"I hate everything to do with sensation."
Isa Genzken on her Plans for the German Pavilion at the Biennale
One of Germany's most important artists will be showing in the German Pavilion
at the 52nd Venice Biennial in 2007, curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen: Isa
Genzken. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf spoke with her about the
challenges of the coming art event.
Isa Genzken, sept. 10, 2006, Hotel Danieli, Venice
Foto: Bernd Bodtländer
For over thirty
years, Isa Genzken has been working on a multi-faceted oeuvre that
continues to develop in new and unpredictable ways. Her extensive work
encompasses sculpture, installation, photography, collage, and film. A
very special relationship links Genzken to
Deutsche Bank. Her work has been part of the collection since the early
nineties, and this coming year, the bank will be the main sponsor of the
Biennale's German Pavilion.
Untitled, n.d. Acrylic and pencil on
paper Deutsche Bank Collection
The artist agreed to talk with db artmag for the occasion,
although she really doesn’t like interviews at all. When we met at the
neugerriemschneider shortly before the opening of her one-person show
there, a lively conversation unfolded nonetheless – about fascist
architecture, high expectations, national idiosyncrasies, unrealized
projects, and things Genzken likes, particularly in New York: Deutsche
Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: In an interview,
Nicolaus Schafhausen stated: "I am thoroughly convinced that the specific
challenge of conceiving a work for the
German Pavilion will enable
Isa Genzken to create new symbolic spaces that attack reality in a very
special way." How do you approach the reality of a location like the
German Pavilion, and what is your sense of this particular place?
Isa Genzken: First of all, I try to approach a place like this from the
outside. And then from the inside. I can't say much more than that right
now. Most artists up until now have approached it from the inside. I'll be
doing it from the outside. The difference is like night and day.
Isa Genzken, Installation View "Sie sind mein Glück" Kunstverein Braunschweig,
2000 Courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne
You already took part in the
Biennale in Venice in 2003 with an installation of bamboo poles atop the
roof of the Italian Pavilion. Perhaps you could explain how you approached
this building at the time.
Well, it's also a fascist structure.
In Italy, the term for this kind of architecture is 'Rationalist.' I
called the work Hair grows as it pleases, and that's a title that's
very anti-fascist, because the Nazis always had their hair cut short and
stubby. And the bamboo was just up there – and colored green, to boot!
(laughs) I found that pretty funny.
And bamboo is a material people like to use in
Exactly. And it comes from developing
countries that are often involved with alternative ideas about trade and
culture. In any case, we tried to get the longest, highest bamboo that
exists. It was a lot of fun installing this work. Because it was so hot,
the men were climbing the ladders bare-chested to carry one bamboo pole
after another onto the roof. I was standing below and was allowed to just
watch these beautiful male bodies, suntanned, with all that bamboo. And in
the end, the bamboo was standing just as I wanted it to. Although the
installation was impossible to overlook, my name couldn't be found
anywhere and only very few visitors learned that the work was really from
me. Maybe people even thought that the bamboo was left to grow there, as
Isa Genzken, Bambus auf Pavillon, 2003
Installation view: Galerie Meerrettich, Berlin 2003
Courtesy Neugerriemschneider, Berlin
public views the presentation in the German Pavilion as an official
flagship for the contemporary German art scene. In the eyes of the public,
the exhibiting artist also represents his or her country. How do you
approach the expectations involved in representing Germany as an artist?
It's a pretty double-edged situation. It's been said that the last few
presentations in the Pavilion were a bit pale or unspectacular; that the
public didn't find them to be all that great. And that happened twice in a
row. And so, it was said that for this reason the expectations directed at
me were even higher than before. But I told myself: "Isa, keep calm, just
like you've done your whole life – don't let yourself get seduced by
something here, or get caught up in trying to prove something that you
can't." I'm just going to do what I've always done before: which is my
best. That's how it is. And I won't let myself get crazy, as though I were
supposed to deliver a sensation there now. In any case, I don't have a
very high opinion of art that's a sensation.
Christo doesn't interest me. I hate everything to do with sensation. That
doesn't mean that art has to be quiet, but it has to have the attraction
within, and not be loudly directed outside of itself. Regarding the German
Pavilion, there's only one exhibition that comes to mind that I really
liked: the one by Joseph Beuys. I liked his
Straßenbahnhaltestelle from 1976 very much. It wasn't loud, but
it was very powerful. Neither
Rückriem nor anyone else impressed me all that much. And I've seen a
lot of works in the German Pavilion. I didn't find
Hans Haacke very good at all. I just don't understand why everyone always
says afterwards: yes, but that was really very good. I found it so forced,
and then the Nazi flag outside, and the German flag – I didn't like it.
neugerriemschneider, berlin 2006
courtesy neugerriemschneider, berlin
there any point, still, in presenting countries in individual pavilions?
Yes, thank God. We're living in the European community; we're all Europeans.
Despite that, there are still the French and the English – and I'm happy
about that! And then there are the Italians with their food and their
fashion and all. Just imagine that everything would be the same. That
wouldn't be very nice, would it?
Isa Genzken, Papst, 2006