- Pravu Mazumdar
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The present article by Pravu Mazumdar is one of the texts at the book Doris Betz, Jewellery and Drawing.
The twofold art of Doris Betz tends to engender in the viewer a twofold gaze, which no longer projects the unity of an artistic consciousness functioning to connect the exhibited works but tracks down the dynamics of their differences.
Is a work of art more art or more a work? There is no doubt that a work, which is not yet art, can take up its position in the world of things in an easy and peaceful manner. Despite its humble mode of being as a thing meant to serve humanity through the technical enhancement of human life, it retains independence enough to stop functioning from time to time, to break down once in a while and to let itself ungrudgingly be replaced. In its existential frailty the work behaves like a thing. Just like a dog remains an animal and can die, even though it has been trained to be at the beck and call of humans. A work, which is not art, does not lay any claim to eternity.
However, a thing that is not immediately useful has two different options. It can either stop short at the threshold of the artefact, like a rock, a tree or a star, or go beyond the artefact to acquire a new type of value beyond all use value, allowing it a right to duration and to protection from the natural decay of things. Whenever a thing positions itself beyond the artefact, it tightens up within its limits, establishes its ground in opposition to other things and wards off any danger of being intruded into by the world. In the neighbourhood of a work of art one senses a threshold of tension, as if it were covered by a skin.
The work of art owes its protective skin to a constellation of spaces, temperatures, lighting, gazes, discourses, constituting in their entirety the museum. Whenever a thing is more art than a work, there are these rituals of museumisation closing in upon it, tending to isolate and protect it against time and yet incapable of stopping it from transgressing the limits of its own site to communicate with other things. For on the one hand, it communicates with the world outside: the walls, pillars, ceiling, distribution of light, the bodies of art enthusiasts hustling about and those of the art guards monitoring them, the alarm system about to be triggered off at any moment of time and, of course, the entry tickets. On the other hand, the work of art can start out from its own visual content and communicate with the things in general, as a black square does with all that is square and all that is black.
But the moment there is the tiniest shift in any of these things, the entire tissue of relations, in which the work of art is embedded, gets transformed and, along with it, our perception as well as the work of art itself, which vibrates with its ontological environment and becomes fluid with it. Seen from this point of view, the work of art manifests neither an essence nor a nucleus any longer, even though it retains a perceivable aura of uniqueness issuing from the interstitial space between the work of art and the things at large.
A different type of interstitial space issues from the serialisation of different works of art in different combinations, as long as these are exhibited within the same physical space and the same span of time. For such a case, the sum of all the interstitial spaces at play would neither be the physical exhibition space nor the space between the covers of a book containing images of the works but, mathematically speaking, the sum total of the spaces of interaction of the visual contents of all individual exhibits. The serial architecture of such spaces yields constellations, in which the ‘luminosity’ of each individual work is in a sense predetermined.
It is in the context of such a logic that Doris Betz presents her twofold world of graphic art and jewellery: not merely as an aggregate of heterogeneous objects but also as series of the intermediate spaces, in which the exhibits can interact but without a hierarchy – like that between a ‘sketch’ and its ‘execution’ – surfacing between them. Such intermediate spaces neutralise two age-old practices of devaluation that emerged during the European Renaissance. One of these practices consists in degrading the art of drawing to the ‘mere’ act of sketching, taken as a preparatory stage towards the realisation of a pre-planned work of art. Such an act reveals a modern dispositive of action, regulating all premeditated intervention in the affairs of the world. The second practice of devaluation consists in the systematic reduction of the status of jewellery since the Renaissance to that of a mere accessory or decoration. (1)
The twofold art of Doris Betz tends to engender in the viewer a twofold gaze, which no longer projects the unity of an artistic consciousness functioning to connect the exhibited works but tracks down the dynamics of their differences. This implies a shift in perspective. The drawings are no longer perceived as a sketchy precursor of the rings, brooches, necklaces to follow. The coexistence of drawing and jewellery is no longer deciphered as an invitation to the workshop of an artist. Instead, one senses the necessity of connecting the twofold work to two distinct and independent artistic processes, rather than subordinating the one to the other, the drawings to the jewellery work. The dual work can thus be seen as resulting from the aleatoric process of a repeatedly tossed dice, documented once in the movement of the lines in the drawings and once in the jewellery objects that are issued as the outcome of a sculptural encounter with a material.
From time to time, however, a common style of movement can be discerned between the graphic works on the one hand and the cast, soldered, beaded works on the other – instead of the traditionally expected unity of a consciousness in the mode of planning. Examples for these are the drawing, p. 28, and the rings, p. 29; or the ink drawing, p. 18, and the chain of silver and pearl wire City, p. 17; or the knots and densities in the ink drawing, p. 32, and the silver-coated earrings Ohr, p. 33; or the series of drawings, pp. 50–53. It is clear that such correspondences cannot be seen as objective or unequivocal. They result merely from the fleeting impressions prompted by the chance succession in which the images are perceived. However, the play of sudden affinities of form amidst a veritable wealth of techniques, materials, movements can also stop short within the limits of an individual piece and attain the quiet of a crystalline hybridity. In pieces like the ring, p. 9; the earring, p. 20; the pendants Icetraces, p. 48, or Fred, p. 49; or the brooches Out-Of-The-Blue, p. 25, Bananaboat, p. 24, Windjammer, p. 26, or Takeover, p. 35 – to name only a few – one perceives something like sculptural drawings turned into jewellery: wearable graphics, emancipated as it were from a paper surface, to settle down on the body of a wearer but without merging with it or being inscribed into it in the manner of a tattoo. The interstitial space thus moves from the serial environment of the works into the heart of an individual work to then become manifest as the space of difference between a three-dimensional drawing functioning as jewellery and the ornamented body of a wearer.
(1) See the clarifying remarks of Beat Wyss in ‘Das Gold des Entwerfens’, in Ellen Maurer Zilioli (ed.), Private Confessions. Zeichnung und Schmuck, Stuttgart 2016, pp. 38–44.
About the author
Pravu Mazumdar studied physics in New Delhi and Munich and has a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Stuttgart. He writes in German and English, and his books, which use themes like migration and consumerism to unfold a diagnosis of modernity, are closely connected to French Postmodernism, in particular the philosophy of Michel Foucault. His book on jewellery was published in 2015 under the title: Gold und Geist: Prolegomena zu einer Philosophie des Schmucks (“Gold and Mind: Prolegomena towards a Philosophy of Jewellery”), Berlin: Matthes & Seitz.
Born and brought up in the eastern provinces of India and living between several languages and three continents, Pravu Mazumdar leads a typically contemporary interstitial existence. An essential category of such a mode of living is the idea of hybridity, to which Mazumdar has devoted several writings, like Das Niemandsland der Kulturen (Berlin: 2011) or “Wishful Thinking” on jewellery and existence.
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