A discussion with Monika Brandmeier in September 2009

BH: The working title for the exhibition and catalogue is Sachverhalt (Matters-in-relation).This term covers a cosmos of references (from Wittgenstein to Handke); at the same time, in the art context it seems rather unwieldy. How do you understand it?

MB: A work of mine from 2007 is called Sachverhalt. It deals with the very complex interior life of an entity and the connection thereof to the wall. The work consists of creating a relationship between individual elements – diverse doubled interior walls, a kind of metal mirror – and to the area around them. Of course you could say it is just a platitude; even so the title forces a certain sobriety upon the observer, and quashes any expectations that a work will have metaphorical ambitions and, above all, produces a spatial understanding of the structure in front of us.

BH: I don’t think that is a platitude; in fact I think it is an excellent description of many of your works: you don’t want to direct interpretation; instead you aim to facilitate analytical observation. Yet it sometimes seems as if you were trying to protect your works to enable the observer to perceive their poetic quality. Maybe the sobriety of the titles intensifies this poetic effect even more – an actor would call it “underplaying”; is that your strategy?

MB: A certain mode of sobriety is good. Quite simply, you will see more if you just let the artwork be; that is, if you don’t impose your own feelings and opinions. That could be hard to do because then you are just standing there, empty-handed, as it were. But if you do manage to do this, to make space in the theatre of your own mind, just for a moment, only then you can understand that which is placed in front of you. And that is what I mean by “Sachverhalt”: viewing the works as “things thingies”[1] that have a right to be there, before any allocation of value. Before you explain them to yourself, find them poetic or non-poetic, and especially, before you can instrumentalize them for your own understanding of the world.

BH: Yes, that confuses some people, and make yet others happy: You have to – or are allowed to – discover the meaning of your own “things thingies”. This works because you do not decorate, entertain or distract. Instead you stay right there, at the heart of the matter, until everything has achieved its only possible material, only possible location and only possible form. Evidence. That is what it feels like. And then your own sobriety becomes a holy sobriety. How do you bring this all together, or does it come together by itself? Do you find, or do you invent?  

MB: Holy sobriety, that is Hölderlin’s sobering holy water, isn’t it? And by the way, I think that I actually do entertain … No, actually, I am simply talking about the fact that the only way of having a direct experience of fine art is when you focus your attention completely upon that which you can see. That is not as self-evident as it sounds. In our media-focused world a kind of automatic cultural connecting immediately kicks into action, regardless of what you are looking it. “Matters of fact” is merely the recognition of a state and the observation thereof for a moment in time. To be neutral.

BH: That is the perspective of the observer. But what is your art practice? How do you begin? Do you have an idea and then look for a suitable form?

MB: No, and it is difficult to explain why something that looks so coherent at the end is the result of such an “open-ended” process. The observation of work is not the same as a reflection of its creation. And even if the result is evident, this does not necessarily mean that its creation was calculated. I don’t have all that many ideas, really. Ideas get in the way of work. I have notions that I follow up. I do this via a beginning, one that I define, and this is as precise in the drawings as it is in the three-dimensional works or videos. Something begins, and this necessitates a reaction, a correction. Or certain themes come together. In the video work Mitzpe-Ramon I first thought of doing something connected to the wind. The use of the toy tent immediately led to other references: American Indians, cowboys, settlers. When I got to Mitzpe-Ramon and saw all the construction work there, the theme of settlement was present in a extremely graphic way and this all fitted together. If I had had the “idea” of making a work on Israeli settlement policy, then this would have resulted in a completely different work. In the work as it is now, the wind and the frame construction of the tent are the main elements. When the tent collapses, the background of the scene moves to the fore.

BH: You say: “something begins”, you don’t say: “I begin something.” But then you continue, you react, correct. Where are you going? Maybe it would be better to ask how you finish a work. When do you know, or recognize that a work is finished?

MB: When the work surprises me. I could also say: when I have understood the work. When it is good, when it reveals something to me that I did not think up by myself. In my work I expect my own perplexity and also a certain aimlessness to be present. I view this as the basis of artistic work, as a method that is completely different from the concept of executing an idea or concept. This leads to different results than you would have it you tried to put your ideas or convictions into a work. I have the impression that a lot of art suffers from this, that it gives up its own autonomy and then proceeds in a project-oriented manner.

BH: And this method also refers to the genuine sobriety of the observation, have I understood that correctly? Without any “meaning” coming from titles – poetic of otherwise –or innovative design or form. You have to perceive it directly. You want to make the observer into a tabula rasa – before the rush of references and associations begins.

In this respect, our discussion is the most absurd way possible of talking about your works, since we are talking about that which cannot be talked about. And in this respect, the Nuremberg catalog,[2] which provides only brief descriptions of your work, is actually more appropriate. So we should stop presenting your works via language, since language actually gets in the way?

MB: The Nuremberg catalog had exactly that aim: the brief descriptions had their place and I think that – as a kind of “understatement” – they present the works in a dramatic way. By demanding from myself that I find a simple description – in the sense of “matter of fact”, without paraphrasing or comparisons, without quotation marks or comments, I realized how complex these matters actually are, and how critical their connections. And it became clear to me how difficult it is to focus our concentration on what it is – and not, what it means, or what it reminds us of (that can be the next step). Just as Tan Lin puts it – “Attention is a medium of attachment.” – this means, in the first instance, taking the world of things seriously. My works take place in reality – I like to call this: the space on this side of the screen – in the same non-virtual area and made from the same material that we constant encounter physically.

I do not perceive the world only as information. I always immediately see how everything is intertwined, how every material touches another. Everything is connected with something else. And all of this constitutes, via the surface, the shell of its counterpart. Imagine that.

[1] Ravensburger Taschenbuch: Monika Brandmeier Dinge Dinger. Exhibition catalog in the Städtische Galerie in Ravensburg 1996

[2] Monika Brandmeier, (ed.) Albrecht Dürer Gesellschaft, Nuremberg 1992