CV: Meine Welt [My World]appropriates and parodies a newspaper interview with a famous German photographer. It exposes the ways in which he talks about his practice, his market value, and his position in society. You chose, however, not to specifically name the artist in your work. What was your motivation behind this decision?
M: The text of the video is based on an article by a journalist who visited the photographer at home. I converted every sentence—including the reporter’s narrative framing and commentary as well as the quotations from the interview—into direct speech and read it in a kitchen studio. So three voices fall into one: the reporter’s, the photographer’s, and my own. It is a piece about the language used to describe, discuss, and situate art; about the systems of appreciation around the artwork itself; about the creation of symbolic and economic value. I’m Marxist enough not to blame the individual for the system, that’s why there are no names. I’m not a detective for misdemeanors searching for glitches in conventions. But I hope it comes across in a light-hearted way. My hardest criticism of the photographer and journalist in question is that they are so generic that another artist, reporter, artwork, or text could replace them just as well. That’s what I find parodic.
CV: Meine Welt was created almost six years ago but the type of art discourse it critiques is still dominant in many art institutions today - and seems to be the driving force behind a number of blockbuster solo exhibitions taking place in London this year. How would you explain this lack of development within the art world?
M: I’m not surprised. This lack of development is a structural problem, but there are ways to tackle it. It seems there are two incompatible art discourses: “socially engaged” art—which is the only art eligible for public funding in the UK and which seems to indirectly demand the exploitation of native informants—and the blockbuster solo exhibitions produced by major museums. Socially engaged art is at best restricted to the shadow market of project spaces or education departments where the humanistic aspects of art are supposed to manifest. Opposed to this, you have the reality of museum shows: what’s going on in the galleries. This is not pluralism, but structural schizophrenia. Let me polemicize: what does an underprivileged kid learn in these shows? That some people can afford to charter private helicopters to take aerial photographs? That the museum is just a hall of mirrors for old farts?
The way photography is being presented in London this Spring shows such tristesse in thinking: it is fundamentally disconnected from the world. I’m not saying that these artists shouldn’t have a place in the museum, but there have been so many changes since these super large scale photographs came on the scene that a new form of art exhibition is in order. I mean, photography as a medium has undergone radical changes in the past fifteen years. Where are the shows on the self-affirming role of photography, or the different fetishizations of instagram and tumblr in the context of art history? This media development could be staged as a new common denominator.
So my question is how to get the museums to appreciate different realities. And my proposed battleground is to rethink form. Let’s escalate the discussion on the politics of representation to the level of form. Neither inviting artists with different backgrounds nor posthumously appreciating “overlooked” or marginalized art from the seventies will be enough. We need to repoliticize both the public arts funding and the educational approaches of major museums. Lack of development comes from a lack of knowledge or a lack of interest, and these blockbuster shows indicate both. Why is it so pressing to see these male German photographers in the UK? Wouldn’t every conservator be happier if their work remained in storage so that it doesn’t bleach?
CV: Over the last six years your own artistic practice has mostly moved away from moving image production, and instead branched out into a number of disciplines like photography, collage, watercolour painting, spatial installations, writing, and various curatorial projects. How did your multidisciplinary approach to working come about?
M: It was a multidisciplinary approach right from the start. I think there is a political aspect in refusing to be defined by a certain style or marketable good. Brian O’Doherty’s thoughts on how the art market freezes artists and makes them imperialists of their own aesthetic individuality captures this problem precisely. If you see the different series I produce, they could be from different artists, and I like that. The medium is always what it needs to be: what I want to do determines the medium, and the medium determines the form. But the various approaches are all accessible, which is important. I prefer to refrain from alchemy and fancy production processes. I’m too slow to win the race toward novelty effects anyway. If you want to print out images, glue them on a sheet of paper, and spill some faggy nail polish over it, please do it.
Usually, in order for something to appear as art, it has to fulfil certain requirements on the level of production. Vika Kirchenbauer wrote a useful essay about this issue recently by focusing on the ethics of video production and the demand for high production values. It begs the question: is a certain class drag required in order to produce something that counts as art? How can we learn to appreciate certain simple forms as political, as a project in changing perceptions?
CV: Many of your works involve appropriations of texts or images, and a lot of them are invested in queer subject critique and in rendering visible class antagonisms. What formal or thematic connections do you draw between your different bodies of work?
M: Appropriation is a process I still find empowering. It challenges the form of the artwork and the role of the artist. It allows texts and images to be transformed, read, and seen in a new way. I try to mobilize this strategy to critique queer subjectivities and class relations in the visual arts. Questions may be: What would a queer form of art production look like? Do we as queers really need an affirmative imaginary? Isn’t this a historically proven dead end that restricts the potenial openness of art? Isn’t this just class-drag? Performing the same conventions told to us? What if we consider art to be a potential to share the same experience, not just to read the same images or text? And what if such experiences weren’t necessarily authentic ones? I usually favor the artificial and the inauthentic, because there is more play in these modes. Authenticity is mainly just a gruesome reduction.
My thoughts often circle around masculinities. How to be Gay? addresses how we look at men touching each other. For the Men & the Others is a search for a gestural and painterly script that can only be read but never pronounced the way it is written. They are audible only to a multitude that does not want to be drowned out, but recognizes itself in its difference rather than reiterating loud, combative masculinity.
The processes always have to be connected to a state of openness. They should happen without my total control but also without only being self referential or medium-specific. They should have an anchor in reality, while also being a place for looseness, silliness, reluctance or orneriness, fluidity, and reinvention.
CV: You often use existing texts as a starting point for your work. What type of writing do you find most inspiring? What are you reading at the moment?
M: I appreciate forms of writing that make me think differently, that point to a reality which I don’t know already. Right now I am reading Édouard Louis’s History of Violence. It is about the author’s experience being raped by a Kabyl man and the process of reporting and speaking about the crime to his friends, his family, the police, and the hospital. But he wrote the story partially from the perspective of his sister. Given this content, it was perhaps inevitable that many queers would judge it as political misrepresentation, as if an artwork’s only job is to adhere to the most blunt representational issues. Meanwhile, the mainstream judges it a masterpiece, as if the author’s great achievement is simply having lived his life. What interests me, on the other hand, is how he writes about it. He is so sensitive in analyzing power relations and the relativity of language that comes with them. I’m interested in how empowering it can be to write one’s own experience of powerlessness from multiple perspectives. Not to create a coherent narrative, but to deal with the impossibilities of language in situations when you can speak or be silenced or be forced to speak.
CV: What forms or directions is your work taking on in the near future?
M: At the moment I am working on an installation named Pressure On Boys, which will highlight society’s normative expectations of boyhood. But ‘boy’ is not to be understood as a biological category. I aim to create a space of shared experiences. Heterosexual and homosexual cis-kids, the late puberty of trans-men, the past boyhood of trans-women, twinks and other boys could come together here. This will be part of the upcoming film ‘So Pretty’ by Jessie Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli which will be done in collaboration with Thomas Love, Rachika S, and Edem Dela-Seshie. And I can tell you, doing an adaptation of a novella about four polyamorous gay communists in West Berlin in the 1980s isn’t the prime ‘socially engaged’ art eligible for film funding.