“Jewellery is an intimate art” Toni Greenbaum

By cloelea, May 17 2017 

Inni Parnanen, Extraorgans, necklace
Stephanie Voegele, Skin Adornments

“In November 1975 I (Peter Skubic) underwent an operation and had a small steel implant inserted under the skin of my lower arm, called Schmuck unter der Haut (Jewellery under my skin), which, after seven years, was surgically removed from my arm and I kept and secured it in the casket-shaped bezel of a ring. Photographs, also radiography, were used to document the operation as an idea of invisible jewellery”.

The main idea of the jeweller Peter Skubic is to challenge the concept of jewellery and to work on the theme of visibility and invisibility in jewellery, but I also think that, in his project “Jewellery under my skin”, there is a very intimate process in the same way a piece of jewellery can be very personal, almost part of oneself, as in this case.

This intimate link one can have with jewellery can be for other reasons: whether it is because the item was a present from a loved one or it can be because it comes from somewhere special to the person or it might only be because when you wear an item of jewellery for a long time, it has accompanied you through many good and bad times and becomes a sort of talisman.

One typical example is the use of hair in jewellery. The French jeweller Ana Goalabre explains that the idea came from when she met someone special. She sent a ring made of her hair with a little note saying: «J’aimerais tant passer mes doigts dans tes cheveux» (I would love to pass my fingers through your hair).

Another example is the use of skin-like materials (such as parchment, pig skin used by the Finnish jeweller Inni Parnanen or silicone rubber used by American jeweller Stephanie Voegele) to produce very delicate and translucent items worn as jewels but which could almost be seen as replacement for parts of the body. “The border between body and embellishment thus becomes blurred and our skin becomes the adornment” (Stephanie Voegele).

This is part of what Monique Manoha (founder of Biennale du Bijou Contemporain de Nîmes) calls “organs-ornements”, part of the body (inside or out) that become an item of jewellery. For further interesting discussions on the subject see: MANOHA Monique, « De l’organe à l’ornement », in H. Marchal et A. Simon dir., Projections : des organes hors du corps (actes du colloque international des 13 et14 octobre 2006).

This is not new, in the sense that representations of organs have been used in jewellery for centuries (“the hand of Fatma”, “the eye of Horus”…). It is the way in which the theme is further elaborated, and with it the questions that arise, that brings this idea that contemporary jewellery is an intimate art.

It is also because an item of contemporary jewellery is not often conventional in its appearance and consequently might not attract a large portion of the public. In this sense, it makes it even more special because the jewel creates a personal and intimate dialogue with the person, which will not happen with someone else.

“… collectors (understand museums and galleries) often apply their own criteria when considering a piece… their private taste is shaping what the public will know about contemporary jewellery” (Toni Greenbaum, contemporary jewellery historian and lecturer). The public and the wearer is the instigator of a trend, he decides what contemporary jewellery looks like by making a personal choice.

This is another important point which shows that even though the designer decides on the look of the jewellery item, eventually it is the wearer/public/collector who decides what he wants to be wearing and/or displaying as his own idea of jewellery.

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