Florian Matzner (FM) A good six years ago we did an interview when your first book, Drawing Attention, was published. At the time you said that the constant jumping back and forth, as I’ll call it, between the two-dimensional drawing and the three-dimensional installation is important. What’s your position on that today?
Nina Annabelle Märkl (NAM) I’m still working with drawing, objects, and installations. Not jumping back and forth so much, but more in a state of constant transition or via the permeability of media and observational perspectives. It’s perspective that turns the drawing into a potential sculpture or space, or that makes the object in an installation part of a drawing. I’m interested in creating interim or transitory states, in showing things in their potential forms—something like a kaleidoscope—in developing images and spaces that question perceptual habits by disturbing them. It’s a sensory-based way of opening up potentially new ways of perceiving what exists.
FM When you do this, you’re not approaching your work so much from your perspective as an artist, but more through the perspective of the observer, the recipient. Why?
NAM I’m testing my own perspective. When I’m working on a drawing or a constellation of things, I try to set up different observational roles, in order to create a sense of multiple levels or layers. A moving picture with many entrances, which remains as simple and clear as possible in the media employed. I’d like to meld with the work and at the same time, put myself at a playful distance from it, which makes it possible for me to balance the hermetical with openness to dialectic aspects during the process of creating meaning. The image—in the form of an installation, arrangement, or drawing—is supposed to disturb viewers, show them something new, trigger questions: for instance, in terms of the way that the things on display are ordered. This creates settings in which processes that are monological, dialogical, or even multi-logical, can take place.
FM You’re still working in parallels—in the isolation of the studio, as well as in the heterogeneity of urban space.
NAM Urban space, such as the “art island” on Lenbachplatz, brings with it conditions that differ from those in the studio: the temporary piece Possible Spaces, made for a plaza that passersby don’t experience as a place to linger, but as a space that needs to crossed or circumnavigated, is supposed pick up on these patterns of movement and the shifts in perspectives and angles that arise and translate them into drawings, developing an image that oscillates between the familiarity and unfamiliarity with what is on display, as well as between the figurative and the abstract. In the process this creates a possible sense of space in the drawing that is actually intangible and free of fixed points. The givens that come along with public space work to focus, as well as liberate. In the studio, on the other hand, everything is possible—the rules that guide developments in the work process arise in the mutable relationship involving the object, the drawing, the installation, and me.
FM I myself work as a curator in the realm of public space, and I always notice that one can never calculate beforehand what the reactions of the public, the passersby, will be, particularly when it comes to art in public spaces. Perhaps it’s because in the public space—in utter contrast to the white cube—you don’t have an academically or artistically educated audience … suddenly, everyone’s a recipient and hence, an art expert, as it were. What sort of reactions to your intervention on Lenbachplatz have you received?
NAM Most of the reactions have been positive. I think there are various reasons for that: the drawings were noticeable, without forcing themselves upon people; they were balanced at the point where figuration and abstraction meet. They were reduced, in terms of composition and drawing, without being contrasted with a disruptive, baroque, figurative component, which is something I often introduce in other drawings. I deliberately wanted to pick up on the existing structure of the place, without disturbing it, and shift a brief moment of motion into the field of vision, which is rooted in the process of restructuring the things surrounding us. The transformation lies within the process of observation; the drawings invite you to play with the detailed world. I think that’s been conveyed. Feedback came primarily from people in the art world, and to some extent, these perceptions have already been filtered. But I think that art can be read on various levels of observation simultaneously—it can have simplicity and depth, both of which are conveyed, and you don’t have to be an art expert to get it. Once I heard that the work took up too little space in this prominent square, and was not really recognizable as one of my drawings. Public space, however, is not a white cube, but an intersection where perceptions from all of society encounter each other. At a very specific site like this, I’m not interested in simply presenting myself as an artist, but in creating a situation in which many people’s habits of perception will undergo a latent shift.
FM In addition, there’s the fact that your “drawing” is on a large billboard—a medium usually reserved for advertising.
NAM Right, advertising. In this case, the billboard’s surface not only advertises a playful way of dealing with the things of this world, but also a process of transforming givens through the gaze, which means added value. After all, the work is called Possible Spaces, meaning that artistic activities can open up observational spaces that don’t constrain, aren’t dogmatic, don’t want to sell anything. Rather, they posit a liberating gaze and thus create a moment of freedom.
FM Let’s talk a little bit about this publication. It’s not in chronological order, but instead, is set up according to themes, or to your different media- and genre-based approaches.
NAM Each chapter is named after a work of art or a series of works. At the same time, the book’s chapters divide the illustrations into units of motif structures and thematic fields, and the sequencing allows each to build upon the one prior to it. I’m interested in creating contextual permeability between the units, while simultaneously maintaining boundaries between them. Most of the titles are in English. The chapter titles could also be song titles or fragments of lines from songs that accompany one and trigger associations with sequential narratives.
FM Something new is the way that you fold the paper first before you draw on it—I’ve never seen this before, even in the international art discourse. This process creates quasi reliefs; on the other hand, as a viewer, one would like to unfold the paper to see if something is concealed within the folds.
NAM The folds create a real space that changes, depending upon the various ways it’s lit; it opens up and at the same time, it withdraws into itself. So there are always places in the folds that you can’t see. There might be a drawing beneath it, or there might not. One way or another, this allows one to imagine that the space that has been partially realized and partially asserted continues on inside of other, possible spaces. Being fixed, the relief builds the foundation for further, infinite, imagined spaces, and these, when slightly altered and inverted, open up similar settings and constellations that develop during the process of being reshaped. Drawing, fold, and cut arise alternately, not in sequential units of work. Recently, I’ve been working a great deal with chamfered—meaning folded—metal that takes in the space and multiplies the drawing. After all, the drawing itself is more of an instrument of possibilities than of actualities. As an invention, the line creates constellations that are logically imaginable, and at the same time, override both logic and the laws of nature. The fold multiples the potential constructions of space in one’s mind, as it alternates inversions, interior and exterior spaces, and is therefore the logical continuation of the drawing.
FM The human body and psyche are still the focus of your work. It’s about relationships and communication, as well as isolation and loneliness.
NAM Yes, that’s true. Even in the works that play with shapes—which seem abstract—there are always elements that stand in relation to the human and the drawing. They’re often objects that could serve as spaces, landscapes, plateaus, transferred displays of human emotions, and could therefore seem like part of a narrative. I try to develop images and arrangements via the permeability of human beings and their conditions, their exterior and interior spaces—with a gaze that is observant, selective, catalytic—a gaze that assembles. Often I work with systems in which I collect and order interesting visual fragments of human life in an almost encyclopedic way, and then employ them. I’m interested in the simultaneity of opposites—proximity and distance, permeability and limitations, creation and dissolution. And in the way that these ambivalences are expressed in the human system and determine our relationships. As mechanisms of indecision, alienation, control, manipulation, optimization, which become automatic, branching off into internal labyrinths and chambers.
FM We’ve already talked about the work on the Lenbachplatz. In the book we can see the preliminary drawings or studies, if that’s what you want to call them. How did you develop the motif for the Lenbachplatz?
NAM The drawings in the book are 130 x 130 cm. They’re preliminary images that have been scanned and enlarged without any further digital processing, and then printed on tarps. The motifs created are from two relatively identical drawings that were done as studies from two different standpoints on the Lenbachplatz. They describe visual angles, but also record ephemeral lines that don‘t serve the purpose of orientation. Rather, schematically simplified, they serve the billboard as a projection surface. The drawings were folded and overlaid so that even though the original lines remain, the lines created by the folds put them into a new order. They are organized in reference to their original function of show-ing real space differently, and they comprise the start-ing point for the large drawings, which are legible as both abstract images and potential spatial concepts. So they’re the result of a three-level process of translation.
FM Something that’s also relatively new are the framed drawings, which conquer the space, so to speak, as threedimensional sculptures. For the viewers that move around them, new perspectives of the same work always arise!
NAM You mean the piece Possible Sculptures for a Life Somehow Distracted … These objects, as we can call them, have the ability to constantly question how they are supposed to be perceived. In the way that they’re layered over each other, they’re also installations or landscapes. As individual objects they recall box dioramas or stages that use mirrors to simultaneously include their surroundings and viewers themselves as additional distractions. Here, they also refer back to themselves; together, the viewer and the space form a setting in which they communicate with each other, even though they’re actually dealing with themselves individually. They’re seen as unsettling, constantly distracting units, which, despite their stillness, avoid being fixed by the eye. In this analogous way they’re supposed to reflect a feeling of latent harassment and disquiet, which is part of an internalized sense of distraction formed from and nurtured by the multiplication and disintegration of the self in the simultaneous management of various lives.
FM Yet another way of developing these motifs is through the box-like settings, which are presented on tables. To me, they’re a mixture of drawing and installation, which, however, want to be “read” like a text or fragments of text.
NAM I like the image of texts or text fragments. In the installation Inselgruppe bei Kunstlicht (Island group by artificial light), four plates of glass, each around 200 x 100 cm, four trestles and a few roof battens form a kind of display case, inside of which the folded drawing-objects “float,” so to speak. They’re illuminated above and below by lamps, and are in a rhythmic formation, yet, despite their overall arrangement, they remain isolated. They show narrative fragments—settings, whose motif structure is also partly found in other drawings, albeit without carrying on any of the narrative threads. It seems to me that it’s idiosyncratic of me, or impossible for me tell a linear story. So I create relationships between momentary dialectic constellations of different narrative details or fragments, which can take on another form in the next moment.
FM In the last chapters of the book you show the “classic” drawings you’ve done by hand. I realized that there is something fragmentary, even deliberately incomplete about them, as if they contained something like “empty spots”…
NAM The works at the end of the book are actors, units, elements of motifs, and instruments that I employ to set up my experiments on people and life. They’re points of attachment for images and meanings, and their semantics can be expanded through combinations. They feature fragments of a visual language, whose overall order, narrative, and vocabulary are in a state of constant change.
FM Then they really comprise something like a little manifesto by Nina Annabelle Märkl, and doesn’t that actually make them the most important pages in the whole book? We’ve known each other now for a long time and I admire you for your unusual sincerity and your enormous commitment to art. Yes, indeed, I believe it could be called a mini-manifesto, a programmatic agenda.
NAM Perhaps that’s so. As far as their creation is concerned, the little drawings are the most direct, the most intuitive, and the most spontaneous. They’re not yet in the state of being too detailed, not yet embedded in a context. Instead, they stand for themselves alone—open to many possibilities, but for all that, the freest.
FM Your works always stand at the intersection between figuration and abstraction, and therefore also in between objectivity and subjectivity, between what is seen and imagined, and hence, between reality and the virtual.
NAM Yes, exactly. And these areas are so interwoven that one can no longer see the seams between apparently exclusive states; rather, one senses that they are permeable, so that one has to look at them very carefully. I have the feeling that I’m living in a time of permanent permeability—of identities, perceptions, information, reality(ies), and virtuality(ies)—in a in time of simultaneously valid multiplicities, which one also actively experiences as such via the huge amount of available information; in a time in which one tends to move through in-between spaces rather than find oneself located in them.
I’d like to convey this sense of the world in changeable, moving/still constellations—in a medium that supports both the slow process of exploration, as well as the radicalism of the decision, particularly in the in the ink drawings. The line in the drawing cannot be repeated or corrected. In its clarity, however, it can be an instrument through which one can observe what is undefined, without dogmatically forcing it to take on shape.
FM What do you plan to do next, conceptually, artistically? Doesn’t one ever get to a point when one says, now I’ve “tested” everything, now I have to make something completely new and different?
NAM On the contrary, the opposite tends to be true … everything I do shows me, above all, where the empty spaces and white spots lie … What, in particular, interests me about that? I’d like to do more site-specific work, both indoors and outdoors. I’d like to develop works that change a place and vice-versa, and in a format that actually involves a person as a whole in a space, not merely as someone that stands in opposition to space. And I think about relationships and parallels to language, to literature. Last year, when I was staying in New York, there were—besides the further spatial and conceptual developments that were and still are very important to my work— intersections with the field of poetry, which I’d like to build upon some more in dialectic collaborations.