Where did it go?
When Matilda was very young she used to run behind the television to investigate further what she saw on the screen. Her puzzlement was obvious. Soon she realized that what appeared to be a bird was nothing but a chimera on a flat surface that stopped at the edge of the box. The box itself held other, more continuing fascination: a top on which to climb, sides to hide behind from which to stalk imaginary mice, wires to play with . . .
Yesterday I visited two friends in their studios: a jeweller, then later, a painter. We discussed their work — always an illuminating pastime.
The jeweller’s new pieces (models, at this stage) are flat shapes, sawn from copper and brass. As with such shapes, they are utterly dependent upon the quality of the line that defines them: their outline, their edge, which was enhanced in this case by the burr left by the jeweller’s saw. A burr that our training coerces us to remove. (The monkey that sits on our back) Those that had the burr “correctly” removed lacked the liveliness of those left untouched. Salient.
The painter is developing work prompted by a journey across the Nullabor Plain: that flat, arid, almost treeless, apparently edgeless, 200,000 square kilometre area of limestone that stretches across the southern part of the Australian continent. Most describe it as red. Some call it “Nullaboring”. In fact, it is visually rich and fascinating — neither boring nor particularly red. Anyway, his paintings shimmer with colours only a painter might see: blues, aquas, mauves, part heat haze, part mirage, part fantasy, simultaneously dissolving and resolving, infinitely evocative and, curiously, somehow aqueous. (Turner comes to mind, and Monet’s paintings of his waterlily pond) But, no matter how apparently solid or ethereal the imagery, the view is curtailed by two vertical and two horizontal lines — the edges that define most paintings, most two dimensional images. They have to “stop” somewhere. Sometimes one is left with a sense of wanting to venture further, only to be bounced back into the picture by the chop of the frame reclaiming our focus. Even a moving image, a film or video, may propel us backwards and forwards in time, but it is still bound by its edges, by the limits of the screen. (3D holograms are another matter).
Of course, shapes depicted in images have edges — images of edges — more or less decisive, or able to be imagined, strategically worked so that shape clearly or more subtly overlaps or collides with shape, stands against background, or is judiciously coerced to collude or merge with other shapes, with background, to disappear ambiguously. In the case of my friend the painter of desert myths, the shapes are cryptic, overlaid, superimposed, hazy, reflective of the forms (or lack of forms) around them. Since the second half of the 19th century when the Impressionists so disrupted assumptions about painting, edges have had a tendency to blurr, shimmer and generally feint with our expectations; but almost always the edge of the image itself is resolute. The journey we take beyond the frame — through the canvas, board, paper, screen — is a journey of the mind.
An edge suggests that there is some-thing, or some-no-thing beyond. Some where. Some no-where. It is a locus at which some-thing — any-thing — is possible. Not necessarily visible, but possible. There might always be more around the corner, over the edge.
An infinity of potential.
An eternity of seeking.
We used to think that the earth was flat; that it had an edge, beyond which lay all manner of delights or, more likely, terrors. Terrors trumped up to keep the wayward docile.
It could be observed and deduced, from telescopic views of other planets, lunar eclipses and other phenomena, that the flat earth theory was unsustainable. As far as we know, none of the adventurers fell off the edge, though some were undoubtedly consumed by monsters. Gradually, the world changed its shape. Lost its terrifying edge. Explorers circumnavigated the earth. As we journeyed further — into space and images of the (almost) sphere on which we live were sent back to us, it lost its edge entirely. It became spherical. Perhaps even more vertiginous than when there was thought to be a definite(?) edge. To see how vertiginously we teeter in space on this almost-sphere: that, surely, has altered our concept of edge.
But, to return to the object:
What of the edge of a thing?
As a result of our motility and our binocular vision, the edges of a three-dimensional object, of a solid (or hollow) thing, though they are verifiable through actual or imagined (enhanced by memory) bodily contact, are less fixed to our view than the edges of shapes in a two dimensional image. The object’s edges may be sharply defined where facets meet, where plane abuts plane, where side stops at base, where inner meets outer, but there is always a way to change our view of the edge, to alter its implication: by altering the relationship between the object and our eyes — by moving the thing, or by moving ourselves, which we do as we breathe.
Try to maintain a static view of a thing.
Close one eye.
It sometimes seems to me that the the rim of a vessel is its most salient feature, where inner meets, collides, colludes or merges with outer, perhaps because the edge (the profile) of a three dimensional form such as a vessel is constantly changing. The aspect, hence the edge, shifts as one’s vision slips around it. The line formed where one plane abuts another is an unambiguous edge; but turn the thing around and the profile of its outer limit changes. It is all edge. It is matter both occupying and encountering the space around it, and that reflects our body, our own corporeal selves — adjacent to it, reciprocal to it. In the case of the jewel: attached to it.
Where is the edge of a jewel?
The jeweller proposes and the wearer disposes.
The edge of a ring, which is a fully three-dimensional form containing a space to accommodate a finger, which, passing through it, merges with the volume of the hand, is different from the edge of a brooch, with its more autonomous nature and frontal disposition. Some brooches resemble a medievally flattened earth — all edge. Mysteries lie behind and beyond them. Behind them: ideally, is a beautiful (brooch) back; beyond them: the wearer’s choice of apparel. The edge of a ring (band) takes its own journey in circumnavigation of the finger, safely returning to its point of departure: to itself.
The edge of a neckpiece projects from a collarbone, rendering both work and neck edgier than when viewed separately; or it nestles or is submerged into cleavages and creases, forming new edges that distort both its original form and the wearer’s body; or it is drowned in a sea of hair — mermaid’s tresses. And ear jewels? Some float, like delicate craft, perilously close to the wearer’s Leviathan ear. Their edges blurr with constant movement.
The edge of a worn jewel is not the same as the edge of a jewel apart. Jewels project from the body — physically and psychically. Their edges are enhanced or obscured by the presence of the wearer — by their physique, their physiognomy, their clothes, their persona. With consistent reciprocity they advance and retreat, are dominant then subversive, at times, it seems, simultaneously.
So this is what it means to make jewellery: to consider edges as salient as any other aspect of the thing, but to be prepared to relinquish our maker’s edge into the hands of a wearer of unknown and possibly delinquent configuration. And to delight in it.
Perhaps only the sphere, which has for so long symbolized totality, lacks an edge. Therein lies perfection and, possibly, boredom. If the sphere can suggest completeness, wholeness, then perhaps all other forms — forms which have edges — suffer some lack. Each is a thing-in-waiting — awaiting another thing, another edge, some thing to butt against, to fit with, to stand beside, behind, before. Always incomplete.
It follows that the jewel-which-is-not-a-sphere is incomplete. The wearer makes up its deficit, fills the absence, completes the picture.
Do words have edges?
Certainly, their derivations are salient:
Edge derives from the Old English ecg [sharpened side of a blade,] of Germanic origin; related to Dutch egge and German Ecke, also to Old Norse eggja, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin acies ‘edge’ and Greek akis ‘point.’ Some of which relate to egg, as a transitive verb.
To egg someone on is to urge someone to do something, particularly something silly, rash or risky; it comes from Middle English, derived, in turn, from Old Norse eggja ‘incite.’
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And now, Matilda, attaining perfection . . .
About the author
Margaret West is an artist who sometimes makes jewellery; she writes: mostly poetry essays. She has exhibited widely in Australia overseas. She lives in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia.
About this blog
Touching the thingness of words the wordness of things.
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