Stephan Dillemuth: It changed a lot from the first idea ... I wanted to have the back gallery empty and just one laser beam to draw an oriental pattern on the wall; I imagined a ray of light to draw a beautiful gate (through which to access the future?). However, this turned into a 7.5x2.9 m picture, which is a drawing (actually a frottage) of the gate of the gallery, an iron curtain that is usually rolled down to secure the space at night. Now the space is sandwiched between those gates/ curtains. Either the "real" or the "artistic" gate keeps you away from the experience of the real art. Of course, in my version, this means that the "real" art lies behind the gate and that the show is just the contemporary gallery stuff ...
JF: Do you feel that art is a trap you fall into when you are trying to live your life? Or is it more a question of life being a trap, and you deal with it through art?
SD: I would not go for the "trap" idea in either case, but I think of art as an interesting tool I can work with.
JF: How do you use the tool to show the "real" in the gallery space?
SD: Again, let's drop the "tool" idea, that sounds like art school. I am interested in art as a relation to the real because it can offer us possibilities for critical reflection on our life circumstances. You could see art as kind of research, as an artistic and creative transformation of the investigated matter in order to hopefully and playfully create new ways to view the world and interact with it. That sounds complicated, but it can be a lot of fun. In the case of the Cologne gallery, I aimed to use my work to point into the future, which lies behind the painting, the fence. However, I am bound by the possibilities of matter inside the gallery. There are artworks, paintings, sculptures and stuff that might look familiar, like everything else looks familiar today but my intentions lie outside those objects and outside the gallery.
JF: Yesterday we visited J.F. Willumsens Museum and Tegner's museum in Dronningmølle. I admire these two artists a lot and I have a weird attraction to them for being outsiders on the Danish art scene of their times. Strangely, they are some of the few artists that have managed to create museums for their own collections. What was your experience of these two artists?
SD: I found it interesting in two different ways. The first interest aspect concerns the artists' self-organisation Towards the end of their lives, both of them had to anchor their work in history with these museums, a kind of self-institutionalisation. Secondly, I see both of them in relation to my special interest right now, the Lebensreform movements from around 1890 to 1925 in Germany and the surrounding countries. I could see certain similarities, but are Willumsen and Tegner not very much caught up in the battle for the acceptance of their individualistic attitude?
JF: Are you interested in the past in order to see the present in a wider perspective?
SD: Yes, I am interested in history only because I can short-circuit it with problems of our time. So, looking backwards is not a tool for self-assurance, quite the opposite: I have to question my time; is it really as advanced as it promises to be? Not that some of these previous rebellions, utopias and reforms were wrong, but I have to understand why they failed and try to avoid making the same mistakes ...
JF: Right now we have just woken up and smelled the coffee that all our ideas, ideals, communities, utopias, values, and wars are part of global issues and global development. How would you compare our times to the 1880-1900s?
SD: It would go beyond of the scope of this interview to go into details. We cannot address the question how FAR this fin de siécle resembles the previous one here. But I think we have a set of similar motives on which we could set our comparative studies: cultural pessimism, disillusion with all politics, renewed expansion of capitalism, the talk of crisis - especially in the middle classes - and the feeling of being inescapably locked in a system that has penetrated all circumstances of life. What is called globalisation today was called colonialism back then.
Napoleon: Do you think globalism has brought more democracy into the world or is it just a new way of controlling the masses?
Blücher: No rhetoric on that level! You are arrested and sent to St Helena. There you have probably enough time read "Empire" in French.
Napoleon: AAARhh qui, you are right but I have ADSL, a broadband connection, you know!?
Blücher: The internet is no substitute for direct action.
JF: Considering that a character on the McDonald's web page has told children that Ronald McDonald was "the ultimate authority in everything", how do you think this modern icon - the second most known fictional character after Santa - would look at the "Lebensreform" movements? How would Ronald place himself in the movement?
SD: You have quite a vivid imagination! Ronald McDonald is of course no one else than the German emperor and Kaiser Wilhelm II, which is to say he is one of the main representatives of a system that shows its presence everywhere in society. From within nothing else seems imaginable. Breaking out seems impossible
JF: Are we stuck between a rock and a hard place? There are many components of globalisation that open new chances for opposing the expanding power structures.
SD: Yes, that is true, but hard to do because capitalism as we have it today is quite smart and it also gets a lot of its power from incorporating or including all kinds of dissidence, microstructures, individualised identities, alternatives. This is a very interesting phenomenon that I tried to approach a little bit in a research project for the Kunsthogskolen in Bergen. The question was in how far we can already talk about a "corporate public", that is a public that would be made of a "multitude" of little fragmented publics, tribes, self-organised structures, etc. So we end up with a society that is divided not only by race, class and gender, but also by other, more self-determined structures and life-style opportunities. However, I see all of them as constituting part of a corporate economy, either as a market, or a potential market, or otherwise depending through sponsorship. We have to ask ourselves if capitalism has adapted the "Lebensreform" and gets a lot of creativity and power from it.
JF: Remember the event music/art event RADAR - that we visited - where the sponsor, a clothing company XXXXX, had a stand where people could be creative with their products and change and alter them. Afterwards, one could buy one's own creative effort. Even more significantly, we saw how a company integrated itself into the art & music event - as participants on the same level as the actual art and music. Corporate companies become more and more aggressive these days, and they have dived into the arts head first.
SD: Wait until they find themselves in the NoLogo book and discover how uncool and outdated they look by now. The way XXXXX tries to appropriate counterculture is highly conservative, because they make these young people look like corporate clowns. Of course that backfires on them.
JF: They remind me of those little gnomes and kitschy figures that you bought at the flea market on your first day in Copenhagen. Now they sit in their buckets, submerged in the highly saturated sugar water on my window sill and wait to become beautiful crystals for the opening of the show at Mellemdaekket.
SD: Well, see them as youth submerged in the market of youth culture or as Danes suffocating in their own highly homogenised and saturated social pastry, or as artists involved in a process of condensation ... or see the process of historification of real events as the growth of a crystal structure .... whatever ... In the end we will have dead and sweet objects, motionless, frozen into crystals of their time. So far with esoterics
JF: So in a way you see the Danish 'hygge', the Danish flag, kolonihaver and Nordic welfare state model as a crystallized cocoon of sweet oblivion?
SD: I could say the same about Germany.
JF: How did the "Lebensreform" actually start? And what
sparked your interest??
JF: On your website www.societyofcontrol.com you have compiled a huge archive of material, images, texts, and criss-cross references to the subject. How are Vogeler's woodcuts and "Die Kunst im Leben des Kindes" connected?
SD: Art education as we know it in schools today was a product of the "Lebensreform". The idea was that everyone should be educated in the arts, his/her taste should be improved, aesthetics became a constituent of the quality of life. Vogeler has probably added a lot to this idea of "aesthetics as quality of life". In his younger days he was a superstar, the fairytale prince of art nouveau, creating incredible ornaments and decors. But then he became a communist, experimented with a commune to create a Utopian island within capitalism, and, after this failed, he went to Moscow as an anti-fascist fighter. Obviously he had realised that he could do more than merely decorate cutlery: art became a knife for him. The prints are from that period.
JF: I once went to a Finnish Bar which had a sign behind the bar saying "In Lenin we trust, others pay cash". Money talks, so how can art influence capitalism and corporate structures these days?
SD: Art influences these structures anyway, all the time. And that's why in the end, artists, like scientists, have a particular responsibility beyond their "invention" or beyond "just taking their artistic freedom". We are always bound to and part of power structures, and we must take into account how "our" aesthetics and politics might be used to stabilise those who occupy the top of these structures. Maybe one can see that the relevance and importance of any work is created through responsibility as regards the context of the work, in a wider, political perspective.
JF: Yes, but there the curator is equally responsible. Especially since s/he is an important link between the artist, the institutions and the audience; and as the curator deals with financial aspects and public relations, s/he plays a tricky role within these structures. That sounds very bureaucratic, but all of it comes down to the dialogue between those participants.
SD: sometimes I think artists play the role of the court painter.
JF: Have you ever heard of Werner von Delmont? I think he works with problems that are similar to those addressed by you, but he believes in the return of absolutism as the Realm of the Global Coin, a new era to come. He calls it the "Corporate Rokoko".
SD: I have heard of him in Germany, and you also told me that you are releasing a new edition of his infamous book at my opening, together with those of Henriette Heise and Kirsten Pieroth. I am looking forward to finally reading it in English