Ana Campos, 2014

Exhibition: Lisbon, National Fine Arts Society – September 9 / October 3

Curator: Marie-José van den Hout

Producer: Ana Campos

Concept: Cristina Filipe

Organization: PIN – Portuguese Contemporary Jewellery Association.


If we focus on the world of contemporary jewellery from an institutional perspective, we should point out that there is a strong national and international momentum, with many jewellery artists, galleries, museums and schools involved. Thanks to networking, it has been possible to create an institutional world which functions pretty much like the world of fine arts.

If we focus instead on jewellery from another philosophical viewpoint and we consider art as a world of reasons that is influenced by cultural environments and historical times, as well as education, we can find other aspects. Historically, jewellery was used to adorn bodies or to express the rank of each person in their own environment.

During the sixties, art broke down a lot of borders. Pop artists and Fluxus stood out. This breaking down of borders spread to the world of life by expressing collective wills. Such an environment promotes a process of transfiguration of a kind of jewellery. As with any other form of art, this new jewellery rejects traditions, such as the expression of social ranking and the use of so-called “precious” materials. It builds instead a writing matrix and starts to include metaphorical meanings. From such a matrix, multiple forms of different symbolic languages, specific to each jeweller, are born. Simultaneously, schools and academies have been investing in an educational processes with intersecting fields, as happened before with Bauhaus, which set a standard that regarded openness to the different arts by rejecting the primacy of Art with a capital “A”.

As the 20th century moved forward, art continued to go through a process of collapse of paths and new traditions and offered us complex aesthetic experiences. The same happened with contemporary jewellery. Like art, it started to act as a way of breaking out traditions of art itself. It also created extraordinary things by talking about ordinary or everyday things through metaphors, which as with any rhetoric trope, revealed the author’s intentions.

Today, art is becoming autonomous by crossing different fields or worlds, as explained by Nelson Goodman in his Ways of Worldmaking. In the world of art, people argue about realities by means of metaphors, while in the world of science realities are built or produced. However, there are currently significant instances in which art crosses science, technology, craftsmanship, design. We also have similar examples in contemporary jewellery. In cases, for example in the field of the most up-to-date fine arts, some border arts are now regarded as art because they have created their own matrices and unique symbolic languages. For these reasons, contemporary jewellery begins to be regarded as art from philosophical standpoints. It also offers us symbolic matrices, building dialogues between worlds, mainly art and crafts.

We can briefly consider the case of craftsmanship, that with few exceptions like Larry Shiner, is so ill-treated by philosophy since Plato. It is mostly studied by conservative history of applied arts viewpoints, but also sociology and other disciplines. In the last cases, I would like to mention Richard Sennet, Campo Baeza and Juhani Pallasmaa.

But philosophically speaking, we must start to admit that in contemporary jewellery new and strong forms of artistic arguments are emerging. These are unexpected forms with unique aesthetic proposals, which are made through a process that includes consensus and dissensus that concerns the mentioned matrices.

Art offers us complex aesthetic experiences and cannot be explained by itself, as argued by Susan Sontag many years ago. Art and contemporary jewellery invite us to discuss and learn, to argue about the reasons that lead them to their current status. After my point of view, this task does not belong only to artworlders trained to argue. As Jacques Rancière would say, it is a task for researchers because they go a step forward, like Jacotot, his Ignorant schoolmaster. In this case, Jacotot represents the hermeneutic path. But interpretation is also up to us if we want to get involved and learn. It is up to anyone who, when standing in front of an artwork, asks himself/herself, ‘what is the meaning of it?’ As a result, we can begin to get involved in an interpretative adventure by trying to unveil all the meanings that an artwork might have.

Considering the path proposed until now, contemporary jewellery is no longer an ornament, that is, something that was used to adorn when worn on clothes. It can be wearable or not. But, as with any art, now also it also argues about something. Jewellers and jewels aim to have dialogues with us about what jewellery was and what it is today, about the body, as traditional support for the jewels, or about any other topic regarding the world in which we live now. Consciously and reflexively, jewellers create their own arguments. And consciously and reflexively they propose as us to think about their own arguments. That is what today’s art is. Bur not every contemporary jewellery is art and has these characteristics. Our task is also to discover different cases.

There are, of course, other possible paths, supported by other arguments different then mine. In the world of contemporary jewellery, as mentioned earlier, there are many different jewels and also viewpoints and opinions which sometimes clash with each other or become intertwined, either entirely or in part. Heterogeneity is intrinsic to the world in which we live now. So, in this variegated world that has dispersed globally, after the eighties some authors, jewellers and gallery owners argue, for instance, that jewellery is again a mere ornament, a silent one, created just to be seen and worn and not to build dialogues with us, that is to offer us aesthetical experiences.





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