Sunday, July 12, 2009
I just finished an article that won't be on news stands for sometime (I don't want to spoil it here). But writing it really got me thinking about the idea of index. Index in art is the idea that the medium one uses records, archives, or else contains an experience or past event. An index is like a footprint, its evidence. Notable users of the strategy of index include Robert Smithson (Yucatan Mirror Displacements), Gordon Matta-Clark (Conical Intersect), and Francis Alÿs (Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can be Political and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can be Poetic). *This is not an exhaustive list - these are examples*
Robert Smithson - Yucatan Mirror Displacements - 1969
Gordon Matta-Clark - Conical Intersect - 1975
Francis Alÿs - Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can be Political and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can be Poetic - 2004-2005
The real interest in index stems from the convergence of index as a post-modern conceptual strategy and the inherent ability of jewelry to contain memory or to stand a s a symbol of memory. In the above examples, all of these artists use index more or less straight forwardly. Smithson uses a photograph to record his ephemeral mirror arrangements, Matta-Clark's site interventions, record absence (through photography) at the site and both loss of presence and presence at the exhibition space, and Alÿs uses index perhaps the most cleverly out of all by banally recording a walk along the green line (the 1967 Israeli-Palestinian border) in the West Bank, but his leaking green paint also records his progress. These things are all records of physical activity.
Jewelry rarely acts as an index in quite the same way - in terms of physicality that is. Perhaps the exception to this is, the dead horse of the contemporary jewelry scene, the category of Mourning Jewelry. Yes, the practice of literally putting part of a lost loved one in a bijou, in order to cherish them forever. Their hair, nail clippings, or image become the record and stand in for the person. This type of physical reminder is quite different from the elegantly made yet blatantly category of memento mori jewelry, which is a death reminder. In so being, the memento mori encourages the wearer to be good, or they'll be sent to hell. Spooky like mourning jewelry, but a bit more abstract?
The disparity that exists between index as a post-modern art making strategy and a jewelry making strategy is due in large part to the fact that in order for jewelry (or any other object for that matter) to contain meaning, the meaning must be projected into that object by a person, experience, or even cultural conferral. If you follow me, then perhaps you will agree that most meaning that jewelry contains is culturally imbued (general) experience or meaning like the hello kitty ring, or the wedding band, which is in fact not specific to actual an experience or event. In comparing the to the specific event recordings of Smithson, Matta-Clark, and Alÿs, to the general or personally symbolic nature of jewelry, I am reminded of personal, semi-potent, hybrid, art objects that I own; like the square of fabric from Christo's 2006 project The Gates, or the Felix Gonzalez-Torres' hard candy. These take-aways come to stand for the art - in my own experience at least.
A piece of fabric from The Gates
Despite jewelry's impotence to participate in index on the same level as someone using photography and video, the practice of introducing image based elements into the fabric of the work in order to record or index has created some very inspired and (intellectually) juicy results. Perhaps the most compelling example of this hybridity in contemporary studio jewelry is Caroline Gore's Site Interventions & Observations. What makes this jewelry atypical, in containing an experience, is that it operates in much the same way as Alÿs' "Green line." Gore is quite unique among studio jewelers as she begins not with an object but an intervention (gasp)! This difference is key because as she records the intervention through a photograph, the jewelry that is precipitated is based on the intervention. The jewelry is an index of the photograph, which is in-turn an index of the activity/ intervention. The jewelry is an object looking at itself, looking at itself. (Aha, back to self awareness again.) In any event, the photograph in Gore's work can be likened to Alÿs' video, while the actual intervention (the gold leaf) would be the green line. The jewelry takes the entire process one step further, like Smithson did on many occasions, displaying physical evidence of the off-site activity together with the image-base documentation of the event in the gallery.
Surely this is not earth shattering in its originality, as we can see clear precedents (not really in jewelry though), but what is extremely significant is the elegance of the conceptual strategy employed in allowing the jewelry object to transcend its objecthood, while also maintaining its objecthood. This is jewelry as an index, authentically in the vein of conceptual art making. whoooa...whooa. (I got the shivers). So perhaps this is the opposite of jewelry as a symbolic reminder, because it is jewelry as an actual record. If you will allow memento mori to stand for symbolic experience or cultural experience (generalized), then I propose hybrid image/jewelry based work to be memento de vie, reminders (records) of life and actual experience.
Just food for thought this time.