You first came into contact with international avant-garde art in the late 1970s. There were two institutions in Innsbruck that were of particular importance for your generation, the Galerie Krinzinger and the Landesgalerie im Taxispalais.
What was special about Innsbruck back then was that in addition to the two institutions for contemporary art you just mentioned there was also a small theater on Landhausplatz that was staging plays by Arrabal, Kroetz and others like them. And Gerhard and Maria Crepaz were organizing musical events—they brought many international avant-garde musicians to Innsbruck and Hall, including the best Cage interpreters, and Ligeti and Stockhausen. The small community that came to these events consisted of the same twenty or thirty people every time and included people such as Heinz Gappmayr. Over time you got to know them all. Small towns have an advantage over the big cities in that you have to make use of the few cultural outlets that are available—otherwise they will disappear. It’s different in Vienna or London, where there are so many events every week—which often seems to lead to you never going out at all. In Innsbruck, I was fortunate to be confronted with these positions in contemporary art from a very early age. The two Vienna Performance Festivals organized by Ursula Krinzinger were also very important in this context. We were able to see a lot of the events in Innsbruck that ran parallel to the larger event—projects by Terry Fox, Simon Forti, Julia Hayward, and Tom Marioni. And we visited workshops in Innsbruck organized by artists such as Joseph Kosuth, Giuseppe Chiari, and General Idea. All of these events exposed us to well-known international performance art and the conceptualism that was of primary importance in the late 1970s.
You first went to Vienna in 1978.
Yes, to study at the academy.
Describe the atmosphere at the academy and in the Vienna art scene at that time.
There wasn’t much happening at the academy back then, but there was a group of students with whom you could discuss things, exchange information and undertake various activities. Marcus Geiger and Heimo Zobernig were in my class, and both of them were already playing an important role in the Vienna art scene by the 1980s. I enrolled in stage design, as I believed that this was the area that had the most in common with performance art or an expanded definition of art. I soon realized that I had made a mistake. Sometimes the subjects you study or the teachers at the academy are not so important. It is more the people you study with and the contacts generated that matter.
You were expelled from the academy as a result of an unofficial art action, an expulsion which you beat to the punch by then leaving voluntarily. Did you already know when you broke off your art studies at the academy that you would leave Vienna and also continue to work as an artist?
I returned to Innsbruck in 1979 because I had some unfinished business to attend to. I worked as a restorer in a small workshop. Looking back, I believe this time was very productive, as I was able to continue working as an artist alongside my job and my co-workers supported me in this. I quickly began to participate in exhibitions. In 1979 there was a small performance in the Galerie Krinzinger in Innsbruck and in the Galerie nächst St. Stephan in Vienna. Finally, I had my first solo exhibition in 1983.
You first gained wider public recognition with your series of photographs in the Vienna’s local city-guide Der Falter, which documented the action that led to your expulsion from the academy. This was followed in 1979 by your second public performance in the exhibition Situationen, one of the group exhibitions for young, ambitious artists in the Galerie nächst St. Stephan curated by Rosemarie Schwarzwälder.
There were installations and a lot of performance art in that exhibition—which of course had a lot to do with work of previous years and the prevailing paradigm of the time. One or two years later we saw the great painting boom. And suddenly everything was different.
Your work for the exhibition, the 5-minütige Ausstellung (Five-minute Exhibition), in one of the gallery’s smaller exhibition rooms, consisted of you doing a headstand for five minutes in a metal cauldron, which was acquired for Joseph Beuys’s installation Basisraum Nasse Wäsche (Basic Room—Wet Laundry) in the same year.
Actually I wanted a large flowerpot, but there weren’t any available—just the large wash cauldron.
In a text on the 5-minütige Ausstellung, Robert Fleck described your performance as a precise statement on the problems pertaining to post-performance, which influenced pretty well all the genres in the following years, particularly the paintings of the Neue Wilden. Is it right to assume that your work expresses a certain degree of skepticism vis-à-vis expressive art?
Expression in painting was not an issue at that time. That did not come up until 1980 or 1981. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a very fundamental skepticism toward representational painting. At that time it was also difficult to imagine that painting would in some way again come to dominate—which then happened in the 1980s. I would say that my work in the Galerie nächst St. Stephan included an ironic component that referred back to performance art and Actionism. To a certain degree, my work—in terms of drama—was the exact opposite of Vienna Actionism. It was completely undramatic.
Did Duchamp play a role for you here?
I think yes, because Duchamp’s quality was in the ability to keep a certain distance, doing something without getting too involved in terms of expression and emotional drama. I liked this stance a lot.
Duchamp also stands for the radical opening-out of the definition of art and an accompanying negation of the act of production.
The readymade is one of the last century’s fundamental statements that still has a lasting effect. In this respect, Duchamp is definitely a key figure of the twentieth century.
Which other artists besides Duchamp were important to you in the 1970s and 80s?
Magritte, interestingly, but also the Americans and their minimalism and pop art—although I can limit the importance of pop art to Andy Warhol. This of course comes back to Duchamp. Warhol’s role in the pop movement seems very similar to Duchamp’s position—taking a subject and removing it from a given context and placing it within another. Or producing the same painting a hundred times. I think that Warhol’s works from the 1960s should also be seen as minimal art. Warhol’s Brillo boxes and Donald Judd’s cubes—there is great affinity here—and also serialism. This can be compared to the progressions of Sol LeWitt or with certain works by Carl Andre.
A few years later, in 1983, you had your first solo exhibition in the Galerie Krinzinger in Innsbruck where you displayed charcoal drawings on cardboard that are now being shown again for the first time in the MUMOK exhibition. In these works we can see the early signs of certain features that would later become important aspects of your work, such as the use of simple symbols and the increasingly spatial arrangement of objects. What led you to use cardboard as a medium at the time?
Before I made the cardboard pieces I made drawings on very thin, unframed paper. It looked as if the drawings were directly on the wall. The wall was the medium—or a part of the drawing. These works consisted of several parts, such as my 1982 piece with images of rats. I was interested in surfaces and space, and it just seemed obvious that I should upend the pieces in space. Cardboard made this possible. There is a small house of cardboard from the early 1980s that effectively folds out from the wall. The three-dimensional aspect increasingly took on a life of its own. That is one aspect. The other stems from my strong interest in film at that time, particularly historical films, such as German Expressionist films, the films of the 1920s—Murnau, Wiene, Lang. This in turn led to an interest in film architecture. That is why many of my cardboard pieces have something to do with architecture. They refer to buildings and other architectural forms.
Groups of people can be seen on some of your cardboard pieces, anonymous people in black suits that turn up dozens of times in the same piece. These also are reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Expressionist films, for example.
Fritz Lang was accused of preparing the vocabulary for Leni Riefenstahl with his films likeMetropolis, as he used extras as ornaments and interweaved them directly with the architecture. A good example is the scene with the group of people in front of the cathedral, when the same shape is reflected in the cathedral’s tympanum.
Semiotics had a profound influence on the intellectual debates of the 1970s and 1980s. How important was it for you?
I attended seminars on Wittgenstein in Vienna, and later I went to various lectures that explored semiotics at the University of Innsbruck. It was generally received very positively back then. The art world was also interested in semiotics; take for instance Kosuth’s Art After Philosophy and After, which looks at language and reality.
You began working with the computer in the mid-1980s. In retrospect this was clearly a very important development. You were one of the first artists internationally to experiment with the new technology. What motivated you to do this?
Computer-generated art was already around in the 1960s, so its origins go back a lot further than the 1980s. The character of the medium then changed significantly thanks to the emergence of the user interface. The original Mac came out in 1984, I believe. It was the first computer that enabled programs to be controlled without text input. It was suddenly possible to use the computer completely intuitively via a mouse. Along with the Mac came simple symbols and signs, and so we come full circle back to semiotics. On the one hand there was the strange phenomenon of being confronted with a highly developed machine based on very complex technology, yet at the same time it took the user to a level of language and communication that predated spoken language. You were suddenly placed in a situation familiar from childhood—pointing to something and naming it: a pot of paint, an eraser, a paintbrush. The fact that a technological development can lead back to a level of communication that had apparently already been transcended is pretty remarkable.
When did you first put computer-generated works on public show?
In 1984 at the art fair in Basel, in 1985 at the Gracie Mansion Gallery in New York, and in 1986 at the Venice Biennale. The works in question were not easy to categorize, though.
The computer was clearly a revolutionary medium for graphics, typography, and layout, among other things. It’s actually surprising how long computer technology needed to reflect that. As far as I know, the first things only came out two or three years after the first Mac⎯designs by Neville Brody, published in Face magazine. It’s interesting that the forms of his designs are heavily inspired by Russian art, reminiscent of El Lissitsky or Rodchenko. Understandably enough it took much longer for architecture to start using computers, given that the amount of information needed for architectural plans requires significantly greater processing power. The first Macintosh didn’t have any colors or gray tones. There was just pure digital information⎯on or off, black or light; it was quite simply the most primitive version possible. In my first works you can see that the Macintosh couldn’t show gray tones, the various areas were distinguished by using different patterns.
It is noticeable in your early computer-generated works that you obviously took the human body as your starting point in preference to inherently mechanical themes. The portraits pointedly retain their graphic quality; they are exclusively in black and white, with clearly displayed geometrical structures.
The geometrical structures differed from newspaper screen or the structure already used in printing techniques. The geometrical structure in my works was constructed entirely along mathematical lines, based on a purely orthogonal framework.
Is this essentially mathematical structure the result of your interest in computers?
A computer is an instrument for drawing that features a kind of filter function, filtering out anything that is emotional, individual, or gestural.
That makes me think of your early portraits, which were more or less lacking in facial expressions. To a certain extent this negation of subjective, individual characteristics⎯which results in a broad absence of content⎯seems to be a continuation of the theoretical implications of Duchamp and Warhol.
At the time I was interested in those enormous portraits with red backgrounds, from Communist countries. Although they show a particular person, the subject has been idealized to the point of becoming completely detached from real life. It’s actually a completely empty form. I wasn’t interested in a subjective kind of portrait that generates associations with real people. I’m more interested in issues like what is absolutely necessary in order to make a face recognizable as such, in other words this simple dot-dot-line principle. And what happens when the line is bent slightly up or down. What does this trigger psychologically? I was more interested in this kind of phenomenon.
In the late 1980s you began developing simple, comprehensible, and yet complex signs. Why did you decide to use motifs such as tubes, ants, and brains?
The motifs often resulted from drawings. I made an intuitive decision to use them. My first work using ants was a Super 8 film that I shot in Italy in a garden belonging to some friends. I always used to carry a camera around with me. The ant ran across the newspaper by chance and I just followed it with the camera. The film was not originally intended to be an autonomous work. Only when I thought about it afterwards did it cease to be merely an ant; it was an ant on a newspaper page, in other words an ant in relationship to a semiotic system. The form of the ant itself strongly resembles a sign, as if it exists independently as a letter. The tube motif dates back to the early works; I found the tube to be modernist and citatory in character right from the start. At the same time this black-and-white tubular form is a primary, formal design element; just think of the cubists or Fernand Léger, or architectural pillar forms in general. I also started using the brain as a motif fairly early on. There was a small object dating from the 1970s which has since gone missing.
What do these motifs have in common? What do you think connects them?
They all have something to do with information and the flow of information. In addition, they can all be linked to the idea of the labyrinth, in that they exhibit a variable relationship between order and chaos—systematics is an issue too, but hard to define. A kind of social element plays a role here⎯the relationship between an individual and a group or society. These motifs are somehow universal and timeless; they lack any specific cultural connotation and can be interpreted in a similar way all over the world.
And they seem to have something endless and infinite about them.
Yes, the all-over plays a major role. The motifs are unlimited because they are open on all sides. We spoke about my early interest in American art, where Jackson Pollock is an important figure, of course. He embodies the American idea of all-over art as a contrast to European composition. I find that to be one of the most significant differences between European and American art, even after 1945.
You seem to follow the principle of all-over art both in spatial and temporal terms. The motifs reappear repeatedly over a period of years⎯ sometimes slightly varying in form, and at other times clearly modified and further developed⎯yet the underlying motif can always be recognized.
There are probably two reasons why I use the same motif over a long period of time. In order to establish a vocabulary it’s necessary, for one thing, to use the building blocks of a vocabulary systematically and consistently. The result is something that approximates a (visual) language. The second reason is probably the systematic approach that I tend to take in my work, taking just a few basic elements and shifting the parameters between each project. The vocabulary might initially seem to be extremely consistent, but there are no two projects where it is identical.
You next took a crucial step with your motifs by focusing on architectural references, something that was first seen in incipient form in the early cardboard objects. Is there any connection to the time you spent in Los Angeles in 1989–90?
My wife, Tanja, studied architecture. We thought Los Angeles would be a good place for her to work as an architect. She started conducting extensive architectural research in LA, especially on John Lautner, who was virtually unknown in Europe at the time. I accompanied her on her research, which led to important input for my own work.
What was your working environment like in Los Angeles?
Pretty good, because I had my own studio. As an artist you have the advantage of being able to work anywhere. It’s another matter altogether whether anybody is interested in your work.
Did you have any contact with American artists?
Yes, I had friends. John Baldessari supported us a lot and introduced us to many artists. I got to know Jim Shaw and also Matt Mullican, who actually lived in New York but spent time in Los Angeles. Martin Kippenberger was there as well, and Hubert Schmalix. There was a sense of optimism back then in LA, but it didn’t last long. The market collapsed in 1989. It was just before the Helter Skelter exhibition, which signaled the arrival of the West Coast on the international stage for the first time, alongside New York. In terms of producing rather than dealing in art in the 1990s, Los Angeles was the most important place in the USA, thanks to artists such as Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Liz Larner, Chris Burden, Charles Ray, and many others.
Did your stay in Los Angeles have any effect on your work?
Of course your own work always somehow reflects the cultural and social environment you are in. Yet in retrospect I can’t really be sure whether the influences that were decisive for my work were connected with Los Angeles or whether they had more to do with the unbelievable developments in computer technology. It’s highly probable that these two things overlap. In America concentrating on a certain method or system is of the utmost importance, an approach that was always inherent in my work anyway, but strengthened by my time in the US. The important question is how something is produced and how do we deal with it.
You were then invited to documenta IX in 1992.
We returned from Los Angeles in 1990. I had had several exhibitions in the 1980s before moving to the States, yet once back in Europe things were initially pretty quiet⎯it was almost like starting anew. Luckily Dennis Zacharopulous and Jan Hoet invited me to documenta IX. I found Jan Hoet’s decision to install my work in the entrance hall of the Fridericianum a bit odd. Back then I was a young, largely unknown artist, and the entrance hall was one of the central locations at the documenta⎯Bruce Naumann’s work was on show in the same space. Jan Hoet’s decision certainly surprised me. I had never produced a work of that size before, and the whole thing was exciting and nerve-wracking for that reason alone.
Was that your first work for a spatial area?
No, that was for an exhibition in Santa Monica for Richard Kuhlenschmidt. I stretched the background to the picture along the surface of the wall and used posters papered onto the wall showing the brain motif.
How well was the documenta work received?
There were many photos in the newspapers. Probably for very simple reasons connected to the nature and informational aspect of the work. It was in black and white, and its dimensions made it easy to reproduce legibly in a newspaper. Whatever the reason, the ant that had run across a newspaper years before in Italy now returned to the newspaper with this documenta piece. The work was based on the picture of an ant, repeated a few hundred times on the wall. The picture of the installation was printed so many times in newspapers and magazines that this particle of information ended up being reproduced millions of times. I started getting very interested in the monumentalism that can be generated by reproduction, and the method of feeding particles of information into a system where they then seem to explode, expanding out into all directions.
The 1995 Secession show is also impressive with regard to the way you dealt with space and architecture. The room in the Secession is like a “total” space, and it becomes a key aspect of your work. It seems to signal that you have completed the ultimate transformation of the picture into a three-dimensional visual space, with wallpaper as the material surface of the image.
That was a silkscreen print on paper, utilizing a modular system that enabled me to put the structures together. I used screen printing because back then it was the only reproduction technique that produced a high quality of paint coverage. It was possible to store the material for the Secession exhibition in two small boxes. The relationship between the size of the exhibition space, covered with information, and the volume of the materials used was also an aspect of this work. The technique used was identical to my documenta IX piece in 1992. However one significant difference was that all my modular wall-based works up until the Secession piece were constructed orthogonally, meaning that the walls were covered in a grid pattern and each section was filled with a particular module. The 1995 Secession installation has lines running chaotically in all directions, functioning in complete contrast to the real architecture. It was possible to sense that a kind of tension existed between the real architecture and what was more or less an illusionary visual space generated by our perception. This tension is once more strongly connected to the medium that generated the module.
You developed a basic principle for your projects that allows the construction team a lot of freedom to decide how to install the tubular pattern. It is not entirely dissimilar to the way a computer works when independently completing the construction of virtual visual worlds.
A computer’s “independent existence” can be sketched out using statistical means⎯a particular form of algorithm functioning on a random basis. And, as we were talking before about all-over, it is precisely what characterizes this art. It’s irrelevant whether the drop of water is lying here or ten centimeters higher, because it’s ultimately about statistical spread and a statistical sample.
What did “freedom to decide” involve, for instance, when realizing the Secession show?
A real sea change took place during the Secession. I discussed with the construction team on the spot how the modules were to be assembled. There were no pre-prepared, precise plans, just some simple rules to go by. Everything was possible, basically, with only one constraint: nothing that would have centered the space was permitted. A horizontal axis completely stabilizes and centers the space, and was excluded for that reason. When you think about it, the same is also true for Jackson Pollock’s paintings. The quality of the pictures depends on the statistical spread.
The idea of the artist as the agent executing the work by hand disappears to some extent. This is a principle that already seems to be incipient in your early work, as is the immanent calling into question of high and low culture.
These two aspects are connected. On the one hand, the conventional image of the artist who is omnipresent in every stage of a work’s evolution versus the idea of something that can be carried out by a process of delegation. And, on the other, the relationship between “high” art and “popular” art. I think that these two models are interlinked.
And they make it possible to access your work in different ways.
The concept of multiple coding has existed since the 1980s. It seems quite a plausible model. You can make something that can be interpreted on several levels. The tubes can be read as pipelines or as channels of information. There is also the possibility of linking them, from the perspective of art history, with Fernand Léger or Minimal Art. Generally, there is always the possibility of works assuming several meanings.
Do categories such as high and low culture play any kind of role at all in your work?
If they do, then not in the form of conscious decisions. Rather they tend to be external categories that I might slip into. Fundamentally, I believe that works have to be able to achieve equilibrium. One area always tends to dominate the other. Sometimes it has been important to me to do something in one area that was then relevant for the other.
I would like to come back again to the Secession exhibition. In my opinion, it represents a significant development in your work. You have already said that at that time your installation transferred a computer-generated infinity into a limited, finite art space. The installation made the exhibition space appear to be a space without a beginning or an end, creating in visitors’ minds the illusion of porous, diffuse boundaries despite the real and unchanged limitations.
That was already present to some extent in my work for documenta IX, in the corridor situation there with the cube in which Bruce Nauman was showing his work. The drawing with the ant motif was spread over the ceiling as well as the walls. That meant you never got an overview. You never knew where the drawing started and where it stopped.
But the Secession had a different dynamic.
It was much more expansive.
You could also say that the modernist room of the Secession was deconstructed by the dynamic image of the tangled tubes. In terms of perception, the original space was transformed, to some extent, into another, virtual, space.
That was linked to the specific character of the space. I developed several versions for the exhibition. The first versions each had an orthogonal structure that accentuated the space. This space, of course, is based on squares. This led to the problem that the room was always more present that the drawing. That is why I decided in the end to work completely counter to the space.
You appear to have taken a different approach in 1997 with your room installation for documenta X, which Catherine David invited you to take part in. Confronted by the corridor situation in the documenta hall, you turned the well-defined and controlled tube form into an amorphous tangle of tubes. Their entwined, labyrinthine form stretches over the entire surface of the walls.
The building is very long, more than seventy meters long. The meandering tube form additionally extended and stretched the space visually. Prior to the documenta, I was frequently asked to design works for rooms that are not dedicated exhibition spaces, such as foyers, stairwells, and corridors. That was already the case at the time of documenta IX. And it was also true of documenta X: a large corridor with the character of a foyer. Perhaps I am offered spaces like these because my work transforms them. Another possible reason is that my work is linked to information that can be quickly assimilated, information that you can quickly take in as you walk past. What is interesting in this respect is that my installation for documenta X was very much interpreted in terms of networking and the internet. I made no mention of this aspect in any interview or conversation and the work was not informed by any conscious intention of this kind. But 1997 was obviously the time when everyone was becoming aware of the internet, so my work could become a metaphor for the internet and computer networking. This is the way meaning arises. A cultural phenomenon appears at a particular time in a particular cultural setting, and a work of art can suddenly be read in that light.
You used the medium of video for the first time in 1999 in the Wiener Festwochen exhibition Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities), curated by Hortensia Völckers. You used it with the express purpose of creating a computer-generated virtual space. Interestingly, this took place within a theater context.
This is a good example of something that was originally conceived for a particular context later having implications for another area. The Festwochen project was, in retrospect, also a very important project for me. The work would also have been very difficult to finance in an art context because of the extremely high costs for projectors. Theater has other means of production at its disposal. In addition, it also gave me the opportunity for the first time of working together with a sound expert, in this case Franz Pomassl.
How did you arrive at the decision to integrate sound into your work?
Sound was an important element for dancer Jennifer Lacey’s choreography. My long-term collaboration with Franz Pomassl resulted from this project.
The installation for Wahlverwandtschaften further developed the increasing tendency of your work toward dematerialization and abstraction. In addition, it was subsequently joined by a psychedelic element in your exhibition in Kunsthaus Bregenz in 2000, which was strongly reinforced by the disorientating sense of space.
Emotions, as we know from the cinema, are largely created by sound. But what happens in projections like the one in Bregenz is that they take over your whole field of orientation. Like a huge lift that suddenly plummets to the ground, or a house that begins to rotate. A lot of people actually sat down on the floor to allow the projections to take their full effect. That is perhaps where the psychedelic impression you mention actually came from.
And the audience was also in the picture itself.
A special feature of room installations is that you are a spectator and, at the same time, it is as if you are part of the picture. Of course, this also has something to do with architecture as a medium that you can only keep your distance from to a very limited extent. You are always a part of architecture, the interconnection is always there. By the way, it is also worthwhile pursuing these links using examples of film architecture. These areas can be explored very precisely in film.
Is film still important to you?
Yes, I have always been interested in science fiction films, as well as Expressionist cinema. Not merely in terms of visionary futures, but, primarily in terms of the kind of futures envisaged by the societies under whose political and cultural influences the films arise. Lots of visionary films were made from the 1960s to the 1980s. Films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Alien, Star Wars, Blade Runner etc. Only in the 1990s does it suddenly become difficult to name films that you could say present a clear picture of their age.
What is the reason for that?
The lack of vision, a lack of utopias perhaps. 2001: A Space Odyssey was strongly influenced by 1968, by hi-tech developments at the time, by the hype surrounding the moon landing, the beginnings of computer technology, and utopian designs in the realm of architecture—Archigram, Super Studio, etc. In Star Wars and Alien you can already feel a historicizing aspect. You can feel how people are beginning to turn and look back along the time axis. 2001: A Space Odyssey looks outwards, while Alien looks inwards. Then in the 1980s, Blade Runner was a great film. But think about the sets. The showdown takes place in a building in downtown L.A. that dates from the early twentieth century. Harrison Ford, as the character Rick Deckard, lives in an apartment from the 1920s designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Tyrell, the genetic manipulator, lives in a pyramid. The film is full of historical cultural citations. It was a magnificent fusion, an interlinking of different cultures. On the other hand, the image of the city with its huge light projections resembles what actually takes place today in Times Square or in the big Asian cities.Blade Runner was also visionary in terms of predicting the deterioration of air quality in the cities.
This takes us to public space, which, in connection with architecture, appears to be becoming increasingly important for your work. How do you see the relationship between your works in public space and those in exhibition contexts?
They exist alongside one another. Art in public space is generally subject to different criteria. By contrast, projects within the context of exhibitions enjoy the advantage of having the character of a laboratory. You can experiment with ideas, try to implement things that would otherwise be barely feasible. That is another reason why I find it problematic to play these two areas off against one another at the institutional level. It is important not to lose sight of either of them.
Nowadays art in public space often has a temporary character. Another important aspect of your work is that you keep on experimenting with new materials that clearly are not intended to last forever.
If I look at my work over the years then it is striking that most of it is based on very lightweight materials: thin paper, thin fabric, light, inflatable material. They all share a certain fleeting character.
These materials are also not difficult to transport. You have already mentioned your two small boxes for the Secession exhibition. But you also create “material” works of art, such as pictures, objects and drawings, alongside your installations. Is there any kind of ranking or hierarchy between the media?
The most diverse kinds of media appear simultaneously in my work, but not in any hierarchical manner.
Drawings are involved from the outset. Then there are works relating to space: the wallpaper rooms, the projections, the metal objects, and so on. They give rise to methods that are expanded over the years and in which experiences are translated from one medium to another. As was the case, for example, with the big projections for theWahlverwandtschaften, or the exhibition in Kunsthaus Bregenz. In both exhibitions I used six or twelve projections. Each one of them was similar in its structure to the wallpaper. The right-hand edge exactly matched the left-hand edge. This made it possible to fill entire rooms with moving images. Sometimes formal decisions can be made in a simple medium that can then be deployed in a more complex one. At the time of theWahlverwandtschaften projections that filled entire rooms were very rare because it was difficult to coordinate so many projectors and because no one had thought about treating video images like wallpaper. It’s not normally the done thing.
What is the difference between your whole-room projections at MUMOK and previous installations? Have you been able to make use of new technology?
In terms of the basic material, my work at MUMOK picks up from my work at Kunsthaus Bregenz with its black and white grid and the sound of Franz Pomassl. It is a grid that becomes completely distorted or dissolves in the course of six minutes. Although the basic material is the same, the surfaces are completely different because technology has developed over the last few years. The technology of a particular time produces its own specific surfaces. For example, the pictures of the mid-1980s with their grainy structures have disappeared because the technology is now obsolete. That formal window was only open for a short time. Of course, you could always reconstruct it artificially in hindsight, but what’s the point?
In addition to the increasing dematerialization of your spatial works, the formerly clear and controlled form of the tube motif has become an amorphous, meandering form that is made dynamic by computer animation and video images. This can also be seen in the MUMOK exhibition.
That is generally the case. Just think about how architecture has changed over the last ten years because of developments in computer technology. Not least because everyone is working with the same tools.
Does that mean that your transformation of the formerly “modernist” tube form was not motivated by a conscious decision, but that the new form was created by a technological development?
It is important anyway to see conscious decisions as very relative. Of course, you could describe animation as a kind of progression toward entropy. It stems originally from an orthogonal, ordered grid structure and develops into a kind of chaotic organic form. That describes it in essence. At the same time, these are formal structures that can be found at present in the most diverse cultural contexts, because we are living in a world with totally networked media. You can find the same forms in computer games, in architecture, in design, in video clips, everywhere in fact.
Do you see a connection between this structure that seems to permit chance and the perception of your installations as unlimited and open to the outside?
The issue of chance arises when you imagine a laboratory situation. In a laboratory situation, you try to keep what you are doing under tight control. You introduce a methodology and only modify a few parameters from experiment to experiment so that you can verify what has changed. But the way it changes is also subject to chance: to the factors that are involved, to the way different materials react in different ways. Artworks that most convincingly introduce and thematize the principle of chance are the strongest in terms of method. For example, Duchamp’s three threads. He took three threads and dropped each of them from a height of one meter and then made three lines from the shapes that they formed.
What implications does this have for your work with other artists? Since the 1980s you have worked together with artist friends on a number of joint projects, for example with Marcus Geiger, Heimo Zobernig, Franz Pomassl, Florian Hecker, Jennifer Lacey, Cameron Jamie, and Franz West.
This is less about chance and more about expanding my own spectrum. That’s the big advantage of joint projects and working together with other artists. Each person comes into a joint project with specific ideas, but these do not necessarily coincide with those of your partner. This can lead to the creation of something new and, in the best case scenario, to everyone’s view of things being expanded.
How big is the influence of social, economic or political realities on your work?
This influence exists, of course, but not on a day-to-day level. I am interested in images that are linked with the present, and thus with the reality around me. That also comes from the methods that I work with.
Images that are linked with the present?
I mean the question of how present-day reality is represented.
Would you see your work more as an attempt to appropriate reality or to transform reality into art?
I am more interested in using methods that are representative of a certain age.
That’s why you use the computer as a medium?
Yes, it’s comparable with the role of silkscreen printing in the 1960s. It is an interface that was connected with a particular cultural age. Once again, I am concerned with working with the medium that represents our contemporary reality.
That also has a political dimension.
Definitely, but not in narrative terms. Rather in terms of method.