Pieces of Fate is an exhibition of beautiful pendants. But it also taps into a very mysterious quality that once played such an important role in jewellery practice—luck.
As the Germans say, ‘Jeder ist seines Glückes Schmied’—everyone makes their own luck. So how do you make luck? Or is it something that can be made at all? We assume that luck is something bestowed by fate. Like a shamrock, luck is found rather than made. Luck reflects all those factors that are out of our control, like bolts of lightning or random rolls of the dice. You can’t make it. It makes you. So it seems a paradox. How can you harness a force that must be out of our grasp?
Last year, a woman accidentally drove her car off a six storey car park in Melbourne’s CBD. That she survived was described an amazing stroke of luck. But if we were to subject the scene to scientific analysis, nothing occurred that could not be accounted for by the laws of physics. Yet somehow, we are drawn to the idea of luck as a guiding force. Why? Why do we persist in saying ‘good luck’ to friends when we no longer believe in any supernatural forces?
Perhaps more than just wishing someone good fortune in their affairs, we are also making a space where luck can happen. Luck is saying ‘good luck’. It says that someone’s future is going to be subject to unknown factors. This is when stories happen. There’s no story to tell about a perfectly predicable and expected course of events, like breakfast. Saying ‘good luck’ expresses an interest in what will happen, and invites a story in return. It’s a space for expressing the gamut of feelings, from hope to fear. Luck is the deus ex machina that moves the narrative along.
Objects can play an important role in marking this space. Unlike abstractions, things are subject to the whims of fortune. They can be lost, found, broken or repaired. Their presence acts as a witness to a course of events, in the way that a wedding ring provides a physical continuity through the ups and downs of marriage.
As the originary forms of jewellery, charms, amulets and talismans have helped deal with the uncertainty that accompanies a life. In the modern era, they were largely abandoned in the belief that science and technology would eventually enable us to control our world. The charm then became nothing more than a fashion accessory, like the Pandora brand today.
Technology has certainly achieved miracles in the modern era, but we are increasingly aware of its limits in controlling our world. The spate of recent disasters—floods in Australia and earthquakes around the Pacific—make us realise that seemingly random factors can still determine whether we live or die, no matter how thorough our preparation.
But this is not necessarily a problem. Regardless of risk, we need the concept of luck in order to find commonality with others. Our shared vulnerability becomes the point of empathy that connects us to others. If it all comes down to technology, then the world is inevitably divided between those who have and those who don’t. On the other hand, luck is universal. It assumes we begin together at the same starting line. That some succeed more than others is due to life circumstances—which side of the track you were born on, even the genes you were given.
To restore this space to our world requires objects in which we can invest our belief. The Pieces of Fate exhibition contains intriguing contemporary charms that seek to exert power through their sheer aesthetic force. They are deftly crafted enigmas.
Pieces of Fate is among other things a celebration of the pendant. The charm makes the most of the double-sided nature of the pendant. It is a private object that rests close to our chest. Through contact against our skin, we are always reminded of its power. But it is also a public object, to be presented to others as a prop for an intriguing story. One way of reading the pendants is to imagine how they are manipulated in the act of story-telling, even inviting the listener to finger its shape.
The talisman has been a subject of growing interest in contemporary jewellery world. Ruudt Peters’ recent exhibition Lingam included interpretations of the fertility charm by 122 artists. The challenge ahead is to go beyond the purely symbolic association with jewellery traditions and to attempt to restore their actual power. This involves thinking more about the experience of the wearer, even giving over some meaning for the wearer to activate.
Those fortunate to acquire one of the Pieces of Fate will receive an ‘activation’ from the jeweller in the form of a short statement. These incantations represent an important step forward in the restoration of jewellery power. They’re more than reflections on the personal inspiration of the jeweller. They also anticipate how the pendants will be experienced by the wearer. Some of them even have directions for use.
And as the Yiddish expression goes, ‘Better an ounce of luck than a pound of gold.’ The artists in Pieces of Fate have recovered one of our enduring precious materials. Unlike gold, it is renewable, free, and available to all. But like gold, it demands the utmost skill to make the most of the little we can find.
This essay was written for the exhibition ‘Pieces of Fact’ at the gallery Pieces of Eight. Kevin Murray’s writing about luck in jewellery has been supported by an Australia Council New Work grant.