“The inspiration for my work comes out of the material itself. I love its outside surface with its wrinkles that remind me of a coral when I see it or, once I touch it, of an elephant skin. I also love its inside material, the wool, especially because of its contrast to the latex on the outside.”
Most people wouldn’t give a second look to the material that Anja Eichler is fondly referring to. In fact, this material is normally looked at for its function, not its aesthetic value. This elephant skin material she describes as both wooly and coral-like is a run-of-the mill, commercially produced work glove. The work constructed from this material is offered as both jewelry and sculpture, but Anja is most interested in the work’s relationship to the body.
“I see my pieces as sculptures for the body. Wearability is important for most of my pieces since wearing them as a sculpture, and thus a body extension gives them a different meaning than standing alone as an isolated object.”
As “body extensions” they form a sort of light weight barnacle – one that invites touch through the tactility of this curious looking materials.
Anja recently completed a three-year training at the Alchimia Jewelry School in Florence. During her time in Italy, self-imposed restrictions became an critical aspect of her working methodology. In an attempt to find essential form she limited her process to a single material. This in and of itself is not unusual. Many curriculums require durational, material specific experimentation. However Anja’s approach was one of hyper strict purity. She allowed herself to work with nothing else but that specific latex coated work glove, adding no other material but what it already offered; a limitation she piously adhered too for a full year.
“The question about how restrictions, externally established or set by us, shape our lives, fascinates me. Working with a restriction enabled me to go deep into the material and opened my eyes for the numerous possibilities to be found within it.”
Beginning with material exploration she intuitively played and exhaustively experimented until she pushed the material into an unrecognizable state. The grouping of work shown at Galerie Ra exemplified this process. Anja presented a spectrum of brooches, from pieces that we can recognize as hand or glove-like, to forms that appear to be strange taxidermic undersea flora or fauna.
“The forms that came out tend to be organic, which is no surprise given the appearance of the material and the fact that the starting point is a glove, which of course already represents an organic form.”
But there are surprises – specifically in the forms which look nothing like the hand. The brooches Inside Out and Mare arouse a curiosity, which works very much in her favor. Presented with these ocean-ish forms you cannot help but feel apprehensive about touching the “elephant skin” surface, primarily because you are unsure about exactly what it is you are touching. Visually the material rouses a sort of excited disgust. The same feeling that might be felt if offered the opportunity to pet a snake or newt. Surprise number one: touching is actually quite pleasant – in fact the experience is kind of hilarious. The latex is soft and supple and because the forms are hollow and spring back when you squeeze them, like a silly dog toy, you cant help but be amused. Surprise number two: finding out that the strange creature before you used to be work glove. The common material is transformed passed recognition – giving you that “ah-ha!” moment when you make the realization. However, this surprise fails to impress with the works that are not transformed to the same extent, like in the piece Naughty Rabbit. Never-the-less, as an account of the progress of her exploration, the grouping is quite interesting.
Through deconstruction and reconstruction Anja loosened the relation to the intended use of the fabric, and in doing so created a discovery space for the viewer. It is in this space we re-experience this material in a new way, where contexts shift and our perception is changed.
Kerianne Quick is an American materialsmith and craft writer currently living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.