op·u·lent adj: 1. characterized by an obvious or lavish display of wealth or affluence 2. in richly abundant supply
The Opulent Project is a Portland-based designer/maker collaborative founded by Meg Drinkwater and Erin Gardner a handful of years ago. Drinkwater and Gardner make “jewelry about jewelry” — and they’re of particular interest to us in this moment not only because their work is stunning, inspiring all sort of covetous, curious thoughts — but also because their 3D Ring has us thinking about the metaphor of 3D printing in the era of DIY, “makers” and the conflation of art and fashion. Culled from Google Image Commons, the ring is a stack of digital images never intended to see the light of day IRL. Having broken this unspoken contract, they’ve made something beautiful, thoughtful and slightly dangerous.
"We like to make objects. We are curious about the relationship our society has to its objects. We ponder infatuations. We are interested the nature of possessions. With that, we become a factory.”
The term ekphrasis refers to the act of “making art about art” — it comes to mind when you mention making “jewelry about jewelry” in that both practices invoke translation, cynicism, celebration and a sort of intentional nonsense-making, calling into question the social, aesthetic and material scaffolding around “real,” “fake” and “meaningful.” How cerebral do you get in your process — does it touch on these points or is more about play? Or both?
This is a great question and I think it considers our process and approach very well. Our process is absolutely rooted in a cerebral investigation of a subject matter, however the outcome, or the product, is very much about play. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. But the viewer/wearer response can be varied in relation to this question. We recently had a bit of a debate with our gallerist in New Jersey about this exact subject. She was wondering if people were ever insulted by some of our projects. Where I had thought we were blending all of the above: translation, cynicism, celebration and intentional nonsense making, she seemed to think some of our work could be more on the cynical side. She thought some of our projects could be seen as a bit more of a sarcastic representation of jewelry than a celebratory one, as though we were saying, “Oh you want a fancy ring; I’ll give you a fancy ring.” We can be pretty cynical and we are of course critical of the established system of value related to commercial jewelry and luxury objects, but we regard this culture with fascination, not necessarily disgust. Our work is not angry, but curious… We are asking questions, not making statements.
How does the metaphoric and actual experience of making things with 3D printing technology speak to and intersect with your process as a craftsperson, and with your line of inquiry into the above?
Well it is interesting because the entire process is digital and in this way completely hands off, which is a first for us. We are working with found ring files collected in Google 3D warehouse and digitally combining and stacking them to be printed. The files we selected we actually had to have our friend Hans/3D-model-expert digitally clean them up a great deal in order to be printed. Based on their found state, he believes these files were not created to be exist in the “real” world but were meant to remain in the virtual realm, appearing 3D in a 2D environment — maybe for Second Life or in a video game. From a craft perspective the files are interesting because often they have an almost comical disregard for the making process. Some have no prongs holding the stone in place, or the base of the stone just kind of becomes the ring band, in some cases a diamond is crammed right through the band with the sharp point extending well into where the finger should go. It is not a stretch to say that a jeweler probably didn’t create them. Which is one of the reasons we are fascinated by the files, they seem to be a visual representation of the most general idea of what a ring is. If you ask a child to draw a ring it might look like some of these files: ring band, giant diamond, done. So the ring becomes a symbol for itself. Which brings us back to the term ekphrasis — with this project we are exploring the notion or ideal of a ring and attempting to create it in that image while at the same time attempting to investigate the “social, aesthetic and material scaffolding around ‘real,’ ‘fake’ and ‘meaningful’” that you mentioned earlier.
Tell me more about the installations you’re working on — scale, material and thought process…
We have done a few projects in which we are installing jewelry on the wall that is meant be pulled off by the viewer/wearer; when this happens the installation is then altered, allowing the viewer to engage with the project and play a part in creating and evolving, living installation. For our most recent installation at Gallery Loupe in New Jersey, we wallpapered a wall of the gallery and installed (handmade – not printed) jewelry that was painted to match the pattern on the wall. The result as that the jewelry was camouflaged, but only partially so because the distorting of symmetry (created by the bumps and curves of the jewelry) also draws the eye to the jewelry. Our description is follows:
“Wallpaper III works with 3-dimensional jewelry objects that were patterned to match a wallpaper background. This technique not only conceals and camouflages the jewelry but also serves to optically flatten the 3D shape and alter the symmetry of the pattern. Adding to the visual deception is this particular wallpaper’s ability to appear three-dimensional itself, therefore essentially disorienting the viewer as to where lies the threshold between 2D and 3D. By doing this, we hoped to investigate the imaginary dimension that exists between flat and formed, illusion and reality.”
How do you imagine the wearing of your Digital Ring affects the wearer — with dubious and confusing origins, and clearly not intended to hold up in real life, what does the ring “mean”?
Because the ring was created with a concept in mind we imagine the wearer might contemplate some of the themes and ideas we’ve discussed. However, I don’t think that is always (often?) the case. Lots of people are interested in the ring solely based on the process (especially people who have never heard of 3D printing before), and some people are interested in the ring only because they like it or think its “cool”. Which is great! This ring seems to be approachable or consumable to a wide audience — not always the case with our work. I think it is interesting when we create idea-based object that is attractive to a variety of wearers, regardless of their interest in our idea. Ultimately the wearer of this ring – whether they realize it or not — is participating in a final stage of the concept by simply wearing it. In this way the symbol has become the actual and the idea the reality.