I would like to share with you some impressions left on me by the Grey Area symposium (1), and suggest that our community functions like a closed circuit: that the distances we travel to meet one another, exhibit and speak, as well as our promotional hyperactivity, give us the illusion of globalism and 'outreach'. There is a small epiphany at the root of this text: watching on the screen in front of us a picture of another conference room, this one in Portugal (2), and hearing around me people point and say: "Oh look that's me. And here is so-and-so!"
Is there anyone in the room apart from us?
We rarely find contemporary jewellery in its expected 'natural habitat': pinned to the breast of the portly and the intrepid. Its preferred places of growth are workshops, seminars, blogs, exhibitions and their short-hand, one-line version: the digital flyer. contemporary jewellery lives in those places and proliferates through media that are not its own: photography, graphic design, powerpoint presentations, the written and the spoken word. There is a wide discrepancy between the implied end-goal of our profession (to create work that find its justification in its interaction with users - as collectibles and functional objects) and the actual 'life' of jewellery objects. They live in print first and foremost - as if the white page acted like a timeless briefing room, where pre-match ambitions, strategies, and strengths can be rehearsed while the match never gets played.
The 'perception' of CJ is determined not by the encounter between user and object: this is - as a matter of fact - secondary to the ceaseless production of discourse on / around / about jewellery. The politics of our self-contained community are part of the problem - particularly the absence of third-party assessment of what contemporary jewellery is. The closest example (I could think of) of a profession that controls both the production of a certain type of cultural goods and the authority to evaluate its relevance is the scientific community: the validity of its 'discoveries' is confirmed through peer-proofing, and we hear about it once in a blue moon, when some underaged Russian genius brings down the impregnable fortress of some obscure century-old theorem with three strokes of his pen. How exciting. This process is called self-legitimation: 'we are good because we say we are good.'
While individual practices show a robust pioneering intent in occupying bastard creative territories - between craft and the fine arts, craft and design, craft and performance -, group meetings drag us back to a constant (re)evaluation, (re)description, (re)interpretation of what CJ is: I find a stark contrast between, on the one hand, an almost flatline market existence, and on the other, a form of exponential real-time exegesis. It is as though a desperate discursive life support replaced the user/object relationship with a maker/commentator conversation (I thought that the Gray Area was one of the 1001 nights: with the attendees indifferently playing Scheherazade or the Persian king in an endless game of musical chairs).
Trying to sum my impressions to a friend, who curates both art and jewellery exhibitions, I told him 'there we were, looking at us showing ourselves what we have created... for us - the whole exercise presumably making us better prepared to produce even finer work which, next year, will be seen by the same eyes." He told me that the art scene is just as self-contained, if on a bigger scale. Does scale change the nature of a confined territory, I asked him. No, he said.
Out out respect for the proverbial other side of the coin, this second part was dedicated to discussing the positive sides of insularity (insert smiley here): think of it an uppity pat on our collective shoulder, reminding ourselves that we're doing damn well, considering. I decided against it: this will be a purely critical text. I do not believe that our practice will ever find public recognition unless we cater to people other than ourselves.
Alternatively, we can hope that the whole world will eventually become Dutch. That would work as well.
For a day by day account of the symposium, and other insightful tid-bits by Art Jewelry Forum editor Damian Skinner, please check the following link.
Also reporting on the symposium was Sam O'Hana Grainger.
1. The Symposium, organised by Valeria Vallarta Siemelink, took place in Mexico city between the 13 and the 18th April. Around 6 hours of presentations, round tables and conferences were programmed each day, to an audience of 241 people (a mix of speakers and attendees, quite evenly divided between Latin-America and Europe). At least one daily exhibition opening concluded the sessions, that brought a welcomed tangibility to what was discussed at the conferences. My impressions notwithstanding, the overall project was an extremely successful event as it achieved its most obvious proclaimed goals: to create in-depths cross-atlantic creative partnerships resulting in several site-specific exhibitions, and to host a transcontinental symposium so that professionals either side of the Atlantic may cross-pollinate, learn from one another, hatch world domination plans. And there were many cherries on that already very sweet cake: an eleventh hour support for the publication of the symposium lectures, the beginning of a pan-american jewellery syndication, plus invitations galore extended to teachers, artists and researchers to do what they do best.
It is remarkable that some of the artists selected for the transatlantic partnership were not jewellers, and that the exhibition venues were chosen outside the jewellery precinct: the organisers clearly hoped to find that elusive 'other audience' that has nothing to do with contemporary jewellery.
For a detailed report on who got to see the WGA exhibition, and a critical reaction to this post, please look at Kristian's three posts below.
2. The photo was taken during Ars Ornata '05, which was hosted by the Portuguese association PIN. The image was shown to us by artist and curator Cristina Filipe, president of PIN.
About the authorBen Lignel is a jewellery and furniture designer, a co-founder of la garantie, association for jewellery, and since 2009, a member of Think Tank, a European initiative for the applied arts. He lives, works, cooks, writes and occasionally designs in Paris, France. Please come and visit.
About this blogA Gallic exercise in hair-splitting, obscure references and philosophical own goals – “it works in practice, but does it work in theory?”
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