Felix Oehmann → Interview

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.

What’s next?


Felix Oehmann
01 / 06