Year of production: 1998
Dimensions: 7.5 x 15 x 2.5cm
Materials: Mouse, pearl necklace cast in acrylic, whitened silver, steel wire
Edition: Unique Piece
About: A pearl necklace? As the subject of a contemporary art event? I guess at the time I was infuriated by the idea that someone even dared ask me to join a group of designers who were invited to work with this most boring, bourgeois icon in the whole history of jewellery: a string of pearls. I’d rather hang myself with them! A new design for a pearl necklace to me meant unconditional surrender, and probably that has been the ultimate reason to take part in the event. Not to join, but to battle from within. Afterwards my entry ‘Princess’ has been described as the first conceptual work I ever produced but in fact there was hardly any concept to start with. Sheer anger comes closer to the truth.
It was this state of mind that made me decide to pick up a dead mouse I spotted in the corner of my studio. They wanted a string of pearls? Well then they would get exactly that. I took the tiny corpse, made a miniature pearl necklace for it and casted the whole thing in solid plastic. Getting the piece together wasn’t about deep thinking, but about instant resistance. I named her Princess to help the audience understand the love that was lost on her. I wanted to stress the beauty of the image, its eternal life. Like it was part of a fairy tale. It didn’t take long before people started calling me a murderer. They couldn’t believe that I had not killed the mouse to fulfill my evil purposes. On the other hand I received reactions from people saying that it was the most perfect funeral for the animal. Princess has always attracted mixed feelings. Probably the most shocking response I got was from a German who accused me of playing God. He was convinced that I had robbed the mouse of its normal process of decay. That argument has haunted me for several months. I kept having nightmares about mice taking revenge on me…
It took a while before I recognized the real issues at stake in this piece. Who’s wearing the best jewellery? The lady who puts on my necklace, or the mouse? Such questions come up long after you have created the work. In my opinion such hidden dimensions distinguish good conceptual works from mediocre ones. And I should know, because I’ve made a few of those as well. Good concepts take on a life you can not program or even foresee during the process of making. It dawned on me that the fairy tale quality of the Princess was a vital element in its public appreciation. In a later piece – a ring that contains a tiny gold crown – I took the story one step further. The crown was explained by the scene that I had witnessed the day I picked up the dead princess. To its side was the mouse prince, weeping over his beloved. He had thrown away his crown and I had kept it to this day. Nobody bothered to ask any questions. But then reality hit home. The Princess was published in a national newspaper and the next day the Society for Protection of Animals turned up on my doorstep. The fairy tale ended almost as violently as it began.
Photo credits: Ted Noten