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Wearable or Not?: Experiencing Contemporary Jewellery. A Master Degree project by Sylvia Jielu Zhang

Published: 11.07.2018
Sylvia Jielu Zhang Sylvia Jielu Zhang
Author:
Sylvia Jielu Zhang
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Toronto
Edited on:
2016
Exhibition Poster Design. Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery, 2016..
Exhibition Poster Design. Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery, 2016.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewelry investigates the notion of wearability and presents jewelry that challenges it. Some of the jewelry works are performative, while the others interact with wearers or even restrict body movement. Having developed since the 1960s, the ever-evolving contemporary jewelry breaks away from adornment, luxury, and convention. It converges with fine art and thus blurs the definition of wearability.
 
A thesis exhibition presented to OCAD University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Criticism and Curatorial Practice. Toronto, Ontario, Canada, December 2016.
Sylvia Jielu Zhang. Master of Fine Arts in Criticism and Curatorial Practice, 2016 OCAD University.
 
How is that supposed to be worn? is the general query of people who come across contemporary jewellery. Sitting at the intersection of art and craft, contemporary jewellery blurs the relationship between form and function. Emerging out of the aesthetic radicalism of the 1960s and evolving ever since, contemporary jewellery breaks the culturally-informed role as bodily adornment and exists as conceptual artwork that constantly challenges traditional thinking. Not surprisingly, contemporary jewellery has also challenged traditional exhibition strategies. The standard museum practices of display are called into question. In this exhibition I examine the relationship between the human body and contemporary jewellery via the works of six artists. I also explore ways to interact with visitors to experience the works visually and tactilely. As contemporary jewellery is a relatively new art form, my thesis exhibition contributes to scholarships in the realm, as well as the curatorial practice for other art-based objects.

Keywords: Contemporary jewelry, wearability, curatorial practice of objects, critiques of display strategies, interactive exhibition, contemporary art, craft.

>> Read the complete Curatorial Thesis


In the 1960s a new culture and practice of jewellery-making emerged in Europe and the United States. Jewellers tied to vanguard developments in contemporary art, design, and craft increasingly participated in debates concerning the “proper” function of jewellery and sought to expand the definition of the objects and apparatus of personal adornment (Cohn 229). As curator and jeweller Susan Cohn write, Views diverged on matters of materials (precious or nonprecious), wearability (jewellery or sculpture) and value (elite or democratic). Indeed, as Cohn notes, makers sought to differentiate themselves on a number of grounds (229). Some jewellers, Gijs Bakker (b.1942) of the Netherlands being one, for example, began merging jewellery with art, exploring jewellery as a medium for artistic expression. The name for this category of jewellery varies depending on the context. I have chosen the term “contemporary jewellery” as it is the most widely used in the field.

Contemporary jewellery is a crossover between art and craft. In many instances, it represents the intentional blurring of the boundaries of wearability and results in confusion and anxiety. Jewellery has, for centuries, been defined by the connection between functioning definitions of convention and culturally determined practices of bodily adornment. With contemporary jewellery, viewers often ask questions about function and wearability that speak to assumptions about its seeming departure from convention and its purpose (namely that of display as opposed to using). Indeed, given the category’s relatively short history and its limited commercial availability, contemporary jewellery does not exist with the same level of familiarity or comfort as that of traditional forms.  Accordingly, contemporary jewellery challenges widely shared notions about form and function.

Wearable or Not?: Experiencing Contemporary Jewellery examines the idea of wearability, and the curiosity that is immediately piqued in people when they come across a piece of contemporary jewellery that does not conform to established ideas of form and function. The issue of wearability is complex. On the one hand, it is the most basic function of the objects of personal adornment. On the other, when the boundaries of jewellery are pushed – when designer create objects that defy the shapes, roles and materials of tradition – so the question of wearability (as both a physical and psychic or cultural act) – comes to the fore and raises the issue of how such objects are to be defined and how they destabilize conventional thinking.  Indeed, the question of how far can the idea of wearability be pushed is of particular significance especially when jewellery artists experiment with new materials and seek to express a new idea.  Accordingly, it is fitting to ask about how should people respond to the shifting relationships between conceptual jewellery and the human body, and, in terms of the critical and public interrogation of these issues, what role can curators play in this process?

Importantly, my thesis exhibition Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery also explores new curatorial practices of showing contemporary jewellery. Museums and galleries play a fundamental role in communicating art’s value to the public. Traditionally, however, jewellery exhibitions have long tended to showcase and display jewellery in glass cases so as to protect the objects. These standard display practices only allow viewers to look at the pieces from a distance. Not only does this mode of exhibition display fail to an efficient communicate the significance of contemporary jewellery – its form, its materiality and its expressive characteristics – but also affirms for viewers the alienating strategies of museum displays.  Not surprisingly, viewers have no option but to remain uncertain about the wearability of the objects on display and likely less informed about the artistic concepts/ideas that give rise to the works. This exhibition focuses on this problem and explores ways to engage visitors with the jewellery. I am confident that museums and galleries can move past the institutional limits of forbidding contact with objects and show the wearable quality of contemporary jewellery by providing a multisensory experience that goes beyond just looking and seeing.

To address the issue of wearability, the exhibition presents the work of six jewellery artists who focus on redefining wearability through the expression of concepts and the use of new materials. The artists are both national and international in reputation. Most of them work in non-precious materials. The included artworks address different concepts and challenge how the human body relates to jewellery. Not only does the exhibition include photographs of models wearing the jewellery, and prototype/test pieces, but also it allows visitors to interact with the works. They can touch some of the artworks and the prototype/test pieces, examine them closely, and even put them on. These curatorial decisions are considered important because they allow viewers to engage fully with the objects. By raising the question is contemporary jewellery wearable or not?, the exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to experience the works in a radical way. The purpose of the exhibition is not only educational but also interactive. It generates dynamic dialogue between artists and the public so that audiences can interpret contemporary jewellery from a changed perspective.
 

>> Read the complete Curatorial Thesis


TABLE OF CONTENTS

1| Curatorial Thesis
  • Introduction 01
  • From Traditional to Contemporary Jewellery 04
  • Wearability & Challenged Tradition 07
  • Curating for Contemporary Jewellery 13
  • Redefining Wearability and Relationships with the Human Body 17
  • Conclusion 28

2| Support Paper
  • Introduction 31
  • Literature Review 31
  • Exhibition Review 35
  • Methodology 40
  • Installation Design/ Concept 42
  • Conclusion 47
  • Work Cited 48
3| Appendixes
  • A. Images & List of Works 51
  • B. Gallery Space Design (by Dialux) 60
  • C. Artist Statements and Biographies 62
  • D. Visual Documentation of Exhibition 74
  • E. Promotional Materials 79
  • F. Visual Documentation of the Exhibition’s Special Programmings 81
  • G. Sample Contract 83


 

About the author

Sylvia Jielu Zhang is a jewellery artist and designer trained in Central Saint Martins, UK. She graduated with a Jewellery Design degree in 2014. Her passion for exhibiting contemporary jewellery led her to study Master’s degree on Criticism and Curatorial Practice at OCAD University, Canada. She curated the exhibition Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery for her thesis and completed the thesis paper for the show. Now she is working on her jewellery designer brand with all her passion and love.

Email: sylviazhang.jewellery@hotmail.com
Website: www.sylviazhang.com
Instagram: sylviazhangstudio

 
Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery Exhibition
2018
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Exhibition Shot by Echo Wang. Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery, 2016. Visitors observing artworks through the magnifiers..
Exhibition Shot by Echo Wang. Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery, 2016. Visitors observing artworks through the magnifiers.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Installation Shot by Peter Ma. Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery, 2016. Belle Wong, Talk and Play, 2015..
Installation Shot by Peter Ma. Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery, 2016. Belle Wong, Talk and Play, 2015.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Exhibition Shot by Echo Wang. Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery, 2016. Visitors interacting with the test pieces on wall..
Exhibition Shot by Echo Wang. Wearable or Not?: Interacting with Contemporary Jewellery, 2016. Visitors interacting with the test pieces on wall.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
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