untitled, 2004, 23.6 x 19.7 in, from Beaugrenelle
I am bringing back some of my favorite past interviews as I prepare to release issue 11 of Cheap & Plastique. C & P interviewed Berlin-based artist Georg Parthen for Issue 10. See more of Mr. Parthen’s work here.
C & P: You live in Berlin currently. What do you like most about living in Berlin? Least?
Georg: The city is exciting and inspiring, yet life remains relaxed. “Always changing, never twice the same.”
C & P: Do you frequently travel outside of Berlin (and Germany) to find subject matter for your artmaking practice?
Georg: Traveling puts me in a state of heightened awareness and allows me to clearly focus on a body of work. For some projects it is a crucial part and I could not produce a series like Landschaften without extensive trips to find these locations.
Enklave, 2009, 37 x 63 in, from Landschaften
C & P: How do you choose/scout out locations for future photo series? What is your conceptualizing process like?
Georg: I change my process according to the work I am producing. Partially I know the locations for my photographs from previous experience, partially I visit locations based on research. Sometimes I intuitively choose a region to travel to which I hope offers physical representations of ideas for images I already have in my head.
C & P: Has your work always consisted of digitally constructed, altered images? Or was there a time when you made more straightforward documentary photographs? Are the images in the series Carports strictly documentary and not digitally manipulated? Did a shift in your work occur or do you work on both types of series simultaneously?
Georg: I started out using photography traditionally, shooting 35mm and developing my own film. Since then I have moved through a lot of different formats and techniques slowly shifting towards digital tools. This evolution has expanded my understanding of the medium and allows me to make my work with far less compromises than traditional techniques.
Kuppeln, 29.6 x 48.9 in, 2007, from Landschaften
C & P: The images in this series Landschaften, such as Kuppeln, Enklave, and Dorf, are not real places, they are constructed. Could you talk a bit about your process of creating a series like Landschaften? Where do the individual elements, such as the Buckminster Fuller style domes in Kuppeln, that populate the landscapes come from? Have you shot all of the elements used in the photographs yourself? Do you ever source bits and pieces of imagery from elsewhere (image banks, the internet, etc.)?
Georg: Thus far I have been photographing all elements for my images myself, mostly for practical and partially for technical reasons. Before I find it I usually I do not really know what i searched, so I heavily rely on the world to provide what I am longing for. The moment I am physically present in front of one of these buildings or landscapes very much defines the shape of the work I am going to make from it. I like this romantic idea and don´t want to replace this with an online image search. Also I need a certain technical quality for my sketches I don’t think I could source currently.
Usually I make trips to a certain region or location to photograph for my archive which consists of anything from image fragments to complete shots where most of the final work is already inclosed. Later in the studio I construct the Landschaften from those. Often I work on two different versions of the same image side by side to trying to carve out different elements until I can decide which one feels and functions better.
Berg, 2009, 37 x 70.5 in, from Landschaften
C & P: The landscapes (from the series Landschaften) bring to mind Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings, is he an influence on you? Are your images constructed in a manner similar to how CDF worked, piecing together many different sketches to create one final picture?
Georg: When first starting to make the Lanschaften I did research Caspar David Friedrichs’s work. There are more differences than similarities to our works and approaches though, even though I also make my images in the studio from sketches I compile in nature. Apart from the great manual difference between painting a canvas from drawings in a sketchbook and montaging photographs on a computer Caspar David Friedrich heavily encoded meaning into his work through a use of elements and symbols to the point where a certain color represents a certain emotion, something I have no interest in.
Also not all my landscapes are pieced together; sometimes I make one from a single capture, adding or changing certain elements. I would not hesitate to include an image in the series that has not been altered at all if it would evoke the same doubts in me as the others.
Firma, 2010, 41 x 29.6 in, from Landschaften
C & P: The architecture that makes its way into your landscape pictures, in the series Landschaften particularly, tends to overtake the natural landscapes and look somewhat foreboding, the structures do not look like they belong in the setting, the complete picture sometimes does not seem to make sense but one is not sure why. The architecture also looks somewhat futuristic (as in the work Firma). There are no roads leading up to these architectural constructions. When constructing these imagined places are you visualizing a land which may have once been inhabited and has now been deserted and left to decay? Are you interested in architectural ruins in this work (or any of your work)?
Georg: No. My use of architecture is not single-coded. Usually I work with structures that are not signifiers of a certain location but rather of a time and vision. I want a contemporary appeal yet I am interested more in the image than the the individual structure that was in front of my camera. The architecture stands loosely as a metaphor for the different conceptual layers of construction I wish people to contemplate. Here the structural construction of the architecture and the fabrication of a realistic landscape in the work, there the photographic transformation and your process of creating meaning in the world.
C & P: Are you imposing (utopian) ideals of the 20th/21st century of progress, growth, and building with the placement of huge man-made constructions/formations in the midst of these natural, untouched landscapes?
Georg: Definitely. If you look at my work from recent years I too am progressing towards the future regarding the historical references of the individual works. I started out with work about baroque architecture, then made the the Beaugrenelle series about a Parisian quarter which had been envisioned as a vision of urban life in the 1970s. After Beaugrenelle I made work about Multiplex cinemas built in the last two decades and have pretty much reached the present time with the Novae series and the recent video works.
Multiplex XXVIII, (Cinestar Dortmund), 2007, 23 x 18.1 in, from Multiplex
C & P: A documentary photographer attempts to produce truthful and objective images on film (or with a digital camera), however, making a photograph that represents the truth may be an impossible goal—as there may not be a way of representing universal truth and reality changes from moment to moment. Do you feel that an image can be truly objective or is it always subjective? How do you feel about the idea of “the decisive moment”?
Georg: “Compared to a painting the photograph loses its own reality more and more as it renders the other one. That way the only ‘reality’ of a photograph is its own unreality, its not-being-there is its actual quality.” (badly translated from: Gerhard Richter: “Text”, pg. 114, letter to Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, 1979).
I do not think an image can either be objective or subjective and I am not even sure what these attributes really mean. As artists working with photography we ponder and argue about these questions all the time, especially with curators and art historians.
A photograph is always a pretty severe abstraction from what happened in front of the apparatus and we are all more or less consciously aware of that.
In my work there is no decisive moment. There are only moments, sometimes hundreds in which the shutter of my camera has fired. My images do not refer to an instant of time stretched infinitely but rather to have no time at all, as paradox as it sounds. This is their reality—an indefinite moment.
C & P: You use the techniques of a documentary photographer but with a completely different goal for your end result. Are you are questioning the role of the photograph in society as a document of truth, considering that photography also has the ability to be misleading and false (and is often used for these means)? Do you believe all reality is constructed in relation to photography?
Georg: I do believe that all reality is constructed in relation to photography. But all meaning is constructed in regards to reality.
Multiplex XXXIII, (Cinestar Köln), 2007, 21.2 x 15.8 in, from Multiplex
C & P: What is it about the blurring of the line between construction and documentation that interests you?
Georg: When an image does not affirm what you already know you will try to make sense within the system of all your knowledge and find a meaningful place for the new bit it just received. If these incongruencies happen over and over again there is a chance that you start to reconfigure your system, recontextualizing everything you know. Working this way I hope to create an emotional and rational tension where my work can actually change how the viewers perceive their world.
C & P: You have said, “I would love to see imagery that is so normal or so boring or even so bad that I can hardly stand looking at it.” Do you have any examples of images that have succeeded in this task? What is it about the concept of an image being boring, hideously beautiful, or just plain bad that interests you? Do you like these images?
Georg: I feel these qualities are often easily discounted but can be used for artistic inquiry in many ways. Boredom and annoyance are strong qualities of a work that can create a disturbance or even an annoyance.
untitled (ecs 1), 2010, 20.5 x 15.4 in, from Novae
C & P: You photograph the interiors of stores that sell electronic-based consumer goods in the Novae series, such as televisions, mobile phones, stereo systems, dvds, and music discs. How do you feel an individual’s desire is shaped for these electronic objects when the environment one purchases them from is so sterile (to almost a surreal degree)? Are you interested in the creation of desire for newer and newer technology? Are you critiquing the rampant consumerism of today’s world in this series?
Georg: Novae is definitely a comment on these spaces but I did not intend it as a critique of consumerism. I am filled with wonder when I spend time at these stores and perceive them as the “Wunderkammern” of our time. Their visual abundance is beyond what the human mind is able to compile and the natural response seems to be—buy something, then leave immediately.
untitled (mmk 1), 2010, 20.5 x 15 in, from Novae
C & P: Could you tell me a bit about the process of creating the images of the superstores in Novae? The images of these interiors seem hyperreal, the objects within the spaces look sculptural. Are you lighting the space in a certain way while shooting to achieve this hyperreal effect, are the images enhanced in Photoshop, or is this a relatively accurate representation of how the goods are marketed to the consumer—stacked, orderly, well-lit?
Georg: As most of my works, the images in Novae are montages from several images to create a rendering that I hold specific and true to these spaces. It took me a while to figure out how to deal with these spaces and overflow of visual information. After shooting for a while I realized that not to get lost I made these strict image compositions, concentrating on the the sculptural qualities of the store displays.
I decided to embrace that and make the images where all the small fragments demand your attention equally and only the sculptural order provides some emotional resting place.
Plateau, 2007, 29.6 x 39.8 in, from Landschaften
C & P: Most of your pictures are people-free, do people/figures ever make an appearance in your work?
Georg: For my questions of inquiry figures have not [yet] been important.
C & P: You mentioned that lately your work is growing less and less “project-oriented” or “pre-visualized”. You are creating more video works rather than still images, such as the Modul series and untitled (AFX). Could you talk a bit about how this shift occurred and the direction you see your work going in in the future?
Georg: I grew tired of working from my preconceptions of the world. Working with a concept has the benefit to know the boundaries of a project and it speeds up my working process. However, I felt it also limited my possibility for true discovery, which I wanted to allow in my work to a greater extent. In the past two years I have shifted my process towards a more circular way of working where my work acts as a source for itself, which dictates the form and direction it is going. The introduction of video work is a direct result of this shift.
C & P: In your Modul videos, you’ve focused on long static shots of noisy generators against backdrops where elements such as tree branches and leaves jostle minimally in the breeze. Can you talk about what type of buildings these generators are servicing? Are they residential properties? Do the structures, largely unseen in the work, for which these machines exist, play a role or is the generator itself the central focus of the work?
Georg: The buildings they are serving are schools and office buildings; not unlike the one I used in Firma. On recent trips to the U.S. I grew aware of these “black boxes” that create the background sound of our time, yet remain mostly unnoticed. As with many technical devices we need to rely on abstract knowledge in order to understand what they are doing, in this case these “modules” serve as cooling devices for the houses. Besides their main function they also consume a lot of power and produce noise and heat.
Modul 1, 11:40 minutes, Loop, HD-Projektion, 2010
C & P: These generators are objects that the average person would pass by without ever taking notice of or considering. With the videos focusing on them so intently, it seems to me that the objects take on a whole new set of traits or characteristics. I don’t want to make the jump of saying this humanizes them but it does seem to lend them an individuality or even a personality that is born wholly of the unusual attention being paid to them. Is this an intent of the work, that we consider these machines outside of their usual context of purely functional objects? Similarly, we can look at these videos and see very little actually going on that is immediately visual. However, when we think of the purpose of these central objects, to provide power and electricity to buildings housing or servicing large numbers of people, it is also possible to imagine a multitude of lives and stories unfolding behind the scene.
Georg: Transferred into a representative work my “Modules” become absurd functional objects; their purpose not to cool the building they are servicing but to represent themselves and by doing that generating heat and noise in the exhibition space. On second sight one might discover a strangeness in them which could be result from the fact that the videos are montaged but also could be a quality of the objects themselves.
C & P: Did you have any desire for these seemingly straightforward shots to serve as referential devices in this way or as a means through which to contemplate the relationships between people and their environments?
C & P: Is the noise the generator is creating an important aspect of this work? Have you ever worked on sound pieces in the past?
Georg: It is important, no I have not worked with sound before.
untitled, 2004, 23.6 x 19.7 in, from Beaugrenelle
C & P: Have you been looking at any artists who do work with sound in their art practice as of late?
Georg: I just finished watching Mark Leckey’s GreenScreenRefrigerator which is amazing. His work disturbs and inspires me.
C & P: You mentioned to me that you are collaborating on a set of digital sketches about ideas of image construction with Christian Hellmich, who is also featured in the magazine this issue, could you tell me a bit more about this project? What prompted this discussion and exchange? Will you be showing the final outcome in a gallery setting?
Georg: The exchange with Christian is an experimental dialogue. We send each other files and working instructions and collaborate on images in a way that each image goes back and forth between us several times until one of us decides that it is done. The initial motivation was a mutual interest in each other`s concepts of perceiving an image based on our rooting in different media. There is no intended final result and thus far it serves as a well of inspiration and basis for arguments and discussions. We exhibited one work in a group show in Munich but besides that we have no plans for exhibiting the work yet.
C & P: Tell us what else you are working on now. Do you have any exhibitions coming up in the near future?
Georg: For more than a year I have been working on a set of constructed still-life images and an accompanying publication, to be finished in the summer.
Part of the Novae pictures will be shown in a group show in the Goethe-Institut in St. Petersburg in April and May.
C & P: Where can we find your portfolio website?