J Perhaps we should talk about the title “Inhale Exhale”.
M Breathing – something truly essential …
J … for all of us …
M … Yes, nothing happens without it. Sometimes when I’m on a diving expedition, I find myself watching the air bubbles from people’s breathing as they head up towards the surface. It’s interesting when our breathing takes on a visible shape since the whole thing happens under pressure, deep down. And as the bubbles rise, the pressure decreases and they expand, they change shape, then burst and suddenly become something completely new. The air is in water, an element that’s attracted by similar molecules. This attraction creates very impressive changes and transformations. ( Nr. 1 ) But as soon as this has happened, the shape disperses and is gone. This disappearance and dispersal is about life and death.
J There’s another possible significance to breathing in and breathing out. We absorb everything we see and experience, and we process it. If you look at this in the context of a creative act, it could be the inhalation. And breathing out is the formal manifestation of this process of inhalation. You could go further in this vein. You answered my question rather pragmatically. In normal life we don’t see the air we’re breathing out but it suddenly has a shape in the water, and that’s fascinating. So sometimes there’s a shape to our air. I also thought, about inhaling-exhaling, that it does have a formal manifestation when we speak or write. Everything that comes out of us, for example in terms of a publication of hundreds and thousands of hours of thinking, also of physical work … everything is itself a form of exhaling … so is everything we do …
M … Because, as you put it, breathing plays a significant role in the production of art and in an artist’s output. Here, it occurs to me that that making art is also related to water. As an artist I see myself as a swimmer in a huge ocean, moving from one island to another. And when the swimmer reaches an island, he uses what he finds, incorporating it. But he has to carry on swimming, and processing en route between the islands.
J And the decision to leave the island again is sometimes a conscious, deliberate decision, and sometimes you have to do it – because you don’t have any more air, or because of a lack of food or ideas, or if everything feels too dry, then you leave the island and head to the next one … And sometimes you stay on the island because there’s something that needs doing … The works we’re dealing with here allude directly back to something you completed twenty years ago! So there are some similarities between the different islands in this sense, they ultimately have a great deal in common.
M Since these islands are actually inside you, and you always come back to yourself … I didn’t go to art college, I’m self-taught, and I see my preoccupation with art as my training, and when I was 40 I decided to undergo psychoanalysis. Really classic Freud, on the couch. ( Nr. 2 ) I imagine it like this: See yourself as a house, and begin clearing up the attic, organising everything, looking at things that have accumulated there. And when you’ve been through them, you go to the floor below and tidy up there, and then you go down another floor. But then you go back, because other things have cropped up that you have to deal with. Now you have to go back to the attic, new stuff has accumulated. You clear the view again, and that’s why artists always come back to things in their work that were there before and then use them in a completely different context and hopefully more maturely.
J Do you keep any earlier works in your studio as touchstones, as reference points, from which you have the feeling that new works have emerged – or things that you’d like to make? Do you always have everything from the past filed away in your mind?
M Yes, I like it when I keep going back to something that reminds me that that was me. In my studio, which is spread over two floors, there’s one room I don’t work in, and there’s a piece in it from the 1980s that was at Documenta and I kept for myself. I never sold it. ( Nr. 3 ) It’s really a continual friendly beckoning from the past. When you reach a certain age, I think it also gets easier to lookback on your own work and not just leave everything behind you.
J I recently had an interesting conversation with an artist who told me that at the outset of her career she was always looking for outside influences, for inspiration, ideas and so on. But the older she gets, the more inspiration she finds in her own earlier work – since she’s already “written a few chapters of her work” – so she feels like a magpie picking out and borrowing things. I asked her when exactly she realised what she was doing. And she said it was very fluid, suddenly she didn’t have to look for any outside influences anymore, all the ideas were already there, in her previous work. I think it’s interesting, maybe it’s perfectly normal, too …
M It’s funny, your saying that now. My most recent works are somehow a double-recourse to my earlier works, but I’m delighted that something completely new has come out of it. My Placements are based on the fact that I went into psychoanalysis, where I lay on that couch without initially understanding why I always had to lie down there as I’m actually far more active when I’m talking, but it’s so anchored there. You lie on that familiar couch, you throw yourself onto it four times a week. And it’s like one of those islands I was talking about earlier. That’s when I realised how important what you are surrounded by is, which chair you sit on, which bed you lie on, so you don’t just choose a chair because you like its form and the way it functions – that chair also does something to you. There’s the story of the Ashanti stools. The young people of the Ashanti have a stool specially made for them, for their Initiation. ( Nr. 4 ) It’s a very personal object. They sit on it all their life, at all their meetings, they take it with them everywhere. And when the owner dies, their body is buried unceremoniously in one place and the stool goes into the stool house. That’s really the cemetery, and when someone visits their ancestors, they visit the appropriate stool. Because nobody knows somebody as well as their stool does. That’s what I took as a point of departure for my Placements, which always suggest something furniture-like, something you could lie in or sit on, even the dimensions are right. I had a really great experience at the last sculpture biennial in Bad Homburg. There were five sculptures of mine standing in a large field. It was on the day of the opening, midday on a Sunday. We were going through the stations of the biennial again with friends when we came to my sculptures, where a young woman was being photographed as she reclined, dancing, in my sculptures and dancing with them. ( Nr. 5a, 5b ) So I spoke to her, and found out that this was going to be her final piece for a dance workshop. It really touched a chord with me. Now, to come back to your question: I originally made the Placements as relatively small models, one metre or less. ( Nr. 6 ) Over time, several of these were then realised as large sculptures in public space, and then I had these models in the studio and thought to myself, somehow …
J Are they made from the same materials?
M Those are made of copper, the outdoor sculptures are made of stainless steel. The copper pieces, which were accumulating, spoke to me. So I used that. I cut the parts and also resumed this play on the pedestal. The significance of the pedestal is a topical issue. Suddenly, completely new sculptures were created from this interaction that seemed very erotic, like tongues. And then I gave them a concrete foundation, an anchor, a body that provides support. After all, a tongue is soft and flexible, and when you look through fashion magazines it’s surprising how often a tongue features as an eye-catcher. ( Nr. 7 )
J … We can’t talk without our tongues, and to go back to inhaling and exhaling: our tongue even often prevents us from inhaling something … So these tongues were originally working models for much larger sculptures and at some point they became independent works. Did you deliberately create them as autonomous works without thinking that they’d become large sculptures one day? When did you come up with the idea of presenting them like that? Did you simply want to install them as independent sculptures?
M Yes, this group of Tongues is an altogether autonomous affair.
J Like the big Placements, they have a direct relationship to the human body here, not only because of their title but because they’re inviting. They engage us and interaction with them is tempting, to sit on them, to lie on them … Although it’s quite an ambivalent relationship. If it isn’t clear whether we’re allowed to do so, we become self-conscious when we sit or lie on them, or hug them, because it’s not really clear …
M They’re always inviting, too. Though I like it if you don’t feel this invitation too directly. That you have an ambivalent feeling: Yes, It is an invitation, or isn’t it?
J And you like that, don’t you?
M I do like that. I like it when the desire is there, although the Tongue sculptures are inviting, but no more than that. You can’t sit on them or lie on them. They’re too fragile.
J They are presented as a group, as a family – do they all have the same title?
M Yes, Tongue 1, 2, 3, 4 … The inspiration came from sculptures I already had. The reworked models. Now, after that initial phase, the result is completely new sculptures.
J Some almost look like positive and negative versions of one another. As you know, I’m spending a lot of time with puzzles at the moment … They convey something like a deconstructivist moment, as if they wanted to enter into a strong relationship with the viewer, but also with each other, as if they were somehow promoting each other.
M What really surprised me was that I didn’t cut all of the existing works, I just twisted some of them and added a lower section – originally they’d been bed- or chairlike, for example. ( Nr. 8 ) Now that’s standing in a different way and it’s totally phallic …
J … unless it’s extremely feminine …
J Tell me about the relationship between the body, the body in general in your work, and the physical body of the visitor, the viewer – to what extent have you regarded, or do you regard these objects as abstract forms, since it’s the title that gives them a figurative meaning. Although I’ve never seen your work as purely abstract, I think it depends greatly on the context … Some of the hanging works have a more abstract feel, but I’ve always had the sensation, even looking at the large sculptures in public space, that they have a character and a personality so they tend to be regarded as reclining figures at first glance, or is this something you encourage? When you think about your work, would you want to encourage this aspect for the viewer, or are you glad that it’s more enigmatic than that?
M Now, it might not be the human body but there’s something very physical about it – something like a group of animals storming off at once. ( Nr. 9 ) In these hanging sculptures, which are so linear, the starting point is the vessel. Of course, the human body is the vessel we inhabit. That’s also how I see my vessel sculptures. When a vessel features in art, it’s always as a space for thoughts and ideas. And that’s how I see the human body. The body is not just a machine that does work, it’s driven by our thoughts and feelings, it’s really a toolkit. Everything that happens inside it has a significance that often remains hidden from us, one that’s always interesting, though. Whenever I’m in southern Italy I go the Cappella Sansevero in Naples. It was built by an aristocratic family in the 17th century. There’s a marble sculpture by Giuseppe Sanmartino (1753) in the centre. It’s incredible the way the figure of Christ lies there. It’s covered by a veil, a veil made of marble. It’s a sculpture, and you see every fold and it’s as if this fabric breathes life into the whole sculpture. There’s a female figure on a pedestal, too, at the edge, and she’s also draped in a marble cloth – it’s truly erotic! ( Nr. 10 ) What’s there, in that church, accompanies me in my work. Our innermost and the outside. The surface exudes such significance, and it’s so captivating. ( Nr. 11 ) Then you go further into the chapel, and on the way to the exit you pass a room where one of the Sansevero family who took an interest in medicine conducted experiments on his domestic workers, extremely brutal experiments. He injected a couple with something to make their blood vessels solidify, to see exactly where their veins and arteries ran. Alive. Their blood solidified, killing them both. He murdered them and then cut them open. Everything is exposed, and now these “preparations” – petrified blood vessels and skeletons – stand in that room. ( Nr. 12 ) It’s utterly horrific, but in contrast with the marble sculptures in the main space it has a deeply human facet. Being and character, which always lead to wars. The result is a deeply political statement. Those veins and the blood’s circulation were the inspiration for the sculptures Circulations.
J Is the title of these hanging figures Breath?
J Funny, I remember when I saw them in your studio some time ago, I instinctively read them as drawings in space. They could be characterised as “taking a line for a walk”, to use Paul Klee’s expression. Yes, although they had a very similar personality to the outdoor sculptures, perhaps a little more introverted because they belong indoors, perhaps also because they are hanging from the ceiling? Or do they ultimately have to be indoors because of the materials? … I immediately read them as expanded drawings, which doesn’t mean that they don’t have such a sculptural quality, but they were a study or a preliminary version or a thought, and they also conveyed a certain immediacy. That’s interesting and contradictory, because you could sketch something like that in two to three seconds, but the production process is chronically slow in comparison, so there’s a kind of inherent contradiction in the work between the unspoken gesture and the complexity of its execution.
M That’s right! I draw them very quickly, too, with a pencil.
J Paper and pencil?
M Yes, and a coloured pencil. To create space on the paper. And then, of course, when I do make it, it changes when I give the whole thing a body.
J Do you use technology to help you plan your works, a computer to visualize them somehow in three dimensions?
M Not for those! The gesture is influenced and changed by the working process. The first drawing for a piece like that is created in a second. You’re surprised that it’s so easy to make crucial mistakes in such a short time. But it can happen.
J There was one thing I kept thinking of when I saw them, a photograph of a frozen waterfall. It’s something that’s moving, moving quickly, only momentary, changing constantly, but something that is suddenly, and unusually, fixed in mid-motion. Images like that have always fascinated me as I can always feel the movement in them, and because they’re hanging there’s still a kinetic quality about them. You feel the movement at the image’s source and yet they have something so solid about them that they are almost unreal and somehow improbable, which is fascinating. If you go back to the idea of the discrepancy between the speed of making a drawing and the long time it takes to complete the sculpture, they have a mass and a solidity that makes a mockery of everything. Here it even feels as if it were somehow feather- light. I don’t know if you saw the installation by Tomas Saraceno in the Karlskirche, I think it weighed about 25 kilos, it was really interesting, but those works evoke a similar feeling of being able to hold one in one hand. Although, what I wanted to say, and this is more of a question: I have often seen your works – especially the outdoor ones, the public works – as renderings. But I’ve also had moments where I saw the actual form of your actual works; and some of the quality of the rendering has been preserved in the physical realisation. If anything, they almost look like holograms in the landscape. What you do is so similar to a rendering that you have to rub your eyes … ( Nr. 13a, 13b ) Yes, but even when I look at these images myself, I really have to check very carefully to see whether it’s a photograph of an object or a rendering, and that’s interesting for the kind of objects you place in the landscape … We’ve talked about the relationship of the body to the location, however they also have something so strange that they create this feeling as if a kind of layer of reality had been slipped over the work, just like a rendering. Is it a layering of realities? They also evoke this feeling in real life … How much would you like to evoke this feeling of strangeness?
M Very much! I’m very interested in science fiction. I also make Galaxy Films, as it’s fascinating when you allow yourself to view yourself from very far away. Music is equally important. When Jimi Hendrix builds a sound space, it’s like a sculpture to me. Or in a concert by Sun O))), there it’s as if a lot of people were moving inside a sculpture.
J When I look at your works, I very often have the feeling that they come from somewhere else, as if they had just landed here from somewhere else. Can you talk a little about the relationship between the sculptures and your films? Often you show both – do they each need their own space within the project or are they actually connected with one another?
M Maybe I’ll explain briefly how the photos are made that I use to generate the Galaxy Films. At night, you go diving in the deepest possible water, 700 to 1000 metres down, in the open sea. It’s called a “blackwater dive”. At 15 to 20 metres you wait for these creatures, which live down at 700 metres and come up at night to eat plankton under the water’s surface. ( Nr. 14 )
J Are these fish, these creatures, somehow artificially lit?
M These salps belong to the chordate family. They include the most highly developed organisms, such as mammals (including humans), as well as quite simply organized forms, such as tunicates. As the name chordate suggests, these animals develop a backbone. A brain consisting of a few nerves is also present and grows back when this part of the salpe is bitten away. They’re ahead of us humans in that. It’s also fascinating that salps can change their shape within seconds, but not because they’re gelatinous, they also return to exactly the same shape. It is an unimaginable intelligence which is totally alien to us, being able to transform the body according to the circumstances, and then turning back again. This is even more fascinating for a sculptor.
J When you’re working, what determines whether you end up making a film or a sculpture? Could the film provide you with you a kind of distraction, a break, or does that mean there’s something in the sculpture you don’t get back, that the film gives you?
M As you mentioned earlier, my sculptures sometimes give people the feeling that they’ve come from somewhere else, that’s the way they are! The films show one possibility for where they could have come from. It’s projected light, but you see a world that’s really very, very fascinating, but also very far away. Although it’s one that arouses curiosity. This connection between these sculptures and those spaces. Something like that raises a lot of questions, but also contains possible answers or approaches to an answer.
J Do you want people to recognise what they are seeing in your films?
J So you deliberately make it hard for people to recognise what they’re seeing?
M If you mean, whether everyone sees that the films are based on underwater shots? Well, that’s not important to me. I enjoy explaining how the whole thing is made, but it’s not important. What’s important to me is that you get an unfamiliar feeling of space.
J Would the ideal format for a screening be: as large as possible? The size is an important factor in your public works. A film, like the one we just saw, can be viewed on a mobile phone or on an iPad screen …
M Of course, it’s best if the projection is large enough to give the impression that you are moving in the space it creates.
J As if you were almost completely surrounded by it … You told me that a film often starts with a single photograph, which you then animate. How are the specific shapes for your sculptures created?
M It’s always a process! For instance, for the Placements I start the sketch with a bodily state. I draw in sketchbooks …
J Pencil and paper …
M Yes, a pencil. Then I glue on scenes, photos that I find and that inspire me and make me change it again. Then I transfer the drawing into a 3D program on the computer to create a rendering. That’s also a process where changes occur. This 3D rendering is the starting point for the sculpture. Then we make a smaller scale sculpture in the studio. When everything is right and fits, the files go to the production company for the large stainless steel parts. With this data, the parts of the sculptures are then laser-cut from sheet metal and welded together. I keep checking in-between as modifications are still possible. When everything is assembled, welded and planed, each part is sand-blasted. This brings out this velvety surface.
J I have two questions. One relates to production: When you use materials like copper or steel, can you make changes spontaneously? When you start a sculpture, you can play with the surface and with some of the other details, but the shape – how much leeway do you have for spontaneous intervention once you’ve begun? And the second, a completely different question: Many of your works that I have seen are in a special location or context. So you often make a work that is commissioned for a particular location, but can you choose this setting before you start? Although you do often create objects that eventually find their way out into the world and are subsequently placed somewhere you know nothing about. I’m interested in how you approach things – when you know what they’re for, or when the location for its ultimate installation is unknown. Does it make a difference? So this question also relates to the level of spontaneity in your work.
M The level of spontaneity varies according to the subject group concerned. For the Placements, the decision on the final shape is taken relatively early in the production process. With the Breath group the final result remains open for far longer. I start working from the design, I decide on the dimensions and begin cutting and shaping the metal. I solder the parts together, and then pass the piece on to my assistant, who then carries on, finishing off this initial part, soldering on metal sheets, covering any holes and planning it. Then I get this first piece back, and I carry on. Although then there are often surprising changes. And so it goes back and forth a few times, which can take over a week. Often I cut a part away again, put it back on differently and so on. Of course you’re also constrained by the situation itself and the properties of the metals.
J How helpful is it for you when you know the setting in which your work is going to be placed?
M It’s not necessarily a help! But it’s also of particular interest when I’m invited to submit a project for art in public space. I always start from the special features of the location in order to find a solution for the sculpture. For example, at that school in Wiener Neustadt. ( Nr. 15 ) I was so wonderfully surprised by the school director’s enthusiasm. During the first site inspection, we artists were told that there used to be a large nursery on the site of the school. And that’s why the school offers gardening as an extra-curricular activity. To create a connection to the past. The pupils maintain and work on the available outdoor spaces and courtyards of the school, themselves. This prompted me to make the sculpture as if two plants were meeting, teaching and learning, and embracing each other. So that was really where I started from for the shape. As to the other question: Of course it’s very interesting when I make sculptures from scratch without any guidelines, and how and where these works then seek and find their place in the world.
J These works are always unique?
J Have you ever made any multiples?
M Yes, but I made them by hand.
J Which means each one is slightly different from the others?
M Yes, the editions I’ve produced are hand-made and it’s the same sculpture, but each one is still slightly different.
J There are certain shapes that have recurred in your work over the years. The materials as well as a specific visual language – is that any help to you? Are you trying to get away from that, or is it a source of courage? I think it goes back to our islands: Recently I was talking to an artist who made works in series and who had suddenly lost her rhythm. After a brief break, she tried to get back to where she’d been and carry on from there, but the results were completely different. It was frustrating on the one hand, because she’d been in a pleasant groove before. On the other hand, opportunities do open up when you lose the rhythm …
M … By working simultaneously on different groups of sculptures that are actually quite different, like Breath, which hangs, and the Tongues. Actually, they are very different in theme, and so in shape, too. Of course they share the same materials, which is a connection. These different groups are often fruitful for each other.
J How often does it happen to you that something just won’t work at all, or you come to a dead end? Does this happen less frequently as you accrue experience, or are there longer periods of time when things just don’t work out?
M Of course it’s all down to how you define a “longer,period”. For a sculptor, the good thing is that you don’t sit in front of a blank sheet of paper like a draughtsman or a writer. Instead you have sculptures you’re working on, so that helps save you from those cliffhanger moments. But failure can also be very fruitful. I have such great heroes, like the filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, in the 1970s when his films The Holy Mountain and El Topo came out. ( Nr. 16 ) That was a total flash at the time, there hadn’t been anything like it before. Everybody was extremely curious to see what would come next. He wanted to make Dune but failed. Then he never made movies Wagain, he laid Tarot cards and wrote stories for comics. It was a grandiose failure, and now there’s even a movie, Jodorowsky’s Dunes – The Greatest Science Fiction Movie Never Made. In this film you learn how far the project actually got, but you also learn how this person is not broken despite that failure, how he is still full of passion at over 80. He just finished the second film in a trilogy about his beginnings and his development. Failure, if it doesn’t break you, is a very productive thing.
J Are there pieces where you the feel that they simply don’t work, that you put aside but then perhaps go back to after half a year and think “aha, now it works” … Is that sort of thing occasionally a hurdle for you, or do you have an instinctive understanding of what wants to emerge from the studio and what doesn’t?
M Of course there are slip ups. Some I reject out of hand, others are taken back after some time, and continued with or reworked.
J And you always work on different things at the same time?
M Yes, that’s what the medium brings with it. When you’re a sculptor, then you work by hand. In your mind, you’re dealing with the now, at the same time with the next step and the steps after that. I also shoot photographs and film; that runs parallel
J What are you going to show in Leipzig?
M I’ll be using two rooms and Galaxy Films will be projected on the landing of the connecting staircase. There’s an installation of six sculptures from the Placements
group in the large central space. This becomes massive, there is a group of four and a group of two sculptures. I’m showing the new works from the Placements group with mirrored views, for the first time. ( Nr. 17a, 17b ) In Jaipur, India, there was a Rajah around 1720 who was very interested in astronomy. His name was Radscha Jai Singh II, who built instruments the size of houses to observe the stars. They’re incredible structures, objects. ( Nr. 18, 19 ) It’s rigid architecture so it can’t move with the stars. Now even amateur astronomers follow the course of the stars with computer-controlled telescopes. The problem was, while he was building all this, scientists like Kepler made some revolutionary new discoveries in the Western world that fundamentally overturned the findings of astronomy. So these instruments were partly scientifically obsolete on completion: Artefacts that have lost most of their functionality. That appeals to me.
J Were they designed as objects or as buildings?
M As instruments! Although they’re the size of a house!
J So instruments for measuring, or for observation.
M Yes, exactly, and I’ve always found it appealing when somebody has an obsession: Radscha Jai Singh built three such facilities – what a failure, a grandiose failure and I’m telling you this now because I make these Galaxy Films and now these instruments, to observe …
J You said it was a group of four and two. Did you conceive them together from the outset, as a small family, or is it something that developed? You make one and then you already have another variation in your head?
M I make one and I make a second one and a third, and suddenly groups have formed. It’s a kind of communication, the four of them form a sentence, a story.
J You feel, when a series isn’t over with, that there are still some possibilities …
J And the very first design for such an object, that’s something you …
M … I draw by hand, using paper and pencil, and then I do it on a computer with a 3D programme.
J Purely as an object, without any background or context?
M Yes. The context is in my mind.
J And the size, when is that decided? Obviously it’s a very important factor, when do you decide on the final dimensions?
M That can vary.
J Really? But I can well imagine there are also objects that simply work better when they’re smaller.
M Yes, the more complicated they are, the smaller; the bigger they are, the more simple they have to be.
J And how often does a work exist in two different sizes?
M There are a few in two sizes, but each of those only once. None has ever been made twice in the same size, yet.
J But in the meantime couldn’t you – as you’ve been doing it for quite a while – judge well whether something works?
M Computer simulations are a great help in minimising errors.
J Do you also make models of spaces, like an architect does?
M Yes, when I enter a competition for art in public space, for instance, then I make a model so I can present it better. But for myself, too, to get a better idea of what to expect. Or for exhibitions in special spaces, too.
J And what’s still to come for Leipzig?
M In the second room, the floating ones that I call Breath, the main object there is this ladder. Really, I don’t want to explain my work exactly, it’s better to tell the story of what led me to do something. This ladder, for example: There are paintings of Jacob’s Ladder when angels appear to Jacob in a dream, floating in the sky on a ladder. ( Nr. 20 ) I don’t like the fact that in Christian thinking the first rung is always the cross of Jesus, and that Heaven is attained through suffering. However, I was on the Indonesian island of Sumba, where there’s this version of the story of the ladder in the myth about the island’s origin: Everything was paradise. There was down below where people lived, and a ladder up to Heaven. God was, or gods were, up there already. Anyway, people were allowed to go up and down as they pleased. However, at some point people went crazy: quarrels, wars and so on. Then God made the water rise, the good people were allowed to go up, and the others drowned. So it’s our Flood story. After a while it became too cramped for God – too many people. So he let out a little water and then the island of Sumba came into being. The ladders still existed but now with restrictions: You can go down once and up once. The point, of course it has to do with religion but also with life. Something like that ultimately gives me the inspiration to make a ladder.
J I think a ladder has something to do with faith, it doesn’t have to be religious faith.
M Yes, with trust, luck and misfortune.
J The surface of these sculptures is different: rougher, not so smooth.
M In these works, it’s actually very important to me that the process of creation and the traces of the work remain on it to bring out a new facet of the material. They are also going to Leipzig, to the second room, where they go with the glass and four of those hanging sculptures, and also one … That room, where we spoke earlier, is 55 metres long and 25 metres wide and very high, the other space is about half the size.
J So it’s really two exhibitions?
M I see it as one exhibition with two very different sides of my work. I hope this generates an interesting tension. They are connected by the video projections in the stairwell.
J I slowly get the feeling, whenever I see more of your work, that you have some kind of alternative vocabulary in your head, where shapes or things often return in different contexts and combinations.
M What do you mean by “alternative”?
J Not something that the viewer would immediately recognise, so more a family of shapes to fall back on, something from 20 years ago perhaps, shapes that return, as materials placed in connection.
M These Tongues … In fact, I even sometimes take on older pieces and work on them again. I cut them into sections and build plinths for them, and something completely new emerges. The subject of the pedestal is also something I have engaged with before. Initially as part of the figure, then the sculpture slipped into the pedestal, vessel sculptures were the result, and these vessels then became glass cubes. These held an inner life, and the sculptures are growing out again in the new ones.
J That’s interesting, because sometimes I have the feeling that metal is the more dominant material. So here with glass, for example, and sometimes in combination with concrete, you feel that the metal is almost more fragile; you feel here, with these two materials, that it’s about weight and strength – I’m almost sure we’ve discussed it before. Are there any works of yours that are in permanent motion, kinetic works? ( Nr. 21, 22 )
M Sculptures with reflective surfaces mounted eccentrically, with the rotation propelling them through the space caught in the mirror.
J Your work clearly has a kinetic quality, anyway. I always feel that before anything else, you have to walk around it. The surfaces of the materials means they look completely different from different sides. More movement is generated in the mind than is actually there. The ladder, too, implies movement …
M … That’s exactly what I’m trying to achieve, that feeling of movement. Which brings us to the works I call Circulations. They’re actually conceived as flows of bodily fluids or nerve tracts. We’ve already mentioned the Sansevero in Naples, but also when I go to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and see my favourite paintings, the Cranachs. Those figures, the way he draws or paints them, and the dynamism in Eve’s stance. It’s the lines that emanate, those movements that I find so fascinating ( Nr. 23 )
J These Circulations works are really fascinating. I saw them for the first time in your studio a couple of years ago, and although they’re very big – I mean they seem very big and the space is very big – I still feel like they’re a very small part of something even more vast. So I feel like I’m only getting a percentage of something that’s behind the wall, something two kilometres long. So, they really seem like small sections of something even bigger. I once worked on a Jackson Pollock exhibition in Venice, and the title of the exhibition was No Limits – Just Edges. I have the feeling here that the work is limited only by the wall and not in its meaning or possibilities. I think there’s a very positive aspect to your work, an advantage and perhaps also a simultaneous disadvantage: The best thing to accompany your work is more of your work. I think the best company for a Morandi is another Morandi; ( Nr. 24 ) the best thing about Rothko is another Rothko …
M That’s interesting. I was thinking about that in relation to our meeting, I wanted to ask you how you see such an exhibition. Actually it’s like this, an exhibition is the vessel for art, and if the exhibition, if the vessel, doesn’t work, then it runs out, like the liquid from a vessel. Then the rest is actually very tepid and empty. Now, of course, it’s interesting that you say there are artists who actually get along best with themselves, and there are artists who gain additional significance through others.
J There are other artists whose work is a bit more open and social, I sometimes see that as an advantage, but sometimes that means for me, that they mean everything and therefore nothing at all. Whether something like that can be a surface for projection.
M Some time ago I saw a fantastic exhibition by Camille Henrot at the Palais de Tokyo. One work lifted the other up in the air. So the whole exhibition was lifted up. Wonderful. I really liked it.
J It’s also interesting, because sometimes your works seem extremely precious to me, and that’s why they’re a bit confusing – I wonder what it is, I’m confused. I don’t mean that as criticism, precious in the sense of, I should approach the objects carefully. They have an aura that I don’t even want to disturb with a finger. While others have that simplicity, and sometimes I want to sit on them as they have something a bit more everyday – and I think, that you can make both is not uninteresting either, if you use them in combination … You can also see it here, what you have here, the play with different surfaces, so I don’t mean “precious” like a decorative object – I can’t explain it that well … They have a certain power, they’re very independent, and they don’t want me to get too close.
M Okay, they’re independent.
J Yes, and sometimes I just want to build a physical relationship. I don’t know, they somehow have a power. I feel I should treat them with more respect, while I want to have a closer relationship with others – it’s about the materials. And as soon as they have something like this concrete platform, they are more anchored and I feel that they are more robust and more from my world – and as soon as something is like that, you feel that with this glass cabinet there is suddenly something between me and this object. But that’s not bad, it’s just another relationship, another reading, and I think something happens when you hang a painting in a museum, where there’s suddenly a barrier, a frame … There’s so much … I just saw an incredibly beautiful Pierre Bonnard exhibition in London at Tate Modern. There was one room in which they had taken all of the Bonnards out of their frames, and those hundred-year-old paintings looked like they’d been painted five minutes ago! And it’s so fascinating what happens when something is presented quite normally, like in the studio, without all the paraphernalia we have to make art more valuable and beautiful and precious … When you’re invited to do an exhibition, do you make long-term preparations, or do you have to react very quickly sometimes. Leipzig, for example, you start with then setting and say, “Ok, what would best suit my work”, regardless of whether that’s something you produced ten years ago. Or, do you always see it as an opportunity to make something new. Do you like to combine earlier works with newer, more recent works? What is your modus operandi when you receive an invitation like that?
M Then I always start with the situation. For instance, in Leipzig I looked at the spaces, which are overwhelming in scale. I knew I wanted to do something massive there. From the central hall you can see into the stairwell and an exhibition space where the Beethoven by Klinger stands, which was a key piece at the inaugural exhibition of the Secession. It’s not necessarily a favourite of mine, but it has power, it’s very impressive. It’s why I decided to make a sculpture for that setting. With insight, with the memory of an ear that is mirrored inside. One looks through this at this Beethoven sculpture as one passes by. ( Nr. 25 ) This is not a servile gesture of complete subordination to Beethoven, but rather an addition to its facets.