an interview to Peter Bauhuis by Lavinia Rossetti
LAVINIA: Peter, in all your projects, like Hallimasch (2014) or the Gallium Treasure (2011), you create a whole world around your pieces, they tell a story. Why is it so important for you?
PETER: Story-telling is one of the things we can do with jewelry. And jewelry is always linked to stories. The exhibitions you mentioned show two different aspects of my work with regards to this. In the Hallimasch exhibition you read a variety of stories, the pieces are complemented with narrations and images. A multitude of links and connections, true and false information, similarities of thoughts and forms create a wide network of associations and this is always somehow linked to the pieces.
In the Gallium project the pieces and the story are completely interwoven into one narration. This one is so strong that the pieces are no longer in focus, while the exhibition as a whole becomes one piece questioning our perception of jewelry and the way we are used to see it in show cases, and how we believe in institutions having the power of explaining the work.
Both shows however play with the idea and presentation of a classic wunderkammer museum.
L: You create a dialogue between the pieces and all the research you build around them. Has this always been a core element of your conceptual approach?
P: It was always there: from the time I finished the Academy books were part of my shows. They contain inspiration and perception, images and poems, cooking recipes,… (e.g. Ding, 2001). With Hallimasch I was trying to combine all of these aspects and interests in one show and thus create a whole new narration.
It is also about experimenting. You learn new things about your own work by seeing how others look at it. At times somebody who has seen one of my exhibitions comes up to me and says things like: “ Wow, it’s really clever how you combine this and that…”, possibly referring to a combination I hadn’t intentionally planned – but of course it exists.
L: When I think about your work, the cabinets of curiosity emerge in my mind, the wunderkammer, which is also a frequent topic you address.
P: There is a common ground between the wunderkammer and the way in which I think and work. It is this sense of amazement towards many things whether they pertain to culture or to nature…My work and the display formats of the wunderkammer follow a similar track. The astonishment about how the world is one of the driving forces to my work, and how it tries to make emerge something about its peculiarity.
L: You are charmed by collections in general. Do you collect? And what kind of information do you keep in your archive?
P: Actually I am not a collector. I think of myself more as a keeper. Collecting somehow implies searching for something. In my case, it’s more that things come to me and I keep them. Sometimes I keep things, and often it is information. Interesting is to look at the process (or condition) that allows you to be open and thus to find things.
L: You make jewelry and vessels, also big scale vessels, and you conduct conceptual research with an almost scientific approach. How do you define yourself? A jewelry maker, a sculptor, a scientist?
P: I am a jeweler and yes, also a sculptor.
L: Did you study to become a goldsmith?
P: I am trained as a goldsmith, yes.
L: But you decided to change something…
P: I have never had the feeling that I changed something. I started with a technical training then went on into the artistic field. I see this as a development. I was always interested in many things. I did my training in Hanau to learn goldsmithing, drawing and designing, then I worked in a classical jewellery studio. I was realizing ambitious stuff, very well made, with big stones. I learned a lot technically but I also acquired a good attitude towards the quality of making. Then I started the Academy, expanding possibilities.
L: What motivated your turn from classical jewelry making to a more conceptual one?
P: It is not enough to just make beautiful jewelry. But this is more an expansion than a turn.
L: If you had not become an artist what you would you have wanted to do? What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
P: When I was a child I never knew what to become. I’ve always wanted to do something that would provide me with various options. I was interested in making things with my hands and learning jewelry was one possibility – but I was pretty sure that I would study something else afterwards. To study at an Art Academy was a chance to combine options, doing not only jewelry, not only working with my hands.
L: How has your work evolved over time?
P: The funny thing is that when you look back at how things evolve it seems actually very logical and natural. Of course 20 years ago I would not have thought of the work I do today, but if I look retrospectively at the things I‘ve made in the past, this development does not look strange at all. For example I was always involved in making publications at school, like newspapers and magazines, even if there wasn’t a big public for it. Today I take a great pleasure in making books. This gives me the chance to publish work which is connected to my way of thinking (but maybe not so much to jewelry directly). I enjoyed making a small book that shows a chocolate bunny melting on a photo copying machine (On melting, 2006) and my ABECEDARIUM (2012) combines the materials involved in the process of finding and making of the last 15 years.
L: An important workshop you realized with your students centers on materials. It’s about experimenting on a material to understand its characteristics and to stretch its limits. I remember that I fell in love with my “unloved” material when I was your student. You always work with metal. Did you experiment with other materials in the past? Do you have a “loved” and “unloved” material?
P: In that context it seems strange that I basically only produce work in metal. But you can put it in another way: the result of my work is metal. But I work with wax. So that’s the magic of casting with the lost wax method: I have to create a wax model that then is transformed into metal. I was really bored with the usual adding method of soldering things together as a goldsmith and the work in wax offered me a chance to completely change the usual paths of the ‘construction’ work a conventional jeweler does.
L: Did you work with other materials besides metal?
P: Yes, during my studies I worked with carrot peel – an unexpected stable material (if you don’t let it get wet). I experimented with marble (too heavy), carob seeds (the origin of the carat weight), rubber, optical lenses, plaster – often related to more conceptual ideas.
L: Why do you think it is so important for students to venture away from metal and explore other materials?
P: It offers the chance to change the point of view and open up to other options. The students bring certain skills, with crafting metal or other experiences. To work with “other” materials can neutralize this experiences and routines and force them to start from scratch with something new and with a fresh perspective of and on the object and the process.
L: There are many conceptual exercises that you give to your students that are not directly related to jewelry: writing, video making, performing…Are there some exercises you still use to refresh your creativity?
P: Maybe not as many as I could do. This year I gave my students the assignment to do many, many drawings and I am also filling up a book with drawings of vessels from the first to the very last page. Now I have 300 drawings of vessels’ shapes scribbled in an unsatisfying crime novel, the sketches are very raw, but the process forced me to re-think the same shape, again and again. Whatever the outcome of this exercise, it helps me to understand shapes better and it is also a way of generating new forms.
Some of the exercises I assigned are very much related to my practice. Like the visit to the museum Stefano Bardini in Florence where students had to find new captions to the pieces, which means that they had to come up with a “new” historical context and meaning for those pieces. Another exercise was to invent stories with unrelated artifacts and make another piece acting as the “missing link” to make that story work. I try to offer the students different possibilities of working and of approaching the creative process.
L: Why your obsession for vessels?
P: Jewelry offers me the possibilities to think of precise shapes, forms and connections. The vessels give me a bigger screen for the simple reason that they have more surface, they have an inside and an outside and they are larger. When I work on vessels, I give more space to the necessary processes, and this fascinates me… and of course, there is the eternal idea of the container. Among the first things humans manufactured there were definitively vessels (and jewelry – by the way). Even when the vessel doesn’t contain anything, a lot is simply just there, in its potentiality.
L: In a way your jewelry pieces are small vessels than, because the elements of your chains or rings have an inside and an outside.
P: That’s a very important part of it. Some pieces are different, but for the most part they are very three-dimensional. As you say, what is really important for me is to take care and manifest that there is an inside an outside, a front and a back.
L: So maybe the jewels are not so different from the vessels…
P: They have different formal aspects but in fact they are both, in a way, hollow things, hollow beings.
L: You used to teach at Alchimia’s BFA program in the past, while you teach in the MFA program now. How has your approach changed?
P: The BFA’s second year is an experimentation program, it’s not so much about finding your personal language but more about learning and discovering as many ways as possible of creating, and on how to bring forward research in general.
During the MFA the program is more oriented towards the personal creative and conceptual development of each student. It’s about accompanying the students towards their own individual processes of creation. You could say that in the second year we worked on learning the language together, and in the MFA students start developing their own dialect.
So the approach, the topics and my relation to the students is very different, however some exercises remain similar.
One typical assignment is to make a piece of jewellery in one hour (or even shorter), the idea is to work very fast, that implies an intuitive approach and often gives very unexpected results (and it is a challenge to restore the sketchy quality later in carefully planned pieces).
Inspired from Matthew Barney early Drawing Restraint we worked with restricions , rules and plans, limiting the infinity of possibilities. I want students to discover their qualities, capacities and motivation and many of the exercises are intended to help the students to find out how to reach their individual resources.
L: What do you want your students to achieve?
P: I want them to be able to decide for themselves whether what they are doing is good or not. It is a lot about critique and self-critique – understanding what they are doing and what it means for themselves, and putting their work in correlation with the work of others, and art and culture in general (this is a big aim!).
I don’t know how you can train a good artist, nobody knows. All students bring a lot of capacity and people are what they are and everything is already there.
You can compare it to a room with no light. All is there. There is a table, there are chairs, there are books and shelves… by touching everything with your hands you will eventually get to know the whole room, but all of this can be faster if somebody can help you finding the light and switching it on…
L: You are the man of the light!
P: But I also don’t know that room… maybe the light switch is nearby the door, maybe not and we have to go on a search together. But I am definitely not the one who comes with a torch or a flash light – and it is not my task to bring in additional furniture into their room.
L: What I really appreciated from you as a teacher when I was your student is that you leave the students really free to find the light themselves, and in their own way.
P: Yes, it’s important because teaching is not like a circus where lions are jumping through a ring. This is not how I see teaching. Students themselves have to develop and I try to help and support them in that.
L: I would like to conclude by asking you if you have some advice for the new generation of jewelry makers.
P: Well…don’t give up!! You have to develop passion for the field. You have to be consistent and persistent, maybe even stubborn and stay with your ideas and than there is a good chance to succeed.
Peter Bauhuis lives and works in Munich, making jewellery, objects, books and exhibitions. He is professor at Alchimia since 2007, and currently tutors the first year of the Alchimia MFA program. Being trained as a jeweller at the Staatliche Zeichenakademie Hanau, Germany, Peter continued his studies at the Munich Academy for Fine Arts with Otto Künzli, class for Jewellery and Holloware. Since 1999 he works in his own studio and has exhibited widely. His work is represented in several public collections worldwide as Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim, Germany and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. He has been recognized by numerous awards and prizes, including in 2013 the prestigious prize of the International Silver Triannial in Hanau, Germany and in 2011 the Award of the Bavarian State. Peter has been guest teacher and lecturing at various schools and institutions in Europe, the USA and Australia.
Lavinia Rossetti is a jewelry artist based in Florence. She is a graduate of the Alchimia MFA program in jewelry making and body ornament and is about to open her first solo-show in March 2016 in Antwerp, Belgium.