AMBER CHAMBER is a necklace project with amber as its overarching theme. The project rests on extensive research and is driven by a desire to integrate some of the many stories associated with amber and transmute them into form. My main focus was on the way in which amber is formed, including the aspect of time. The jewellery plays with familiar references to the clock, the pendulum and the hourglass – objects associated with time and the measurement of time.
There is something fairly abstract about the fact that amber is at least 20 million years old. As a result of the unique way in which amber is formed, changing from liquid resin to frozen ‘fossil’, nuggets of amber are ‘windows to the past’. It is not uncommon to find insects and plant pieces trapped and preserved in amber. Inside the amber, time is ‘frozen’, yet the nuggets will have changed hands and meaning many times over their millions-year-long existence.
I have been particularly interested in amber from ancient cultures and the ritual role it is believed to have played. Amber is often found in Neolithic graves and in large stone-age cult sites ringed by palisades. These cult sites have been referred to as ‘villages of the dead’ and probably played a key role in ancestor worship, which was widely practiced throughout northern Europe some 5000 years ago.
All the jewellery is made of burnt matches. The matches, in turn, are made of wood – the original source of amber. In German, amber is called ‘bernstein’ (‘burn stone’), and amber does in fact burn. Burning is itself a ‘transformation process’, echoing the transformation from resin to amber. The burnt matches refer to the palisaded cult sites of the stone age, but also to the small, often black sticks in the so-called amber stick layer that shows experienced amber collectors where the amber can be found on the beach.
The hourglasses act as a sort of lockets – the thread runs all the way through, and the entire top part can be pulled up to reveal the nugget of amber inside. Under normal circumstances, the amber is concealed (only barely visible). This piece involves WHOLE matches, and the rounded hourglass shape was achieved by shifting the matches up and down in relation to each other. This displacement creates the interior space that holds the amber.
This hourglass is ‘dissolving’ (more ruin than hourglass #1) and offers a direct glimpse of the amber, which is reminiscent of an eye, in reference to the insects we often see trapped in amber ... an eye witness from a distant past. The ruin effect is underscored by the almost shag-like ‘vegetation’ – a playful take on the fairly kitschy universe that amber is often embedded in.
In #3, the matches at the top of the hourglass are only partially burned, which creates a forest-like silhouette (the ancient forest that produced the amber?). Stone-age amber objects often had carved patterns consisting of lines and dots. The matches can be used to create similar, varied patterns of lines and dots. The dots, in turn, refer to the grains of sand that trickle through a conventional hourglass.
When AMBER CHAMBER was presented at the Biennale for Craft and Design at Museumsbygningen in Copenhagen, the jewellery was presented in a custom-made display – a panel that engaged in a dialogue with the existing wall panels in the exhibition building. The panel was designed to protect the jewellery without sealing it off behind glass and thus served as an oversized jewellery chest. However, it also had a certain similarity to an architectural plan and was thus off scale – somewhere between furniture, building and building component; between image and function.