Eight contemporary jewellers present their vision of tomorrow’s practices

Kristin d’Agostino (NZ/USA)
Larissa Cluzet (FR)
Ann-Kathrin Hartel (DE)
Emmanuel Lacoste (FR)
Lilian Mattuschka (IT)
Susanne Schwarz (DE)
Nadja Soloviev (DE)
Anneleen Swillen (BE)

A proposition by Benjamin Lignel

With a view to increasing his support for new curatorial talents, Louis Nègre, Mayor-Senator of Cagnes-sur-Mer, suggested I take charge of the summer exhibition at the city’s contemporary jewelry Museum, Espace Solidor.

The museum’s programming has been dependant on just a handful of people. The range of their experience reflects an activity that isn’t normally taught, is mostly learnt through practice and has been largely in the care of long-time contemporary jewellery advocates: Olga Biró, who has brought an international network of renowned artists to Cagnes and has built its reputation abroad, is a dealer; Frédéric Braham is an artist; Michèle Heuzé is a historian and Jo Bloxham is a collector. They are all “also” curators and it is they, in France, who have served as mediators between a little-known practice and an increasingly interested audience.

Exhibiting jewellery is a complicated matter. Curators point to the difficulty of showing an ornament meant for the body without the body. The “double occultation” 1 that occurs when this small object is shown in a public space is oft criticized. Disconnected from the body, works are most often displayed under glass: twice removed, in a way, from their “natural” habitat. This results in a certain scepticism towards the museum’s white – or black – cube. Something is missing. At best, display cases are considered a makeshift solution, and at worst, a misrepresentation of the objects’ destination. They remove ornaments from their context and distance them from the bodies that give them meaning.

Yet, why should the body be a more “natural” destination than a drawer, shop-window, mannequin, display-case, bell jar, red velvet cushion, or the trestle tables found in craft markets? Jewellery does equally occupies all these spaces, though it behaves differently in each one 2. Meanwhile, one is inclined to question the type of body jewellery tends to be photographed or shown on- an idealized straight, white, healthy, muscular body– and to wonder which creative field would be jewellery’s best exhibition partner: fashion, art, design or craft. Contemporary jewellers have continuously asked themselves these questions and toyed with the conventional ways of presenting jewellery: by inviting bodies into the gallery space 3, by endorsing the alleged sterility of white cube or by transforming these – and other – curatorial strategies into creative opportunities and occasions to put on a show 4.

The invitation extended by Roland Constant, Deputy Mayor in charge of Culture and departmental counsellor for the Alpes-Maritime region, is an opportunity to re-consider what defines a “contemporary jewellery exhibition”. It is also a chance to renew the pool of curators with whom the city has partnered with so far. I have therefore chosen to ask 8 contemporary jewellers – including a collective of 3 – to take my place and in turn become curators 5 . I invited them to lay down the groundwork of a reflection on jewellery through exhibition, by coming up with their personal interpretations of a very diverse creative field. This website showcases their six proposals: curatorial “seeds” or digests that I hope will be deployed elsewhere, in a more substantial way.

Three of these proposals are object-free: Emmanuel Lacoste asked 6 performance artists to explore jewellery, a field they are not necessary versed in, and to create a performance specially for the project. Lillian Mattuschka requested that each artist she selected provide an oral interpretation of one of his or her works. No encounter with objects takes place; instead visitors are lured by a siren song in the form of an artist’s confession. As for Anneleen Swillen, she picked artists whose works lead a digital life: whether they exist as images only, or as objects whose permanence depends on social media dissemination. These three proposals forced us to re-examine the ways visitors engage with exhibits in the Espace Solidor. They have also inspired the creation of this online platform, where all six proposals – audio and video included – are available.

While the three other proposals could be considered more conventional – in the sense that they present (some) physical pieces under glass – they also work against certain jewellery conventions: Larissa Cluzet, drawing from Samuel Beckett’s mantra to “Fail again. Fail better”, manages to derail our expectations from a self-confident art form by offering a selection of ornaments that contemplate their own inadequacy. Kristin d’Agostino finds in humble and ephemeral artistic gestures signs of renewal in New Zealand’s hyper creative contemporary jewellery scene. Working as a collective, Ann-Kathrin Hartel, Susanne Schwarz and Nadja Soloviev, who have often tackled the question of the double – a contentious issue in art, and a barely discussed one in craft – decided for this project to engage with the complex co-dependency that ties together an original, a variant and a replica.

I commend these eight guest curators for giving a panoramic view of the doubts and desires that drive this thriving field. I thank the city of Cagnes sur Mer for its support to the profession of curator: for most of the eight participants, this was their first opportunity to conceive and organize an exhibition for a public space.

Benjamin Lignel

1 See “The Plinth”, in Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective (Sterling Publishing: New York, 2013), 39-40

2 For a detailed analysis of jewellery’s multiple and simultaneous habitats, see Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective, 17-81

3 On using live mannequins and dancers in the context of a programmed performance piece, see Choreographing the Object (1977) by Marjorie Schick, Interno (1992), by Ruudt Peters, Exhibition in Motion: Objects Performed, a project by the Bellevue museum (2011), and more recently, Encapsulation Suits (2012-now) by Yuka Oyama, and Flock-O-Mania (2015-now) by Zoe Robertson. For more or less extreme infiltrations of the public space, see article “Parades – Jewelry Takes to the Streets” by Lizzie Atkins in Shows and Tales – On jewelry Exhibition Making (Mill Valley: Art Jewelry Forum, 2015), 78-83.

4 On exhibiting contemporary jewellery as a show, see “Showtimes” by Benjamin Lignel in Shows and Tales, 86-95.

5 Most of the curators for this show attended a workshop I held on presenting and curating contemporary jewellery, in Germany (Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Nuremberg), in Belgium (Sint Lukas, Antwerp), in France (AFEDAP, Paris), in Italy (Alchimia, Florence) and in New Zealand (Objectspace, in collaboration with Studio One Toi Tū, Auckland).

Acknowledgements & thanks

Benjamin Lignel extends his warm thanks to: the guest curators for their enthusiasm, their professionalism, and the high quality of their response to his invitation ; Myriam Lopez, whose frictionless efficiency simplifies elaborate projects; Vita Schmidt for her excellent translations; Hedvig Moberg for granting us the permission to use her self-portrait for the exhibition’s promotion; my brother Baptiste Lignel for his advice, his support, and his groovy pictures; Giulia Rossi and Francesca Corso for their quick response and forward-thinking approach to website design; and Emmanuel Lacoste for his careful proofing of the French-language catalogue.

Ann-Kathrin Hartel, Susanne Schwarz and Nadja Soloviev would like to thank Neila Kemmer for writing their statement, and both Eva Knöferl and Benjamin Lignel for their translation of it.

Kristin d’Agostino would like to thank Creative New Zealand for their generous support.

Anneleen Swillen would like to thank Maiko Gubler, Edgar Mosa, Göran Kling, Vann Kwok, Mah Rana and Lisa Walker whose artistic practices, insights and (self-)presentations played a major role within this project. Thanks to her colleagues from PXL-MAD School of Arts Hasselt and Hasselt University for all their contributions to the project. Thanks to all the participating artists/curators of Exposé with whom it was a great cooperation, thanks to Espace Solidor for hosting the exhibition, and a big thanks to Benjamin Lignel for the invitation and the opportunity. From small gestures to big favours: they were all important contributions.

Emmanuel Lacoste would like to thank Claude Arias, Manuela Centrone, Rodolphe Cintorino, Alexandre Keller, Paul King, Maria Landgraf, Rilène Markopoulou and Bérénice V.

All photos by: Baptiste Lignel / Otra Vista

Apart from: the view of the museum of Contemporary Jewellery – Espace Solidor, courtesy of Service communication, Ville de Cagnes-sur-Mer; the images included in the presentation of ACTION!, Courtesy of the artists; portrait of Jon John, courtesy of Bérénice V.

In Memoriam

An artist, a friend, is missing in the following pages. He was invited by Emmanuel Lacoste to participate in the project ACTION!

Jon John is gone.

As a legacy, he leaves the traces of an engaged oeuvre, sometimes extreme, in which the forms starkly contrast with the thematic choices.

Throughout Jon John’s performances and installations, the nexus was Love. He maneuvered his artistic exploration of Love with gentleness and ferocity, and always with deep generosity. He would purposely lead viewers and participants, often overwhelmed by the experience, to touch pure emotion.

In the darkest moments of his illness, Jon surprised everyone with his joie de vivre, far beyond simple survival, and his will to continue his artistic work. His driving passion for life and art was not motivated for accolades or epitaphs. Just generosity. Always, generosity.

Thus, his legacy consists of his being just as much as his work. Both left a mark on everyone who came in contact and will continue to influence and inspire artists, friends, and the public.

Love on you Jon John