Monika Brugger

Monika Brugger

Monika Brugger

Interview by Shu Lin Wu and Chang Chang

 

Born in the Black Forest region in Germany, Monika Brugger has spent the majority of her life in France. She left Germany in October 1978 and has been living in France ever since. In 1990, she decided to return to jewellery as her profession. She now lives in a small town in Brittany with her partner, where she keeps a house with a garden and continues creating art. For Monika, art and life are one and inseparable.

 

Tell us about yourself.
I came from the Black Forest region in Germany and have been living in France for almost 40 years. In the autumn of 1978, I came to France and worked at a vineyard. My duties changed with the seasons. I harvested produce, such as grapes, cherries, and tomatoes. In the winter, I worked at a youth hostel doing repairs and painting. After about ten years, I became the head of a hostel.

In 1990, I decided to return to school and study jewellery making again. When I was 16, I took courses in jewellery making for ten months at a prep school in Pforzheim, Germany, though I didn’t continue any further. In 1990, I decided to leave the job I was at and return to school. I studied to be a goldsmith at a public art school for three months in Antwerp, Belgium. After that, I spent three months at a private school in Florence, Italy, taking goldsmith classes (Le Arti Orafe) and another 12 months at an école associative in Nimes, France, taking professional training courses in jewellery making. After finishing my training at these schools, I started my own studio in 1992 to start making a living with this profession.

 

Who has helped you become a jewellery artist?

Michelle Moutashar and Marcel Robelin. Ms. Michelle Moutashar is a historian, who was then director of Musee d’Art contemporain de Nîmes. Marcel Robelin is a sculptor. I first met them in Nîmes in around 1990 and became closer with them between 1994 and 1996. They gave me many references and suggestions for my work and inspired me to be more creative. Two other important people have been Carole Guinard and Madam Claude Chêret. They were the owners of a gallery that I first worked with.

 

Which was the first gallery that displayed your works?

GALERIE NØ in Lausanne, Switzerland. That was Madam Carole Guinard’s gallery. Unfortunately, it is no longer open.

 

How did you start cooperating with galleries back then?

After starting my own studio in 1992, I brought my work and visited all the galleries for contemporary jewellery in Europe one by one. There was no internet at that time, and I didn’t graduate from a famous school, so no gallery would look for me. What I had was a yearbook printed by a German association with addresses of galleries in it. I visited galleries one by one according to the list. It took me to more than ten galleries in Berlin, Lausanne, Frankfurt, and Zurich. GALERIE NØ was the first of all the galleries where I succeeded in promoting my work.

 

It must not be easy to make a living with your profession, right?

My life was really simple back in 1992 when I started my own studio. Besides creating art, I also made additional income by doing a few part-time jobs while also having housing subsidies. After holding a solo exhibition at a museum in 1999, I applied for and received art grants from the French government. My life and working conditions then became better. France has a lot of funding for young artists (for EU citizens, not restricted to the French). You just have to know how to utilize them and use them well. In 1995, I started receiving invitations for holding workshops. In 1996, I began teaching history of jewellery at AFEDAP in Paris and at École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg (now known as Haute école des arts du Rhin). The invitation from Strasbourg for guest lecture was actually sent to me by the students. To promote myself, I had printed brochures with my work and sent them to different schools (the production fee of the brochures came from the art grants, of course). The students saw my brochure and invited me to teach classes.

 

Does teaching take a large amount of time out of your current life?

Yes, ever since I started teaching full time at École nationale supérieure d’art de Limoges in 2007, teaching does consume a lot of my time; however, it is the commute that occupies the most amount of time. It takes seven hours going from where I live to Limoges by train just one way. I also have to transfer in Paris. Sometimes I will take the train that departs around 4 in the evening and arrives at around 11. Sometimes I’ll stay in Paris overnight and take the train the next morning. There is a direct express for Strasbourg, so it takes a bit less time for me to go teach there.

 

With so much time spent on commuting, what do you usually do on the train?

I usually think about my art. One time, I had a series of works that involved weaving with a knitting needle, so I did that when I was on the train. I also do a lot of paperwork on my computer, like handling public relations or replying to emails. It’s a good idea to read on the train, but I’d probably just fall asleep (laughter). I spend so much time on the train that sometimes I’ll sleep for a few hours then start doing something else.

 

Can you tell us about the places where you usually work?

In my head, my studio, and my garden, although my work desk and garden are usually a mess. We officially moved into the house in August 2017, but didn’t finish moving all our stuff from the previous house until December. After that, I have been occupied with teaching and various house chores, so the new house hasn’t been settled in yet. Plus, the weather was really bad. It was always raining. I hope I can take advantage of the summer vacation this year to finally settle in the new house.

 

You use a variety of material and techniques, including embroidery, crochet, and sewing. What is the tool that you value the most?

“My thinking/head!”

Actually, using handicraft arts like embroidery and sewing in my works bears the history and stories of my generation. I acquired these skills when I was in high school in Germany. Every week, we had two hours of crafting classes and three hours of cooking classes. We had to learn sewing, knitting, and embroidery. My mother also had these skills, so I learned them from her at the same time. I think this kind of learning is important and good. It gives me the ability to be self-sufficient. For example, when I had a thrifty life and didn’t have money to buy clothes, I would make clothes for myself. They don’t seem to have these kinds of classes in Germany anymore. It’s really a shame.

 

Tell us about a piece of work that best represents you.

I made this monogrammed embroidery out of cross-stitches, like a bloodstain, in reference to lost virginity. All the pieces included garnets and they all refer to working traces, wounds, and injuries, like the piece STICHWUNDE, GESCHENK DER NÄHERIN/WOUND, GIFT OF THE SEAMSTRESS. (See Link)

 

Tell us about your recent projects.

For the past two years, I have been consolidating all my work and all the references along the way into one book. It is almost finished and is being proofread. It is scheduled to be published in July 2018, edited in French, English, and German. It will also be the very first e-book in the field of jewellery. I seem to have been the first at many things, ha!

After the book, I hope to prepare for a ligne éditoriale for digital books on jewellery, with video and audio data on top of plain text, though I still need to plan out the details and look for the funding to make this project happen. Other than that, I hope I can try to put my teaching on the right track this year and make more time for other things, like my art. For the solo exhibition I had last year, I hope I will find suitable museums to hold a touring exhibition.

As for my latest works, it is worth mentioning the “The Fly Ariacollection that I’ve started making since 2016 (See Link). It starts in the most ordinary way with a piece of broken jewellery, I mend its wings, and then I grow fond of this fly. My friends were all amused when they saw me wearing them. Since then, I have been continuing making lots of fly- and insect- themed jewelleries, one after another, in brooches and earrings. I also love to explore different insects, such as dragonflies, which I made a lot of for my solo exhibition in Japan this year. What’s fascinating is that flies actually have many symbolic meanings in Western cultures, commonly shown in still life paintings in the Renaissance era for representing death, evil, or vanity. The idea of playful insects with dangerous, even ironic, meanings was then simmered and expanded into different design concepts of mine. I have used pearls in some of my flies symbolizing purity, which is sort of a visual risk I took in creating this interesting, ironic contrast.

 

What is the hardest thing about creating art?

Staying mindful and being aware of oneself at any time. Don’t stick to any rules or repeat the old. Don’t be content with the status quo.

 

How can one become a good artist?

I don’t know. Just keep working and working. Don’t stop. We’ll see who’s still here 20 years later, and they shall be good artists. We’ll let time prove everything.

 

What do you think about the status quo of contemporary jewellery? Many gallery owners are about to retire. Is it still possible to pursue a career in this field?

I think the younger generation in Europe is not doing anything. They are not trying or making any effort to reach the goals that can help them survive in this field. They just wait and complain. They don’t create their own ways of thinking and they don’t change. You know, when you are making art, you also have to think about how to survive. The collectors that we have now started purchasing and collecting jewelleries when I was young. They are around my age and they are about to retire or are already retired. There are no young collectors to buy jewellery pieces in the following 30 years, while there are more and more young people who want to become artists but are not thinking about this structural problem in society. It is hard to say what the solution would be for this kind of problem because the situation differs with places and countries. There must be some solutions though.

When I started learning how to make jewellery, there were no galleries for contemporary jewellery. By 1978, the Ra gallery in the Netherlands had been open for only two years and the Electrum gallery in England six. The American Craft Council might have been there earlier. The environment was just beginning to form at that time. The current collectors were cultivated by the first galleries back in the 60s one by one.

Apart from this, artists nowadays don’t really wear the jewellery they make. A while back when I met the widow  of Mario Pinto, a highly respected senior metalsmith in Italy, she said to me jokingly, “If you don’t want to wear your own work, how can you convince others to?” I think what she said really makes sense. Jewellery is made to be worn. We assign the functionally of wearing to it. This is different from sculptures.

 

Is there any jewel that you wear every day?

I used to wear a ring. It was one of a pair of lovers rings between my partner, Francois, and me. I made these rings actually for partners without an “official marriage” because the rings used for exchange at an official wedding ceremony have their limitations. They are usually simple. My rings were made with our fingerprints imprinted. My ring has his fingerprints and his with mine. Unfortunately, I lost my ring. I can’t seem to find it. Hopefully, I just left it somewhere at home and it will show up some day. Otherwise, I will probably have to make another one.

 

This pair of rings is really meaningful. It seems that they can be worn by married couples too.

To me, this pair of lovers rings are more like rings of friendship or rings that symbolize making an alliance with your partner. They are not necessarily for couples. They can be used as another pair of rings for couples besides their wedding rings.

 

Besides your own lovers rings, you also make marriage rings. Is that right?

In 2009, I made a pair of lovers rings for gender equality. For a long time, the man’s ring was always heavier than the woman’s. I made two rings that weighed exactly the same, only different in size, to propose the idea of gender equality. Normally, men’s fingers are wider than women’s; therefore, the worn rings on a man would visually seem thinner than the ring worn on a woman’s finger (which is the opposite effect of ordinary wedding rings). A few of my clients liked the idea and ordered more rings from me.

 

Who is the next jewellery artist that you are curious about, if you can choose?

Otto Künzli, Gijs Bakker, Lucy Sarneel, and Dorothea Prühl.

 

 

Interview featured wedding rings are available for collection, please see below for purchase details
The Alliance Ring >
Gender Equality Ring >

 

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