Hana Aoake – 16 December, 2014
Through a continuously repetitive action she positioned herself as both subject (via action) and object (via adornment). By subsuming rather than merely adorning her, the piece of jewellery became indistinguishable as a separate object, becoming part of her physicality, rather than some ornament she would wear.
20 October - 5th November 2014: 1-3 pm daily
Put Together was an endurance based performance work by Severine Costa. The project spread over three weeks and centred around the body as both a site of action and adornment. It also reflected upon this in-between space in jewellery; the space between the maker, the wearer, and their inferred disparity.
Costa is in her final year at the Dunedin School of Art and a jewellery major. Situated at the Bill Robertson library, inside a vitrine, she enacted the meditative action of threading polystyrene balls onto thread. As she worked she was subsumed by the mounting size of her adornment and became assimilated into the continuity of material, object and wearer. Much of her work utilised unusual or discarded plastics which when recast into wearable objects, shed some of their ubiquity as mass manufactured materials. Finger knitted fishing wire or the delicate threading of chunky polystyrene onto thread are just some of the techniques employed to transform these utilitarian materials into opulent and beautiful pieces of jewellery.
Over time the necklace grew into an organism which physically engulfed her. The work was simple, but mesmerising to watch. It offered a tension between luxury and nature through its materiality. Polystyrene is often used as a packaging material, but seeing these balls piled together inside the vitrine made them like pearls, as a reference to and subversion of luxury.
Put together offered a challenge to our value system. This was due primarily to Costa’s action of transforming a mass produced and often wasteful material into something beautiful, a handcrafted subversion of the means of production. Traditional jewellery is typically conceived as a crafted metal-smithing. It is a mere consumable good which often employs child labour, and notably in current commercial jewellery practices in New Zealand where much of the labour is outsourced cheaply offshore. This kind of consumable is perfectly crafted, so the body’s action is erased. The absence of the body in relation to the action of making in most jewellery is obvious.
By contrast, the way each line of threaded pearlescent balls encircled Costa’s body, like a cocoon growing in size over time, pushed the modes of wearability as the necklace began to swallow her up - making it more and more difficult to wear in a functional manner.
By placing the absent body and this unseen labour in the centre of the work Costa highlighted the integral relationship jewellery has to the body, using it as a means of creating a self determined space and to start a dialogue between the wearer and the physicality of time (1). Through a continuously repetitive action she positioned herself as both subject (via action) and object (via adornment). By subsuming rather than merely adorning her, the piece of jewellery became indistinguishable as a separate object, becoming part of her physicality, rather than an ornament she would wear.
She also used the space in a way that acknowledged its relationship to the students that walk past it (2). The vitrine and the space around it is all glass and therefore reflective, so in a manner similar to Christian McNab’s Window Shopper at V space earlier this year, Costa seemed to be incorporating potential shoppers, in this case the passing students.
Costa’s work recalled the artful craft of couture and the time spent creating these often unique garments (3). It was recorded in their Spring 14 collection that a single garment in Valentino’s haute couture line took as many as 800 hours to create. Polystyrene is a mass produced and cheap product, but in this context the work exuded luxury. It was reminiscent of Chanel (4).
Concomitantly the use of this material alluded to the idea of comfort, as with the thousands of polystyrene balls which make up something like a bean bag or the buffers used to keep products secure in their factory boxes. Yet the idea of the pearl was steeped in connotations of simple elegance, wealth and glamour. She challenged the idea of luxury as a product of labour rather than scarcity by enacting the labour hours that would’ve been removed from the factory process (5).
In Costa’s homeland of New Caledonia, aquaculture commodities are an important part of the economy. Located in Melanesia, tropical fisheries and aquaculture commodities such as pearls - especially black pearls - are highly vulnerable due to overfishing and climate change (6). Her action resisted this exploitation of resources at home and abroad. By recreating much of its aura in the manipulation of a “low quality” material, she reframed the pearl as a potentially illusory symbol of luxury.
Put Together informed the larger corpus of Costa’s work at SITE (7) , which utilised a variety of found materials, including other forms of plastic such as bubble wrap and fishing wire. Its remnants hung on the wall with hundreds of the polystyrene balls scattered around the floor. Well placed in this sunny room to catch the light, the resulting installation transmuted these found materials into crystals and pearls, belying their original purpose and signifying the way materials resolutely carry meaning, despite any recontextualisation.
Put Together was a simple, but cohesive concept, which compacted together layers of meaning linked with labour, craft/fashion histories, identity, waste and reappropriation. Its quiet rhythm allowed busy students to reflect upon the products they consume; who creates them, and in what conditions.
(1) A Google document conversation with Zach Williams, October 28, 2014.
(2)The space is situated within the Bill Robertson library. Anyone entering the library must walk past V space. This work was on during peak finals/exam time for both the University of Otago and the Otago Polytechnic.
(3) A Google document conversation with Zach Williams
(4) A Google document conversation with Zach Williams
(5) A Google document conversation with Zach Williams
(6) T.Adams, J.Bell and P Laborosse, “Current status of aquaculture in the Pacific Island” in Aquaculture in the Third Millennium. Technical Proceedings of the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium, eds. R.P.Subasinghe, P. Bueno, M.J.Philips, C. Hough, S.E. McGladdery and J.R. Arthur, p.295. (Bangkok, Thailand:NACA, 2000), accessed on November 12, 2014, http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/ab412e/ab412e18.htm
(7)The Otago Polytechnic School of Art graduate show.
To read a transcript of the panel discussion “Whose Oceania?” held recently in London, and more on NZ arts abroad, CLICK HERE
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