When it comes to reading the communicated messages of jewellery, cultural factors play a large role. Susanne Hammer interviewed by Klimt02

Interview  /  Artists   BehindTheScenes
Published: 15.07.2016
Susanne Hammer Susanne Hammer
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Susanne Hammer. Necklace: Ball chain, 2014. Aluminium anodized.. length: 90 cm. Photo by: Susanne Hammer. Susanne Hammer
Necklace: Ball chain, 2014
Aluminium anodized.
length: 90 cm
Photo by: Susanne Hammer
© By the author. Read Copyright.

What really excites me about making jewellery is exploring its complexity.
Do you think that jewellery is being standardized? 
The key sentence from “Psychologie des Schmucks” by Georg Simmel is:
You decorate yourself for yourself, but you can only do that by decorating yourself for others.
If jewellery is meant to function as a cultural medium - which in many cases is precisely its function - it has to be standardized in order to be understood; if someone wants to express status or belonging, for example, this signal to others needs to be comprehended. When it comes to reading the communicated messages of jewellery, cultural factors play a large role. As a rule, there is a traditional vocabulary of forms and symbols in the relevant cultural circle that can also be referred to as a code. In western countries, the function of this sign language within subcultures is particularly apparent: it is often directed primarily towards a certain group of initiated people (e.g. badges, or the jewellery of punks/goths) and only secondarily - for the purposes of differentiation and demarcation - towards outsiders.
A negative example of standardization is the exclusionary function of jewellery, of which there are numerous historical examples: Prostitutes in 16th-century Venice, for example, were not permitted to wear gold or silver. Tattoos were used in ancient Rome to mark slaves as the property of their masters. As early as 1397, Jews in Venice had to wear a yellow badge (source: The Walls of the Ghetto/Jews and Courtesans). It is different when it comes to self-imposed “dress codes” - the use of fixed symbols for purposes of social distinction is replaced by the individual use of distinctive symbols. But even in these cases the symbols have to be clearly identifiable, and brands play a key role in this.
What is there of the Local and the Universal in your artistic work?
In an essay in Turning point: Jewellery from Austria at the turn of the millennium from 1999, Cornelie Holzach describes some of the characteristics of Austrian jewellery making in the following terms: ... the almost total avoidance of decorative elements ... points to a direction in jewellery making that seems typical for Austria. Could these puristic, conceptual works (Skubic, Nisslmüller, Mosettig, Schmeiser) perhaps be traced back to the context of Austrian art at the beginning of the 20th century? On the one hand, the lavish ornamentation of Josef Hoffmann and his opposite, Alfred Loos, and on the other hand, the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk as it was conceived there, which directs the view away from a focus on the individual object and towards the wider context... this past continues to have a lasting effect on jewellery making in Austria. This statement is certainly still valid in respect to this generation of artists, and although I belong to another generation, I can see myself in some of the descriptions, and would consider attributions like purist, conceptual, or metallic to be the result of local and regional influences. However, I hope that beyond personal style and local influences, my work is universal, in the sense of going beyond the subjective, local, and regional. But this falls outside the scope of my own judgment.
What do you hope for in presenting your work to the public (for example through an exhibition)?
When I present my work to the public, I hope most of all to see my pieces being worn. The constantly new aspects that are created by the movement of the body and the mobility of chains highlight the interaction between the body and the jewellery. And that is also what fascinates me so much about chains.
I am also interested in challenging existing jewellery forms. If I can inspire debates and provide food for thought with my work, that’s fantastic.
Are other topics outside of jewellery apparent in your work?
I’m interested in design in a broader sense. By this I don’t just mean design in the area of aesthetics, but also in the areas of social processes, education, habitats, etc. In other words, design that focuses on humans. My work therefore also integrates sociological elements; there is hardly any other art form where the relationship between people and objects is as multi-layered as in jewellery. I have researched this relationship for decades.  Projects such as Walking Gallery, Orientierungshilfen (Orientation Guides), Schmucktauschbörse (Jewellery Exchange) and 50 Ways To Wear A Necklace move the focus away from the object and towards interactions. My passion for visual art, literature, and design also consciously - and certainly also unconsciously - influences my work.
The last work, book, film, city that has moved me was ...
W.G. Sebald - the very special relationship between texts and images in his work opens up completely new and unexpected perspectives. My favourite works are Austerlitz, The Emigrants, and Vertigo. The theme of the meaning and function of memory and thought plays a central role in his works. It often concerns people who have had to leave their native country and gain a foothold elsewhere.
 A place, space, or country whose creativity surprises me is ...
The buildings and especially the parks of the Tuscan villages that I visited for the first time in the early summer of 2016. I found the Villas Garzoni, Torrigiano, and Oliva particularly overwhelming. You can still clearly feel the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance.

The garden of the Villa Torrigiani in northern Tuscany.

Is there any designer, jeweller, or artist, that you particularly admire?
Historic - for example architecture: Palladio mansions; design: Jean Prouvé; art: Minimalist art (Don Judd, Carl Andre...) and contemporary sculptors and installation artists (Michael Kienzer, Urs Fischer, Anita Leisz, Claudia Larcher...)

Michael Kienzer, Sketch, Volume 11, Aluminium plates, tins, erasers 2007, Courtesy: Paul Hafner Gallery

What piece or work has given you the most satisfaction?
The work by Michael Kienzer depicted above is an object from a series that actually made me feel euphoric, and so inspired. I felt the same way when I came to understand the concept of “minimalist art” many years ago. A truly illuminating moment. As far as my own work goes, the series “Fault lines” from 2012 has come closest to meeting my standards for successful work. The concept, material, and technique all worked together perfectly.

Susanne Hammer,necklace: Fault lines 2012, Wood, resin, thread. L: 80cm, Photo: SusanneHammer

Do you read jewellery magazines?
Sometimes I read Art Aurea, Current Obsession and mostly the information about jewellery in Klimt02. For my lectures at Jewellery College Herbststraße, though, I visit websites and read blogs such as Die Schmuck-SammlungJakob Bengel Foundation and international gallery websites.
Where do you get your information from?
Both online and offline: travelling, reading, visiting exhibitions, researching online, discussing, debating with students ...
Do you discuss your work with other jewellery artists or any other person?
I mostly discuss my work with my best friend and jeweller colleague, Andrea MAXA Halmschlager. Her approach to work is completely different from mine and that is a good prerequisite for a fruitful exchange. The underlying sense of rivalry that nevertheless exists between us motivates us both!
What is your first thought when you hear the word “future”? What do you expect?
Humans are not the measure of all things! It will be necessary to change our perspective, especially as regards the natural world that surrounds us. Donna Haraway put it like this: We cannot not think nature; we have to develop a different relationship to it. One that doesn’t rely on exploitation. Considerations of materialism and of what is made and left behind by humans have long ago carved out their own space in the arts and humanities. Why not in jewellery as well?