AN INTERVIEW with CARL AUBÖCK IV
A couple of years back we were lucky enough to meet Carl and curate a show of his photography featuring a road trip he had taken around American in the mid 1970s, and a friendship emerged from the experience. Carl carries the long family tradition of unique and handmade craft out of the same Vienna workshop ever since his grandfather, Carl Auböck II, left the Bauhaus school and started making the iconic brass works back in 1926. We find the Auböck design approach, which marries function with beauty and humor, to perfectly exemplify our philosophy of Grandeur in Simplified Living. Last month we had a conversation with Carl and are honored to have him as our first interview for our new bulletin. Enjoy…
Tell us about how you got into the family business
I attended a professional school together with my sister, for our trade, the gürtler. The gürtler trade deals with brass and bronze and copper products mostly for chandeliers in the 19th century. When chandeliers came out of fashion and electricity came up, more or less this profession became obsolete. Our workshop, together with two others in Vienna remained in the old trade of the gürtler. In 1997, I had my first exhibition with my grandfather, interest grew internationally, and after that point I had to look after production and new design and collaboration with other designers which is where we are today. Designers look to us for collaborations because they understand we have a very long tradition in crafts- not only metal but wood and leather and horn and so this is very interesting to continue in a trade that is alive. Designers look to us for collaborations becausey they understand we have a very long tradition in crafts - not only metal but wood and leather and horn and so this is very interesting to continue in a trade that is alive.
”I think the special character is they have some humor, some joke in it... it's a bit surrealistic!”
If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
I’ve been an architect like many others. We have over 1,500 here in Vienna. I have made exhibition projects small and large for many years, specializing in refurbishing historic structures. So, maybe I would have ended up as Architect 1,501, I don’t know. But this is more special, working with the workshop, and many young architects come wanting designs for their clients. So I like it very much that we are on the map as we were in the 50s. In the 70s 80s and 90s the workshop produced so much horn products, brushes and combs, that interiors were completely on the side line. I wanted to make it more diverse, to focus on the more interesting pieces of the archive, and now we are launching new products and the new catalog will be a bit changed.
What’s a day in the life at workshop?
Today we made two new products which will be launched very soon. I am working on a collaboration with an architect from San Francisco for some pieces for clients there. Then I have to go to the foundries and get the casts again. After that there are the steps; patina, grinding, polishing, marking them and this is a continuous course of work because I always try to keep a certain stock so customers can have products immediately, no lead time. So every day there are different orders and life in the workshop is very colorful and interesting.
How many people work there?
Three, it’s small and it stays small.
Any other Auböck family members in the workshop?
Yes, my son started to work with us from the end of last year. Things that are made for many years accumulate as experiences and you cannot pass them on in a few minutes, but he is very interested in quality and I’m very happy that it's happening that way.
Do you still touch each piece?
Yes of course, because nobody else would. Everybody has a certain job in the workshop and my job is that quality is good and that it can be sent off. To sell Auböck pieces is a lot about communication and knowledge of how they are made.
When you make new work for the brand, as opposed to for a client, whats the process?
I always have a client in mind because if I try to find a solution that’s an extension of his existence or life or emotions. Years ago, we had people coming to the workshop, buyers from New York departments stores, former Viennesians who were ostracized by the Nazis and moved to America, when arriving there they made their job as buyers and remembered us. So they traveled to Vienna and needed something for the desk of a manager, and it should be a conversation piece, an ice breaker. What could it be? One of these buyers said make a chain for me. Well, what for? If a sailor was on the seas and he died on the sea, he was stitched into his hammock and into the hammock they gave four links of the anchor chain to sink him down to the ground. It is the memento mori, you make the chain and the cotton bag that symbolizes the hammock and you put the chain into it. It’s an American idea and you give this as a gift. So if you’re a manager with a desk with nickel plated chains that oxidize to gold over time and if anyone asks you have this story… this conversation piece is very American.
What’s your favorite piece in your catalog?
There’s an object that was invented by my grandfather in the 1930’s. I asked my grandmother what it was and she said it’s easy- look at it! And I said is it something to hold a cigar or keys? She said no it’s for sugar cubes. They were a new invention in the 30s, so my grandfather made a sugar cube holder to present someone with a sugar cube on the table. If you look at it, you don’t know it. But at his time it was a very modern idea.
Yes! I think that’s what we’re drawn to for Auböck objects, they make daily ordinary tasks extraordinary.
I think the special character is they have some humor, some joke in it. Like hand that opens the beer bottle. So this is something my grandfather would have liked because he made the hand that bears a stopper on it, so you close the bottle with the hand – don’t drink so much – or you have it like its sinking in the bottle, like somebody is sinking in the bottle. Or the foot on the stopper looks like somebody has fallen into the bottle- it’s a bit surrealistic! He had a very surrealistic humor.
Could you tell me the story of the Auböck golden railroad spike?
The railroad spike is also an American conversation pieces, the story goes that they made the railway in the 19th century, they started from each coast and met in the middle and when they met in the middle they put in a spike made of solid gold. So this is in contrast to the memento mori, the ‘remember death’, this is a symbol of a ‘go west young man!’ or ‘you can do it’, the meeting of communication is a gold spike.
Is there any special story with the cane/brass bookends?
They are a very old model, 1937. The idea at the time was bamboo was cheap, it was not fashionable. So my grandfather always looked for materials that didn’t cost much money, same for the tree trunk tables – they are iconic Auböck pieces. In contrast to Nakashima who was selecting the woods and making great interiors out of one tree - my grandfather was different, he went to his turner one day, found a heap of these slabs in the courtyard and asked him what is this? He said we just use them for heating because the wood is no good. So he took a few to the workshop and out of this found object he made the first group of tree trunk tables which are very famous today. Same goes for cane pieces, which he found on the market made by farmers. The farmers made cane bowls and seeds and others pieces which are known in the countryside but not in the city, and he made pieces for modern interiors. If you think of your surroundings, like the shell of a computer and you think of something to make of a shell of a PC which will survive the next 50 years as a design icon –it's very hard to do. I think he had an easier life because there were so many objects that had grace and quality, and we are surrounded with many pieces that are important but they are neither have grace or quality. Even in the farmer’s places, things have changed a lot – in Vienna they have. Machines are different, everything is electronic it doesn’t have that vernacular originality as it had just 20 years ago. If you are just thinking of forms, I think you can create new things. If you have a certain religion in form and ethics and quality, it is not so hard to think of new things, you just have to break your head a bit.
”I think that design has a very important role, like popular music, in our culture because they define our way of living.”
It goes for everything; for literature for films. There’s a famous Italian designer, his name is Achille Castiglioni, and he made a lot of lamps and chairs and one day he was sitting in his studio and journalist came along and asked what are you working on right now. He looked up and said ‘I’m designing a chair.’ The journalist said there are 350,000 chairs and you design another one? And he said it is because there are 350,000 chairs that I design another one! It’s the question of the approach. If you say there are enough chairs on this world and its just heaping up karma to make a new one. Or if you say I want to explore a new region in myself, in my creative land that I have in myself. It’s my profession, I do it. I think that design has a very important role, like popular music, in our culture because they define our way of living. Sitting and walking and how you are dressed is a very strong contribution to our cultural development.
Thank you, Carl.