Katie Corcoran - Info?
KC: Where did you grow up?
Klaus Bürgel: I grew up in a small village on a peninsula
which stretches into the Lake of Constance marking the southern
border of Germany. Zurich is a 50 minutes ride away.
KC: Did anyone else in your family work with metal?
KC: Was your family supportive about your decision of becoming
a metalsmith/ jewelry designer?
KB: Yes. I actually wanted to study painting but my family talked
me into learning some useful skills.
KC: When exactly did you get interested in metalsmithing?
KB: I cant say Im predominately interested in metalsmithing
or jewelry. Im interested in many things and one of them
are small intimate objects. In 1976 I was a 17 year old student
at the Goldschmiedeschule in Pforzheim. A key experience were
my frequent visits at the Reuchlin Haus in Pforzheim a museum
solely devoted to jewelry. I remember vividly the excitement I
had over the work of Anton Cepka, Reinhold Reiling, Hermann Jünger,
Daniel Kruger, Manfred Bischoff, Claus Buri, Therese Hilbert,
Otto Künzli, Bernhard Schobinger....and many more. It was
unbelievable inspiring to see their work. Something I did not
KC: When and where did you first learn to work with metal?
KB: In High school. In hindsight it was a rather annoying experience.
To stand in line and to wait till a tool becomes available is
what I remember the most of it . KC: What is it you do and why
do you do it? What do you call yourself, a metalsmith, jeweler,
KB: I spend more time in my sculpture studio then in my jewelry
workshop lately and with it came a shift in definition. Now, more
often then not I call myself an artist simply because it seems
to me the most encompassing term for what Im doing without
going to much into details.
KC:When you look at a jewelers work what questions do
you ask yourself?
KB: Is it honest ? Is it true to the idea and the language of
material. If I can answer those questions with yes, I can like
a lot of things.
KC: In the latest issue of Metalsmith magazine there is an
article about craft vers. art, what is your opinion on this?
KB: The question really belongs to the past. A serious artist
never understood the question on the first place and a serious
craftsman does not care for it anymore either. You do what you
do and you use whats available. High art, low art, crafts,
photography, video... Its people who are trapped who ask
these kind of questions. I put special emphasis on trapped here,
because those who do not feel this way really dont give
a damn. They do what they do anyway, with great pride and confidence.
I have great admiration for them. It does not have to be one against
the other, one does not have to exclude the other. Its the
concept, the content and the context that make the difference
not the medium.
KC: As a teacher do you feel that students should be equally
disciplined (knowledgeable) with their design skills and their
craftsmanship? Is one more important than the other?
KB: The independence that comes with the ability to execute a
piece on my own gives me great pleasure. I don't separate one
from the other and I dont think that they should be. But
they are very different and can just as well be trained separate.
Its the choice the student has to make before he/she enters
I think the schools have to make clear what it is they offer the
students to prevent future frustration on either side. I wish
there would be more distinction between the jewelry programs and
a harsher selection process for the students to get in. Students
who are mainly interested in marketable skills paralyze the discussion
by enrolling to a fine arts oriented program. There definitely
is a need for more technique oriented programs.
KC: Can you make an artist statement about your jewelry work?
Wearable art ver. non wearable art?
KB: I am primarily concerned with the sensual and the physical
aspects of jewelry and ornament. I have tried to cast as wide
a net as possible, not limiting myself to the execution of the
object nor the function of a single object. I'm interested in
touch of material, intimate surface, weight, light, structure
and ideas of concealment but the method of production is secondary.
I like to think of my jewelry as a secretion. Like a bee produces
honey, the jewelry is what comes out of me.
KC: What motivates you?
KB: To see other artists work. I find it very difficult
to live up to my own standards. Its like wrestling an alligator.
I know there is a place where I feel complete but the place is
always shifting. There are times when I wonder why I do what I
do and what it is all for. But then, each piece I finish opens
a new door .
KC: Do you envision a particular person wearing your jewelry?
KB: When Im in the studio I hear hundreds of voices in
my head. I only think of a particular person when I do a commission
or when I incorporate a spell.
KC: Can you make an artist statement about your metalsmithing
KB: I do very little metalsmithing. But not to long ago I received
an invitation to participate at a show called Boston Tea-Party
at Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge. I was thinking of doing a larger
functional object for some time. The invitation motivated me to
take on the challenge and to make a teapot. What I like about
it is that it is functional and ceremonial. I like beauty. Beautiful
objects turn the most mundane activity into a ceremony.
KC: What are the Materials you are working with?
KB: Silver, iron, palladium, precious and semiprecious stones
of all kind, gold, and everything else Im getting my hands
KC: Why do you use these materials?
KB: Im searching for a dialog with the material. I prefer
to use materials which do not like to talk, materials which are
shy, locked up in themselves. Their silent power is driving me
crazy. I try everything to make them open their mouths, everything
to make them talk to me.
KC: Do you ever incorporate found objects into your work?
KB: If I use a found object, it is usually for the opposite reasons.
Found objects are loaded with history, chatty and eager to tell
KC: Do you use color in your work? (enamel)
KB: Not really. I did some enamel when I was working as an apprentice
and have not touched it since. Not that I mind color. Its
just that I dont have any use for it.
KC: Do you have themes that you work from?
KB: Im never quite sure what it is Im working on till
I have a few pieces finished. Miraculously they all fit into a
bigger story. When I was first starting to work in wax there were
all this forms wanting to come out, and it was extremely exciting
and pleasurable, almost like automatic writing. Id just
sit there at the bench and start working away and I would not
know what I was going to do or what was going to happen. With
my branching out into making large scale sculpture came a change
in my working process. I recognized that a lot of the work was
going on in my conscious mind beforehand. So there was a shift
to subject matter, whereas before Id been interested in
KC: What are you working on?
KB: In 1999 my focus shifted from small intimate objects to large
scale installations. Most of the year I had lives in apartments
which have not been my own and in in-personal hotelrooms. My interest
in insects culminated in the desire to create my own environment.
An environment where Im the insect so to speak.
KC: What inspires you? Can you say anything about your design
KB: Nature, appears to be a major source of inspiration. Architecture
and how it relates to structures built by animals I also find
tremendously inspiring. With various degrees of success I try
not to think of myself to much as a human being.
I seem to improvise a lot. I get to a certain point and then I
check if it still works with what I think the piece should do
or be like. There is a large element of spontaneity in my working
process. But Im very critical with myself. Even though I
start out with an idea I do not enslave myself to it. The process
is more like building. Its a constant give and take.
KC: As a student was there a particular person or persons that
KB: When I started my training as a jeweler I was 17. Soon after
that I saw work of Hermann Jünger and some of his students
from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. All I wanted was to get
there. It took me another 13 years and by the time I was accepted
Jünger had taken on the persona of a god.
KC: Do you cast your pieces yourself ?
KB: If I have access to a centrifuge and burn-out kiln. Yes.
KC: Do you work more with wax or metal (fabricate)? Do you
have a preference?
KB: I started to work with wax when I came to the US. Primarily
because I had no bench and no tools. What happened was a tremendous
relaxation in how I would approach a piece. Spontaneity became
one of the strongest characteristics in my work. The surfaces
became very lively often times I kept the sprues attached or reused
the spruebuttons for other pieces. Casting was a technique I knew
very little about and therefore made many mistakes. Mistakes which
I treasure and would never have happened if I had worked in sheetmetal.
Working in wax -particularly soft wax- allowed me to step back
and approach jewelry from another angle.
More recently I fabricate elaborate hollow constructions out of
sheetmetal with openings which turn inward like a trap. I pretty
much go with the flow. One advantage of teaching is having access
to equipment. Whatever equipment I have access to I try to figure
out a way to use it for my work.
KC: When are you happy? When do you think your work has been
KB: The pieces I feel very strong about usually combine discipline
with chance. Intellect with emotion. They encourages me not to
listen to all the sweet voices I so very much would like to please.
KC: Do you have a theory or philosophy about what makes a
good metalsmith/ jewelry designer?
KB: I dont know. For me it was hard work and still is.
Skills are learnable but it is all the other crap that gets in
the way. Expectations...
KC: Are there guidelines that you go by? Certain criterias
that the work must follow?
KB: There are many traps for a jeweler to fall into. The most
frequent one is to get carried away by craftsmanship. A successful
piece to me has to incorporate the surprise of discovery, a secret
and a mistake. A piece that reveals everything is either to literal
or to didactic. Either way I find them rather boring.
KC: In your work as well as your students work do you encourage
exploration of design? Jewelry that is made to look at rather
then to be worn?
KB: Of course! I try to open up the students to all aspects of
jewelry. Esthetics vary from person to person reflecting the human
psyche, cultural, religious, even geographical and professional
backgrounds. My understanding of teaching is to develop and nurture
a students sensibility to what he/she is bringing into the studio
and to work on ways on how his or her findings can be placed in
context to the cultural environment we are living in now.
KC: Direction jewelry design/ metalsmithing is taking?
KB: It seems to me that jewelry once again is taking on an observer
position rather then to participate. Not a good time for jewelry
as a whole.
I would love to see more obsessive craftsmanship, abstract constructions,
deconstructivist ornaments, anti-dogmatic and unpredictably honest.
Work of divine madness, visually complex and free of seductive
packaging. Work that is bold, confident and discrete. Work that
makes use of the advantages of the small intimate format to connect
with the human psyche.