18 December 2011

Stating the obvious

It is interesting to note how different audiences respond to my practice as a jeweller.  Those working in, or familiar with, the world of contemporary jewellery, do not question the validity of using everyday materials, or working in unusual forms.  Those less familiar, may assume that precious jewellery needs to be made of precious metals and gemstones, and expect a familiar form (necklace, pendant, ring) that is conservative in size and style.

This is a similar to the response to my earlier fine art practice.  Twenty plus years ago I was often to be found dragging found objects (window frames, doors with layers and layers of paint, old bed frames) to the studio to be nailed to the walls in the name of art.  The use of readymades in art is part of a well established tradition, and thankfully it is now unnecessary to explain their use by citing historical examples as evidence of their validity.  I hope that soon it will be unnecessary to justify the field of contemporary jewellery.

But what drives me to repeatedly use found objects in the first place?  To answer this, I have been looking beyond the boundaries of the fine and applied arts worlds, and found some interesting research into the appeal of found objects in the fields of psychology. 

In his paper From Trashed to Treasured (Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 2010, Vol 4, No 2, 81-92), the psychologist Paul M Camic identifies five different categories to explain found object use, of which three seem to particularly echo my own experience ...

Discovery and Engagement (the adventure of the hunt; finding the unexpected).  This is definitely true for me.  I love the thrill of finding something unexpected, and the minute I spot something of interest, I can't help but imagine how and where I could use it.  Invariably objects and materials I use are not used in isolation, so finding one object, and imagining its use, means that previous 'finds', filed away in the studio are brought to mind.  

History and Time Past (trigger of personal memories; narratives of both object and previous owners).  Although personal memories are obviously triggered with some finds, I am more interested in considering the unseen narratives of the objects I use.  How did they arrive at their lost destination? What was their original form and/or function? Who owned them?  Who lost them?  Are they missed?

Symbolic and Functional Object (aesthetic properties; thrill of a free find; creative action/use for the object).  The aesthetic properties of my finds are very important to my practice.  I haven't yet completely identified a set of aesthetic rules that I follow, but looking at my recent finds, I can identify some common denominators ... small (fit in the palm of my hand); broken; man-made; simple (single) colour (no decoration or pattern).  If they were to speak, they would whisper, but everyone would listen.  The thrill of a free find is also relevant, though I'm not sure if this is an ideal or a necessity.  For so long I have been restricted by financial constraints, and if I were to find myself in a position to buy any material I needed for my practice, I'm not sure I would.  The final definition Camic made in this section was the 'creative use for the object', which leads back to the first category of discovery and engagement. Creative use and engagement is essential.  Duchamp led the way, and the fight to get found objects or readymades considered as art is not relevant in the same way now as it once was.  I recall tutorials on my degree course, where lecturers would encourage me to 'do' something with my finds ... something more than hanging nailing them to a wall (as I was inclined to do!).  I get it now.  

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