Beauty is Real. Beauty is Unreal.
Written by Jori Sackin
Images by Lauren Thurman King
There is jewelry that is dainty, that pulls you into its intricate scale. Your head bends to its level. Your eyes open, and for a moment, your gaze is transfixed. It gives you a taste of its brilliance from afar, so as to pique your interest, but upon closer inspection, it transforms from a sparkle of light, to a tiny world of complex dimensionality. In this way, jewelry mimics the sexual drama that men and women play with each other. We want to be noticed, but we don't want to appear as if we want to be noticed. We pull people into our own intimate scale, to show them our brilliance, that we hope, is as exquisite as the ring we wear on our finger.
Erica Voetsch's "Sterling Silver Gloves" are not dainty. They do not try to pull you in with a passive beauty. They do not wait to be admired, rather they have an aggressive armor-like quality, one that draws you in with the wonder, not of what detail they might contain, but of what they might do to you. These gloves could just as easily participate in the Aztec ritual of pulling a beating heart out of a persons chest (see Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom) as they could be seen casually clutching a wine glass at a swanky rooftop party.
Jewelry is social armor. We suit up to go out. This armor can be protective (wedding rings shield us from unwanted advances) or it can act as a talisman, an object we use to feel beautiful, important, rich, powerful, calm, sexy, protected. Standing in the crowd at a rooftop party, we might scan the faces, the body language. We may feel small, lost, overwhelmed, as we enter the swarm of stares, judgements and off handed comments, the mass of moving bodies and smiling mouths. Having a ring, one of personal significance, that we can touch, twist, look down to, helps re-establish our sense of self. It gives us an object we project ourselves onto, so in these moments, it can project something back.
Erica's "Sterling Silver Gloves" project back a sense, not of daintiness, but of fragility. There is sensitivity to the joints of construction that are reminiscent of leg braces. That the joints themselves are highlighted is an acknowledgement of utility, of jewelry actually having a physical purpose (it bends with the finger) and at the same time, a recognition that something can be both fragile and aggressive. Up close these gloves look fragile, so much so, that you hesitate to pick them up. There is a visceral bodily reaction of handling something precious, and yet, if you saw a woman wearing these at a party, fragility would be the last thing you would think of. This mirrors the complex social positioning of wanting to be perceived as tough, dangerous, exotic, but when encountered in the more intimate setting, the actual mechanics of the persona might bend with the slightest pressure in the wrong direction, or they could be "tough as nails". You never know until you push and find out.
There is a similar exposing of utility in the silver nail rings. I grew up in the era when Lee Press On Nail commercials ran non-stop during the day. They made it easy for women to have the long nails they desired, but also presented them with the dilemma of confronting their own artificiality. A woman with real nails, was somehow different, possibly better, than a woman who pressed fake plastic nails onto her fingertips. The same can be said for fake hair, fake eyelashes, fake anything you can think of. Our adornments confer value upon us. We wear expensive stuff so that we feel expensive, and so, when we wear something cheap, something artificial, we may feel that faux cheapness start to sink in.
It seems when it comes to beauty we are faced with the choice between plain authenticity or exaggerated adornment. On one side you get to claim naturalness, and on the other, you get the drama, the excitement, the imaginative playfulness of creating something completely made up. Erica's nail rings, circumvent this decison by highlighting the falsity of the faux nail. We no longer have to try and pretend to be natural, to pass a fake nail as a real nail, because we recognize the absurdity of our situation. A plain naturalness is just as easily made up as an exaggerated playfulness. In knowing this, we no longer have to decide between the two. We can embrace the falseness, the costume nature of our social personas, and thus, in Erica's jewlery, the armature of the nail, the falsity of it, becomes a simple silver ring that wraps around the finger for all to see.
The final picture that Erica sent me encapsulates all the things I've mentioned into one image. We get the aggressiveness of the hands threateningly holding a knife, yet it is posed against a soft comforting white fur. Here, the Sterling Silver Gloves resemble brass knuckles, but they are melty and thin and expose the nakedness of the rest of the hand. The studded thumb piece juts out at us, but has a hole exactly in the spot where you wouldn't want one if you were using it for protection. The knife is held against the hair as if it means to cut it, but you can tell by the pressure and by the way it is held, that it will not. It is a mixed message of an intentionally displayed fragility, one that is aware of the falsity of its own design, and yet, there is something romantic about it, not just because the knife is adorned with a tiny heart, and not just because the aggressive gesture is self inflicting. It is an acknowledgment of the precarious positions we put ourselves in when it comes to love, of the affected ways we seek to distort ourselves in order to remain true to the idealizations of who we are. It oozes the sensuality and excess of these moments, when we stop trying to be "natural" and discover the beauty of the real unreal.