by Antonio Bernardo
I came to know Mana’s work more or less five years ago, and have accompanied its evolution with interest ever since. The conversation that follows occurred on a Thursday night in her atelier. It was an informal interview, the best way I found to reveal her work as a jeweler, knowing all the while that she circulates also in the worlds of poetry, philosophy, design, and education with equal nimbleness. Her approach and her vocabulary innovate, surprise, and enchant. Perhaps, the intense contact she had with Indians when she was very young molded her thinking. What is most precious for her, the essential, is the human being. May I present, Mana.
— I make jewelry. So, the word jewel holds personal meaning for me. But my jewelry has a particular approach, a type of material that is very different than yours. When you talk about your jewelrymaking activities, what are you saying in terms of materials, in terms of technique?
— For me, the jewel is not an end; it is a means. And the word jewel, in this sense, is a small thing, with greater value. So, it is a symbol of value for me, independent of its material.
— It is a contemporary concept of jewelry, in which the material is not the most important component. But I want to know, in your case, what this means.
— When I say that the jewel is the means and not the end, it’s in the sense that I can make a jewel or something else, because what really interests me is thought. Do you understand?
— Is it a means, in the sense that your work begins in one thing and is transformed into another? And in this process learning occurs?
— It is as if all the jewelry that I have created was a mock-up for what I am beginning to do now. And path is a process, because I began to make jewelry as a seven-year-old child, and I kept on making and making… I think this is why my jewels are turning into something else, becoming sculpture, installation, education work, always on the basis of a poetic thought. There’s a very important phrase in this passage, which I have printed on the packaging I use for my jewelry: “The power of transformation is the jewel of the human being.” This phrase symbolizes my work. It’s a little abstract, Antonio…
— Yes, because I see the human being as the jewel, do you understand? I am completely detached from the jewelry as product. I wouldn’t want to have stores; I wouldn’t want to have to launch collections every year. The jewel, for me, is a means of expression for my thoughts, my emotion.
— Poetry and your work with jewels, and the other many things that you develop, have an educative appeal, do you agree?
— It is in this sense that I think the jewel a precious thing, you know? As a very important symbol for reaching people because it has to do with sensibility, with a dimension that is absolutely human.
— Because it lies in the body; it lies on the other?
— You project a jewel onto the other’s body. There’s a relationship, in this sense. For me, design is an issue of the body and how it is going to receive the jewelry.
— At any moment of your life did you doubt what you would be when you grew up?
— Much anxiety. I had a lot of difficulty learning. I cried, I didn’t understand what the reason for my life was within that system of teaching. But I also don’t think it leads anywhere to be superficially anguished; you need to have a profound anguish. Because you can spend your whole life feeling superficial anguish and not transform anything. The day I ended up cyring in my college bathroom, I began to understand some things. The first insight I gained led me to create a methodology called The Story of Life Through The Object, Story Of The Object Through Life.
— Did you already consider yourself multifaceted?
— No. Because I thought being many things was unsustainable. At base, being multifaceted is what is sustainable. Being a fragment is unsustainable. I had the opportunity to see this, which was that my family permitted me to go.
— Does your creative process emerge from a concept, from a point of view?
— In truth, the beginning, for me, is poetry. I begin a new collection on the basis of poetry. I write a poem and it becomes a jewel. But, still, it doesn’t really help to say, that the creative process starts with a poem and goes to jewelry. No. Sometimes it begins with the material and evolves into a poem. In quick succession, I need to create a name and this name is a poetic function. So, for example, “quotidian jewels,” beyond being a name it has a poetic function. To the end that my quotidian is a jewel and in the quotidian objects of my daily life, I find jewels.
— And how did you find these materials?
— I search for materials all the time. For example, this here is my current passion, an apple box. It is a new work called poetic unwrapping. So, the concept presents the jewel, which I then take to other platforms; it’s what I’m developing at the moment. Now, I am on this platform of poetry. Because, for me, this isn’t only a product, it’s a gesture. The gesture in this case is Poetic Unwrapping.
— It looks like tissue. Isn’t it tissue?
— It’s Kozo paper. It’s a work that I am investigating, it’s a process. I spent two years, without making any jewel at all, very involved with installations and educational projects, and now I am developing this, which has a very jewel-like concept. The jewel is very important to me. It’s the first thing I did in my life; it’s how I lost my “professional virginity.”
— It’s the beginning. It’s the seed.
— I don’t want to stop making jewelry because I think that at base everything I make has to do with the jewel. But I am also trying to be true to my moment. So, the poetic unwrapping makes sense because it is a form of placing the poems and also of managing to mix them up with my other practices. The word mixture is very important to me because I am living a moment of transition, going from jewel to Giant Jewels, which are the installations, to Jewel Poetry. These are challenges; I chose them.
— And how do you give value to what has no value?
— The first material that I seek is ordinary, quotidian. It has to do with a question of sustainability, in the sense of looking for materials that are castoffs. They’re the factory leftovers. Not because I particularly like remainders, but because what fascinates me in picking up an ordinary material is the challenge of transforming it. I take great pride when I begin the process, and stay in the atelier incessantly until that thing transforms into another.
— Is the jewel more signifier than signified for you?
— I had a benchmark, for five years, in which I launched seven collections. I struggled to get these jewels to the market, to understand what the market was. So, when the collection arrived at MoMA, which was the place where I most wanted to sell my work, I said, “okay.” I got to where I wanted to be. But, also, I can say that this “okay” might not be definitive. Two months from now something might happen and I’ll be dying to make new collections. But my thing is not to be an entrepreneur, you know, Antonio? It’s more about thought. I very much enjoy consulting, making objects in limited editions, visual projects.
— And why do you wear earrings, use jewelry?
— To feel good. I feel naked without earrings. If I don’t wear a necklace when I go outside, it feels disrespectful.
Antonio Bernardo is a jewelry designer and businessman.