Specially for Worn, artists, friends, and collaborators, Iris Eichenberg and Jimena Ríos, created a participatory project that invites anyone and everyone to take part. Inspired by their previous collaboration The Hand Medal Project, and ongoing efforts to thank healthcare professionals during the continued Covid-19 pandemic, Eichenberg and Ríos designed two postcards, each with different images of hands holding hands. These postcards are made available to the public to write and send notes of gratitude to someone who has provided them personally with care. This project debuted at Hobart and William Smith Colleges as part of the Worn exhibition in 2021.
Hands have been powerfully present in our battle with coronavirus. They are symbols of how our bodies have become weapons to be washed, sanitized, and gloved, and also of their innate capacity to heal and to connect. The act of writing by hand physically connects the writer to the reader. We leave a human imprint through our unique handwriting and our individual words. It is this tactile connection that makes the postcard such an enduring artifact and timely action during a global pandemic that has drastically impacted the way we physically interact.
Eichenberg and Rios's collaboration, the Hand Medal Project, was conceived in early 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis as a way to honor those risking their lives for us. While watching caregivers, nurses, and doctors who were giving—and continue to give—their all to our communities, Eichenberg and Ríos wanted to find a way to contribute. Inspired by ex-votos—handheld objects of devotion that honor a gratitude or a wish, the Hand Medal Project invited artists, jewelers, students, and professionals to craft medals to honor the service and sacrifice of health workers. Infused with the gratitude of the ex-voto and the tribute of a medal, these hands have been made and collected since April 2020, then bestowed upon medical workers in November, 2020.
To implement the project, Eichenberg and Ríos organized a network of what they call “Hand Keepers,” 145 people who collected the medals from individuals across 66 participating countries. The medals, around 70.000, were then passed on to “Hand Givers,” who presented them to their local medical communities. Each medal was registered with a number stamped on the back, allowing recipients to look up the maker of their medal on the project’s website.
While the postcards allow for individual voices and personal connections, authorship is secondary to the Hand Medal Project. The medals were not about the maker, but about the receiver. To underscore the unity of this collaborative effort, participants copied a template of the hand, designed to be simple enough for all skill levels, and easily replicated into whatever metal is available. This singular hand creates a collective voice, reinforcing the shared gratitude of the project’s mission. Through “hands making hands,” The Hand Medal Project manifests the multiplicity of meanings in the hand, while the design, which was based from a historical Argentinian ex-voto from Ríos’s personal collection, reforges the symbol into service.
For the jewelers who participated around the world, hands are the language of skill and expression embodied. For all those who write and send postcards, hands tangibly extend words—words of gratitude, recognition, and resilience.