A new kind of human being is emerging. They have been visible in literature and on movie screens for quite some time. Androids and cyborgs, which in different ways represent a symbiosis of man and machine, are fantasy figures that people find fascinating. Today, however, such fantasies are no longer part of a vision of a distant future. Technology has come to increasingly pervade the human body, creating a new interface between man and machine. We no longer react with amazement at the creation of a new life in a test tube, or the transplanting of animal organs into human bodies, or missing arms, legs and teeth being replaced by artificial parts. Nor is there anything remarkable about men becoming women or women becoming men as a result of hormone treatment and operations. Changing our appearance through plastic surgery has gone from being a social taboo just a few years ago to normal behaviour. We do not have to remain in the bodies we were born with, which opens up a whole new perspective on our future lives. We see the consequences in banal form in lifestyle features in glossy magazines, where the rich face the choice between a new nose or and an expensive diamond ring.
I mention this development here because it forms an important backdrop to Katja Prins's Inventarium jewellery. This series was shown for the first time - in the form of brooches, necklaces and rings - at the eponymous exhibition at Galerie Louise Smit in Amsterdam in 2002. The word inventarium comes from the Latin invenire, which means to encounter or find, although in everyday modern English, we usually find the word - as inventory - used to describe a list of household contents. Used in connection with Katja Prins's jewellery, the title serves to highlight the fact that the different pieces are interconnected and constitute a collection. Preparing an inventory involves registration and working systematically. Randomness, playfulness and improvisation, which are often seen as positive characteristics of artistic work processes, have little relevance in relation to such painstaking work. It is the quantifiable and exact that is in focus, and this is symbolised in Katja Prins's jewellery through the use of mathematical figures and formulas printed in black and white on porcelain elements.
Inventarium thus turns the spotlight on some of the differences that exist between science and art as regards working methods and values. Normally, no other requirements are made of an item of jewellery than that it should fulfil its role as an aesthetic object. But Katja Prins's jewellery clearly also wishes to say something about the society of which it is part. The motifs and materials abound in references to medical science: glass flasks conjure up associations with laboratories, tubes and pipes remind us of both blood vessels and electrical cables, and whether the budding outgrowths are meant to be interpreted as symbols of good or evil is an open question. The combination of silver and porcelain resembles the use of materials found in hospitals, where shiny metallic surfaces and sanitary porcelain radiate sterility. Many of the pieces of jewellery contain parts that are perforated by seven holes in the pattern we are familiar with from the plugholes of baths or sinks. Clean and unclean, however, is just one of the dichotomies that apply in this visual universe. Metal pipes with 'protuberances' can also remind us of plant life found in nature. The porcelain forms bowl-like shapes and plungers, where the soft and flowing character of the wet clay is reflected in the final product. It is therefore characteristic of this collection that it plays on ambiguous connections. As the critic Liesbeth den Besten wrote about the Inventarium exhibition, this jewellery is somewhere between things and organs, between organism and instrument.
It is not strange that a jewellery artist is fascinated with medical technology. A jewellery artist takes the body as her point of departure and centre of focus. She can work with or against the body, and she can manipulate it in various ways. But today's technological developments mean that there are many other and more radical ways of extending and expanding the body. Some people talk about a post-human society. Artificial intelligence and the widespread use of artificial organs and limbs mean that the question of what constitutes a human being requires a different answer than before. Katja Prins depicts the body as both an instrument and an organism, thereby creating an evocative symbol for contemporary humankind.
Jorunn Veiteberg, art historian and professor in craft theory at Bergen National Academy of the Arts, NO
Photography: Eddo Hartmann