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?
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.
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?
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?