In conversation with Marianne Schliwinski - beyond the wall of books

Interview  /  Artists   History
Published: 03.07.2015
In conversation with Marianne Schliwinski - beyond the wall of books.
Sanna Svedestedt
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Marianne Schliwinski. Photograph: Fixierte Bewegung – fixed movement, 1982. Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff. Marianne Schliwinski
Photograph: Fixierte Bewegung – fixed movement, 1982
Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff
© By the author. Read Copyright.

Wearability, also of a piece of jewellery, cannot be considered as something that does not change. Wearability can be learned and hence is also variable with regard to its dimension and function. Time and time again, new definitions of what is considered wearable and what is acceptable may arise. Questioning traditional definitions of functionality can be an intrinsic quality of jewellery.
An early morning during Schmuck Week 2015 I had the pleasure of talking to German jewellery artist Marianne Schliwinski at gallery Spektrum. Over an espresso at we flipped through the latest publication of Spektrum - Marianne Schliwinski: beyond the wall of books - a close to 400 pages thick compilation, depicting Schliwinski’s fifty years of working with jewellery.
- This book took us one year to make. Jürgen Eickhoff and I started with an idea to make a smaller book but I have made so much work over the years. This book doesn’t even show everything and there were a lot of pieces I couldn't include.
Our intention was to get all of the material together and show it as a line. I have been working in different ways but still, there is a line. Some people who only saw one catalogue and then see other pieces during exhibitions say “I don’t understand you - you are always making new things!” Often they are not open enough to try to get into it, see what it was and understand why I am working in this way now. So that was why I thought I have to get it all together in a book. It is also a good experiment to go deeper in your own work. Fifty years of working, that is a long time.
Fixed Movement
In beyond the wall of books the fifty years of work is divided into groups where each chapter start with a photo and a shorter text, speaking directly to the reader. One of the first projects that catch your eye is titled Fixed Movement. In 1982 Marianne Schliwinski was invited to a touring jewellery exhibition with the theme “rings”. In the book Marianne explains: “A ring, however, is for me not only something to put on a finger, but the term for a closed form, indicating an endless movement.”
- I was thinking about how to approach the subject. I remember how I used the hula hoop when I was young. I made a big iron ring-sculpture for three yellow and three red hula hoops. The red hula hoops had rubber bands going across, so you can stand in the middle, with the ring floating around you. I took photos of the hula hoop, one in motion and one fixed on the body. Both objects are frozen at a certain moment. I was thinking about “what is a photo?” It is only a moment. This was my first time working with photography. A publication was made for the exhibition and all the artists had two pages. These photos were my contribution.
Fixed Movement also deal with the topic of wearability, which Marianne Schliwinski describes in the book: “When I was a child, it was easy to play hula hoop. As an adult, I had to learn it again. Wearability, also of a piece of jewellery, cannot be considered as something that does not change. Wearability can be learned and hence is also variable with regard to its dimension and function. Time and time again, new definitions of what is considered wearable and what is acceptable may arise. Questioning traditional definitions of functionality can be an intrinsic quality of jewellery.”
Do you remember any reactions to the Fixed Movement project ?
- This was in 1982, and I think most people didn’t understand, what I was doing.
Did the other artists in the exhibition show traditional work?

- Not traditional, of course they tried to do modern rings. But it was still rings, you know.
Today Marianne Schliwinski divides her time between Spektrum in Munich and working in her studio in Italy.
- 26 years ago Jürgen and I had the luck to buy a house in a small village in Italy, 400 km from Munich. It is a farm house much bigger than our two room studio apartment we have in Munich. In the first years we only went there for holidays in the summer, but then we thought, why should we pay so much money for a studio in Munich when we have this wonderful place as well? The last years, Jürgen has been running the gallery. People still think that I am the gallerist as well because I am here at all the events. But I stopped being too involved with the gallery because I wanted to be able to focus more on my own work. I am getting older and I don’t have as much power as before.

Do you speak Italian?
- Solo un po… Not really, not enough. It is a very small village, and I am 70 years now and all the women around me are grandmothers. We don’t have children so therefore there is not so much communication. They know what we are doing and that we are a little bit of the “crazy artists”… but they don’t understand what we are doing. So there are no common grounds to really speak about. When I go to Padova, where there are many goldsmiths, I can speak better Italian than I do in our small village.

Gallery Spektrum was founded in 1981 by Marianne Schliwinski and Jürgen Eickhoff, showcasing jewellery, ceramics and glass. After the first year the couple decided to focus only on jewellery and in 2016 Spektrum celebrates its 35th anniversary.  
- We wanted to start on a very high level and after a short time we realized that you can’t do that with different types of crafts. To be able to do all that you need to be an organization, it takes a lot of funding. So we thought, jewellery we know, let’s do only that. In 1982 we also made our first catalogue, it was for an exhibition with Dutch artists. With a catalogue the exhibition lives beyond those weeks that it is on show. Remember, this was before the internet…
How has it been to combine both your own artistic work and working with the gallery?
- Oh, I had three to combine! I met Jürgen in 1976 and three months later we went to an international craft fair in Frankfurt for the first time. I had made a collection which was more traditional in gold and silver - but in my own way. We sold the pieces at the fair and quickly I got success with this stuff and I hired staff that could make it in the workshop. So I bought time for myself, because I wanted to do other things. We never showed these pieces in the gallery, I wasn’t hiding it but we didn’t want to have a gallery with a workshop behind the desk, where you take orders and make rings for the people coming through the door.
Designing the collections was not what I wanted to do my whole life but I had to do it to make money. I divided it into three parts - designing collections for the fair, taking care of the gallery and searching for new ways in my own work. It functioned somehow.
For how long did you design jewellery collections?
- We went to the fair for 22 years. Without going to the fair we could never had kept the gallery open. The jewellery designed for the fair paid for the gallery.
Did you find ideas in your artistic work that you could use in the commercial work?
- No, they were completely separate.

In 1964 Marianne Schliwinski had finished her degree as an insurance clerk to fulfil her mother wishes of securing a stable white collar job, but Marianne was longing for something else. During her studies she had visited the renowned German jeweller Hadfried Rinke, who showed her around his workshop. One year later Marianne started as an apprentice for Hadfried Rinke building her technical knowledge about jewellery making. She continued her studies with the masterclass for goldsmiths at the Municipal Vocational School for Building and Design in Munich where she in 1974 passed the Master - Craftsman examination as the best student in the state. In 1975 she was ready to set up her own workshop.
- 1978 there was a change in my work. Before I worked with different materials, from silver and gold I went for copper and silver. Copper was in this serie of works the dominating material.
In 1980 I had an exhibition with my first solo-catalogue. That was the step into finding my own way of working. At that time I thought the pieces were really big and heavy – nowadays you are used much bigger dimensions - but at that time they were considered heavy. I had to look for a material that allowed me to work bigger. My next series was pieces made in silver and plastic. I used Q-tips, they were very simple and strong in form and I could colour them in various shades. I started making much bigger piece, the silver was hollow and plastic light. Some of the pieces had movable parts so that the shape of the piece was modifiable.

Early on Marianne started incorporating installations in her working methods. During 1985 to 1987 she developed new work presented as the installation “...Or how I finally lost my heart. An anthology of the heart”.
- This was a period in my life when I read something about hearts every day. If you have a feeling for a word or a sentence, it will come to you all the time. I started writing all the sentences down and after some short time I had a collection of 150. So I thought “Ok, I must do something with it”. I started to think about a possible heart project but hearts are so awful, it is very difficult to do something interesting with it. I made big hearts in wood, three brooches, one object for the hand and one imaginary heart. I made a sarcophage and placed the hearts in that. The sarcophagus stood in a very small room. When you came in, you saw a heart painted with gold leaf on the white wall. On the floor there was this strange black tar paper that you use for roofs, so when you walked on the floor the tar paper made strange sounds but when you reached the showcase you could hear the sound of a heart. A friend of mine who is a musician had recorded my heartbeats. The crazy part was that when you went in, your heart tries to beat in the same rhythm as the heart sounds. On the wall you saw all these words that I had written down on an eight meter cardiogram from my own heart.
The powerful installation was described by writer and critic Christoph Blase in an issue of Art Aurea:
(...) And then you are disturbed once again. There is a crunching under your feet. The heart beats are drowned out. Each movement on the floor of tar paper destroys the atmosphere for a moment. you are guided by the loudspeaker, want to pick up the heart tone again, try to localize it and even find it, hidden in the showcase. And once again you stand in front of the row with the lost heart. This lost heart does not only appear in the title of the exhibition “...or how I finally lost my heart”, but also reveals itself as the centre to which you are drawn again and again. (...)
Marianne Schliwinski, “… or how I finally lost my heart. An anthology of the heart” 1985-87
              Installation at Galerie AKUT, Krefeld 1987, photo by Jürgen Eickhoff

The unseen stripling
A sentence from Ullyses by James Joyce inspired the next installation by Marianne Schliwinski:
"An unseeing stripling stood in the door. He saw not Bronze he saw not Gold." This installation about puberty and sexuality combined three life size photographs of a girl, a rose and a woman and four papier mâché objects overlaid with gold and copper leaf.
- I was strongly for female power. I wanted to show this power from the puberty to woman hood. I used Polaroids. Normal photos would take too long, with a Polaroid I could fix each moment. The girl was at the beginning of puberty, where you sometimes can see the changing in the expression of her face. I took a photo of her, she was holding a bowl and a sphere with a small stone inside. On the other photo a friend of mine is holding is a large bowl, showing her woman hood.
Marianne Schliwinski, "An unseeing stripling", 1987-88
Installation at exhibition “Förderpreise der Landeshauptstadt München”, 1988, photo by Jürgen Eickhoff

Another important chapter from Marianne Schliwinski’s working life was The Icons of the 20th Century - a series of brooches that each portrays a famous 20th century personality such as Marilyn Monroe, Josephine Baker, Meret Oppenheim, Marie Curie and Anne Frank.
- I was thinking about important people of the 20th century and by each I had to get deeper into that person. I read books and researched to find a point where I could say that the brooch I was making symbolized a moment that is significant for the person. The first one I did was Frida Khalo. I also made a brooch about Hannah Höch, she was a painter from the Dadaism. She made a photo of herself in the mirror so I included a broken mirror. You haven't heard that much about her work, because she was a woman. In the meantime the museums are thinking about her and understand how important she had been.
How do you develop your work, do you start by making a drawing?
- I don’t make sketches for my jewellery. When I assemble the pieces it is for me like drawing. Often this lays on the table for a long time until it is finalized, or I take it away.

At the time I developed the Icons I have been working with glass, it was important because it give me the opportunity to place something behind the glass so you are looking from the outside and you must go deeper into the piece. The glass is old and broken and it only tells a part of the whole story.
Pins of Power
In 1992 Marianne Schliwinski started working on the project Connections, dealing with the small emblems worn, mostly by men, on the lapels of jackets. The pins provide information about social ranking, connection and power potential. Marianne divided the pins into four different groups. Twelve people were photographed in the style of an ancestral portrait. Next to the portrait she places a photo of the pin, creating a double portrait.
- Often you see men with a small pin on the lapel. It is seldom that women get these and wear them, but men often do. If you go to an important event, you see a lot of men with these signs. So I made a work about it. I divided them into four different groups. In the first group you have the awards that you get from the government. The next group are pins from groups that you can get into with a recommendation of members. Then there is the third part for professional emblems. The fourth group is for freely chosen symbols, with no actual meaning.
At the end I made a photo of Jürgen wearing a piece where all these four groups come together. Because I “awarded” it to him, you could get invited into this organization, it had my “working sign” on it – and - it also meant nothing.
The photographs were on show in the Museum für Natur und Stadtkultur in Schwäbisch-Gmünd, Germany in 1993. In year 2000 they were presented in the exhibition Het VerSierde Ego in Koningin Fabiolazaal in Antwerpen, Belgium and in 2016 it will be shown together with the Icons in the smac - archeological museum in Chemnitz, Germany.
We could speak about some other works, but time is running out and there is a final question I would like to know about - there seem to be a majority of men taking place in how the history of contemporary jewellery is being written. Do you agree with how the history is being reproduced and told?

- It is a very difficult question, I think fifty years more will need to pass and then you can say what has been really important from the 1950’s until now. When I started in 1964 there were only a few women working as a goldsmith. Then in the 90’s it was the opposite, hardly any men wanted to study jewellery but a lot of women. Now it is changing a little bit again, men are coming back to the schools and academies. I think it is really good that men are coming back, there has to be a balance. These both sides are necessary when it comes to thinking about what is a body, what is a feeling and what is interesting to transport.
Marianne Schliwinski. Brooch: Kimono, 1979. Silver, copper. 9.5 x 4.5 x 0.6 cm. Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff. In the collection of SMPK-Museum für Kunstgewerbe, Berlin. Marianne Schliwinski
Brooch: Kimono, 1979
Silver, copper
9.5 x 4.5 x 0.6 cm
Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff
In the collection of SMPK-Museum für Kunstgewerbe, Berlin
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Marianne Schliwinski. Brooch: Hannah Höch, 2007. Fine silver, glass fragment, mirror fragment, photo, paint. 11.3 x 9.3 x 0.6 cm. Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff. In private collection
.  . Marianne Schliwinski
Brooch: Hannah Höch, 2007
Fine silver, glass fragment, mirror fragment, photo, paint
11.3 x 9.3 x 0.6 cm
Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff
In private collection
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Marianne Schliwinski. Brooch: Schnittpunkte - beweglich, 1984. Silver, plastic. 17 x 17 x 0.7 cm. Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff. Moveable brooch. Marianne Schliwinski
Brooch: Schnittpunkte - beweglich, 1984
Silver, plastic
17 x 17 x 0.7 cm
Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff
Moveable brooch
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Marianne Schliwinski. Brooch: Schnittpunkte - beweglich, 1984. Silver, plastic. Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff. Marianne Schliwinski
Brooch: Schnittpunkte - beweglich, 1984
Silver, plastic
Photo by: Jürgen Eickhoff
© By the author. Read Copyright.