KR: When taking a look at catalogue and press texts written on your exhibitions, your artistic approach is preferably described as one that by means of – in part explicit, in part minimal – interventions sensitizes one to specific institutional states and sheds light on the architectural, aesthetic and social conditions of art production and reception. In this context, my first question addresses concrete strategies, or rather, your specific methodology of producing shifts. What happens when rooms, architectural elements, doors, entrances etc. are ‘doubled’, for example? How does it function, how does it operate? What interests you most when doing this?
MR: These frequently mentioned shifts in my works are produced in a variety of ways; it is most often the case that an object in the room or an architectural alteration serves to create certain situations, which then form the actual core of the work. As far as I know, doubling, except for a few examples, doesn’t necessarily play a prominent role in my work, yet regarded as a very fundamental and old artistic means, it is of course interesting.
In the exhibition Isolated Human Particles Floating Weightlessly Through the Magnetic Stream of Fabricated Pleasure Occasionally Colliding (2006), doubling was naturally a pivotal moment. Two identical exhibitions were juxtaposed. They were simultaneously opened at two different locations in Frankfurt, with identical opening addresses and of course identical works. Yet the two shows each had a very different character, because one took place in a private flat and the other in a public exhibition space. The central and largest piece, which was at the same time relatively inconspicuous, was the only one that was not doubled in the classical sense.
The Move (2006) consisted in relocating the entire furniture and possessions of Meike Behm and Peter Lütje, the operators of the exhibition space rraum, to the back room of the public institution. The move was carried out by a removal firm which thus became part of the work. This lent the exhibition in the flat a relatively neutral appearance, while in the other art space the objects were stored. Less as a sculpture than as a mere mass moved within the frame of the show. Among other things, The Move played with the immense effort made in the backstage areas of large concerts, during film shootings and other cultural events. In my case it was a more or less meaningless effort standing for itself within the frame of the two exhibitions.
KR: I would like to add a further question here that has to do with the way your work is received or interpreted. Vanessa Joan Müller describes your works as “context-related installations”, and in the press release of the Berliner Flutgrabenfabrik on the awarding of the GASAG Art Prize 2007, talk is of “situation-specific installations”. What do you think: Do these positive references to the concept of installation as well as avoiding the use of the labels site-specificity and institutional critique have to do with trends in art criticism, or to what extent do they necessarily result from your work? You yourself just spoke about creating certain situations...
MR: It could perhaps have to do with the difficulty, but also the alleged necessity, of attaching a label to an artwork or trying to explain it, to make it comprehensible and place it in a context using familiar concepts. The terms used here, “context-related installation” and “situation-specific installation”, are not necessarily wrong, but they are probably more confusing than that they contribute to elucidating a working method. I would rarely describe my work as situation-specific, site-specific or context-related. The works are conceived in such a way that they can function independently of the site, and usually independently of the context as well. It is the contexts that change artworks, no matter what they are like. My work is not institution-critical either, at least that’s not how I see it. Perhaps one could have spoken of institutional critique if the works had been produced in the 1970s or 80s, but today such concepts often do not go far enough and tend to pigeonhole artistic works, thus making it almost impossible to read and deal with them in a farther-reaching, sensible way. In most cases I find these currently widespread artistic positions that present their political, ecological or institutional grounds in advance extremely difficult. I don’t want to be misunderstood here; of course it’s fine if an artwork functions as a political statement or can be very political in itself, but not as a priority and as the sole starting point of a work. Maybe that also has to do with trends in art criticism, but certain developments can be found there as well. In general I try to avoid these labels, even if it doesn’t always seem to work, as one can see. When I speak about works that create situations, I mean the circumstances and the possibilities of perception that are produced by an artistic intervention and that lead away from their actual materiality, allowing a number of interpretations. Basically that’s what happens with every picture hanging in a room. And of course I would like my works to be seen foremost as pictures; I’m an artist and artists create pictures. All one can say about the concept of installation is that any picture hanging on a wall becomes an installation, perhaps the respective artists have different priorities, but in the end what largely contributes to the reception of a work is how it hangs in the room and what it does to the room.
KR: In some of your works, one can find direct allusions to historical positions and documents, for example, to works of artist colleagues such as Broodthaers and Warhol, or to a photo of the building in which the New York Armory Show took place, the exhibition event in 1913 that – organised and cleverly communicated by artists – marked a turning point in the U.S. American exhibition business. What did you find so appealing in these models and images?
MR: That probably has largely to do with the books I read at a certain point in time. The quotes usually came about more by chance, but they fitted in well with certain works. Sometimes the references emerged later. That was the case with the work in which the limousines are parking in front of the exhibition hall. The work is not a direct reference to the Armory Show; the picture I later found in a book, probably while intensely searching for pictures of parked cars in front of exhibition halls, naturally functioned well as a reference, particularly due to how well-known the show and these horses and carts in front of the building are. In contrast, the passage printed on the invitation card to the Warsaw apartment exhibition Invitation (2005) was taken directly from Warhol’s book From A to B And Back Again, from a section in which he talks about why living in a one-room apartment is the best, but also about the problems one has with such an apartment. On the card it didn’t appear as a title but in the sense of instructions. The title When I Look at Things I Always See the Space They Occupy (2004) for the brass plate with my name on the outer wall of a building, also a passage from From A to B And Back Again, serves to elucidate the work. But in terms of content it is slightly shifted in comparison with the original text. What I liked about this book was that, seen from today, many passages contain pretty fundamental thoughts on art that have to do not only with Warhol’s work.
KR: What also clung to my mind was a photo from your catalogue THE IMAGE ITSELF (Berlin 2007) showing a spatial, or rather, installation view of the work On and On (2007). On the left-hand side of the picture one sees elements of the work Coppice (2007), in which the house plants are highly reminiscent of Marcel Broodthaers and seem to obstruct the view or even the access to the door of a lift. What also comes to mind are images of orangeries and tropical galleries or for instance office palms, office corridors and the claustrophobic atmosphere in the offices of authorities. How do the works On and On and Coppice relate to their titles and to what extent do both enter into a special relationship with each other?
MR: The titles Coppice and On and On are mainly direct allusions to what superficially takes place in the works. Coppice consists of a group of different plants pressing towards and blocking a passageway. At the Frankfurter Kunstverein, it was additionally the case that the only access to the exhibition space was via the lift, so that this apparatus had to be put into operation just to get from one room to the next. That was of course convenient and also one reason why I realized the work there. What interests me above all in this work is – in addition to its obvious qualities to embellish a room – the way the work restructures the architecture of a building or its ground plan and makes it necessary to use new paths. For me, the interplay between the works On and On and ohne Titel (2006), the piece with the black, wallpapered posters, results in possible associations that lead away from the office palm tree, via the botanical garden, to amusement parks and the entertainment industry. The work On and On is probably the most direct reference to theatre, cinema or other kinds of shows. Here, the given spatial lighting alternates every few minutes with a spotlight used for shooting or on the stage. Now it starts, now it stops.
KR: With On and On you also allude to the cinematographic “day for night” simulation method with which material shot during the day appears as night shots by means of special cold-warm contrasts, filters and underexposures, a method (film-)historically applied in American westerns, for example. With La Nuit Américaine (France 1973), Truffault takes a look behind the scenes of a film production, and I have the impression that this film could also have been shown within the frame of your work Homevideo (1999), which you did in cooperation with Alexander Wolff. Could you say something about the idea of this work and the selection of the films shown? To me they seem to be compiled from the perspective of a fan, combining arthouse and auteur films with blockbusters, “valuable” classics of fiction film with horror, trash and subculture.
MR: What inspired this work was, on the one hand, our common interest in certain films and, on the other, the fact that we lived together in Frankfurt at the time and watched videos almost every evening. Homevideo consisted in a flat rented for a month in the centre of Frankfurt and around 130 films that were shown there during this period. The invitation card to the work, which was announced as a public exhibition, listed all films alphabetically, and the films were also shown in this sequence, between 4 and 6 videos a day. This public home cinema repeatedly led to the strange situation of sitting on the couch between absolute strangers in one’s own flat and watching videos. In a certain respect one could also consider this work as forming the preliminary stage of Invitation from 2006 in Warsaw. The selection of films was meant to span a range of film genres that was as broad as possible; it was characterized by personal aspects, a list of our favourite films, as it were, which one repeatedly watches on video – so it’s true when one speaks of a kind of fan perspective. But we were mainly interested in not having this list adhere to a certain pattern or to cover a specific area; instead, it was about this specific situation of a flat, about the visitors we partially didn’t know, and the films on video selected more or less by chance.
KR: For Invitation, a flat was rented for six months in Warsaw, partially furnished with a bed, a table and chairs. Then a large number of (duplicate) keys were sent around the world – along with the invitation card that posed a set of questions pertaining to the visit or the usage of the flat. No attempt was made to control the visits (e.g., through booking schedules etc.) Instead, it was up to chance who would meet whom and at which point in time in the flat, and how arrangements would be made. In my opinion, what characterized the work is that the relation of public and private had to be negotiated anew each time. But I do ask myself according to which criteria the keys were sent to which people, how they circulated and – of course – what took place there. And: To what extent did you feel responsible for how the flat was really used? Did you have contact to the visitors, was there any feedback? Were you interested in anything like an evaluation or even in documenting the way the flat was used? To me, Invitation – at least upon first sight – appears to argument more in a sociological manner than Homevideo. Would you agree?
MR: Compared to Homevideo and in relation to theme of living in a private flat, the work is of course much more fundamental, since it seeks to renegotiate and annul its basic utility value. In the end this public/intimate aspect, which naturally played a role in the work, was merely a consequence of the consideration of how one could deconstruct or entirely do away with this format and state of a private flat. Invitation had indeed already begun with sending or privately handing out the invitations, and progressed the more keys circulated and the more owners of the keys or occupants existed. It was completely open whether the flat was then actually used by this person or whether the key along with the card only functioned as a theoretical possibility. Sending out the invitation cards with the keys worked the same way as with any other show. We had a distribution list, in this case Alexander Wolff’s and mine, indicating to whom the invitations were sent, and the rest of the cards were distributed as one thought best. In most cases I do not know how or whether they actually circulated. In regard to the work, it wasn’t really that important to know what precisely took place there, although that could have been very interesting.
KR: Maybe we can now talk about Pictures (2007), the work you exhibited in Kirchdorf-Süd within the frame of Wilhelmsburger Freitag. Simply put, it was the screening of a currently popular feature film in a flat located on the top storey of a high-rise complex. To this end, the living room of the two-room flat was furnished with couches and other seats. Centrally positioned was a (cinema) film projector that was screened off neither visually nor acoustically. Instead, at certain dates one could see how it “physically” operated and hear its clattering sound. The current cinema version of the blockbuster film The Simpsons (USA 2007, director: Davis Silverman) was shown. The animated cartoon produced by 20th Century Fox, which was simultaneously screened around the world in (multiplex) cinemas, was shown here at a short distance, projected onto a small surface of the wall. An illuminated white panel on the facade of the building succinctly announced the screening in plain black typography, reminding one of the (historical) practice of advertising for feature films with changeable letters: THE SIMPSONS / DER FILM MI SA SO 20 UHR. This sign was placed exactly at the spot on the facade behind which the real flat was located on the 13th storey and where the film was shown. The work counteracted illusionistic and commercial interests: It imparted to the public how screening functions, it dispensed with admission charges and offered a limited amount of beverages.
As had already been the case with Homevideo and Invitation, a location “at a distance to art” was deliberately chosen for Pictures as well, the residential high-rise in Kirchdorf-Süd. What are the specific features of this (social) space or frame in your opinion? Do you grasp the work as a radicalization because of its local context? To what extent would you emphasize differences or also common features in regard to other works of yours, whose precondition is the space of art?
MR: The choice of a location “at a distance to art” has less to do with the work than with the format of the entire event. It was an exhibition in public space, and that basically takes place within a frame where the institutional structure that is normally necessitated by architecture is marked out by a frame defined by the overall project itself. It was interesting for me, while working in a structure defined by such a frame, to fall back on the private frame and to thus reverse the conditions. In my view, the concept of public space does not go very far in events like these, since the issue is always defining a space that can easily replace any museal structure, for example. I think that a work like Pictures would also function within the institutional frame of a museum or an art hall. Of course the work would change a lot, and the question is naturally legitimate whether one could then still speak of the same work. But in that respect I really don’t see any difference to other works of mine. I think one can place almost any artwork in any conceivable context. The fact that it then changes or even turns into a totally new piece is a side effect which one can probably observe in many works of art.
KR: Let’s go through such changes using the example of Pictures: According to my information, before being shown in Hamburg Pictures was presented in Madrid, where the action thriller Déjà Vu by Tony Scott (USA 2006) was screened. Can you give some details about the work in Madrid? Which experiences that you gained there led to decisions regarding the presentation in Hamburg?
MR: The versions in Madrid and Hamburg did not really differ. The basic elements were the same, a flat in a residential building, which in Madrid was located in the city centre, though, an illuminated sign on the facade, a 35 mm cinema projector, and a current feature film. The difference was that with the Hamburg version a lot more children from the building came to the screenings. As far as I know, only visitors from the art audience came in Madrid.
KR: Was the presentation of the work in Hamburg perhaps a trial balloon with a completely open end precisely because of the specific social structure of Kirchdorf-Süd, or is it more apt to speak of the notion of a series of formalized experiments conducted under similar conditions?
MR: Well, it should always be a balloon, no matter where the work is realized. The end is not really open, since it is not at issue. Of course there is the question of how something functions at a certain location. But this is always the question, be it that one has to hang let’s say an Ad Reinhardt somewhere or something else.
KR: At the Berlinische Galerie you recently hung a bunch of keys in the exhibition space. I would like to take this gesture as an opportunity to talk about something like the development of your work over the years. To what extent is this extremely reduced piece in line with a development leading away from physical interventions – for example, the alteration of the exhibition space by placing objects in it, architectural changes etc.? I find your reference to Ad Reinhardt interesting because Reinhardt, as a painter, produces pictures while simultaneously pursuing an extremely conceptual approach.
MR: For me, the work with the keys of the museum in the museum was indeed something like a further development of earlier works. At issue is a kind of language, or rather, its formulation, and based on pieces with doors, flats or entrances, one then arrives at a point where you no longer build an entire door but simply take the keys of the already existing doors. Yet such a reduction doesn’t always make sense and it’s not always nice, it depends on a number of circumstances. That’s why I would by no means consider the placement of objects and the hanging of pictures in exhibitions as a practice that is finished.
KR: I find it interesting that, in this respect, the viewer – at least potentially – has a larger scope of action at his or her disposal: He/she could take the keys from the hook and enter all rooms of the museum, to which access is usually denied. I see a comparable possibility in the publication Tokyo Panda (2004) that experiments with different formats and text genres. The layout of Tokyo Panda allows the reader to cut away the art catalogue part and (some of) the illustrations and thus keep a booklet with a love story. Most people won’t try to do that because conventions, notions of completion and the aura of the artwork, as well as one’s own passion for collecting, prevent them from doing so. The story of Tokyo Panda retraces affects, misunderstandings and mutual alienation in the relationship between a German-Italian journalist and his Brazilian girlfriend from the perspective of the male protagonist and with a certain distance in time – i.e., after their separation – along with a cliff-hanger at the end. What interested you in the genre of a love story? Was it possibly also about analogies or images of a relation to art?
MR: The work with the keys basically functions like a cliff-hanger as well. At first they are just keys that, although they do represent something specific, only become an artwork via the possibilities that their use theoretically opens or through the problems they cause in a museum in terms of security. What interested me here was that the relation between museum-visitor-artworks was reversed in a certain sense. Of course it lies in the museum’s responsibility to preserve artefacts and see to it that they are not damaged by violent actions on the side of the visitors. In this case the problem is at first similar. The visitors shouldn’t take hold of the work, yet not necessarily for the sake of the work itself, but because it’s disappearance could have a very concrete effect on all the other artworks.
In regard to Tokyo Panda, here the author of the story (Vito Avantario, Hamburg), who has worked as a ghost-writer, to a great extent chose the genre himself. I was actually happy with the fact that it turned out to be a love story and took on this format, because upon first sight it has very little in common with what I otherwise do. The only thing I requested from the author was to include passages in the text that describe images that my works give rise to, without the viewer having to know about their backgrounds or even that they exist as artworks; it’s basically about their pure visual perception within a different context. Individual passages also possessed autobiographic traits, for example, the title that initially only functioned as a placeholder but then became relatively important in the story. In 2002 I was in Tokyo with my then-girlfriend to visit friends, and it turned out that during this time the panda of the Tokyo zoo was in Mexico City for reproduction reasons, and we were therefore all very sad. To a certain degree one could also consider the infiltrated works as autobiographic moments. The book is meanwhile available in both formats, in the cut-out one and in the complete catalogue version, so the problem of making a decision no longer really exists, unless one wants to have even more pure romantic novels. What actually interested me most was weaving the works into or transporting them – if only as text – to a completely different milieu that no longer had anything to do with the art context; it was the attempt to find out how these works function as a pictorial narration.
Mandla Reuter in an Interview with Karin Rebbert Conducted via E-Mail at the End of 2007