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Volker Atrops

Slicing the Pie of the Everyday


Can you tell something about what this (image above) represents?

Volker Atrops:

Yes, ok. I made this photo for this workshop, but before it was hanging like this in my workshop. But without the darts, just the board with the chain. I added darts to the sides later, just to make it clear that there is a center and the board symbolizes jewellery field, and the chain that hangs in the middle makes it clear that its about jewellery.

C.O.: Did you make the chain?

V.A.: No, I found it on a flea market, its clearly just a chain and nothing else, its a decoration piece for the body, jewellery piece, simple, no precious stones, no gold … Then there are three darts, I purposely put them on the periphery area of the board. And what I wanted to say with this, is that there is a whole field of jewellery and a center, which is maybe a simple wedding ring or a pearl necklace that has history, suitable to the body and has a lot of meaning and its so strong that no matter where you go, to everyone it is clear that this is a jewellery piece. And the fact that it fits very well to the body and very well developed over thousands of years makes it the center somehow. And then to see where the field ends, maybe some people explore boundaries because they are kind of bored, or maybe because what you can develop is already developed they are looking for new areas, for new fields, they want to put some things from outside ( that case from art) in. Then you have the periphery I name each darts after Rudt Peters, or Otto Kunzli or Peter Skubitc or other people that in the nineties or the eighies were busy with working in the periphery, trying to look for the boundary, or to overstep the edge of the boundary, they tried to do it. In general they didn’t get the point…

C.O.: Yes, because when you go on exploring, its nice to get out there, but you get further away from the center…

V.A.: You are getting out or want to open a kind of door somewhere, let something new in, its quite important, but most things are already defined.

C.O.: In contemporary jewellery?

V.A.: Not in contemporary jewellery, but in jewellery. It is a basic thing, like food for plants, for animals, jewellery is important for human beings, it existed for very long, and its still alive and it does not matter how the culture is changing…

C.O.: So the concept of ‘contemporary’ does not concern you, it s just jewellery then?

V.A.: Well, there are differences… contemporary jewellery is also nice, because it means its ‘nowadays’, and then there is this artistic jewellery, or jewellery art, it is also something different, so you can find a lot of names, but is the end its about jewellery and what you are doing with it. This is precisely the point, the center is very important and if you are studying, don’t loose the center. Because, in the process you can turn to the periphery and explore, but you always have to come to the central point. Especially in art schools they’ve developed in a way, that it is expected to find a place in the periphery of the field. Because there is sort of a scene for those margins, and you make a good work, marking the territory in a way, and the work stays there somehow. But it is a very difficult position, because in former times jewellery field wanted to be perceived as art, but it didn’t really work out, because it was not accepted by the art scene. The critics didn’t really care, and fine art gallerists didn’t really care… I mean sometimes it works out, but more as an exception, its not enough. So it stays in this strange position, like between the two spheres. And thats why its a pity that all the talents at art schools don’t work around or try to manipulate the center. So they leave it to the main stream. And its a pity because the center connects us to the daily culture. To our culture. Like ethnic jewellery of Africa: to our eyes its exotic because of its strange forms or colors, material combinations, but it fits in their culture, it reflects their daily life. The kind of nature they live in, their conditions, rituals, the whole life span… But works made on these margins of the field, its more like a dead-born child. Some things worked out, but it didn’t really become a part of our culture, remaining a the small insider club of nerds.

C.O.: So if we would talk about the future of the field, its possibilities, you are stating that its in the center, and not on the periphery?

V.A.: For sure. All the previous achievements to show the boundaries of the field are great, they really show what you can do and how big this area could be. But what I would like to see in the future, by students of art schools, is making direct things, that are really new or special, or interpretations of old things, but to really dive into the culture. The things you see on TV, on people, but not as some kind of example, printed in a catalogue, so you take a normal looking model and then you put this very strange thing on her or him and say: ‘Look, this is wearable!’ And its some kind of joke! It just does not work. Its not coming from the culture…

CO: When you were accepted to the Academy, you started off by making simple wire rings, but it was noted by your teachers that it resembled too much with something you see on the street market, it was too ‘hippie’ and they required you to move away from that, to make something more conceptual. And then you came up with this piece, a ring so loaded with meanings and concepts that made your teachers very excited. You proved the point that were able to think conceptually, but then, shortly after, you came back to wire rings again! So then making this simple wire ring was more important to you then making complicated conceptual work?

VA: I started with a simple idea. At the time I was busy with making jewellery for 10 years. I worked at the goldsmith shop, and I made jewellery for myself, like this DIY punk style as a young boy. I was researching a lot about what other people did, and the culture in general, things that happened in the 80s. When in the beginning of the 90s I got accepted to the academy, I had this simple idea: I will only work with gold wire and bend over the finger and make forms out of it, and maybe later I will solder it together, or granulate it, and just develop. And I just sat there, like someone who is knitting. I could take my stuff to the meeting, underground, it was a little box with a lot of wire and I had two tools. I wanted to try all these different forms, it was for me like baking bread, something really simple. But Otto Kunzli didn’t like it. Things I made were not super special. He said we already did something like that, it was too ‘crafty’, and indirectly I was told that it was not what they expect from students of an art academy. That it was kind of low, stupid work, somehow. ‘You can do it at a flea market.’ He did not see in which way I was busy with it. He only saw in my work this flea market style, but my in opinion it wasn’t… So I was given ‘test time’, to prove my position in the Academy. I had to make up my mind about what I’m doing, and also I wanted to add stone to my wire rings. I made a lot of try-outs for stone cutting. I discovered a lot of tings, and from there I developed this ring, which suits Otto’s work more. He is busy with symbols like, the David’s star, svastica, and idols like Micky Mouse, so all these strong signs or symbols. So I did this ring with the cross cut out from the stone, added the golden sphere, that has form of the globe…Then when he saw it once, he said it was really good work, he was satisfied also because I was able to explain what the work was about. After this, I was accepted.

CO: But then you go back to the wire?

VA: Yes I told him also, that I was going back and he laughed, he has a sense of humor, he said, now I got the ‘drivers license’ and I can just go on. And I did, but what I noticed, I’ve lost this ethnic style, what he called ‘hippie’ style. It was a pity. Next wire work I made was much more art school kind of style.

CO: Why do you think of it as a pity?

VA: Because for me its more interesting. Afterward I was trying to adopt the work of a fine artist that I liked into the field of jewellery. It is a normal practice for an art school, this kind of hierarchical exchange. You try to translate the vision, or working approach of somehow higher field. But sometimes it comes out stupid.

CO: Sometimes it doesn’t really translate?

VA: Yeah, but if you work in the center…The skull of Damien Hirst (For the Love of God, 2007) is in fact a good jewellery piece. But it is made by a fine artist, using the techniques, style and the meanings of the jewellery field. The work deals with death and what is after death, all the subjects jewellery dealt and deals with in former times and up until now.

CO: The key words of your work are daily life, culture, simplicity, wearability…

VA: About this ‘daily life’, its the word I translated from German alltag’ (translates in english like: everyday, everyday life, weekday) and with this word what I mean, is that jewellery is a part of our culture, but what was developed in our culture in the past twenty years came more from subcultures like punk with its piercings, acid house scene, pop, hip hop with its bling bling, and so all these subcultures are influencing the jewellery field, that now a lot of main stream people wear piercings, its quite common, there is nothing strange about that. But 20-30 years ago it was a strong symbol that would scare a grandma..! And now someone is wearing a ring in their nose and it just looks nice and thats it… So that is how things become adopted by culture, but things that are shown at Marzee, or other galleries, or what people from the 80s achieved, this did not become a part of the culture. And its a pity, because all these talents, they worked into this vacuum, vacuum of this club of jewellery makers and teachers. And there is a freedom in this bubble, but you are asking me about the future and I think these artists should think more about what they want to wear, or what other people wear and find out what to use. Because these styles now becoming more and more developed, but somehow it stays outside. In our field we have the idea that there is an author and he makes a piece and that is ultimately the piece, the destination. But I think only if someone wears a jewellery piece that is precisely the moment when this pieces comes alive. Thats the thing, not in the vitrine, not in the gallery, not in the catalogue, not as an example…and then we can say that the creator, not of the jewellery, but of the whole picture, like of the person with their hair, their eyes, their hands, their pullover, their blouse, and the earrings, or the bracelet and that is the whole picture. And that is really the thing. And what we are making is only a part of it. Sometimes students make really nice tings, but they really don’t want these things to be worn. Because they say its not so nice anymore.

CO: In what sense?

VA: Well, someone made a piece to which her personality is really connected with. And she came to the point that thats really nice. Thats my treasure. And then its really hard to give it away. And not only to give it away, but in this case all that you’ve put in stays in the third or forth row, place… Because when worn on the body, always the person, the wearer comes first, and only then this added thing. So when someone puts all their love, all their knowledge into the piece it just not enough… And then you are never really satisfied. And thats why all these big talents, and all these jewellery artists often put something in, that makes it somehow difficult to wear. They want it to be seen as a ‘super piece’, and they, as creators would bee seen as high and respected, but thats not the sense of the thing. Because the girl or the man who wears this piece is the king!

CO: So, we are heading towards this image?

VA: Yeah, its about how they wear this jewellery. I’ve never seen anyone wearing something like this. Mask is a nice object, but I don’t know if it fits to the body. The whole outfit, the glasses, they work together very well to create the image, but the jewellery piece becomes this alien, strange thing, somehow…Then the singer, she wears jewellery in a very simple way, and its easy to see what the function of the jewellery is. That it really becomes this decoration for her body, leading the eye of the viewer in a very sexual way. And thats what jewellery is often about!

CO: Or all about?

VA: Or maybe you can say is all about! But its not only about sexuality. The problem with the man is: man dies… And jewellery stands for the idea that you can live longer. They are putting these gold rings into the grave…or if you like a butterfly, you can replicate it in jewellery and wear this summer moment next winter… Going back to the singer, she is also wearing this bracelet, and maybe it makes sound, and she has her hand on her hips, showing it off.

CO: So its all working for her?

VA: Yes, its just working for her, there is nothing about the author, about who made this and why, its just for her…

CO: So what happens with the ego of the maker? At this point, it must be just thrown away?

VA: Yes. Sometimes with clothes for example, its important who made it. Or, for example like at ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’: the Tiffany is a sign for something luxurious. Even the girl on the street eating fast food in the film, she knows, Tiffany is that thing! Its all about wearing/adding something that is special to you. Its like killing a lion and then wearing its fur, so it gives its power to the wearer.
In a way, its the same with Chanel, Bulgari its this gold and precious stones that give you the power, the status, etc.

CO: What are the driving forces in your work?

VA: There are some possibilities. Sometimes I work, because I have a knowledge to make nice things, and in general, professionally, I try to make nice things. But sometimes the work is driven from an emotion, like rage, hate or love, and then in that moment something really comes out. And then the work has a lot of impact. And people often realize that there is something there. They don’t necessarily know what that is, but they can feel it without someone having to explain the work. Sometimes its very strong and I feel I could use it, but its like a musical live performance, its never really same ever again… On regular bases I work form my knowledge or my aesthetics.

CO: Its funny, how you can never trigger the same emotion, and people always can tell which one is the first piece.

VA: And that is also about these wire rings. How I was trying to translate Allan Mccollum work into the jewellery. That was for me very important, that sometimes I make jewellery by hand, and it fits really good, and it works like a drawing or something and I want to do same thing second time and it was not possible, because the nod was in the wrong place, or the proportion was not working… It happens often especially with drawing, making the same drawing the second time is not possible. To remake an oil painting is maybe simpler.

This interview was conducted in 2010 as a part of B. Design thesis ‘Do Not Wait to Act if You’re Ready’, published in 2011


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