Les Liaisons ambiguës. How Could Ambiguity Be Future-oriented?

Published: 17.04.2017
Makiko Akiyama Makiko Akiyama
Makiko Akiyama
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Spoon - Glasses Chain by Bernhard Schobinger, 2013. Silver, steel, glass, acrylic, Sonia with Saw Cross, 1988, photograph on Baryta paper.
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Spoon - Glasses Chain by Bernhard Schobinger, 2013. Silver, steel, glass, acrylic, Sonia with Saw Cross, 1988, photograph on Baryta paper.

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Jewelry, in a sense, is an object of relationship. A relationship with a wearer, viewers, history, and culture, to name but a few. And jewelry relates to these people and things in a variety of ways. Some could be explicit, but others could be ambiguous.


日本語版 - Japanese version      View / hide description

That’s what came to my mind when I first learned that Swiss jewelry artist Bernhard Schobinger would be participating in a group show called Les Liaisons ambiguës (an ambiguous connection or relationship) alongside French painter Anne Laure Sacriste and Berlin-based artist Nile Koetting.

The show was held from December 21, 2016 to February 26, 2017 and was hosted at the Ginza Maison Hermès Le Forum , an exhibition space within Hermès Japon’s headquarters building. Each of the three loosely divided exhibition rooms was allocated to one artist. Schobinger’s work was the first to await me as I stepped into the space on the eighth floor. The first piece was a small group of cannon balls enclosed in a glass case on the floor, which led to jewelry pieces put on view using various methods of display; some used vitrines or pedestals while others were hung from the ceiling. The works were all made during the period between 1980 and 2016 and amounted to 58 pieces in total.

Bernhard Schobinger, Cannon Balls, Medieval, iron.  © By the author. Read Copyright.

Exhibition view: Bernhard Schobinger’s room.  © By the author. Read Copyright.

As I followed wall corners decked with studs and safety pins, I walked into Nile Koetting’s room. His work was an installation entitled Sustainable Hours. The artist observed the human being in modern society as a thing that feels. Incorporating humidified and ionized air as well as a background audio of lyrics from classic punk, this installation predominantly consisted of the latest models of various home electrical appliances such as a diffuser and a speaker. An overhead solar panel installed as an on-site power supply enabled these replaceable products to be self-sustaining for the duration of the exhibition, while the flat voice of a living person continued to echo, relentlessly insisting that our future is ‘no future’. Here, human senses separated from their bodily owner, floating idly in the air to form a transparent body image.


Nile Koetting, Susutainable Hours, 2016, sound, humidified air, ionized ar, scents(Petrichor), Wi-Fi signal, solar generated electricity, light, studs, safety pins, texts from punk music of all ages.  © By the author. Read Copyright.

Heading back and going past Schobinger’s room led me to Anne Laure Sacriste’s room, which was filled with sunshine entering through a glass-block wall. Sacriste’s room-sized installation entitled La Bataille de San Romano (The Battle of San Romano) brought together a Japanese garden and a 15-century painting bearing the same name. In Sacriste’s version, the bustle of the battle was gone and minimalized into metal poles reminiscent of the vertical spears in the painting. Additionally, a sheet of black glass with stones and turtles on top was placed on the floor and portrayed a quiet water surface. These abstractions signified the dual transition that occurred in the artist’s interpretation – from two dimensions to three dimensions, and from an animated to a static world. It simultaneously changed the viewer’s perspective: a painting requires a face-to-face viewing while an installation offers a spatial experience. Across the room, large pieces of curtain fabric taken from an old French castle had been made into two towering flags and placed against a wall as another historical reference.

Anne Laure Sacriste, La Bataille de San Romano, 2016, mixed media.  © By the author. Read Copyright.

All of these works were juxtaposed to investigate the relationship between artwork and the body. Although the three artists vary in terms of their artistic discipline, style, and age, they were all loosely connected not only thematically but also visually. For this, Schobinger certainly performed a primary role because his leitmotif of punk culture overlaps with Koetting and a reference to Japanese culture coincides with Sacriste. These common interests were manifested in the structure of the exhibition and helped to seamlessly connect the three artists.
One way to discuss Schobinger’s work in regard to an ambiguous relationship might be to examine the emotions felt by the wearer. Just imagining yourself trying on any of the exhibits might help. For example, how would you feel if you put a pendant made from a broken toilet directly on your body? How about the moment when you learn that a real Akoya pearl is embedded within its surface? What kind of emotions will arise when a necklace linking images imbued with the memory of someone sits around your neck? The wearer must experience a surge of wavering emotion, which is the moment at which his/her preconceived ideas about jewelry are called into question. I think this fluctuating moment could be more easily triggered by Schobiniger’s work due to the duality that is present in his work – there is a notion of destruction behind his creation, in which he often combines materials of no value with precious metals or stones and carefully assembles objects he has found with the precise craftsmanship of a goldsmith. All these contradicting facets within a single work put the wearer and viewer alike in a position where a clear-cut dichotomy completely loses its power. This wavering emotion at play could be an ambiguity that is somehow future-oriented because it is suffused with the potential for a new set of values to grow within the wearer.

Bernhard Schobinger, Amethyst on a Pin Ring, 2011, amethyst, white gold 750. 
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Bernhard Schobinger, Bottleneck Saw Blade Necklace Okinawa II, 2013, glass, saw blades, stainless steel.  © By the author. Read Copyright.


About the author

Makiko Akiyama
. Writer and translator. Born in 1979 in Osaka, Japan. In 2013 launched a newsletter for Japanese readers featuring translated articles about art jewelry. Contributing writer for klimt02, Current Obsession, Art Jewelry Forum, and Norwegian Crafts.