Photo by Christoph Ziegler
Photo by Christoph Ziegler
- Loukia Richards
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While the mission of contemporary art is to actively interfere in the social discourse, Loukia Richards examines whether jewellery is destined to meet this goal.
Art always reflects society: its values, aesthetics and major events. Art changes the way we look at reality and questions truisms. The way we look at art changes from time to time. However, its principles remain the same.
Art forces us to shift our perspective, as a Greek temple forces us to consider light, location, and the surrounding landscape, in order to decipher the meaning of the building and its ornaments. Following Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction“, the contribution of art in the democratization of society has become an intrinsic feature of contemporary making.
What is contemporary art?
Contemporary art embodies one or more of the following characteristics:
1. It is society-oriented and inspired by present social or political issues
2. it is participative, thus reflects the involvement of the non-specialists in the production of ideas and culture
3. It is interdisciplinary
4. It is Immaterial and conceptual. It does not necessarily need objects in order to exist
5. It abolishes the art-craft boundaries and often combines the digital with the manual
6. It is funded by the many: crowdfunding, art in public space and community programs, artists cooperatives; its place is more in the public sphere than in the private collection
7. It creates synergies with other disciplines, such as science
8. It is ephemeral and not for sale
9. It appropriates famous artworks by reusing and reinterpreting their forms and concepts
10. It uses technology or finds inspiration in technology
The homogeneity of the visual motifs and themes of contemporary art reflect the cultural hierarchies erected on the gap between center and periphery. The trend is also dominant in contemporary jewellery, where local traditions based on a distinctive historical, aesthetical and spiritual identity are erased by fashion.
What is contemporary art obsessed with?
The following key words document themes recurring in (European) contemporary art projects:
1. Environment/ Upcycling/ Ecology
2. Food/ Animal rights/ Public health
3. Spirituality/ Syncretism/ Magic
4. Urban planning/ New economy
5. Artificial intelligence/ Technology/ Ancient and medieval craft techniques
6. Migration/ Refugee crisis
7. Identity/ Multiculturalism
8. Gender ambiguity/ Post-feminism
9. Rebellion/ Politics/ State violence/ Mass poverty
10. Political correctness/ Collective guilt/ Post-colonialism/ Communitarianism
The artists' skills to make free associations and to have an effective intellectual impact through the use of a non-verbal language are also used in political communication, education, social integration, medicine, science, housing projects, neighborhood upgrading etc.
The jewellery paradox
Throughout its history, and independent of the culture it reflects, jewellery embodies the concept of status, power, value, eternity, heirloom, nature, metaphysics, love, magic, protection, spirituality, currency, while the medium's mobility and the ability to transfer visual messages to a broad public is jewellery's major asset compared to other contemporary art disciplines.
The above-mentioned characteristics of jewellery are activated by possessing it. The example of jewellery as a status symbol illustrates the paradox: you cannot „use“ a status symbol without owning it and you cannot enjoy a certain social status by wearing jewellery you do not own. On the other hand, you do not have to possess a Picasso painting or a Brancusi sculpture to share the vision of the maker. Understanding and sharing the concept and message behind the artwork grants you the status of a connaisseur.
But you do have to own a jewellery piece to unfold its meaning and impact because jewellery always reveals its great potential to shift the perspective when it finds expression in the Trinity of the Maker, the Buyer, and the Public Eye.
To paraphrase Jenny Holzer's famous "Truism": Your actions are pointless if no one notices. Your jewellery is pointless if no one buys it.
Never take jewellery art for granted!
Artists do not strive to change society; revolutionaries do. Artists strive to change the way people look at the world through their art.
Art is about focusing on the world surrounding you. What you observe and express through your artwork might not be attractive. Contemporary art can be cynical, aggressive, vulgar, depressing, such as the works by Alfred Hdrlicka, Jenny Holzer, Christian Boltanski, Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, Joep van Lieshout, just to name a few. Contemporary art might be disturbing and frustrating; its narrative has no "happy end".
Art jewellery should be judged by the same standards that apply to visual art. A jewellery maker cannot demand to be called an artist while following rules other than the ones applying to visual art. In order to survive as a jewellery maker though, you need people to like, buy and wear your art. If not worn, jewellery becomes the script of a film that will never be produced, will never be screened, its impact annihilated.
Working with the status symbol par excellence, the jewellery artist sees herself obliged to follow certain promotion and sale strategy patterns. Conformism is, unfortunately, a key word associated with the sale of status or luxury products. It is difficult to be an anti-conformist and successful in business. It requires nothing less than an innovative way to look at art like, for example, Malcolm McLaren and Vivien Westwood did in the 1970s and turned punk into the status symbol of the avant-garde.
Unfortunately, no jewellery artist can escape the challenge to look for her/his own creative answer to the question: How can I be critical and financially sane, frustrating and pleasing, mainstream and avant-garde? It is very difficult indeed, especially if one operates in the highly competitive market instead of the bankruptcy-safe academic world.
The portraits of the Spanish royals painted by Francisco de Goya and Diego Velazquez may help us understand that there are more skills we have to cultivate, in order to turn critical or society reflecting jewellery into something more than a superficial political slogan: the skills of irony, insight, courage, honesty, lucidity, brilliance. These skills will help us answer the question: Is jewellery more than an ornament to me?
About the authorLoukia Richards (Athens, 1965) is a visual artist, curator, and lecturer. Along with her partner Christoph Ziegler, she is the founder of FaveLAB, an interdisciplinary platform and an art lab based in Athens/Greece. Richards has been nominated for the European Award for Applied Arts (2018) and the Herbert Hofmann Prize (2017). She is an alumna of the Fulbright Foundation, the Onassis Benefit Foundation, and the Künstlerdorf Schoeppingen Foundation. Loukia Richards is a graduate of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens (Economics) and University of the Arts Berlin (Visual Communication). A former Reuters financial reporter, she has been trained in Journalism in London and Athens.
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