Written by Kevin LaTorre
I ought to begin with a disclaimer: I don’t wear jewelry. I can’t wax anything poetic about the shine or curvature of a particular jewel. Now that I’ve admitted I am unfamiliar with both wearing jewelry and speaking its parlance, I can check that pesky honesty-even-if-it’s-damaging box and proceed.
The paper art of British artist Jeremy May was a strange find online. Seeing the rings, necklaces and earrings that May has been exhibiting the last few years instantly communicated a sense of violation. I don’t usually recoil from quaint articles about artsy endeavors, and yet here I wanted to close the browser.
As described by the website Littlefly, May creates his jewelry “by laminating hundreds of sheets of paper together, then carefully finishing to a high gloss. The paper is selected and carefully removed from a book, and the jewelry re-inserted into the excavated space.” As seen on the website, and in related pieces from thisiscolossal.com and Boing Boing, the assorted jewelry comes with a visual texture reminiscent of petrified wood. It’s pretty jewelry, no doubt. But pretty in the way that the titular Emily (Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride) is pretty: unnaturally so, and with a great amount of unease. Seeing the most famous written words of the past literally excavated from their homes, and then remade into a bizarre new form devoid of their intended purpose, was reasonably jarring for me (not just as an old-school, page-smelling bibliophile). I couldn’t justify the apparent hijacking of classic pages for woody jewelry that most people would never consider wearing.
And yet, I’d like to try. Not because I’ve somehow become enlightened in the hour since reading the article, and not because I’d like to rock A Brave New World ring at the Thanksgiving table. I’d like to genuinely defend May’s work against my knee-jerk dubiousness because it is still an art form, and so deserving of exploration. This particular art form is deserving even if it descended upon literature like locusts onto spring crops.
To begin, we should recognize our expectations of proper literature usage. Note that I chose the word recognize; not forsake or shed. It’s commendable to have strong convictions you hold to be true. However, in some cases, it’s more admirable to acknowledge that your own convictions don’t have to apply to the world at large. May’s work is one such case, and recognizing that the world doesn’t often revere literature as rabid English students do is the first stepping stone of respecting what the artist has chosen to do.
With this foundation of awareness in place, we can then appreciate the concept of the jewelry. Isn’t a necklace cut from A Tale of Two Cities essentially the same as inking “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” somewhere on your own skin? Each is a selection of a book’s ideas for personal display; the only difference is appearance. The essence of what a book says and means is still appreciated and celebrated in both instances. Isn’t that something we can all applaud at the end of the day? I’d think so. Personally, I can appreciate how Jeremy May chooses to create his art from books. But that being said, if I find a ring cut out of a novel under the Christmas tree, I will leverage the entire force of the law against whoever’s responsible.