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06 March 2014

Jewelry and Life: An Uncanny Connection. On Eunmi Chun’s Jewelry

One on One nº2

A new article format was launched in January 2014. This series, called “One on One,” consists of 500-word analyses of specific works that lend themselves to in-depth study. One review will be published every month.

“One on One” is a form of testing area. We believe that the field of contemporary jewelry will benefit from developing its own analytical tools—as different from, say, the tools used to analyze design, art, or customary craft—and we want to use the series to test how specific pieces of jewelry can be looked at, decoded, and interpreted. 

By choosing a wide variety of works, we mean to put up a form of resistance to the idea that the field is one, by articulating how very different the criteria for success are between a Walker piece and a Fritsch piece.

Finally, we simply wanted to apply a bit of critical thinking to objects that are arguably the field's raison d'être but actually are seldom discussed in detail. This necessitates a change in scale from reviews and articles and lines of arguments that are both more specific and more precise. 

We are happy to publish our second installment, by philosopher Pravu Mazumdar: we hope you’ll like it. 

- the editor

 

Eunmi ChunThinking about the bejeweled body is also thinking about the life inhabiting the body. In Eunmi Chun’s jewelry, life is not seen as captivated within the limits of an individual organism, but instead as a force surging through floral, animal, and human forms according to the culturally modified dictates of the food chain and finally attaining visibility as a piece of jewelry. If vegetable and animal life on our dinner tables evoke different sentiments in us, this is because their forms are dissimilar to the human form in different degrees. For, although eating always involves killing, it seems less a killing to the extent that our food is dissimilar to the human form. However, the moment similarity makes us project ourselves into the life eaten by us, we suddenly become aware of the uncanny connection stretching from habitual acts of eating through cannibalism to the extreme case of autophagous ingestion. At this utmost point, the logic of self-consumption attains its intolerable peak, for it demands that we nourish and kill ourselves in one and the same act. A single glance at the genealogical roots of the vegetarian reflex thus triggers off a number of questions. To what extent is vegetarianism an aesthetic decision? To what extent is it determined by the dissimilarity between the forms of plants and the discernible shapes deriving from animal or ultimately human anatomy, such as legs, trunk, and eyes? 

Questions like this constitute an important dimension in Eunmi Chun’s work. One of her brooches, made in 2009, plays with the anthropomorphous allusions of mandrake roots, identified by medieval European mystics and alchemists as the masculine or feminine human form imbued with demonic or healing powers. The upper half of the brooch consists of drawings of the dual male/female form of a mandrake root, worked upon silver, depicting a bearded male head in the foreground and a nude female body at the background, together creating the impression of an androgynous body. The dual plant grows out of a shell-like body so that the brooch seems to fasten a frozen image of life flowing through animal, human, and floral forms onto the chest of a respiring human body, which, as if in the way of a chance connection, is also the classical zone for fastening brooches. 

Eunmi Chun’s works thus reveal jewelry as much more than a mere extension of the life of a bejeweled body. Besides and beyond that, her objects and images seem to reduplicate life’s inherent dynamism by presenting diagrams charting the movement of life as it surges across the borders of mutually incompatible biological genera. Almost as a side effect, such an approach detaches the idea of life from the kind of anthropomorphism rampant in contemporary jewelry art—with its manifold reflections on “wearing jewelry”—to reveal life instead as what it is: an incessant flow of biological energy in which the wearer of jewelry is no more than a mere circuit element.                                 

Pravu Mazumdar studied physics in New Delhi and Munich and has a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Stuttgart, Germany. He lives as a writer and teacher in Munich. His areas of work include art and philosophy, and his books are closely related to French postmodernism, in particular the philosophy of Michel Foucault. Forthcoming is a book on jewelry titled Die entfesselte Oberfläche (The Unleashed Surface), Berlin: Matthes & Seitz. Portrait photo: Klaus Kindermann