“Though it's fearful, though it's deep, though it's dark
And though you may lose the path, … into the woods you go again”
(Stephen Sondheim. 1986).
A studio led research into foetus trauma as a result of domestic violence.
This studio led autoethnographic research considers how traditional silversmithing and fine jewellery making techniques may translate an autobiographical narrative of trauma into jewellery art objects. A consideration of jewellery as sites of memory led to the creating of silver lockets. Where lockets are used as repositories of warm, loving memories, these will be vessels for memories of childhood trauma.
Although there have been major developments in contemporary art jewellery there has not been an equivalent focus on how one’s art practice may occupy a place of reflection, particularly in the realm of trauma. This inquiry seeks to add to this discussion.
My art practice is motivated by an urgency to add to an emerging conversation regarding social issues, particularly domestic violence and its traumatic ramifications in our society.
The aspiration for this research outcome is to be positioned within the emerging field of trauma theory in visual art, to enable a witness and a testimony of the human experience (Riggs 2010, 15-16).
An essential aspect of this studio led research was the ability to combine materiality, theory, process and reflection in a way that produced (a quality of) effect and affect in the production of works of art. This process allowed me to relive and confront often time painful memories and in doing so, not only produced a body of work, but also created a pathway to healing.
Critically analysing works of art of other artists and applying the same analysis to the outcomes of this research provided an understanding of the use of visual language, in particular, its ability to cause an affective response in the viewer and identify taboos within society.
My art practice is motivated by an urgency to add to an emerging conversation regarding social issues, particularly domestic violence and its traumatic ramifications in our society. The consequences of domestic violence across five known generations of my family has provided a strong motivation in seeking a way of bringing a greater awareness of this damaging scourge to the wider community. Edvard Munch's work (figure 1) The Scream and Christian Boltanski’s (figure 2) Une boite d'épingles were the catalyst for this inquiry. They posed a challenge, a quest, how to make visible this autobiographical expression of traumatic pain in contemporary art jewellery?
The forging of lockets as contemporary art jewellery is the chosen medium because lockets have the mobility of a bodily worn object. They are generally a publicly displayed object, yet like a traumatised person, are able to carry a concealed, intensely private and painful part, thus providing an ideal location as a repository for, and a response to trauma. A locket’s connection with the body provides a “vehicle for the intentions and artistic concepts of the maker” giving it an opportunity to carry a forceful message” (Skinner and Murray, 2014, 7). The aspiration for this research is for it to be positioned within the emerging field of trauma theory in visual art, not as art therapy, but as Anne Riggs proposes an “appropriation of language to enable a witness and a testimony of the human experience in visual art” (2010, 15-16).
This exegesis comprises an introduction, three chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter will consider the central aim of the project to; “investigate the possibility of contemporary jewellery as signs, motifs, and images that are meaningful as part of the system of visual representation” (Skinner 2013, 8), elucidating major social issues, in particular domestic violence with its traumatic ramifications. This central aim will be addressed through a critical analysis of a work of art by, William Harper, Grayson Perry, Louise Bourgeois, and Ella Dreyfus who use art to make sense of their personal trauma. Further, a consideration will be made of jewellers Marion Marshall's, A Family Remembers and Barbara Heath's, Angus' Brooch. These commissioned works made with similar techniques to my own, contain stories other than those associated with the artist’s personal narrative. They will be included in this analysis to contrast how contemporary art jewellery has multiple functions.
Chapter two will examine the subject of trauma and its ramifications socially, psychologically and in art theory. Primary theorists will include Jill Bennett, Griselda Pollock and Ann-Maree Levine who raise questions as to the place of trauma in visual art. Artist and clinical psychologist Dr. Bracha Ettinger will provide an explanation of how trauma may be expressed in art. While psychiatrist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, psychologist Dr. Lynn Margoles and Senior Research Analyst Kelly Richards, among others, will contribute to the discussion on domestic violence and its traumatic ramifications on infants and children psychologically and socially.
Chapter three will consider studio methods and processes and why an autoethnographic, narrative is the most suitable methodology for this inquiry. These methods will be a response to theoretical propositions regarding trauma and how it is realised in visual art
The locket, home to loving memories is subverted using Victorian gothic motifs. Motifs with a gothic vision of history, where, as history and literature theorist David B. Morris contends
the past interpenetrates the present time, as if events were never entirely the unique and unrepeated product of human choices, but rather the replication of an unknown or buried pattern” (1985, 304).
By including elements of the gothic, red and black gemstones, and a classical monster from nightmares, F. W. Murnau’s Count Orlok, from his 1922 film Nosferatu. Eine Symphonie des Grauens (figure 3) I will be underscoring the repetitive re-enactment nature of trauma (Juranovszky 2014, 69-70).
Finally, the conclusion will contain an explanation of how this autobiographical expression of trauma is made visible in contemporary art jewellery.
If a picture paints a thousand words
Then why can't I paint you?
The words will never show, the you I've come to know
(David Gates If 1971)
There have been a number of exhibitions this century in major galleries, nationally and internationally dealing with the subject of trauma, they include, Witness, 2014 Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance 2010, Guggenheim, New York, In the Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations, 2014, Kemper Art Museum, Washington, Mixed Up Children, Auckland Art Gallery and Trauma, 2001, Haywood Gallery, London. In the catalogue for Trauma (figure 4) it is stated:
Works of art from these exhibitions, reveal artists whose efforts identify a response to trauma (Clack 2006, 153), adding weight to this inquiry.
Art Historian, Jill Bennett proposes, that “up until now, theorists of trauma and memory have paid relatively little attention to visual and performance art” (2005, 23). Further investigation confirms that within the field of contemporary art jewellery, such concerns are also apparent. This research is an attempt to redress this situation.
Numerous contemporary artists have created objects that might be considered repositories for trauma. For example, Perry in his Cuddly Toys Caught on Barbed Wire (figure 5) uses the domestic craft of ceramics to refer back to his childhood traumas and transcend them (Houghton 2011). While Dr Eugene Koh’s assertion, “the creating of artwork creates a space for a person to slowly, in little bits, encounter their traumatic experiences…” (cited in Michael Short, Comment The Age 3 June 2013), may be seen in Louise Bourgeois’s Spider (figure 6). Bourgeois states “art is the experiencing – or rather – the re-experiencing of trauma” (Marie-Laure Bernadac 1996, 8).
As such these artists can be seen to be developing their own visual language with which to engage with their personal traumatic experiences, in order to communicate affect and sensation. This engagement expands our capacity to register the impact of traumatic memory (Bennett 2005, 2). A good example of this may be observed in Ella Dreyfus’ Scumbag, (figure 7, 8), where brightly coloured felt, a material most commonly used in children’s craft has been “juxtaposed [using] gendered techniques of hand-stitched texts placed in site specific, domestic environments, performing as confronting agencies to explore notions of shame, intimacy and trauma” and to “articulate the unspeakable” (Dreyfus 2008 thesis, 122).
A priority for this research was to repudiate a visceral expression of pain and trauma, as seen in Thomas’s Lips, Marina Abramovic, (figure 9) and Catherine Bell’s Felt is the Past Tense of Felt (figure 10). Jeweller and enamellist, William Harper, provides another form of visual language with his series of self-portraits, which includes, Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Sebastian (figure 11) and Self Portrait of the Artist with a Migraine (figure 12). My preference was for a persuasive subversion of a familiar object, the locket.
Harper makes jewellery through which he can explore the feeling of pain caused by migraines— jewellery that was not beautiful in the classical sense but was “in many ways painful … too potent for most people to feel comfortable with”. (Harper 2004 interview). His jewellery contains numerous symbols that “kindle our imaginations and lead us to realms of wordless thought” (Benesh 2013, 20). Materials and symbols that respond to “three basic human requisite s; that is, they satisfy our spiritual, intellectual and emotional needs” (ibid 20).
The techniques for fine jewellery making have not changed essentially over the centuries, neither has the traditional use of metals such as silver and gold, or gemstones, yet a key aspect of contemporary art jewellery is defined by contemporary standards (ibid 20). Where fine jewellery has been defined by preciousness of its materials, contemporary art jewellery is defined according to which material or materials chosen by the artists are those most suitable for conveying or describing the aim or concept of the work (Hnoss Initiative 2014). Therefore, the contemporary art jeweller, in seeking to make their work unique, looks to historical and cultural materials, symbols and motifs with which to transmit aspects of their lives.
The aforementioned Barbara Heath and Marion Marshall, are practicing artists who use cultural symbols and motifs in their jewellery, not to transmit aspects of their own lives, but the lives of others.
Heath’s Angus’s Brooch (figure 13), was made to commemorate the life and death of a six-year-old boy. His mother talked about “going through the process” (Seear in Heath 2003, 15) with the maker. I would propose this “going through the process” is an inquiry into how “art can be a witness and can express trauma and catharsis on the affective level of empathetic understanding and elaboration of pain” (Bakargiev, 2012, 6). Similar treatment may be found with Marshall’s work, A Family Remembers (figure 14a & 14b). A mother and her two sons met with the artist and went through a process of determining the historical and cultural materials and symbols that would best encapsulate their love for and loss of their husband/father. (Marshall, e-mail message to the author. 8th August 2015). This analysis of these artist’s studio process assists my research into how a narrative of trauma may be translated in contemporary art jewellery.
Into the woods--you have to grope,
but that's the way you learn to cope.
Into the woods to find there's hope,
of getting through the journey.
(Stephen Sondheim, 1986)
The locket became popular in the nineteenth century, and is where this autoethnographic narrative begins. It was a period when:
Victorian manliness was not only taken very seriously by pundits and preachers; it was also manifest in the lives of countless young men, who saw it as an expression of their manhood in keeping with their religious convictions, or their social aspirations, or both together (Tosh 1994,181).
This was a time when it was understood that women became men’s property when they married, as were their children. It was a time when family violence was considered a ‘private affair’ (Australian Law Reform Commission 2010). Where the home is important as a safe place, in reality it is the site of pain and humiliation for some people (García-Moreno 2005 Foreword). The motivation for this research is best summed up by the title of Erin Pizzey’s book, Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear You (1974) and a taboo placed on the discussion of domestic violence by the media, continues to “contribute to the humiliation and shame” (Davoren May 2015). Domestic violence and subsequent trauma to children has been well documented. Some studies put the figure at 42% of women, with 20% of these women experiencing domestic violence for the first time when they are pregnant (Laing 2000, 9).
The effect on the foetus can be catastrophic. Researcher and infant mental health expert Amy Gilliland and prenatal psychologist Thomas Verny contend, “battering during pregnancy is associated with emotional and behavioural disorders during childhood and severe psychological problems later in life” (1999, 244). Recent research literature (Bedi & Goddard 2007; Clements, Oxtoby & Ogle 2008; Edleson 1999; Ernst et al. 2008; Fantuzzo & Fusco 2007; Humphreys 2007; Spilsbury et al. 2008 in Richards 2011, 3) documents the following psychological and/or behavioural impacts: depression; anxiety; trauma symptoms; increased aggression; antisocial behaviour; lower social competence; temperament problems; low self-esteem; the presence of pervasive fear; mood problems; loneliness; school difficulties; peer conflict; impaired cognitive functioning; and/or increased likelihood of substance abuse. Further, Dr. Leonard Shengold terms the results of child abuse “soul murder”, because “subsequent emotional development having been profoundly and predominantly negatively affected” (1999, 1).
Child abuse has multiple negative effects and are explained by psychologist Lynne Margolies as being:
the essential psychological effect of trauma is a shattering of innocence. Trauma creates a loss of faith that there is any safety, predictability, or meaning in the world, or any safe place in which to retreat. Because traumatic events are often unable to be processed by the mind and body as other experiences are, due to their overwhelming and shocking nature, they are not integrated or digested. The trauma then takes on a life of its own and, through its continued effects, haunts the survivor and prevents normal life from continuing until the person gets help.2010, 1).
Catastrophic psychic trauma describes the experiences of my life and through this studio based research, I am seeking to make sense of it by coming “to understand how it is that art today, can work over, elaborate, work through, and keep in visual touch with a past that no image can represent” (Van Alphen 2005, 179). Trauma memories are implicit, dissociated, returning as sensations and intense emotional reactions, causing the mental imprints to return (van der Kolk 2002, 4). In her blog, Anne-Marie Levine, artist, philosopher and founding member of the International Trauma Centre, asks then, “is art made out of trauma? How does art "know" trauma? How does trauma become art?” (blog 1996). Levine argues:
art may express the unknown; art is a balancing act between unconscious (that is, the source) and conscious (discipline, the editing self; art may express trauma in a way that makes it intelligible to the rest of us; art presupposes a dialogue. Artists aren't necessarily aware of what they know. But they transform it into something others can know. Art is a way to tell, even if you don't know what it is you're telling. We know that silence is toxic. Art is a way of breaking the silence. (ibid 1996).
A core issue in contemporary art is one’s personal history (Frehner cited in Smith 2012, 124). Curator of Ego Documents (2008, 22) Kathleen Buhler states “the autobiography is more than a self-portrait: It is a retrospective and presents the finding of an individual identity in a narrative” Where art has a distinct advantage is as “a witness, expressing trauma and catharsis on the affective level of empathetic understanding “(Bakargiev 2012, 6), of being able to “open up the question of what art might tell us about the lived experience and memory of trauma” (Bennett 2005 2). Traumatic emotions don’t live in the memory although the traumatic event does; the making of art is a process whereby the artist is seeking to create a present experience of that trauma through the art object (William James cited in Bennett, 2010, 27).
Art theorist Griselda Pollock raises the question of how traumatic memory translated into works of art creates a paradox and confusion. Trauma is something that cannot be represented, something the trauma victim can only describe as a sensation, a forgotten memory that lurks in the borderspace of consciousness (2009, 42). Pollock argues, “The work of the artist is a working-through and bringing-into-being of that which cannot be remembered” (ibid, 48). Short similarly concurs, “the creating of artwork creates a space for a person to slowly, in little bits, encounter their traumatic experiences” (2013, newspaper). This work of art may be aptly described as the transport-station of trauma (Ettinger 1999, 91), a space where trauma may be re-experienced in the process of creation. A space where Chris Saines contends the artists’ childhood is recalled through perceptions and “filters of history and art history, psychoanalysis, psychology or politics, and sometimes through cathartic playing-out" (in Craw, 2005, p. 9). Ettinger describes the resulting art object a transcryptum, that provides the occasion for sharing and affectively-emotively recognising an uncognised Thing or Event” (Ettinger, 2006, 166), this thing called trauma.
O’ benign soul, yet to wander the diverse pathways of the mind,
Rest, you turbulent wanderer, your days are not numbered …
(Christopher Hardwick, 1970).
Studio led research involves an intimate connection to materials. The challenge is to maintain that connection whilst allowing streams of consciousness, images emanating from memories of violence and abuse to inform the creative process. The influence of the works of Bourgeois, Perry, Dreyfus and Harper, allowed a certain courage, knowing that others had gone before me, knowing they had created their own transcryptum, visual repositories where trauma and pain may be found. However, a significant difference with my trauma narrative is its connection to domestic violence, especially the abuse of pregnant women and the potential catastrophic lifetime consequences for the foetus.
Psychologist Grahame Barker adds weight by his proposition on dissociation and denial allowing a certain functionality over long periods of life until childhood coping mechanisms reach their use by date triggering a traumatic stress disorder (CCAA, pdf. 3) This research commenced at the time childhood coping mechanisms had reached there use by date.
Early exploratory works of art for this research were deemed to be didactic and overly literal. Where there had been powerful imagery, imagery that could turn away the viewer, there was a need for something subtler. Reflecting on this, a memory of a locket (figure 15) passed down by a great aunt surfaced. This locket has become a repository of a multitude of memories over its one hundred and thirty-year existence. Memories of love, affection, pain and heartache. It became the catalyst for this autoethnographic narrative domestic violence induced foetus trauma inquiry.
Many questions were raised at the commencement of this inquiry. Was it “narcissistic navel gazing?” “self-aggrandisement?” (Carey, Australian, Arts, 5 March, 2008), or “self revelation considered… embarrassing, distasteful” (John Hughes cited in Carey), or simply “thumb-sucking”? (Robert Atwan cited in Carey). Reassurance came in the guise of studio led, autoethnographic research methodology “that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (Ellis, 2011, abstract).
The aforesaid narrative involves the personal experiences of a child, born in nineteen fifty-one to a family bedevilled by domestic abuse, resulting in complex early childhood trauma which “interferes with neurobiological development and the capacity to integrate sensory, emotional and cognitive information into a cohesive whole” (Streeck-Fischer, 2000, 903).
Trauma and it’s repetitive, cyclical nature is signified with the gothic and “Catch 22”. Catch 22, a set of circumstances in which one requirement, “is dependent upon another, which is in turn dependent upon the first state” (OED online) so reflecting the similar manner by which trauma repeats over and over and over. Consequently, twenty-two lockets became a journey of remembrance, an exploration over seven decades, of how this trauma impacted a family, socially and culturally.
Rural Australia in the 1950s and 1960s was a time when “Australian national identity was built upon hard masculine foundations” (Scott, 2011), and woe betide any male who did not display hard masculine’ traits. Unfortunately, complex early childhood trauma causes chronic identity dysfunction (Gimson, 2014, 9). This resulted in knowing:
I was queer when I was a small child. My voice was gentle and sweet. I avoided sports and all roughness. I played with the girls. I did not fit into the world around me… I know a lot about bullies, they are masters of the art of humiliation and technicians of the science of terrorism. They wreaked havoc on my entire childhood. To this day, their handprints, like a slap on the face, remain stark and defined on my soul’ we will never forget that we were tortured and publicly humiliated because we refused to be real boys, acted "girlish" or were simply different, this was the price we paid for being queer (Rofes, 1994, 37).
Consequences stemming from this situation further entrenched the nightmare of a traumatised child with nowhere to hide. Learning to apply principles of writing to art making; “personal stories can be therapeutic for authors as we write to make sense of ourselves and our experiences” (Kiesinger cited in Ellis, 2011, 4.2) has provided a means to pursue this project.
A meagre collection of family photographs provided the means of developing a pictorial timeline over three generations. The reflective process began with selecting, scanning, enlarging, then attaching twenty-two images including those of grand-parents, parents and self to the wall. Contemplation of these images, created sites where trauma was re-experienced (Marie-Laure Bernadac, 1996, 8).
The locket, designed to hold a cherished memento close to one's heart, is a piece of jewellery that carries a great deal of sentiment. During World War I, many soldiers wore lockets into battle as a reminder of loved ones at home (Shapera,1999. 64-69). This research seeks to corrupt this traditional function because, I would argue, lockets have been used to idealise memory and the family.
The final body of work for this project consists of twenty-two lockets, each one individually referring to an aspect of the trauma narrative. As this autoethnographic narrative begins in the 19th century with my maternal grandfather, it was appropriate that Belcher chain be used as it rose to prominence during this era and reinforced the historical prominence of the locket within this context.
The number of links was solely based on the length of the chain, which was determined to be 630mm as an ideal length to situate the locket near the heart of the wearer. The links have been oxidised with liver of salts, the exterior was repolished and the inner surface left blackened.
The nine weeks spent making one thousand, three hundred and twenty links, allowed time for reflection on the photographs, causing memories to surface, making connections with the past. A past filled with violence, abuse and trauma that would inform the motifs contained in the lockets.
All twenty-two lockets were made from purchased and reclaimed silver using the same processes, hydraulic forming, saw piercing and soldering. The narrative for each locket was researched individually within the framework of autoethnography. Recycling scrap silver from two previous works of art, Domestic Violence Tea Set and Child Abuse Toys, added a certain inclusivity to this project
The intense physicality of metalsmithing, beating, forming under pressure, removing metal through filing, provided numerous spaces to connect with the memories of trauma. Metalwork could be considered a metaphor for traumatisation because the metal is being work hardened leading to a breaking point and requires constant annealing to reduce its hardness.
Motifs are used to convey recurrence, as in Count Orlock connoting the horrific cyclical nature of trauma. Badges denote membership and belonging requiring the fulfilling of certain criteria, that you often need to qualify, they also may mean exclusion.
These lockets carry multiple motifs and signifiers, not only conveying a personal narrative, but hopefully providing the viewer with a greater understanding of the prevalence of domestic violence induced trauma. Abuse in the home is not selective, it is found in all groups in the community, middle class and lower class (Mugford, abstract, 1989). Cathy Kezelman, president of ASCA reports an estimated five million adults in Australia are affected by childhood trauma (Adults Surviving Child Abuse, blog, 2015). Although the primary purpose of this narrative will concern trauma, other social and cultural themes of bullying, discrimination and violence will also be discussed in this series of lockets.
The means to transmit these horrors came in the form of the previously mentioned “Count Orlock, who’s seen creeping up the stairs in F W Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu…the gothic villain …the easily recognisable cultural trope” (Parker-Philip, 2014, 26). The gothic has provided “a literary space for trauma re-enactments and dramatic performances of one’s historical, cultural and personal identity” (Juranovszky, 2014, 70). Morris further contends:
ever since its original emergence, gothic fiction has been shaped by a unique narrative direction that is often described by scholars and readers alike as retrospective, repetitive, or circular in nature. Gothic texts progress as if through a series of flashbacks, always reviving deeds of the past in order to point out a problem, which, however strongly rooted in some ancient heritage, prevails in the present and calls for immediate resolution (1985, 304).
In addition to the culturally recognisable motifs of Gothic literature that occurs across a number of the lockets, there are familial, cultural and personal motifs significant to the telling of this narrative of trauma. How these motifs are incorporated in each locket is outlined below. Images of ten of the lockets will provide examples.
Three lockets use badges as they signify authority, (Smith cited in Seaton, 1986,174), “authority not wanting to express itself in person,” (Smith, 1988, 141) and “insistence on that authority” (ibid, 142). The Carrathool Shire Council badge (figure 17) speaks of the position my maternal grandfather held in the community, Shire Engineer and Shire President. Positions held by men who were “egalitarian, had fortitude, great endurance, lacked ostentation and were stoic” (Garton 2002, 54).
This locket is an integral one in the context of this narrative. It is my contention this self made man, who had the qualities that were desirable in a man at the end of the nineteenth century in Australia (Hosking, 1987, 174-185) used shame and humiliation to pressure his daughter into marrying the man she was four months pregnant to. This event, like acid, has eaten away in my family for five generations. This badge has been etched into the metal with ferrous nitrate, a corrosive acid used in silversmithing.
Two lockets are representative of various institutions where one is required to conform a penalty paid if one didn’t or couldn’t. Institutions reinforcing aspirational middle class values, performing respectability while violence continued in the home. The badge for Deniliquin High School (figure 17), a place where bullying and fear contributed to the nightmare represents a place, that, for a traumatised child who manifested fearful and emotional reactions, (van der Kolk, 2005, 407), a place that became a quagmire of terror, a nightmare.
The need to feel safe yet be with people led to involvement in the church. Particular to this was joining the P.F.A. (Presbyterian Fellowship Association). The P.F.A enamelled badge was acquired for this project as the original had been lost over the years.
There was to be an extra badge locket, but for some reason it was the only one that didn’t work out. While reflecting on its motif, I realised that it being a Boy Scouts insignia, carried meanings considered to be irrelevant to this narrative. What emerged was a locket bearing the drawing of a foetus and the lid has been beaten (figure 18). Seven lockets engage with the six characters complicit in this narrative. Three are regarding Margaret Hope, the biological female parent. While reflecting on early images of her an understanding emerged of Roland Bathes, who after the death of his mother came across images of her. He acknowledged having:
never recognised her except in fragments, which is to say that I missed her being, and that therefore I missed her altogether. It was not she, and yet it was no one else. I would have recognized her among thousands of other women, yet I did not "find" her. I recognised her differentially, not essentially (1982, 65-66).
Neither did I know my female biological parent though I would have recognised her among many. Hope – Margaret’s middle name (figure 19), is made with 9ct gold, only 37.5% actual gold, an illusion of wealth. Margaret means ‘pearl’ and a real South Pacific pearl is used. A pearl was considered appropriate because, “The Pearl portrays two contrasting forces that shape human life and determine individual destiny” (John Steinbeck, 1947).
Raising memories can be a hazardous affair and the realisation of my parent’s marriage was a sham, led to the choice of a large plastic pearl (figure 20) to embellish this locket. The shogun etched into the inside lid speaks of a forced marriage, “a shotgun wedding … occasioned by an unplanned pregnancy” (self.gutenberg.org).
R. Hardwick, my male biological parent has left little physical trace on my life, an inscription from his third grade poetry book (figure 21) is all that remains. Despite this, a large trace has remained from years of violence, abuse and neglect. Evidence would suggest he was a coward and a bully, hence the inclusion of a white feather. A white feather has been a traditional symbol of cowardice since the eighteenth century.
It was used and recognised especially within the British Army and in countries associated with the British Empire. Women were encouraged to pin white feathers on young men who were not in military uniform. The hope was that this mark of cowardice would shame them into ‘doing their bit’ in the war (Socknat, 2004). The white feather campaign was continued during the Second World War (Spurling 2014 newspaper). “Masculinity has always been a fragile concept, especially to the men who strive to meet what they perceive as the criteria for manhood” (Hart, 2010 1-4). Parents of my biological parents were complicit in the ‘shot gun wedding’ and because of this, are included in the lockets.
Gemstones have a traditional use in fine jewellery. Once the purview of the wealthy, royalty and high-ranking church officials, gemstones were used to display wealth and power. By adopting them as vehicles for the artists’ intentions (Skinner 2013, 8), garnets become drops of blood denoting suicide (figure 22), triangular pink tourmaline a sign of ‘queerness’.
A number of lockets bear tear shaped semi-precious gemstones. Tears were a regular feature during this project, what with coming face to face with multiple memories of traumatic occurrences from childhood. There were times when it was necessary “to cry out with bodily pain ... always unmanly and unbecoming… tears for the loss of innocence and childhood” (Beasley 2009 29). The locket producing the most emotion and the most difficult one to process was the one speaking of the breakdown of marriage. Years seeking professional help achieved nothing my wife and three children slipped away. “It is through our tears that we release the pain and the trauma and learn to accept what was and is” (LaMar 1992 139).
Consequences of foetus trauma are explored in these lockets, they contain narratives of loss, terror, inability to maintain relationships, divorce, attempted suicide and fragmentation of self. The uncut aquamarine (figure 23) signifies a raw natural state and the jigsaw is a metaphor for a fragmented life—not knowing “how it can be brought under control. We don't have all the pieces filled in yet … Early in the puzzle-solving process, there are lots of pieces lying around” (Gozzi, 1996, 447).
Evidence supplied by The Child Information Gateway has found:
there is now scientific evidence of altered brain functioning as a result of early abuse and neglect … the child’s brain is focused on developing and strengthening its strategies for survival, other strategies may not develop as fully. The result may be a child who has difficulty functioning when presented with a world of kindness, nurturing, and stimulation (April 2015, 1-12).
Furthermore, a recent study by Epidemiologist and Biostatician Shanta R. Dube and her colleagues, reveals an association between early childhood traumatic stressors and the development of Autoimmune Diseases decades later (2009, 244). A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis from 1986-1991, is acknowledged with a myelinated nerve etched into the lid in this locket. Child abuse as “Soul Murder” (Shengold 1999, 1) is signified with a butterfly (figure 24). Butterfly and soul/psyche are the same word in early Greek.
The pink triangle tourmaline references the “triangle of pink cloth sewn on to clothing to identify homosexual men in Nazi concentration camps” (OED online). Whether one was ‘gay’ or simply not ‘manly’ attracted many labels and extra abuse. The need to hide became necessary and during a visit to a hair salon at age eight came the realisation there were no males present. A career path was laid out before me and I spent thirty-eight years in hairdressing.
Hope is a theme throughout this body of work, Margaret’s middle name is hope and Hopefield was her parents’ rural property. Hope was also that which remained in Pandora’s box after all the evils were let out. This has been a benefit of this project and seeks to explain the final locket. With it’s cut and polished cabochon aquamarine (figure 25) portraying the joy at having survived. The inside of the lid is an alloy made of gold from my mother’s jewellery, silver from the leftovers from domestic violence tea set and copper which signifies, the everyday of life. An appreciation of studio led research and how artists, particularly those cited in this paper, have participated in their own practice, may be summed in the words of van der Kolk:
One of the great mysteries of the processing of traumatic experience is that as long as the trauma is experienced as speechless terror, the body continues to keep score and react to conditioned stimuli as a return of the trauma. When the mind is able to create symbolic representations of these past experiences, however, there often seems to be a taming of terror, a desomatisation of experience. (1994, abstract).
Things will come out right now, We can make it so.
Someone is on your side
No one is alone.
(Stephen Sondheim, 1986).
This studio led inquiry has been an exploration into how a narrative of traumatic experiences may be rendered in contemporary art jewellery. This exegesis is an outline of how I arrived at the resulting twenty-two lockets. Aspiring to add to the current discourse of trauma in visual art theory, I considered the research of Bennett, Pollock and Ettinger among others. While gaining some understanding, the extent and complexity of this discourse certainly requires a great deal of further research.
Chapter one establishes the foundations for this inquiry through the art of Bourgeois, Perry, Harper and Dreyfus. They all spoke of using their art to either, explore the feeling of pain as does Harper, transcend trauma as does Perry, articulate the unspeakable as does Dreyfus, or like Bourgeois, who uses art to re-experience trauma (Kellein, 2006, 16). Critically analysing a work each of these artists has led to an understanding of Pollock’s contention regarding the work of an artist being “a working-through and bringing-into-being of that which cannot be remembered. An event unremembered – yet that cannot be forgotten” (2009, 48).
Chapter two continues the development of this autobiographical inquiry by introducing societal attitudes regarding women and how domestic violence is such a scourge. How it has such an impact on the lives of children, particularly those in the womb. Further I reference how the process of art making causes a space to slowly, bit by bit, encounter memories where trauma is held and then create a transcryptum, an art object where trauma is incarnated.
Chapter three lays out the process of this inquiry, how I made transcryptum, remembered, relived and took ownership of my perception of my life. Creating transcryptum is a process of reflection, confrontation and hopefully the
processing of long held trauma memories. The transcryptum acts as a witness and a testimony to trauma in its many guises.
I consider some understanding, some healing, and some contribution to the trauma narrative in visual art discourse has occurred during this inquiry. There has also emerged a need for further research into how autobiographical narratives may be translated into works of art.
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