CULT deals with the elusive ways jewellery relates to, and is reflective of, culture and identity. It may act as a highly personal manifestation of style and individuality, it also can be indicative of subcultural groupings, real or imagined. At times it’s even a vehicle for protection, or protest.
For CULT, eight overlapping categories have been defined to help navigate the means through which this happens: identification, participation, non-conformation and fetish, persuasion, conformation, ritual and fantasy. How does wearing jewellery strengthen human relationships, or harness new kinds of social collectiveness? Is it subcultural, ideological, or both? Either way, the true allure of jewellery is cult.
Tags, markers, pins: even modest forms of jewellery can declare a strong message. Thirty years ago safety pins said you were
against the establishment. Today, they might demonstrate political solidarity. Buttons can speak to whom you’re for or what you’re against. These humble objects are not only visual grouping mechanisms for different social scenes, but the products of that innate urge to tag yourself, to differentiate. It’s an active, intuitive, yet sharply decisive gesture – poking holes in clothes, simply bending a wire, slipping some anonymous band around a wrist. These impulsive acts are what first separates you from somebody else. Staying hidden in plain sight, the chosen objects are what identify you to others like yourself.
Through acquiring and collecting, jewellery becomes the means to show social or subcultural participation. It’s individual distinction, the sign of your obsession. Multiplied, it becomes part of an ever-growing roll call. Collective wearing creates an invisible web capable of grouping people near and far. The more exclusive and defined the group, the more that group sets itself apart from the mainstream, but if a critical mass is reached, it then risks becoming convention. Wearing jewellery is a search for balance between two contradictory things: autonomy, feeling special; and wanting to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
To best demonstrate this, Current Obsession has invited twelve of the most forward thinking international jewellery artists, some of which are presenting not yet seen work: Alexander Blank, Shachar Cohen, Elvira Golombosi, Adam Grinovich, Nils Hint, Göran Kling, Takashi Kojima, Helena Lehtinen, Florian Weichsberger, Mallory Weston, Areta Wilkinson and Rei Yamada. A special piece from the Noordermarkt legend Happy Day is also present.
A piece of jewellery can be a symptom of rebellion, a token of resistance or a clue to strange taste and tendency. Societal opposition and pledges of in compliance can be expressed without words. Jewellery is an outlet of our offbeat nature, attitude and aesthetic. It lets us be different, to stick out and to object. Sometimes it even acts as an abstract tool that helps us navigate around our social shortcomings. Wearing certain kinds of jewellery may be indicative of our more combative sides as humans, but it can also embolden and empower us. Armed with jewellery, we’re that much more equipped to create alternative realities in our heads as a way to better cope with the world around us.
Together with this selection, five additional artists have been commissioned to create new work especially for CULT, including artist duo Conversation Piece, iconoclast Volker Atrops, painter Kelsey Isaacs, and jeweller Edgar Mosa, who created his works on the museum floor during the performance at the opening on the 14th of October.
Jewellery as paraphernalia becomes complicit in carrying out transgressive personal needs or taboo activity. Whether it augments a constructed reality, or aids in performing desire, these objects become props and accomplices. If in private they are stored away from the curious eyes of strangers, out of context they become symbols of well-kept secrets. Their use is reflective of mood; they are participatory tools for escape, release, and emancipation. Even the simple choker – once referred to as a Dog Collar – was a fetishizing object, opulently reducing the woman to property in the eyes of her master. Today, she is the one who gets to choose.
Inducing escapism or transcendence to the choice of the wearer, jewellery can help create conceptual safe spaces around us, or augment our imagination. Wearable objects can take us somewhere else, give us energy, inspiration, and boost our egos. Whether it be based in fact or in folly, we wear things grounded in intuition and feeling, on private ambition, dreams and desires. Jewellery lets us be our best selves, in any space or age.
One of CULT’s main particularities is the emphasis on the jewel’s role as a catalyst of a wearer’s identity. The physical body however, is absent. In its place, Current Obsession has asked six fiction writers and artists to create narratives meant to allude to the potentially infinite human scenarios jewellery may become involved in. Their stories are crafted around certain themes or selected pieces found in the exhibition. Audio excerpts of these texts are present in the show, and full versions will be printed in the special Current Obsession issue to come. Authors: Maurits de Bruijn, Hou Chien Cheng, Frank Koolen, Case Miller & Joris Lindhout, Huib Haye van der Werf.
Belief and dedication are measured through the creation and special use of objects; repetitive actions, habits, even traditions, are thus formed. Whether private and sentimental, or consequence of a wider following, jewellery is kept close, passed around, and always present. As a demonstrator of faith or just token of superstition, the involved objects are both the participants in a devotional practise, and the symbols used to recognize it as a whole. Personal in their nature, the possebilities are infinite.
We all adhere to sets of rules, belief systems, or a certain way of life. It’s the feeling of belonging to a community that pulls us in, the empowerment we may gain as we go along. But sometimes the choices we think we’re making are only mere illusions. Jewellery often expresses the level of trust we have in the things that go far beyond our individual selves. Keeping a sparkly rosary, wearing a golden cross; these are the party favours that come along with obeying the rules of society. Appealing to the human need to want more than what’s been given, it’s the swag that gets us hooked and makes us stay in line.
To further punctuate the exhibition’s theme, Current Obsession has also gone through the Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch’s collection and selected a vast array of both contemporary and historical works from jewellers and fine artists alike.
Allure is propaganda’s biggest asset. In today’s information age, the right image and packaging seen enough times can slowly change opinion and expand complicity. The media, marketing, and mass appeal become large-scale peer pressure that’s difficult to fight. It’s so in your face that you come to accept it, need it, go along with things you’re actually principally against. Take the diamond engagement ring: under the guise of making decisions that feel sentimental, personal and unique, we instead subscribe to a long, dirty campaign of influence and monopoly. Objects can be the markers of our unconscious submission.
Current Obsession – Kellie Riggs and Marina Elenskaya
Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch – Fredric Baas
Current Obsession – Sarah Mesritz
Exhibition graphic design by: Linda Beumer
Scenographic elements by: Stefan Auberg
Photography: Lonneke van der Palen
Styling: Pascal-Joël Weber represented by Angelique Hoorn Management
Hair and Make up artist: Erika Nuijten represented by Angelique Hoorn Management
Model: Roos Ferrero wearing jewellery by Göran Kling /// Sascha represented by FIC Model Management wearing jewellery by Adam Grinovich
Exhibition images: Marina Elenskaya and Ben Nienhuis