Rock Hushka, director of curatorial administration and curator of contemporary and Northwest art at Tacoma Art Museum, also serves as affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington. His recent jewelry projects include The Eloquent Curve: The Jewelry of Flora Book and Loud Bones: The Jewelry of Nancy Worden. Under his leadership of the artistic program, Tacoma Art Museum has received major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for a handbook of the Northwest art collection and, with co-curator Dr Jonathan Katz, a 2010 research fellowship from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for the forthcoming exhibition Art, AIDS, America.
This essay was developed from the lecture ‘Holding Objects: What It Means to Wear Jewelry: The Psychoanalytic Mechanisms,’ presented at the Facets of Meaning symposium at Tacoma Art Museum, June 28, 2009. A version of the talk was also presented at SOFA NY in June 2010.
My subject has at its very core something that we intuitively know and passionately believe: studio art jewelry operates first and foremost on an emotional level. Unlike most art arranged by the artist to orchestrate an experience and instill an impression, studio-art jewelry presents a fascinating and ongoing matrix of choices and decisions that wearers knowingly use to generate responses. Because a wearer makes these distinct choices, consciously or unconsciously, each time she places something on her body, jewelry becomes an object that links, mediates, and bridges an artist and to their collectors and to the people who see the collectors wearing the jewelry. This is certainly not news to anyone. However, it has been my observation that very few jewelry artists, curators, scholars, critics and collectors grasp the fundamental understanding of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ this happens.
One of the most persistent questions I’ve sought to answer for myself is, why is jewelry so powerful? I have repeatedly heard a small set of concise, well-worn phrases: ‘Small-scale sculpture activated by the body’ or ‘the most intimate art form.’ I have seen pieces of contemporary jewelry which have utterly confounded me: why would someone put this on their body? The answers to both of these questions, it turns out, are complicated and emotional.
A number of years ago, I began discussing my observations and feelings about jewelry with my partner, Dr John Cardinali. He is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice. We discussed the artists’ narratives, their personalities, the reaction of collectors and viewers to jewelry. I pressed him for the technical terms for some of the things I saw and experienced. Together, we have fleshed out the contours of this paper: a general introduction to the psychological underpinnings of the function of studio-art jewelry. Even with John’s patient and repeated explanations of the clinical terms of psychoanalysis, I must claim full and sole responsibility for any error and misuse of psychoanalytic terminology, and the stretching of veracity and application of clinical theory in service of art-historical methodology.
Psychoanalysis offers theories, organizing principles, models and terminology that help us understand how jewelry is utilized as a tool by individuals to navigate the complexities of the world and their relationships. Through a psychoanalytic lens, jewelry becomes an object that serves as a fulcrum in the dynamics between two people. The choice of psychoanalysis to understand studio-art jewelry is logical, insightful, thought-provoking, clarifying, and, for some, destabilizing for a number of key reasons:
- Jewelry is created and designed for the human body.
- The optimal position to view jewelry is while it is worn on another person’s body.
- Jewelry is most valued by artists and patrons for its ability to bridge two people. Wearing jewelry provides the moment, the object and the location for the activation of jewelry’s meaning.
- Some collectors strengthen their relationships to artists by continuing to support and collect their jewelry.
Interestingly, the overlay of jewelry and psychoanalysis is not unique or new. In fact, jewelry played a crucial role in the very origins of psychoanalysis. ‘Fragment of An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria’ by Sigmund Freud, more commonly known as ‘The case of Dora’ was the first of Freud’s five major case histories from which the practice of psychoanalysis emerged, and which established the central tenets of psychoanalysis. Dora was an eighteen-year-old Viennese woman, who was treated by Freud for eleven weeks, beginning in October, 1900. Freud described Dora’s condition: ‘She was clearly satisfied neither with herself nor with her family; her attitude towards her father was unfriendly, and she was on very bad terms with her mother, who was bent upon drawing her into taking a share in the work of the house.’ (Gay 172-239)
Freud described Dora’s condition as hysteria. The central fact of Dora’s situation was a sexual relationship with a man Freud identified as Herr K. Dora was sixteen at the time. Herr K. pursued Dora for more than a year before Dora’s father presented her to Freud for treatment. It is important to note that Herr K. was Dora’s father's confidant. It is also significant that Dora believed, with considerable evidence, that her father was having an affair with Herr K.’s wife and that she was a pawn in her father’s relationships. According to Freud, ‘When she was feeling embittered she used to be overcome by the idea that she had been handed over to Herr K. as the price of his tolerating the relations between her father and his wife; and her rage at her father’s making such a use of her was visible behind her affection for him.’ (Gay 181) Herr K. visited Dora daily for a year and presented her with numerous gifts and affections.
During his treatment of Dora, Freud recorded repeated, significant observations about the prominence of jewelry. One of Herr K.’s gifts to Dora was an expensive jewel-case. And Freud recorded a number of telling statements by Dora herself:
'Mother is very fond of jewellery and had had a lot given her by Father.' (Gay 209)
'I used to be very fond of jewelry too, once; but I have not worn any since my illness. Once, four years ago, Father and Mother had a great dispute about a piece of jewellery. Mother wanted to be given a particular thing - pearl drops to wear in her ears. But Father does not like that kind of thing, and he brought her a bracelet instead of the drops. She was furious, and told him that as he had spent so much money on a present she did not like he had better just give it to someone else.' (Gay 210)
'A house was on fire. My father was standing beside my bed and woke me up. I dressed quickly. Mother wanted to stop and save her jewel-case; but Father said: “I refuse to let myself and my two children be burnt for the sake of your jewel-case.” We hurried downstairs, and as soon as I was outside I woke up.' (Gay 206)
Freud also wrote: ‘Another time, again, she pointed out that evidently through the agency of Frau K., she had been given a present of some jewelry which was exactly like some that she had seen in Frau K.’s possession and had wished for aloud at the time.’ (Gay 205)
I have labored on this aspect of the case of Dora because at the very conception of psychoanalysis, Freud recorded five incidents in which jewelry was an object that defined relationships; symbolized complex interactions.
For the history of the field of psychoanalysis, ‘Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria’ is critical. In this paper, Freud first defined the mechanism of ‘transference.’ Transference is the unconscious process in which someone says or does something that reminds you of your past. This creates an ‘emotional time warp’ that transfers your emotional past and your psychological needs into the present relationship experience. The person who generates these feelings in the present is experienced as if they were the person from the past. When Dora abruptly ended her treatment, Freud sought to understand why she disappeared. He posited the theory of transference. In essence, Dora experienced Freud like she had other adults in her past, who she trusted and who caused psychic conflict. Dora acted out her revenge on him and abandoned him by abruptly ending the treatment.
Transference is a force that usually operates on the unconscious level. It is nearly constant force that informs relationships between individuals. Because no one comes to a relationship with a tabula rasa, transference is one of the primary mechanisms that determines responses to another person. An individual may become conscious of transference, which will provide understanding of his or her responses to dynamics within a relationship and may result in a diminishment or resolution of the transference feeling. This resolution results in the integration of a person’s past with their present experience. Applied to studio art jewelry, transference explains how jewelers share or transmit their thinking, their stories and their creative energy with patrons and anyone who views their work. Transference moves in one direction: from the artist to the patron or the viewer. One way to understand this form of transference is to use an idiom of monetization. We say that the patron ‘buys’ into this relationship. A museum acquires the work. Equally importantly, this idiom of ‘buy in’ is a critical act. Wearing jewelry is the process in which the wearer invests and announces an alliance with the artist, absorbing the artist’s intent and aesthetic and disseminates it into the world.
Marcia Macdonald’s If You Sit Still . . . You Can Take off the Mask (1999) is the work from the collection of Sharon Campbell (promised to Tacoma Art Museum) that triggered my interest in the psychological and psychoanalytic interest in jewelry. I find it of critical importance and significance that this neckpiece is completely atypical of Macdonald’s work. The figure – naked, masked, bowed and shackled – contemplates her situation. What must be stilled in order to remove the mask that hides or covers conscious awareness about her past? Macdonald is asking whoever wears this figure (and by extension whoever sees this figure) to share and experience the burden of her psychological conflict.
Karen Gilbert’s Protect (2004) functions as an amulet fashioned primarily with laboratory tubing and red glass beads, symbolizing blood. By wearing Protect, someone dons the artist’s hopes and desires for protection against illness and the artist’s awareness of the pain and suffering of other people.
The Shrine (1993) by Kiff Slemmons memorializes the hours and labors by women seeking identity as secretaries and clerks. For Slemmons’s generation, this labor offered freedoms and responsibilities unknown to earlier American women. The necklace encapsulates Slemmons’s ideas of labor and respect, which are then transmitted to those who see it. By wearing this work, the collector announces, proclaims or displays an affinity with Slemmon’s homage to the workers
With its reclaimed shards of trash and preserved crystal, Bernard Schobinger’s Scherbern von Mortizplatz Berlin [Broken Pieces from Moritzplatz Berlin] (1983–84) is a profound statement about the values and realties of pre-unification Germany, then an ironic statement about the former market in Berlin before the Allied bombings. When it was first created, the necklace was a way to recall the legacy of the divided city and nation. Today, this necklace provides a way to understand how Schoebinger understood the political and social structures of his time. By collecting this work from the artist, Helen Drutt supported not only the artist’s vision but also accepted his version of history, made manifest in the assembling of the shards and fragments of Berlin’s past.
The wearer presents studio art jewelry in the public sphere, giving many viewers their first opportunity to engage with the work of art. In addition to their immediate response to the object and the intent of the artist, the viewer receives an unending stream of non-verbal communication from the wearer. Jewelry completes the necessary triangulation between the artist and viewer through the body and actions of the wearer. This interplay, known as ‘intersubjectivity’ in psychoanalytic terms, must be understood as one of the key forces that underlies the communicative power of jewelry. The work of jewelry is a point through which the relationships flow, giving the artist a constant presence and role as arbiter.
Intersubjectivity is the idea that individual experience is determined by a process of reciprocal, mutual influence by another person. Intersubjectivity is fluid, constant, multidimensional and exquisitely context-sensitive with multiple layers of experience, oscillating between foreground and background and between figure and ground. Intersubjectivity is born out of the accumulation of past experiences and relationships
The display of jewelry on a wearer’s body provides the point of intersection between both the wearer and the artist and the viewer and the wearer. There are two sets of intersubjective relationships occurring simultaneously. The viewer addresses not only the artist’s iconography and intent (all of the experience, feeling, angst, tension, desire that fueled the creation of the work of art) but, perhaps more intriguingly, the viewer also confronts the relationships and experiences of the wearer. This exchange is extraordinarily charged because the wearer presents information about the relationship in the most intimate manner – placing the object directly on her or his body.
To reduce this to its simplest form, all of the artist’s relationships are articulated into the work of jewelry and all of the wearer’s psychological energy is focused by choosing that particular piece of jewelry. The object then becomes the place where all of these relationships touch.
A gentle example of this can be seen with Kiff Slemmons’s Ramona (1991) from the Hands of the Heroes series. Slemmons created this exquisite brooch to honor her friend, mentor, colleague and personal hero, Ramona Solberg. The materials, colors and composition all honor their deep personal and professional relationships. When I see this work as curator at Tacoma Art Museum, I recall all of the works by Solberg in our collection; the importance of the Ramona Solberg Endowment; the extensive number of loans from our collection to her exhibition Findings; the value of the exhibition’s catalog to our library; and the small exhibition we organized to honor her passing. As an individual, I also remember Solberg as a leading mentor for generations of jewelers and think of the number of times I saw her at the University of Washington’s art building as a student. The point of connection between all of Slemmons’s history and those I experienced is explained by intersubjectivity. Although not a precise clinical application of the term, the concept does give a name to this meeting of experiences.
With this mindset, approaching Nancy Worden’s Frozen Dreams (2004) becomes less about its peculiar form and Worden’s history of employing eyeglasses as a metaphor in her work and more about admiration for the difficult choices and sacrifices that the women in our lives have made to raise families and build careers. Intersubjectivity activates all of these connections between people and it helps us better understand how Worden manipulates form and tradition to tell her story and allows us to share her feelings about it.
Like Slemmons and Worden, Keith Lewis expertly triggers intersubjectivity in much of his work. For Our Dear Bob (1995), Lewis remembers Bob Ford, a friend who was an architect and cat lover. Ford was also the first of Lewis’s acquaintances who died of complications of HIV/AIDS. This homage distills Lewis’s relationship with Ford for us and encourages us to remember all of the people we know who have passed away. Lewis’s symbols of the cats, the architect’s tools and the floor plan of the apartment the artist rented from the architect transmit the artist’s relationship to us. Because virtually every person who will see this work did not know Ford, we rely on our relationships and experiences and feelings to comprehend Lewis’s Our Dear Bob.
Sometimes intersubjectivity becomes problematic. In Military Brooch (2007) from The Gold Standard III, Lisa Gralnick takes an extraordinary gamble with the wearer and the viewer. Removed from its gallery presentation, this brooch might read as homage to spoils of the most brutal imaginable. Even under the most amendable circumstances, it would be complicated to wear a badge that declares ‘work makes free’ and is surmounted by a radiating circle of gold teeth and glittering with blood-red garnets. In a formal gallery context, however, the artist provides the necessary evidence to encourage us to forge a meaningful connection to her purpose. With the phrase ‘Attributed to the Polish goldsmith Ilsa Glarncik,’ we now understand that the artist is seeking to comprehend the experience of an interned Jewish jeweler during the Nazi era and fortify her connections to the past so they will never be forgotten.
In terms of transference and intersubjectivity, I have discussed how jewelry serves as a conduit for personal exchange. The necklace, the brooch, the earring and the ring are the objects through which these interactions occur. I would like to change focus now to speak directly about the idea of the object itself. This consideration will move us firmly into the realm of ‘object relations’ theory. The point is not to describe a unified model to understand art jewelry from an object-relations perspective, but rather to identify concepts that help explain the function and role of jewelry and the artist.
A crucial aspect of this field is the importance of infant and child development in object relations. Therefore, applications of theories and models from this field require great caution. I wish to emphasize a single point: everyone was once an infant. We develop into adults by the accumulation of time and experience. We don’t forget these past occurrences even if they elude our conscious memory and we could not function without them. These early experiences determine greatly how we navigate through the present.
The concept of ‘transitional object’ was formulated by Donald W Winnicott. (Spitz 08-509) In essence, the transitional object is used by a child in an effort to manage physical separation from the mother. An inanimate object becomes a surrogate for the mother by providing soothing and security in the mother’s absence. A teddy bear or cherished blanket are classic examples. The object is used in this fashion until the child has adequately internalized the mother’s soothing presence; at this point, the object loses its meaning.
Obviously, people who wear studio art jewelry are not seeking to find a soothing maternal surrogate (usually; but, a fanciful curator might imagine such dynamics unfolding). Yet the act of wearing jewelry has a strong resonance with the function of transitional objects. When a collector – especially when they commit to their first purchase – decides to wear the object, they are, at one level, seeking the permission of the gallerist or artist to wear the jewelry. Receiving this permission, the patron has the implied consent to represent the artist in public.
The notion of studio art jewelry as a transitional object, in formal psychoanalytic terms, opens the potential that the wearer/purchaser uses the jewelry as a tool to navigate the complexities of the world and strengthen their psyche. We may think of this act as a reciprocal situation: the artist needs the patron to carry the work into the world and the patron needs the object to wear. In both instances, jewelry is the surrogate for the absence of the other. In what might be described as a typical Winnicottian ko-an, he wrote: ‘When I look I am seen, so I exist.’ (Greenberg and Mitchell 192)
With its undulating curves made possible by the softness and malleability of gold, the wearer of Mary Lee Hu’s glorious Choker #83 (2000) seeks to project an image of a certain type of refinement and achievement. Iconic works like Choker #83 are simply not purchased in department stores or other purveyors of luxury goods. With an enormous commitment, the patron supports the artist’s vision and accomplishments. Both the artist and the collector are invested in the object.
When an adult consumer, such as a collector of studio art jewelry – or a museum curator and director – actively responds to a work and incorporates it into their costume – or permanent collection – and, by extension, their psyche, one can find resonance with the effective function of a transitional object. The collector adopts the artist’s iconography to amplify powerful statements about themselves and their observations of the society in which they participate. The meanings adopted from the artist become guideposts or icons for the wearer.
Initiation Necklace (1977) by Nancy Worden offers an interesting interpretive possibility as a functional transitional object. Few would question Worden’s intent to articulate the passage of an adolescent into womanhood. In this instance, she presents herself as guide. By wearing this particular work, Worden functions as a surrogate maternal figure, allowing individuals to embrace a complex, challenging aesthetic (akin to breaching social decorum), accept the mantle of feminine power and articulate a reinforced sense of self. By wearing, seeing or understanding Initiation Necklace, a person receives Worden’s permission to present their own unambiguous personal image, which is reinforced by their alliance with Worden’s own powerful vision.
Similarly, Ruth Penington granted permission to break decorum in terms of both historical class separation and, perhaps with retrospection, good taste in her Untitled (Ermine) (1971). The use of ermine has historically been limited to the monarch. Even after the hard-fought hippie-freedoms of 1960s, few people adapted ermine as a material of choice. It is interesting how Penington shuffled the implications of ermine from a signifier of wealth and power to a modernist, minimalist element in a single tasteful necklace. Rather than obsessing about detached rodent tails, the wearer is able to refine their presentation in a manner consistent with their core beliefs while transgressing certain conventional boundaries.
This transgression with taste is one of the most appealing aspects of new European jewelry. Using sea-urchin spines as his primary motifs in Encrustarium 9 (2009), Sebastian Beuscher transgresses not only the line of appropriate media but also technique, formal composition and beauty. In art history, this broaching of decorum is labeled advancement and development. Generations and generations of artists must do this. For the first collectors of such material, they earn the coveted label as visionary supporters of artists. They are in effect maternal surrogates for artistic achievement.
The tension and necessary co-existence between the negative (artistic transgressions) and positive (patronage and development) leads us to the final and most provocative of the mechanisms that I will introduce today: the ‘paranoid-schizoid’ and ‘depressive’ positions. Originally formulated by Melanie Klein, the early proponent of the burdening field of object-relations theory and the arch-rival of Anna Freud, these positions provide a model of how an infant develops an awareness of other people and his or her relationship to these other people. It is important to remember that the infant must develop its brain and its mind is shaped by interactions with others, primarily the mothering person. Melanie Klein suggested that, in the first few months of life within an infant’s mind, the mother appears as good and bad breast split off from each other. She believed that the infant split the mother into good and bad breast because the young mind was incapable of protecting the loving feelings of the good breast from the destructive hatred resulting from bad breast experiences. During this phase of development, people are experienced as part object, meaning that whole people are reduced to part of a person or other object, such as a breast. (Greenberg and Mitchell) In her original formulation, Klein posited that when an infant was comforted and satiated by the mother, the breast was experienced as a positive, life-giving object. When a mother was unable to comfort an infant, the distress was experienced by the infant as feeding from a fecal-filled breast. (Klein later regretted her choice of metaphors.)
I want to stress that I am presenting only two terms from a clinical theory that has been continually modified over the course of the last seventy years. My point, aligned with object relations, is to emphasize again that we all developed from infancy and continually build on our experiences. In addition to the contentious history and evolution of object relations theory, the breast as object presents us with a series of interconnected provocations.
Primarily, jewelry is held or rests on a woman’s chest or bosom. This proximity reinforces the gender-specific functions of jewelry and provides a potent series of associations that amplify the artist’s intent and personal iconography. Breasts are clearly powerful symbols of maternal care, sexuality and consequently an important component of female development and a woman’s identity. A woman who wears jewelry on her breast creates a particularly interesting and complex psychological situation. From the beginning of life, the breast is in a real sense the provider of maternal care and nourishment. Breastfed infants can distinguish the smell of their mother’s milk by the first months of life and use this scent as a bridge for attachment and bonding. Positive and negative associations to the breast are developed based on the quality of mother-infant interaction.
Further, one must conceive of the emotional context between wearer’s breasts and viewer. This dynamic includes our deepest wishes and fears, the desire for love in both nurture and erotic form and conversely the reality of such love gone awry. Furthermore, this dynamic involves a dilemma created between the wearer and viewer. One the hand, the wearer communicates a wish to be seen and considered in a uniquely individual manner. On the other hand, the viewer must contend with propriety: the desire to look, to be stirred by the visual images while navigating an appropriate level personal privacy of the wearer.
Interestingly, this relational dilemma between wearer and viewer shifts in kaleidoscopic fashion depending on external context in which the wear and viewer meet, as well as each individual’s emotional state (intersubjectivity).
I recognize that jewelry also includes rings, bracelets, earrings and other possible sites for body adornment. Like the breasts, these areas are certainly capable of being consider erogenous zones, but this line of inquiry would take us too far afield for the point at hand.
The juxtaposition of jewelry and breasts has profound implications in understanding how jewelry functions. The interaction and physical proximity provides a platform to consider how the body itself infuses the objects with meanings of nurture and desire. A dynamic interplay ensues in which the wearer’s sense of self, the object and the viewer are combined, resulting in deeper consideration of the works through both the material aspects of jewelry and the manifestation of the internal worlds of the viewer and wearer.
Take, for example, this advert for the designs of Stephen Webster. Youth and beauty are used to sell commercial jewelry. The advert precisely targets our desire to become wealthy, sensuous, and young. The advert promises that if we have this necklace, we too can have this shapely bosom and become, magically, this young and beautiful, too. To illuminate the sense of urgency for this consumer commodity, the photographer splashed light across the model’s bosom and, almost inadvertently, illuminates the jewelry. The model’s breasts become the platform for the tension and conflict between good and bad desires. Theoretically, we are faced with the identical struggles of Klein’s infants.
Let us now return to the neckpiece by Marcia Macdonald. Imagine this work hanging on its slender chain resting, protected, between two breasts. The power and importance of the artist’s statement grows exponentially. All of our associations with nurturing and with the negativity associated with the maternal swirl turbulently.
The universal nature of maternal presence, which may be stretched to encompass the constructive exploration of science and technology, may be found in Andy Cooperman’s Rime (2006). The knowledge of the relationship between the microscopic and the universal, between the individual and the societal body and an awareness of the interconnectedness of all life, may be groomed and nurtured through the soothing maternal presence of the ‘good breast.’
In Kleinian theory, the breast is critical for normal development. A proper mother will encourage development of all aspects of a child. Extrapolating, we can see how the sense of play becomes important to jewelers. Wearing a work as humorous as Laurie Hall’s The Royal Brew Ha Ha! (1994) confers an air of maternal authority. It is okay to revel in a silly pun on the royal game of chess and the British fondness for tea. It also evokes the academically-centered ‘jouez’ [to play] from French linguistics. (Ferguson 9-16; Genosko 1994) The theory at work here is that artists decouple direct meaning from symbols and signs to create free-roaming meanings and open the possibilities of free association.
In the Kleinian model, infants advance as they learn to moderate or mediate feelings of separation, anxiety, desire. Healthy infants learn to ‘depress’ these negative feelings and comprehend the entire maternal presence. Throughout our entire lives, we balance these negative and positive conflicts; we suppress and encourage desires. To my mind, good jewelry should trigger a conscious awareness of these conflicts. Jewelers have this extraordinarily powerful tool to tip, to jiggle, to upset, or to reactivate an individual’s equilibrium, or the steady state of the ‘depressive position.’ They should make us consciously rethink our core beliefs and expectations about ourselves and the world around us.
The core conflict posited by Klein’s model of ‘bad breast/good breast’ can be used as a tool to understand not only the development of an infant and personal relationships but also as a mechanism to better comprehend how we all grapple with the grand conflicts, issues and the existential crises of our lives. Further, the dichotomy ‘good breast/bad breast’ may be positioned to mirror the aesthetic and conceptual tensions that inform the most compelling and intriguing artwork. Some of the most compelling contemporary art activates a series of interrelated tensions, such as ‘pleasure and pain,’ ‘permission and denial,’ or ‘traditional and avant-garde.’ Artists such as The Idiots activate a swirl of these contradictions, thus collapsing previous aesthetic experiences and denying expectations. Taxidermy – now a contemporary art-world flavor of the moment – used in jewelry demands an enormous commitment from the wearer. The jewelers ask that dead animals are place on the skin and chest. The symbolism of both materials and historical forms – both intended and accrued – is held to a bosom, reinforced by proximity to the source of trust, nurture, safety and identity. In the zone of nourishment, remains of death are placed, awaiting the viewer to complete the transformation of death into beauty; ultimate dominance (death of the animal and arresting decay) into aesthetic delight. The viewer will navigate this adjacency with the health and skill that their own psyche will allow.
In terms of the ‘paranoid/schizoid position,’ Keith Lewis obviously goes for the jugular in Choke Chain (2005). Pun intended. He wrote in his artist statement: ‘In this case the term "choke chain" takes on a new, aggressively sexual meaning because the jewel on the chain is a miniature – but nonetheless rather prideful and assertive – penis which emerges from the neck in a posture similar to the way that an erect penis thrusts and bobbles from the groin. Surprisingly hard to ignore, just like the real thing . . .’ (Lewis, 2005)
Lewis’s construction of a phallic model also engages or ignites other learned ingrained responses. One might observe that his construction resonates with outlandish graffiti of genitalia. It might make us suppress our adolescent giggles or fortify our puritanical urges to deny sexuality. In this trajectory, a phallic representation then becomes even more of a part object, reformulating Klein’s reduction of the breast as object to genitals.
The use of genital imagery is not the sole province of men. Anya Kivarkis incorporates art historical references, feminist perspective and the sensuous interplay of curves and countercurves to interrogate our social emphasis on beauty, wealth and gender roles. Like Lewis’s phallus, Kivarkis’s vaginal reference in Untitled (2006) becomes more potent in its adjacency to the breast. It is the embrace of the art-historical knowledge and the attention given to the tension between feminine forms and feminist art histories that is important for Kivarkis and her audiences. Her brooch celebrates the history of decorative objects; slides into the ‘gold frame’ of art history by referencing surrealist painting and sculpture, and the gendered reading of such histories.
Mercifully, artists may also activate the positive or ‘good breast’ side of the calculus to equally powerful effect. The dematerialization of the brooch into a two-dimensional representation of its ideal in Inês Nunes’s Penso (2007) clearly becomes an adult-themed representation of healing and nurture. How better to represent a brooch? We might also consider the implications of ‘jewelry as band-aid.’ This would evoke the concept of disposable jewelry in lieu of a permanent and valued object. We would have to grapple with the absorption of body fluids and we would have to engage with the idea of how brooches are typically secured to fabric rather than mild adhesive on skin.
Sarah Hood’s Malden Ave. East (1999) demonstrates not only her meticulous skills as a metalsmith but also her fascination with the natural forms. Could there be a more appropriate metaphor for fragility of the natural world or for the seasonal cycles than placement on a woman’s bosom? The necessity that we protect our yards, our natural resources, and each another is duly and elegantly emphasized.
Through numerous examples, I have sought to illustrate how jewelers activate four key psychoanalytic concepts in their work. I hope the title is now understood: the action of placing jewelry on the body (holding) and the fundamental concepts of object-relations theory (objects – in terms of the physical work of jewelry or the artist’s intent). These four concepts are rarely found outside of academic and clinic applications. They are taught as theory to students of contemporary psychoanalysis and applied in clinical settings during therapy.
For wearers of studio jewelry, these four concepts usually trigger unconscious actions and reactions. More generally, interactions between the wearer and the viewer are more conspicuously governed by tensions and dynamics that are easily identified in the moment. More obvious, but no less important, is the role of narcissistic motivation. Because of the immediacy of forces such as narcissism, the four core concepts of transference, intersubjectivity, the transitional object and the paranoid/schizoid positions work undetected. Yet, all of the forces operate simultaneously and are inextricably linked.
Narcissism is a normal psychological phenomenon with healthy and unhealthy forms. Healthy narcissism refers to a person's capacity to feel valuable and to take pleasure in what one does or produces. Healthy narcissism includes the experience of pleasure in response to being seen and valued by others. Like the needs fulfilled or left untended in mother/infant relationships (good breast/bad breast), a sense of self-worth in each individual is nurtured or hampered by narcissistic needs as interactions with others unfold.
Narcissism is important in social interactions because it is one of the primary needs that regulates relationships. For example, one of the reasons I am sharing my work with you today is narcissism. It is also a key motivational force for most artists, who wish to extend their voice and aesthetic into the world; collectors, who choose to wear jewelry consciously; and viewers, who continually seek aesthetic pleasure by absorbing ideas and artworks. Narcissism aligns the interests and desires of the artists, collectors, and viewers.
Sometimes, like Natalya Pinchuk’s felt creations such as In Full Bloom (2006), the desire to be seen is self-evident. Other times, the force operates more quietly. With Ron Ho’s Vanished Wishes (1990), the intent focuses on those lost to HIV/AIDS and the artist’s identification with missing friends and colleagues as well as the political activism. With the precise work of Bruno Martinazzi, narcissism requires that the wearer identify with his representation of the elegant geometry of the Assumption and one-point perspective as developed in the early Italian Renaissance. In this exchange, the wearer not only validates Martinazzi’s explanation and depiction, it also suggests that the wearer has knowledge of the mathematical and religious systems. Because religious themes are so personal, this act of near piety (aesthetic or Roman Catholic) becomes a very distinct and unmistakable statement.
Lastly, for those of us raised in the American West, a belt buckle is an undisputed symbol of narcissism. Most significantly, a highly ornate trophy buckle is a reminder of athletic accomplishment. In Seattle artist Roy McMakin’s A Door (2003), the buckle is a site to engage conceptual play – the function becoming a pun wrapped around sexual innuendo. The act of wearing this buckle requires a high tolerance for surprised looks.
When considering studio art jewelry, the psychoanalytic tenets of the transference, intersubjectivity, transitional object, the ‘bad breast/good breast’ and narcissism underscore the universality and power inherent in art form. The concepts help us understand better how the individual objects function as multi-faceted signifiers, organizing points around which relationship meet and interactions with the world are possible. They help us articulate how jewelry nurtures an independent vision and identity for the wearer and the artist (and we hope visitors to Tacoma Art Museum). There are a vast array of psychoanalytic concepts that help explain the dynamics between the artist, wearer and viewer. Yet, these five concepts capture the dynamic interplay and provide insight into the complexity of human relationships and the art that may be used to mediate them. These core tenets of psychoanalysis act in concert along with many others, and psychoanalysis offers a powerful tool to unlock the meaning and intent of studio art jewelry.