Welcome to a potpourri of Johanna & Friedrich Grafling’s activities over the last years - ranging from exhibition making, art production, architectural projects and spatial research to knowledge production in form of conversations with protagonists from the fields of art, architecture and design.
Being deeply invested in the world of art and architecture, Johanna & Friedrich are constantly looking for ways to challenge their understanding of given structures and forms of operation.
Together, the founded Cultural Avenue GmbH, Salon Kennedy / Frankfurt and Kunstverein Wiesen e.V. in Wiesen, Bavaria and are continuously building up their private art collection, sammlung FIEDE by Johanna & Friedrich Gräfling.
Currently they are dwelling in their interest in a re-activation of rural areas through cultural production by analysing the correlation between art, architecture and socio-economic structures.
First of all, could you tell us a bit about your practice, please?
All of my work usually starts on small sheets of paper. Often with a few previous idea or topic I have in mind I draw in sessions of a few hours. The result is principally the base which I might transfer into different medias. It´s a sketch - a visual possibility of what we could call a story - framed on a piece of paper. My pictorial content deals with the human, its body and its environment (technical and natural). As i draw mostly using pure lines I suggest that my work can be read as an investigation of limitations and potentials of what the practice of line drawings brings into the tradition of figurative art. By using different imagecarriers such as canvas, wall or skin I observe the transfer into threedimensional concepts or a change within their permanence linked to different tools of documentation. It feels always important for me to work out the specifics of each medium and to rethink the role of the viewer. Being captured in this human apparatus also means being limited concerning the perspective towards the environment. I also count in the multiple devices humans use to extend their perspectives. To bring in a specific example: In the exhibition i do in Salon Kennedy the immersive impact of the fresco correlates with the flatness of canvases and the convex surface of human skin by realizing stories which deal with these topics I named.
Do you see yourself as a painter or rather as an illustrator?
Although I try to deny classifications I tend to say: I draw (which in my opinion is not painting neither illustrating). I follow Vasari‘s approach of the sketch: the realization of an idea into simple quick contour lines. The difference is that for me the „disegno“ is usually the finished work in order to transfer it on another surface rather than working it out on the same surface. My approach is defined by the use of an economic and efficient linedrawing which allows me to create a whole range of motifs, scenarios and stories. It gives me the possibilities to work in very different scales and to create a certain recognizable personal imaginery.
Although your lines and hence works are very clean, the image carrier reads differently. Be it a complete room, ceiling, the traditional canvas, skin, paper, stone or whatever there is, the underground suggests a certain spontaneity. How planned and carefully thought through are your works?
That really depends on the situation: I work always very spontanoues on small scale paper, which serves me to develop my imaginery and keeps me trainend. It‘s a daily practice to achieve new content. I can discover new perspectives or compositions. And also It gives the possibility to produce a lot in a short amount of time. Half is garbage though. I might reuse the good ones either as a tattoo on someone‘s skin or as an element in a canvas or on the wall. Which leads me to the point that on larger scale I plan way more nowadays. Even if I draw spontanouesly on a medium it would be a „learned“ or „trained“ gesture - something i‘ve drawn serveral times before on paper. I also use different tools such as meters or projectors to be able to reproduce exactly the same drawing with all the spontaneous vibe it has on paper. On the other hand i always try to keep space for intuitive interventions and spontanoues addings. The best results seems to ground on a sensible balance between reinterpretation and new quick inventions.
Your graduation work at the HFG Offenbach, where you painted the entire chapel of the Isenburger Schloss can be interpreted as contemporary frescoes, which quite closely follow the renaissance thought of story telling and architectural ornament. What relation do these shifts in technique, time and surface mean to you?
In order to create some sort of timeless language within my drawings I seek to evoque the feeling of a certain essential presence trough the reduction on contours. I also see a certain „universiality“ other linedrawings, in be it on wall of religious monoments or modern vectorgrafics, or pictogramms. I guess it‘s on one hand the readability and clearness of simple lines which makes it so evident but also the responsible acting human which became a typical topic in the renaissance. The drawings I did in the „Isenburger Schloss“ which is a Renaissance Castle itself, aimed to embed topics from different epochs towards fictions a couple of decades ahead of us in order to appear timeless. I guess the broader I went with marking time specifics trough remarkable examples the more timeless the whole impression became.
Talking about time in the sense of the relation and story within, one of course also needs to discuss the element of time in terms of the permanence within a painting. What role does the notion of time / permanence play for you? Or this irrelevant and only the architectural size matters?
I would not say it’s irrelevant - the lack of permanence in my work became more of a factor I face with a certain acceptance. Apart from my archived drawings and the canvas I draw, most of my work is somehow volatile. Working on human skin strikes you every time with the fact that none of the tattoos gonna last very long (compared with other surfaces they alter very quick, plus they die with the person who owns it). Most time you don‘t even see the tattoo twice. And when I draw on the walls in exhibition spaces it’s similar: The drawings stay the same but they get covered under a new layer of white paint to receive the following artists in a neutral condition. On this point it makes it even more interesting to reflect the „natural“ ephemerity of each medium and the role the documentary starts playing in this context. I actually don‘t loose the work after it‘s overpainted or just walked out of my studio door - I transfer it on another media and it keeps being visible trough our flat bright screens. Which offers new potential to the works…it‘s definitely hyper-mobile and somehow „immortal“ as data.
Being tattooed yourself and being widely known as a tattoo artist – how can we elaborate further on permanence but also the surface in regards to the previous question?
By taking pictures of tattoos we already overcome the question of permanence, mobility and visibility. By transforming every artwork in a code, we archived it, we flattened it, we make the documentation of almost every exhibition visible for everybody connected to the internet. And i guess the internet is a permanent invention.
I don´t think the documentation is able replace the original „auratic“ artwork, but we should face the fact that we consume a lot of art through screens – and we´re getting used to it. It´s important to underline for some of my work it´s necessary to experience it in real scale, on real skin or canvas. But in order to make it available for more recipients the picture solves the question of permanence and make it editable for me and it´s projectable/printable on every new surface in order to create something new out of it. In difference to other photography it already has passed certain steps of time, efforts, scale changements, maybe pain, decisions, etc - so it‘s usually material charged with meaning.
From a historical point of view the canvas/the board got invented to carry a painting from A to B, instead of just having it permanently hung on a wall. This ethos in mind what role would you argue for a tattoo and in what relation does it stand to a paper or canvas work by you?
Both, tattoos and canvas/paper are connoted as mobile - the difference is that one can move from one wall to another while the tattoo itself is not mobile, it‘s the owner itself. Another significant difference in my opinion is that the canvas/paper is flat. And doing tattoos nowadays still means to be confronted with a three-dimensional living individual surface which ages and might not agree with my ideas. As there is usually an accompanying drawing on paper there‘s something of a partnership between paper and skin. The paper drawing gets picked by its new owner and travels from now on with it as a tattoo. And then we have the photography. Through internet it travels to screens all over the world (even when the tattoo itself does not exist anymore.) The photography incorporates the flat drawing on paper, and the adaptation on someone´s body. The irritation of the skin indicates the pain a person had go trough. it has a certain power as an image. Yet also, it has no monetary value, as it is so fluid. it became anonymous data.
Your works, regardless of the surface, obviously the bigger, the denser, play with different fragments and perspectives both from a painterly demand, but also from a literary aspect. Do the scenes you draw stem from fantasy? Or rather personal stories or constructed realisms?
When i compose large scale works i construct a scenario. It arises from my fantasy indeed, but it always has strong links to real conditions. I never really invent the new. I push myself more or less to refer the ordinary, the common to a different environment or eventually to visualize a different perspective. I gather. I collect. I archive ideas and sketches. And as soon as i start drawing a complex piece i arrange the collected. It´s also by episodes I work out certain topics, specific animals or objects or perspectives to learn about it or to find out different facettes. The result is an ongoing personal iconography which is fluid and changes from time to time.
Coming back to an earlier question about spontaneity and the surface, we find it remarkable within your practice, that the drawings evolve on the desk, but also while you are paragliding, during exhibitions in galleries and museums, but also in a painted tent on the streets of Tel Aviv. Does this mean that your art has no boundary in terms of its time, location and situation?
It´s sounds a bit pretentious but yes. To be honest, most of my drawings happen far away from my desk. My preferable desk for small scale drawings is the train. I would say it´s one of the reasons why the practice of drawing always impressed me so muchis that it is a skill. It does not require special material. It´s understandable through every layer of society. It´s not necessarily always understanded as „art“ – but at least as a tool of communication. It opens doors.
Currently you are exhibiting at Salon Kennedy in Frankfurt, where you again painted the entire space correlating with paintings on canvas in the gallery. This layering both physically, but also conceptually is very fascinating. Do you want to elaborate a little on your relation of perspective both in the drawing but also in the story?
My work in Salon kennedy reflects the interpersonal marking of our bodies, the practice of tattooing trough different scenarios. By rearranging sketches i did trough a tattoo road trip in 2018 and combining them with new drawings i created different scenes where the questions of the three dimensional surface of our body is always opposed to our tendency to flatten the „world“ or to surround us with flat artifacts, such as maps, screens. This whole environment pairs with elements of generation of energy, the pleasure of traveling, flora and fauna. At the end it aims to realize a universal role-play which reflects a few contemporary phenomenas i see in tattoo- and travel-culture, but also appears very renaissance-ish as it tries to bring all elements of life together.
On top of your personal story drawn in multiple views in this exhibition, you are incorporating local elements, like the Salon dinnertable, the number plate of the car, the digital map of the space, the flowers in the entrance etc… How does layer or perspective relate to the work described in the previous question?
I guess it´s a serious need of me to contextualize my drawings or tattoos towards the location where it is shown or applied. It creates a essential bond between me, the location and the viewer. It gives the drawings a reason to be there. It sets marks where the location and it recipients become part of what the see.
I filled the walls of Salon Kennedy with people tattooing each other. Tattoing in this space while I created the wall drawings charged the whole process of tattooing and drawings which legitimation. The drawings start fading between a documentation and a constructed reality. It´s a strategy to link the invented and in some sort absurd drawings with elements from our own reality.
For this weeks Theme Week we are introducing young architectural offices from around the world, more particularly one, in our eyes interesting one from each continent. You are British, have lived and worked in Switzerland for a long time but in 2009 opened your office in Seoul. Could you tell us a bit about your practice, please?
Opening my own office was less a choice but a necessity in my case. After working for over 10 years for several architectural companies I realized that if I didn’t cut-off the professional umbilical cord it would be a case of gradual asphyxiation.
When I eventually opened the office, I never considered what it should be like or what model to follow; it was simply a case of finding a space and group of people that wanted to embark a similar journey. Whenever people ask me how the office works, I often refer to a garage, where you take your vehicle to be fixed. The mechanics don’t really know why they fix cars and don’t rely on any engineering physics to fix it: through shear experience they “recognize” how to fix an engine; they use sound/touch/grain to intuitively arrive at the solution. I like this raw approach to architecture, no formulated system, this is the broadly the way the office works.
We are now an office of 6-10 staff depending on the projects, with two experienced architects and the rest students and interns straight out of school. I like to work with young people, and deliberately try not to employ older staff. Young people bring energy and I thrive on the fact that they don’t have prescribed solutions, they are naïve and this brings an edge to the work.
Why did you decide to open your office in Seoul? Was it merely a strategic decision?
Again it was more a gut feeling that London and Europe generally, the places that I had been based all my life, were becoming dormant and a little stagnant. Seoul (I had visited several times before moving), on the other hand had an edge, it was a city waiting to become, a city “in-process” not really certain whether it should look to the future or fall back some form of mutated history, but definitively a place with a huge amount of latent energy to tap into.
Having worked here now for more than three years, I can safely say that it’s a city unashamedly confused, where however much people (Politicians/Planners/Architects) try to sanities it, it always fights back. Seoul is now my daily source of inspiration, a place that has taught me how to read the metropolis in a different way. For example rather than locate our office in a swanky downtown space, as most architects seem obliged to do here in Seoul, we are located above a vibrant street market where the colours, smells and constant bussing keeps my imagination alert.
After having been Associate at Herzog de Meuron and project architect for the Caixa Forum Madrid for example, how did you experience the transition of working on your own after this large-scale office experience?
The CaixaForum project, a project I oversaw at HdeM for more than 5 years, from conception to completion was without doubt the most formative professional and educational experience of my career.
The project was an atypical project in every sense of the word: firstly the ambition of the client to retain the existing building and at the same time insert more than 5 times the existing area into the building (economic suicide); the location of the site in the heart of Madrid seamlessly merged into the existing historical fabric and finally the cosmopolitan project team, where there was no single member coming from the same country. All these factors combined with others rendered the project unique.
If there was one lesson I took away and that somehow follows me in all my solo projects is the belief that an architect has to make the client dream, see beyond the multitude of obstacles, beyond the practical and bureaucratic steps that can render architecture banal, mundane and worst of all predictable.
Buildings are about people, about forming relationships with teams, clients and staff. Something students never learn at school the social/political/business side of our profession, to a certain degree designing is the easy part, finding a client and constructing a building (retaining your philosophy) is a different story.
Within a short period of time, your team grew and right now about seven full time architects are working for you. How is your office structured?
I need to design, to be close to the project at all times. Hence I try to delegate all administrative matters to others, such as contract, email and daily running of the project. I try to draw at least 4 hours a day, mostly sketching and looking at models. At the moment because we are running out of space, the office has become an obstacle course, but this sense of compression engages me with the models, with the physical dimension of the spaces we are designing.
Regarding the structure of the office; we operate with a loose system, with few rules, encouraging all to can participate in the process. I have always been a little suspicious of offices that have rigid working systems, designing is not a science and the generative process requires cul-de-sacs to arrive to a possible alternative. Process is my form of experimentation, where the process generates a by-product, what I call “waste”.
I have been interested in the concept of waste for quite some time and recently made an exhibition about it, here follows a small extract from the text of the exhibition.
“I rely on this material to form the basis of my architectural research; each study model, each reference; each drawing creates an archive of knowledge, a taxonomy of imagination. In a world where hyper-real visualizations are the apotheosis of architectural representation, architectural waste epitomizes and embodies architectural thinking and an important antidote against the vacuous infatuation of renderings.”
You are being invited to competitions, at the same time you are working on commissions and entering open competitions. On how many projects are you and your team usually working simultaneously?
For the first two years we only worked with one project at the time, doing between 6-8 projects a year (usually 4 competition and 4 commissions). These days we are getting more work so are currently working on three projects, which I think is a sensible and enjoyable number.
Each project has a person responsible at the beginning who prepares the project, liaises with the client, arranges the meetings, etc…. When deadline approaches, or we have a submission we gather together and join forces. In this way everyone works on all project, I am sure in the future this will change but for the moment it works. Of course this has a large impact on the skills people need. Each staff has a special skill that can contribute and improve the project.
Being placed in Korea, are your projects mainly in Korea or are you operating on an international scale? Does a geographical location matter for the initial entering of projects?
People talk a lot about the globalized environment we work in, yet I think architecture has an important local dimension. In our case we visit all the sites we work on, we seek to form a bond with the client that is not simply virtual (emails and web-hards). I want to speak to the client, tailor the building to his/her needs rather than work from abstract conceptions.
On the other hand there are many new markets in Asia which I am very interested in, last year we did a small project in Beijing and now we looking at working in Shanghai with a Korean Client. The important factor is to retain your working philosophy, not feel pressurized in adapting your architecture to the demands of the local market. Often clients in Asia talk in terms of renders, they don’t have time and patience for drawings, they want to be seduced and forget. Most of our output is model based, and I think 80% of the models the client never sees.
When browsing your website one notices a lot of competition entries and invitation for museums such as the Olso National Museum, the Korean History Museum, the Whaki Museum. Also you were nominated for the prize for Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, you were invited to participate in a new construction for the Busan Opera House and most recently joined the competition for a new national contemporary Art storage of Korea. Is the link between architecture and culture an important one to you?
I am interested in architecture as a spatial conception; how spaces are formed, the hierarchy of spaces, interstitial spaces, open and closed spaces, generally how spaces form and guide our experience. Museums and cultural spaces generally offer a huge experimental ground for this investigation; from how light enters the galleries to how you circulate (being constantly compressed and released into rooms) hence on that level I think there is a link between architecture and culture. I don’t believe (and never have) that art should affect architecture in a literal way, as so many of my contemporaries believe.
There is however a dimension between culture and architecture that is fundamental and that is the social dimension. Nowadays both in the profession and in the education establishments the social dimension of architecture has become oxymoron, an irrelevant anachronistic dimension that has been relegated to the back seats.
On this topic I am currently reading a book by the founder of Olivetti, the Italian manufacturing Company that in the 50’s and 60’s revolutionized the industrial system by creating a utopian community where architecture and culture where at the heart of the project. There is a lot of hype about Apple these days and their design philosophy but few have heard of Olivetti, this is an indication of what design is becoming, where the aesthetic dimension has buried the wider and more important agenda.
What are from your point of view the interrelations between arts, design and architecture and what impact does this have on your practice?
I believe architects should be generalists, i.e. dip their fingers in many pots, rather than specialists in a single field (sustainable/digital/contextual). Art and design are elements that have always interested me but I am very aware that the work I make is not Art neither is it Design. I think this distinction is important otherwise architecture becomes a pastiche an amalgam of pseudo artist and scientists references
Scale is an important dimension of my work; I apply the same thinking when working on a small door detail as I apply to large scale masterplan projects. I think the issue of scale relates to your question as Artist and Designers have no fear of working at freely with the same idea at different scales, while architects (for some weird pedagogical reasons) are taught to change their methodology when considering the city compared with designing a domestic space, resulting in an architecture that is confused and somehow compromised.
Besides running your office, you are actively involved in teaching architecture, first at the Architectural Association and today at the Seoul National University. Is the academic work a major influence of your practice or is it just a means of staying informed and ‘up to date’?
I think teaching is an integral part of being an architect for me, and I would say the same applies vice-versa, being and architect is an essential part of being a teacher.
It would be impossible for me to teach without practicing, I would be lost. Being in contact with the profession, from making prototypes to the construction site, practice is part of how and why I teach. Architecture is about asking questions: conceptual, practical, logical and from these questions drawing conclusions. I am definitely not a teacher that imposes neither a path nor a direction, if that were the case I couldn’t teach.
My teaching at the AA revolved around breaking the rigidity with which we approach architectural thought, i.e. the architectural concept. Students usually have either a preconceived idea or insist in using a metaphor as their concept. For this reason I developed a process where students were taken out of his/her comfort zone and were asked to produce a concept through the medium of film and video. Because as architects we are not use to the medium, working with film as a medium allows a more naïve and hence fresher response to conceptual thinking. I often use this method in the office, taking away the tools that I feel comfortable with and generating a solution simply by describing it in a written text. To paraphrase McLuhan’s sentence, “The Medium Subverts the Message”.
At SNU (Seoul National University) my interest has changed from film to publications. Students work on a collective book throughout the semester. By making a book students are obliged to work in teams, they have to decide and agree on a format and importantly work with systems and structures they didn’t create. I like to transport this working reality into the design studio.
Fundamental to your teaching is the understanding of architecture as a thinking process where concept and observation are fundamental to the process of generating spaces. How is this thinking process reflected in the physical outcome of your work?
I am very pleased you describe my teaching in this manner. In my work I the exact same process, the only variant is the actors and the dialogue changes. In the office the process is more charged, the time scale to test and take decisions is much faster
You are stating, that the fragments and its ultimate experience to the user are stronger than the whole. You define “fragments” as the juxtaposition of different ideas that generate the single project – for yourself seen as a narrative telling multiple stories. Are these rather architectural elements or can one truly think of almost cinematic experiences?
I like the fact that you leave this question to the end, and it is a good point to summarize and to conclude the interview. Actually I had been thinking in terms of fragments a long time before I wrote this passage that you mention, I simply didn’t realize these thoughts were actually about fragments.
You are correct in thinking the concept is somewhat cinematic, David Lynch for one is a director that often works with fragments, letting the spectator connect the dots and form his own story inside the main story. However my thinking about fragments relates more to the writing by the Novelist/
Philosopher/Social commentator Fernando Pessoa, especially his enlightened book “The Book of Disquiet” published posthumously in 1935.
It is a book that is difficult to classify, at times a notebook and a dairy and at other times a Philosophical Tractatus , a book that describes the condition of looking and embraces the open ended question we live in and rejects the finished article.
Pessoa’s concept of fragments allow thoughts and observations to be taken out of context, to be juxtaposed to unexpected items, creating absurd, illogical and contradictory worlds where we can extract new possibilities. In brief this is how I see fragments and ultimately architecture.
I have never worried about the future and what comes next, I am always to busy in the present. Thank you for the questions and I am sure I will see you soon in Seoul/London/Berlin…
To begin with, could you please tell us a little bit about your practice.
My practice? I’m gnawing the pencil, rearranging the desk, perspiring, perspiring, and at some point I realise I need to be more relaxed, permeable even; things are very close at hand; fey little office doodles, shop fronts, stickers I collected as child. In flow of my work, they’re extracted ready-mades. There is another aspect, it involves specialist processes and manufacturing techniques, searching these out is like making a kind of pilgrimage. You end up on the periphery of cities, in the bleaker of industrial estates, the companies around are called Velopex and Proformer and they don’t care a bit about you.
When looking through your portfolio, sculptures seem to dominate your oeuvre. Would you hence describe yourself as a sculptor?
A lot of my work is very concerned with materials. Plastic, rubbers and other composites are so abundant nowadays they have their own life cycles. I think for example of the swathes of plastics and glass awash in the Pacific Trash Vortex. There tends to be some visceral substance lurking in even the newest of machinery; 3D printers run on a powder that looks a lot like sand, the new prototypes are a washed out, bone-like brown.
In one of your statements on your practice, you describe that your arrangements might seem to be composed of found objects, yet you actually use rapid prototyping to virtually render the objects. Could you, please shortly explain this rather new technique in more detail to our readers.
The great thing about rapid prototyping is it constructs 3D objects horizontally, through thousands of flat layers. The objects are effectively born in these box-shaped 3D printers, which look more like scientific incubators. Like skyscrapers, objects emerge into the void, slowly building upwards, with no mould or negative. In the basin of a 3D printer, an infinite number of pairings can be born in one object, like a head and a filling system; there would be no graft and no seam.
How do you use this technique in a two dimensional production or are you only using this for the three dimensional objects?
On screen, the visual rendering visuals are beautiful, hypothetical. I use Turbo Squid, it’s a site where pre-rendered 3-D objects can be easily downloaded and manipulated. The simplicity and ubiquity of such images present something like the digital age equivalent of the “ready-made” except it could be a crumb or a castle. However, I’ve never used these in works themselves.
Although laser cutting, 3D printing and cnc-ing are becoming more common, these tools are not only a financial burden but also hard to access. How are you going about it? (assuming you don’t have all of these machine in your studio)
Well that’s a really good question – I’ve found the move to machining processes has been both incredibly empowering and disempowering. Each project marks the beginning of a long negotiation involving a circle of people with different types of, specialisms, egos and interpretations. For example, a rendering produced by a German architecture student might be made by a machine operator on the edge of Letchworth Garden City. You have to adopt certain disguises.
Throughout your studies at the Staedel School in Frankfurt, it can be assumed that you started off sculpting in a more traditional manner by simply using your own hands. How and why did you decide to include new media in your practice? What importance does the new media have to your work?
Before studying in Germany, my studio looked very busy, like a functioning ecosystem – everything was handled and wrought. I was looking for a kind a material mimesis but was never patient with my hands. Everything would break, a whole sculpture would end up on the floor, a cracked‐up, sentimental mess.
Coming to the Stadelschule changed everything. I felt like a Luddite alongside the dematerialised, technocratic practices of my colleagues. I started to use CAD drawing programs; on the screen I could mimic and replicate surfaces, treat whole volumes casually. All of these processes took me away from the studio, so I started to think about having to externalise an idea through software or explaining it to another fabricator.
Having studied in the UK and in Germany, are there and if so, to what extent do Universities and the teaching method differ in both countries, especially with regards to such new techniques?
In the UK there was a very high awareness of how things were made and I don’t know if it related to the craft history of Britain, especially in schools like the RCA which was originally a craft and guild school. This phrase “production values” was constantly around. In Germany there was much less of an emphasis on this. It was expected, precondition of the work, really just assigned to the meaning of it. I remember my professor saying “well if it needs to be CNCed and it costs this much, that’s what just you have to do”.
By virtually rendering and then printing the objects, the artist’s touch is arguably missing. Have you ever come across the question of authorship in your work? Is the conceptual or rather the technical approach of greater relevance?
Art is the one of the only areas where the question of authorship constantly arises; a car designer’s touch isn’t missing, nor an architect’s. Nonetheless, using machines does force you to externalise intentions much sooner and more precisely, the end result invariably embodies a collaborative process, I enjoy that both technically and conceptually.
You are currently exhibiting at the VI, VII Gallery in Oslo. Can you tell us more about the exhibition? (concept, works on display…)
The works have evolved from a larger piece of sculpture, a detached roller door, pulled straight out of the high street. I had a kind of fantasy to turn it into a crude metallic sea, the interlocking slats are wave- like and rhythmic. Then there is a rosette helix pattern which is extracted from the profile of the sculpture and re-articulated in several works, including silkscreen prints and a textile work.
Hi Sarah, could you tell us a little about your practice?
In my work I make pieces that mainly star myself in many guises and in a variety of media. These are often humorous! (well they try to be!) I discuss topics such as feminism, the art world, media and people.
One could not define your medium, you paint, use photography, sculpture, performance, video, neon etc.. How important is the conceptual side of your work?
The conceptual side is the most important part of my work, without that I wouldn’t make it in the first place. I just don’t have the desire to make it. I know to some this might be quite limiting but it’s just the way I work and always will. I don’t see the point otherwise.
You are working around themes of religion and feminism, both are vital parts in your own life. Is this also a reason, that you are yourself the protagonist in nearly all of your works?
As the works come from me and are so personal to me, it has always felt natural to use myself in the work. Also to me the main message is portrayed in the face and the look in the eye. Without that, nothing in the picture works. It is hard to explain what this facial expression is to another person, it’s like trying to explain how to sum up a thousand ideas in the glint of an eye. I have always felt I am the best person to portray that. I also think that my emotions come across in my facial expression, it’s my personal connection with the viewer. And on another level its just so fun and I love it, especially pieces like the Disney Princesses, every time I look at them I remember how I had such a laugh making them. I will always have fond memories!
What is your definition of feminism?
For me it is gender equality. The battle is still not won. And this is not just about women and I feel that changes in society for women in turn open opportunities for men to also have more fulfilling lives and relationships.
Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
Yes I would but I would like to broaden the idea of what this is.
Already with 22 years you were in the headlines, right after university, due to your first place at the new sensation award by Charles Saatchi and followed by your first solo exhibition in London. How has this time influenced you?
I suppose it made me realise that my actions can cause repercussions (not necessarily a bad thing!). I suppose there was an untouched beauty in that early work because no one knew me, I had no expectations on me and it was so organic. Now I have that restriction and level of expectation and to an extent I fear how people will take things - although I have learnt you can never please everyone and if you did then you’d have your art on duvet sets in Debenhams. However, I think my work is more well thought out and conceptually sound. In my show in 2008, I didn’t have any control and I knew I didn’t believe in some of the pieces and I knew some were bad. Now I would never let that happen. I am more mature as an artist and a lot stronger, I know who I am, I know what I want to say and I know I can make a difference.
For more than 2 years you did not produce any new works or even exhibited any old ones. A breakdown at this age already?
Haha what 2 years was that? I have not had a rest yet and have always been showing. Which 2 years? Some times are quieter than others, I would say in terms of producing new work, this year has been my quietest. I have only made 2 pieces. But this was mainly because I had a big show at the beginning of the year and needed some time out to think about the next direction of my work and to prepare for my retrospective at Kunsthoonie in Estonia next year. I’m not sure what I would like to make next and I’m not the kind of person to churn something out for the sake of it, there’s no soul in that.
You were on a residency program in New York during that time and took part at Marina Abramovic performance “The artists is present” at MOMA, New York. How influential is Abramovic as an artist and the experience itself for your career?
Abramovic is massively influential. She puts her everything into her work which I love and respect. It was so incredible to take part in the performance, I was very lucky, I only had a four hour wait which is hardly anything compared to some people who camped over night. I saw the film that was made about it a month or so ago and it made me read up on more about her as an artist. I find it fascinating how the show at MoMa connected with so many people, how it made them FEEL something. This is what art should be about. I think it will be hugely influential on the next body of work I make, even if indirectly.
From then on you have exhibited your previous work in solo shows in Munich, Paris and Amsterdam again. Your new body “Its a Girl” had its premier in London this year and will travel to the Kunsthoonie Museum in Tallinn.
You have been compared by the Independent on Sunday as “Meet the heir to Tracey Emin’s throne… The best of the new young British artists” An honor or rather a burden?
It’s definitely an honour. I don’t think that anyone is comparing me to Tracey in terms of the art we make, which is very different. I saw it more as the next upcoming artist, which is of course very flattering. Funny how they don’t say ‘the next Damien Hirst’. I never get compared to a man! I don’t get such an honour as that…;)
How do you perceive feminism in contemporary art today? What are in your opinion the differences to your predecessors such as Tracy Emin, Cindy Sherman or Sarah Lucas?
I think there’s a lot of new exciting feminist art mixed with some terrible stuff, haha! I would say in general there seems to be a lot more positivity around feminism these days, which I think is largely due to the accessibility of interesting articles and information flying around on the social nets. Also with people like Caitlin Moran and Lady Gaga bringing it into more mainstream culture and in a way that’s accessible for young people. I think all these things feed into each other. I get lots of young people writing to me and sending me their works based on feminist ideas which is so great to see. I think we may have lost a bit of the punk element in art, I would like to see work that is a bit more ballsy, like Sarah Lucas was/is.
You have also been involved in feminist discussions outside of your immediate art production. How are you describing your active voice at conferences such as “Women Inc’festival” in Amsterdam last year or the panel discussion for Amnesty International “Who are you to speak?” in 2010?
I’m not sure what this question means!
I’ve got the London Art Fair and my retrospective at Kunsthoonie coming up which I’m so excited about. It feels odd to call it that as I am 27 but it’s exciting all the same. After that I am in talks over a few things but not 100% set in stone as yet. It’s going to be a hectic year! I don’t see myself settling down to really concentrate on a new body of work for at least 6-12 months.
Exactitudes is made up of exact and attitude. Can you tell us a little bit more about your practice, please?
WE call our series Exactitudes: a contraction of exact and attitude. By registering our subjects in an identical framework, with similar poses and a strictly observed dress code, we strive to provide an almost scientific, anthropological record of people’s attempts to distinguish themselves from others by assuming a group identity. The apparent contradiction between individuality and uniformity is, however, taken to such extremes in an arresting objective-looking photographic viewpoint and stylistic analysis that the artistic aspect clearly dominates the purely documentary element. We just hunt for look and meanings.
Is everyone an exactitude? Or how does one become one?
Not everyone can be classified, maybe 20 % can end up in an Exactitude.
We just looks freshly at certain similarities in looks depending on the place or commission.
How many series are there up to date and are you establishing new ones on a regular basis?
There are 136 series now. We make series on a regular base, but mind you its quite intense work. We actually meet all those people, invite them to come to studio, and get them involved in the project. Obviously the portrayed people will be taken care of also after shoot, int terms of sending them the picture and keep them informed about the whereabouts of the project.
Your work operates on an archival method, which becomes stronger through the accumulation over time. Will/can there ever be a stop?
The project stop when we think it time to stop, not that the world stop ‘exactituning’. The archival method was a part of the concept of the project from the beginning, we take that part very seriously. Apart from the content we feel that there enormous beauty in the formal repetition of the work.
in other words the look of the archive!
Your collection of exactitudes species works as a time document. As the beginning of your practice was almost 20 years ago, did you by now, re-visit any of the places to document the changes?
Since Rotterdam is the starting point of the collection and also the home base for our artistic practice the only place where we experience the actual re-visit over and over again is Rotterdam. We there rest there is actual no re-visit, and that is fine.
Is every exactitude a self-initiative or how does a project come together?
Pure self initiave in the beginning, but quite soon there where commision.
And it stayed that way nicely combined.
How extensively are you planning a new species?
Some of the characteristics of some social groups are so strong, or so subcultural based that you can anticipate on making a series of those groups very a few many years. The rest is the absolute moment of the commission.
Will there always be exactitudes?
Why do you always choose the same format?
We have a difficult relationship with change, change is good and otherwise
we do not like change at all.
In term of the format, as said we strive for the formal beauty of repetitions, which in a certain way puts us in a dutch art tradiotion. The Nul movement with the great hero Jan van Schoonhoven.
From a collectors point of view, does it only makes sense to buy a series or do they also work by themselves?
It’s either one or a lot or all, like a few themes happend.
Are exactitudes always humans? Or does for instance in the sense of Bernd und Hilla Becher – architecture work as well?
The typologies of the Bechers are KING.
Exactitudes should stick to the people of the kingdom
You covered the trains of the TGV with images of exactitudes, the Dutch embassy in Berlin and your work has been exhibited across the world. What`s next
A secret still, but its gonna be huge.
You are classifying yourself as a painter, yet you are most of the time not touching any brushes or paint. How are you justifying your definition?
I think my task as a painter is to analyse the medium of painting and what it can be today in the age of digitalism. Thereby I definitely consider myself a painter, yet what is the definition of a painter today? Perhaps I can define it as follows: I am painting without paint and at the same time I am deliberately not giving up the frame in order to position my work within this long and loaded tradition. It is thus always about what painting (for me personally) still can be today and what ways and unknown realms it offers for themes I am intested in.
Painting has long been seen as dead, how are you seeing the probably most traditional medium in the visual arts nowadays?
I think one should know exactly why to begin painting nowadays. I am trying to integrate my work within all the critique on the medium and in fact to exercise it at the medium itself. This is impossible without reflection and confrontation with its own history, yet at the same time I am not interested in typical phrases such as ‘painting is dead’. I am convinced that especially ‘abstract’ painting that is aware of its own history and at the same time opens to innovative and contemporary practices and technologies such as collages, prints etc. as well as influences from digital media is capable of dealing with today’s surplus of images and the question what an image can be. Hence, painting is in fact a very contemporary medium that as its bests opens up new ways to explore all this. Painting has the habit that the viewer needs to fully, and often re-indulge in it. I have the feeling that people like to categorize. Thereby, they often close their eyes sometimes to quickly and start to generalize without truly confronting the work. If a work is of quality to me, whatever that may be, I don’t care whether it is painting, a conceptual approach or a video work.
Coming back to your own definition of painting and the current medium discussion, could one say, that there is only room for a conceptualization of the terminology “painting”?
As I said, I try to ignore categorizations or labels and can only speak for myself. I have an idea and realize it through the medium that is most suitable for me, painting. In this regard ‘abstract’ painting is not the goal, it rather is a mean for its ends. I am not practicing painting just for the sake of painting. The content is in my case linked to a question of form, it is always also about visual ideas. Best case scenario is that form and visual idea converge to create a new reality within the painting, demonstrating connections and exploring the perception in the painting itself, leaving room for the -to me- unknown. I do’t want that it ends in an over- thought anti- painting. But as I said, an exact idea is very important to me and almost always starting point for my works. I don’t develop my works out of progress. The progress rather begins before the ‘painting’. I have a very clear vision of what the painting should look like, it is finally only being executed. If you wanted to call that conceptual, then I am a conceptual painter.
You have recently exhibited a spectrum of your work in London during Frieze Art Week. Of course it is silly at your age of talking about a retrospective, yet if we consider your professional practice, there were canvases ranging from the initial stripe painting via the first layer collage painting to your newest body of work, the pixel prints and monochrome black work. How have you received this selection?
It is of course definitely exaggerated to speak of a retrospective. The selection rather reflected the different angles of my work.
For me it is essential to follow different concepts and directions in order to search before sticking to the one and only true position that you then only repeat in a varied manner. I think that happens way to often to especially young artists like me, I would even say predominately nowadays. Perhaps because they are too much influenced by others or under too much pressure to reach a certain position. I am trying to counteract such a development by working in different directions simultaneously. They are contracting each other and have nothing to do with indecisiveness, to the contrary, they are actually referring to each other. I think it is an advantage of painting that you have to work off yourself at it. Painting is very patient. With a lot of new media you reach very quickly very good result, maybe be even too quick…..
What difference occurs, except visually, between the stripes and lets say the pixel prints?
Actually both, the stripes and the pixel prints develop out of the same field of interest. Both are about the discrepancy between chance and a determined decision, which always plays a big role in painting. With the stripes, I am trying to find out what kind of importance, intuition it has for painting. Therefore, I cover the different layers of glued stripes, that are applied through several repetition with spray lacquer whereby traces, mistakes and erosions evolve of not yet dried paint after removing of the tape. The question arises whether chance is still chance after deliberately initiating it hundreds of times. With the pixel prints, the ‘white noise’ paintings, It is basically the same principal. A still from the original image interference , the famous ‘white noise’ is taken and resized on the computer to fit into the frame. Through the recalculation to a 1:1 scale, the pixel vary, each time presenting something new. Hence, it never results in the same image when printed digitally. The only difference between the two is of course that the stripe paintings are about color.
The pixels are based on the every day use of modern technology and are also thus generated. What role do these medium play for your artistic production, both technically and conceptually?
An important topic of my paintings is the analysis of influence digital media has on my, or our perception. Through a constant flow of information and images through internet, film, commercials, television and photography the question of the credibility of an image and how we perceive arises. Furthermore, the way in which we see, ( re-) produce and develop images is in my opinion significantly influenced by these new media. It is thus only the next logical step for me to include media such as computer and the technology of digital printing in abstract painting. Thereby, painting is not only longer focused on itself or its history, but again confronted with contemporary problems and questions of visual and cultural nature. Technically speaking it is not seldom a huge challenge to combine different media such as digital - or silk print and materials such as polyester until the image is right and finished. And yet, when is a painting ever completely finished? I don’t believe there are actually finished paintings.
Compared to other artist studios we have visited, even far beyond academy times, you have quite some luxury at your hand. This also allows you to work on formats that go beyond the 10m2 of surface. What relevance does the size of your painting play? The bigger the better?
The format alway plays an important role, especially if you don’t loose the frame as a painter. This is always one of the first concerns when beginning a new work. I actually work on large scale, which is first of all due to the physical impression of the image and the room. I believe it is also something completely different to deal with a large scale painting compared to a smaller work. Logistically as well as referred to the material you are confronted with other challenges that you have to tackle. That influences the work - positively or negatively.
Coming back to the beginning of our conversation, you are not using standard acrylic or oil paint, instead you are experimenting with enamel and spray paint. What is the reasoning behind using such toxic materials?
In all my works, I use polyester fabric and industrial lacquer to achieve an absolutely smooth surface of the image on which the paint is rather printed into than painted onto the material with a squeegee and solvent; the paint thus doesn’t stay on the surface but is completely absorbed by the material. The artificial, sterile and smooth surface of the polyester, its light effects as well as the disappearance of that actual surface align closest to my perception of images I see on screen. The same happens with The polyester- collages, likewise glued with special lacquer. What happens in the image is only taking place on the surface. All the technical an formal questions of material and paint arise purely out of contextual thoughts. I am aiming for a very precise look for what I imagine, hence have to find means to express exactly that. Unfortunately these are often not as good for the health as others but a direct contact with the material is part of the working process.
Collaborators: Michael Sailstorfer
Time: June 2018
Type: Art Production
Information: Photographic work | Room installation
Can you tell us a little about your practice?
I live and work in Berlin and New York. My medium of choice is video and installation; and I feel a strong connection to conceptual art and artistic strategies that open up a discussion around concepts of space, phenomenology and abstract representations of realities.
How are you seeing and/or approaching the medium of the moving image?
Moving images contain a fantastic way to express my art intwenty-five images per second . I never understood how one image per second, per month or even per year could be enough. When it comes to a visual experience, a moving image medium gives me a multiplicity of emergent properties with which to play. I feel confident when I know that the rhythm, the cuts, the camera movements and the in-between images culminate into a multi-layed composition.
Looking at your work, could one say, that your video works have shifted from a reorganization and reinterpretation of found material towards self-recorded narratives?
Using found and self-filmed material is my way to negotiate the technological shifts of our time. It is also a way for my work to represent the passage of time as it relates to the viewer’s perspective. For example, in the beginning of any creative endeavor, I initially explore what is already “there” and re-organize it in ways which are new and different.
How has this change come about?
Like a natural development of interest. I partly abandoned the Duchampian thought to embrace a practice that could be more open to an extended understanding of ‘material’; relating different materials to one particular expression and consequently establishing different realities at the same time.
In some other text you are stating your interest for architecture, could you elaborate on this relation?
My professor in art school, Heinz Emigholz, makes these amazing films about contemporary architects and their buildings. To him, a built environment is an expression of human life that resembles very much the process of projecting a film: through diverse appliances, we are projecting our visions, like a lens, into space. To me, architecture has always been a very personal experience, juxtaposing projections of creation with accomplished physical construction. Since untouchable and two-dimensional film projected onto a screen is always flattened, I am interested in ways to present space that steps out of its technical determinations. Phenomenologically spoken, we explore film with our senses but it remains a non-physical experience. Film is only an illusion that takes me to another place which might be physical, virtually constructed or has never existed. I like the idea of triggering phantastic spaces in the mind of the viewer to underline their possibility of becoming real and consequently shaking up our experience of reality.
Yet watching your art works, architecture is not immediately identifiable, rather means of governance, separation, structuring or even destruction - thus all these aspects relate close to architecture. Are you operating on a broader line condition to these thresholds?
Mainly borders are responsible for the individual experience of architecture. When I draw a border, I am making myself visible as ‘somebody’ (the Warholian thought). Experiencing architecture as border establishes not only the insider and outsider, but also produces stages. We put ourselves on stages every day. Architecture understood as ‘Bühnenbild’ is a fascinating context to me in which we become the other, the alien. Those stages can only be temporary, held together with cheap screws, glued wood, furnished with Ikea. We are re-activating, destroying and caring for historic architecture as cultural heritage, but the acceleration of newly built construction seems unstoppable. It also drives home the idea that construction is not a one-time process: borders must be constantly negotiated, governed, watched-over, if not, they run the risk of disappearing. Architecture as borders strongly reminds me of this ever-so-vulnerable aspect of construction. Structures come and go. Cursory structures also mean the downfall of society’s values. That is why I like destruction the most. It represents change and transformation; in my opinion the highest goals for artists.
One could say that Video Art is fully recognized as a contemporary medium for art production, yet the difficulty of displaying or even more collection keeps reappearing. It this a problem for you?
Video Art is the medium of our time. For example consider the case of the Mohammed video. When a video affects the whole world, that fast, in such an extreme way, what more direct means of expression is out there? Presenting video art will become easier and cheaper in the future, it already is. And the ways of distribution are extremely fast. Since we are surrounded by screens, look at our computer screen every day and watch clips on our iPhones, it makes total sense to me to be artistically influential in that context and using video technology to have an artistic impact on visual culture. Activating what is surrounding us, infecting it with artistic concepts, reacting to current political and cultural occurances, all of those strategies should be an incentive for museums, collectors and institutions to find ways to make video art accessable, enjoyable for the audience and for future generations. It is a challenge since formats and technology are shifting rapidly, but that has always been the case for creative production throughout history and I am sure this process will create new and exciting jobs.
Talking on an institutional level - the museum - is right at a challenge of maneuvering among the place of a “treasure”, in architectural terms, the layout of a shrine, leading to the exhibits, its collection, through a complex negotiation of spaces aligned versus the needed temporary exhibitions, mainly reffered as “blogbuster shows”, being larger and always bigger, clustering around an architectural layout of the traditional basilica. How important is this difference for the artist?
The bigger my work is shown the better.
The long answer is: Working site-specifically, I always get into a conversation with the space, its materiality, odd corners, screws, pipes, floor and ceiling. If the exhibition space has a layout that resembles a church, the artist needs to be aware that the shown work might be viewed as commentary in close relation to the actual significance of the space. That is my most relevant concern in my practice: how can my works relate to the given architecture of the space in a compelling and fresh way? Some works might have completely different ways of reception in different locations. Consequently, the context of your work is as important as the work itself, I would claim. It makes a huge difference if I show a video piece on an small advertising flatscreen in the subway or as a ten meter projection at the Tate Modern. This aspect leads to a second layer of the ‘blogbuster show’ -phenomenon: size. I do believe that size matters in that respect.
The history of a museum has been a complex space of governance and a constant mixture of various categories with the art and its productive archive. Yet one could say, that today the museums have lost their energy and are possibly at last only serving a cultural purposes as such. Do you believe the museum and thus art could revisit another governmental importance (and we are not talking about manifestos alla Jonathan Meese here)?
The museum as a cultural institution fits within the context of 18th and 19th century Europe, and their ideas of culture, art, society and progress. As art is becoming more and more a global phenomenon, it is worth asking how such assumptions are being contested in places where the history of museums is not the same. For example in India, museums built by the British as symbols of their graps, culturally speaking, of the locals and their customs, serve a different governance role than museums in Europe.
Within the moves towards globalization, I am witnessing that museums can serve the particular governance role of serving as spaces of contestation and spaces of difference. I mean that the museum and its art can come to embody a space without the hegemony of global state-capitalism and its cultural influence. I don’t know how this would be done in practice, but it seems to me like a worthy role for the museum.
Your latest art work KEYSTONE is resolving around a similar topic of governance through the symbolism of one nation and its immigration politics. You are portraying various people in a voyeuristic manner in front of the Statue Of Liberty in New York, where you have also shot the video. How does this message or does it at all relate to your last residence in the states? (Bemerkung der Redaktion Constantin Hartenstein has been granted for the artist in residency at triangle arts association, new york, brooklyn between …)
KEYSTONE presents two realities at the same time; a concept that I quite often use in my works. Through changing the ‘real experience’ just slightly, I wanted to establish a new view on symbolized and embodied monuments that project ideas of societal models into space. One could interpret it as a projection gaze into another dimension, even the future. My main interest here is the relationship between the touristic performance and the pose known as the ‘liberty pose’. At that very moment when someone takes a photograph, you also confirm that your body is actually present at this very same place, you flatten the three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional representation of space. Since my presence in New York was only a temporary one, I became very interested in the fluctuation of the term ‘liberty’; reflecting on residency and permanence. Mimicing the pose could mean embracing the thought of liberty for oneself, but in terms of having control over my own actions outside coercion, I strongly felt a shift between the proclaimed liberty as a concept and the lived one. The illusion of this ‘liberty’ is reconstructed, one can see cranes and a construction truck driving through the video image. I loved this expression of the constant rebuilding of the term ‘liberty’, questioning and re-considering its value, meaning and task for contemporary society. It is important to not just adopt ideas that others proclaim and to strive for a constant transformation.
Having lived abroad, how are you evaluating the difference in the museum landscape there and in your country of origin Germany?
Museums in America have more pop.
How important are you seeing the location of a museum?
Museums need to preserve the means of expression of our times and collect them. They are time capsules. Traditionally, many have aimed to transcend their locality, with the idea that art is universal and serves the interests of all humanity. However, we need to reconsider the role of locality in relation to globality, and the associated politics of space.
Talking about the governmental side of such a space, would an institution not be necessary in every urban context? Or are you seeing the only relevance for a museum in a conglomeration and clustering like the Museum Island in a capital such as Berlin?
It seems that there are museums in every format; everywhere. I believe museums have a task also to communicate knowledge, ideas and artistic approach to the audience. And this is essential for any audience, no matter how small. How this is done might not be the most important fact, but institutions already think about ways to expand their programs in many interesting ways at the intersection between online and offline realities.
How are you approaching new works at the beginning? Are they relating and building up from previous? Is it a strike of genious? Extensive research? etc..?
I am working on the idea that I found the most interesting for myself at this very moment. I am not interested in one-line-art, repeating the same idea over and over again with slight variations. So I don’t consciously analyze what my works have in common. I will leave this for the critics and curators to figure out.
Sometimes it happens very fast that an idea manifests itself and then it NEEDS to be done and I cannot stop thinking about its realization. I draw my inspiration from very personal experiences. There is also this ten per cent of unexplainable occurances that I have no words for, but almost every time, those ten per cent create an outstanding piece of art. I love to take risks in my practice and mostly it pays off. Basically there is not one single day when I don’t make art. I cast my net wide and try to be very active with an open mind to new tasks and adventures.
I just don’t ever want to be bored.
What are your next projects?
A series of extreme slow-motion videos and a large-scaled and supershiny sculpture.
Can you tell us a bit about your practice please?
It‘s simple I am a sculptor.
You studied sociology in Denmark before going to two different art schools at once, Städel in Frankfurt and Royal Art Academy in Copenhagen. What lead you to this decision and where do you see your process in relation.
Yes, I recently graduated from Städelschule in Frankfurt, and I studied sociology at the University of Copenhagen before that. I was 19 and my parents had this idea that it would be a good for me to get an education, and since I did not have another plan, I followed my academic interest which was sociology and figured it had potential as a foundation for whatever else I would come up with later on… by the time I finished the bachelor degree, I was deep into photography and applied to the class of Simon Starling who was teaching at Städelschule at that time. I studied by Simon for four years, and after that Peter Fischli took over the class and I studied by him for two more years. The change of professor was lucky for me because I by chance got to learn from two so different artists. Peters approach was nearly like an antithesis to Simons practice and this radical change of perspective was surprisingly productive. It was around the same time I decided to attend the MFA at The School of Sculpture, within The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art. That decision came mainly from an excitement about the focus on sculpture, which was a good supplement to the professor based program in Frankfurt.
The way I work has been, and still is, a quite organic development both on a daily basis and in the long run. It never worked for me to force thing‘s, I know when my own bad intentions are sneaking in. Ideally one thing leads to the next, and I am watching and following. Most things I do by trial and error… It should be fun.
Most of your works start with a fascination for certain sociological occurrences/tendencies: the „booster bags“ or „hotproducts“ are, for example influenced by a shop-lifting cult excelled through youtube videos - can you elaborate on these works and their relation to your background, please?
That is right, or often my work comes from noticing something in daily life.
In the case of Hot Products, it started with a fascination of first these shoplifting mirrors that exists more in Germany than elsewhere. They are hanging over the counter so the staff can look behind the costumer and see if the customer is shoplifting. They are legitimated by the attempt to avoid shoplifting, but the site effect is that the body of the customer is objectified and disciplined by the gaze of the rest of the customers in line, who is looking in the mirror while waiting. Some months later I was in California were I noticed these oversized lollipops on a particular display system. The lollipops seemed strange to me because they had a size that made them unsuitable for children - and which also made them sexual in some way, and the display was pointing in all directions as if they were asking to be put in a pocket.
Some time after I started to read about shoplifting in a historical perspective. I talked with a friend about the books I was reading, and he showed me some pictures of booster bags that the police had confiscated and put in the newspaper that week, to make shops aware of the phenomenon. Much later again I was asked to take part in an exhibition in Vienna and I found that the space and the context would be good for a work with the lollipops and the mirrors, so I started to make the work, but the plans got changed, at that point I had decided to continue with the lollipop displays, the mirrors and the booster bags, I found some D.I.Y booster bag videos online… the rest happened in the studio.
What role does the internet as a source of inspiration and sociality play for you?
I use the Internet to access information, and not that much more, but I am very concerned with what the Internet does to everything that isn‘t online which could be said to be a type of internet interest. I guess I am insisting on the relevance of bodily perception and spatial awareness.
Taking it even further, the internet/its availability established a series of works, such as „Prime“. For this work, while being at the residency Villa Aurora in LA, you ordered all parts via Amazon Prime. Was this a practical decision to safe shipping costs and get all materials delivered to your address, or does it also reflect consumerism, social behaviors and current movements?
Both. It was pragmatic a decision for me in the same way as I think Prime ordered are a pragmatic decision for many regular users of Amazon.
The difference is of course that I use the products that I ordered as a sculpture, something that does not have a function beside of being a sculpture. As sculpture it points back at its own history and highlights certain elements such as where it came from and where it is going, which we in this work can read on the Amazon packaging which is acting as a plinth for the sculpture. I think that this history points at a certain circulation of commodities, which again reflects on social behaviors and quite directly on a type of consumerism detached from social contact.
Amazon products are produced by machines, packed by robots and will soon be delivered by drones. They represent a highly developed de-humanization of the world of objects, which stand in contrast to three-dimensional art, that traditionally act as a sort of link between the world of objects and the world of humans.
Another element is the international travel, as long as objects are within the system of goods they travel freely (within U.S and within E.U), but as soon as they belong to an individual, or have to cross the wrong borders, they are much harder to bring from A to B. So I figured that it was exciting to see what type of translation the work would go through by being transported from some objects and then later reappearing as the same sculpture but with new objects.
What does that devaluation of the essences of the particular objects mean?
Further it could touch upon levels of temporality. Amazon Prime offers a free return within 30 days of purchase. Hence the work could be only accessible for 30 days, yet everywhere installable for free thereafter.
Are you interested in a certain level of ready made / assemblage of such given structures?
Yes I am. Hacking systems and spatial ready mades.
A few years ago I did a show with some friends in a hotel that only host‘s women, we had 40-50 women visiting during the opening, but the hotel never got to know that we maxed out on the use of the rented.
Similar to the ready mades previously mentioned other works are assembled by found, lost materials. In Copenhagen you once stumbled upon the complete architectural image archive of the Royal Danish Academy of Architecture from around 1935 to 1955. The art work itself is presented as a stack on a palette held together by black clinchfoil. yet you previously archived, scanned and copied every single slide (all together there were 7000) in what relation does the production of an art work, the found object and its content only visible to yourself stay?
I am really bored by the project format that is dominating our society, not only within arts but certainly here too. Projects as we use the term today are often suggesting a type of self-important storytelling, which has to fit the current fashion and ideology. We talk about what we are ‚interested in‘ and we likewise confirm a story by saying ‚oh that is interesting‘, and often it isn‘t, it‘s a smokescreen both for an actual content and for less language carried developments. The archive holds a great potential of playing out such ‚interesting project‘, it is a piece of cultural heritage - an original collection. After I had worked with the images in the archive for some time, re-photographed, printed, organized and analyzed the 7000 slides, I knew that the question for me more was about changing the status of the archive from having potential as being about this or that, to turn into a work while actually being what it is. So the first process led to the conclusion that the relevant move had to be to bring it out of its dusty attic and give it some perspective to it self by letting it travel, and this is more or less what you see when encountering the sculpture - with its opaque clinchfoil its is dressed as a old archive in transit.
While here the discovery of the archive, hence the use of found material for a work of art seemed like a lucky coincidence, you continue to work with found material. The ongoing series „dancing queens“ for instance, exists of found hubcaps. This time, the material seems less „precious“ (compared to the archival images), but more of a deliberate choice to generate the final artwork that is then visible. Could you please elaborate on the difference, similarities and relevance?
The dancing queen series is different in the sense that it is generating a sort of archive out something that most people don‘t have any interest in as cultural heritage nor as value or fascination - hubcaps. But I think the way I treat the archive has a lot of similarities and a sort of ignorance of one things value over the other, it is maybe pushing another edge of some of the same questions as the archive. What happens when the work rejects to be ‚interesting‘?
To me the it seem to be confident in their own position, being what they are, hanging out on their own.
You recently graduated from Städel School in Frankfurt. The work you showed in your degree exhibition was a subtle room intervention out of tent poles spanning across the complete space. Being barely noticeable it at the same time run across a large area, from floor to ceiling and along and even through works of your pears. How important is site specificality and the environment/context you are exhibiting in?
Space and site is very important as well as context and format, most of my work partly grown out of these four parameters in one way or the other.
The graduation show is a group exhibition in a relatively small space for 34 young artists with completely different agendas. It holds the potential of being a real mess or to be a boring democratic distribution of space. With this 38 meter long flexible tent pole of aluminum, I wanted to make a work that mapped out, interrupted and challenged the specific situation while also functioning as a piece on its own. It is negotiating space with this double quality of being both supporting and disturbing. It is made for the specific space and the other works, while being fairly autonomous too. It packs together in a bundle the size of a large flower. It is called Romancing in thin Air.
If one would want to understand your working process - do you have an idea and then work towards it?, an observation, which you research further into and visualize your take? do you stumble upon elements, that you connect? Is there even such thing as a continuos line of operation among your practice so far?
I think we already mentioned it, I work with what is there; a space, a site, a context, a material, an observation, existing systems or what ever it might be. I simply try to make something suiting of situation I am in… Of course there is certain elements that runs through my practice so far both in terms of themes, materials and tools - for instance a sociological perspective, I might be forever stained by that…
Several of your works/projects operate on a larger field, collaborating with different stakeholders and incooperating various levels/elements. For example you have been an active protagonist of Museo Aero Solar, initiated by Tomas Saraceno or you initiated the Cinema-Teatro Apollo with several colleagues - a film festival in Italy which resulted in an exhibition at the Weltkulturenmuseum in Frankfurt. How important are collaborative and larger projects, beyond an exhibition in relation to your work and practice for you?
Art is a hyper social field in the first place, and I think making things together as a bigger group is one way of exploring that… this was something Simon Starling was good at as a professor, we made several collaborative works as a class, which I think lead me to think in big scale. It has been important to do these collaborative works, because you are confronted with different potentials and problems when you work big and as a group. The problem is that the work often gets lost in navigation of group dynamics, financial management and external demand‘s.
Work work bitch, you better work!
To begin, could you tell us a bit about your practice?
The practice is primarily rooted in sculpture and painting, with a focus on potential connections between digital and physical spaces.
You were born in Australia, grew up in Sydney, studied in Austria and now live in Vienna. What made you stay in Europe?
The day after finishing my studies I flew to Austria, where I had an artist residency in Graz, and then one following in Dale Sogn og Fjordane, Norway. So there was already a kind of informal program for the better part of a year. Whilst in Graz I met my partner and after Norway returned to look into further studies. I was never interested in studying art in Australia – to me it seemed that they took a business studies structure and changed the syllabus. The country is completely on the back foot when it comes to art – portraits and landscapes are mostly what make it to the main institutions. Art only replaces sport on the front page when The Archibald Prize – an annual portrait prize – is on show at the AGNSW.
When I spoke to mates who had studied in Austria, I was surprised to learn that the Magister syllabus is tailored to the individual and this appealed to me.
In various texts about your work the question of surface is being discussed, contextualizing your artistic practice – especially paintings such as the scratch-and-sniff paintings, where you like to add another layer by integrating a scratch-and-sniff sticker, triggering the sense of smelling in addition to viewing. Another work, Sharpies Thumb (2012), plays with the notion of hiding something behind another layer in order to cover it up and make it unseen, when two adolescent burglars try to hide their faces behind black felt pen. Could you elaborate on the importance of such techniques and the role of patterns or codes in your work?
With the scratch-and-sniff paintings I wanted to suggest a kind of an alternative realm to the viewer; as if one could scratch anywhere on the surface and the scent would appear from this unseen place, adding a further dimension to the experience. I thought of it as a kind of a back-and-forth between layers, both needing each other to exist. I suppose that’s where the work plays out – in the suggested potentiality, regardless of whether it’s acted on or not. I was thinking a lot about variables and X and Y-axes at the time, as well as samples and patterns.
Prior to those works, sharpies thumb had come about through thinking about adding and subtracting space, or reduction. I like humour as a device and I had this story in the back of my mind about the two guys who broke into a home, and when the owners came back early, they painted masks onto their faces with Sharpie pens. One guy tried to paint his whole face, the other a batman mask.
You throw noodles onto a canvas (i.e. e who remained was M, (2012)) or place rhythmic gymnastic ribbons into a frame filled with hot wax to then let it dry (Untitled, Black, Pink or Blue, (2012)), not knowing what pattern will come out in the end. How do you evaluate the notion of chance and coincidence in your work?
For the noodle works I like the idea that the works are a sample of a pattern, or where at some point the pattern will appear. ‘Chance’ in these works is very much at their core, where the action is kind of Pollock-esque; and I suppose the same with the rhythmic gymnastic works. Initially I was working towards them being sculptural within the space, but I quickly realised that freeze-framing such an action isn’t possible, so I gave into the ribbons falling into the frame – hinting at the volume a moment before. I think this ‘before-moment’ can be quite telling: giving in to an uncertainty.
In addition to a fascination with chance, the Internet is an integral part of your work and seems to serve as a source of inspiration. Yet you do not choose to use the obvious, everyday topics or imagery we are surrounded by, but rather try to find out what is hidden beyond the surface. The ‘Noodle Paintings’, for example, evolved out of the exploration of ‘Spaghetti Spam’ – sort of a code that is used to camouflage a spam mail so it can enter our inboxes. Are you interested in the technical approach of coding and decoding – or is it rather about finding a way of transferring something that only exists in the digital into the physical world by manifesting it with the classical means of painting on paper or canvas?
Absolutely. Coding as a form is incredibly interesting; these are languages that have shaped our collective pasts and present.
I suppose ‘decoding’ is a nice term to adopt to make sense of the practice; where there are various elements operating autonomously but still having a connection to one another.
Parts of my practice use programs and such, so it’s not a strict digital to physical position. Where the two overlap and inform each other is interesting for me. The physical parts to my practice are where elements of uncertainty, more often than not, can truly play out.
Similar to the ‘Spaghetti Spam’, the series ‘Trombone and Submits’ (2012) came into being. Here you subtracted the ‘foreground’ graphics of two specific junk email images. By altering, downsizing and formatting such png files, it is ensured they find their way into our email inbox, similar to spaghetti spam. Instead of projecting this onto a canvas, you now choose to intertweave it into a classically woven carpet. The link to the Internet is again far from obvious, but still crucial to the work. Yet what the viewer first and foremost sees is an abstract pattern on a precious rug. How does the choice of material, that at the same time turns it into a usable object, affect the work?
A rug occupies a plane that is quite hidden within a typically quite intimate shared space. I like the idea of someone’s kid playing on it, or a dog sleeping on it; everyday mundane activities, but separated into different pockets of the world.
Foucault wrote of carpets reflecting gardens, and gardens reflecting nature. That carpets are the smallest parcel of the world, yet at the same time the totality of the world. I thought that was quite nice, and I find the relationship between being part of the commonplace world and also being something larger, or more encompassing than that intriguing.
**You constantly switch between two- and three-dimensional works without leaving the question of the surface and the importance of patterns aside – rather, it seems they play an integral part in the sculptures. Your latest exhibition at Croy Nielsen in Berlin showcases numerous fabric-like metal grids that are almost carelessly stuck to concrete blogs. The light colors that appear on the grids are in fact patterns and customized backgrounds from GeoCities, a former Web host for personalized homepages that peaked at the end of the nineties. To some, these patterns represent the beginning of the Internet and almost trigger a kind of ‘digital nostalgia’.
Like in many of the works described above, you tend to incorporate such aspects of the Internet in your work that are rather ordinary, unknown or soon to be forgotten, lurking somewhere in the depth of the cyber world. Is this a way of preserving the digital?
This was a special show for me to see these basic elements, these minuscule image files patterned to become backgrounds, play out in the space. The title of the show, ‚C C‘ was a reflection on this minute and reduced element, that together could mean an array of things. ‚C C‘ as “si si” or cc: carbon copy. I suppose, in a way, it is a preservation of some digital bit of volume. I think the sculptures hold a certain tension about figuring-out what they are, and how the studio has altered them. It’s quite primitive in its outcome, and I think there’s a nice moment where the show’s volume is informed by incredibly small files.
As already mentioned, you have moved from Australia to Europe and exhibitions of your work have spanned nearly the whole globe. Are there crucial differences between the countries that immediately influence your specific work/projects or is the world in that sense as global and unified as the Internet?
Yes, I would say that locality influences my work, but probably a sense of connectivity does more so. I guess it’s a back-and-forth of localism, globalism and connectivity. Australia influences me incredibly – I like the landscape and using the sea as an orientation point.
Perhaps it’s because most of the practice is played out from one place, the studio; but this sense of the global feels more accessible at times than my immediate surroundings. I guess that’s common for most people though: a paradoxical feeling of isolation and connectivity.
‘Cosmic Latte’, a hue astronomers discovered by averaging all the light emanating from the stars of various galaxies, was an incidental by-product of studying star formation; it was created randomly, when one of the scientists stared into his Starbucks Coffee. You used this cream colour as a starting point for an exhibition and developed a new series of sculptures. Here again you used humorous and absurd information from the Internet and digital imagery as your source, yet the results are abstract, filigree forms that leave no trace of the initial conceptual starting point. Could you tell us a bit more about the process of how the abstract forms came into being?
The forms stem from arbitrarily selected images from the Internet, and where the ‘cosmic latte’ colour value appears the shapes from the images is isolated and then laser cut into wood. From there I used the wood pieces as a kind of palette, to construct these average colour-of-the-universe works.
The works were realised for a show at Emanuel Layr in 2013, where the gallery was painted in the beige ‘cosmic latte’, and the sculptures in white. White because I didn’t want the viewer to get too hung up on the materiality of the wood.
Interestingly, two weeks prior to ‘cosmic latte’ being discovered they believed it to be a light mint- green colour. The data falsely included shades and shadows, and when re-corrected to remove the depth, resulted in the beige hue. I’m also working with this colour – most recently in February for ‚Midday Hour’ at Minerva, Sydney – it’s a funny situation to have an ‘incorrect average colour of the universe’.
The Internet is not only a source of inspiration, however, but also a place of actual work. You develop online projects such as Cointemporary – a temporary online exhibition of art for Bitcoin. This time your work stays purely digitally. In what relation do such projects have to the your works exhibited physically?
Cointemporary is an interesting project for me, but I wouldn’t necessarily connect it to my practice.
Valentin Ruhry and I started it really not knowing how it would fare within the rhetoric of online art sales and ventures. We see it as an artist project and artist-run space, where we show one work at a time – in a way suggesting a slower pace of viewing. The work is offered in Bitcoin at a locked-in price based on its twenty-four hour weighted average prior to going live. Using Bitcoin as its unit of account highlights that it’s incredibly volatile, shifting the focus of value.
Earlier this year we begun exhibiting digital works as well as physical, which I think is an important step for a digital artist-run space. Artists have shown .txt files, image/zip files, screensavers …
Usually we start our interviews with: “could you tell us a little bit about your practice?” But I think we’ll discuss and answer this question throughout the whole interview. To start, maybe introduce yourself briefly.
About thirteen years ago, I became a university Art Student. Then, about eight years ago, I was no longer a university Art Student, so it made sense to get a new label: Artist.
You studied under John Baldessari, one of the most important conceptual and media-based artists. How is his influence mirrored in your work?
He has influenced several generations of artists, and I am fortunate to be in one of those generations. His influence is simple and yet difficult to pinpoint — as a teacher John would give us one assignment: “Do whatever you want.”
Your method of working has been described as both artistic and scientific, always in search of the very element that makes a picture a picture. Do you complete this search each time you move on to your next project? If so, what in your opinion is this element? Or is this search in itself a never-ending project?
I find pictures to be endless, at a micro- and macro-cosmic level. Sounds like a never-ending project, for me at least. My share of exploration will probably only end when my end arrives.
There is a certain dismantling process of artistic production—and visualization thereof—that is evident in your work. You also expore the relationship between the organic and the structural. How is this translated in your work, on a technical level?
I am interested in our relationship to technology, to structures, and to the architecture around us. Only with these structures do we allow our feelings to emerge: a body to love, an airplane to explore, a pencil to draw.
While your paintings could easily be understood as sculptures, you are primarily experimenting with “painting” and “photography.” Browsing your portfolio, one spots your usage of painting genres such as still lives, nudes and portraits. Is your intention to comment on the fundamental picture-making elements such as form, color, texture and ground; or is it rather to test the limits of what a painting signifies in contemporary art practice/history?
I am perplexed by some recurring topics that artists seem to need to paint over and over again. I haven’t been able to reach a conclusion yet about why this is. But, in the meantime, I thought I would search for one by painting this recurring subject matter myself over and over again.
Your work sometimes uses vibrant colors; other times you use only black, white and gray. When and how do you decide to use color, and how do these elements interact among themselves?
I think the use of color needs to be somehow justified in the work. Sometimes it is clear that the work needs it; other times, the form seems sufficient.
Along the line of exploring common genres and clichés, you are also challenging certain ideas of display within each medium you use. What is the conceptual framework that underpins your active interest in materiality and the display of those materials?
I think there’s a lot of territory to explore between media—between painting and sculpture, painting and photography, photography and printmaking, etc. These are media that we are used to seeing displayed in a certain way. It’s interesting to see what happens when those conventions are challenged.
In 2011 you started analyzing materials from a psychological point of view, rather than the previous scientific one. How and why did this development take place?
I think it has to do with growing up: gaining confidence to share our individual perception of the world around us.
How are the conceptual changes transferred to your work?
I think the work became less ‘mechanical’ and more personal. Hopefully, this transition added more layers of meaning and experience.
Your latest exhibition at Sprüth Magers is concerned with art and the domestic space. Can you outline the concept of this exhibition a little further?
I was thinking of objects we interact with every day: a trash bag, a bed sheet, a curtain, a bathroom sink. How do these ordinary objects relate to the extraordinary Art object? The result was a body of work in which these domestic objects were re-constructed: a trash bag, which is usually polyethylene, was made out of acrylic paint (another poly derivative); canvas, which is usually stretched onto stretcher bars, was re-contextualized and transcended into a curtain; or a bathroom sink, simply turned on a different axis, was mounted on a linen covered panel and hung on the wall.
2013 started off with exhibitions in London and Berlin. What’s next?
Collaborators: Christian Jankowski
Time: June 2018
Type: Art Production
Information: Video Work, 23:44 min. (excerpt shown)
Collaborators: Territorial Agency, Architectural Association
Place: London & Germanic Space
Type: Cultural Exchange
Information: “Contemporary Court” – Großraumbüro for the Mittelstand
We usually begin our interviews with a short introduction on who you are and what you do. Could you briefly tell us a bit about Distanz Verlag, please?
Distanz is a publishing company based in Berlin under the management of Christian Boros and myself. Distanz releases books and exhibition catalogues on the visual arts as well as photography, architecture, design and fashion of the 20th and 21st century. Distanz produces artist’s monographs and anthologies in collaboration with prestigious editors and authors and cooperates with leading national and international museums.
We are sure a lot of time, maybe even many years, of preparation went into Distanz Verlag, at the same time one from the outside could think Distanz appeared over night. Have you worked on book projects before or have you immediately planed with a proper, complete publishing house?
Distanz appeared really over night. Christian and I had of course worked on book projects before, but only on two in common. During these two collaborations we discovered that we work very well together and that our skills complete each other.
What steps needed to be climbed to arrive from the initial idea to the realized company? What where the motivations, drivers and difficulties?
We had to find a name for the company and some desks for our laptops. Then we went to a notary for the paperwork. We were motivated to make books that we like and that look good and we wanted to move things fast.
In your eyes, what differentiates Distanz from other publishing companies? Hence, what is the readership you are trying to reach?
We want to make books that are loved by their initiators, because then they are loved by the reader as well. We want to reach every reader.
In previous interviews, you described Distanz Verlag as a “platform for a strong authorship and successful compositions”. Is Distanz thus, merely the executer of completed projects or do you develop the projects together with authors, designers or artists from the blank page to the finished book?
Every book is a world on its own. Every book has its own history and genesis. But many artists or editors come to Distanz, because they find an open ear for their project and are accompanied and advised from the first idea to the release and distribution of the accomplished book.
How can one imagine the company? Is it mainly a platform for the products or do you actually have an in house design team, the printing facilities, writers etc.. for instance?
We have an in house design team, but also work with designers from outside. Many clients bring their own designers along. We work with printers all over Germany. Sometimes we recommend writers, often we edit their texts.
To go a little into detail. Could you please elaborate on the usual process of producing a book for Distanz Verlag a bit further? How does a book project start, how is it then being executed and finally reaches the bookshelves?
There are different scenarios for the start of a book: either Christian and I develop an idea for a book, set up a financing concept and then approach the people who are part of the book idea.
Or people – artists, photographers, curators, gallerists – approach us with a book project and we support them in realizing their idea. We find authors, translators, designers, color separators, etc. as well as a printing company. Once the book is finished our distribution partner Gestalten brings it into bookstores and museum shops all over the world.
The discourse on the future of the book is quite a vivid one, with advocates of the traditional books on the one hand and those pledging for the advantages of going paperless. Hence championing electronic devices such as iPad or Kindle which make it easy to carry along as many books as you like. Where would you position Distanz Verlag in this debate, being active on both the digital and physical side?
Distanz books are illustrated books and therefore very special items, they can’t be experienced on an iPad or Kindle. But we are open to elaborate independent Apps with the content of a book.
Mr. Boros is coming from a marketing background and Ms. Grosenick from the field of art through working as curator for Hamburger Deichtorhallen as well as form a background in publishing through working as program manager for DuMont. How do your different professional backgrounds influence your practice at Distanz, and maybe also vice versa?
Our different professional backgrounds and our different personal networks are essential to our collaboration. It is a great pleasure to learn from each other.
Alongside the books on artists, designers, architecture, fashion and lifestyle, you produce artist editions. What is the purpose behind those? Do they for instances serve as a mean to make art more accessible to a wider audience?
Sure, as we are both art lovers, we want people to enjoy the presence of an artwork in their home. But an artist edition can also be a tool to acquire additional financing for a book. Therefore all our editions are generated in connection with a book.
As oppose to the limited artists editions, your books are unlimited in numbers. Are you possibly interested in producing limited editions of books, to maybe create pressures collectables in itself?
Our books are not unlimited in numbers and some are already sold out as Maria Lassnig and Katharina Grosse. We want to make our books affordable for everyone, nevertheless the most art books come in modest print runs.
Distanz Verlag is based in the former pumphouse in Berlin, later the Lapidarium and today a listed building. Olafur Eliasson has installed the lighting for example, it is thus, fair to say that you love the detail, in art and architecture? This is not only reflected in the books but furthermore that Distanz Verlag is a coherent concept. Is this the key to success?
If you see it this way…
To finish in our usual matter, what’s next?
The next book is always next… and the next book is always my favorite book. Right now it is the publication for the Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with Mathias Poledna.
An Interview with Natalia Ava, Max Fesl, Michael Mieskes, Patrick Ostrowsky, Anne Pfeifer and Antoinette von Saurma all students the class of Jorinde Voigt at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich 2015 in correlation with their group exhibition “Deplaced” at Salon Kennedy.
Collaborators: Benedikte Bjerre
Time: 2016 - 2017
Place: Ortisei (IT), Cologne (DE), London (UK), Wiesen (DE), Frankfurt (DE), New York (USA)
Type: Art Production, Exhibition Design
Information: Various (Sculpture, Insitu, Photography)
Time: Since 2015
Type: Exhibition Design
Collaborators: Territorial Agency, Architectural Association
Place: London & Germanic Space
Type: Cultural Exchange
Information: “Contemporary Court” – Großraumbüro for the Mittelstand
First of all, could you tell us a bit about your practice and the origination process of E15, please?
I went to the Architectural Association (AA) in London, which is not an Architecture School in the classical sense. So during my last year of studies in 1995, I started E15 together with Florian Asche who I knew from my studies in product design at Central Saint Martins. I just had the desire to make those first pieces, which were four tables made out of solid oak, and that is where it all began… I then designed the logo and a small brochure and we started approaching some retailer and eventually they bought the product. However, in the beginning we had to find manufacturers who we could license to produce our furniture. They were almost laughing at us, convinced that you couldn´t sell a table out of oak and that nobody wants oak furniture. The end customer however liked it!
Your background is in Design through your studies in Product Design at Central Saint Martins in London, as well as in Architecture, which you studied at the Architectural Association. Has it always been your plan to deliberately combine these two practices?
Yes, that was always clear to me. I started designing furniture as I enjoyed it but there was never a business plan, we just started. There was no strategy behind it but I certainly knew that I wanted to do both. Hence, while designing the first pieces, I also continued with architecture and it has always been a part of E15.
Many E15 designs received important design awards. What is characteristic for an E15 design?
From the beginning on, our focus has always been on the material. At that time, in 1994, no one even thought of using wood. Some people used Wenge, a tropical wood and everything else was extreme minimalistic, pure and super cold. Trending materials were glass, aluminum and lacquered finishes. Yet, we simply wanted to use the good old European oak. We met somebody who was trading with that material and he was making floorboards. That was the starting point and then it really developed from there. From the idea to do furniture with that particular material, we have up until now expanded into metals: bronze, copper, steel or powder coated aluminum help to balance the strong character of the oak, marble and glass. Even if we use glass, it is a fully colored glass not laminated. E15 really is about high quality, naturalness of materials and of course the craftsmanship. Working with classic materials such as marble or wood bring in a lot of traditional craftsmanship.
For E15, you work with numerous designers and act as the production hub. What role does the collaborative aspect play?
When we started E15, my partner Florian Asche and I did every design by ourselves. This strategy changed over the years, as we are big fans of collaborations. Working with external designers and especially artists brings in a certain dynamic, new ideas and inspirations. As soon as there is a good idea we like to use and promote it. Hence, the collaborative aspect is a big part of E15 and adds a lot to the firm´s character. Some examples hereof are an edition with Carsten Fock, another one with Kitsuné or Mark Borthwick who works with us on a regular basis. The fact that all those people come from a different background and do completely different things is not only really inspiring for me but also for the customer. It really tells a lot about E 15, where we come from and where we see ourselves: If you isolate our product it is very generic, not trendy or stylish. It is simple and basic, well made and proportioned but from a product point of view it is difficult to charge it with emotions except through the material. Here comes the architecture in again. We try to think beyond the product and think about the space that it enters into. Hence it is better not to be over designed.
What does a design process look like?
Designers normally just send us a sketch, and we try to bring it to life if we find it intriguing, it matches the current plans or development. From there on it turns into mock-ups from cardboard to proto types etc. it really depends on the product. We try do as much as possible in-house, but also have external specialist we work very closely with. By now, we know pretty much exactly how to make a wooden table and then there are products where it takes longer. For Milan for instance, we work on a number of lights, which creates a whole new range of technical challenges.
Is the relation towards the designs and its designer rather characterized from a retail point of view that corresponds with the E15 ethos or do you develop the designs, strategies and notions together, hence you actively take part in the design process?
We are usually very much involved in the development and production process - from the beginning to the end. Designers or artists usually approach us, however, it can also be the other way around. We for instance, commissioned Stefan Dietz directly. Stefan Dietz designed the Houdini Chair, which is now a permanent feature of our collection and has won several awards such as the interior design award cologne 2010 or the German Design Award 2012 Gold amongst others. I had known him for a long time and knew he was the only person who could design that chair. He introduced a new material to us: Plywood. Up until then, we hadn`t touched Plywood as we stuck to our well-known solid wood. However, he managed to convince us by combining the material with a concept that reflected our understanding of craftsmanship. In the end, the chair itself became haute couture: As you can bend plywood, it is made out of one piece, resulting in a very distinct silhouette and unique design. It is a perfect symbiosis of materiality and craftsmanship that fits very well into the e15 ethos and allows us to expand our range and the materials and techniques we work with step by step.
Several of the E15 designs are represented in Museum collection. Is this rather a byproduct of the good design and materiality or an establishment by the firm. Hence, do you favor a quality product to be used widely or is a particular focus on the “artistic” value and its uniqueness?
We are not trying to do art but rather put the art next to our designs to sort of reflect on it. The E15 selected collection is our collection of limited pieces and collaborations with artists. The carpets by Carsten Fock are for instance one part of this collection. Those pieces are limited to a number of 7 and truly referred to as art. The furniture itself is crafted through a very elaborate process, yet we don’t want to limit it. All our designs are supposed to be supplied endlessly. In the end it is of course great to see them in a museum. The latest design to enter a museum is our Ferdinand Kramer collection at the Museum for Applied Art in Frankfurt.
Is there a rhythm on which you take on a new design?
Yes, every year. The amount however varies. This year we added a lot of accessories to the line for the fair in cologne, so there were around 10 new designs, and another 10 for Milan and that is already a lot for us. However, it still differentiates us from the “big players” – the Italian designers in the field of furniture design – as they try to come up with new pieces on a seasonal basis such as in fashion. Hence, after two years you don’t see the same sofa anymore. We produce every year everything.
To what extent is your architectural firm linked to E15?
We have it spatially within one building but could there be one without the other, or do these two practices complement each other completely?
The link was always present. Only two years ago, we decided to separate those two entities, at least for communication purposes. It is still the same company and office but for communication it was just too difficult to convince potential clients to give us a contract for a building when they see E15, which is mainly furniture.
I think that now one can do without the other but there is no reason to separate them completely. There are a lot of synergies. We sell a lot of our own products along with our projects and do a lot of interior design projects. In China for instance, we do projects where we do everything – sell the whole package. On the other hand we design the products with the architects and designers or we develop products for projects and they then become part of the collection or the furniture company makes them. It is certainly this broad range of disciplines that we cover as well as a bridging from design services to making the products that differentiates us from other companies.
Next on our agenda is the Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2014 in Milan, where we are going to present our new collection including a new series of lights. Further, we have quite a few new architectural projects in the pipeline. We actually now have more projects with the architectural firm than ever, so it seem that the separation of communicating the two entities does pay off.
To begin with, can you tell us a bit about your practice, please?
I’m a painter. But I feel my work cannot be limited to the space of the canvas. I try to observe my surroundings, always attentive to collect found footage, both imagery and text in my environment. The next step is to decontextualize this information, before I attempt to redefine, reimagine and recontextualize those images and sometimes words in my work, through the environment of the painting. In my exhibitions I also use the architecture of the room to redimensionalize the space through the pieces (paintings, canvases) as well as allowing the works to be acten upon by the room and its existing dimensions. To underline this balance and dialogue I also work with sound, an important focus element for the many relations happening within a room, which is never just static.
How far are your paintings constructed and planned or is the process behind rather intuitive?
I would say it’s a balance between plan and intuition. Some steps in the painting process are very experiential and formal, they are decisions, but I try to remain open to chance encounters, to what can happen during the act of painting and be felt by the mind as a “coincidence”. I try to keep painting and my way of painting as playful, as a play between elements. I don’t like the idea of finding myself in a purely workman-like process. I prefer to deny a linear style or approach in my paintings. There is a concept that I always have by my side and on my side, but still I hope that more than readymade answers, the questions that I’m asking myself define the work and process.
Do the questions evolve out of the found footage or are these questions kind of the luggage you carry around with you all the time? Could you elaborate a bit further on the content/context of your works please?
The questions that arise while I’m working can come from different sources and directions. Sometimes the imagery that I’m interested in at the moment asks for new ways to approach them. But in general I have different questions and tasks that come up again and again in my practice. When it comes to composition and imagery, one thing that matters to me is how they function within my body of work, how they fit in. When in comes to the context of my painting, these questions may grow or change through the dialogue that I’m having with my work in that particular moment, but also in dialogue with the work of colleagues, and a lot through personal talks with friends who are also painters. The exchange with other painters, artists from other fields and also non-artists is very important for me. Sometimes you are too closed up within your own world and can’t really see the topics that matter to you anymore. Not to mention it’s impossible to ignore the political discourse of my age, what is happening in my personal life, the shows that I saw or the book that I’m reading, all this influences the way I’m perceiving my work and where the dialogues are heading.
So, one can also not speak about an individual work, but rather about a dialogue, as you are painting several ones at the same time. Is this more a situational operation or do you see your works in series?
I think I like the Idea of a constant dialogue between my works. I rather function as a translator. So when I work on several paintings simultaneously I might have a certain idea for a few of the works but while I’m working on them they tell me what the neighbour or opponent might need. It is also very interesting to see how old questions and discussions come up again when I work on new pieces. I might have not solved these questions before, and out of nothing the solution is found in a new work. I guess that’s one of many reasons why I keep on painting.
Not visible for public, but spoiling it now, you constantly collect, archive for yourself and then refer/employ daily images. Do you want to elaborate what kind of images these are? Is this where your main inspiration comes from?
It can basically be anything. In the very beginning of my work it really was some kind of nativity that attracted me. I guess that a certain self-made character in the everyday life still attracts me. A self-painted “COFFEE 1€” sign gets me every time. But in general it is hard to say. Sometimes I also look for the special moment. Resonantly I really look for color. I was in Mexico and brought a huge collection of pictures of different colour combinations with me. New contexts are defining for what I’m looking for. In general I like the idea of remains of an interaction. That can be a written shopping list that I find on the street or a photograph that tells me a story which I don’t know. In German you can say „merkwürdig“. In English it would be peculiar, odd or strange. Maybe the best word in this case is “noteworthy”. For me it literally means that image is worthy to be remembered. These are things that really interest me.
Hence are you getting reinspired while browsing through your collection or shall one rather imagine a specific search and then integration of the imagery?
Hard to say. Sometimes I look for a special and specific image or drawing that I made – maybe years ago – to include it in a recent painting.
How would you describe the relation between real imagery, abstract brush strokes and quite often wording on your canvases? Is there a different emphasis on each of them?
For the different elements that I use in my paintings I see different tasks. Words or found images could work as a way to attract the viewer’s attentions. Just like advertising might work. To use imagery that triggers something in the viewer’s head and hopefully start a dialogue. By using different elements like this, even if at first sight they seem randomly put together, I like to think that I can also start a confusion in this dialogue. The things you see might give you a direct idea of something but the rest doesn’t make sense in this context. The abstract moments are often references to painting itself. Also I like to play with the way people look at or read images. For example, you have a monochrome color field and on that you have a circle and a square. Our eyes are so conditioned that you directly recongnize these two elements as what they are. But if you fill the space between those objects with what may seem at first glace only random information, like abstract brush strokes, the sight of the viewer gets confused and the connection between the circle and the square comes into question. That is where it gets interesting for me.
What does your process of production look like? Are you constantly producing in your studio or are you working more specifically towards projects and hence wider aspects, like architecture, demographics and of course specific times become relevant?
It really depends. My ideal idea for the process, exhibition, project in the making, is to constantly be in a dialogue with myself and my works. That doesn’t mean that I always have to be in the studio for that. Traveling and seeing new things, experiencing new ideas, and being informed is a big part of it. For my recent show I worked a lot with an eye on what I did in the last two years, attentive to different moments in the older paintings. I started to focus on different contents and wanted to define those in a new context, point them out in my work. It was a new way to approach a new series and I really liked it because I could see old and new paintings as a whole. But there was also an action of also exclude some of the older themes which didn’t seem to bring new ideas to me anymore.
In the first answer you mentioned the importance of sound for your work and installtations. You sometimes DJ yourself – Does your music inspire your artworks and / or vice versa?
Music has a huge importance in my life. I would not say that it’s inspiring me in a way that I listen to a song and start to go crazy in the studio. But I like to compare music and painting to understand the essence of both. I guess there are a lot of practices that can be found in both worlds, such as sampling. To chop up found music tracks and rearrange the so found samples to something new is pretty much what I do in my practice. Also the general way to layer soundtrack over soundtrack to create a balanced composition is very similar to painting.
So where will your hunger for new inspiration take you next?
The recent travel to Mexico encouraged me to discover more of Latin America, like Brazil, for example. Also Europe has a lot of places to discover like Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. I really want to see Warsaw and Kiev. But for now nothing is planned.
Collaborators: Yves Scherer
Time: June 2015
Type: Art Production / Spatial Design
Information: Sound piece, Sculptures, Collages
Johanna & Friedrich Gräfling
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Time: 2016 - 2020
Information: Renovation of an old Barns and stables into a weekend house.
Could you tell us a bit about your practice, please?
Naturally but still surprising to me all of my thoughts and ideas I develop end up in a sculpture. Or rather without sculpture I would hardly be able to develop thoughts and ideas. To know about your field can give you a feeling of security on the other hand sometimes it can feel like a burden you have to carry on your shoulders and cant get rid of. It’s maybe comparable to an old love. That could also be the reason why most of the time the sculptures end up larger-scaled. At least a larger scaled vision is always inherent. To lean on them literally. But if I really would, the sculptures and me would both just fall over. As their own character is ambiguous in that sense. It’s the attempt to create something strong enough, to talk about weakness. Or rather showing their weakness makes them become strong. This can be regarded as one of the aims of my practice.
You work predominantly if not purely in sculpture – where does your fascination for the three-dimensional come from?
I don’t know. My family was very surprised as I applied to art school to become a sculptor as I was not one of the boys that went out to build tree houses neither was I interested in any comparable activities. I think it’s rather an interest in architecture and special places that are able to bring certain people together. Wether it is a comfortable or stressful encounter. I never mind to slide into without any restraint. I like the most crowded and sweaty bar in Kreuzberg sitting on a worn out bench next to a shouting bum as much as I like a silent Berlin sunset walking home alone after a long night dancing and trying to not walk home alone. I like the deafening noise of Michael Schumachers Ferrari in Hockenheim as much as I like the sound of raindrops on the rooftop. I think it’s simply a dedication to any form of sensuality that life offers. So the three-dimensional has definitely a limit to this but maybe it’s the best way for me to get close to that variety of the sensual and to share it in a challenging way.
“Big is beautiful – or does size matter?” Many of your works are humongous. Do you deliberately choose to work in large formats? What are the reasons to scale it up?
If I could choose I wouldn’t do it. I believe in the sensual reality of sculpture nower days even more as we live in times where the most flattest and slickest surface of a smartphone cannot be flat enough to make you feel more comfortable. All of our communication runs through this flatness. I also believe that this technical progress has a positive and challenging impact on our human minds. Not to say it might even have an evolutionary power. Wether it’s generating or degenerating. This moving away from the physical is at the same time producing a higher need for the physical. So in conclusion sculpture is the medium of our time. Precisely because it is so not fitting in to it. It is and will be able to fill the hole we have produced ourselves. So big is beautiful but size matters !
Many of your sculptures render well-known poses and signs, yet are always broken at some point. How deliberate are you choreographing these cuts or are they developing during its own process?
I have the expectation that shit happens. This is what I try to sort out in the process of making a sculpture. I am challenging the collapse of the sculptures upright position by preferring soft and fragile materials and to confront myself with constructive problems consciously. My practice can be described as an antiminimalistic approach towards sculpture. Instead of reducing things to their essence by simplifying form, which is most common in younger history, I rather want to show how complicated the most simple things are by creating complex forms. Starting point is always the simplest drawing you can imagine. Sticking to clear signs like hearts, lips or numbers create an encounter between sculpture, viewer and me on the same eye level. It’s important that one has to not necessarily bring any knowledge but can get in touch with the work in a direct but challenging way. Creating a sculpture means above all to set the imaginary founding it’s based on. It might be even more important than the sculpture itself.
Most works have one, sometimes several smaller siblings. Are these working models and ideas? How planned are the final outcomes?
I often do the small versions to find out the salient point of a sculpture which triggers the bigger version. A larger idea is always inherent from the beginning. Also there is no limit to size. I don’t have a certain space in mind which I would adapt them to. Space has to adapt to them. Still the small versions are unique pieces and exist independent from the bigger ones. The final outcome can only be planned to a certain point. I am stressing the unknown on purpose. It’s a way to surprise myself and to be surprising. Therefore you have to be able to trust things. I hope that this moment of trust can be transmitted.
When looking at your sculptures not only the size is striking but also the materials you use. Despite the rather massive format the texture transmits an almost gentle feel. What role does materiality play for you?
As sculpture is the place of transferring energy between the individual and another, it has, to actually offer this opportunity, to be in itself full of energy as high as possible. That’s why rapidity, directness and improvisation are important for me. Material is a sculptor’s tool to push things into the direction intended. As I am interested in high dichotomies inside a sculpture it’s also a tool to balance out things and to make contrasts become visual. That’s why I am always aiming for a high transparency in the use of materials. Working with strong gestures turn out the raw qualities of materials. Wether it is soft or scratchy. It simply has to be touching. Flatscreens want to be touched. Sculptures do touch. It is a pleading for that fact. It is a pleading for the autonomy of form.
Further one does not only find classical, sculptural materials, but rather well known elements from our daily life. It seems like you are recycling found material. Are these seriously found elements or specifically sourced items?
As I said building the sculptures is a quite performative act in the studio. So I stick to the things that are in my closest environment since I face that moment of improvisation consciously. I simply include the objects needed to stabilize the construction in an obvious way when the classical materials like plaster or resin need to find rest to set. As it is the challenge how to make them lift off of the ground. I literally start with the question of how to make the two-dimensional become three-dimensional. Like you said, it’s completely true to speak of objects of our every day life as I don’t mind to use the plastic litter right next to me or the brick which is able to put some weight on the foam that I have to pull down to be put into shape. They’re added as sculptural elements to make it become a more colourful and exciting form in the end. Funny enough these constructive elements have most of the time a direct connection to the content I am aiming for. Being chosen pragmatically they often intensify or even create content. So if you ask me what kind of materials I use, I can only reply that I use the things necessary.
There are reoccurring topics in your works such as the heart or hands for example – do you work in series or is each work related to its own, unique story?
Every work is about it’s own unique story. Ideally I try to reach the point where construction and content clashes in a way that a formal and narrative loop emerges which is more similar to a chorus than to a story with beginning and ending. I regard a successful chorus as a high form of communication. It is possible for the chorus to act as a big embrace and to abolish distance between world and individual. Actually all of my motives have the potential to vary. Every switch in shape and construction makes another setting of content. I just tend to jump from one motive to the other and maybe later at another point of my life I can get back to it in a different way. I think it’s a natural way of an artist’s development. Now for the first time I produced an ongoing series of heart sculptures. It’s called “open heart”. Each sculpture is a dedication to the uniqueness of a person’s heart. It is a dedication to the individual architecture of hearts as every new sculpture is celebrating singularity in its shape and form.
Currently one early sculpture, still from your studies at Karlsruhe, is on view at the exhibition “Better than your neighbour” at Schloss Wiesen. This Group exhibition is in a castle in the middle of nowhere in the forest Spessart. Previously you have exhibited at Cruise&Callas gallery in downtown Berlin. How different are these various settings for you as an artist as well as for your work?
“The middle of nowhere” basically sounds more appealing to me than “Somewhere in the place to be”. What I enjoy about the white cube is that in its neutrality it is able to create a sharp and undistorted view on art. It’s uncensored. Especially in my work I like this neutrality of space. In the studio my sculptures look very similar to the things and colours surrounding them. Putting them into a neutral space can make them share that special atmosphere that inside the studio is hard to perceive. Schloss Wiesen is a castle out of the 8th century. I like that you can feel this massive period of time. This constant and slow moving through history and and its cuts is made present by showing the status quo of it being renovated. It makes it become an antipode to the rapidity of life we have to face every day. It can make you conscious of another dimension of time which can act like a cure and finally gives space and air to breathe. I also like that one has to make the decision to take this ride up to Spessart to enjoy art in a very silent and different way in contrast to the common gallery and art fair business. Afterwards you just drift back down the hill back into reality. It is definitely the creation of an extraordinary and romantic place which is hard to find in the centres of the art world like Berlin or London. These places often have to face profane realities that can kill experiments. So I just wish for the castle to be able to carry on as an alternative to the regular speed and need for economical growth.
Maybe one could expand this difference, although not on such a drastic way, with your move from Karlsruhe to Berlin. Is the change of environment reflected in your work?
A changing environment doesn’t necessarily have a changing impact. Concerning our human condition separately regarded from political, economical and social issues which we all know are highly changing throughout the world, living is everywhere quite the same. Our inner human condition has beside these issues almost not changed at all. That’s why we can still look at art from ancient times and get touched. I try to focus on that in my work. Berlin is bigger and there is a classless and unsorted bunch of people right next to each other. This can give you a higher and more intense impression of what it feels like to be human amongst other humans. In Berlin distance lies very close to being totally undistanced. As I regard sculpture as a place to measure distances this fact is really interesting to me. On the other hand it can sometimes give you quite a hard time. So basically Berlin stressed my romanticism even more than Karlsruhe did. Which I enjoy to a certain extend and of what I was really surprised of. I love that Berlin provides the space and freedom for every kind of expression. I think it is a tradition in every kind of artistic field in German history. Wether it’s architecture, literature, music, design or art. This colourful side by side makes Berlin become a good example of what the idealistic funding of our democracy was meant to be after the Second World War. All the other cities celebrate their traditions from medieval times and are conscious of their identity. Berlin had a physical cut for nearly 30 years. I think it has been this physical presence that made people feel freedom even more when the wall came down.
Coming back to the recent exhibition at Schloss Wiesen, which is entitled “Better than your neighbour”. How are you interpreting the title in your own way and further in regards to the exhibition itself?
I feel that in German society there is a high jealousy between you and your next. Sometimes I think it is even the productive force of our society which is poor enough. Compared to the English or American culture Germans are hardly able to celebrate positive energy and to support ideas in their early state of growing. Everything has to go through the big machine of quality approval. So for me “Better than your neighbour” speaks out loud what I think is a big problem we have to overcome. Regarding it as a title of a groupshow which concept is to show one artist in one space next to the other is simply quite smart.
“Sammlung GRÄFLING” formerly sammlung FIEDE is being built up by Johanna & Friedrich Gräfling and employs primarily coeval, contemporary positions. It aims at collecting artists in depth as well as making as many works as possible publicly accessable.
Aids 3-d (Keller/Kosmas)
Hugo Habermann, von
Thiago Rocha Pitta
Bob & Roberta Smith
Franz Erhard Walther
Collaborators: Architectural Association London
Type: Architectural Research
Information: Research Project on the Peripheral Museum of Contemporary Art (PMCA)
First of all, could you tell us about about your way of working, please?
I like to capture things I observe around me and to express in my works.
Your paintings are easily mistaken for photographs at first glance. What is your relation to photography?
Photographs, or technical images as I would like to call them, have been with us since the early 19th century. I’m interested in photographic techniques and images from various times. However, for me this is all first and foremost information and to my mind technical images lack mystery. Consequently, in my paintings I try to give some sense of what I find missing in the technical images – go give them some spirit.
How do you approach a new painting? Do you paint out of memory, from scratch or do you use a model or even photograph?
I start to paint when I have formed a mental image of what I want to paint. This mental image is like a distillation of various influences.
What do you see in paintings that a photo, in your eyes, can never achieve?
It’s easiest to explain by comparing war photographs with paintings. When we see tragic photos we mostly think of what we see on the photos. It’s the topic, rather than the technique, that touches us. Paintings, on the other hand, bring us beyond the topic and techniques, into a dialogue with the history of art.
You are working in series, which are all working both conceptually as well as aesthetically on different levels. How far are new compositions planned, and altered to the real? Are you always working across the different series or are these completely separate to each other?
I only focus on one project at the time regardless of how long it takes. I see each project as one story, as one piece of art, as one sculpture and I use a specific technique for each project. Once I feel I have exhausted the possibilities I move on to a new one. Later, I sometimes return to an earlier project if I find possibilities I had not noticed or thought of earlier. In a way each project is like a room where I then leave the door open.
Some of your paintings are more „rendered“ than others. What is the secret to painting photorealistic and are there particular techniques you use for the different outcomes?
I have always admired European art and its ability to constantly come up with new ideas. As I have already mentioned different projects call for different technique.
How long does a painting take? Is there a difference, if you are capturing an actual moment, a human in form of a portrait or invented scenery on canvas?
It differs and there is no connection between the subject and the time it takes to paint it.
With the invention of photography it was possible to capture a moment in the exact moment, while a painting would always distort the situation simply by taking so long. Where to you see the main difference and argumentation for photorealistic painting?
The photo captures seconds. A painting requires the physicality of a painter over a much longer time, as long as needed.
Quite often you are even described as a hyper realistic painter, where is the difference to photorealism?
For me, hyper realism tends to mean being enslaved by an image, to copy it as closely as possible. Photorealism is more of an open field.
Your newest series „Every Minute You are closer to death“ map your personal questions about life and death. Is there a specific reason you are currently working on such a „dark“ – they are also only painted in black and white – topic?
They are actually not black and white but with some brown in it. The colour is inspired by old photographs; I want to connect with photos from late 19th century but with 21st century topics. Through the paintings I’m building a bridge between these two centuries.
The latest project is still ongoing. The next project might possibly take up other aspects of old photos but I still don’t know how it will develop.
Information: Conversion of an old slaughter house into an exhibition venue for sammlung FIEDE
Hello, can you please tell us a bit about your practice?
I guess while certain series of my works are outsourced and quite heavily manufactured, much of my practice still is quite studio-based. From traveling a lot in the last years this studio has not been a fixture but a more fluid concept of working in the exhibition spaces itself and carrying a bag with some tools and brushes etc. But I always see my computer as the center of my practice, it’s like the place most of my research comes from, where I work with my collaborators and fabricators and where most of my idea’s grow from.
Thematically or subject wise my work is very personal I think, and a sort of romantic layer which I lay over the above described life-style I guess. My tatami series for example is sort of a reflection on my own living habits and on where I lay my head quite literally. Obviously this idea of exhibiting the bed is also connected to sexuality and love you could say, a field which I touch on quite often in my practice. More precisely I see this as the sort of overall narrative in my practice which I use to reflect on subject with a broader and deeper relevance. Although I feel that exactly the most personal is political as people say and that it reaches or touches the audience where they really feel something. But at the same time I try to keep it kind of light and fun. My last exhibition in Berlin titled Single was sort of a reflection on the reality of being without a romantic partner, advertised with a nude shoot of mine and phone number paintings in the show. This follows on a larger body of work which can be read as a sort of fan fiction which became physical with sculptures and objects telling the story about an unreturned affection towards the actress Emma Watson or less romantic the stalking of Kristen Stewart and the illusion of intimacy between celebrity and audience.
You are Swiss born & raised and started studying cultural studies in Berlin. How, when and why came the decision to study fine art in London?
It came after working for a few years independently as an artist in Berlin. I went from studying Political Science over Sociology and Philosophy to Literature - which was my main reason to move to Berlin actually -, to making sculptures at home.
My neighbours at that time were artists, so one thing led to another and I ended up sharing a studio with one of them for a while. He then moved to London to study at the Royal College for a Master and was like “it’s the move”, so I applied as well and kind of just followed him there.
Early works, mainly still from your London times, are rather sculptural, integrating personal objects/situations with representations/objects of socially distant, maybe even lonely people. Being fresh in London in a complete new field, did the second reflect on a personal level too or where did these associated relations come from?
Yes it definitely reflects on a personal level as well, it always does I guess. At that time I had a girlfriend in Berlin which I sort of left in distance with my move to London, as well as some of my best friends. But it wasn’t that there were no good people in London, quite the opposite actually, I just came from the sort of Berlin vibe and lifestyle into a city like London which was so demanding, rough and challenging that I didn’t spend much time for anything else than work for the two years I’ve lived there. Like I stopped smoking, stopped drinking a lot and taking drugs, started working out etc etc. I also kind of stopped having fun at the same time - so I wouldn’t even speak of it as a particularly lonely period as I was pretty well embedded in this school network, had some friends from Berlin over as well as met some great local people, but there was just not much room for this, and I guess I did miss my girlfriend. At the same time my studio was so small there that most of the work that I have been doing was coming out of the computer, like it wasn’t really a studio practice but much more just an office practice and dealing with workshops. I basically spent 14 hours a day sitting on my computer which is def an experience which informed the work that I have been making back then. Being alone and on the computer only probably led me to making the Emma piece, which leads to the next question I think.
Still being influenced through your time in the UK, the British actress and celebrity Emma Watson came into your life and work. A public figure who turned into a role model a whole generation grew up with. In times of social media, she is an easy target for extensive voyeurism and obsessive stalking. How did this fascination for the actress evolve? Would you go as far as comparing her to you artistic muse or is it rather the cult around the persona that inspires you?
It’s a good question and people always ask me that, but it’s a bit tricky to answer at the same time as it feels like I have been dealing with Emma Watson as a subject for like the last 2-3 years so I’ve changed a lot since then and she changed a lot since then and maybe even the relationship has, as one-sided as it is. It’s probably best to start at the beginning -
I started the work in London in the time that I was talking about above, sitting on the computer all day looking through forums etc etc but at the same time being really interested in something people call “Post-Internet Art” and these idea’s of the phyiscal/digital material/immaterial etc. Also Emma is really an icon in Britain much more than say in the US or the rest of Europe, she’s everyone’s darling somehow while at the same time experiencing these online rants or problems with armada’s of Fake nude images. So this is kind of the moment where the work comes from, living in a long-distance relation being a little alienated from the people and the world around me, then trying to extrapolate or exponentially increase this feeling to create this desire of making this internet persona real, like not only to have the chance to look at her every moment - which is what paparazzi kind of promises -, having this immaterial presence in the bedroom or so, but having her actually there as a full-sized figure. Like Pinocchio which becomes alive I then managed to convince the people there to carve her out of Swiss Pear wood.
But from that moment on my life has changed and her life has changed as well, and it’s quite interesting how this links back to the figures, like how this feedback loop actually works. Her really becoming an icon for female rights has definitely shaped the reception of the figures, as well as my position of the young male artist exhibiting a nude woman. This has also really changed my own perception and idea of the artistic position I would like to inhabit. But while I feel like I was smiling about her a little bit at the beginning, by now I really respect and admire her for the person she is and became. I guess this has more to do with changes in my own life than hers, but you never know. What’s unspoken so far is that I have so far never been romantically interested in her, neither sexually or that I see myself as a fan. I think she’s an impressive persona and I still look up to her a lot but a muse is a little bit different I think. A muse for me is more the person that you devote the work to, that you make it for, that inspires you to make it, and Emma Watson has never really done that for me. She was put into this position back when I started the work more by the audience than herself - which is defnitely something I tried to explore a little bit in the course of the series - but there is just no personal connection or feeling if I think about her right now, zero.
Following the works inspired by Emma Watson, over the past years, several celebrities, like Leonardo di Caprio, Kirsten Stewart, Kate Moss & Jonny Depp, became central parts of your works - quite often in direct relation to the yellow press, respective magazines, social media and luxury goods. Do you celebrate this celebrity cult /lifestyle or can it be seen as a reflection?
In a way it’s both I think, but I generally try not to criticize too much. I personally also don’t think that there is much wrong about the lifestyle mentioned people are living, it’s a different question though if it’s something we/I/anyone should aspire to. For me Kate Moss & Johnny Depp were an exciting couple, I fell in love a little bit with Kristen Stewart over Twilight and Leonardo di Caprio is quite killing it. But I wouldn’t say that I’m a fan, as an artist you always keep this strange distance to things, you get somehow fakely involved with things, you overdo certain things you try to dig deeper to find something within you that you can make big enough so that it relates to a bigger audience, some collective fantasies etc.
And celebrities are an interesting topic that most people can relate to. Like if I open a magazine in the subway and there is a picture of Kim Kardashian the chances that my neighbours start peeping over my shoulder is bigger than with almost any other image. But that’s kind of old news already -
Looking at your question again and thinking about the “celebrity lifestyle”, we really are talking about a construct from the outside there. Like I don’t think that’s actually/really the lifestyle they are living. Most of them live the life of actors - maybe even semi-activists if you think about Emma and Leo - which I think can be quite interesting, what connects them all and is a thing that comes with the celebrity status is probably the paparazzi, which must be horrible. Or an intersting tool and medium for your practice and concerns.
Your works and installations often suggest that you as an the artist take on the role of the voyeur yourself. Can you elaborate on this fascination / positioning.
I don’t know if you could call it voyeurism, but as a young person and even as a young person growing up you are looking for role-models that can guide through life I guess; and you try to look at the people that you think have the most exciting life right. It’s just trying to learn from other people in a way. Same as looking at other artists, what works they make, how they live, read interviews to learn some lessons about becoming a better artist, to generally getting better at what you are doing. I wouldn’t call this voyeurism really, but obviously the way the paparazzi deal with celebrities and things adds this notion to it. But I guess what voyeurism really is about is kind of living someone else’s life, like trying to live on with in the skin of someone else, leaving your own ordinary life’s instead of focussing on your direct environment. But it’s similar with literature somehow, it’s a fiction which makes you feel things which are not “real” but they are. And it’s not really the topic here but I feel like there’s a certain shift in my life at the moment which is kind of interesting to touch for one second maybe. Like I feel sometime that I’ve lost my fascination with celebrities etc. a little bit, or completely almost. And I think it’s over living in the US. In Europe or in Switzerland for example the focus of attention is really towards the West, it’s about the brands here the musicians here the people here etc. But then you come here and you just part of it and it’s not a big deal anymore somehow. Even if the culture here still is obsessed with celebrities.
Maybe it hasn’t to do much with where I live then but more about making peace and being with your own reality etc. and the person you are.
Where is the limit to it? Do you purely work with found material or did you ever cross the point where your role came somewhat close to reality?
Not really, the closest I got to voyeurism is buying a CD with HD paparazzi pictures from Ebay I think, which then became part of an online project during my “Closer” exhibition in Berlin. It was basically a database of an entire year of pictures of Emma Watson, dated and put into separate folders. The website of the gallery was sort of hacked so that the only thing you could see was this really basic website with folders only where you could click yourself through to an image of Watson on June 6th say, where she was walking around London with her dead in quite a shook mood it seems solving some problematic situation.
It’s a tricky question if there was an actual limit to say voyeurism though, but I guess it’s the same with every kind of art. It’s the question if you are allowed to break certain laws for it etc etc, but this is not something I’m currently interested in really. I’m also not interested in stalking Emma Watson but would be much more interested to try and meet her in a more relaxed way. Like I’d love to meet her and maybe think about some sort of a collaboration or so, but I’m not quite there yet I guess - Through a friend I have her personal email and reached out once or twice already but with no success so far, guess that’s closer to reality than I wished for.
Aesthetically, many of your works seem rather gestural, leaving some space for coincidence and chance. In order to relate this to all the different concepts, visuals and fascinations mentioned above - how would you draw your own conclusions?
I’m trying to figure out this relationship myself - At the moment I’m just making these kind of beautiful paintings in the studio and asking myself what do they mean or if they have any relevance. It’s that I really enjoy making a mess in the studio and leaving these gestures etc. but it’s not what I think are the best works of mine. Not at all actually
But I feel like if you look at the practice in a bigger way then they hold a certain importance or relevance as well or almost the same one. Like with my practice it’s a lot about building an artist persona and a figure in the real world that you can then work with again - like I said with meeting Emma Watson for example. I don’t know exactly what I want to say but I feel like that in my relationship to Emma Watson the way to become her boyfriend is definitely not to make works about her or that depict her but maybe to make some beautiful paintings that make me go places and become a more interesting person and artist - but I really don’t know and still trying to find it every day.
All your solo exhibitions work on a spatial level in which you create very sensual atmospheres. Be it your first exhibition at Guido Baudach, where one felt like entering a private space with maybe even references to the Barcelona Pavillion of Mies, your exhibition in Mexiko, where you transformed a complete derelict building into a maze of different characters, your presentation at Studiolo in Milan seemed like a shrine and your project with Florian Auer at Salon Kennedy in Frankfurt resulted in a private members club. How important is architectural space to you?
It’s always a starting point for an exhibition, but it has held more importance to me in earlier years than it has right now. What stays is that I really think in exhibitions rather than in separate works, of the exhibition as a format and how to play with the visitors experience which - on the most basic level - is heavily informed by the space, the light, what they are walking on etc etc
But then by growing up as an artist you start to separate things a little bit, like there are different kind of exhibitions as well which demand different approaches. So I’m kind of trying to push each element by itself. Like I’m working on a explicitly architectural project at the moment, curate a show here in New York where I will only create the environment and other artists will put the artworks while at the same time developing sculptures and painting in the studio which might be shown at Art Fairs completely without context or installation element.
Interestingly you barely work on a larger installation level, you mainly create this transformation and feeling through autonomous works. Does this final switch happen by chance or are you planning the complete show meticulously beforehand?
Yes I usually plan the shows quite meticulously before I go installing. Or I used to at least work out every exhibition in sketch-up so that mostly the install was just about finally realizing it.
Lately I have become more interested in the works itself, looking more at classical positions of sculpture and painting and trying to really focus on that. Sometimes it’s kind of a easy way out if the work isn’t as strong as you hoped just to embed it in a bigger narrative or in an environment - an installation. And I’m currently trying not to go this route too much but to stick with the piece and solve it in itself. But every work I make is always devoted or meant for a certain environment or exhibition, like I never make works just like that or really rarely. So the context is always there.
It seems like collaboration with fellow artists is an important part of your practice. This year you staged the exhibition series and project „East of Eden“with Grear Patterson or some years ago we got to know you as the Sunday Painter Group (which was not an official bound) with Max Ruf, Sebastian Loyd Rees, Emanuel Rhoess among others. This collaborative aspect also goes beyond people, to spaces and formats. Where would you draw the boundary between process, production and lifestyle?
Yes I guess so. But it’s very much like your own relationship - between you Johanna and you Friedrich. Like you spend time with the people you love and you enjoy it and then it’s the most natural thing to try and do something productive or creative together. In that way making art is probably almost the thing I like most about my life so it’s a beautiful thing to share with other people.
At the moment I’m working at a presentation for NADA Miami with Rod Bianco, my gallery from Oslo. In spring I will curate a package of shows here in New York and in Mexico while trying to establish a bit of a larger scale architectural project in the mexican Jungle outside of the capital. This comes with an exhibition in Toronto which will present some kind of a research for the project but should hopefully end up in a finished building at the end.
Then we just opened a little exhibition space in our house in the Bronx which will have it’s first show in two weeks and I signed the first lease in my life for a studio here in Yonkers, which is north of the city. I’m planning to really turn this into a home-base which I operate from and hope to get some proper new work going there .
I’m still quite excited about everything!
Collaborators: Michael Sailstorfer
Time: April 2015
Type: Art Production
Information: Video Work, 08:33 min. | photographic work 12 parts | sigle photographic edition | sculptures
You have just been appointed director of a local contemporary art museum in Sardinia. Could you give us a brief introduction?
Three years ago I have started work on a gallery in Sardinia. During the construction of the gallery I was invited to direct the tiny museum, that is near by in Calasetta. This is one of the poorest regions in Italy. We are closer to Tunisia than to Rome over there, just to give the setting.
So we should start with the gallery then?
Yes. This is the first project we did. It is interesting, because we have all the conditions. Everything started three years ago. This village, which is in the south west of Sardinia and it is completely derelict. Everyone is escaping to the city. And this is not even Italy, it is only an island in Italy. They don’t just escape from the village, they escape fully from the island. The future of the island or the village has always immediately related to tourism. The problem is, that everyone considers, in order to develop something, you need to built. The idea is not to built anything, rather to take existing fabric, in this case a derelict building on the coast and to work within the building regulations. In this case you are not allowed to built anything 3km within the coastline.
Ok I understand. Thus the radical move of removing the ceiling?
Exactly. Thats why the idea of leaving everything and only removing the roof came about. It is a new challenge for the curatorial program and a strong critique towards the white cube. It is a space where artists work. Their work decays consequently, as it is constantly exposed to the wind, the sun and rain. And the curatorial program becomes a continuos narration, instead of a series of events.
So do I understand correctly, that each artist works on the traces of the previous one?
Yes. But this is only possible as nothing was designed. Everything was just give. We kept the flooring, decorations, a plant in the building, internal tiles etc.., only the roof was removed. This is a conceptual architectural intervention.
At the same time it is an answer to the local regulations.
The open air gallery is received as a double operation. From the point of the regulation and from the point of the curatorial operation.
You mentioned three years of construction. But you have only removed the roof!
The project took 3 years to complete, as everything that could go wrong went wrong. We found bombs from the second world war, there was asbestus on the ceiling… what should have been a 2 weeks projects, carried on and on.
How is the running of the space financed?
In order to find sponsors we started collaborating with local institutions, which are no institutions anymore, like the municipality of the region. Instead we found local people. Be it the butcher, the ice-cream shop.
This still leaved a matter of the audience. Consequently one would like the gallery create an impact. Other institutions are battling with visitor numbers, which I assume, especially if on your part of the island is no touristic activity taking place, it will be hard to have any audience?
You are right. How art could produce a new audience today, is interesting to me. And this project is raising this thought. Yet the Gallery is located about 70 m away from the coast, which is a spectacular set of cliffs. It is a small community, like 1500 people. So the problem is not finding an audience there, but really producing it through the form of a museum.
Ok lets move to the museum then.
The museum was founded in 2001 and it was the former slaughterhouse of the village. It is quite a large space, that got converted. But both the architecture is quite banal and the collection is very modest as well.
Which is in this case an advantage for me.
Because I have more room to work. The overall operations are: First the gallery and the museum work together. Second its cultural production and third is the Mediterranean. In fact the museum aim to become a small epic centre for an entire geopolitical territory, which is the mediterranean. For this we studied the map of all museums in the region of 3km of the coast all around the Mediterranean.
Ok we need to get this organized her. Lets quickly intersect with how are you seeing the connection of the museum and the gallery?
At the moment there are three artists in residency and one curator. And the project is based on two assumptions.
First condition: The gallery and the museum are separated and they need to move together. And the gallery turns into the special project space for the museum.
Second condition: I am not interested in the museum as a space to exhibit work. It should not only be about consuming space, being a truistic attraction. I just want the space to operate for cultural production.
How are you defining cultural production here?
Cultural production means in this case artists need to produce work there and second are only allowed to do so with materials and techniques from local craftsmen. By doing that I actually two things. On one site I am stimulating the economy and on the other I am showing the authority how the museum is a catalyst for the territory.
Ok lets come back to the Mediterranean. You mentioned you were analyzing the entire coast. How many museums are there then?
We discovered, that there are 1037 museums on the Mediterranean coast. This already defines the ambition of the project, which is a geopolitical experiment. How these tiny spots can operate together on a territorial level, through a curatorial project.
Have you got any answers already?
In fact we have started. We are in touch with museums in Italy, Greece, Istanbul, Cairo and Algeria. The interesting part is, that the overall project work on different types of scales. It defines different types of relationships, with a direct context. So we are constantly working among the Mediterranean territory, the Sardinian territory and finally with the local territory. This happens at this stage through a constant dialogue of the open air gallery and the museum.
Jumping back to the museum. What did you change there, in order to support such a large operation?
So the first move we did was to rearrange the museum. I first moved the permanent collection to the first floor and squeezed it as much as possible to leave the ground floor for residencies and studio spaced for artists.
And I created an archive showing the activities that are taking place at the open air gallery.
So this is already a link of the two?
Yes one minor one, but the larger picture is, that we are creating new real estate. Through the museum and the gallery, we are creating new cafes, meeting points etc..
How are you creating these entities? By just giving the space?
It is more, it is around the entire island, by using the museum as a catalyst.
Through the distance between the two spaces it is already a territorial operation. On top of that the first three artists that are on residency there, have turned the village in a very radical way. For example they occupied the houses of local residences, with the argumentation, that we are creating a new master plan of the village through our interventions.
In what sense?
So for example one artists has painted on the wall of a local house. This means in order to see the art, you do not have to go to the museum, you have to visit the private house. And in return the local person might be fortune to have an original artist work inside. We are always working with young, but promising and very talented artists. Parallel I am collaborating with established galleries, which help me to produce the works in the open air gallery.
So is it a hybrid situation?
Definitely! On the one hand side I work with the commercial gallery and on the other with the non commercial art production. Because you can not exclude the market - otherwise it just becomes this utopian and naive idea. On the other hand I am working with the authorities, as they are very desperate about the current situation. And thirdly I am stimulating the economy, as everything that is produced is produced on site.
Again we are operating on three levels. On a territorial along the entire Mediterranean coast line, second we are creating a new master plan by transforming the planning of the the village, the curatorial program and third through architecturally by working with the most derelict buildings.
What role does cultural production in form of direct education play? Are these fields of interest?
We have just started to think about other modes, like educational programs. For this I have started collaborating with Beyond Entropy, which is operating globally. I am working with each territory, by calling the Universities, who are sending groups of students there to work in the museum and village for at least a month. So for example last time we had a group of 30 students from Oxford, who transformed the entire Museum in a laboratory. It was the only place, that was lit for 24 hours in the entire village and they called it the “Discotheque”.
How is everything financed?
This is the biggest challenge for us right now. We are non top asking ourselves for how long the project will be able to survive, due to the financing. Right now me personally are sponsoring projects like the artists in residency. But the idea is by investing in the quality of the artists, it will create a chain reaction, that will attract more and more private sponsors. Because the project plays on the value of marginality - which is an opportunity.
I don’t have to answer to audience, I do not have to answer to public institutions, I am free to really go for it.
Thank you very much.
Stefano Rabolli Pansera graduated from the Architectural Association with a thesis on Cinematic Architecture. Between 2005 and 2007 he worked at Herzog de Meuron for the dismissed mining area of Monteponi in Sardinia. In 2009 he founded Rabolli Pansera Ltd. Stefano has taught as a unit master at the Architectural Association from 2007 to 2011 and has lectured internationally. He was appointed Visiting Professor at the University of Cagliari in 2009 where his students built a public bookshop for the university. In 2012, Stefano has been appointed director of MACC, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Calasetta, Italy.
Rather than talking about your general practice we will focus on one, currently a main project of yours: “Aditnálta, an island dispersed across the Internet”. Yet, before we go into depth could you please outline your background?
I’m an Australian born Chinese architect, techie and musician. I attended my undergraduate studies at Melbourne University and continued them at the Architectural Association in London.
Aditnálta has not only developed into the so to call design process of an architect, but further you created its site, program, and life around the “architectural space”. Would you describe yourself as the architect or rather a sociologist or storyteller?
All of the above. I think a new age of architects need to emerge from a different set of skill-sets. We are now entering a digital age where the virtual and physical are not mutual exclusive but slowly becoming one. We need to start grabbing hold of these opportunity and start bridging the gap between these changes in culture and technology.
Aditnálta is being described on Wikipedia, images can be found on Panoramio or Google. There are Documentaries on youtube and reports from third persons around the Internet. From what point on has the island / your project developed a life on its own?
It started to develop a life of its own when it began to get traction on the wikipedia community and people around the world started adding to it, deleting parts of it and editing Aditnálta. Google Earth accepted it as a place and people started to click on the photos on panoramio, watch the clips on youtube and started to comment on this place as if it was real.
Seen from Google Earth, Aditnálta is an anonymous island of the east coast of Mexico. How did you find it?
Well as part of our trajectory this year we headed into Central America and as I scoured Google Earth/Maps (as most of us do before we travel somewhere) I discovered an archipelago. This set of islands had the name isle cerro prieto although they were not named individually, thus Aditnálta was born.
As the worlds richest source of Otinif, it is a landscape being consumed by our hunger for technology. How did this program develop?
Otinif (finito backwards) draws relationship to our reliance on minerals. The program developed through the resource trails that our modern day tech objects leave. These electronics generate landscapes and places like Aditnálta. An ecstatic truth, the program is based on real areas with conflict minerals such as Serra Pelada, the Congo and the Amazon.
Together, Aditnálta becomes an outsourced landscape, embedded in all the pieces of technology we carry in our pockets. Can your project be seen as a critique towards global manufacturing processes and technology obsessed exploitation, or do you understand it purely as an architectural, online speculation?
Both. I think there is a multi-leveled understanding to my project and can be taken in many aspects. One can read it as a critique to our reliance on technology, two; a warning that built architectural projects shouldn’t be solely designed on basis of these fictional means, three; opportunities for designers to not restrict themselves to buildings and that the fictions they create can have traction to make thoughtprovoking change.
Where does the name Aditnálta come from, or what does it mean?
Throughout history there have been many fictional cities. Atlantis was created by the master storyteller Plato who made up this fictional underwater city as a cautionary tale for the politicians of Greece. Telling them that Atlantis was a rich and technologically advanced city but because it started getting greedy and waged war on it’s nearby neighbours. The divine lords punished them and sent them to the bottom of the ocean, this story was used warn the leaders of Athens at the time not to be greedy. As architects deal in the world of fictions Aditnálta is a modern day approach to Atlantis, rather than Plato being the storyteller, Google now is, which is Atlántida (the spanish translation) backwards.
Your concept constantly maneuvers between the real and the fictional. Further during the week we will discuss how you use the real to create fiction. Yet for now, could you elaborate on your own borderline between these two elements?
As architects deal in the world of fictions. For me the powerful ones are the ones that have traction in the real world or are responding to something in the present. An example of this would be 1984 by George Orwell, for me that is a good fiction as it was responding to the fears and doubts of the time in 1948. So in the same line of thought, Aditnálta responds to this worry and condition of conflict minerals that are pouring into our electronic devices today and the content melts into the context.
What is the technical hierarchy for a place like Aditnálta to be founded and dispersed across the Internet?
The technical approach was different for this project as I set my site on the internet, a place designed for the internet. So the constraints and conditions were around the policies of Google, Wikipedia, Youtube, Webcam Travel and Panoramio. The future of where place will be rather than the envelope of a traditional building or geographical location.
Is Aditnálta related to any of your personal views or visions or have you used a completely distant technical project driven approach?
Aditnálta expresses many things that we as architects can do in the modern day. We are able to create fictions with enough purpose to change thinking, the internet is a site for architects to use and the ability to use our skill sets to tell stories and make comments on todays social, cultural and political policies around the world.
Having graduated from the Architectural Association with Dip. Honors, does Aditnálta commence with this? Are you continuing to feed the project or is it completely left to a life of its own?
For now I want to see how long the life of Aditnálta has on it’s own and see it’s life live through the internet. I think the project is out of my control now. Maybe it will be harder to delete than it was to make.
You relocated back to your home country Australia where you opened your own studio. What’s next?
For now I am focusing on digital fabrication and setting up a distribution center in Melbourne, Australia along side of creating a think tank that generates self-governed projects that sell fictions as a commodity. Starting my own studio in Melbourne gives me the freedom and ability to do all this in parallel.
Time: 2005 - ongoing
Information: In 2005 we dismantled a timber-frame house. Within the next 10 years, the wooden beams where laid out to dry. In 2015 the original structure has been translocated to Wiesen.
Information: indechs.org - an online archive for the exchange of and discourse around conremporary culture from around the world, focusing on art, design, architecture, film and litearture. Over the course of 5 years, indechs.org had grown into a multimedia community for the daily dose of cultural information as well as a acclaimed source for in depth interviews. It has been an on-going project with numerous collaborators from all over the world and an international readership.
Collaborators: Maximilian Arnold, Andreas Blank, FG Architektur, Constantin Hartenstein, Hugo Hoppmann, Sarah Maple, Julian Mayor, Mond Qu, Analia Saban, Stuart Semple, T2 – Theo Lorenz & Tanja Siems
Type: Urban Intervention
Information: 11 Flags leading the way from the Train Station into the city
Collaborators: Architectural Association, Keio University of Tokyo
Place: Tokyo (JP)
Type: Urban Strategy
Could you tell us a bit about your practice, please?
My art projects deal with human behaviour and interaction patterns. I’m interested in exploring group dynamics and individual behaviour in a context I define. The specific contexts that I set up, seek to emphasize aspects of societal settings in such a way that behaviours are being accentuated and radicalized. For doing so, volunteers are gathered in a chosen setting, where they act and react, within prescribed guidelines. Those situations that I create generate images that are the content of my works.
You are recognized mainly as a video artist – however, all of your works evolve out of performances where you, as the artist take a step-back in and become an observer just like the audience in the end. How would you categorize your work?
In my practice, the decision-making happens before and after an event or a “performance” happens. Before, I set up the parameters of the situation; I choose the participants, a location and give instructions to the participants. Then something happens and I’m the first audience to witness the result. And then from that point I do a lot of editing, deciding how I want to eventually show this material.
One widely discussed tendency in contemporary art history is the term of relational aesthetics as originally introduced by Nicholas Bourriaud in the 90s. It describes the tendency to make art based on, or inspired by human relations and their social context. Your works tend to involve anonymous everyday people and your interest lies in the analysis of human behaviour and their interaction. Where does this interest stem from?
I’m not a big fan of Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics theory because it sort of claims in a sense that art can save people from social misery in a world where everybody stopped interacting. I’m very interested to explore human relations exploring dissensus and antagonism and that seems to be ignored in Bourriaud’s text. I remember when I was in art school doing a one week workshop with Rirkrit Tiravanija, I lost interest when he explained how his works were facilitating “high moments” for the participants as opposed to “not that high moments” that they have in daily life.
A common critique of this notion is that of becoming a voyeur rather than merely an observer and thereby almost showcasing the people involved. It is a fine line, especially when highlighting critical social imbalances like you do in some of your works. What is your opinion on this and how do you keep the balance? Do you try to keep a balance?
In my practice when I have and idea, I try not to stop doing something because of an alleged political incorrectness. No I don’t necessarily try to keep a balance as I think it would compromise my work. I don’t want to hide critical social imbalances because it is there anyway and I think it is important to address this specific issue.
The work Meadowlands Zone 1 is set in a Soweto township in South Africa. A storyline is established in which young men are induced by the offer of a cash prize to participate in a competition to find the youth best able to express his anger and demands in a 20-second take to be filmed against the townships hostels. What role does the reward play? How do you evaluate money as an incentive?
In Meadowlands Zone 1 money plays a very important role because everything evolves around it. Using money was a strategy that boosted the way the participants behaved in the video.
You leave a certain amount of freedom to the performers to act, yet after providing some guidelines and defining the context. Thereby you arguably lead them in a certain direction, rather than for instance just providing a topic or theme. Do you often have a certain outcome in mind and are therefore sometimes disappointed if it goes in a different direction? How do you deal with such a situation?
When making a project, I do have a specific outcome in mind. But it is not a question of the actual content but rather a question of having tension in it. In order to accept the outcome, make it function and validate it as one of my artworks it has to have this tension in it.
How do you choose the different contexts? Are they site-specific?
The choice of the location is made quite spontaneously based on the randomness of life. Then the different parameters of the situations I set up are always site-specific.
What does a typical production process look like? How do you go about finding participants?
For each project I adopt a different strategy. For example for Meadowlands Zone 1 it was a long process. I had a contact working in an ONG in Soweto that told me that a local soccer team was looking for a coach. I took the job and was coaching the kids every afternoon and then little by little and week after week I was trying to be part of the community. For this project I knew that the choosing of the main character of the video was a crucial decision. Then the minute I met Dre (the person I chose for the role), I knew he was the right guy for the project and when I told him about it he was super motivated. Then from that point the project was made in one day.
On the other hand for Purlieus Tales when I went to the Paris suburbs in Clichy-Sous-Bois, I made the entire project in less than two days. I was simply approaching strangers in the street and was asking them if I could interview them.
For your most recent work, showing at Salon Kennedy, Frankfurt you casted a group of six people, equipped them each with a Polaroid Camera, left them in a room and asked them to capture the most “sensational moment.” What did you expect from this project and did the outcome meet your expectations?
It was really interesting process because when I first saw the resulting pictures my first impression was that they were rather flat and boring. So from that point I had two options; either I could make another performance happen or find a way to present it that would put tension in the work. After spending some time with the pictures I realised how much intimacy they were showing and how the participants revealed their personality through the process. So I decided to ask a psychologist to write psychological reports about each participant based on the pictures and to display them with the pictures in the exhibition.
In this work as well as in previous works, you aim at exploring group dynamics and individual responses to a given set-up, testing out people`s boundaries, how far they are willing to go as well as how far the game can go. What are experiences you have made so far and what are you planning to do with all the information you collect?
So far each performance ended up being a specific artwork. With all this material I gathered I don’t try to understand something or to be able formulate a thesis. It is more a fascination of creating images by giving an impulse and see what answers I get.
2014 is slowly coming to an end. What`s next?
Among other projects, I’m currently working for a solo show curated by George Vasey at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art. And I have a residency planned in Lima at El Galpon Espacio. Also I’m working on an artist book to be released by Miami Books, a publishing house based in Geneva.