Dear Akiko, you graduated from the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 2010. Before that you already did three years of studies and five years of teaching at jewelry design schools in Japan. What made you decide to leave Japan and a good teaching job to join the quite renowned Jewelry art class of Otto Künzli, the German jewelry “pope”?

Akiko Kurihara

Akiko Kurihara

I met Professor Künzli in Tokyo for the first time, when he gave his workshop at Hiko Mizuno college of jewelry in 2003. I had been working as a lecturer at that school for five years. He was already one of the most famous and established artists in the contemporary jewelry world. I attended his lecture and saw some of his works. Then I was simply very interested in the contemporary jewelry scene in Europe, especially in Germany, where professor Künzli was teaching. I showed him some of my works and told him my interest in the Munich Academy of Fine Arts and the professor decided to take me as a guest student for one year. When I was in Japan, I thought that one year would be long enough to learn something, but it was totally different in reality. Of course I also had a big problems with language, foods, the local customs, a new life in a foreign country, etc.. Everything was much more difficult and tough than I had thought in Japan before, but also everything became more positively challenging day by day. The first half year passed by too quickly. One day I suddenly realized that I haven’t accomplished anything and I was upset. That was when I decided to complete my studies at the Academy in professor Künzli’s class.

Did your German/European experience change your approach to creating jewelry?

Yes and No. I saw many “real” pieces in Germany or in Europe, which I had seen only in books in Japan before. Sometimes they are much more wonderful than I saw in photos, but some of them were worse than I expected. In the meanwhile I realized the power of photography. I also realized that it is dangerous to rely on photos too much and to neglect the quality of the real pieces.
Through my life at the Academy I’ve learned “who I can ultimately trust is only myself.”
But I’m not complaining at all. Luckily, I met many talented colleagues and had opportunities to hear their opinions or to experience their point of views. They are always fresh for me, but after all, my creativity comes always only from inside of myself but not from the outside environment. It is like in „Chasing Happiness: Maurice Maeterlinck, the Blue Bird and England“ by Jane Munro. Creating is often lonely labor, although I have many friends or colleagues around me. Fortunately, as long as I have my working bench and tools, I can keep creating my pieces anywhere.

Most of your jewelry includes details that are not so obvious initially to the viewer. Your works need close attention and work much with the Japanese concept of unpretenciousness opposed to the usual ostentatious presence of conventional jewelry that usually uses precious metals and precious stones. Do you think that women, in Europe and in Japan, are ready to wear jewelry that does not reveal at first sight its actual value?

I think that the Japanese market is still dominated by so-called “brand jewelry”. People trust only in the value of the material (gold, diamond etc) or in the brand name, but not much in artist’s idea or design. Last several years, a few new young gallerists have become outstanding, and the situation in Japan is slowly changing. Some of young generation are shifting their interest to the contemporary jewelry. But I think one of the biggest problems in Japan is “absence of collectors.”

How many of your jewelry pieces could be worn by men too, in your opinion? Do you keep in mind a male audience too, when you create your jewelry?

I often get such questions and suggestions. Actually I’ve never thought of this point, because I have always put my priority in creativity. But somehow some of my pieces, especially brooches, are favored by men. In fact, jewelry items for men are limited. Actually ring, necklace, earring are not very easy to wear, but brooch or wedding ring are only exceptional. It could be interesting to focus on jewelry for men for the next theme.

Is there no contradiction that jewelry artists call themselves artists and graduate from art academies but do not want to see their work being handled like other art forms, like sculptures or paintings? Why do jewelry artists limit their own work to just wearable art?

Now I would like not to refer to other jewelry artists but only to me. Your question could be a question to Haiku authors ” Look, there are so many ways to write, like free verse, novel, etc… But why on earth do you use only 17 words (5/7/5.) and limit your possibility? Isn’t it inconvenient? ” Haiku authors dare to choose the form of 5/7/5 and they compress infinite images into such short sentences. And if you know the rule and the form of Haiku, you can more enjoy and interpret the author’s emotion. Actually I’m also interested in other art fields (painting, sculpture, photography, etc…), but I dare to choose jewelry. One reason is I have technique of making jewelry, and its size controllable by myself suits me. And I think that the jewelry is the interesting existence that can mediate communication of people. The limited way to express my creativity is not really bad but actually challenging.

How important is your choice of material for your creations?

Because of my technical ability, I often use metals, especially silver. Sometimes I simply enjoy using them. But actually I have no limit in my choice. If my idea fits certain materials, I never hesitate to use them. For example, I have recently made “wine leaf” brooches out of wine bottles. The most important thing is, “Materials must naturally fit to my ideas.”

Since 2011 you live in Milan. Is your daily life in Italy’s fashion and design capital having an influence on the way you look at your art?

To tell you the truth, actually I’m not a very going out type person. I feel happy when I work at my bench, read books quietly, play with my cat at home. In Tokyo, in Munich, or in Milan, I guess I would spend my time almost similarly. But of course there are so many “must-see” great things and Milan is a Mecca of fashion. I can’t ignore that. Maybe I must slowly check the scene around me and take a small step into their field. Anyway, food is just wonderful and I really enjoy Italian cuisine. I only miss German beer!

If someone would ask you to do a special jewelry for her or him, would you work on commission? What information would you need to create something that fits your customer’s personality and taste?

Yes, I will do that. If the customer would get an inspiration from my works and order something to me, it also could be an interesting experience for me and I’m open to hear their ideas or images.