Gaze from a Simple and Radical Standpoint. A Conversation with Jun Konishi

Published: 12.12.2016
Jun Konishi Jun Konishi
Makiko Akiyama
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Plastic circle. Photo by Jun Konishi..
Plastic circle. Photo by Jun Konishi.

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People usually go back to the basics when they feel lost. It is a sure way to get yourself back again. And the simpler the basics are, the more secure you feel, even in the midst of an ever-changing environment and society, while at the same time staying flexible. Grass with firm roots sways in the wind and adapts itself to its surroundings, but if rootless, it immediately gets blown away. Jun Konishi is a jewelry artist with more than 20 years’ experience. During his long career, he has established a style that is both unique and multifaceted at the same time. Konishi’s story reveals how his artistic practice is based on a clear and radical view of jewelry, as well as how he obtained it and finds new possibilities with it.

日本語版 - Japanese version      View / hide description

中文版 - Chinese version      View / hide description

How did you first become interested in jewelry? And could you briefly tell us your background?
Jun: I became interested in jewelry simply because I wanted to create native American and silver jewelry myself. These types of jewelry were popular when I was a high school student.
I studied under Kazuhiro Itoh at Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry for 6 years from the age of 18. Then, I studied under Otto Künzli at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, again for 6 years, from the age of 28. I began making my own works at around 20 years old.

Kazuhiro Itoh is a renowned figure in the contemporary jewelry field in Japan, but is less known among overseas readers, especially younger generations. Can you tell these readers what kind of artist he was? And what did you learn from him?
Jun: When I entered Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry, Kazuhiro Itoh was in the midst of presenting the Maborogi series consisting of necklaces made from carved-out wooden pieces. His jewelry startled me, and this was the moment when I was introduced to the field. I then came to know him through his teaching. Quite unlike what you imagine from jewelry college, his approach was extraordinary and had students engaging in it. We would make jewelry out of trash, read a novel and create jewelry for its main character, write an exhibition report, watch movies, look at contemporary art, make tea scoops, and interact with artists from other disciplines as well as curators and critics. Every day was exciting. Of course, he taught basic jewelry making and design - he was an extremely skilled designer with corporate experience from the design section at Mikimoto. I think Japanese contemporary art in the 70s (the period when Mono-ha came to prominence) also influenced him a lot too. He valued not only making jewelry but also writing and developing ideas and concepts for his work.

You studied under Otto Künzli as well, but what did he teach you?
Jun: Otto never gave students assignments. Contrary to art education in Japan, students at the academy are required to work on their own, instead of waiting for guidance from the professors. Most of Otto’s students were formally trained graduates with basic metalsmithing techniques, thus they were supposed to further develop these skills through the support and advice from Otto, workshop leader Matthias, and an assistant. Besides, Otto brought in exhibition projects for students from all over the world and had a weekly critique – each student was required to present his/her works to Otto and other students once a year. It was a fortunate environment for us in which to build up careers as artists at the same time as being students, and this teaching style suited me.
Intermingling with colleagues from different nationalities, all of whom were aiming to become artists, influenced me in various ways and made everyday life even more stimulating. Thus, I came to know how different nationalities and cultures could end up with different ideas. As a professor, Otto was not arrogant at all, and accepted the students as colleagues. He taught us how to develop work, methods of display, photo shooting, pricing, and how to enjoy drinking, all in light of his own experience. By the way, Kazuhiro Itoh also regarded students as colleagues.

Holy Hole, 2003. Akademie gallery, Munich. Photo by Jun Konishi.

What did you learn in terms of ideas and attitudes about jewelry when you were a student?
Jun: There is no doubt that the encounter with him changed my point of view on jewelry. Until then, jewelry for me simply meant gold, silver, and gems. But he taught me that everything can be jewelry if a piece has a relationship to the body (physicality). This view freed me from the restrictions of materials or techniques and enabled me to think outside the box even more.

It appears the renewed idea about jewelry meant a lot to you, but which aspects of jewelry interest you? And why jewelry, instead of other artistic disciplines?
Jun: Jewelry is interesting because the way it looks depends on who you are - maker, wearer, or viewer. Viewers are limited when the piece is on a table or in a glass case. However, when worn, more people will see it and it could even induce something unexpected. These aspects intrigue me and that’s probably why I make jewelry.

Do you have any specific wearer or situation in mind when you are making a piece? Have you ever experienced “something unexpected”?
Jun: I just look out for wearability when I am making a piece.
And it is not much of a “something unexpected,” but I once enjoyed chatting with a stranger from a different field about a brooch I was wearing. It was a piece made by another maker, but this story backs up the fact that jewelry can act as a communication tool.

Let me get back to the question before last, in which you mentioned displaying jewelry. It reminded me of your signature installation of filling a large white table with a large number of pieces. Why does this method appeal to you?
Jun: The work ceases to look like jewelry when you see the entire installation, but seeing each piece on a table enables you to recognize it as a piece of jewelry. I’d like to explore the fine line between these two perspectives. Of course, every person will feel it in a different way, but installation appeals to me as it lets me go back and forth between art and jewelry.

C1049, 2007, Kunstacademie Munich, Photo by Jun Konishi.

Plastic circle, 2010, gallery ISOGAYA, Tokyo. Photo by Jun Konishi.

In some works, you present ‘a step before wearable’ such as c1049 and plastic circle, etc. What’s your purpose? I think holy hole (2003), a group exhibition that took place in Germany, was one of the catalysts.
Jun: I present ‘a step before wearable’ in the hope that the viewer will look at where jewelry starts, as well as out of my presumption that the origins of jewelry lie not in precious metals and jewels but in a human desire to wear it. In holy hole (2013), a collaborative work with Rebecca Hannon (US) and Pedro Sequeira (POR), the circles, rings and objects with holes in them that the three of us brought together were poles apart from what each of us had initially imagined, which turned out great. This was another opportunity for me to realize how different nationalities and cultures could result in different choices.

I think your idea about the human nature to wear also explains your choice of materials. When you make works, you start from the scratch for some, but use ready-made objects, especially plastic objects, for others. Such works include php (2008), which uses dressmaker pins, and ufo brooch (2010), which uses golf tees. Is it because you simply wanted to wear them as they are?
Jun: My choice of materials does not necessarily derive from a desire to wear them. The points I especially care about when I use existing products are the color, shape, and whether they are mass-market products or not, as these qualities are the antithesis to precious materials, in my sense.
When I use precious materials, I often deprive them of their apparent value by blackening gold with oil, or by leaving soldering marks, as opposed to polishing or plating the surface. In short, I try to renew a conventional value system and develop a mechanism, enabling viewers to explore a way to once again cast their eyes back to the origin of jewelry, namely the desire to wear.

Php, 2009. Galerie Kunstarkaden, Munich. Photo by Jun Konishi.

Some people point out that alternative materials such as plastic deteriorate much faster than precious metals and fail to withstand the test of time. What do you think about this point?
Jun: It is stupid to limit materials just because they deteriorate fast and fail to be passed down to future generations. I don’t seek eternity in jewelry, and I believe nothing is unbreakable. If you want to turn to precious materials solely for their resistance to deterioration, you should buy a gold bar and keep it in your home. In a diverse society such as that seen today, I’d rather suggest an ephemeral piece of jewelry whose quality is comparable to a short-lived cut flower.

I think your last answer presupposes the idea that the role and quality of jewelry depend on the society and time period in which it is placed. Do you think jewelry will possibly take on a new role or quality in the future?
Jun: In the information-oriented society, where superficial knowledge is valued, jewelry can be a different type of information source than other mediums as it requires people to wear and experience it. I think this experience of wearing will be held to be more important in the future. Moreover, I think jewelry for a new generation will arise if the introvert jewelry field starts to define jewelry in a wider sense and accept the notion of “jewelry = physicality.”

Can you elaborate “jewelry = physicality” ?
Jun: I call my works jewelry because the resulting pieces are wearable. However, to me, it feels like creating works that are related to the body. Also, for me, everything can be jewelry if the piece has physicality, which means it has a relationship with the body. In an extreme sense, even the raindrops on your skin or the air around your body could be jewelry. Of course, this is my personal view, however.

Now I’d like to shift the topic to your current activities. You opened a shop called talklein in Fukui prefecture this spring.
Jun: My wife and artist Kaori Taniguchi and I happen to have a studio-cum-home above a commercial space, which we inevitably end up using to sell our works. Talklein is a term coined from the first letters of our name; tal = the German translation of “tani (valley),” taken from my wife’s family name, and klein = the German translation of “ko (small),” taken from my family name. Our offerings vary, from clothing, jewelry, and art works to plants. There is no specific concept about the choice; we sell all kinds of things we like regardless of the country, genre, and background of the makers.

Talklein. Photo by Jun Konishi.

I think the shop’s Instagram well explains the line-up. Talking about jewelry, among other products, I see the works of a number of artists such as yourself, Michihiro Sato, Adolfas Šaulys, and David Bielander, but what do you prioritize when you select a piece for your shop?
Jun: It is whether the piece has a point of interest that I can explain to customers in my own words. I don’t set limits in regard to materials, technique, size, and the maker’s nationality.

Do you continue to create your own works? If so, do you intend them to be products or art pieces? Or do you make no distinction between the two in the first place?
Jun: Of course I continue to create my own works. However, controlling the schedule has been harder since we launched talkleiin. Taniguchi and I both split our time between the shop and our own work; we open the shop four days a week while struggling to find a smoother way to ensure we have the time to create our own works. And I don’t make a distinction between products and art pieces.

 Where's my Mickey?  Brooch, 2015. Photo by Jun Konishi.

Lastly, can you talk about the next item on your agenda?
Jun: For the time being, I aim to find a balance between my artistic practice, my teaching job at Itami College of Jewellery and management of the shop. Also, I’d like to hold exhibitions of young artists from various fields in the future.


About the Interviewee

Jun Konishi, born in 1974, Gunma. Studied jewelry under Kazuhiro Itoh at Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry and under Otto Künzli at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. Returned to Japan in 2009 and started work as a lecturer at Itami College of Jewellery in 2010. Launched talklein in Fukui prefecture in 2016. Participated in a number of domestic and international exhibitions. His works are included in the Marzee, Pinakothek der Moderne, and Bollman collections.

Jun Konishi


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.