The neck is a liminal zone // Essay

The Neck: Exhibition essay by Tracey Clement

The neck is a liminal zone

“I think, therefore I am,” or so wrote French philosopher René Descartes in 1637, ushering in what became known as the Cartesian mind/body split. In this way, no doubt unwittingly, he put the neck in an awkward position for centuries.

Even these days, as many thinkers have come to understand what artists have always known – that cognition is a full-body experience, not limited to the confines of the brain – the neck remains stranded between what we still see as the symbolic seats of thinking and feeling: the head and the heart.

In contemporary Western dress part of the neck is almost always on show; exposed, a prime site for display. And this visibility is coupled with vulnerability. Two hands – thumb to thumb, fingers touching – can encircle a human neck, a gesture at once tender and threatening. The neck is a liminal zone: fraught with ambiguity, brimming with symbolism.

In the exhibition The Neck, 12 jewellers have made the most of its potential in order to express their own thoughts and feelings on a diverse range of socio-political issues.

Vivien Atkinson transforms multiple disposable blue facemasks into a pandemic-ready ruff, part talisman, part status symbol. Bridget Kennedy presents a necklace dangling real pieces of bread and bits of broccoli encased in copper, a reliquary for food security. Both Melinda Young and Melissa Cameron drape the neck with chains as they contemplate gun violence. Macarena Bernal makes the insidious politics of race visible with graduated beads in “skin tone” colour, while Vernon Bowden uses pop-culture imagery and potent materials to highlight the toxic legacy of imperialism.

As all of the artists in the show make clear, the neck is a conceptually rich site for contemplation; a liminal zone that emphasises our nature as creatures of both mind and body.

Tracey Clement

Artist, freelance writer and editor at Art Guide Australia

Cover image: Mel Young, Pennyweight neckpiece. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Above image: Claire McArdle, Small Tool for Change, Swift parrot. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.