Beginning semester three and commencing on my Final Major Project on my Masters is quite daunting. Not just in maintaining the pace from semester one and two but also in realising it will be over in a flash, I will no longer be able to hide behind the mantle of being a student and my work potentially could be put to test in the real world. I start by looking back over my progress, ups and downs through the first two semesters.
My Specialist Research Enquiry, where I interviewed several participants about their personal jewellery collections was a real turning point for me. At other stages of my Masters project I feel I have perhaps envisioned the next stage, whereas my Specialist Research Enquiry really injected ‘unknown unknowns‘ and an unanticipated twist to my trajectory. Going into this particular research module, part of my aim was to aesthetically feed my studio practice. In reflecting back on this research, I recognise how much these aims evolved and that the research project in fact had a strong conceptual influence on my practical work, whilst also delivering a new rich holistic perspective by acting as a glue, tying many strands together.
Primarily by unfolding from my original research question which was immersed in the narrative, I am now questioning if everything I make needs to be wearable, to still portray a relationship with the body and therefore our wider identity. As I moved more in-depth with my data analysis of my interview transcripts, I started to identify unexpected findings. This included the purpose of jewellery that isn’t worn, I was particularly interested in the jewellery in which the participants believed couldn’t be worn, and not that it wasn’t being worn through choice. In both interviews the participants each listed a number of pieces of jewellery that had either been long broken or for other reasons they deemed unwearable. I also sensed no real desire or urgency to resolve these issues and I concluded that the jewellery didn’t need to be functionally wearable to still perform an important function to the owner.
In considering sentimental jewellery, my findings also made me confront what is more pivotal, the physical object or preserving the attached memory. Each is of course unlikely to exist without the other, but in an ageing population where memories are so frequently disrupted, changed and incorrectly passed on, sometimes the object will inevitably outlive the memory. This specific relationship which lies between the sentiment, owning and wearing is also a line of enquiry I would like to pursue.
The Specialist Research Enquiry module also opened up my ability to actively identify with work outside of the sphere of Contemporary Jewellery, artists such as Willie Doherty and Radcliffe Bailey for example now being on my radar. Within my report for my Specialist Research Enquiry, I reflected on Michael Landy’s Break Down, 2001. Although from a consumerism stance, Landy painstakingly embarked on the process of auditing every single one of his worldly possessions. He then proceeded over a two-week period to destroy all these belongings, and staged this process as a large-scale performance installation. Although the essence of Landy’s belongings are preserved in documentation, the memory of course in this clinical form is much harder to transfer, communicate and most importantly to pass forward without the object in which the sentiment is embedded.
In synthesising my findings from my Specialist Research Enquiry and feeding these into my studio practice I was able to gain clarity on the trajectory of my work in progress. As I continued to work with simple geometric forms, nestling and homing them amongst my own jewellery collection, I understood why that outwardly they didn’t signify any connection to the body and that imagery was used to represent a story that surrounds my personal jewellery. Regardless of the physical piece of jewellery or value, each of the images now occupied the identical size and shape. Each memory becoming equal to the next, but also modular and interchangeable to rearrange into new wearable narratives. This was also decisive in the images and text being stripped down to singular words and features.
My background reading has started to touch on material culture, and in beginning to read Evocative Objects, Things We Think With, edited by Sherry Turkle I learn how Turkle draws on the work of Claude Levi-Strauss who describes bricolage as the idea of drawing on existing materials to bring about new ideas. Turkle describes how as a child she dreamed into old family photographs and archives in ways of imagining and discovering her absent father – she invented new narratives from existing materials. I have noticed that this is something that I have started to do as I work on a piece, the narrative or new narrative is born as the piece is made.
As I look back on my work since September, I see distinct patterns in how I learn. My practice is quite heavily weighted with a large proportion of my time being spent researching and reviewing published research. I am also inclined to reflect on my actions afterwards rather than in action. But I have really noticed a shift in my studio practice, I now work far less in 2D, and much more prone to head straight to experiment in 3D. For me, this practice in research and hand investment in my materials has become central to my studio practice. My task now is to distil my research and progress to date in order to make firm decisions and frame how my Final Major Project will take shape.