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A look at Constel.laciò: a jewel open to dialogue with the receptor

Article  /  Artists   Debates
Published: 26.01.2006
Young Wodaabe nomad preparing himself for the Yankee ritual Young Wodaabe nomad preparing himself for the Yankee ritual

Ana Campos

Adornment – and as an extension, the jewel, - can be interpreted as an art of transforming the body.
Lecture in the semiotic seminar: Landscape with many figures,
ESAD – Escola Superior de Artes e Design, Senhora da Hora, Portugal – 1999

Adornment – and as an extension, the jewel, - can be interpreted as an art of transforming the body. The symbolic capacity it possesses of transmitting messages cannot be reproduced by other means. Its use, distinct from biological necessities such as food or sexuality, cannot also be seen as having the protective dimension of clothing. Adornments transmit, implicitly at times, messages we do not enunciate in any other explicit way. Transforming the body, adornments connect social and individual aspects, determine belonging and difference, and can be connected to, among other symbolic practices, rituals, witchcraft, religion, delimitation of age, status, social distinction, aesthetics or seduction, revealing meanings and particularities in time and according to each society. They always have, like all symbols, a volational force: causing to act, even if sometimes thoughtlessly, in a certain way.

In the western civilization, except for the religious symbols or the signs of status distinction, civic or social, we can observe the emphasis given along the time to the ostentatious meaning of the adornments and the jewels, in particular, but also to seduction and coquetry, both feminine and masculine. From a formal point of view, despite following aesthetic references not very evolved, western jewels have corresponded to different beauty ideals. However the consciousness of the metaphysical components associated to adornment were, centuries ago, lost. For this reason, its internal splendor was transformed and its efficiency field was reduced, thus weakening the intense and symbolic meaning of a jewel to its user.
I frequently notice that within these bounds, the western cultural horizon is, still at the present moment, limited by frontiers and expectations of the vision of the world, within which to the jewel corresponds a code of economic values and/or status, where the gold and the stones have a notable presence, next to the preciousness of the details and the particularity of the manufacture. In today’s dynamic world, where we admit and wish for, in general, dynamics in human activities, I daily observe that this representation culturally build about jewelry shows an aspect of the imaginary that seems frozen in time.

The logic of meanings of the consumer society has contributed to notably dilute the intimate significance of a jewel to its user. They became objects with no sentimental value like with many others that we live surrounded by. The designers, responding to values of various target public, frequently conditioned by the client’s briefing, frequently follow or encourage wishes and human representations. In some cases, they create unique pieces or limited series of sophisticated and ostentatious jewelry ornamented with stones. In other cases, with basis on new technologies which allow the reproduction of multiple pieces, they introduce into the market silver and gold products with low economic value. Most of these jewels only bring formal renovations keeping, however, identical meanings to those I referred to earlier. They are signs of civic or social status or, like in the latter, not having ostentatious intentions, they are to be seen - just like fashion accessories conceived with alternative materials - as signs of fashion’s ephemerality emphasizing, maybe seductively, a corporal detail.
Just like I will continue to comment, for distinctive reasons (through inclusion or reaction) western jewelry artifacts of the 21st century – “costly jewelry”, “consumables” and fashion accessories that coexist simultaneously in the present - establish a relationship with the same logic of meanings that is fixed by the conjugation of economic values, in connection to the imaginary where the weakening of the symbolic representation of a jewel to the user is perceptible.

Similarly to what happened with the other arts in the West since the beginning of the 20th century, one other jewellery orientation arises. These jewellers want, through other rhetorics, to occupy new territories in a field parallel to the traditional or conventional jewellery I have been mentioning. Mainly after the 60’s, in an attitude profoundly related to that era’s ideology, several jewellers began introducing new materials into the jewels they created – plastic, various metals, paper and many others. Building plastic discourses related to another vision of the world, they intend to re-establish the intense and symbolic meaning of a jewel to its user. While creating, they clearly separate themselves from that vision of the world where the process of giving meaning to each jewel is fixed by relating public acknowledgement of the status roles with economic values related to stones and gold used in the manufacture of the jewels. They don’t base their work on the market’s pre-requirements, like designers, but rather on their individual perception of the world they show through poetic, subjective messages or frequently coded symbols. They offer them to the reader’s receptivity that, by implying him/herself in a certain discourse, will question him/herself about each message and will produce new meanings which will come from individual interpretations.
What happens is that because they coexist in the same context of the traditional jewellery, they cause, like I’ve had the opportunity to observe so many times, startlement in some spectators’ expectations. Thus, as surprisingly as it may seem, in the beginning of this millennium, the shock they cause to certain people is frequently identical to the one caused by modern art, in the West, in the beginning of the 20th century.
The human eyes are fabulous instruments which capture essential images for the brain. But in reality, being the mind that selects, summarises and relates them, allowing abstraction, memorisation and interpretation of what we perceive, it occurs within certain cultural boundaries. For this reason we see and retain what is in our interest because it fits into a certain visible world that we build, with which we relate the expression of ideas, phenomena, behaviours and several activities which, as they derive from the social form, make us give value to certain symbols or understand that a certain exteriorisation is acceptable. Therefore, by connecting the images we perceive of these jewels with our cultural imaginary, our vision of the world, we comprehensively question ourselves why these, for various reasons, don’t fit into our horizon of expectations. The human sight, as an element of significance, is therefore conditioned by cultural limitations.

Let’s linger over a more detailed look of one of these jewels: Constel.laciò (Constellation) created by the Catalan jeweller Ramón Puig, in 1996. The name given to it is related to the poetic and metaphoric message implied. In this iconic sign, symbolic representations can be read where the order of the elements, which seems natural, was substituted. He integrated them in a polyphonic composition. Simultaneously and practically on the same plan, he shows us stars, the sea, a multiplicity of moons and, on a blue background which is, simultaneously the sea with waves and the sky, he connects these elements with imaginary linear trajectories. They give it its plastic and poetic expression. The coloured brass, the alpaca and a plate of silver covering the moons, are the materials which make up the jewel Constel.laciò. With these materials Ramón gives shape to the stars, the sea star, the spirals of the waves, to the number 36 with which he metaphorically refers to a map coordinate as navigation guidance. He highlights the expressiveness of these shapes with unchanging and luminous colours, which he combines with other metallic ones; the moons are covered with a plate of silver and the linear trajectories are made with folded alpaca, leaving the gestual marks, or hammer-blows, creating, in this case, texture. These materials will cause a greater margin for different interpretations from those who question themselves about this sign. I dare to guess, right now, that many people will say that this artifact is not a jewel because, as I’ve already said, in the western world jewels are deeply connected to economic values that Constel.laciò does not have.
However, these same materials already reveal a combination of meanings that, through a dialogue with Ramón himself, I’ve understood interrelate a process which is interior and exterior, and therefore, individual and social. They correspond to fragments of his Mediterranean reality lived by the sea, to looks recorded in the memory that Ramón doesn’t want to separate. In this poetic discourse he transforms them into fragments of matter.

He therefore makes visible poetics based on fragments and quotations of memories and looks. He shapes them through a working process where, working directly on the matter, he involves himself in what he denominates as a journey of discovery where he metaphorically hints at orientation and aiding objects for sea navigation: the stars, constellations, maps, number 36. By conjugating, in this jewel a constellation and an archipelago, he demonstrates an emotional mind representation of similarity – or of relative importance – between these elements, which are apparently different, that would have an organized order in the sea or sky. Associating them, he shows their relevance in his interior world. With this attitude he makes Contel.laciò polyphonic, emphasizing, on purpose, the possibility of multiple interpretations of whoever receives it.

Ramón turns, in the expression plan, to substitution associations, which are characteristic of the metaphor, or to the simultaneous representation, characteristic of the symbolic figurative representations. In Constel.laciò at the same time that this rhetoric can arouse curiosity about his way of thinking, his vision of the world, it reveals the signification process. When he quotes memory fragments and daily-envisioned fragments of the world that surrounds him, he expresses the desire of not separating them in his mind. In the content plan it is conjugated the implication of a cultural and emotive representation to which certain values are connected. These values associate themselves to the signification and establish the meaning Ramón wanted to give Constel.laciò. He reveals that representation both by using non-precious materials in an attitude that, simultaneously, allows us to see the intention to instigate western traditional jewellery, and the desire he frequently expresses to rebuild an intimate and affective meaning of the jewel to its user. These symbolic coordinates with metaphoric characteristics and quotations would supposedly be what would direct the reader to a meaning although they are analogical and don’t establish a direct and immediate relationship with the reality perceived. But Constel.laciò, revealing an accentuated polysemy, allows a larger opportunity for content interpretation, not directing whoever looks at this jewel to one single meaning. For this reason, the meaning Ramón gives this jewel – where he metaphorically associates icons related to constellation and archipelago – allows for different readers to find second meanings and diverse messages that will lead to other meanings, thus making the process of signification and discovery of what led the artist to produce this sign seem complex.

This is really an intentional attitude on Ramón’s behalf. By wanting to rebuild a symbolic relationship (intimate and affectionate) between jewel and user, he wishes for, just like in an open artwork, an active role from both the transmitter and the receiver. Through the use of the creative dimension of the metaphor and, associating it to poetics based on memory fragments, he uses two methods that emphasise the possibility to create stimuli in the receiver’s imagination, that, this way will give it an individualised meaning. It will be, like Ramón himself comments, an artwork made by two, conceived by him and completed by whoever looks at it.

It is this way that he wishes to communicate with whoever sees Constel.laciò, wanting the person who uses it to identify him/herself with it, creating affection between receiver and jewel. The person who uses it, making it his/hers, will change it through the meaning given to it. The openness of the artwork implies symbolic acts that suppose acknowledgement and recognition acts, but mainly cognitive acts by the receivers. In order to a symbolic exchange between his work and the receiver happens, they must have a perception category identical the one he developed. This symbolic exchange is connected to an almost magical act. If Ramón is not present at the moment, he is implicitly there and the success of this act might depend on his symbolic capital, thus allowing for an exchange of gifts where the gift is no longer a material object but rather a type of a message or symbol capable to create social meanings and connections.

© Ana Campos

Lecture in the semiotic seminar: Landscape with many figures,
ESAD – Escola Superior de Artes e Design, Senhora da Hora, Portugal – 1999

Translation from Portuguese: Sandra Ribeiro-2016-2016


1- Young Wodaabe nomad preparing himself for the Yankee ritual.
2- Hans Holbein Younger, Henry VIII
3- Constel.laciò, Ramón Puig, in 1996


Lecture in the semiotic seminar: Landscape with many figures,
ESAD – Escola Superior de Artes e Design, Senhora da Hora, Portugal – 1999
Hans Holbein Younger, Henry VIII.
Hans Holbein Younger, Henry VIII

© By the author. Read Copyright.
Constel.laciò, Ramón Puig, in 1996nèric forum.
Constel.laciò, Ramón Puig, in 1996nèric forum

© By the author. Read Copyright.