Jewelry and Culture with Volker Atrops
aka Secret Recordings No.1
CONFESSION: Justified as research yet an attempt that left me feeling awkward and kind of embarrassed, I secretly recorded every single conversation I had with artists/gallerists/etc during Schmuck week 2012 in Munich, Germany. I am only now in the process of transcribing these conversations.
Over a year and a half ago I walked into Volker Atrops’ exhibition, No Stone Unturned, at the Zipprich antiquarian bookstore where we fell into a delightful conversation about perspectives on jewelry and its cultural relevance. Below are the highlights of our conversation (his text is black, where I chime in is grey), as well as images from the exhibition.
Images and info about his Munich 2013 exhibition are to follow.
Mr. Atrops has kindly given me his permission to post this text.
2012 – NO STONE UNTURNED
The jewelry scene is a special club. And this club works over the whole world and that gives you an impression that something is going on. For example, Otto Kunzli, my old professor, in this world, is quite famous. He has a lot of students – but when I switched over to my home country, nobody knows about the whole scene. And here (Munich) people come in and say oh nice show, maybe it’s been 60 people from all over the world. But if I make the same exhibition in my area nobody is really – it’s not inside the scene. So that is a pity that is isn’t really cultural, there are only somethings – Peter Skubic, he put a silver plate under his skin, you know? It was a time -1979, punk, they started to make piercings… and so this has to do with the time. Jewelry was going into body manipulation. It was really special; it was a kind of culture. Peter Skubic was sensitive, but in general it didn’t come from the academies, it came from punk, from whatever, music, and I think for the schools, it’s a pity that all this talent and all this –
There’s nowhere for it to go.
Yeah, if you study engineering, sometimes you make a new car, maybe, and the car drives on the street, and you’re part of the whole culture. And when we study here in the academies, in Australia, in Providence, or in Amsterdam, in Stockholm, it doesn’t matter, you make work – or it was like this- you make work just for the club… mostly, not every time. Sometimes people try to get over this kind of border, sometimes.
What is the ideal environment that you would chose for a piece of yours?
Yeah, I mean where would you like it to live?
That is easy. That is, you! A girl, a boy… it doesn’t matter. And so for a show, I have often some show pieces, but not so much, not only show pieces, which is good in between – but mostly I try… big rings – sometimes so for collectors, or museum shows, for the serious goldsmith/jewelry art scene collectors, I make some bigger pieces. And also when you work for fashion, you work totally different, if it has to show up on the catwalk, it’s totally different work. It’s about the size sometimes instead of what it has to do with.
What about problems relating to typical display conventions, of a gallery for example, and how that might distance the object’s pursuit for its idea environment on a body and everything it could mean…
Environment… environment. I don’t want to show an environment. But maybe it’s a language problem… environment for me is this room or something. But this room, it’s like a living room a little bit. Because the pieces aren’t going out so fast, it’s not a product. All theses books had living rooms, and now it’s still kind of a living room. And to show is quite easy somehow – yes it’s best to do it also with privacy. If you decide to buy a jewel it has to touch you, it’s not about – you don’t think like a picture or a movie, or other art. So it’s totally different. When they come in (to the exhibition), mostly women, and they choose the jewelry, they make really fast decisions. I like it or I like it not, it’s really fast. It looks like it’s without thinking. And sometimes I wonder if it fits quite well. Not every time, because sometimes it’s a collector and they want to show it’s from Daniel Kruger or Manfred Bischoff, or, it doesn’t matter. They want to show off they are collectors in the scene. Outside the scene, if you have a show somewhere else and people want to have a piece of jewelry and how they desire, is really pure. Because it has such an old history, older than painting. It’s very sexual, it’s like hair going into ornament… so it really has to do with life, your body, not dying… so if you connect something to your body, it is what stays. You have something and you die and the warmth comes, and then it stays.
Do you think the people that buy your work think about these things? Or are we the makers the only ones?
No no no. I think no body really thinks about it, but they know all about it. They have this in common in every culture,, everyone knows about it, everywhere. Ok so if I name it now, it is not so important because everyone know is it already but the don’t talk about it, they know it. But it doesn’t matter if someone, a little girl, if you put a nice flower behind your ear or something it is also kind of jewelry, it’s nice. The flower is a pure sexual organ, and people, humans, don’t think about that either, but they know. Do you know what I mean? I make myself nice with that attribute. And that is what is so important and more important for jewelry than with art, the art scene, and I don’t know other names…
Would you personally like a wider more art based/intellectual audience for your work?
Yeah I like it. Most friends of mine – because I really like art, in Berlin, also I studied at the academy and most of my friends are artists, some of them are very good but not good at selling, and others are higher end, rich – and yeah I like it very much. Art is really nice, but I think for jewelry, it is really, really difficult. And with the quality of jewelry, it is so close to the body, this is the difference, it’s so close to, what do I say, life, humanity. In art you try to make the whole picture artificial, the whole life you want to show! In a movie! In an art piece, you want an artificial piece of life you want to show somehow, that is high-end art. In jewelry, you’re still a part of life and this is the difference. With jewelry you add to life a dead thing, but you add it, you know? You add it to humans. I add something to you. In art they want to make a whole picture and they make you a second time. Yeah it is quite easy.
You think it’s easy? Yeah but I make it really easy to explain.
Sometimes I wonder why jewelry is marginalized or placed in a supplementary category, but other days, I think that all the things that define jewelry are so special and unique that why should I care if it doesn’t end up penetrating fine art. Why do I care? I care because I think more people should get to understand why we love it and appreciate it so much, I mean it was so easy for you to say all these things, that you say people know but don’t think about, but I would love for everybody to think about them, and I don’t know how to solve that.
It’s nice, if you have people who are rightly educated or know about all these art things, it’s nice to talk… but the really basic thing is that these people sometimes lose the way, the professors… they’re really into this jewelry art and they sometimes lose the way, so they don’t get the point anymore. So they stretch the borders, it’s quite nice also…
They might be trying to please too many people?
It’s also ok, and it’s also kind of cute… what could happen if they really stay or came to the real point? I said to Manon van Kouswijk, in the 1990’s was making a lot of pearl chains, this really really basic jewelry piece in a lot of ways… the sexuality, it’s pure, it’s a jewelry piece that has worked for how long make man can think. Something else that’s more culture, something like gold; if I make the same exhibition in my area where nobody knows about he jewelry scene and I make it in iron, it’s difficult, it’s not possible, not really. Nobody will buy anything. They say, OH nice show! Oh, you have ideas? You are very creative, oh! But If I make the same show in a big city, or kind of the same show in gold, everyone would say, ahhhh, I want to have it, only because it’s gold, and so it’s about culture.
I like this idea as an experiment, maybe making the same body of work in two materials yet indistinguishable, to see what would happen.
Because in art there is also kind of – if you put something, everything, in Germany, in the white cube, and then you put something on a pedestal, that is something really important for a lot of people; Ahh that must be higher than me, also these things are quite important.
**The textile pieces shown in this show were from the artist’s wife, Brigitte Atrops, as until 2010 she was part of the Berlin based label Boessert-Schorn.
2013 – VINTAGE VIOLENCE
The background to the exhibition is as follows:
“Some time ago, I was invited to exhibit in a nineteenth century villa, where I made an exciting discovery. Behind the villa was a stranded ghost ship, in the form of an enormous, abandoned jewellery factory, the captain of which was still sitting behind stacks of dusty files and reading the latest newspaper. The ship’s lieutenant led me through the treasure-filled wreck… A year later my wife and I returned on a 14-day mission to hammer out the bitter remnants of the past. Embossing, punching, winding… the 1950s fashion-jewellery aluminium we found went into the early-industrial machines with such finality, that it was almost impossible to reproduce standard pieces, as is the case with genuine handicrafts. Through cottage-industryesque labour, the crude output of the machines was bound together into sheaves of lovely jewels. The pieces are numbered and stamped with BfG (Bund für Gestaltung / Confederation of Design ). The title “Vintage Violence” as well as the arrangement of the scene photographed for the invitation card are taken from a completely different context and originate from an early 1970s’ record sleeve (John Cale). Despite all the retrospect, the pieces are completely fresh and untarnished and were on display for the first time in the Zipprich antiquarian bookstore, within the wider context of the Internationale Handwerksmesse ‘Schmuck’ exhibition.”