Understanding how and why we dress is crucial to artist and jewelry designer nan collymore’s practice. She is deeply committed to the theory of dress, and through her art-making and writing she seeks to unfurl the role that the body plays in dress’ performativity and its construction of cultural and gendered constructs.
nan makes stunningly sculptural jewelry that is tactile and continuous, as though the end of one piece can seamlessly belong to the beginning of the next one. She graciously answered a few of my questions about her art practice and ideas on personal adornment.
ALEXIS: Can you tell me a bit about your evolution as a conceptual artist and designer, into the fine jewelry world?
NAN: Gold and the stones that I use, which are all ethically sourced, are such beautiful, yet complicated materials and I wanted to work with them to see if I could subvert their "preciousness" by making objects that are raw, unwieldy and show their imperfections, like they have come directly from the ground. My practice is rooted in Black study and so those materials and what they represent both historically and contemporarily direct me to make work that references ancient Mayan culture at the same time as 1980's hiphop—for me there is no barrier in the melding of disparate worlds. I am interested in this continuous agitation between land and the Black body and I think this shows up a lot in the textures and shapes of my gold work.
A: Your work is very fluid and tactile - many pieces have almost a molten quality to them - combined with a sense of heft, a feeling of being substantial. They really are small sculptures for the body. Can you tell us a bit about your inspirations and your design process?
N: Yes, I see them as sculptures too! My work is very much centered in the corporeal and I am often referencing the curves, furrows and undulations of the body. I am inspired by so much, probably not in the realm of what others might expect. One of the things I return to again and again in my practice is film and video. The interplay of light and movement creates a magic for me that moves me to make work that I want to see in the world. On bodies, on peoples' dressers, in their hands — I return to film because I love the idea of narrative and it helps me to build a story for the work that I make.
A: What does the idea of adornment mean to you?
N: I think adornment can point to so many things that surround us in our everyday world, from our favorite necklace to our mother's vintage stole to sacred objects that we use to protect us. I think of adornment as both a practice of covering and revealing. We are at once covering our bodies with something that inspires and gives pause to its beauty, while at the same time we are revealing so much about ourselves. In tiny ways we can be saying so much about what's in our hearts. I have gone through so many stages throughout my life when I've been covered in jewelry and times when I wear the same pieces for weeks. More lately I've been experimenting with tattoos, and that kind of permanence has a quality of the ritualistic and of making a commentary to share with the world; that is where my head is at right now.