- Nichka Marobin
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As an historian, I am used to observation. The practice of "reading" the visible in order to decrypt the invisible from what can emerge through tangible works and objects is my constant task. Thus, to me, this mutual dialogue between what is particular and what is universal clearly comes to the surface from Satok-Wolman’s “non-binary” jewellery: all the minute particles of his pieces are able to cross differences and gender borders and in this lies its universality.
That universality of art which is –at the same time- child of its own time, the work of an individual and that belongs to eternity.
Perseverance and Ingenuity
The recent NASA SPACE mission to Mars has a wonderful yet programmatic name: PERSEVERANCE.
The hyper-technological Rover helicopter which sends everyday pictures of its flights over The Red Planet has a peculiar yet fascinating name: INGENUITY.
Both names are a clear manifesto able to combine the enduring thirst of knowledge of humanity; its endless effort to widen the constant necessity of giving an answer to some of the fundamental questions that always connoted human beings such as “is there life in outer space? Are we alone in this world?” (the case of “Perseverance”), but also that sense of wonder (the case of” Ingenuity” Rover), discovery and surprise when we experience - as newborn- the images of the "The Red Planet".
Beyond the fundamental and philosophical questions that drive humans to quest for an answer, and beyond the hyper-technology which helps us search for those answers, it is worth noting that both names -Perseverance and Ingenuity- refer not to something related to biology or technology, but to moods and feelings, as if in these two names we can retrace -in nuce- the difference between humans and artificial intelligence: the faculty of knowledge acquired through perception and the development of a conscience. Even if artificial intelligence can receive different external inputs and stimuli and can learn and classify them, how about intimacy, feelings, emotions and memories? Does artificial intelligence develop a conscience? Does artificial intelligence love?
“The development of artificial intelligence and robotics has given way to rise of a new kind of romantic partner, Sex Robots. The sex robots can be configured and customized to suit individual preferences, allowing users to create their ideal companion” (1) says the jeweller and artist Ezra-Satok Wolman. While comparing Earth as a warm and nurturing companion for humans, he cynically proposes the “synthetic” partner for a life on Mars: a robot created specifically to fulfill sexual desires which can be customized according to different preferences, as depicted in the film component of Satok Wolman’s exhibition “SpaceXXX: Mission to Mars”.
This is the case of HARMONY (2), a sex robot identifiable through specific and recognizable physical aspects as “female” and precisely created to respond to physical urges and needs.
“Harmony”, whose name still refers to a “concept” that implies a multiplicity of reading levels, can learn from external inputs given by a computer program, but can’t experience emotions and feelings because it/she is a robot. As an artificial intelligence, I can expect that Harmony can learn and have a perception (intended in this context as an external stimulus) from a computer, but, how about the codification and the subsequent classification of those inputs that we -humans- classify under the name of “experience”? How about love, memories, dreams? (3)
Moving from the aforementioned general questions above and focusing on the general theme of “femininity”, and looking at the specific case of “Harmony”, a primary question arises: can we retrace femininity in Harmony? Of course we cannot say that the robot Harmony is female or a woman simply because of its/her identifiable physical attributes: Harmony is a robot, id est an object. So, what really makes the difference?
To me, the difference is what we have inside of us: that individual patrimony (biological, psychological and cultural) that I name subjectivity.
Beyond biological differences that characterize human beings, what is important is that we are all “subjects”, sentient subjects able to think (sometimes), feel emotions, perceive stimuli, collecting and decoding them under what I call “experience”. We have conscience of what there is outside and, through perception, we acquire knowledge. Thus, according to me, here lies the real difference: in a subjectivity which can express itself freely and without constrictions, thanks also to art, which is both individual, collective and yet universal.
Crossing the borders: non-binary jewellery
Why do we adorn ourselves? What kind of reasoning or motivation lies beyond this urge? Is it the pleasure of wearing something just for fun? Is it curiosity? What do we want to express?
These are just a few of the several questions related to jewellery: a small word which encloses a myriad of messages and aspects. A little small word that spans a spectrum of connections and holds within an inner intricacy and complexity: a complex system made of invisible threads.
Whether we approach this subject matter from the historical point of view, or from the anthropological, sociological, philosophical, or artistic point of view, we can easily detect the inner complexity of this field, which is bound together with the human being and the concept of subjectivity. (4) Thus, whether we adorn ourselves for fun, curiosity, memory or status, we always want to communicate something. Jewels are media of self-expression and -once worn- another transformation occurs: a relationship among the object, the observer and the wearer. (5) In this case Satok-Wolman adorns robots with jewellery, perhaps even to “humanize” them, or simply to demonstrate the universality of the jewellery itself.
As in the field of contemporary art, the “complex system” of contemporary jewellery also offers a broad range of vocabulary through the media that are employed to create jewels. The wide spectrum of materials employed witnesses not only the constant research, but also the development of themes that are both individual and collective. It is such an open field which offers a synthesized complexity of our contemporary “visual age”, acting like a seismograph of time.
Focusing on messages that can be both individual and collective and condensing in small worlds the creative and “visual vocabulary” of the artist, contemporary jewellery -as all forms of art- provokes, arouses questions, confronts ourselves and fragments our certainties.
Satok-Wolman’s jewellery created for SpaceXXX crosses the gender identity becoming universal. This “non-binary” jewellery, made using the artist’s patented system of DMLS/SLS 3D printed components, allows for the creation of a multiplicity of pieces and frees the creativity of the jeweller-artist. Here the artist envisions what adornment in space might be like, and how jewellery can be produced in space using a system that is easily reproducible and requires only a basic set of tools and reusable elements.
All the single elements, when assembled by hand and then riveted, are the basis of a creation both individual and universal. (6) The microcosmos embodied by the “triatom nodal connector” allows the creation of a creative macrocosmos which is customizable, flexible (7) and adaptive for the body: from particular to universal and vice-versa.
As an historian, I am used to observation. The practice of “reading” the visible in order to decrypt the invisible from what can emerge through tangible works and objects is my constant task. Thus, to me, this mutual dialogue between what is particular and what is universal clearly comes to the surface from Satok-Wolman’s “non-binary” (8) jewellery: all the minute particles of his pieces are able to cross differences and gender borders and in this lies its universality.
That universality of art which is –at the same time- child of its own time, the work of an individual and that belongs to eternity. (9)
Acknowledgements: My deepest gratitude goes to Ezra Satok-Wolman, Amador Bertomeu and Leo Caballero at Klimt02 and Hannah Gallery Barcelona for the opportunity they offered to me: it is always a great privilege to share visions and thoughts on jewellery in order to build new bridges.
J.S. Bach, Die Kunst der Fuge performed by the Calefax Reed Quintet, 2000, Dabringhaus und Grimm.
(1) Ezra Satok- Wolman, Space XXX. Mission to Mars, exhibition catalogue, p. 5.
(2) Sex robots are created both for women and men: the case of Harmony is specific for the main theme of the Florence Biennale about “Femininity”.
(3) Of course, Harmony is not Rachel, the bio-engineered replicant created by Mr Tyrell in “Blade Runner”…..
(4) See Roberta Bernabei, Contemporary jewellers. Interviews with European Artists, Bloomsbury Publishing, 20313, p. 3: “There are therefore a broad range of reasons for wearing jewellery, ranging from the socially complex to purely decorative, from the talismanic to the commemorative, from investment to communication. Some of these reasons seem innate, and other shave developed due to social conditions. Certain motives are public and others private, but what remains consistent is the human desire to change or reaffirm appearance, identity, perception, expectations, behaviour and feelings through the use of decorate the body.”
(5) See Liesbeth den Besten, On Jewellery. A compendium of International Contemporary Jewellery, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2012, pp. 6-32 and pp. 60-63.
(6) See Ezra Satok-Wolman, Space XXX. Mission to Mars, exhibition catalogue (2019), p. 6:“The foundation of the system is a design for a universal nodal connector, that is used in conjunction with elastic tendons (springs) to produce flexible, adaptive structures. […] The nodal connectors, called Triatoms, are produced in Titanium using DMLS 3D printing technology. This technology is already being used on the International Space Station, and will be the cornerstone of manufacturing and fabrication in the new colony of Mars”.
(7) Ezra Satok-Wolman, ibidem.
(8) Non-binary, adjective, 1. not relating to, composed of, or involving just two things; denoting or relating to a gender or sexual identity that is not defined in terms of traditional binary oppositions such as male and female. 2. relating to, using, or denoting a system of numerical notation that does not have 2 as a base. Oxford Dictionary.
(9) See Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art, Zone Books, New York, 1992, p. 32: “A work of art is immersed in the whirlpool of time; and it belongs to eternity. A work of art is specific, local, individual; and it is our brightest token of universality”.
About the author
Nichka Marobin is an Italian art historian specialized in Dutch and Flemish art history. She graduated from the faculty of letters of Padova (Italy) with a dissertation on Renaissance ornament prints from 1500 to 1550 in Germany and the Low Lands, focusing on the migration of forms, themes, and styles on the engravings of Cornelis Bos, Cornelis Floris II, Lucas van Leyden and the German Little Masters. In 2011, she founded “The Morning Bark”, a bloGazette on arts and humanities, where she posts about arts with a multidisciplinary path, including fine arts, books, fashion, and contemporary jewellery.
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