Can the Circle Be Unbroken?


Goeun Bae, Hidden Single Channel, HDBlack and white; 3min 55 sec, 2012.


Goeun Bae, For the big finger and the big toe, Installation, metal ring, glass case, 2012






Prompt: Can writing about objects be more than descriptive, critical, or historical? What if words could offer new ways to think, approach, and present jewellery? In this experiment Marilyn Zapf responds to Goeun Bae’s work, pictured above.

‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;’

Something about the image of a flapping fowl, lost in a cyclical spiral out of control encapsulated the spirit of America’s west coast in the late twentieth century for journalist Joan Didion.  These words, originally from a William Butler Yeats’ poem, formed the epigraph to her collection of short essays.  The feeling of disorientation-to-the-point-of-chaos was the same one that resonated with the poet at an altogether different time and place.  And it is the same feeling that comes to mind today, watching the writhing limbs, the twisting toes, the turning digits in Goeun Bae’s work; things fall apart.

But here the centre holds, and it holds tight.  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world not because there is no fixed point, but because that point, that conviction, that control holds steadfast.  The bodies writhe in suffocation, they writhe in passion, they writhe in movement dictated by tradition.  They writhe because a force invisible to the eye ties them together – a ring burdened with the symbolism and expectations of society.

Taken alone, this token of affection appears caught in a moment of transition.  Not a pair, a double, or a twin, but somewhere in-between.  Like the bodies it binds, the morphing band appears caught in a space of separation and of fusion.  What shall become of the playground rhymes and folk hymns now that the circle is unbroken – or, more poignantly, now that the circle is dividing?

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed.

Textbooks often depict cell division like a Venn diagram – two perfect circles, two geometric lovers, caught in a moment of passionate embrace.  To mix my familial metaphors, mitosis, a particular type of cell division, is actually explained through an anthropomorphic narrative of a ‘parent’ producing a ‘daughter’ cell.  Every so often a mother cell will run into trouble letting its baby go.  The ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction, while the worst begin to see their offspring as an extension of themselves, and hold onto them all the tighter.  Psychologists call this parental narcissism.  Scientists used to believe such cellular self-admiration was the origin of conjoined twins.  As the fertilized egg begins to divide, the parent hovers too closely, not letting the child develop properly and so binds their lives together.  This microscopic image of circles caught in a moment of transition brings the shape of Bae’s rings back to mind.

Now I am no Didion, no Yeats.  I do not believe things are truly falling apart, no matter how the spiral of culture appears.  But Bae’s work – the function of the rings to invisibly bind two subjects together – provokes a powerful reflection on the limitations society can impose.

Power can begin innocently and invisibly; a circle unbroken, a band around a finger.  But should the ties that bind slip out of balance, should the centre hold too tight or not at all, we – our cells, our jewellery, our culture, our tradition – become filled with passionate intensity.  And this intensity carries us forwards, for better or for worse.