19 Mar Jonathan Meese
Photos: Sarah Schovenberg
Berlin, February 3, 2017: I only vaguely recognize the buildings of the disused water pumping station of Prenzlauer Berg. I am intensely busy trying to hypnotize the intercom after I – having taken a deep breath – pressed the doorbell. A cheerful, “Hello. Come in! “, lets me breathe out again. The door is opened electrically. Only now do I notice the beautiful neoclassical brick facades of the industrial buildings, the cast-iron, the factory window divided in rungs and the slender tower, which reaches for the heavens. But where to now, I ask myself, feeling a little lost. A door opens and there he is. Jonathan Meese in his well-known uniform: black trousers, black Adidas track jacket. Meese, the – according to the general portrayal in the press – “enfant terrible of the art world” or even the “scandal artist”. At the moment, there is no sign of it, though. We are warmly welcomed and invited inside.
We get to know Stephan, one of his assistants. Stephan is now working with the finest brush in the frame of a large-scale painting, which is being prepared for one of the next exhibitions. In concrete terms, it is for the exhibition in celebration of Hans-Platschek-award on art KARLSRUHE or for those in Carré Sainte-Anne, a desecrated church in Montpellier. Overall, the room looks like the professional warehouse of a museum. Horizontal and vertical storage racks organize the numerous paintings that will evidently be sent away shortly. We go further into the huge hall of the studio, which radiates classical loft flair.
I do not know where to look first… The art works are placed leaning against the wall from where they attract me magically. The brand new art works. Here, there are also mainly large formats. They scream their presence to me in a colourful, loud and funny, cruel and fierce manner. In front of them, on the ground, new untouched canvases lie, ready for their first colour-shower, which will soon be sprayed on them. Meese explains that he always works on the ground. A first layer of paint, which, depending on the mood, is poured, painted, smudged or smeared, often determines further action. “Through the drying process, a new independent life-form develops. Figures or shapes come to life that are not predictable and inspire me to new figures. ” It makes perfect sense. I lose myself by just searching for things that flow into my memory at the mere sight of the pictures. I see fish, science fiction characters, a mother of God, toothpaste strips…
I also find the title mesmerizing: DON BULLETIN, PARSIFALL’S SÜSSIGKEITINS, KLINGSOR’S, … Should one still ask about the meaning here? Everything seems surreal and weird. The quirky little things that can be discovered everywhere are also very thrilling. For example, the “dancing mop”, which Meese excitedly shows off after he noticed my interest. “I just collect EVERYTHING. That gives me a lot of pleasure. Collecting without reason. Whether it will eventually be used, is uncertain and also unimportant. Just because of my collection mania, I need a lot of space,” he says, referring to the total storage area of the pumping station, which we will get to see shortly.
My eyes continues to wander through the room. Crammed bookshelves can be seen, with colourful materials in an almost infinite variety … However, in spite of all the frenzy and absurd trash, it is noticeable that the studio space itself is organized, orderly, and almost too clean. The colour tubes that are currently not used, lie on the shelf, labeled and sorted; the other colours are placed on tables and pallets for use, depending on the material. “How does this contradiction fit together?”, I ask myself. “My mother is responsible for that. She keeps the store under control, monitors the inventory, organizes my ever-growing collections, and she is in the studio every day … “, Meese says proudly about his 86-year-old mother, who plays a central role in his life. We are made aware of the orderliness of Brigitte Meese throughout the tour. Her notes are everywhere. While in the studio, we see another note saying: “We have too much white”, a stern reference to the surplus stock; the notes are attached to boxes in the storage shelves of the adjacent room where the ordering diagram of the collection depots is portrayed. “Dolls and animal dolls”, “stuffed animals and sea creatures”, “Barbie toys”, “little dolls” or simply “bits and pieces” are some of the notes that can be seen; the list reminds of the storage area of a toy shop.
But that is not all. We walk down the iron staircase and end up in the underground passages of the former pumping station. It’s like a tour of a technological museum. Passing ancient machines, we finally arrive at a monstrous cooling container that looks like a cross between an old steam locomotive and Captain Nemo’s submarine. I got the impression that this is the ideal setting for a film set; this impression gains momentum when we enter into the former engine room, which now serves as a storage space. Packaged art, framed with iron-like pumping equipment material, shimmering mysteriously in the light of a nostalgic lamp (s. Photo title). The setting is complemented – how else? – by other oddities. From there, a passageway leads to a type of White-Cube, which are drawn into the bigger room by lightweight construction walls. Here, huge paintings are displayed as well. Masks lie on the ground. “They’ve just been completed,” explains Jonathan Meese. “These masks are for Parsifal. Here, we also experiment with stage design.” More to follow soon on Parsifal. I explore the material by gently stroking across the surface of the masks. “This is all about making paper, which, while still wet, I have stretched over preshaped wire racks. It is easy and really lends itself well to painting, ” says Meese, evidently excited about the outcome.
Image 1: … on the submarine – Image 2: allicance with Bambi – Image 3: The Parsifal masks
Almost dizzy from these various impressions, we move back the studio, where we now sit down together to talk. What is his art about? What is his core message? We do not talk about the imagery. His handwriting is always clearly recognizable. So, I simply ask: “What’s it about?” “I would like to play. Nothing more”, was the surprising answer. Play? Jonathan Meese, universally regarded as aggressive and radical, wants to play? “In other words: I don’t want anything to be dictated to me; I just want to start painting, crafting and performing. Without a script, without guidance. That is, after all, what makes visual art. Its Freedom! Its claim to have NO message, apart from daring to be free.” “Throughout our lives, we are brought up to adapt, to submit ourselves to predetermined ideologies, we are progressively bent out of shape and lose our natural playfulness and spontaneity. I am sorry, but I will not accept that. I remain a child at heart. And when somebody wants to take that away from me, I become aggressive”, says Meese. I catch myself, trying to decipher if he is just “performing” or whether it is real.
“For example, when I had to direct at the Volksbühne, not only myself but also a team of actors on stage, I found it natural that every individual had to act their role out freely – without a script! The big surprise for me was to see that it was no longer possible for individual actors to perform without a script. Not possible anymore, because they were already bent out of shape too much. In this way, the system had failed miserably”, Meese comments on his position on the freedom of art. It’s true! I just think about the art classes at school, which I hated. By comparing the pictures painted by my children, I notice that in those pictures from the kindergarten phase, there are significantly more expression than in those that were completed in the secondary school. As I express my thoughts, I get vociferous encouragement:” Exactly. Awful! I was really bad with art at school. That’s what I mean. Playing and being crazy are being suppressed and it goes to waste. And what happens then? People become frustrated, angry, indifferent and follow strange Ideologies, which are not their own any more. It’s been like that for the entire history of mankind. But everything outlives itself. Nothing is permanent. No political school of thought, no religion. There is only one exception: Art. Is has existed since the beginning of humanity and will survive as long as there are people. Because it quite simply deals with the human condition. And that is why I’m asking for the exclusive Dictatorship of Art! ”
Hm. I’m slowly starting to understand what Meese’s manifestos is all about. In the “Erzneuesten Gesellschaftsordnung Kunst [The latest Art in Society]” of June 2, 2012 contains statements such as the following: “Only the dictatorship of art ensures a future”, “Only art is without ideology”, “Art guarantees the most radical life and is not based on over-the-top fanaticism at all”. The statements are becoming tangible for me as a kind of social utopia, while losing its fanatical nature.
“How is this related the thematisation of German mythology, the Hitler salute, the frequent use of the prefix ‘Erz’-, the radical-looking typography or generally with the twist of words in the titles of your work”, I ask curiously. “Words and characters are always justified in their meaning from the past. I don’t understand it. I hate this eternal looking-back into the past. We also need to look to the future. The view into the future directs us to be open and free. With the satirical approach towards words and characters of the past, I simply abort these newly imprinted and glorified ideas. It is my way of breaking with the past, while having fun and playing. That’s great! “, Meese says belligerently as he radiates.
But now to Parsifal. After Bayreuth did not materialize, Parsifal, however, will take place, directed by Jonathan Meese. In Vienna, during the Festivals. In a press release it states that “The German artist will direct the premiere of a new interpretation of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal by the Austrian composer Bernhard Lang – a project that will trans-locate the Wagnerian myth into a distant revolutionary year of the future: ‘MONDPARSIFAL ALPHA 1-8 (ERZMUTTERZ THE ABWEHRZ)’ is a contemporary valuation of the last Wagner opera.” “Does the directing of an opera grant you the artistic freedom that you request? The harmonization of the music alone will greatly limit your ideas and turn it upside down”, I ask cautiously. “Indeed. The risk is there. For me, it is something completely new. I can not yet say how I will cope with it. Time will tell. The fact is that I managed to complete my Parsifal-Mania work in the last two years and I am open for it now. Furthermore, I think that everybody must take on new challenges. I’m just completely overactive and I must live it out”, it emanates passionately out of him.
 Extract from OTS-Originaltext. The content of the press release strictly remains the responsibility of the Broadcasters | NEF0004 of 15 June 2016.
One last question: “Does such a mind switch off at night for a rest? Is there a Jonathan Meese in free time?” “Challenging. But it does happen. I work a lot, exhausting myself in the process and I’m tired at night. For 20 years I’ve been living happily with my girlfriend, [the Icelandic artist Gudny Gudmundsdottir]. My private life is very unspectacular”, concludes the “scandal artist”.
During the photo shoot, which takes place at the end of the conversation, it becomes clear to me: Jonathan Meese did not portray a fictional character this afternoon. He really loves to play, jumping from one corner to another, cramming in the one requisite after the other … his playful mood is simply contagious!
Photo Story “abandoned roles”
His call for a “dictatorship of art” comes to mind again and I end up pondering on it. With the term “dictatorship”, I can’t help but think of a dominant person or group. But if art is free, how can it dominate us? Sounds contradictory, or maybe not? Would it not be a wonderful idea to be dominated by freedom …?
I’m in! ART TO THE FOREFRONT!