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Tuesday, 31 August 2010


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A view from one of Daniel Von Weinberger's exhibition rooms at the Grand-Hornu

Dear Shaded Viewers,

You don't often meet artists whose work celebrates the pleasures, pains and madness of life as wholly as Daniel Von Weinberger does. A teacher, father, artist and religious man, Von Weinberger redefines the word "eccentric" and gives it a new twist. His life is a beautiful marriage of contradictions and paradoxes. He has recently been honoured with a major exhibition at the Grand-Hornu -called "Plastique C'est Chic - Bijoux Eternels"- which is running until the 26th of September.

I didn't know what to expect when I went to see the show and was amazed by what the man could actually create. Von Weinberger certainly has plenty of divine inspiration left. His art is extraordinary, mixing fabrics, metals, found objects and materials with an anarchic spirit, starting from chaos to achieve a singular beauty. Von Weinberger's work also has a touching dimension in light of his tragic family past. He has experienced loss and death from a very early age, with pretty much every member of his family disappearing during the Holocaust.

Still, do not expect Daniel to be solemn or subdued. He has a bubbly, endearing personality, jumping mid-sentence constantly, confessing his own amazement and confusion at what he does. In a way, Von Weinberger's art comes from his guts and is purely instinctive. He doesn't have time to analyze what he creates and is always busy making the next big thing. We met up on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Betty De Stefano's Collectors Gallery, which represents him in Brussels.

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Daniel Von Weinberger's family portrait, which is showcased at the Grand-Hornu

Where does your passion with jewellery come from?

I've always been fascinated by it. When I was 15 in the 60s, I remember making hairpins, rings and other pieces out of wood. It was all about the hippies and Carnaby Street then. I managed to finance my studies at the Antwerp Academy selling my work to stores. People thought it was new and very special.

Wow. That is fairly special, I guess. Was there anyone in your family into jewellery, too?

The strange thing is that I had an uncle, called Daniel, who had also been at the Academy just before the war. One day, he wanted to tie his shoes and the Nazis shot him on the spot. The thing is, we have no family. Everyone was gassed.

People get to find out about your family in the exhibition and it's a tragic story, but there's something optimistic and life-affirming about your work.

My wife and I are looking after my mother and my aunt, who is now completely senile. We sat down one evening and wondered: "Is that what life is all about?" These people struggled during their entire existence and we struggle, too, worrying about our kids, their studies and their future. You could easily reach the lowest depth of depression thinking that way, but you have to live every moment of your life with intensity, despite all the problems.

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I felt exhilarated after seeing your show and that message is definitely there.

When I make something, I want to have a party with it. I was told that a lot of people are completely excited after seeing the exhibition and that happens almost everytime I put on a show.

I think it comes from the fact that your pieces freely combine materials, with each bit having its own value. There's no hierarchy and there are no boundaries either.

I also used big pieces of gold, but you don't know where they are. I guess I don't want people to find them! They're all very thin with holes. I wanted to use gold the same way I use plastic. Everything is valuable.

Is there a subversive element in what you do? Jewellery is often about wealth and indicating your social status.

Well, I grew up in the 60s, it's all in my genes. People were much freer then than they are now and it was a time of rebellion. My work is completely spontaneous and I never plan anything. I don't even understand it myself! I remember looking for crushed beer cans everywhere on a recent trip to Israel, I just had to use them for a big necklace I wanted to make. I also bought some unsual lace and got back here, working like crazy.

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Sounds like you had your own private Big Bang there.

Yes! I go crazy if I don't do anything with my hands and when I start using them, I go even crazier. I sometimes look at my work and think: "What is this??" (mutual laughter)

Ok, so you're crazy then... Does your art also address issues around waste and consumption?

There's hardly any recycling in my work now, except when I use tree branches or elements I find in nature. What I'm looking for is values, the value of a material or a colour. What I'm making is art. I remember reading a Chanel interview where she said that fashion was like music or film. That was her point of view, but she had a whole studio working for her and fashion is an industry. I see myself like a sculptor or a painter, making one-off pieces. That's art for me and it's about the emotions I have when I make a new piece. I can be inspired by anything. In my religion, everything comes from God and has a value. It's all a creation.

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How did you end up collaborating with designers, such as Ann Demeulemeester for instance?

I met Ann at the Academy and made special pieces later for one of her menswear shows. When I studied there, I was a big scandal.

How? Tell me.

(laughter) What did I not do at that time? I think the only thing I never did was heroin. That was normal then, people had an intense nightlife, experimenting and trying absolutely everything they could.

How did you discover faith? What was the trigger?

At that point, a lot of people were going crazy, even though it was before Aids appeared. There were girlfriends of mine who had perhaps had ten abortions and a lot of people were dying from having gone too far or ending up in asylums. I wanted to live properly.

Was it like a wake-up call then?

I just wanted to live. There's a magic in creation and I keep myself busy all the time. It's about grasping things that are almost invisible.

What I noticed during the exhibition was that each piece had a little story to tell. Is that narrative aspect important for you?

I'm not really busy with the story. People see that, but I don't.

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Betty De Stefano wearing one of Daniel Von Weinberger's pieces

Jewellery tends to be passed on from one generation to another and there's always a sense of transmission there.

My work has been described as having this "énergie généreuse" and I like that. I thought it reflected the kind of reactions people had after seeing the show. That makes me happy, you know. Life is a constant test. When you think you've passed, a new one comes along.

Was there a conflict between your art and your religion?

Yes, of course. That was a very hard time for me. I became religious in the early 80s and didn't know what I was going to do with my art. It took me ten years to find a balance between the two. I experienced a big breakdown at that time and went to see a therapist. He told me I had to start making art again and I did it slowly, making things that were very Judaic.

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One of Daniel's newest pieces, mostly made out of soft, purple velvet

Do you know who buys your pieces?

It's usually older ladies who buy them. They can be classic or eccentric. Or maybe they look conservative, but they're not. Collectors buy them, too. They wear my things and get addicted, coming back for more. People find it hard to understand it, but what I do is fashion, art and jewels at the same time.

I think we are approaching jewellery with a much more open mind now. I guess it's part of that return to craft and emotion we're witnessing. I reckon people either love or hate your work, but at least there's an emotion there.

This is art for me. Art is when you are touched. Something has to happen. I'm sorry, but when I look at the art world now, I hardly feel anything there. It's completely commercial and there's no emotion anymore. What I do is for people to wear and enjoy.



Posted by Philippe Pourhashemi at 12:05 PM | Permalink


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I love your work Daniel Von . I would show you my work too
i m a portuguese designer.
please tel me what do you think about it.
catarina maldonado

Posted by: catarina maldonado | Nov 15, 2011 4:32:11 PM

Too good and superb collection, amazing.

Posted by: Agence hotesses accueil Lyon | Sep 25, 2010 7:16:13 AM

Our brains function as sorters, organizers, catagorizers, a file cabinet if you wish. When trauma occurs and drugs are introduced the assorted thoughts, images, wishes, memories etc. meld to produce the fantastical. Your dream is a lovely perfect example of that phenomenon.

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