the contemporary art of rough emeralds
There is something primal about Honoka’s art. She approaches her material like an archaeologist, excavating and analyzing found artifacts. We can also detect the vision of a sculptor whose fundamental premise is to bring forth and reveal the potential within their chosen material, in this case rough emeralds formed in the earth millions of years ago, and allow the material to express itself. Honoka refuses to work against her material, or to force it into unnatural shapes with polished textures. Instead, she is intuitively attracted and defers to it, and is guided by it.
“What makes us human?” remains a central question of anthropological study. What defines who we are? When and how did we evolve?
Until paleoanthropologist Jane Goodall in the 1960s observed chimpanzees in Tanganyika (Tanzania) picking up rocks to open palm nuts and fashioning twigs with a sticky substance to pull out termites, tool making and social interaction were thought to be distinctive human behavioral markers.
Recent excavations and new discoveries are pointing to abstract and symbolic cognitive capabilities, and particularly to art and personal decoration and ornamentation such as jewelry, as the exclusive domain of the human lineage. In other words, art – the capacity to imagine and create, to be self-aware and sensitive to beauty – may be the defining characteristic of being human.
In 2002, archaeologists at Blombos Cave in a limestone cliff on the east coast of South Africa found two pieces of ochre rock incised with abstract geometric hatching designs, and a series of beads made from pierced shells dating to around 75,000 years ago. At Pinnacle Point Cave in the same region, quantities of ground ochre likely used to make paint for application to the body or other surfaces date to around 165,000 years ago. These finds are the earliest known evidence of ‘artistic behavior’ suggestive of advanced humans.
Along with body painting, the practice of piercing shells and stringing them to make a pendant or necklace is the oldest known form of personal decoration. Small-scale Paleolithic sculptures and engravings of human figures with exaggerated female features, such as the 11 cm tall Venus of Willendorf, found in the rock shelters and caves of southern France and other parts of Europe, date to around 40,000 years ago. These prehistoric figurines, the first known representations of the human form, were transportable and seemingly made to be hand carried. Interpretations of their function and usage revolve around associations with fertility symbolism and ceremonial activity, and as power enhancing talismans or protective amulets with magical properties to ward off evil. On the wrists of the vestigial arms of the Venus of Willendorf are indications of what might be bangles or bracelets.
The emerald was used as an amulet by the Egyptians, the Hindus, the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, and the Incas. It has been viewed in many different cultures as symbolic of fertility, fidelity, chastity, truth, hope, and healing. Some, even today, attribute healing and magical properties to emeralds.
Famously, Cleopatra prized emeralds from Egyptian mines for her royal adornments. Since the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors brought looted emeralds to Europe, India, and Persia from the mines of Colombia, the gemstone has been associated with royalty, and has denoted a display of status, wealth, and power. Gem cutters developed techniques to produce sparkling ‘finished’ stones, scraping and stripping away any surrounding calcite, minimizing fractures and inclusions, and cutting in clever ways to maximize color depth. Highly conventionalized shapes, such as the so-called ‘emerald cut’ of 58 facets, or the rounded dome cabochon cut, became and remain the norm. Obviously, Honoka questions and challenges this norm.
Another way to understand Honoka’s relationship to her emeralds is to view her creations in the context of Japanese aesthetic ideals. In Honoka’s case, the echo of traditional Japanese concepts of beauty may be subliminal or intuitive rather than deliberate. It is nevertheless unmistakable that she is attracted to raw and natural beauty, to imperfection as the natural state of existence, to the charm of the irregular, the asymmetric, and the accidental in nature. We may think of a rustic and weathered Japanese tea ceremony hut, a chipped or broken tea bowl repaired with lacquer and gold to highlight beautifully unpredictable cracks, a moss covered stone lantern, or a Zen garden with stones intimating the ocean, the universe, and the passage of time.
Honoka’s emeralds are contemporary and minimalist in their style but have a primal energy and inspiration that evokes and pays homage to prehistoric times. The fundamental intuitive aesthetic of her jewelry is a meditation, a contemplation that celebrates a direct encounter with the context of nature and the beauty of natural form.