Melis Agabigum is an educator and studio artist from Michigan. She received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has previously taught as an adjunct in art metals at Boise State University, University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Provoked by an interest in material fiction, her work explores the physical and emotional weights that affect individuals in how they perceive their connection to others, their bodies, and space. Melis’ work has been shown at the national and international level in shows at Athens Jewelry Week 2018, in Greece; (AV17) Gallery, in Lithuania; the Walker Art Museum, in Minneapolis; and the Charles H. Wright Museum, in Detroit. She currently teaches as a visiting assistant professor of jewelry and 3D fabrication at Earlham College, in Indiana.
As we all do in our personal journeys toward growth and maturation, we experience moments of ignorance to the poetics, successes, and investments that go into disciplines that are beyond our own. Thinking back to my time as an undergraduate student, I’m puzzled and embarrassed by the many jokes that my fellow cohorts and I had at the expense of performance artists. I had briefly been introduced to Vito Acconci’s 1972 piece, Seedbed, Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975), and a handful of Marina Abramović’s works during a two-hour lecture. While iconic and impactful, the conceptual content had been lost upon most of my classmates and me. Needless to say, I was ignorant of what performance art could be and why it was (and is) so important, especially in any discipline that integrates the body.
With jewelry, on the other hand, I could rattle off the many reasons why this area of fine art and craft was significant. In fact, in July 2015, I wrote an op-ed (or manifesto, if you will), for the short-lived and now defunct platform, Jewelry Under 30. There, I lauded the “Inherent Potential of Jewelry,” its significance. Jewelry, I argued, was perhaps one of the most versatile forms of art because of its ability to traverse the lines between adornment, sculpture, craft, functional object, fine art, installation, and performance:
Jewelry objects are created with the intention of somehow interacting with the body, even if that interaction is completely illogical, cumbersome, or theoretical rather than practical. This is inherent: there are openings for body parts to claim. Rings; necklaces; bracelets; earrings; headdresses; etc., all have some place that can incorporate the interaction. They can be held, grabbed, draped, and carried. “Adornment,” in its basic understanding, loosely refers to that potential of ornamenting something; it relates to a physical or emotional connection.
Jewelry, even in its static form of being off the body, has this performative quality that does not exist in other forms of art (with perhaps the exception of wearable textiles). It combines an understanding of transforming its environment like installation art, acts as sculptural object, and becomes an extension of the body for performance because it can move with the body and through space. It can either sit in a static location or move through its interactions. It is weighted with the history of where it has been worn, and has the capacity to be interacted with in the future. It will forever take on the story of its travels through the “wear and tear.” An infinite world of potential lives in the medium…
The presence of integration of body and space, and activation of an object through performance has brought on a deeper sense of appreciation for jewelry and performance art. For me, this fascination with the ephemeral and interactive is ever present in the works of Brussels-based artist Lodie Kardouss.
While there are many successful makers who combine jewelry and performance-based practices into their work (Lauren Kalman, Matt Lambert, Gisbert Stach, Zoe Robertson, etc.), my experiences in viewing Kardouss’s work have felt different somehow. The physical pieces themselves are quiet and curious. Her works do not set out to raise awareness from a political or social nature, but rather they intend to create a sense of togetherness for maker and viewer through the “experience.” This desire for capturing a shared moment or two is what makes this combination of jewelry and performance art so profound and impactful for the onlookers and performers.
In A Jewelry Piece (2019), Kardouss has created a large-scale necklace fabricated from a blush pink tulle-like fabric with six knots separating five large cells. The focal point is a large, polished silver spring ring clasp. It hangs slightly taut in the center of the wall, while the fabric drapes down to the floor toward the center of the room in an elegant fashion.
Installed in the gallery, A Jewelry Piece evokes the gracefulness of ballet dancers and the sophistication of a simple pearl necklace. This remains a constant, even when activated by the dancers who, during a performance, become part of the piece, if not the piece itself.
In each of the five cells, bodies rest motionless on the floor in the fetal position. Performers are engulfed by the womblike structure of the fabric. The bodies slowly stir, and, while eerie, their motions transform the viewer’s recognition of the performers’ bodies into something that is otherworldly.
Their motions subtly draw the viewers together, and elevate the viewing experience into a shared pulsation that echoes throughout the space as the dancers wriggle and come to life. There is no music to accompany the becomings being enacted. The only sound is of the audience and performers breathing life into the gallery, bringing the work alive with each inhale and exhale. Expertly choreographed, each movement alters the viewer’s expectations.
As the performance progresses, the dancers rise up and move together as a unit. Their motions become harsh, with pushes and pulls juxtaposed against their clean, white garments and the soft fleshiness of the pink fabric. In viewing this work, I am reminded of the fluidity of entanglement and the connection between performer and object in the performance pieces of Senga Nengudi.
Eventually, the performers slow down their dance and go back to their dormant positions within the work. As a viewer, you have become part of the creation process through your presence. You are now connected in spirit to the jewelry and the maker(s).
The jewelry objects and performances Kardouss creates are less about the initial objects on display and more about the shared experience of creating the object. Kardouss states that she sees the making process as a lonely one, and strives to bring back the connection between maker and audience through the performance/viewing partnership. This especially comes through in her 2017 piece, Curiosity.
Armed with a suitcase and a series of empty boxes with black paper at the bottom, Kardouss takes performance and making into her own (literal) hands. With every new iteration of Curiosity, Kardouss must re-create each individual piece. During a performance, she opens her traveling case and pulls out her materials, arranging various supplies such as bowls, polystyrene, chains, and yarn inside the boxes. Methodically, she begins to slowly sift baking soda into the boxes over the resists, to create abstract shapes. Using brushes and fine scrapers, she draws into the powder to refine edges or create impressions. It’s only when she removes some or all of the resists that the viewers are left with the positive/negative spaces that imply various jewelry objects such as necklaces and chains.
The original works exist as limited-edition prints of ephemeral objects that are now hung on the gallery walls. The work becomes a result of the performance where “the photograph of the very first piece made is both the matrix that allows the jewel to be faithfully reactivated and its tangible memory becomes the piece to be acquired.”
What’s most intriguing about the pieces in Curiosity is that they aren’t jewelry objects—until they are. Even then, the jewel is implied through the absences created with powdered baking soda. The ephemeral nature of the jewelry and performance alike becomes tangible in the shared experience of being present for the process. It’s in the process where the physical memory of the pieces also becomes real. The pieces Kardouss creates are within her and her muscle memory. The audience’s witnessing of her recollection and physical evocation of movement aids in deriving meaning: through the manifestation of the objects.
Her motions elicit a result that exists for a short span in the gallery, but lasts a lifetime in the minds of those present for the performance. Photographs of the work then, are intended to help recall the experience for viewers after the performance has expired.
Performance and jewelry seem to go hand in hand because both forms of art need the presence of the body or implied body. Without either, there is no action or moment to be created and carried. Lodie Kardouss’s work thrives on the collaborative forces of performer, viewer, and object coming together to trigger meaning.