Why do you put pins on them?

Blog post
Published: 23.09.2010

a partial (and contradictory) response    

We have a history of poking things in holes, of putting fingers into and through holes — orifices and others, of prizing through sphinctea, of playing with (caressing, fiddling, twisting, wringing) our own fingers, as well as those of others. Apparently, a long history.  Apes do it.   As things with finger sized holes, rings insist that we engage with that history. What is a ring without a finger?  What is a finger without a hole?

And necks.  Watch people caress their necks.  If the neck is bejeweled, the jewel becomes part of the action; if not, the action might suggests a desire for an-other to perform the caress.  A jewel — a neckpiece, lace or pendant — might suffice as a surrogate. And neckpieces are lost without a neck to hang around.  What else are necks for?   (We have practised with daisy-chains since childhood.)  
Likewise, pendants consider the cleavage between breasts their designated space. 
And bracelets demand arms to encircle— an imitable gesture.
Earrings flop or roll around without ears to flaunt or swing them, making them catch the light.  Making them flash. BLING!
Cufflinks need cuffs — immaculate, peeping stipulated centimeters beneath coat sleeves. And crowns demand heads, preferably with bodies attached, though the history of crowned heads counsels that this is not inevitable.  

But brooches . . . 

The brooch is the most autonomous jewellery form — the only one that does not immediately demand association with the body.  In the absence of any means of direct attachment, and lacking affiliation to it other than that designated by the pin, the context, or the name brooch, it is, in fact, the only one that cannot be worn on the body, without the trauma of skewering the pin through flesh.  (Admittedly, some go in for in skewering, but not, I as far as I’m aware, with brooch pins. There, perhaps, lies potential?)  We can, and sometimes do, parade naked or barely clothed in our other jewels.  

Paradoxically, while the brooch is independent as an object (in so far as any object in our anthropocentric existence can be) it is dependent as a jewel.  It needs a garment if it is to be worn. There are other garment dependent forms: pins and fibulae indicate their dependence on cloth to realize their potential, and then there are buckles, which demand a belt or shoe, but most buckles are drearily utilitarian; buttons, ditto; studs on jeans are a law unto themselves, and there’s no point in be-jewelling press-studs, as they’re invisible, as should be velcro. These forms are so dependent on garments, they don’t make sense without them.  They lack the autonomy of the brooch.  

So the question arises: if brooch, as object, is so blessed with autonomy, why not leave it as a thing in its own right, an independent objet d’art, a miniature carving, sculpture, painting, assemblage, item, bit, or piece?  Why turn it into a brooch?  Why put a pin on it?  

When and wherever we journey in our imagination, there, also, is our body with its associated voluntary and involuntary behaviors; even in sleep.  The brooch, though largely independent of bodily association, simultaneously acknowledges out embodiment, our psychical and physical motility, our transience, while it permits an apparently detached reverie. It is both there and not there.  Though, when worn, it does not come into direct contact the body, we can touch it at will. It exists as prompt, lodestone, touchstone, memo, with which to elicit flights of fancy as well as to ground, to test, to recollect whatever we have endowed it with, temporarily or more enduringly.  Worn, it journeys with us.  Without its pin, a brooch is not a brooch; its association with a bearer (in pocket, hand or on shelf) is tenuous.  Its company is not assured.    

Certainly, the brooch can be viewed satisfactorily off or on the body. It sits unconstrained, indulging in its independence. Designing and making a means of attaching it to a garment does not diminish its autonomy; it privileges it with a dual existence.
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I have already spoken in this blog on the etymology of brooch (and broach)  in my post Upside-down and back-to-front 09.09.2009.  
Nevertheless, a selective reminder (from The New Oxford Dictionary):

broach 1 |brō ch | 
verb [ trans. ] 
1 raise (a sensitive or difficult subject) for discussion
2 pierce (a cask) to draw liquor.
3 [ intrans. ] (of a fish or sea mammal) rise through the water and break the surface : the salmon broach, then fall to slap the water.
The earliest recorded sense was [prick with spurs,] part of the general meaning [pierce with something sharp,] broach
verb [ intrans. ] (also broach to) (of a ship with the wind on the quarter) veer and pitch forward because of bad steering or a sea hitting the stern, causing it to present a side to the wind and sea, lose steerage, and possibly suffer serious damage : we had broached badly, side on to the wind and sea.
noun a sudden and hazardous veering of a ship having such consequences.

When turned into a brooch/broach (however we spell it) by the provision of a pin, an object becomes liable to raise a (sensitive or difficult) subject for discussion, to pierce (necessarily), to open, to rise and break the surface; but also to veer and pitch suddenly, with possibly hazardous consequences.  There are times when we can take the risk — the relatively minor risk — of taking up a small object and putting a pin on it.

About the author

Margaret West is an artist who sometimes makes jewellery; she writes: mostly poetry essays. She has exhibited widely in Australia overseas. She lives in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia.

About this blog

Touching the thingness of words the wordness of things.