A special debut at the Venice Biennale is a small jewelry collection entitled “Cameo.” Presented by Liz Swig, the founder of the collaborative creative platform LIZWORKS, the collection brings together talent from Cindy Sherman and Catherine Opie.
Whitewaller spoke with Swig, Sherman, and Opie to hear more about the new collection and the return of the cameo.
WHITEWALLER: This collection touches upon the oldest form of portraiture— in ancient Greece when the gods of Olympus were carved in agate—and reimagined by Catherine Opie and Cindy Sherman. Why explore the “cameo”?
LIZ SWIG: I have always been fascinated with cameos and the artistry behind them, and equally as fascinated with the dialogue of tradition and contemporary—and bringing them together. The cameo felt like an art form that was asking to be given a new dialogue and perspective in our present times. Both Catherine Opie and Cindy Sherman seemed like the perfect artists to create this new dimension in the world of cameos.
WW: Tell us a bit about the pieces in the new collection, created in collaboration with Catherine Opie and Cindy Sherman.
LS: The collection is composed of nine pieces: Cindy Sherman has two rings, Halo and Baby, one pendant Spa, and one pair of earrings, Pensive. Catherine Opie has one ring, one pair of cufflinks, one pendant, one pair of earrings, and a standalone piece.
WW: Tell us a bit about the creative process behind the pieces—hand-carved in Italy under the vision of Gino Di Luca.
LS: The process from shell selection to hand-carving to completion is captivating. Cameo carving is truly extraordinary; the ability to tell a story in such a small yet powerful medium is both precious and poignant. Each cameo possesses its own individual character.
WW: Cindy, what do you enjoy about cameos? What was exciting about this project to you?
CINDY SHERMAN: I like cameos, especially the idea of dark, strange ones. I also like the idea of tiny objects being art. It seemed like a good project for using my Instagram images since the files aren’t large enough files to blow up into photographs, and they also concentrate on being mainly portraits. It’ll make it more fun to wear it as a piece of art.
WW: Catherine, tell us about the imagery that you selected for the collection.
CATHERINE OPIE: I wanted to choose images that were really personal to me because you’re also wearing it on the body. And I wanted the images to be fairly allegorical because cameos are about portraits, but they’re also about telling stories, in terms of the history of how cameos have been used. I tried to pick the images in terms of thinking about those ideas in my mind.
WW: You’re most notably known as a photographer. Have you ever worked with jewelry before?
CO: No, I’ve never made jewelry before. I made a ring in the eighth grade that I gave my parents, but otherwise, no.
I’ve been thinking about cameos for a long time, so when Liz approached me, I said, “What about cameos?” Her incredible knowledge around jewelry and finding these amazing carvers in Italy to actually render my photographs was really a positive experience in terms of bringing these ideas forth and allowing history to continue.
That’s the beautiful thing about art. It’s always in conversation with the history of art. To bring images that are as classical as cameos—in terms of when people started wearing them as art pieces—is a great conversation to be having right now.
WW: You’ve spoken in the past about having a really close relationship with your work. Photography is a really personal kind of medium. What type of relationship do you feel you have specifically to this work?
CO: Because they’re really personal photographs to me that people will be wearing, I like the idea that it’s out of the museum or off the wall and on the body. So much of my work has to do with the body and the queer body, and I think it’s interesting to have something actually be worn on the body.
WW: The pieces have such a range of characteristics; each has its own quirks. Do you have a favorite?
CO: I think that I would always choose Oliver, because I just love my son so much and that portrait is such a beautiful portrait of him, and Mrs. Nibbles. I’m also personally excited to wear the cufflinks. I definitely designed the cufflinks in mindfulness of me wanting to wear them.