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Jewelry by Iris Bodemer
Writing about Iris Bodemer’s jewelry first requires figuring out what innovative jewelry actually is if this jewelry leaves no doubt about its claim to be art. The discussion about this issue and about the question of how to correlate jewelry and art has been going on for a long time now and has been conducted at various levels of intensity since the 1970s. Amazingly enough, nothing substantially new has really been added since. Even though jewelry creators have greatly enhanced their natural self-confidence in handling their profession, these questions ultimately remain unanswered, or they are answered in very individual ways by the different players involved. However, there is one thing that can be said for certain: Much more noticeably than in former times, jewelry creators also join in the theoretical discussions in order to define and substantiate their position within the context of art production. While the past was characterized by statements like the one that Hermann Juenger made in his days ("Goldsmithing is just another word for art"), now there are many texts and essays written both by artists and art historians that deal with the different aspects of jewelry as a form of artistic expression. Universities, colleges and other education and training providers are certainly an important forum that deal with jewelry as a form of art both in theory and practice and, in doing so, achieve long-term effects. This also applies to the museums that, apart from the specialized approach of the Pforzheim Jewelry Museum, have more and more come to attend to contemporary jewelry art. The most recent examples include the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, now housing Helen Drutt English's notable collection, or the Victoria and Albert Museum where a much stronger emphasis is placed on new jewelry after the reopening of the jewelry section. In addition, the work of jewelry galleries, art fairs, exhibitions, magazines is instrumental in helping to position jewelry in the public arena while providing the backing, support and reflective background that artists need to define their own position and, to some extent maybe, also to ascertain their own identity.
Iris Bodemer, born in 1970, very clearly and unequivocally decided to follow the path of art in jewelry all the way through her education at the "Berufskolleg für Formgebung" (Vocational College of Design) in Pforzheim, at the Pforzheim University, Faculty of Design, and then, for her postgraduate studies, at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. During her student years in the 1990s, the broad-ranging discussion about jewelry within the context of art and the fact that certainty on this issue was clearly expressed turned out to be beneficial for her. It seems particularly important for Iris Bodemer's position that there was no more need to discuss the basics and that the essential questions could be considered to be settled. This provides the freedom to take one's own unencumbered and uncompromising approach to finding out about the essence of jewelry. Iris Bodemer has never taken the easy path. Handling the maximum freedom of thought involves risks and uncertainties that are not easy to endure and to cope with. This also includes the possibility of failure and of needing to discard certain ideas, combined with the hope and assurance that a new beginning is always possible, based on the lessons learned from experience, and that this is exactly what may enable a new quality. In an early phase of her career, Bodemer worked on virtual jewelry or, in other words, on the idea of jewelry. How can you convey the idea of the ring, of this archetypical form of jewelry, as fully and as accurately as possible? Any form of materialization would show an individual ring but not the ring as such. The outcome of this undertaking is predictable: It will end up in nothingness. While Peter Skubic once conceived an exhibition of imaginated rings featuring only empty exhibit pedestals with signage attached, the thoughts of Iris Bodemer went even further: In the end, there is nothing left but the pen that you may use to draw a line around the finger. This was not a blind alley but rather a hairpin bend on a mountain pass. However, based on the quite frustrating experience of a conceptual idea of jewelry that, as the ultimate consequence, would have meant saying goodbye to jewelry altogether, she was successful in redefining her idea of jewelry and to find forms of realizing this idea that are acceptable to her. The rematerialization of the Iris Bodemers' jewelry is the way leading from the purely imaginary and invisible right into the tangible and visible world. Just like the low tide slowly reveals shells, finds and buildings otherwise concealed under the surface of the sea, her jewelry had a cautious and searching attitude when it began to re-emerge. These are works that, like drawings, result from a direct translation process into the material. Though designed to be three-dimensional, they are two-dimensional and drawing-like in a peculiar way. To continue the tides metaphor: we see the objects at the bottom of the sea shortly before the water retreats entirely. They are hardly recognizable as material objects, however, because of the light refraction. It is just the shadows and our knowledge about their actual shape that make them become three-dimensional objects in our imagination.
The captivating thing about drawings is the direct and uninterrupted translation of imagination and intuition. A drawing can be produced so quickly that it "overtakes" the thinking process and thus allows the unconscious to manifest itself. The inertia of the material that is always involved in jewelry making requires you again and again to think about how to make sure that the intuitive element will not get lost in the working process and how it can be visualized. Reacting to the existing discrepancy between the imagination, the idea of the piece of jewelry and the time factor affecting the realization process, Iris Bodemer arrived at solutions that reduce the technical aspects to a minimum and allow for the intuitive character of the drawing to be translated into the piece of jewelry. In addition, the technical simplicity of cutting, stapling and taping reveals something else: generally, any material can be used to translate an idea into a piece a jewelry, no matter if you choose gemstones and gold or rubber, adhesive tape, and staples. What matters when creating structures, surfaces, colors, lines and volumes is not the technical suitability of the material but rather that the chosen material comes as close to the idea as possible. This is made clear in a refreshing way by the pieces of jewelry that Bodemer made in this period: jewelry does not necessarily have to do with the craft of goldsmithing. This is an insight that should be assumed to be sufficiently known but must be emphasized again and again in order to realize the development that has taken place since the early beginnings of modern jewelry art that were pointed out above.
The drawing itself is an essential element in the work of Iris Bodemer, marking important milestones and turning points in the course of the development described above. The early works primarily derive their vigor from the drawing and live in the world of the drawing. Later on, it fades into the background insofar as it takes shapes in the piece of jewelry itself. Then the group of works created in 2006 introduces an interplay between the piece of jewelry and the drawing to merge them into one new entity. It disappears completely in the most recent works, one of the main features of these pieces being the materiality of the objects.
In the exhibition prepared for the Marzee Gallery in 2006, Bodemer presented 42 brooches with 80 drawings, arranged in a strict order of four rows with twenty 18 x 24 cm panels per row. One of the important aspects here was the sequential order and/or the way that the individual panels responded to each other, while all panels could as well stand for themselves. This conveyed the sensitive concept that Iris Bodemer follows in her work. As an attempt to integrate jewelry as a single object into larger works of art, the combination of drawing/image and piece of jewelry has always been a topic of interest in contemporary jewelry since the 1970s. While the beginnings were mostly characterized by wall-mounted objects or small-scale sculptures to be suspended like reliefs from which the piece of jewelry, when needed, could be taken out to be worn, the later phases saw the emergence of combinations with drawings. Some of them were placed underneath the piece of jewelry like draft drawings, whereas others provided explanations in a distinctive calligraphic style that were intended to through light upon the meaning of the work (or to cause confusion). At first sight, these principles - combining, supporting and framing the single objects by image carriers - seem to be the basis for the work of Iris Bodemer. A second look, however, makes you realize the tight symbiotic relationship between object and drawing and the importance of the stability that is provided by the drawing. Made by pen or other material, the drawing organizes a structure, sometimes appearing to be a translation aid, or yet again a complement or counterpart to the piece of jewelry. Shadowy as it is (there is rarely any color in the drawing, and if there is, it is rather reduced), the drawing manages to focus the attention onto the materiality of the pieces of jewelry and, at the same time, to make sure that it remains at the level of one component of the whole piece: the simultaneous focusing and extension make you wander back and forth between these two poles. It is this constant shimmering effect caused by the shift of perspectives that merges the individual panels with their pieces of jewelry to form one entity that is something new and can not be observed in any other of the combined works. If you really separate out individual pieces of jewelry from this entity and look at them separately you will realize that the opulent materiality is a very essential characteristic. While the foundation for this approach was laid as early as in the 1990s in Bodemer's early works, the diversity of materials – there are no limits as long as the material supports the idea – is reinforced by the high density of their interaction. The pieces of jewelry seem like highly concentrated essences, like iron filings on a magnet – and everything is eager to crowd together ever more tightly. Often it seems hardly possible to maintain the distance between the individual elements, as if some invisible force held them all together to never let them go. This kind of concentration is also visualized by the fact that the elements are joined and fixed together by being tied up: volume is created by tightly tying up the components, while it is not clear if something was wrapped or if the bundle stands for itself. The different solid materials such as gemstones or pieces of wood are massed together using twine or cord so tightly that the idea of undoing the bundle seems totally unthinkable. All are meant to stay together for ever and ever.
By grouping the most recent works together under the title "Ingredienzen" (Ingredients), Iris Bodemer pursues a topic that has been adumbrated in earlier groups of works time and again and now is becoming the central theme: the interplay between the different types of material, the combination of the ingredients which may subsequently merge and form a conglomerate, an entity. It requires a great deal of experience in handling and experimenting with the most diverse materials to capture and deploy the subtle nuances, the balance and the deliberate imbalance in the effects created by each type of material. There are stronger and weaker materials some of which immediately release emotions and some of which come to be perceived as smooth and harmless. Some of them seem to be infinitely heavy while others evoke pure lightness. Gold foil can either appear noble and precious or, if used differently, resemble crumpled up aluminum foil while a household foil may as well convey a spirit of equanimity that is not affected by time and change. In Iris Bodemer's works, pearls, gold, gemstones, wood, branches of corals, finds, pieces of fur and many other ingredients show their peculiarities and particularities. They are identical with themselves and, at the same time, they are part of the overall design and of the structure developed by the artist. This creates a tension similar to the dense and concentrated effect evoked by the combination of drawing and jewelry. It is the whole set of ingredients that provides the added value, without any one of them getting lost. Each element can be distinctly identified but it is only in their togetherness that they are more than each of them alone.
In her recent works, Iris Bodemer has departed more and more from the abstract and emblematic level of her earlier explorations into what jewelry actually is. And in doing so, she has even turned to the canon of the classical forms of jewelry in some of the works: necklaces with center pendants or with condensed forms conically tapered towards the center. Here, she clearly borrows from the traditional forms of gold work - but note how different the solutions are! What is noticeable is an air of delightful opulence and also the focused attention in all of her works. It is the confident use of carefully calculated transgressions amidst this very opulence – always seeming either slightly too much or a bit too little – that accounts for the high quality of her works. These works have their very specific charisma because Iris Bodemer delves into the material with an extraordinarily clear-eyed view. And, looking back, her body of work appears to be becoming more and more focused, like a determined and persistent path towards the levels of meaning in jewelry.