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May 14, 2018 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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On the Proliferation of Jewellery Exhibitions

There’s something about the climate we live in that has caused a sprouting of contemporary jewellery exhibitions. It is often easy to detect trends in contemporary art practice and decode the conditions that have led to their proliferation. From the end of last year until the present, we have seen The Language of Things, currently on at The Dowse; I want to go to my bedroom but I can’t be bothered, of Lisa Walker’s work, at Te Papa Tongarewa; Hamish McKay with Lisa Walker, Karl Fritsch and Jan van der Ploeg; the Handshake series of events.

Object making is often used to find form for something that cannot exist in a state rendered by the human body — something that our actions can’t convey in performance, that our language is fallible at articulating. However, it has become less important in contemporary art. The absence of an object in favour of occupying a particular time and space is something that artists turned to more frequently. The rise in exhibitions of jewellery seems like a very specific return to the object. The act of making something tangible can be linked to processes of ritual and healing, a way to unlearn and to relearn, and to produce a physical thing which can share the labour that has been put into it.

Jewellery is not a traditional medium to work in; it doesn’t quite fit alongside painting or sculpture or photography. It is simplistic to say that art, in a very broad sense, is functionless (“art for art’s sake!”). This can be dismantled, but presenting jewellery as art transgresses this already, as there is an existing and discernible function of jewellery. There is an intimacy to it too, intended to be worn so close to the body, often given as a sign of emotional connection. In this way, jewellery can compress a complex concern or thought into a very personal object. This shift towards jewellery in current exhibition trends suggests that what we are grappling with is impossible to untangle in its full and complete scale; it seems predictable to say that the global sociopolitical climate is troubling, but it is also true. Instead of making the personal political, the political is made personal.

In Hal Foster’s notes for Bad New Days, he recognises that the question we are asking about art now is “how does it affect me?” If the Big Question that we are challenging art with is such an individual one, it makes sense to respond to it in the equally individualised forms of jewellery: rings, necklaces, which should be worn and contemplated discreetly. To add further specificity to the resurgence of jewellery exhibitions, the illogical and absurd has lifted its head too. Lisa Walker’s necklace made of stuffed ducklings is a good example of this. The necklace is essentially wearable, in that it is able to be worn around the neck, but the grotesque choice of stuffed ducklings definitely negates this. Thus, we have these objects which present as jewellery, which are for the body, which have been confused by their use of materials that are repulsive to have near the body, or which the body cannot manage. And so, the increasing prominence of jewellery in exhibitions is acting as a reminder that, in our individual confrontations with the global, an artistic medium can be just as confused as we are.

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