Some answers, many more questions. Peter Bauhuis interviewed by Marietta Kontogianni

Published: 15.12.2017
Peter Bauhuis Peter Bauhuis
Marietta Kontogianni
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Peter Bauhuis. Set: Chains and Flowers, 2017. Photo by: Peter Bauhuis. Peter Bauhuis
Set: Chains and Flowers, 2017
Photo by: Peter Bauhuis
© By the author. Read Copyright.

An inspiring conversation with one of the most prominent artist in the contemporary jewellery field. A gifted person who always stays curious and amazes everyone.

Ελληνική έκδοση - Greek version      View / hide description

The German artist Peter Bauhuis, is one of the most prominent and internationally renowned authors of the contemporary jewelry field. Former professor for almost a decade at Alchimia, Contemporary Jewellery School in Florence, Italy, he is a much sought-after guest professor and lecturer in universities and institutions around the world.

Interviewing him was like a journey in a whole new world where amazing things are happening that I had to discover. Peter Bauhuis is a gifted person. In my opinion his gift is to ask questions with the innate curiosity of a child and the maturity of an adult. Questions that intrigue the mind and make one want to research, to ask more questions, to find one of the possible answers, to learn new things, to open up a new window to the awareness, and to broaden one’s horizons. Personally speaking, after interviewing Peter Bauhuis I feel that my way of seeing, thinking and perceiving things has changed and that I am not the same person as I was before.

- Mr Bauhuis, you visited Athens Greece as a guest artist of Athens Jewelry Week 2017. You showed your work and you gave a lecture at the Benaki Museum Piraeus annexe. Your lecture was called: Armillaria, Arithmeticians and other Amazements. I felt that it was like an invitation to open your cabinet of curiosities*, the one in the landing page of your website, and explore your world. How would you describe this world of yours in a few words?
Though my metal work appears to be immediate, it is yet embedded in discourses that determine its perception, meaning and function. Things are interconnected, and for sure my things are.
In my exhibitions Armillaria in London and Melbourne and Thesaurus in Munich I have been showing a multitude of links and connections. Similarities of thoughts and forms create a network between thinking and making. I try to link my work with stories and thoughts from various fields like mathematics, biology and archaeology. Also, the lecture was a very personal cabinet of wonder in praise of the special, with amazement for the peculiar – and of course many pieces of jewellery.

Hallimasch (Armillaria Mellea). Photo © Peter Bauhuis.

- Armillaria is your favourite mushroom. One can find it in every page of your website and is a source of inspiration for you. There is a whole series of jewelry called Armillaria, inspired by the forms of this mushroom. Why is this particular mushroom so important to you? What does it symbolize and how does it inspire your work?
I use the Armillaria mushroom not so much as a source of inspiration. It is more an analogy to the multitude of things that I see and find and deal with and how these are all connected.
Armillaria (actually Armillaria Mellea) is the Latin name for the Honey Fungus - a species of fungus that forms a huge and invisible underground network. When we see its fruits popping up here and there, we call them mushrooms. No one would realise that they are interconnected, and yet that is what determines the organism as such.
The mushroom image provides a felicitous analogy for an interconnectedness of things that is not immediately visible. It serves as a metaphor for my work, which might often appear as a collection of disparate objects: jewellery and other metalwork, books, drawings, archaeological installations.

Albert, Kurt, Isaac, Muhamad, Leonhard, Adam. 6 pendants, silver, gold, copper, bronze, 2013.
Photo © Peter Bauhuis.

-Arithmeticians and the Knot theory are two other sources of inspiration for you. You even name your jewelry after renowned mathematicians. What does arithmetic operations and jewelry have in common?
These series of works are linked to topology and knot theory which are fields of mathematics. They deal with three dimensions and where things are found in a defined space. It is what topology shares with sculpture in general and jewellery in specific.
The necklaces and rings from the series Orifice and Mathematicians that all deal with holes and surface are results of those analogue conclusions.
I found it rather consequent to name some of the pendants with the names of well known mathematicians: Albert, René, Muhamad, Emmy, Blaise, etc.
All of the pieces are hollow shapes and need at least one hole. It is the threshold between inside and outside. What happens on its edge? What is outside, what within? What is surface? What is content?

Corinthian Bronze, Nordic Gold 2 vessels 2017, ø 7 x 14,5 cm.
Photo © Peter Bauhuis

-Your exhibition at SCHMUCK 2017 with Biro Gallery was called Thesaurus. Nordic Gold, Corinthian Bronze and I read that your favourite technique to work with is the lost wax. Also in AJW you showed some pieces from your series Outis, a name that comes from Homer’s Odyssey. Are you getting inspired from ancient Greece too?
Of course I enjoy a lot to go to museums and see the work of colleagues from historic and pre-historic times. I take a great pleasure from this. But inspiration comes more indirectly. All things I see and digest are sedimenting to a mixture from where new ideas can derive from. This can be the occupation with ancient Greece as well as the mesh of experiences with artists, friends, colleagues, books, films, exhibitions, excursions into the internet as well as walking in the mountains.

Outis, brooch, gold 600.
Photo © Peter Bauhuis.

The thesauros was the treasure house of the ancient Greeks. A thesaurus is a dictionary, a treasure of words, a collection of references. It is a play with words and content. Language takes an important role.
Another connection to Ancient Greece you find indeed in the title for the pieces that were shown at AJW: Outis. A series of work that refers to the Odyssey and the one-eyed Polyphemos. Odysseus named himself Outis meaning Nobody. I gave this name to my works. Is it an act of disidentification to wear these brooches?
Corinthian Bronze is the title and the metal of vessel objects from 2017. It is a compound of gold and silver mixed with bronze. I like its story – it is said when the Romans sieged and burnt down the city of Corinth (146 BC), all golden jewellery, all silver table ware, and all bronze statues melted together to form this new metal.
Already Pliny the elder unmasked this narration in his famous Naturalis Historia as fake news. (This even adds another chapter to the tale.)

ABECEDARIUM Jewel.Vessel.Implement. Peter Bauhuis, 2012. Arnoldsche Art Publishers, Stuttgart.
Photo © Peter Bauhuis

-You create jewelry and vessels. Is jewelry a vessel metaphorically speaking? And what does it contain?
If I create vessels, it does not say necessarily something about jewellery, do you ask for a definition of jewellery?
Recently I was asked for my perception of jewellery. I have no simple answer, but I already did an attempt with my book Abecedarium. 238 keywords, texts and images can give an impression of my ideas about jewellery, but there are still many more facets to it.

-I read in Gallery So website:  “traces left by the casting process, are not removed but are integrated into the form of the objects”. 
And in Gallery Loupe website: “The tactile surfaces of his jewelry and vessels are rough and uneven, revealing the ghosts of the wax models that gave them life”.
What role does imperfection play in your creative process? 
Who defines perfection, what is it?
I would describe my proceeding as a constant dialogue with the materials and the processes I use. Therefore it is logical for me to work with the realities and necessities of the used techniques and utilize also what others would call mistakes. I do not hide work steps or polish surfaces. There is a high level of perfection in the work because the results are achieved through the process and are not being arbitrarily manipulated afterwards. That also means that I can’t cheat, every piece has to be prepared perfectly in wax before the cast, as afterwards there is no possibility to modify or alter the work.

-Do you like your jewelry to be worn literally and metaphorically speaking or to be treated as not to be touched works of art of high value?
Can wearable jewellery not be treated as work of art of high value? Is there a border between the two? Is it to be defined? Do we have to?
Jewellery needs a strong relation to the body and the situation of wearing.
Work and wearer are in the most direct contact, they are in physical correlation.
Pieces can be worn and still they have another life when they are not and they are around people on tables, shelves, in boxes. It is good if they can persist their quality in that state, too.

K6 (Chains and Flowers) Chain chained object, 2017. Silver, 12 x 10 x 23 cm.
Photo © Peter Bauhuis.

-Your latest exhibition at Gallery Loupe was entitled Chains and Flowers, chained and unchained. I read an excerpt of the Munich Art Critic Heinz Schütz review of your work:
"The title Chains and Flowers, chained and unchained, alludes to a transformational process by which a necklace is born of a plant-like gold structure. To make jewelry of chained oval links, Bauhuis crafted molds whose individual parts resemble orbital trajectories that, taken as a whole, suggest trees and flowers. The unchaining liberates this chain from its existence as a cast orbital plant, transforming it into a necklace."

Chains and Flowers. K7 necklace, silver. Lena wearing the unchained chain.
Photo © P
eter Bauhuis.

-This amazing and so intriguing works of art that are in the same time sculptures and jewelry, arise many questions in my mind.
  • Why did you want to put the potential buyers of this works of yours in such a dilemma: keep the sculpture as it is or break it and transform it into a piece of jewelry?
  • Who do you think will decide to break the sculpture to liberate the chain and to wear it as a necklace around his neck?
  • Does the act of unchaining the chain allude to a new bondage since there will be no sculpture anymore after the liberation of the chain but a single piece of jewelry intended to be worn only as a necklace? In other words, does the liberation of the chain, enchain the wearer?
As all these questions arise I see that Chains and Flowers seem to work.
Maybe there are even some more (questions).

Peter Bauhuis Cabinet of Curiosity. ARMILLARIA SCA Gallery, University of Sydney, 2015.
Photo © Peter Bauhuis.

-You seem to have a synthetic way of thinking. I read at Alchimia blog, what you said earlier yourself, that in your shows you combine mathematics, words, images, objects, jewelry and vessels and you create a whole new world. In the same time you narrate a story to the viewer. How important is story-telling in the creation field, particularly in the jewelry field?
Naturally, jewellery is always linked to a story (or a concept / a will / a plan). When pre-historic hunters wore a bear tooth, they told a story about their power, when an American employee gives an engagement ring to his bride-elect he talks about his affection but also about salary. Of course, every narration is connected to their particular society, its respective members are able to listen and understand the tale.
Artistic jewellery tells more subtle stories and cannot be read so easily, as each artist defines the code himself and sets his work into a specific discourse. Yet the mere existence of a story cannot be the only criterion for quality. The question is: Which relevance does it get for viewer and wearer? Is it a good story?

-You were a professor at Alchimia contemporary jewelry school of Florence.  What was the advice you had always given your students? 
I was teaching for about ten years at Alchimia. If you ask my former students they would probably tell you that there was never the advice always given, some might even have desperately missed it. Jewellery (and life) is a bit more complicated. Instead of teaching the real and only truth, I prefer to support students to find their own and tell them: Be aware, be curious, and be amazed.

-What are your next plans regarding your work?
Be curious and you will be amazed.

* cabinet of curiosity:

About the Interviewee

Peter Bauhuis‘ work consists of jewellery and objects. But a lot of his oeuvre is not limited to these genres. He conceives exhibitions challenging the beholder as both exhibit and exhibition concept are autonomous artwork. Also, his numerous books must be seen as independent art productions and are part of a network of making and its perception.

Peter is born in Germany and lives and works in Munich. Being trained as a jeweller, Peter studied at the Munich Academy for Fine Arts and finished with the prestigious title „Meisterschüler“. Since 1999 Bauhuis showed his work in exhibitions worldwide and won numerous awards and prizes, ultimately in 2013 the highly esteemed prize of International Silver Triennial in Hanau, Germany. His work can be seen in public collections in Europe, the USA and Australia. For 10 years Peter taught at Alchimia, Contemporary Jewellery School in Florence, Italy. He is a much sought-after guest professor and lecturer in universities and institutions around the world.

About the author

Marietta Kontogianni is a Greek journalist based in Athens.
In April 2016 she founded JEWELRYbox Magazine on Facebook that aims to network with the people involved in the jewelry world. She has been working as a journalist for more than 20 years in newspapers, magazines and TV channels. Meanwhile, she had been creating fashion beaded jewelry herself. When the newspaper she was working for since 1995 bankrupted, she decided to found the bilingual (Greek-English) FB magazine
JEWELRYbox to keep on working as a journalist and to express her passion for jewelry.
Up to now, she interviewed almost all of the prominent artists that showed their works in Athens and attended all the lectures given by the renowned artists/ gallerists, curators in Athens since 2016.
Moreover, her
JEWELRYbox Magazine was a media sponsor of both Greek jewelry platforms: A Jewel Made in Greece 2017 and Athens Jewelry Week 2017. Her future plan is to have a website built dedicated mainly to the Greek jewelry world.