Jennifer Cupri's Jewelry Highlights The Subconscious Messages Of Body Language

<p>The US-based designer crafts jewelry to emphasize gesture-based communication.</p>

Feb 7 2013, 8:56pm

Jennifer Crupi’s elegantly-crafted jewelry does more than simply decorate bodies, it emphasizes and enhances the postures and gestures that we (many times subconsciously) use to communicate with one another. Although aesthetically stunning on a simply visual level, the psychology that goes into her work makes it even more intriguing.

Crupi was recently featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “40 under 40: Craft Futures” exhibition in Washington D.C., which spotlighted artists under 40, and their innovative new approaches to traditional mediums such as ceramics, metalwork, or fashion. In the interview below, Crupi gave us some insight into her sources of inspiration, and the things we may inadvertently be saying with our body language.

The Creators Project: What got you interested in the use of body language for communication? Was there a transition from more traditional jewelry design or sculpture to the gesture-based project? How and why did that happen?
Jennifer Crupi: I got my BFA from Cooper Union and my MFA from the State University of New York at New Paltz. While at Cooper Union I was able to take jewelry classes as electives at Parsons School of Design, as Cooper did not offer classes in that area. Although I enjoyed my studies in Graphic Design at Cooper Union, I loved working in metals and knew I wanted to pursue graduate study in the area.

Jennifer Crupi’s Leg Bouncer

My early jewelry work as an undergraduate was based on mechanical movement, particularly expandable structures. The exploration stemmed from my interest in making jewelry that was interactive—that didn't merely sit on the body in one fixed way, but could constantly be manipulated and transformed (in size, shape, or function) by the wearer. As I started my graduate study, I began to think about how I could make my work have a greater connection to the body. Having always been interested in psychology (and considered it casually as a career at one point) I started investigating body movement and became intrigued in the nuances of non-verbal behavior, posture, and gesture. I became invested in a new kind of movement—from the subtle movements of the eye to more whole body phenomena like empathetic gesturing.

Since I began my study into non-verbal communication, I am continually intrigued and surprised by how much we communicate with our bodies. I have since been fascinated with the field and am always soaking up information by just being more aware of the people around me. Of my own body communication, I am quite conscious. I found it interesting, however, that studies show we are more apt to draw conclusions about other people's body language but ignore our own. My pieces attempt to call attention to this issue and seek viewers to consider the impact and meaning of their own posture.

Posture Gauge—Chin measures posture and ranks wearers from +3 (extrovert) to -3 (introvert)

For example, in the Guarded/Unguarded Gestures series, I was looking at how, with our own bodies, we compensate for our insecurities or express our need to show confidence. Sometimes we have nothing but our own bodies to do this with, our only defense. Frontal-covering gestures (arms crossed, "fig leaf" posture etc.) are supposed to be subtle but meaningful acts of self-protection. They work in varying degrees, but even a slight covering of our bodies with our hands can be all the security we need. Likewise, when we need to show we are open to someone's ideas or need to take charge we will adopt open postures.

Guarded Gestures 1

I saw that your Ornamental Hands series pulls inspiration from the positions found in historic fine art, which I thought was awesome. Where exactly do you look for inspiration?

Ornamental Hands: Figure 2

When conceiving the series, I first thought of iconic works like Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel/the Creation of Adam and other similar paintings where I remember hands being so elegantly rendered. I thought back to my art history classes and remembered other paintings and sculptures where no matter what the figures would be doing in the greater context (some being battle or death scenes), the artist could not help but make their hands beautiful. In many cases, a more accurate or realistic interpretation would probably render much less beautiful hands! So I indulged in my love of research and began pouring through art history books, online image databases, and started noting recurring gestures.

Since my work cannot be worn in a gallery or museum setting, I always create displays for them that help inform the piece. For each of the Ornamental Hands displays I incorporated detail images from three related paintings.

Ornamental Hands Figure 2 worn

Since your work is based on human body language, which implies interaction, is your workflow more collaborative? Or is it a more solitary creative process?
The research for my work necessitates people watching. I am also always soaking up information in my daily interactions with others and through observing group dynamics. As a professor, I constantly take note of the body language of my students, monitoring their feeling towards me or the topic we are discussing. So my everyday life informs my work, but when it comes to conceiving the actual pieces, it’s a solitary process in the studio until the work is completed.

With Valentine's Day coming up, which one of your pieces would be best to wear on a date to convey that you’re interested?
I think that would be my latest work Ornamental Hands: Figure Three. Inspired 16th and 17th century paintings, the gesture appears in many portraits of women and represents a modest but alluring position of the hand resting at the breast. The gesture exposes the wrist, which is thought to be a flirtatious gesture. The fact that this is a gesture of touch also sends the signal of interest to a man.

Ornamental Hands: Figure Three, Jennifer Crupi’s newest piece

What about for a job interview?
I would have to say Power Gesture. Power Gesture is an implement that requires the user to assume the authoritative "steepled fingers" gesture. This position exudes confidence and is often used by one who has the upper hand in a situation. Psychologists believe assuming a posture or gesture will make one feel as they would if they did the gesture naturally. So for a confidence boost, Power Gesture is the implement of choice.

Crupi’s Power Gesture

Cupri’s work is currently on view as part of “Out of the Box: Trends in Contemporary Jewelry” at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art through April 28, 2013.


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