Ben Cunningham considers the complex histories of the uses and functions of metals and jewelry, that in a lesser artists hands would become confusing and excessive.

Ben Cunningham
Contamination Bracelet, 1992, glass, inks, silver, plastic tube, 3 x 6”

He frequently employs metals and other materials of the laboratory such as glass and plastic tubing, their resistance to corrosion and contamination a mocking remind of the body’s imperfections, its susceptibility to feelings, emotions, and disease. And in this age in which the pandemic of SDTs are encountered daily in our politics and our media the materials clinical facticity is an all too familiar and prescient reminder of our own bodily corruptibility.

Contamination Necklace, 1992, glass, silver, plastic tube, saline solution, ink, 13 x 6”

His work, too, resonates with the false hope of technology, the reality of the contaminating virus, and the comfort of the personal and the confidential: the ring that encircles the finger as a sign of commitment, a necklace that becomes a golden, luminous shadow of an embrace.

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Contaminated Necklace, 1991, 14k, 10 x 6”

Cunningham’s works are almost all tokens, gifts, intimate markers of the bodies junctures: rings that can be nervously and absent-mindedly turned around the finger; bracelets of vials, whose contents slowly seep and mix together creating an amalgam of fluids; shirts slowly stained and eventually crystallized by capillary action; and finally the rosary which elicits a ceremonial prayer of fate and faith.

Contaminated Ring, (detail), 1992, salt, silver, glass, steel basin, ink, 12 x 1”

For Cunningham jewelry is neither the vehicle for an obvious symbolism nor an excuse for small scale sculpture; it is, instead, an intimate and ultimately timeless gift of life and hope.

Contaminated  Shirt (detail)
Contaminated Shirt, 1992, glass, inks, silver, plastic tube, 3 x 6”