In Love there are two things, bodies and words.
- Joyce Carol Oats
It was 8 am on a hot summer’s day in my rural town in the Berkshires when I finally sat down to connect with artist Zoe Brand via zoom. At my picnic table, the sun glared down at even that early hour, and ten thousand miles away in Australia, Zoe, wrapped in a wool blanket, declared she was freezing. We were meeting right before she was to head to bed; it was 10 pm in her rural town in New South Wales.
' I like to draw upon the ambiguity of language, of the numerous readings and associations that any word may possess, as well as how the meaning changes when a work moves from wall to body and back again.'
I’ve wanted to have Zoe’s work in our shop since I first purchased pieces from her for myself and as a gift for my friend and artist, Melanie, in the fall of 2020: simple, 6-inch aluminum pendants pressed with the phrase (heavy sigh). I wore the pendant at the gallery on and off all winter and into the spring. The brave souls that trudged through the pandemic, into the snow, and up and over the political landscape to stop in and say hello that winter would take one look and laugh. For better or worse, we were all in on the not-so-funny joke.
Artist wearing (heavy sigh) in her studio
My pendant, loved and worn.
A year later, in the winter of 2021, when Melanie sent me one of Zoe’s JOY pins from her Bad Day Badge series, I left it on its paper, tucked halfway under my bedroom mirror like a school picture. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, this summer of 2022, that I unhooked it from the paper and onto my dress. “I’m going to wear a little bit of joy tonight,” I told my husband as I pinned it on before we headed up the mountain to the exquisite Jacob’s Pillow for a dance performance. As I walked to my seat, two different people stopped me to ask me about my pin, “Oh, it’s just a little bit of joy,” I said, smiling. They smiled with me.
Bad Day Badge: BONUS JOY
Zoe’s work does what she intends it to, engage. It requires a wearer and/or a viewer to activate it, but its why, what, when, where, and how is not entirely predetermined. This part is up to us – and like all jewelry, there is a rich history to glean from. On the body, some pieces become political statements, others feel like vague references to futility, while others elicit a knowing chuckle.
One of the only pieces from the group that Zoe has added her own history to is a one-and-a-half-inch colorful and glittering square. In 2018 the artist was to teach a workshop inspired by the Cartier exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia but had to cancel after suffering a miscarriage. Using the same material initially meant to serve as a base to reflect on the “…jewels of spectacular caliber and size, amongst the most important in the world” in the exhibition, became the backdrop to five thickly printed letters, h e a v y. The piece comes with the story printed on the box, so one can’t own it without knowing this history. The bittersweet act of wearing this work allows one to share the grief that created it, to carry some of the weight so that the maker may not have to. To connect.
heavy, 2022. Pantograph engraved acrylic, paint, and cord.
It is lovely meeting Zoe, and she is animated about her work and its potential to reach those who don’t regularly think about jewelry. Her excitement and charm are infectious, her studio layered with books and boxes, ideas pinned on walls, and starts and stops of works in progress. Halfway through our call, she has ditched the blanket and is showing me the “machine” she uses to put the words onto the various materials she uses.
Scroll down ↓ for more images and videos of Zoe using the pantograph.
I am looking at an old-fashioned newsroom masquerading as an artist’s studio. Or perhaps the other way round? Using a pantograph engraver, she lines up each letter just so, intentionally masking the human touch behind the making. Like a perfectly carved marble sculpture or a photorealistic painting, it’s hard to find the making marks, but they are there. No piece is ever the same.
We say goodbye for now – I am heading into work, and Zoe must get a good night’s sleep so she can have a head start on her two young children when the morning comes. I arrive at work, albeit a bit late, inspired by our conversation. Today I will wear a Zoe Brand piece and see what happens.
Zoe will never run out of words. The trick will be choosing the right ones.