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!