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© 2020 Jade Kerste
© 2013 Marjan Unger
© 2013 Marjorie Simon
© 2008 Sharon Campbell
© 2008 Cornelie Holzach
© 2008 Ellen Reiben
© 2008 Fabrice Schaefer
© 2007 Judy Wagonfeld

by Marjan Unger

This book was born out of a necessity. In 2002 Iris Bodemer already made a fine, handcrafted catalog about her early work. More than a decade later the time has come to pause and look back again. REBUS is a second intermediate survey of Bodemer’s work, published on the occasion of Bodemer’s joint exhibition with Ute Eitzenhöfer. This exhibition will take place in 2013 and 2014 in the Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim, the Deutsches Goldschmiedehaus Hanau and the CODA Museum Apeldoorn.

It was obligatory to present this intermediate survey about the years 1997 to 2013 in book form. What Iris Bodemer loves about books is their haptic character – the possibility to present her jewelry items on a tangible carrier. In times like these in which much information is disseminated across the world virtually and through all sorts of erratic channels and in which so much is in motion – in social, cultural, scientific and economic respects – a material and fixed point of reference makes perfect sense, precisely within a field such as jewelry. Jewelry is made by human beings for human beings. People wear jewelry to disclose something about their personality or background. Like a book, a piece of jewelry is tangible as a physical object and relative in terms of its content. It is produced by one particular individual and is therefore also an outcome of the conditions from which it emerged. A fine piece of jewelry, like any good book, will have a lasting impact and in retrospect will reflect the time in which it was made.

Iris Bodemer thoroughly enjoys her craft: the human scale and the possibility to have materials, form and meaning converge in a single piece of jewelry. In her work she pursues maximal freedom and follows her own internal compass. Her desire as an artist is to show what touches her and what she perceives around her. The most recent body of work, dated 2013, makes reference to topical problems that trouble her.

Iris Bodemer mostly creates necklaces, brooches and rings. It is within the confines of these body-related forms of jewelry that her adventure takes place. As a visual artist she is always looking for materials, volumes, lines, colors and constructions to visualize her thoughts. While this process of transforming mental images into concrete objects evolves slowly one day, it may culminate in a liberating release in moments of supreme concentration, when she will create one piece of jewelry after the other. The relationship between the different bodies of work is marked by a certain degree of continuity. Each completed sequence of works carries the seed of yet a new series. Iris Bodemer therefore presents her jewelry in galleries and other exhibitions in such a way that the links and references within the specific bodies of work become evident.

Her creative work rests on the interaction between her thoughts, the mental images that form there, and the concrete objects that her hands subsequently mold. Serving as interconnecting factor, her eyes continually respond to what is evolving in her hands and they decide whether or not a work is going in the right direction. For every artist, creating is a mode of thinking, with the eye as arbiter.

Inherent to this process is the urge to constantly pursue new goals, so as not to get bogged down in repeating oneself. The images in this book clearly show that Iris Bodemer does not give in to the temptation rework successful pieces from previous bodies of work.

Anyone writing about jewelry has to be aware of at least two things: Firstly, language and images are two means for conveying experience and can both be precise and abstract so that, fortunately, they may complement each other though they are fundamentally different from each other. Secondly, anyone writing about jewelry has to deal with at least three persons: the maker, the wearer and the beholder. None of these three must be ignored.

Most books and publications about the work of renowned jewelers chiefly focus on the jewelry maker: Where they come from, where they learned their craft and who taught them, what drives them in their work, how they choose their materials and how they process them. Making jewelry is not a common profession; it involves debatable notions such as style and taste, and many of the techniques applied are shrouded in secrecy, in particular when fire is involved. This justifies all these various questions, surely, but often it is not easy for the makers to answer these questions. Iris Bodemer is one who chooses not to explain her work. What she has to offer she puts into her jewelry pieces, and this she presents to the beholder.

The wearer can make or break the effect of a piece of jewelry through their personality or way of dressing and moving. What weighs heavily is the occasion for wearing jewelry, the atmosphere, the light and question if the piece of jewelry is worn in company or for the wearer’s enjoyment without any intention to create an effect on others.

In the triangle of maker, wearer and beholder, then, the beholder occupies a kind of key position. The beholder may be a random passer-by whose eye is caught by a piece of jewelry or one who professionally writes and thinks about jewelry.

In this book the two roles are very clear: my text, which is that of a beholder, is followed by the wonderful images of Iris Bodemer’s work. However, as an author and art historian with a deep love for jewelry I tend to combine the positions of wearer and beholder because wearing contemporary jewelry is an excellent way to try out its effect.

I have followed Iris Bodemer’s work ever since the time she studied in Amsterdam at the Sandberg Institute, and have seen her jewelry again and again in galleries such as the Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen (Netherlands) and at fairs and other presentations. What fascinates me are the connecting elements in an oeuvre filled with surprises and promises. REBUS, the title of this book, stands for a picture puzzle – and it is my task to communicate this picture puzzle and the original individual aspect of Iris Bodemer's jewelry in words.

Freedom is the first word that comes to mind when looking at the work of Iris Bodemer. Rather than referring to that of her colleagues or major predecessors, she goes her own way. Her combinations of forms, lines and materials are odd, in the best sense of the word. She works with a wide array of materials, ranging from gold and gemstones to rubber and rope. There is no hierarchy in the place she attributes to materials and forms. This kind of freedom requires courage and the talent to know just when a piece of jewelry is right, and when fascination turns into a kind of alienation that no longer captivates.

The elements she combines in her jewelry vary strongly. In this respect, her jewelry may be compared to a still life, a classical genre of painting in which objects with divergent shapes, colors and textures are juxtaposed in a single composition.

Early on Iris Bodemer lost her hesitation to work with expensive materials and test them for their intrinsic qualities. For her work from 1997 she received a supply of gemstones from a trader, in good faith and with the only obligation to pay for those she would use in completed and sold items. When she also wanted to work with gold, much to her surprise she received a sizable loan from her bank, based on the argument that the gold could always be melted. That collection surely was a visual delight.

Iris Bodemer makes jewelry like she would make a drawing, working intuitively and directly in the materials she gathered around her. Her work is guided by the notions that ghost about in her mind and that are based on things she sees, reads or takes in another way. Drawing provides a straightforward means to visualize such mental notions. Her work is gestural; if one is not likely to find symmetry in it, one will notice a sense of balance or a center.

In 1998, I witnessed Bodemer making large drawings, directly on the wall of a project studio at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. These drawings had little to do with classical pencil-on-paper drawings. If she did use paper, she used it as material, not as surface. Back then she drew with materials already, with shapes cut from paper and folded, but also with rubber, tape or band-aids. She added motion through large strokes in paint or crayon. The one material was harder than the other, and that ought to be seen. She alternated flexible materials and rigid shapes with each other. The experience she gained in those few weeks of utmost concentration have continued to be visible in her work to the present day.

Iris Bodemer has the visual power of a great artist and therefore has chosen exactly the right profession. She does not create autonomous works for display in an empty space, however. The pieces are made for the human body and come alive when worn.

On of the biggest challenges for a jewelry artist lies in the acceptance of the physical boundaries of jewelry. Which dimensions do you reveal in your work? How to appeal to the emotions, experiences and views of others?

To Iris Bodemer, dimension is as much an abstract phenomenon as it is a concrete one. She has studied all sorts of natural phenomena and concepts from science, mathematics and even astronomy. To realize tangible volumes in her work, she turns threads and flat materials into three-dimensional shapes. A piece of paper can be cut and folded into a shape. It can be creased, which gives it volume, and it can be wrinkled, pressed and deformed, so that it becomes a new material. The same can be done with sheet metal. A thread can be a mere line, linking separate parts of a jewelry item with each other. But it may also be wound in a way so that it becomes a volume. In Iris Bodemer’s thinking there is no room for a separation between two- and three-dimensional thinking; she feels at ease to be hovering somewhere in-between.

In spite of all the freedom in choosing and shaping the material, each resulting piece of jewelry does have an internal coherence. The artist’s sharp eye for composition makes sure that it is impossible for the beholder either to add an element to her jewelry or to remove one from it. In jewelry, unity is also a concrete requirement. For objects that have to defy people’s movements, it is a bad sign when they clatter owing to the design or when they have loose parts that fall to the floor when you touch them.

I particularly enjoy seeing how Iris Bodemer interconnects the different components of her jewelry – for instance, when I recognize the elements she applied in her wall drawings from 1998 with large, roughly cut paper shapes. This unity in her work is easy to notice in her use of tape, the simple fitting together of sheet metal, the sewing and tying things together. She is enough of a craftswoman to apply, where needed, the classical joinings used by a goldsmith. Her clasps and pin back solutions are perfect.

There is a personal experience underlying her tying together elements with rope or metal wire. She once received a ring from her family, which had belonged to her great-grandmother. It was her husband’s wedding ring, which after his death she wanted to wear herself, as was common for widows at the time. Yet the ring was far too big. As she did not want to ask a goldsmith to change it, she wound some brown and black wool around it, which made it possible for her to wear it. This also worked for Iris Bodemer. A tradition from her family, it became a favorite way of making her jewelry cohere. For a series of rings from 2004 she wound more and more yarn and knotted it, until they looked like classical rings with a set stone. Changing the size of the ring is achieved by simply adding more wool.

In the world of art, the word coherence has another meaning. It denotes the kind of coherence and unity of marks an artist’s oeuvre, a rhythm in recurring elements, ensuring tension rather than causing irritation. Such rhythm often emerges in the very practice of the freelance artist already. Iris Bodemer alternates periods of sustained concentration with periods devoted to activities such as teaching, preparing exhibitions, giving lectures and arranging other affairs. She experiences these interruptions of work as welcome opportunities to recharge, to gain new impressions and have ideas mature in one’s mind before embarking on a new body of work.

The work from 1999 and 2000 mainly consisted of large necklaces, which were presented as two-dimensional drawings. In the following years the work became more and more sculptural, however. If her jewelry from 2003 and 2004 keeps the balance between object and neckpiece, she also started using wool. The dynamic between two- and three-dimensional drawing was further developed in the subsequent body of work. The drawings formed an essential part of the jewelry. Gemstones began playing an ever larger role in the work from 2007 and 2008, a collection she even gave a title: Ingredients. The work’s internal consistency relies on metal wire and woolen yarn. In the following years metal would prevail while stones continue to be present in Iris Bodemer’s work. At this point, her work seemed to reach a turning point, which constituted one of the main reasons for making this book.

This chronology in the development of her work is adhered to in the selection of the works presented in this book.

The mutual cohesion in this uninterrupted series of jewelry consists of her approach, marked as it is by her direct drawing in and with the material; her sharp eye for composition and the right proportions, the apparent ease with which she connects separate components – and something which strikes me, as a beholder, time and again, namely her sense of color.

Color is physically measurable but, being a sensory experience, is also something relative. In daily life we never experience pure color; this is only possible with the help of intricate color meters. People mainly experience color in contrast to other colors and this has an inevitable distorting effect, for colors influence each other. Psychologists and linguists assume that there are eleven basic terms for color only: black, white, red, blue, yellow, green, brown, purple, orange, pink and gray. If we wish to define color in more detail, we do so by linking it to an object or by using an adverb like clear or soft.

A delicate kind of blue, integrated in challenging color combinations, is always enticing to me. Unfortunately, skilled colorists are scarce in jewelry; you will rather find them in fashion, textile design or painting and photography. This may be due to the color beauty of particular gemstones or a precious metal such as gold, which can be so dominant that one refrains from juxtaposing it with other colors and textures.

Just as there are people with perfect hearing, there are people with a perfect sense of color. From among hundreds of colors they will select exactly the shade they need. Most of them will also be capable of combining colors in pleasant ways. This ‘sense of color’ is an emotional gift that cannot be objectively approached.

Iris Bodemer has such a fine sense of color. Her palette has changed, however: While it has been marked by vividness and clarity during the past fifteen years, her most recent body of work shows more subdued colors.

This change results from a deliberate decision. It is characteristic of Iris Bodemer that she continuously engages in a clear-sighted analysis of her former work and of generally accepted notions about jewelry. This requires the courage and the intelligence to side with the not-yet-proven or to continue to interrogate one’s growing creative experience.

Maximal freedom in thinking and creating is only possible on the basis of posing questions and taking risks.

When Iris Bodemer starts to work in her studio, lots of things are going on around her: thoughts, memories, emotions, mental images, materials, tools, experience. Work means concentration, separating oneself from rules and expectations in the outside world, eliminating what cannot be used, holding on to what counts and, finally, perseverance in the effort to get to the core of what is essential. When asked about her process of working she concisely answers with a reference to musicians such as John Cage and Claude Debussy. The latter is said to have given the following reply when asked how he composed his music: 'I take all the tones there are, leave out the ones I don't want, and use all the others.'

The images that take shape in her mind are the product of a quick mind – of lots of reading, looking and persistently asking questions regarding the world around her. She is aware of the scope and the vulnerability of her own position within that world. She explores the flexibility of the boundaries of the universe and she wonders about nature and how people manipulate, neglect and idolize this notion. Much of her work is virtual. Dimensions are relative: what appears to be small can be large, depending on the distance one has to it. Iris Bodemer can look at Earth as if sitting in a space shuttle. Even an object’s shadow counts and may be decisive for the definitive shape of a piece of jewelry.

Her latest body of work is based on questions with respect to the environment, the exploitation of nature, the scarcity of particular raw materials and the interrelated shifting value patterns. Today, these are crucial concerns that have to do with respect. Iris Bodemer has moved away from the charm of the many kinds of stones and materials that she managed to apply so effectively and that also brought her much success. Nowadays she is strictly working with metals, such as large reliefs of silver, worked into a wild landscape divided into many separate brooches. She used costly platinum and fine gold but also ancient coins from India and natural copper. She integrated little tubes with rare earth in jewelry, thus giving an example of the value we should attribute to our globe as a whole and, at the same time, criticizing the thoughtless consumptive behavior that is running rampant more and more. It is a courageous collection; she breaks with a pattern of expectation regarding her work and raises issues which are urgent yet not necessarily popular.

Wearers and beholders will need to tap into their intuition and mental powers to situate this new work, especially when the colorful beauty of her previous collections appealed to them. In this last body of work Iris Bodemer searches for a reliable balance among today’s wavering value patterns. The outcomes are uncertain; she knows the scales may tip either way. Still, she takes a stand and has again taken the liberty to express in her jewelry what preoccupies her and to test complex insights and questions against the complexity of her mind. In doing so, she has all reason to trust her eyes: her work reveals a new beauty that commands respect.

Image and text are fixed now, which defines a printed book. All who pick it up and open it will see the same images and read this text. This book does not present all of Iris Bodemer’s jewelry; she has created many more items. Likewise, it is possible to find many more words to describe her work. This is also why the book’s title, REBUS, is reflective of all that its readers may still have to puzzle out while looking at her jewelry.

Marjan Unger