Witness Rings

 
 

I asked Barbara to make me these two rings in 1990. I had been staying in her house whilst I did some research in Brisbane, and we had spent a lot of time discussing the kinds of relationships it was possible to imagine between a jeweller, a piece of jewellery and a wearer.

At the time, I had experienced a sudden and not altogether welcome alteration in my personal life, my birthday was coming up and I wanted to give myself something significant, as one does at these times. (It's amazing how crises reconfigure everything that happens to one: the smallest event becomes portentous, laden with symbolism as we struggle to make meaning out of the unpredictable fragments of our experiences).

Anyway, I decided that I would ask Barbara to make me a piece of jewellery which would remind me that I had decided to make some important personal changes in my life. I cannot remember exactly how I framed the brief which I left in my farewell note on her kitchen bench, but I do remember that I asked for a set of rings, being the only item of jewellery that I could think of which are fully visible to the wearer. This was important because I wanted them to act as witnesses to the changes which I had made: each time I looked at my hand, I would remember why the ring was there, in something of the same way that a wedding ring reminds the wearer of the commitment they have made to another person. I think the rings were designed to remind me of a commitment I had made to myself.

I wore the rings daily for a long time, through some major changes in my life. I can't remember exactly when I stopped wearing them: it must have been three or four years ago, and it had to do with the fact that some of the little gold segments had come off one of the rings. Now I've put on some weight and they are a bit tight, so they live in a box on my dressing table, and I look at them often.

The charm of possessions is the unexpected way in which they exert meaning in people's lives. When I commissioned these rings originally, I had a strong need to imagine their presence as like some kind of mute guardian angel, firmly taking my spiritual elbow and guiding me back onto my self-appointed path. (In times of crisis it is comforting to think that someone or something else is in control.) The rings certainly have never really performed that function, and now I wouldn't want them to; but for seven years they have been silent companions, living their object-life alongside mine, on my body, marking out the days with me as life goes on. I like that: it's another kind of witnessing, certainly, and ultimately much more reassuring than guardian angels.

Anne Brennen

Perhaps the historical precedent for this commission might be the religious rings of the 15th to 17th Century called Decades. These bands were formed with a single bezel and ten knobs and were used in the same way as rosaries, an ave being said for each knob and a pater noster for the bezel. Not intended here for their literal religious meaning but simply to enlist the meditative quality of counting, and its ability to return one's thoughts to core issues.

Barbara Heath

 
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1997-2001 Barbara Heath