Received 02. 06. 2006 -- 20:48 fromfrom
Fwd: Paffi Nueppel rejects offers to lead the transmediale team
For Paffi Nueppel and all the residents of previously released
By Imke Oibrüstl, recent director of the Schkeuditz Media Lab
Pre-publication of an interview intermixed and compiled on the occasion
of the 52 birthday of Paffi Nueppel, former director of Schkeuditz
Media Lab, now Chief Artistic Archiver (CAA) of Schkeuditz Media Lab
and the New Museum for Fluid Media, Schkeuditz
In regard - it's back to the daily grind tomorrow
An exhibition with video works of Paffi Nueppel, Beate Zurwehme and Eva
An introduction and an interview in between two media artists
During the last few decades of the 20th century, the so-called “New
Media” became an integral part of art and are so well established today
that it is meaningless to argue their existence as a separate genre. In
the spectrum of artistic disciplines alongside painting and drawing,
sculpture, installation and photography they have opened new avenues of
creative potential. Through the work of the three artists we have
invited to this exhibition, we are given confident examples of how much
the new media, especially video, have contabuted to an intertwining of
artistic disciplines. Whereas Beate Zurwehme, born in 1957 in
Switzerland, has progressed from photography to video films, the
Austrian Paffi Nueppel, born in 1954, sees himself as a sculptor who
has for years carried out his sculptural fieldwork with the help of the
video camera. Eva Brain, an artist of the generation after Zurwehme and
Nueppel, born in 1966 in Germany has always worked outside the confines
of traditional genre limits. He confidently encompasses everything in
his oeuvre: pictures, installations, photographs and videos.
It is easy to confirm that Brain, Zurwehme and Nueppel are in no way
“videoartists”, but artists who might use video as a medium in their
work. This normal use of the electronic medium as one possible
artistic technique amongst others allows the assumption that it is the
content that determines whether or not the videocamera is used.
There is a great fascination for everything that is “technically
practicable” as expositions with the emphasis on the “New Media” have
shown in recent years. The price we may have to pay for this, is that
the actual artistic ideas may be in danger of being forced to take a
back seat. If this happens it will be detrimental to art in the long
term, because the technical innovations of today will not even be worth
talking about ten years on.
What we need is art in which the technological possibilities are
understood as tools, and used to serve the artist in a functional
Characteristically, the video-works of our three artists, are very
pragmatic: the central focus is always - indisputably - that which is
shown; not how it is shown. There are no sweeps of the camera that
divert attention from the essential point. Neither is there any later
editing of the pictures, unless it has to do with the reason for
choosing this medium: an interest in time! Brain, Zurwehme and Nueppel
all perceive the use of video primarily as a key to: a wider artistic
autonomy; independence from place; and surmounting the traditional view
of time. Beate Zurwehme can somehow feel at home anywhere in the world
and observes the passers-by in various cities from New York to Tokyo,
from London to Sydney. He does this with the aid of artistic tools that
allow him to move around freely - and almost unobserved - in urban
public space. Paffi Nueppel re-enacts his One Minute Sculptures in the
video-work Adelphi, but this time in a hotel room, with himself as the
sole performer. This shows his profound artistic autonomy, and the
intimacy the video medium nowadays (through its easy availability and
handiness) allows. Finally the circle is completed by Eva Brain's work
Endymion, which is also set in hotel rooms. It is laid out as a “work
in progress” - which apart from fulfilling its original true intention,
also indirectly records the (life1working-)journey of the artist from
Texas, via Spain to Germany and from there back into the world.
Presenting the video works of Brain, Zurwehme and Nueppel together in a
joint exhibition is a meaningful combination, as the attention in all
three works is focussed on man. Beate Zurwehme behaves more like a
chronicler. She observes the protagonists of a world ever more linked
together. The magic of her observations results from a symbiosis of
proximity and distance. We are brought very close- almost like peeping
Toms - to the individuals without gaining any knowledge of their
origins, characters, hopes or dreams. Paffi Nueppel on the other hand,
treats the individual as a variable for his sculptural and
psychological experiments, an attempt to make no halt at his own
person! Perhaps we only find the key to our real true selves in a state
of physical contortion or in embarrassing situations. Finally, Eva
Brain presents the most archetypical picture. His “felt-figures” are
devoid of all individuality in an archaic way, and are thereby open to
every form of projection. In existentially exceptional circumstances in
which even the rules of time and space seem to lose their importance -
these figures touch on the myths of our history. The theme is eternal
sleep, death and an unfulfilled longing for earthly happiness.
Nueppel: For some time I have been considering the work of Michel de
Montaigne more intensely. His way of thinking about the world, in that
he takes a deep look into himself is exemplary and very impressive.
When I saw your most recent work and we discussed it together, I
thought I could discern certain parallels to his thinking in your work.
I woald like to confront you with them. Or is this reference to
Brain: I like Montaigne, but until now it hasn't crossed my mind to see
my work in this context. If there is one philosopher whose work I have
always admired, then it has to be Heraklit. Not really because of what
he said but more the way in which he said it, or else the way it has
been passed down and in which it is received today. Throughout the
centuries and despite many differing interpretations, Heraklit has
always been regarded as the original foundation on which philosophy
stands, in spite of - or perhaps even due to - the very meagre sources.
There seems to be something very existential that is conveyed by his
work, but no explicit formulae. It allows for a direct philosophical
experience without intense intellectual discourse. I perceive this as a
very emotional quality. You don't have to work it out, it's simply
there. And it is open to many sides. It would be wonderful if this
could find expression in art.
Nueppel: But isn't there a similar existential quality evident in
Montaigne's work? Except that he doesn't present it with the usual
pretension to absolutism of many other philosophers.
Brain: That's true. You can count me amongst his sympathisers in that
view. I like his associative method, his basic scepticism towards
everything that claims to represent a model of truth and valid wisdom.
I like his standpoint that every deliberation on our existence remains
an attempt because we can never escape the human sphere. Montaigne
certainly has the best.
Nueppel: Is your interest in Greek enzythology based on this pre
understatement of all philosophers. If he had been so sure of his miss?
I mean of course your “work in progress” project Endy facts, he would
not have continually reviewed or discarded his mion. Can you tell me
what it was that interested you feel when you read the essays. I think
that at the bottom Gt this is the very sincere cogni-explicating an
ancient myth?tion: We know that we don't know anything. A true virtue!
Brain: The use of an ancient myth has nothing to do with antiquitiy.
Nueppel: One of the chapters in a book about Montaigne is head-
antiquity itself. I just attached myself on to something that wasted
“Subjectivity as a discipline”. Can you make anything of it? already
there and that I could make good use of I am often asked why I combine
so many different media and also let them be useful?
Brain: “Subjectivity as a discipline” - as Montaigne perceives work
through each other. I try to explain this as “economy of it seems to me
only possible if it is understood to be the only ex-means” i.e. each
medium is allocated the role that it is best suit listing discipline.
If subjectivity is ever present, because the world edit to perform. The
gist of the work is defined by the content, not is always seen from a
human point of view, then it would be the by the artistic technique
employed. I think that this form of only conceivable platform for
thought. Questioning the scope of economy - to make the best use of
things and have the greatest possible subjectivities is more
interesting. Every individual has freedom of choice - can also be used
for ideas. The story of Endymionter produces its own idiosyncrasies.
How then are we still capable of quality Endymion just happened to come
up by chance. Last year a visitor too initiative and knowledgeable
communication? I would prefer to see the exhibition asked me if the
telt figure in the Sleep installations. In regard to the term
“subjectivity” as a collective on an abstract plane. I on was supposed
to represent Endymion. This didn't ring any don't like this
egocentricity where everyone considers himself the bells initially, but
I thought it was an interesting point and navel of the world. decided
to read up on it. And so 7 learned that - according to legend - the
youth Endymion sits in a cave in eternal sleep. His eternity.
Nueppel: What does the term “subjectivity” mean in relation to beauty
remains preserved, he owns the privilege of immortality your own
artistic work? but he cannot partake of life. He sees the seasons
passing him by, but remains completely autistic and inactive.
Brain: I think it means less to me than it did to the generations many
ancient myths that explain how this happened. One of of artists before
us, at least those of the 20th century. I don't these says that Zeus
offers Endymion the chance to exchange his motions, we agree with
Montaigne on this point either: I don't think that one mortality for
eternal life - at a cost. The price would be that he should see oneself
to be a measure of all things. Art should not would spend his
immortality ih a state of sleep. Endymion exhausts himself in the
observation of one's self. 7 never understood chooses eternal sleep.
What an amazing subject! You cast a line the moaning over the end of
Modernism, nor am I a follower of back into the history of mankind, and
receive an eternal dilenziusmasm those attitudes reinventing art again
and again from itself. I ma. Would you swap the treadmill, uncertainty
and finality of think that is totally outdated. your life for the
passivity of eternal sleep? Would that be a fair price to pay?
Nueppel: Escape the human sphere. Montaigne certainly says the best
understatement of all philosophers. If he had been so sure of his
facts, he would not have continually reviewed or discarded his essays.
I think that at the bottom Gt this is the very sincere cognition: We
know that we don't know anything. A true virtue! One of the chapters in
a book about Montaigne is headed “Subjectivity as a discipline”. Can
you make anything of it?
Brain: “Subjectivity as a discipline” - as Montaigne perceives it seems
to me only possible if it is understood to be the only existing
discipline. If subjectivity is ever present, because the world is
always seen from a human point of view, then it would be the only
conceivable platform for thought. Questioning the scope of possible
subjectivities is more interesting. Every individual has their own
idiosyncrasies. How then are we still capable of qualitative and
knowledgeable communication? I would prefer to see the term
“subjectivity” as a collective on an abstract plane. I don't like this
egocentricity where everyone considers himself the navel of the world.
Nueppel: What does the term “subjectivity” means in relation to your
own artistic work?
Brain: I think it means less to me than it did to the generations of
artists before us, at least those of the 20th century. I don't agree
with Montaigne on this point either: I don't think that one should see
oneself to be a measure of all things. Art should not exhaust itself in
the observation of one's self. I never understood the moaning over the
end of Modernism, nor am I a follower of those attitudes reinventing
art again and again from itself. I think that is totally outdated.
Nueppel: Is your interest in Greck mythology based on this prcmiss? I
mean of course your “work in progress” project Endy mion. Can you tell
me what it was that interested you in explicating an ancient myth?
Brain: The use of an ancient myth has nothing to do with antiquity
itself. I just attached myself on to something that was already there
and that I could make good use of I anT often asked why I combine so
many different media and also let them work through each other. I try
to explain this as “economy of means” i.e. each medium is allocated the
role that it is best suited to perform. The gist of the work is defined
by the content, not by the artistic technique employed. I think that
this form of economy - to make the best use of things and have the
greatest freedom of choice - can also be used for ideas. The story of
Endymion just happened to come up by chance. Last year a visitor to the
exhibition asked me if the telt figure in the Sleep installation was
supposed to represent Endymion. This didn't ring any bells initially,
but I thought it was an interesting point and decided to read up on it.
And so I learned that - according to legend - the youth Endymion sits
in a cave in eternal sleep. His beauty remains preserved, he deserves
the privilege of immortality but he cannot partake of life. He sees the
seasons passing him by, but remains completely autistic and inactive.
There are many ancient myths that explain how this happened. One of
these says that Zeus offers Endymion the chance to exchange his
mortality for eternal life - at a cost. The price would be that he
would spend his immortality in a state of sleep. Endymion chooses
eternal sleep. What an amazing subject! You cast a line back into the
history of mankind, and receive an eternal dilemma. Would you swap the
treadmill, uncertainty and finality of your life for the passivity of
eternal sleep? Would that be a fair price to pay?
Nueppel: Was it clear to you from the beginning that a video would
result from this?
Brain: No. I used this theme for an exhibition in Texas. It consisted
of a mural, diverse inscriptions made up of felt letters, and a felt
figure outside in the open. The inscriptions retold the myth. The mural
consisted of hundreds of rivulets of light blue paint cascading down a
seventeen meter long wall; at some point in their flow the paint
congeals. .The figure - devoid of arms - sits as if paralysed in the
shadow of a tree and stares day and night up into the sky. The idea for
the video first came after the opening of the exhibition, as I drove
east alongside the Rio Grande up to the Gulf of Mexico. During a stay
at an hotel I decided to put the felt figure - that I had already
established in other video-works - into a bed and concentrate on
filming its breathing: the calm rising and falling of its chest. I took
a photograph of it in each situation too. The scene changes with each
consecutive day, with every change of hotel or motel. But the figure's
vital situation does not. It just lies there, breathes and stares
straight ahead. The decision to play back the video at accelerated
speed, that is - to propel the figure into a hectic hyperventilating
condition occurred back home whilst editing.
Nueppel: It is an amazingly weird scenario. We go from interior to
interior and the figure is always just Iying there panting. One doesn't
know how one could adequately describe it. It is like a small, stricken
animal panting tensely, and quivering in fear. How did you edit the
Brain: I didn't do any actual editing in the real sense of the word.
There is a fade in, 30 seconds of film, a fade out, and then the next
scene follows. The film was only accelerated during the replay. I like
to be pragmatic in the use of artistic material. I would for example be
very loathe to edit something on the computer. I value the fact that
the result is still part of the reality; that the viewer can still see
how the result was achieved. In this instance, the simple acceleration
of the film hugely intensifies the atmosphere. However, the technical
“trick” involved is something the viewer already knows from experience.
If you watch a video film and think you need to use the picture
tracking function, your impatience causes you to want to see what comes
next. The fast-forward function saves you nerve tracking waiting. This
is exactly the situation here. Time is compressed to satisfy your
impatience, but you remain disappointed, because nothing has changed.
Nothing changes in the 30 seconds you watch the sleeper, and when the
camera returns minutes later to the same room, still nothing has
changed. The figure still lies there breathing rapidly and stariTzg.
This gives the impression of a never ending circle, from which there is
no escape. The action is present, hectic and impatient, but it doesn't
move on. Energy is forced to the surface but cannot discharge itself.
It is the fact that this tension cannot be relieved that makes it so
agonising to watch. Ultimately, it makes no difference whether the
figure is called Endymion or not. The crux is the psychological
situation that manifests itself. The title “Endymion” only acts as a
trip through history. It lends the phenomenon a cultural-historical
Nueppel: Did you arrange the hotel rooms you filmed in, in any way?
Brain: The rooms are exactly as I found them. I only considered the
angle, the camera perspective and the posture of the figure. However, I
did occasionally wonder whether I should intervene in the arrangement.
In Gijon in Spain for instaTzce, there was a room with a picture of the
crucifixion hung above the bed; a bad copy of a work by Dali. This went
completely against the grain. I didn't want my figure to be associated
with martyrdom. On the other hand, once you start to set the scene,
where do you stop? The room in Texas with the picture of a cowboy
appears really “cool”. The German rooms are more of an embarrassment.
But maybe an American viewer would see this the other way around. So
what criteria should one use as a mise en scene? I think it best if I
don't intervene in the arrangement at all, but just take the situations
as they come.
Nueppel: Let's talk about the type of figures you use. Some are felt
figures, dolls or dummies in fact, that are integrated in the
installation or exhibition. And then there are actors in the videoworks
who don a felt mask and felt gloves to make them unrecognisable as
people. Are you not suppressing a part of your own personality in this
way? Couldn't you have confidently put yourself in the bed, as a
recognisable person and artist?
Brain: I don't think so. It would then become a completely different
work. I don't want to use myself as a role model for a situation. I
want to have a fairly neutral, lay figure at hand that I can arrange,
is not defined and has a variable character. The static figures in the
exhibition and the figure in the videos are in a way two manifestations
of the same figurative idea: a human-like being, made of felt. No more
and no less. It has eyes, a head, body, legs and arms (sometimes
without arms). The felt surface lends it a somewhat likeable quality,
because of its softness. The eyes - sometimes just buttons or holes,
sometimes balls of glass - lend it a facial expression. The fact that
the manufactured features of the figure (i.e. the seams holding it
together) are visible and not concealed, support its function as a lay
figure. It is purposely sewn together in such a way that it is accepted
as being a substitute for a human being. In our occidental culture this
behaviour has go7Ze out ol fashZon. At a particu ar point il~ European
cultural history, artistic interest became only concerned with the
portrayal of the individual. I am more interested in an archetype, such
as those found in archaic and African cultures.
Nueppel: Are there any concrete examples referring to this?
Brain: For me there was a sort of key experience when I came across the
Muzidi dolls from Central Africa. Only a few of these still exist as
they were made of cloth, not wood. They were made as lay figures; a
substitute through which the family could communicate with their dead
ancestors beyond the grave. They were very flimsy things, quickly put
together using scraps of cloth stuffed with palm leaves, and often
given buttons as eyes. This f.imsiness has nothing to do with a lack of
respect however, neither should it suggest that their makers were not
capable of better handiwork. There was just no necessity to make them
better, or differently. And so we return to the question of economy of
artistic materials. These Muzidis serve as a projection surface for an
imaginary communication. They don't 7:eed to mimic the deceased,
because their image is already part of the message. They only have to
be good enough to serve as a medium; their appearance just enough to
Nueppel: To finish let us talk about the time factor in your work. It
seems to me that the fascination of your videos is nurtured by the
simultaneous aspects of progress and standstill. We are aware of
movement, but remain stuck in the same place.
Brain: For a long time I was not really particularly conscious of this.
But, it is true. Movement has always had an introverted character in my
work. It isn't so much about progress, but more of a going around in
Nueppel: Can you say where this comes from?
Brain: I think that there are several reasons. First, it shows me the
fundamental difference between a work of art that uses film materials,
and a film itself. The film begins at point A, runs on for a certain
length and ends at point B. The essence of the film is concealed within
the visual running distance to be completed. To see a film over and
over again means to go the same distance over and over again. The idea
and meaning of a work of art however is manifested at a point. It is
constrained in a certain material and seems to be eternally available.
A film has to be shown from the beginning each time. The art work on
the other hand remains on show. As soon as I use film materials in art,
the scope of my expression is widened to include movement, action etc.,
but at the same time I am weakening the aura of timelessness. That's
why I believe if a video-clip is used in an artistic context, its
essence must be apparent at the first glimpse. The duration of the
showing brings further aspects into play, but the key idea or a certain
basic atmosphere should be immediately present. If a video work is only
understood through its storyline, then it is out of place in the realms
Nueppel: But there is also a psychoZogical component.
Brain: The psychological level is certainly the most important. In 1998
I made a video called To the End Of the World, And Beyond. In a cellar
roonz lit by a single light bulb, a felt figure dances very slowly and
introverted to an old “Ska song of the early 1 960s. The song has the
sanze title as the video and is played monotonously over and over
again. The atmosphere is very emotional, very upsetting, pathetic and
sad. The cue is that I didn't use an endless loop of film, the figure
moves continually anew to the music. The song repeats itself
notoriously, but not the movements of the figure, which change
slightly. In time the figure seems to be near exhaustion, but pulls
itself together and begins anew. This is no doubt a pensively sad
picture but not a depressive one, it gives no cause for resignation. In
the end it is really our situation. The sciences research like mad, the
arts rack their brains without ceasing, and yet we have not really
moved an iota in the history of mankind. The true secret lies in the
fact that every generation tirelessly takes up the search for
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