With Jewelry: Other-Than-Ordinary Gold

Published: 13.07.2021
matt lambert
Edited by:
Edited at:
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Mallory Weston. Brooch: 18K Saguaro Cactus Brooch, 2015. Gold-plated brass, nickel, cotton, polyester, thread.. 25.4 x 12.7 x 3.8 cm. Photo by: Ian Shiver. Mallory Weston
Brooch: 18K Saguaro Cactus Brooch, 2015
Gold-plated brass, nickel, cotton, polyester, thread.
25.4 x 12.7 x 3.8 cm
Photo by: Ian Shiver
© By the author. Read Copyright.

Jewelry is a menace to thinking in neat and tidy ways. I was invited to write a mini-series about some of the possibilities and potentials of how jewelry can function with, and illustrate, larger, often poetic ways of thinking. The pieces are in conversation with each other. After all, I think of them as tools, rather than end products. An invitation for us to dance in possibility – in a realm beyond the binary right and wrong.

This is the second article of Klimt02's With Jewelry series. Not manifestos but prompts and dialogue springboards whose intention is to enrich, engage or entangle with larger ideas, rather than to resolve.
The arts of the body are about not only creating appearances but also seeking effects. We seek to impress, to render ourselves attractive, to give ourselves strength, assurance, and poise. Some of us seek to daunt or intimidate others. In doing so we make use of technologies in which the body itself is the living form that lends vibrancy and effect to whatever decorations and enhancements it bear, in this sense the body is unlike any other medium… It is also the substance of human life, the container of personal and collective existence, the bearer of vitality, of particular social identity, and of personality alike. (1)
 In 2014 I clearly remember attending a conference where a speaker proclaimed the solid yellow gold wedding band is the epitome of jewelry (2). They went on to ask rhetorically why anyone bothers to make jewelry given this assertion? If the speaker intended to instigate or challenge, then it was clearly effective if I am thinking about still, seven and a half years later. The gold ring, although iconic, summons specific structures and institutions, continuously questioned and debated in public discourse. It is a tool to bond but also exclude. The gold ring signals wealth, connection, symbolizes commitment but also containment and normative centralism. This proclamation I witnessed came down from a podium into the ears of a sea of makers. It told them that their individual efforts to make jewelry were possibly futile. You could feel it then. This thought, given from a podium, blanketed the attendee’s consciousness and took its place as water does sometimes in the ear. It was impossible to shake, but caused no discomfort, instead it was just a nagging irritation, for you to know it is there, yet harmless.
It is on reflection of the  gold rings proclaimed ideals that I now wonder. If the same amount of gold were given to a variety of makers and they were told to make the same size ring with no other material but the total amount of gold given, what would those rings look like? If names of the makers were hidden what rings would draw us in and why would we desire to wear some but not others?

Zoe Brand. Neckpiece: Cash for Gold, 2013. Brass, powder coat, rope. 30 x 21 x 3 cm.

A mark in geological strata to show time periods is referred to as a golden spike. Jewelry becomes a golden spike for points in the timeline of our lives. Jewelry does not need to be made of gold to make gold.
…although alchemy appears to concern itself with the literal making of gold, there is another level on which it can be understood. Alchemy can be viewed as a formula for psychic gold-making…The gold that is made through alchemical processes is other-than-ordinary gold… The stages through which a base metal must pass before becoming who he or she is meant to be: a person in the individuation process. (3)
A collection shows the facets of a person’s life and creates markers of memory. The accumulation of jewelry by an individual has the possibility to write a narrative of emotions, histories and heartbeats.
Maureen Mercury’s text Pagan Fleshworks: the Alchemy of Body Modification, quoted in the previous paragraph, is one I carry in my bag and has remained in the back of my head for many years. In it she describes the processes of body modification and proposes that the primary focus should not be the image or object, instead she places emphasis on the relationship to the body and placement on the body which allows for a different kind of gold to be made. As she states – “individual self-expression through personal adornment is a drive foundational to the human experience. As we become who we are meant to be, as we move through the process of individuation, we must separate ourselves from others in some way.” (4)

Mette Saabye, Brooch, 2012. 24k gold leaf, steel. Ø 75.6 mm.

What comes into play when choosing what we wear: size, weight, color, movement? What do all of these properties signal to us consciously but also subconsciously?

Why does a work spark a fire in the eye of one and a turn of the head for another?

How does jewelry modify our bodies, even if for a temporary moment?
Forms such as necklaces, rings and bracelets have a relationship with specific places on the body. While a brooch is a form of jewelry that does not always have a fixed territory assigned to it on the body. Its existence on the body is dictated by the wearer or the one helping to pin it to its wearer. What is the feeling of the right or left side of the chest, what creates an urge to place something on the back of the shoulder? A brooch has the potential to roam the greatest distance. A brooch does not rely on the topography of the body to dictate its placement. These forms offer different securities in choice, but I can not help but now wonder why one day a necklace seems more logical than a brooch? Why a brooch over a bracelet? What inner alchemy are we attempting when putting on jewelry?

Jewelry challenges us to be more conscious of our bodies. Jewelry offers us opportunities to express ourselves to stand out or signal membership or placement in a collective. Gold in this essay then represents a moment, a signal, and a feeling. Jewelry offers us a way to spike moments in our lives, commemorating, signaling, and reigniting. These moments do not require podiums to be proclaimed as marks on a global history but will function as golden spikes in our own timelines. Jewelry creates moments stepping away from a singular history and celebrates histories.

(1) Nicholas Thomas, Body Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 2014), 14.
(2) When I use the term jewelry I am encompassing its many terms such as art jewelry, contemporary jewelry and will not address the nuances of terms in defining categories of jewelry in this particular essay.
(3) Maureen Mercury, Pagan Fleshworks: the Alchemy of Body Modification (Rochester, NY: Inner Traditions International, Limited, 2000), 72.
(4) Maureen Mercury, Pagan Fleshworks: the Alchemy of Body Modification (Rochester, NY: Inner Traditions International, Limited, 2000), 53-54.

> Special thanks to Aaron Decker for editing this writing. 

About the author

matt lambert
is a non-binary, trans, multidisciplinary collaborator and co-conspirator currently living in Stockholm Sweden as a Ph.D. student between Konstfack and HDK Valand. They hold a MA in Critical Craft Studies from Warren Wilson College and an MFA in Metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art.