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Unstable territories: borders and identity in contemporary jewellery

In this post, we are featuring the written work of Johanna Zellmer, Faculty Member, Dunedin School of Art, Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand. We were drawn to Johanna's work through her collaborative project 'Unstable Territories' and her eponymous paper. Johanna’s paper explores these artists’ expressions of cultural identity through contemporary jewellery practices. It particularly draws on the territories inherent to the author’s own practice, being the closely connected concepts of the nation state, borders, migration, representation and embodiment of identity and governmentality. Johanna was born in Germany but lives and works in New Zealand. Her work using German coins re-configures the metal currency to

examine, confront and challenge the way that nation states selectively depict their history through cultural symbols.

Unstable territories:

borders and identity in contemporary jewellery. For complete article in downloadable form, please follow the link:

Brief biography and artistic intent:

As a jeweller I am specifically exploring the potential of national iconic symbols to represent the hybrid identities of contemporary culture. Jewellery signifies by demarcation, accentuating distinct parts of the body. It functions as an interstitial practice, appearing in the very space of constant negotiation that is also subject to personal identity construction. Jewellery objects fulfil this specific role in everyday social encounters, enabling jewellery makers to place their practice at the heart of contemporary discourses of identity. Accordingly, my research practice through jewellery and writing is situated in the wider context of Critical Theory. During the past 10 years my practice has focused on the subverting of monetary value by using currency as a key medium and has subsequently moved towards an investigation into migrancy, addressing experienced realities of identity and location. Through the basic jewellery interventions of cutting and forging minted state symbols, I am questioning whether the hybrid identities of contemporary culture can be embodied in a single object. Symbols in metal, when forged under the hammer, become suggestive of shadows and take on qualities of signs in a state of change, able to evoke a sense of hybridity. Rather than remaining constrained to an anthropological reflection on jewellery and its relation to the body of the wearer, I consider contemporary jewellery to be able to function as an analytical tool or instrument of identity politics. I therefore introduce the possibility for jewellery to be used as a medium of socio-political knowledge. Through directly engaging with immigrants via interviews, my practice has subsequently moved to some degree from object maker towards mediator, giving voice to an audience that is imperative in shaping the work. In the same vein writing and collaboration have increasingly become integral aspects of my research.

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