Bernhard Schobinger: Words on the book The Rings of Saturn

Article  /  Artists   Arnoldsche   Essays
Published: 08.11.2014
Bernhard Schobinger Bernhard Schobinger
Bernhard Schobinger
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This text is included in the book Bernhard Schobinger: The Rings of Saturn, published in 2014 by Arnoldsche Art Publishers. Schobinger writes a letter answering and commenting the foreword text written by Florian Hufnagl on the same publication. The book is based on an overview of nearly all the rings that Bernhard Schobinger has created over the last 45 years. It is conceived as a reference work and documents nearly half a century of the design and creative power of this Swiss artist.
Dear Florian,
I gratefully acknowledge your text, although perforce shortened into a foreword, and it represents a welcome pretext for me to add some personal comments to it for the purpose of revision. Basically speaking, complex things cannot be represented without the loss of essential aspects, which is why I should like to go into some points more deeply.
                You call me a Wild Man and I have nothing against that because, in a statement I made in a 1986 catalogue, I related myself to that, but not just that; there is also a researcher in me who is tracking down the Wild Man, hence setting off a problem, namely that of the simultaneity of subject and object, observer and observed united in one and the same person.
                Quotation: ‘His life comes close to Zen Buddhist ideals whereas his work is still shaped by the “Zurich is burning” youth and student revolt.’ Rebuttal: In the reality of my life, life and work have never been worlds apart but rather a unit; everything lived through and experienced has a close connection with work. So if my life ‘comes close to Zen Buddhist ideals’, as you write (what, in your opinion, are those ideals?), they would of necessity also have to be expressed in the work, here in particular through the philosophy and aesthetic of wabi and sabi and also through Koan writings, which in turn reveal astonishing parallels with Dada as well as Arte Povera, traditions with which I have always been on very familiar terms. In the West, Zen has already declined into the lifestyle product of a decadent upper class, far from its quintessence: zazen, concentration without thinking, seated lingering in sulek-burcu-emptiness-2015 and anchored in the Heart Sūtra, in Japanese Hannya-Shin-gyō. ‘In sulek-burcu-emptiness-2015 there is no knowledge and no attainment since there is nothing to be attained.’
                A well-known concomitant phenomenon of Zen Buddhism is lack of respect for authority and conventional notions of value, as has been handed down through the centuries in countless anecdotes by patriarchs and monks and which can be traced back to the last exhortation uttered by Buddha kyamuni: ‘You are the light; do not rely on others, rely only on yourself’, and at this juncture, too, there would be the beginning of a rapprochement with what you, in my opinion, mistakenly, called a ‘youth and student revolt’: an anti-authoritarian reflex and the questioning of claims to power.
                What is subsumed under the heading ‘Zurich is burning’ and is called a ‘youth and student revolt’ is a cliche for the contemptuous way the bourgeois press wrote about the Zurich youth unrest. In reality, it was a protracted and exhausting culture war, the revolt of the ‘culture corpses’ against a sclerotic Establishment, triggered off by the so-called Opera House rioting, which was the final straw and spread from Zurich to other cities in Switzerland, Germany and as far as Britain. Those events had nothing to do with a student rebellion; confusion with 1968 is obvious. On the contrary, elite academic circles out of touch with the real world distanced themselves from it except for the ethnologists, whose professor was fired from the university because of his solidarity. The whole thing called itself ‘moving’ (movement) and Züri brännt [Zurich is Burning] is the title of a cult film produced by the movement (Video Shop) on their own initiative, an absolutely essential document and memorable work of art.
                The opinion that my work ‘is still shaped’ by the above events is in principle not right, nor are the works of Fischli-Weiss, Pippilotti Rist, Martin Disler and other Zurich artists shaped by them: it was not the artists who were shaped by the rebellion but the rebellion that was shaped by the artists.
                You go on to write: ‘And thus Bernhard Schobinger has concentrated thematically on the ring ever since he decided to leave the conventional paths to making jewellery.’ It would be interesting to know where Prof. Hufnagl would put the exact moment that set in. The question is answered by the chronology of objects in the present book in so far as only the genuine works, beginning with the first independently made ring (1967), are included in it. Finishing my apprenticeship and embarking on self-employment in October 1968 already marked the end of the conventional way. As far as the break with Constructivist art is concerned, on the other hand, this was, with all due respect, instead an attempt to break out of a space that felt more and more claustrophobic. What triggered off that ‘apostasy’ was, among other things, contact with Franz Eggenschwiler, an artist who was a friend of mine, and the social and aesthetic paradigm shift brought about by punk music since 1976.
                The works that were produced within the space of two years as if in a fit of sheer recklessness, which were shown for the first time at the above-mentioned 1978 exhibition at Museum Bellerive and at that time were exposed to the most vociferous hostility from all sides because they infringed taboos, have ultimately turned out to have shaped styles for subsequent generations down to the present day, which is easy to recognise over the course of history.
                Despite my close ties with the city of Zurich, to the Applied Arts School, to the birthplace of both Dada and Concrete art, and considering my far-flung personal network of relationships, the impression that my horizons are confined to Zurich would be false. In fact I commuted in the early 1980s between Zurich, London, New York and Berlin, the focal points of a new awareness and its new forms of expression. From each of those cities I brought home suitcases bursting with ‘trophies’ and my head and heart full of adventure from which many objects have emerged, such as Shards from Moritzplatz, from shards of Coca Cola bottles and shattered television tubes, now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, USA. At that time I was living with a friend at 20 Maybachufer, not far from the Kottbus Gate and Moritzplatz, a dreary, run-down dead end in Kreuzberg located right at the Berlin Wall, and not far from the legendary SO36.
                But why am I going on about all that? Anyone who has experienced it knows this.
Most sincerely yours,
Zurich, 11 ⁄ 2013

About the author

Bernhard Schobinger (winner of the Grand Prix Design 2007) is one of the most provocative, critical and artistically inspiring contemporary jewellery artists. He has revolutionised his profession. Through the eschewal of traditional jewels, he deprives jewellery of its function as a status symbol, making it a tool of expression within a universal critical language.