Eichenberg and Rios’ paths crossed through their common interest in ex-votos: objects which convey a desire or longing and are made out of necessity. Ex-votos are tokens made to express gratitude for a favor granted by a supernatural force. In the midst of misfortune, such as an accident or illness, someone who is unable to resolve things through worldly means pleads for divine intervention with the help of a maker/practitioner. Ex-votos are mementos and artifacts of that mediation between two worlds. They are often placed in churches or chapels by the worshiper either seeking grace or to give thanks. Through the Hand Medal Project, the artist duo sought to put the spirit embodied by the ex-voto into active service. The purpose of this project focused not on what can be created, but on what can be done with the act of creation in service to others. It’s within the acts of the hand—the offer and the receipt—that the Hand Medal Project takes place.
More than 3500 participants from 65 countries copied a template of the hand, that can be replicated using any metal available. This singular hand design created a collective voice, reinforcing the shared gratitude that was the project’s mission. The design is drawn from a historical Argentinian ex-voto from Ríos’s collection, its meaning is forged in service.
Infused with the gratitude of the ex-voto and the tribute of a medal, around 70,000 hands were made and collected since April, then bestowed upon medical workers the first Sunday in November 2020.
After graduating from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in 1994, Iris Eichenberg worked as an independent artist, art educator, part-time curator, and co-organizer of art-related events. She began teaching at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 1996, where she was Head of the Jewelry Department. Since 2006 she has been an Artist in Residence and Head of the Metalsmithing Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, USA. Iris Eichenberg is regularly exhibiting, invited to lecture, act as visiting critic, and holds workshops at various art academies around the world.
Jimena Ríos lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She studied jewelry at the Escola Massana School of Art and Design in Barcelona, Spain and Alchimia Contemporary Jewelry School in Florence, Italy. In 2013 she founded Taller Eloi in Buenos Aires, to teach and organize workshops and exhibitions. She works as an educator, curator and editor.