Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Katja Toporski is a jewelry maker, professor and writer living just outside of Washington DC. Her work is informed by philosophical thinking, and juxtaposes archetypal objects and historical elements to explore the limitations of our knowledge of things. It has been shown in numerous exhibitions across the US as well as internationally and has been highlighted in a number of print and online publications, most recently in Art Jewelry Forum’s Best Up and Comers at SNAG Boston. Reading (about everything) and writing (about jewelry) continually provide the topics she investigates in her work.
Katja Toporski is the winner of the AUTOR Award at Joya Barcelona 2015 and thus, one of the participating designers at AUTOR 2016.
We’re happy to see Katja in Bucharest on April 16th & 18th, at the Grand Hotel du Boulevard and we prepared an interview so that you can discover more about her works.
What is freedom for you?
There are many different types of freedom; I want to talk here about artistic freedom. I think it is essential to maintain independence artistically from all other forces that may express certain expectations of the artist, or the artist perceives there to be expectations. It is not possible to make good work if I, as the artist, am constantly trying to please those external forces, including the need to make money through sales.
As I conceive my work I focus exclusively on my inner voice, on the things that matter to me, and, later, the design and technical challenges I may have to overcome. That way my work stays true to itself, is a free expression of myself, speaks its own jewelry language. In the end the aim is complete immersion in the work, leaving no room for other thoughts in the mind other than the work in front of me. This is sometimes challenging, and often enough the outside world creeps in, but it is nevertheless important to keep trying to create this space where I, the artist, am alone with my work.
John Cage explained this best:
When you start working
Everybody is in your studio –
The art world,
And above all, your own ideas – all are there.
But as you continue working,
They start leaving,
One by one,
And you are left completely alone.
Then if you´re lucky, even you leave. (John Cage)
What is harder to do: refining the concept or rendering the concept into the final work?
It’s hard to distinguish between the two; sometimes the refining bleeds into the making of the final work. There is, however, a different kind of creativity that is required for developing the concept, which is a more mental process, as opposed to rendering it, which calls for more practical solutions. Both have their own challenges. I find that by the time I sit down to actually make the work I will have spent a long time, I mean: weeks, often months, thinking about it. Some ideas might have percolated for years in the back of my mind. In that sense it is probably harder to refine the concept, as the actual making then comes almost as a relief of creative pressure after I will have already seen the finished piece in my mind.
What is the biggest mystery you are trying to decode through your artistic encounters?
Our place in the world. This is because, as humans, we are able to know of our own eventual death. Which leads to this question of where and what were we before and after we were here. Perhaps on the background of my previous career as an anaesthesiologist, I have experienced that scientific knowledge only goes so far in giving any answers. The more I started to go deeper with my jewelry work the more questions arose as to what certainties there are, how much about the world can we know, and how closely what we know relates to what is actually there.
Once all the certainties have gone, however, the jeweler gets to play: with these questions in mind, expressions, jewelry objects and others, are presenting themselves for compositions that dance around the answers, illogical, irrational, like in a dream. There are no explanations, there is no knowledge but there is an emotional level in the work, an atmosphere that brings us closer to the universe.
Future is something we build in the present. Does your jewellery comprise the present and become history or does it project itself into the future?
I have often investigated time in my jewelry. A number of my pieces were made using ephemeral materials, such as ice, eggs, or gelatine. Those pieces live in the moment, and the only evidence of their existence is their photographic documentation. While my more recent works are more stable I did incorporate an element of this material change of state in the group titled ‘The unpredictable Ending of the Taufrische Nu’. Here I combined the form of a block of wood, a fragment of an ancient Chinese Buddha statue, and a casting of the form developed from an ice version of the Buddha melting into an ice version of the wood. The resulting pendants examine the simultaneous existence of a cultural object from the past, a material object associated with remembrance, and a transitional object arrested in changing form from one into the other. The title is in reference to Walter Benjamin, who described a non-linear relationship of past, present, and future.
To answer you question though, I don’t think that my jewelry can be placed easily on a time line. It is not very hip, nor is it associated with any particular subculture, which may mean that it is less short lived and does not become history too quickly. Is it futuristic? No. Will it last? Perhaps. Will future archeologists know what to make of it? Probably not.
What is the best advice you think you ever gave to a student / friend / jewellery maker?
Never loose sight of yourself. Do not compromise on the things that are important to you.
At the end of the day, why? Why making, why making jewellery, why making jewellery and going to a fair, why coming back home and starting a new body of work?
Making jewelry is an inner impulse for me- I have no other way to describe it. I have always made jewelry ever since I can remember. Within the format there are a number of choices though, such as should the work be more commercial, very precious, approachable, conceptual, ephemeral? The more I learned about jewelry the more I was drawn to its conceptual power as artistic expression that we can wear on the shoulders of tens of thousands of years of human history.
I have recently started to limit the number of pieces I make in a series. This is because I felt that I had arrived at a point where I had said enough about a certain topic with the work I had already made. For the first time after that decision I thought that there may come a point in time where I had exhausted the format of jewelry, where perhaps I had said all there was to be said. The logical conclusion of this would be that I would have to stop making jewelry. Well— On the other hand, and more likely, I would have to stop thinking and just bask in the fun and joy of creating jewelry and have a blast!