Katharina Sieverding

THE GREAT WHITE WAY GOES BLACK_ IX/77, 1977_colour print, acryl, steel frame_300 x 500 cm_© Katharina Sieverding, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2018

Close-up and total_­­­Katharina Sieverding

Photos: Nick Wagner

Düsseldorf-Pempelfort, February 26, 2018. I have an appointment with Katharina Sieverding today in her showroom, which is located not far from her studio in a classic brick building. The building is used as a depot and presentation area for her works as well as a meeting place for her public relations work. We enter the building together, carefully weaving past the work leaning against the wall and then find ourselves in the beautifully designed staircase. Some of her famous self-portraits can be seen here. The showroom itself embodies what Katharina Sieverding describes as room art. The gigantic large formats awaken an effect like a cinematic canvas and almost suck the viewer into them. The subtitles that are typical of cinema are also present here, not underneath, but right in the middle of the picture.

The complete magic, finally, in the adjoining room, is surrounded by the monumental prints of the work “DIE SONNE UM MITTERNACHT SCHAUEN” (“Look at the Midnight Sun”, 2010 – 2017, which are usually presented as 5m x 5m projections. The motifs of the animated, rotating sun in both bright blue and bright red can be likened to a science fiction film poster.

Katharina Sieverding Ausstellung Kuba

Image 1_Installation view: ARTE Y CAPITAL_Fototeca de Cuba_La Habana, Cuba_November 2017_Links: GLOBAL DESIRE II, 2017_digital print on fleece-backed paper_252 x 356 cm_Rechts: LOOKING AT THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT SDO/NASA (BLUE), 2011_digital print on fleece-backed paper_ 252 x 356 cm_© Katharina Sieverding, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2018_Foto : © Klaus Mettig, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2018_Image 2_Installation view: ARTE Y CAPITAL_Fototeca de Cuba_La Habana, Cuba_November 2017_Links: LOOKING AT THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT SDO/NASA (RED), 2011_digital print on fleece-backed paper_252 x 356 cm_Rechts: KONTINENTALKERN VI, 1987_digital print on fleece-backed paper_252 x 356 cm_© Katharina Sieverding, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2018_Foto : © Klaus Mettig, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2018

The spectrum of topics in which Katharina Sieverding’s works move seems endless. The same goes for looking at what is possible with the medium of photography. Her most recent international solo exhibition took her to Cuba, where, on the occasion of the NOVIEMBRE FOTOGRÁFICO 2017, an overview of her serial photographic works from 1980 to the present day was presented in Havana at Fototeca de Cuba. Served hot tea, we begin our conversation and start from there thematically.

Katharina Sieverding und Elke Backes

The photo festival programme lasted a longer period of time, which is why you were in Cuba for several weeks. During a visit like this, do you keep your camera with you and are you developing ideas for new work?

“I always have a camera with me. Usually I won’t know until later whether something develops from the photographic material. Generally, staying at an exhibition for longer creates the best working conditions for me. I particularly appreciate the discussions with local artists. By talking about their own situations, I learn a lot about the political and cultural conditions behind the scenes.”

Do you already have a concrete idea of what could arise from the pool of Cuba pictures?

“Yes. The idea is related to Manifesta 12 Palermo, to which I am invited as a participant. Palermo is this year’s host as the Capital of Culture in 2018. When I was invited to this, I became aware of amazing parallels between the cities of Havana and Palermo. For example, both are marked by the decline of the historic old towns and are burdened by corruption and refugee problems. I would like to express such contexts, which I will research even more intensively, by means of the assembly and multi-layer processes of images. Similar to the examples from GLOBAL DESIRE.

Katharina Sieverding Global Desire I

GLOBAL DESIRE I, 2017_colour print, acryl, steel frame_260 x 375 cm_© Katharina Sieverding, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2018_Image: © Klaus Mettig, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2018

In this work of the series, the silhouettes of Kim Jong-un and his functionaries are to be seen in the foreground, in the background the large warehouse of the Amazon distribution centre (fulfilment centre) in Phoenix, Arizona. This connects the absolute contrast of consumer political ideologies in one pictorial level.

You consistently focus on what happens economically and culturally on a national and global level in your entire work of art. The blunt statements that you make mean you are always risking running into a lack of understanding. Does that bother you?

“Sometimes I even like it when a work is slammed. If that was always happening, I wouldn’t like it of course (laughs). I realised very early on in my time at the theatre how persevering resistance can be endured [Katharina Sieverding studied stage design from 1964 to 1967 with Teo Otto]. The mostly unusually innovative and therefore time-consuming productions often overburdened the classical subscription audience and provoked the angriest protests. But knowing a good performance had been offered, you could endure the flying eggs, tomatoes, and I don’t know what else… All in all, I was very much influenced by my time at the theatre. An on-stage, life-size, team production that fascinated and shaped me and was reflected in my work as a prerequisite.”

Especially in your self-portraits, which, in addition to political statements, play an important role in your artistic career. In addition to your enthusiasm for the stage, were you also enthusiastic about the close-up of the cinema?

Katharina Sieverding TRANSFORMER

TRANSFORMER, 1973/1974 Installation view: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2008_analoge 8-Kanal-Diaprojektion_© Katharina Sieverding, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2018_Image: © Ian Reeves

“Yes, exactly. The suggestion of the close-up had a wow effect on me. On the one hand it was the basically suggestive cinema production, which I made an experiment for the format question, and on the other hand the very strong surface aesthetics, which challenged me with the question of how this surface can be used to visualise something about the inside of the human being. And I tried to answer this question by means of various experiments with self-portraits.

A daring experiment for a female artist in the 1970s.

“Indeed. Female artists, especially those who worked in the genre of painting, received little recognition. It was the domain of male geniuses. The fact that I then worked on and installed large-format self-portraits, photography, film, and performance was a feminist strategy. I couldn’t express “the female artist is present” more clearly…. a deconstruction of the genius term.”

Do you see yourself as a feminist?

“I am not interested in difference-based feminism, with its “this is a man and this is a woman”. I could not even imagine an emancipation of femininity from or without men. By emancipation I mean that you have to deal critically with yourself and your environment and develop your own attitude. This is the only way for us to deal with the complex responsibility for an image of humanity that our special analogue-digital turn of time brings with it, or rather challenges it”.

Would it be possible to transfer the development of your major topics to this statement? The self-portraits as an experimental field in search of your own identity and the political works as an experimental field to develop your own position within global socio-political structures?

“You certainly can. It is always about the reflection of subjectivity and objectivity. Like me, my subject areas have of course also changed. However, the critical handling of images and information remains the focus of my work, which has become more important than ever in the age of digitalisation.”

“In addition to scientific research on your respective topics, such a critical approach also includes literally dissecting images and text material published in the media. Using manual disassembly, you check the visual surface for patterns of instrumentalisation and manipulation, select the material, and reassemble it using a wide variety of assembly techniques. Does this result in a kind of new thesis?”

“I prefer to call it an artistic statement because, unlike scientific research, my theses do not have to be legitimised by theories, which is an enormous privilege of this profession. One of the few professional spaces of meaning in which you can decide independently of the market and express yourself artistically”.

Katharina Sieverding und Elke Backes

Probably an enviable idea for some scientists… Your all-encompassing interest also includes interest in the work of the next generation of artists. You can often be found as a visitor at exhibition openings, you are involved in questions of teaching, and you are involved in a wide variety of topics on podium discussions. In my experience, it is quite unusual for artists to not only visit their own exhibition openings….

“That surprises me too. Especially here at the Düsseldorf State Art Academy location, I am of course interested in the works of the young artists and, above all, the exchange with them. This has always been an essential part of my own teaching. The focus has always been on the discourse of the students’ work, not on my own.”

[Katharina Sieverding taught in the 1970s in the USA and Canada, 13 years at the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou (China), was a member of the University Council of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and taught at the Graduate School of the University of the Arts in Berlin, where she also founded the Chair of Visual Culture from 1992 to 2010, in team coaching with Sabeth Buchmann, Katja Diefenbach, Klaus Biesenbach, Frank Bartsch, and Bodo Schlack.]

Keyword commitment in Düsseldorf. You are participating in the project by Markus Ambach. It is called “Von fremden Ländern in eigenen Städten’ and is a major project in the public space. What do you have planned for this?”

“This will be the biggest work of my career to date. Over an area of 200 metres in length and 4 metres in height, I will design an image frieze with statements for the façade of the Alte Paketpost at the main station for an expected period of 1 year, where the Schauspielhaus is currently located.”

An artistic examination of an explosive cultural-political topic of the city of Düsseldorf. Does your interdisciplinary spirit of research allow you to take a little break?

“I am a high performance student, working 24 hours a day,” says Katharina Sieverding laughing at the end.

More Information

… about NOVIEMBRE FOTOGRÁFICO 2017: fotofestival-de-habana-katharina-sieverding

… about Manifesta Palermo: https://manifesta.org/biennials/manifesta-12/

… about the project “von fremden Ländern in eigenen Städten”: http://vonfremdenlaendern.de