With Jewelry: Use(s,d) & Desire

Published: 11.03.2022
matt lambert
Edited by:
Edited at:
Edited on:
Luisa Kuschel. Piece: The Beaded Confinement, 2022. Glass beads, PLA, Acrylic and Thread. Photo by: Benjamin Frik. Model: Sera Kalo . Luisa Kuschel
Piece: The Beaded Confinement, 2022
Glass beads, PLA, Acrylic and Thread
Photo by: Benjamin Frik
Model: Sera Kalo 
© 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 fifth 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.
“Use: the very word is stubby, plain, workmanlike, its monosyllabic bluntness as bare and unadorned as the thing that it names. It radiates overtones of sturdy practicality, bringing to mind images of shapeless overalls and sensible shoes. We tend to equate the useful with what is plodding, rational, and charmless, to oppose the useful to the dance of the imagination, the play of fantasy, the rhythms and rollings of desire. The language of use calls us back to the non-negotiable needs of human existence while steering us away from the siren song of the impractical or incalculable. And its various cognates quickly slide into the bland boilerplate of bureaucrats and technocrats: functional, instrumental, utilitarian, efficient, serviceable, profitable, strategic.”[1]

With Jewelry as a series has given me an opportunity to lay out several propositions of what jewelry can be or is. These essays were never intended to fully unpack these proposals but instead insight ideas, conversations, and possible spaces for me and also you the reader to explore jewelries potentials. Dancing with theory while connecting thoughts to maker’s these essays are a place to rest and think of possibilities with jewelry. So, in this final essay of the series, I pose the question, what is the use of jewelry? Looking back, this question is a thread running through much of my writing from this series, and beyond. Who is it for, what does it do and who needs it anyway?

Paul Derrez. Pride Power: Isabella & Chewe (left) Ronald (right). 2021. Image Credit: MisjaB

Use as a word is so simple and short, yet so rich it becomes hard to list (its definitions?) when on the tongue. A book I return to is Sara Ahmed’s What’s the Use? In it Ahmed traces several histories of the word ‘use’ and how it can be used in acts of queering, subverting, challenging and inverting how we think about what is around us. “Use provides a way of philosophizing from the everyday, a way of thinking about what we are doing as we are doing it. When we say something is being shaped by use, we are also talking about who can use what, when and where. A consideration of use allows us to show how a world can be shaped by what seems to be the smallest thing: how worlds are shaped from the bottom up”[2]

Jewelry for me becomes ideal for questioning what it is we are doing or trying to do. The reasons I return to jewelry is that it is so much for such a small(ish) object and its direct connection to (my, yours, our, the, a) body. It can slip so easily into our everyday life that it physically marks us, amplifies our bodies as a signifier. “An object can be how you encounter a system.”[3]

Juanita Care. Duct Tape mouthpiece. 2020, sterling silver. Image credit: Pe Ferreira @pepigossip

To think about use with jewelry is a thick proposition. It has so many implications to the decorative, to gender to beauty and these categories as well as many more are all simultaneously being used. Allowing for many perspectives, meanings, and uses to be seen or considered at the same time. Jewelry becomes slippery, it falls into loops that allow for the dinner conversation to turn into after-dinner coffee until the clock is noticed in the early hours of the morning.  It surrounds us even when we are not conscious of it. It is an object at least known to almost everyone allowing access to participate in discursive conversation. I once found myself in one such conversation parsing out the ways in which jewelry can be considered used. Used implying the point of finish or abandonment, realizing that this endpoint was only a starting point for another. Opening transformative possibilities of re-use, salvage, and reconstruction.  Leaving the room to wonder if it is even possible to not use jewelry or to use jewelry up.

These thoughts showing that use becomes uses. There are multiple uses stopping and starting at different times. Allowing for a complexity that jewelry can facilitate or possibly illustrate? Jewelry becomes an illustrator or a cartographer to reference other parts of this series. It gives a physical representation of multiplicity. Showing how there are many stories, histories, and narratives happening at the same time. Jewelry when seen this way breaks binary thinking and instead vibrates in the in-betweens exposing the possibility of more.
Jewelry and its relationship to use is historical,
and cultural.
It hosts narrative that allows for stories to be illustrated.
It allows for the meaning to go beyond the objects itself.
Jewelry can be used as a marker or reminder of something larger.
It keeps an idea alive. 
“…to use something as to keep something alive, which is how use also becomes a moral duty, as if by not using something you would stop it from being.” [4]

Luisa Kuschel. Beaded Confinement 2.0. Glass beads, PLA, Acrylic and Thread. Model: Luciano Kuschel. Image Credit: Benjamin Frik.

Jewelry when thought of in this way becomes vital, it is crucial. It keeps us all in this world together. It allows for stories to be signaled and carried. As written in a previous essay, poetry and narrative are the languages of the oppressed. Jewelry can be used here as a physical marker of that narrative. Jewelry becomes act or remembrance. A way to visualize histories that are neglected from the cannon. The stories of our everyday lives when doing the laundry, to our cultural histories lost in political paper piles and smothered by the suppression of the dominant narrative.

“We tend to equate the useful with what is plodding, rational, and charmless, to oppose the useful to the dance of the imagination, the play of fantasy, the rhythms and rollings of desire.”[5] It is with jewelry that so much is possible. It is a object, a concept, an idea, a sign that we can constantly move with. It is a way to show our desires. Not just desires as something indulgent but the desire to remember, the desire to be known, to be heard.

Paul Derrez. Pride Power: Merel (left) Sander & Laurebalogua (right). 2021. Image Credit: MisjaB.

[1] Felski, Rita. 2013. “Introduction” In “Use,” special issue, New Literary History 44, no. 4: v-xxi
[2] Sara Ahmed, What's the Use?: On the Uses of Use (Duke University Press, 2019), 65.
[3] Ibid, 27.
[4] Ibid, 208.
[5] Felski, Introduction, v-xxi

> 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.