These radical artists are screwing with jewellery in 2020
Florence Tétier, Shalva Nikvashvili, Anouk van Klaveren, and Alan Crocetti are expanding the meaning and function of bodily adornments.
Alan Crocetti SS20 by Lee Wei Swee
In 2020, the human body is an increasingly plastic playground, and jewellery is just one more way of pushing the boundaries of body modification. We no longer wear pretty ornaments purely to embellish ourselves, but are using it to play around with subversive, humorous, ironic and often politically-loaded designs.
Dutch curator Anne-Karlijn van Kesteren recently put together the exhibition Body Control, an exploration of jewellery in its most diverse and controversial forms. The show stressed the complex relationships between jewellery and the body, and showed how the new generation of jewellery creators are using the medium to explore the personal and political, the private and public, in equal measure.
This is an unusual take on a longstanding, traditional art form. When we think of jewellery today, we often see objects that our grandparents would be comfortable wearing. That's not surprising: jewellery is an ancient universal form of dressing up, which is very personal. It’s intimate. It’s meaningful. Who hasn’t felt a huge gaping void upon losing a necklace or ring that meant something to them? Who hasn’t argued with their parents about getting that one piercing as a teenager? But change is inevitable, and culture ever in flux. Connotations shift, consciousness rises -- and all of this affects what and how we wear things.
In his recent work ‘Nude Jade Pierced’, the Chinese artist Hansel Thai, who is based in Estonia, cuts through jade – the sacred material of his home country – with heavy barbell piercings. By doing so, Hansel makes a statement on the repression of the LGBTQ community in China. The artist takes the queer, subcultural associations surrounding this particular piercing, and physically drills them through the mineral and its many meanings.
Traditionally, jewellery is most commonly defined by its function: the adornment of the human body. But what if its function shifts or becomes much more than that? What if we consciously start to play with connotations, like Hansel Thai? Four designers currently exploring are French art director, bijoux designer and Novembre-founder Florence Tétier, Dutch conceptual designer Anouk van Klaveren (from collective Das Leben am Haverkamp), Georgian protest artist and mastermind of masks Shalva Nikvashvili, and Alan Crocetti, the Brazilian craftsman whose gorgeous works grace the bodies of underground icons just as often as those of the world’s biggest popstars. i-D spoke to them about how they're disrupting and expanding the definition of jewellery.
Why did you start making jewellery? What about it keeps fascinating you?
I hadn’t realised I was so into jewellery until I started experimenting with it on my final collection at CSM just before I dropped out. I was puzzled by traditional jewellery and how restrictive it tended to be in terms of who could wear what, and all the “territory” left to be explored in the human body. What inspires me to this day is the challenge of moving jewellery away from it simply being regarded as an accessory, to centre stage and drivers of change in the fashion industry.
Can you describe the relationship between your jewellery and the human body?
I like to think jewellery works as an extension of one’s body, and that there’s nothing more empowering than that sense of self-awareness and self-love. In my experience, finding your armour helps you to stay in touch with those feelings. It grounds them in the material; in something that can be seen and touched.
Could your pieces exist as autonomous works, without being related to the human form?Anatomy is my strongest reference. Body parts inspire me to push boundaries and adorn them. Though I love admiring the intricate work that goes into each piece, they are always more interesting and appealing to me when they’re worn and fit their purpose.
What do you consider the biggest misunderstanding about your work?
I didn’t start my brand with the intent to provoke or with a mission to break norms. I wanted to convey a message that embraces individuality as an organic reality, as opposed to some kind of radical statement about the gendering of fashion. To me, the line between men and women’s jewellery has always been blurred -- even non-existent. Jewellery has always been gender fluid in my eyes. My pieces acknowledge the complexity of human existence.
What, according to you, is the definition of jewellery?
Jewellery is that thing that empowers you whether you are dressed or naked.
Anouk van Klaveren
Why did you start making jewellery?
I have a background in fashion but I’m generally fascinated with the way people decorate themselves and how attributes become part of how they see themselves and others. Additionally, there is this sense of vanity attached to jewellery that I find intriguing.
How do you approach the ethical or sustainable side of making jewellery?
For me sustainability is not so much about materials, but more about a mentality in general. When you make things yourself you start to see the object as an assembly of labour and materials. Because you made it, you know how you can repair it, or what needs to be done in order to make it function again. Losing this connection with belongings makes you apathetical, and therefore I like to create things with my own hands. In my work I try to reflect on consumerism. Why do we desire to be constantly gratified, and what is it we really need? I recently attended a lecture by Otto von Busch, during the sustainability colloquium Searching for the new luxury, in which he compared buying clothes we don’t wear with collapsed dreams of our future selves. My job is not to provide new dreams, but to analyse what those dreams and desires are actually about.
Could your pieces exist as autonomous works, without being related to the human form?
This question is at the heart of my most recent work. I like to see creativity as a combination of the creator, the piece and its wearer. The jewellery and objects that I make are abstract, but invite you to play with and relate to them. By deliberately not giving a predetermined meaning or purpose to my objects, the user gets an active role: it’s their memory, association and perception that constructs the purpose and utility of my objects. Therefore, I do not label them as being wearable or unwearable, or functional or dysfunctional. I like it when you have something to add to the piece; decide how to wear or use it.
What is your definition of jewellery?
I love the word “opsmuk” in Dutch. During my studies, and around me in the design field, the word “decoration” had a very negative connotation. Decoration meant it was not designed well, or just designed on a very superficial level. I have started to appreciate the concept of decoration more and more, because it's honest. When a form-follows-function designed chair start ending up in museums instead of in kitchens where people sit on them, they become a decorative object too. And if you buy one and to replace an old one that was still in a good condition, it’s an act of decoration too. The luxury market around “functional” design is all about decoration, but it pretends to be about necessities. There is something beautiful about the pointlessness of decoration and I think people, including myself, are way more irrational and unpractical than they might think. I like to embrace this by creating objects that hover between the categories of clothing, adornment, gadget, tool, instrument, relic, decoration, miniature and trinket.
Why did you start making jewellery?
I create things that are related to face and body: mainly face masks, bags and head accessories. Of the human body, I find the face most interesting as an object to play around with. It’s interesting for me to hide identity and recreate other dimensions where you are confronted with visual impact rather than facial impression.
Can you describe the relation or conversation between jewellery and the body?
We humans love decorating ourselves... it’s like we have to! Make-up, jewellery, all this is pure decoration, which shows or hides our real identities. The things I create are more about hiding identity and misshaping parts of the body. I love to push boundaries of beauty and beauty standards, and reach possibilities where I can promote ugliness.
How do you approach the ethical side of making jewellery?
I love to recycle or create things from trash or materials we’d never consider beautiful. I think recycling materials is very important in the world we live in; there’s no need always be buying new products to work with.
What, according to you, is the definition of jewellery? Do you believe your work adheres to that definition?
I don’t think so… If I’d ever create purely decorative objects, I’d probably die.
Let’s go back to the start of your work. How did it all begin?
Growing up, I was always surrounded by people working with their hands – my grandmother used to paint, my mother loves sewing, and I studied graphic design. I am now a creative director (I co-founded Novembre Magazine in 2010), but I got a bit sick of the computer, to be honest. I was really missing creating things with my hands. So I started using shoots as an excuse to build props and ephemeral ornaments that would last only the duration of a picture. Then, once, I was doing the art direction for Neith Nyer, and no one was doing jewellery for the show, so I offered to make some, without really knowing what would happen, or if I would be capable of making it. That’s how it started.
Can your jewellery exist without being related to the human form?
Yes, because this is how I create them in the first place. I put together shapes and materials that I love, and then see how they can work around the body. I like to think of my jewellery as hybrid objects with no clear definition. This is why they are sold at DSM and Opening Ceremony, but also exhibited in art jewellery group shows. I intend to keep it like this, and develop more collaborations with artists in the future.
Tell me about your process, materials and thoughts/actions on sustainability.
I use only existing material. Mostly, I recycle plastic, small toys and grocery stores objects. I produce everything by hand in Paris. Sometimes I buy material from shops, but I’m transforming single-use objects into everlasting jewellery, so I’m hoping that counts as a contribution to the environment. The next step for me would be to partner with an environmental organisation that could help me collect and recycle the plastic found in nature – that would be my dream. I want to keep turning everyday objects into collectibles, so my message is: Do not throw away anything! I like the idea that you could pick up five random objects in your apartment and turn them into wearable jewellery.
Traditionally, jewellery very much has a decorative or embellishing function. Does your work continue that tradition?
When it comes to my jewellery, it’s pretty big and noticeable, and therefore very decorative. My art direction background also means I can’t help making big pieces that have a photogenic purpose. I think it’s nice to come back home, undress, and leave your jewellery on the table – where looks like a mini sculpture on its own.