INTERVIEW WITH MARCEL HILLER on the occasion of the Virtual Space and the exhibition "Marcel Hiller - Der Himmelblaue Speck" at CALDOworldwide, May 27 - September 2021
Interview by ANNABELLE FERLINGS, May 2021
Translated by Tiffany Peach
Den deutschen Text gibt es hier
Marcel, how do you feel during this pandemic? What were some of the themes and questions you had to work through?
The pandemic. The spaces I am allowed to move in are assigned and even my own protection is prescribed to me. Suddenly this massive ship called state re-emerged on the horizon, when I had long thought us all to be at the mercy of the ever evolving and transforming nature of capitalism. For some reason, this ship now declares itself ward of my artistic existence. Throughout my own biography, and particularly that of my parents living in East Germany, so much was transformed and re-structured that I feel a little shiver in this ship’s bow, and wonder what is expected from me in return for its protection. What does the state see in me? I am hardly a great economic resource.
What drives you, what is your “Himmelblauer Speck”?
In Sorokin’s book, the “Der Himmelblaue Speck” is a product that behaves in a physically paranormal way and the erratic course of the book’s narrative seeks out possible applications for it. Is it supposed to be a weapon or a source of energy? Ultimately, it is most likely a drug, which interferes with Russia’s past. This bright blue, shining material harbours many great potentials, the language and narrative form of the book are constantly changing, and all sorts of things “happen” on various levels. In a way, this is very reminiscent of my own process. No idea is necessarily the right “fit”; nothing clearly points in one direction or another. Things need to happen. And when they do, it satisfies me greatly.
During our work on the exhibition, you mentioned that the concept of doing nothing – whether in art, at work or during an artistic process – can be rather exhausting. Do you think this relates to and can be translated into our current environment? What can we all gain from this extraordinary time?
The exhaustion I mentioned relates to the artistic process, which sometimes requires to let go of certain potentials. It’s almost like leaving a showroom empty. A lot of the process must have happened already for me to be entirely convinced that my decision is the right one. At first, the pandemic felt like hitting pause. The art scene as my social environment was suddenly deprived of any kind of public exchange, any of the spaces in which power dynamics can be re-assessed and evaluation processes can take place. I think quite a few people were initially relieved at the absence of those – sometimes admittedly anxious – spaces. Despite the many challenges, I used this period of prescribed calm to reformat some of my processes. And all of that happened without feeling compelled to finish and put together an exhibit as quickly as possible if I want people to know who I am. In a way, this form of “doing nothing” feels like a seemingly never-ending cure.
How do you see art, design, and culture – particularly during this moment of crisis? It seems like you have a lot of different visions which almost take on a life of their own in becoming reality.
Whenever I hear “arts and culture”, I always think: What is that supposed to mean? Then I think of a variety of incredibly dull titles from very expensive exhibits in big mansions, or the subsumption of everything perceived as precarious or difficult as “the scene”, or “art house cinema”, all of which must constantly be promoted. This shrouding of complicated sounds or visual confrontations, however, often ruins any kind of curiosity for me. In my opinion, a crisis of art and culture results from banning their realities to remote spaces, rather than letting them into the political realm of our lives. I want to encounter things which make me want to surpass the boundaries of our daily routines.
When is an artist damaged?
Artists are damaged when they become part of a transformed middle-class society. I am afraid we have already reached that point.
At the foundation of this exhibit lies a piece of great literary work. How does literature inform your work?
For me, nothing makes sense without literature. Without it, I wouldn’t understand much about our world. Neither theory, music, film nor art really helps me grasp the intricacies of our reality. The only thing which accomplished this is the imaginary space of fictional narration. Literature is present in almost all of my work.
How did you find your access to literature?
In my family, literature played little to no role. I only started reading entire books when I was around 17 or 18 years old, which at the time, still felt quite tedious. The first authors I read were rather conservative, bourgeois writers. Many of my fellow artists, like Matti Braun or Hans-Christian Dany, would often ask me: Why do you read these Walsers and Bayers? Why do their ordinary neuroses matter to you? Now I think of it as a process of severing the cord between myself and my parents’ generation, which perceived anything and anyone middle-class and educated as a threat to their post-socialist working-class identity. For many sociologists, I would fit right into that category of “Wendekinder”. Generations born around the 1980s, who grew up amid severe economic depression and unemployment. I remember seeing how my father was deprived of any real fulfillment or self-discovery, and how long it took for him to regain that. That is why the cultural scene of the Western world was a lot more interesting for me at first than the many failed political realms.
What influenced your drawings for “Der Himmelblaue Speck”? Where did Sorokin come in? And how did you confront his work?
The cross printed book pages were more of a conceptual decision. I haven’t yet fully implemented the book as a literal foundation for my work. Normally I don’t do any project sketches or outlines. Only more generally associated materials which I move around on tables or on the ground. Since the exhibit is entirely virtual, and I don’t have these tools on hand, I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Then I realized that the printing approach would integrate the novel directly into the texture of my work and create a long-lasting visual connection to the original piece. Continuing down this path, merging fragments of Sorokin’s work with my own, has brought me great joy and creative fulfillment.
Can literature and text create a certain space? And vice versa, is space a form of narration?
I don’t see much of a difference between the two. Actually, I always wanted to write as well. Devising a narrative in a visual space ended up working much better for me and generated a level of euphoria and intensity you only feel when you create something yourself. For me, the context of visual arts might lend itself a bit more to creating a certain space than literary work.
The spaces and different constellations of your work are very organized and clear, certainly well thought out. With “THE GLINT OF SELF-DEFEATING PROPHECIES” you created a space without a concrete center, without spatial axes, and without traces of structure and functionality. However, it was analog! What will be similar, and what will be different in a virtual space?
It’s become a long-established routine for us to use decals of the so-called real, in the form of exhibitions, to access the current art scene. The virtual component has been a long-term companion of our exhibits anyway. That is what I wanted to bring to light with THE GLINT. This exhibit may exist in real life, but it is impossible for us to verify the factuality of its decals. Here, the virtual and the real come together without being mutually exclusive.
Are real and virtual spaces the same to work with? Or do they require different approaches? If so, where do the individual challenges lie and how do you face them?
Both have their own natural laws and call for certain aesthetics, but their development happens at different times and in separate environments. It was important for me not to simply use a digital replica of my work. At the same time, I didn’t want to hand myself over entirely to the promises of the virtual realm. Together with the novel, the cross prints, and the poster, I think this exhibit encompasses both the virtual and the real, and in that has created a real space of its own. If someone were to look at it and simply think: What a great virtual sculpture! – I would rather not be the author of that.
What was the process like creating a virtual space for “Der Himmelblaue Speck”? Is there a certain point at which it ends?
CALDO’s invitation to this virtual exhibit was brought on with the kind of contagious energy I find hard to resist. My first thought was: A 3D exhibit – what is that supposed to be? All I could think of at first were trite clichés. But I was eager to go along with this concept of 3D and integrate it as a part of our shared reality. “The Blue Lard” came to mind almost immediately, because it has so many different layers which interact, yet remain dissonant to one another in a productive way. This process of ‘der himmelblaue Speck’ isn’t likely to be over any time soon, even if it may retreat from the public eye for a bit after the exhibit is over.
Is there a point of focus in the room? And if so, does it expect anything from the viewers or does it impart something to them?
In a real exhibit, be it a museum or gallery, I feel myself located within the room rather quickly– regardless of my individual evaluation of the presented works. Within the virtual realm, I often feel a rather tense sense of effort to recreate this idea of location. I don’t really care much for that, nor the viewers’ sense of safety. I did, however, grow a tree in the room which centers my work and acts as a point of focus. The space expects the viewer to learn how to move within it and acquire certain perspectives. This is comparable to the texts of the Beat generation. We had to understand reading as a form spatial experience in which we had to witness ourselves while reading, without any concrete plot or character constellation. You take the plunge and dive into the real-time experience of language.
One of your works in the virtual room is the Helmet. What does this signify, do artists need this sort of protection? Is it suited for everyone? The Helmet is damaged, what does that tell us?
Currently, most decisions are made based on probabilities. This could be vastly different, since even the improbable remains a possibility – at least theoretically. Suffering from a rare disease is highly unlikely, but that isn’t of much help to me if I actually have it. In this regard, I think there is a great misconception within our systems of power. It is impossible to predict THE future, only A future – which may not be the most desirable one. This is what my Helmet work aims to capture; the fact that we qualify our conduct of life according to our internalized measures of protection.
Do you think virtual spaces are a competition for real ones? Do they complement one another? Are virtual spaces the future?
We have become very focused on this notion of either / or, and quickly talk about the current conflicts to determine a potential future winner. The separation of reality and virtuality does not work particularly well since both contain a part of the other. We would like to have orderly, since the simultaneity of processes makes it difficult to accumulate a sense of power. However, I still look at an Agnes Martin exhibit despite having access to film, photographs, the internet, and all sorts of breathtaking forms of virtuality. I think this is going to be the case for quite a while.
Today it is normal to accompany an exhibit in a virtual way on social media. Would you say this is an extension and enrichment, or does social media preclude certain aspects?
Social Media tends to not feed off itself, it prefers the real thing. People on social media like real spaces and real paintings, they turn away when the real isn’t entirely convincing. It gnaws away at our sensitivity but also makes us acquire new perspectives. I think social media extends certain processes. On the one hand I can maintain a relatively covert profile. At the same time, there are all these continuously evolving functions which want me to reveal myself, make my private spaces public, grant access to my psyche and showcase my identity. Although there are drawbacks, this might enrich certain processes. When Instagram first launched, there was a definite advantage to being as active as possible, and there was a clear shift in power dynamics. Now, it is normal for all of us to let ourselves and our projects be translated and transformed into the algorithms of others. In my opinion, however, existing power dynamics are now merely mapped out on these platforms, rather than actually shifted. Social media is as omnipresent as the weather. Personally, I find it an interesting medium to work with, sometimes more, sometimes less so. A bit like creating a poster through screen printing – technically entirely obsolete. Social media can add to the essence, but it cannot replace it.
What is the one thing/ a thought or lesson in life that had the biggest impact?
That we are constantly involved in processes which assign parts of our own being, but that we do not necessarily need to recognize them. My daughter can do one thing, or another, but she can also vehemently refuse to do either. The latter is most likely to happen when I try to decide for her what is fun, protects her, or what she likes to eat.
What would you send into the past if you could?
Power dynamics need to be more intermingled and mixed up, that would be an adjustment for the past on its way to us. My notion of ‘we’ should be a different one. I would like to make clear that the unwavering Western need for protection, its desire for structure, technology, God and Capital as forms of realized fictions, are all nothing more than a fear of life itself.
Photo Daniel Mayer
ABOUT MARCEL HILLER
Translated by Tiffany Peach