Jewelry: A Beautiful Problem, by matt lambert

Jewelry: A Beautiful Problem By matt lambert

“Be sure to notice the collateral beauty. It’s the profound connection to everything.”

The film Collateral Beauty centers on a man named Howard who has lost his daughter at a very young age. Howard writes to Time, Death, and Love and is then visited by each – or so he thinks -, and he is reminded that beautiful things can result from a traumatic event. What the film lacks in acting and production qualities still reveals collateral beauty as a form of sublimity that can occur even when something has been damaged or destroyed. When confronted with loss, death, and sadness, something of unforeseen beauty can also be experienced. However, what the film leaves unexplored is how this very same beauty can act as well as a reminder and also re-trigger trauma.

When walking through historical or ethnographic museum collections, particularly indigenous collections of jewelry, I find it hard not to consider where, when, and how the work was obtained when looking through a decolonizing lens. It is not unusual to find that objects in collections were obtained through war, force, trickery, colonization, and genocide. Although these objects at the time were not seen as problematic, upon reflection today and through the processes of decolonization, we can recognize in them ethical problems. The beautiful objects in vitrines can be seen as collateral beauty. Through this lens, they become beautiful signifiers and reminders of unthinkable damage. These “objects bring worlds with them.”

Entranced by historic forms from far off lands, visitors, tourists, and artistic researchers may feel tempted to snap a few images of forms, patterns, and styles and to use them in production. When forms and materials are used on whims shifting styles without understanding the narratives and histories they carry, fast pace appropriation becomes a way to talk for and at the groups being referenced, and it perpetuates the act of a group’s narrative erasure. This is not to say forms and other materials are owned by one and not another. Points of origination are often used for bordering. However, it is critical to take into consideration how things got to where they are, how they are seen, and why they are being referenced. Intentions may be good, but without criticality, the perpetuation of harm done does not stop. How does someone talk with instead of talking for or at?  Talking with entails work. It involves questioning, finding empathy, and creating equitable interactions.

As Sarah Ahmed states, “solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.”

Jewelry has the capacity to function within or to help in finding this place of common ground. Yet, it also can act as a superficial bond, as a marker of trauma, an index of abuse, a false mapping. By simply appropriating the cycles of harm are perpetuated.

Nowadays there is an urgency for contemporary makers to consider where their references are coming from and what it means to use them. Makers need to cite references and have a reason and thought behind what is happening beyond superficial responses. Consideration of materiality and where supplies come from is necessary. Material and energy systems are constructed through brutality and have built the world of globalization and accessibility as we know it.

As a framework, Collateral Beauty invites jewelry to become more accountable, more aware and to uncover damages instead of continuing them. Jewelry as an act of exposure, as a space in which underrepresented stories can be heard. Jewelry that is conscious of collateral beauty and to become a tool to instigate conversations around equanimity.  Jewelry as solidarity, jewelry as part of an empathetic process is a form of beauty that we should all appreciate.

Collateral Beauty. Warner Bros, 2016

Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017.

Yusoff, Kathryn. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

About matt lambert

matt lambert is a non-binary, trans multidisciplinary collaborator and coconspirator working towards equity, inclusion, and reparation. They are a founder and facilitator of The Fulcrum Project and currently are a PhD student in Sweden between Konstfack and HDK Valand. Their research engages with the relationship of craft to nation structure, gender, indigeneity, and nomadism. They hold a MA in Critical Craft Studies from Warren Wilson College and an MFA in Metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art. They have exhibited work nationally and internationally and have actively contributed writing to Art Jewelry Forum, Garland, Metalsmith Magazine, Norwegian Craft, and the Athens Jewelry Week catalogues.