Lisa Walker & Karl Fritsch. New Zealand Tour

Article  /  Artists
Published: 15.11.2006
Lisa Walker & Karl Fritsch. New Zealand Tour.
Kate Ewing
Edited by:
A Treasury of New Zealand Craft Resources Trust
Edited at:
Auckland: A Treasury of New Zealand Craft Resources Trust, 2001

(...) Their work is as much provocative and challenging to a maker of jewellery such as myself as it is to a wearer. (...)
Lisa Walker and Karl Fritsch are two jewellers who have studied at the Munich Art Academy, Germany. Walker is a New Zealander completing her sixth year at the Academy under the professorship of Otto Künzli.

Fritsch finished there in the mid nineties having studied with both Künzli and his predecessor, Hermann Junger. The two are now married and have a 2yr old son called Max. The main sponsorship for their NZ tour came from the Goethe Institute, which made it possible for them to exhibit both at the Dowse Art Gallery and at Fingers Gallery in Auckland. They held slide lectures and Fritsch taught casting workshops in the jewellery departments of two New Zealand teaching establishments.

Both these jewellers' work is characterised by a new attitude to jewellery making - one of uninhibited experimentation. There is a complete lack of any egocentric, design orientated approach to their work. Instead there is one which focuses more on their obvious passionfor materials and in creating space for the nature of those materials to speak to us in a new way. Their work is as much provocative and challenging to a maker of jewellery such as myself as it is to a wearer. On the surface Walker's work is funny and playful while at the same time there is an undercurrent of necessity there; a personal journey that needs to be travelled. She bravely uses unconventional materials and techniques and in so brings contemporary jewellery into a new age. In Karl Fritsch's work there are so many powerful juxtapositions that one loses count. It is both old and new, clever and simple, ugly and beautiful, serious and silly, valuable and junky. Both of these jewellers' work questions the role of jewellery in our lives and in the world, pushing boundaries and breaking the conventions we had not identified until they were threatened in this vital way.

Lisa Walker began her jewellery making career in 1988 when she enroled in a 2 year 'Craft Design Certificate' at Dunedin Polytechnic. These courses gave an introduction to a broad range of materials and craft practices. Their emphasis was on creative development rather than the technique based training given in the trade and industry sector.
Walker's experience of having grown up in New Zealand and beginning her career in this way, is clearly evident in her work. Not because she employs any of the usual Pacific motifs via our natural materials, but rather because of her ability to create, among other things, modern day, tongue-in-cheek Kiwiana. Her work is reminiscent of the New Zealand tradition of tinkering with DIY (do-it-yourself) carpentry and model train sets in the back shed, and creating intricate home crafts for the local church fair. Usually in jewellery you would find hard (wearing) materials but here there are threads, rubber bands, wood doweling, nails, beads, sequins, glue, tape, and leather; the list goes on. She expresses an absolute passion for 'stuff'. There may be nothing surprising in any New Zealanders' deployment of such an eclectic array of hobby craft materials, but there is something distinctly new when a contemporary jeweller, studying in Europe's most prestigious jewellery class, does so. This use of non-archival materials firmly challenges the idea that good art must not only last forever, but must also maintain its' original condition. Certainly for most contemporary jewellers, the permanence and durability of their work is of the utmost importance. Walker's challenge of this habitual constraint makes her work doubly upsetting to many.

Walker has daringly taken another step in breaking the codes of the 'craft' by utilising prefabricated objects, altering them only slightly by drawing on their surface or attaching findings to make them wearable. A soft suede elbow patch is gathered at one end onto a safety pin and transformed into a mussel shell-like brooch. A machine embroidered jeans-patch of a longhaired terrier, stares defiantly from its new position as a contemporary badge. Comparisons may be made here with the world’s experience of Duchamp’s ready-mades- where he would purchase an item and alter it only slightly, before exhibiting it. He described these works as ready-mades aided. What has followed in the years since Duchamp first showed his ready-mades in the 1920's, is a debate over whether the act of choosing such items and re-contextualising them has any valid artistic merit. This argument misses Duchamp's point, which was to subvert high arts' claim of uniqueness and originality. Walker and Fritsch would find support in Duchamp's claim that "since the tubes of paint used by artist are manufactured and readymade products we must conclude that all the paintings in the world are ready-mades aided." When physically experiencing the work of Duchamp, one perceives something beyond just the prefabricated object. The pieces exude a certain energy, brought about by his handling of these objects and the way in which he has chosen to make his mark on them.

Karl Fritsch also manages to breathe new life into existing objects with his use of second-hand commercially manufactured jewellery. He buys pre-loved jewellery pieces that are broken and being sold for scrap and reworks them or "fixes" them until he feels happy with their new forms. Using wax he makes additions to the pieces, mending joins or filling empty settings, then melts the wax away replacing it with gold or silver using the casting process. The old is "helped" to become new. At first glance these pieces are comfortably familiar, with the main structure having been produced using a global aesthetic, but then one must look again as something wonderfully different is at play. The bland prettiness has been rudely disrupted. Out of the filigree protrudes a phallus. Over the well-finished surfaces there are blobs and dribbles. Settings ooze and joints bulge. The material seems to invade the form, taking on a life of it's own, seemingly free from it's creator's hand. Cleverly this work manages to confront two major aesthetics in the jewellery world. Firstly the banal, mass-produced aesthetic is questioned for it's lack of individuality. And secondly, jewellery which is beautifully finished and laboriously crafted is proven to be not the singular most effective way to treat these materials with integrity. Fritsch says about this work "a position is built, challenging the compulsion to design and the conventions of commercial and crafty jewellery. So as one always has to get rid of unnecessary burdens, here too, the gold overcomes these old preconceptions and demands, and gains new qualities."

During Fritsch's slide lectures he told of his early years at the Academy in the late eighties, under the professorship of Herman Jünger. After Herman had seen a piece of Fritsch's which had a brown lumpy surface and an "un-jewellery like" shape, but which declared itself still to be jewellery via a large gem protruding from it's surface, he said "we don't do that kind of thing here". Jünger is famous internationally for having brought jewellery into the contemporary realm. His surface treatment of gold and silver is breathtakingly beautiful. Fritsch's use of the casting method, a technique usually relegated to the mass-production trade, and his frequent decision to leave the surface of the metal untouched must have been most challenging. At this stage in his career Fritsch thought his work could only be described as anti-aesthetic, a revolt against the "beauty" that had become the norm at the academy. But in actuality he was developing his own style - grounded in the old but moving beyond the constraints of the classically beautiful.

In all cultures one of jewellery's major functions is to attract. In Fritsch's work we are exposed to the interesting phenomena of how the ugly and unusual can capture our attention just as effectively as something we may experience as classically beautiful. Since the 60's artists have played with the attraction/repulsion response in the human spirit questioning our need to classify and judge things either good or bad, and from what basis these judgements may stem. But here it seems utterly appropriate to be exploring this dichotomy via a medium, which for centuries has been used as a tool for attraction and declaration of wealth.

Whether one chooses to pass a good or bad judgement on Walker's and Fritsch's work, there is no doubt that it will have caused a response at least, and this in a world of ever increasing sameness from which the heart of our creativity is rarely inspired, is of immense value. We should not be without admiration for jewellers such as these who put their energies into challenging themselves, always taking time to stop and ask the big questions, while the rest of us reap the benefits of our craft being carried so buoyantly over the threshold of a new century.

1. Marcel Duchamp: The Portable Museum - Bonk, Ecke, Thomas & Hudson, London, 1989, pg.84.
2. Karl Fritsch - exhibition statement, Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, 2001.


About Kate Ewing.
I am a jeweller living in the Coromandel, New Zealand. I wrote this article in 2001 when working as a web administrator for the Treasury of New Zealand Craft Resources Trust, housed at that time at the Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt. . Karl and Lisa's work inspired me a great deal and I felt it necessary to discuss their work in a wider forum. Their work at that time was controversial which made wonderful breading grounds for discussion. 
Karl Fritsch. Brooch: Untitled, 1993-95. Dauerleihgabe der Danner-Stiftung, München
. Foto: George Meister. Karl Fritsch
Brooch: Untitled, 1993-95
Dauerleihgabe der Danner-Stiftung, München
Foto: George Meister
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Karl Fritsch. Ring: Untitled, 2005. Silver oxidized black, sapphires & copper. Karl Fritsch
Ring: Untitled, 2005
Silver oxidized black, sapphires & copper
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Lisa Walker. Piece: Untitled, 1997-2003. Diverse. Foto: George Meister. Lisa Walker
Piece: Untitled, 1997-2003
Foto: George Meister
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Lisa Walker. Brooch: Untitled, 2005. Rubber, thread, gold. Lisa Walker
Brooch: Untitled, 2005
Rubber, thread, gold
© By the author. Read Copyright.