EadM: Your work Entity is part of the Future Perfect exhibition. Could you say something about how this work came about and also what precisely it has to do with the future?
AM: The work itself is a story of the future, which was created for the exhibition Dubai Düsseldorf in the Düsseldorf Kunstverein. A number of people were invited to design architectural structures, fashion, flags, and a currency for the future twin-city-state of “Dubai-Düsseldorf.” It was my job as an artist to design the art of the future. I asked myself what an art of the future might look like, one which would be interesting for both Dubai and Düsseldorf. Dubai is an Islamic cultural area and thus for religious reasons subject to the prohibition of figurative images. Dubai imports a great deal of Western art. What could art look like that is not religious but nonetheless adheres to Islamic rules?
I then designed a scenario in which the artist “Antje Majewski” works together with a biotechnology company so as to develop an organism as a work of art: a living monad that does nothing other than digest itself so as to slowly die and transform itself into a mummified Entity. Entity is simply the “being thing,” that has no further properties than to be and to live, but then also to die. It cannot move, cannot reproduce, cannot feed itself, cannot communicate, and has no sex. I thought that people would react to this organism with a kind of abstract empathy, that they would develop some pity for this thing and thereby become aware of what being human means—communication with our surroundings and other people. This process is similar to the one decribed in the work of Immanuel Kant. You come across something totally unknown, but it reminds you of what you yourself are. Via an encounter with the non-human we might experience what we could be as human beings in a community. This might work for Dubai, because it is not figurative, and also for Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf has this big tradition with Joseph Beuys, where the idea of community is so important, and also the notion of the artist who takes upon himself the suffering of humankind. When the viewer feels pity with the Entity, then this is with a being that can feel no pain of its own but that can provide people with a cathartic pain.
When the organism is finished it is given to the director by “Antje Majewski” in a ceremonial act—as the painting entitled Donation shows. The handover takes place in the Pavilion of the Entity, a building of the future that is based on an architecture design by Ralf Pflugfelder and Markus Miessen (nOffice). Inside this pavilion I painted people I know, wearing clothing that I could imagine as a mixed fashion of various elements that could be used in the future in Dubai. The painting is reminiscent of a work by Piero della Francesca, Meeting between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, an encounter between two cultures that is very dignified and involves the handing over of gifts.
But then the story does not go on so well, for after another fifty years people have turned the Entity into an object of religious devotion. Now abstract empathy is not the issue. People try to touch the shrine, and it becomes a kind of Kaaba. Markus Miessen and Ralf Pflugfelder have designed an enormous center for pilgrims, with the shrine in the center where the Entity is kept. This now replaces all art. There is no other art. This is the art museum of the future, which has only one object on show.
Several decades later there has been a revolution and the shrine is destroyed. A vegetables salesman took a few pieces away that formerly decorated the passageway that led up to the shrine. This is a round element, painted to look like the Entity, with abstract circles that could also be pimples on the surface of the organism. In my installation there is a piece of wall, against which the Decorative Element that the vegetable seller took is leant, and underneath this there is a small glass cube, in which the totally shrunken mummy of the Entity can be seen, with some dust on it. Between the handover and the vegetable dealer lies a period of about a hundred years. The whole story is told in a text that you can take with you.
EadM: As a viewer I have to read this text in order to understand the whole story, or the idea behind it?
AM: The text offers a narrative that combines the individual elements. If you do not read the text, then you can just look at the installation and reflect on what this thing is that is leaning there, or what that thing is in the glass cube, in which, if you look closely, there is in fact only a dried-out lemon. These are all just games with many different possibilities. Ultimately it is a piece of nonfigurative art that is given a function in my story. But this can be turned the other way too—as a piece of nonfigurative art that is then passed on into a hyper-real painting.
EadM: I am interested in how you address central questions and issues in interreligious and transcultural life and draw on forms of communication that are the basis of cultural translation. You work on making old knowledge available and experiential. Knowledge that is not just cognitive but also combined with intuition and spirituality. This is interesting for me. Do you see the chance of using art to activate forms of old knowledge?
AM: For me Entity is the beginning of a journey, a search by means of objects, that culminated in a large exhibition project in the Kunsthaus Graz: The World of Gimel in 2011. The first object here, the Entity, is the object that is totally unapproachable, but perhaps holds some hidden meaning within (as in Kant). I think the moment when one realizes that the world is quite unknown in a crazy way can lead to two reactions. You can either be horrified or fascinated. The fascinating side to the strange world of which we are a part is something spiritual for me, the astonishment that the world is so magnificent and contains so many wondrous things. My monad is no stranger than a spider, if you take a close look at the spider. In The World of Gimel seven objects from various parts of the worlds were investigated. I went to the places they came from, to China, Africa, and Europe, and everywhere I spoke with people about the objects and learned a lot.
It is very important to respect the stories that an object contains, its cultural origins, the history of the people who once held these objects in their hands. There is also the respect for the autonomous life of the earth, respecting too that we cannot do what we want with the earth, but that ultimately even the things that we ourselves make are in a certain way inaccessible to us.
EadM: I would like to talk about your working methods. Painting is a central focus, an individual artistic practice, but your work is also strongly influenced by collective thinking. For many years you have been integrating artist friends and other friends from other professions into your working processes. In Entity you use the architectural designs by Pflugfelder and Miessen. What role does the community play for you?
AM: For my paintings and videos I often work with various protagonists, whom I allow a lot of freedom, and this leads to very interesting developments. I know what the works should look like, but in a rather indefinite way. Indefinite, but precise! I have often curated exhibitions, and then I am curious what other artists do when I give them this freedom. Sometimes my name might then stand in, as in the case of The World of Gimel, because I bundled the whole network. But other artists were also involved, and they contributed a lot of content. For a year now I have been working with the female artists’ group ƒƒ, where as feminist artists we try to find new collaborative languages (www.fffffff.org). This is the first time for me that I have tried to create and live a community beyond my circle of friends. It’s wonderful.
I have learned that the model for the Entity is a multi-stoned fruit. This was then the symbol for me of what was created in TheWorld of Gimel, a world in which there can be very many kernels. Very many individuals who together from something, the same way these exhibitions did. This fruit then falls apart again, and every kernel can grow again and make a new tree. I found it very beautiful that this suffering monad at one point transformed into something quite different, a living fruit that has a historical background and that I can imagine reproducing. I think that this living fruit was contained in the project right from the beginning.
EadM: In general your work has a utopian element and yet also speaks very strongly of the present. With the images, ideas and concepts are carried out into the world. How do you see art developing?
AM: The question is also what art might be like when it is no longer eurocentric. What I expect and what is already happening—that things move away from Europe, and from us as those by whom meaning is produced. It will become a multi-stoned fruit. Many people have not yet realized this, but it is true.