspect: the viewer wants to touch it, just to discover how is it made, how much it weighs…
Surely, once worn, this brooch still claims the attention of the viewer and forces him to think, just for a while (or for a longtime) of the kind memories we keep and, for this reason, I think the final verse of Giacomo Leopardi’s (8) sonnet “Infinito” (The Infinite, from the cycle “Gli idilli”, 1826) could perfectly match this feeling: “e il naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare” (“And sweet to me is shipwreck on this sea”. Translated by Frederick Townsend, 1887).
This lonely hill to me was ever dear,
This hedge, which shuts from view so large a part
Of the remote horizon. As I sit
And gaze, absorbed, I in my thought conceive
The boundless spaces that beyond it range,
The silence supernatural, and rest
Profound; and for a moment I am calm.
And as I listen to the wind, that through
These trees is murmuring, its plaintive voice
I with that infinite compare;
And things eternal I recall, and all
The seasons dead, and this, that round me lives,
And utters its complaint. Thus wandering
My thought in this immensity is drowned;
And sweet to me is shipwreck on this sea.
Roberta Bernabei, Untitled, Ring – silicone, iron, enamel, 3x3x4 cm - 2001
Some memories map absences and unfilled spaces: they trace inner geographies in each of us because we all have empty rooms where it is sometimes hard to find a light.
Presence, absence, the perimeter of an empty space or the imprint of an object shaped on a surface are the “key-elements” of Roberta Bernabei’s poetry (9): her soap and chocolate pieces investigate the sense of volatility and our temporarily existence; her silicone rings, like the one here presented, can “unquestionably be considered miniature sculptures for the body” (10).
It is indeed a sculpture for the body, this ring made of silicone, where a heart-shaped alginate left its presence…and suddenly, that empty space becomes the central, ornamental and decorative element of the entire composition. Moreover, silicone amplifies this presence/non-presence, becoming a lens focusing this precious solitude.
This sense of amplified solitude is well described in these last verses of a poem composed by the Polish author and Noble prize Wislawa Szymborska (11) in which absence is so well described (only in few words) that emptiness becomes a real, tangible presence.
When he stops looking at me
I search for my reflection
on a wall. And I see only
a nail from which a picture
has been removed.
from DRINKING WINE by Wislawa Szymborska translated by Grazýna Drabik and Sharon Olds (Calyx, Special International Issue, 1980) (12)
Jana Machatová, Leonid Iljitsch+Gustav, brooch, Plexiglass, silver, 7 x 10 x 1.7 cm - 2014 - From collection - 'Where are you from?' [courtesy of Klimt02]
There are several kinds of memories: short-term memory, long-term memory; personal memory, collective memory, historical memory. This latter field, the one of the historical memory, always leaves its imprint on us. But when a collective, historical memory saturates decades of generations, you can hear just the screams or the sound of a suffocated whisper before an inner, silent death.
This is what I feel each time I look to the works of the Slovakian jeweler artist Jana Machatová (13) : her works are a memento, as she clearly exposed in her statement: “In my new collection, ‘Where are you from?, I continue working with memories. I tried to show my experience with the political system and social situation from my childhood. Formal kisses between politicians without love, children in political organisations, unified living... this all has left imprints on our personalities. I tried to set traditional ornament, the beauty of a kiss and the cuteness of cookie cutters in contrast to the terrible period and symbols of communism. These jewellery pieces should not be body decorations. They are meant to be a memento, an expression of opinion” (14)
Her brooch is an iconic piece that encloses the whole historical and political memory lived by the Author; a collective memory of an entire Nation, and the well-known iconography of USSR.
And, upon looking to this piece, the verses of the great Russian poet Anna Achmatova (15) seal the same memento . From the cycle Requiem (16):
The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.
I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again. . .
But how. The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom]
So, it’s true, small objects and large subjects: and how many memories do you count?
1)Helen W. Drutt English – Peter Dormer, Jewelry of our time. Art, ornament and obsession, New York, Rizzoli New York, 1995;
2) ibidem, p. 184.;
3) Liesbeth den Besten, On jewellery. A compendium of international contemporary art jewellery, Stuttgart, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2012.;
4) Elizabeth Barret Browning, Sonnets from the Portoguese: read the complete Sonnet XLII via The Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43742;
5) Den Besten, op. cit., pp. 41-44.
See also: Kate Wagle, Bettina Speckner- Deliberatons and negotiations via the Artist’s website: http://www.bettina-speckner.com/41332.html
7) From the Artist’s website: http://www.christinejalio.fi/
8) For the life and poems of Giacomo Leopardi see: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/8593
9) See “Mapping Impermanence: Roberta Bernabei”, Exhibition catalogue, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, 18.11.2005-25.04.2006.
10) Rita Marcangelo, Enclosing space in “Mapping Impermanence: Roberta Bernabei”, Exhibition catalogue, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, 18.11.2005-25.04.2006, p.4.
11) For Wyslawa Szymborska see the book of Anna Bikont and Joanna Szczesna, Pamiatkowe rupiecie, przyjaciele i sny Wis±awy Szymborskiej, 1997 (tr. It. Anna Bikont and Joanna Szczesna, Cianfrusaglie del passato, 2015 Adelphi).
12) Read the whole poem via here: https://poetrydispatch.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/wislawa-szymborska-drinking-wine/
13) See Jana Machatová’s website: http://www.machmach.sk/index.php
14) Artist’s statement via Klimt02: http://klimt02.net/jewellers/jana-machatova
15) For Anna Achmatova see: http://www.uvm.edu/~sgutman/Akhmatova.htm
See also: Anna Anchmatova, La corsa del tempo. Liriche e poemi. A cura di Michele Colucci, Torino, Einaudi, 1992.
16) Anna Achmatova wrote the cycle Requiem over three decades from 1935 until 1963, when the work appeared in Munich: the elegy, composed in fifteen poems was written under the hard years of purges.