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"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, © Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Köln, 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 Berlin gallery 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 Bank.

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 alternative households.

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 an oversight.

Isa Genzken, Bambus auf Pavillon, 2003
Installation view: Galerie Meerrettich, Berlin 2003
Courtesy Neugerriemschneider, Berlin

The 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.

Isa Genzken
installation view:: neugerriemschneider, berlin 2006
courtesy neugerriemschneider, berlin

Is 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
Courtesy Neugerriemschneider, Berlin

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