"Multiple Identities and Sexes"
An Interview with Jürgen Klauke
In the late sixties, Jürgen Klauke placed his own body at the center of his photographic work, and in doing so he radically called conventional gender roles into question. Later, he went on to make minimalist and surreal experiments that investigated the basic conditions of human existence. The directness and immediacy of his early series in particular have a new relevance for a young, performanced-oriented generation of artists. The ZKM in Karlsruhe now dedicates a major exhibition to Jürgen Klauke, many of whose works are part of the Deutsche Bank Collection. Achim Drucks interviewed the artist, who lives in Cologne, for ArtMag.
||Achim Drucks: The works you're best known for are the staged photo pieces. Your new exhibition Ästhetische Paranoia (Aesthetic Paranoia) at the ZKM also, however, includes straight images from the slaughterhouse. What fascinated you about this location?
Jürgen Klauke: It was a project I was carrying around with me for a long time, similar to the Prosecuritas project of 1987/88-I'd always thought I should use the baggage chutes at airports for myself and my visual world. The scans of the inside. - And then at some point it's time. In the case of the slaughterhouse, the process took a long time as well, until I arranged for admittance and quickly developed an interest in the life inside. Bodily secretions like blood, shit, also innards aroused my interest-another form of scanning, another form of inner life-the remains.
Your new series "Schlachtfelder"(Battlefields) based on these images is presented as a 16-meter-long tableau comprised of 144 color photographs. What made you decide on this monumental format?
The "16 meters" consists of 12 tableaus that also work individually or as duos, above or next to one another. In the exhibition arrangement at the ZKM, I work with a broad perspective, such that the monumental wall can be seen beyond the atriums, while the dramaturgy of the whole unfolds when the viewer is actually standing in front of it. On the other hand, these somewhat bloody visuals, this other type of aesthetic is meant to jut into the large black and white show like a wedge or an injection.
The work makes one think of death and transience, while the title "Battlefields" refers directly to war. To what extent are you reacting to current events such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Daily politics is not my thing. There are allusions to death and transience, while the title Battlefields allows the viewer to think of connotations that go beyond that. I photographed the stomachs, which play a key role along with the blood, from an angle that makes them resemble human heads. To me, the crop of the image makes them seem as though they were lying in state. As alien as the works might seem at first glance, it makes complete sense in terms of my experimental thinking and actions.
"Ästhetische Paranoia" is the title of your exhibition at the ZKM and of one of your recent photo series. How would you define aesthetic paranoia?
I could say, like Beckett, "I don't know what it is-BUT IT IS SOMETHING." For me, the titles are always a part of the work. Aesthetic paranoia is the work with the long hair that covers me, glides over the bed, and flows through the room to the edge of the picture. It's a melancholy work about a person alone in a room. The image is not an illustration of the title, but the sound of it offers another possibility to approach the work and to comprehend it.
Your series Transformer not only calls the self-stagings of Pierre Molinier to mind, but also the androgynous look of the time among artists like Brian Eno or David Bowie. What role did the pop culture of the time play in your work, or the films of Praunheim and Schröter?
I also cultivated the androgynous look in my everyday life, even though works like Selfperformance and the Transformer series go beyond this game with the appropriation of the feminine. My body as a projection surface of multiple identities and sexes is introduced into art. Back in my first journal of 1969/70, Ich & Ich (I & I), fundamental drawing elements were established towards this transformation, while the first staged images such as Selbst (Self), Boddys etc. can be seen in the photographic part. All in all, it was about breaking with limited, traditional notions. But this wasn't limited to sexual typologies; social phenomena were also deconstructed, such as in Das Menschliche Antlitz im Spiegel Soziologisch-nervöser Prozesse (The Human Face in the Mirror of Sociologically Nervous Processes). Bataille, Molinier, and Bellmer were much nearer to me in their depth than pop culture was.
In the series "Transformer" from 1970-75, the same time as the women's and gay movements were just starting out, you placed your body at the center of your photographs and radically called the classic image of men and male roles into question. How important were these emancipatory and political aspects to your work?
It basically came right out of me-coupled with an experimental life and a high degree of pleasure. It was a time in which art and life entered into a positive and happy alliance. The reflex, the intellectual investigation of the self shows in these works, and of course they're political-even in such a distant, ironic way that for instance parts of the women's movement took a work from the group titled Formalisierung der Langeweile (The Formalization of Boredom)-Das ewig männliche - als ewig langweiliges (The Eternally Male as Eternally Boring)- as an occasion to accuse me of misogyny. In the early '70s, there wasn't much in the way of a broad gay movement. The more offensive ones were part of a mixed dynamic subculture in which each of us operated according to his own inclinations.
What were your formal concerns in the "Transformer" series?
I was interested in confronting the all-prevailing panel painting with other possibilities. I made sequences, tableaus, essays, large formats, etc., and my body as the object of the image, as body art, established itself in recent art history. (Peter Weibel writes of the "Anagrammatic Body"). This representation of the self and the world become objectified in the medium of staged photography.
If you look at these photographs today, they still possess a high degree of provocative potential. How did the public react to your images in the seventies?
More negatively than anything else. But it seemed to me that women were more receptive. Yet people became polarized, even within the sciences. It was clear to me that these works would not lead to a peaceful consensus-they were discussed and exerted an effect. They still do.
Why did you investigate the theme of transformation at the time in the form of photo series, but not in the media of performance or video? Transformation is a process that can be "documented" in these media-I'm thinking of films like Flaming Creatures by Jack Smith.
>From 1970 to around 1974 I concentrated on identity, sexuality, and the Transformer pieces. At the time, video didn't really matter to me. I did my first performance in 1975 at the Galerie Stichting De Appel in Amsterdam, which investigated identity in the broadest sense. Then the work was done, and my thinking went further to focus on other themes of human existence and its abysses, such as in Schussfolge/Schlussfolge, Viva Espana, and Das Menschliche Antlitz... etc. I got to know Jack Smith in 1978. He did the dishes at my home, which necessarily led to a successful performance.
After your series Dr. Müllers Sex Shop oder so stell ich mir die Liebe vor (Dr. Müller's Sex Shop or How I Imagine Love) (1977), your work seems to enter a new phase. "The Formalization of Boredom" (1980/81) stands out due to a kind of coolness or placid quality. The black and white images seem more distanced, more staged. How did this development take place?
The intense life I led, the intensive work led to this "unsettling calm." Repeating these amazing excesses by day and night started to become unbearable, and the more or less abrupt end I put to this led to palpably empty areas that I was at first unable to fill. Disturbances in rhythm, blockages-Mr. Klauke alone in the room began to have problems. The time-space relationship became highly unstable. In the end, I was able to instrumentalize this state by addressing it directly. This was how the large work series Formalization of Boredom came about.
It's difficult in itself of course to make an exciting work on the subject of boredom. What fascinated you about this theme?
I wanted to convert the state I was experiencing into imagery. In my last drawing journal ziemlich (quite) (Salon Verlag, Cologne), much is already formulated from the boundaries of the sensual and the nearly insane. Also the experiments with words in images, which contain indeterminate or malleable elements: "pretty much," "more or less," "so to speak," "perhaps" etc. The step from here to the implementation in Formalization of Boredom-in this case in the medium of photography-was not very big. Basically, it was about visualizing near standstill, the slow passage of unlived time lacking in communication. It's a combination of things almost impalpable, sensual, with a powerful element of psychic robustness. When the present is as thick as pudding and just won't go by. The presence of absence and the absence of presence: this interested me and led me to these images, which range from cheerful to melancholy.
You increasingly use objects like hats, buckets, and chairs in your images; at the same time, you've changed from a "Transformer" to a kind of "Man Without Qualities" in a dark suit. Were you also interested in giving these works a larger validity?
Yes, that too. I'm less present in some of the images, but I'm an object in the new works as well. I see myself as a surrogate, and ultimately as material. A certain neutrality is required; the notion of timelessness is apt here, too.
In contrast with many contemporary artists, you've always given titles to your works. Writing appears in many drawings and even in some of the photographic works. What function do these "notes" and the titles have in your work?
I already spoke about this-with the dominant poetic image, they provide an important additional noise that can be helpful while entering the pictorial space. For the drawn Journals of 1970 to 1980, subjective experiences and impressions are combined, in part also with a casual documentation of the events of the time. They are a juxtaposition of the written records of outside reality with a drawing of the inside. On the one hand an echo of the world-and on the other the location of the self.
Jürgen Klauke. Ästhetische Paranoia
May 13 – October 10, 2010
ZKM | Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe
October 23, 2010 – March 6, 2011
Museum der Moderne, Salzburg