Georg Klein

Georg Klein’s works are conceived with a strong relation to a local context. The nature of works installed in a public space have a short lifespan. Rather than collecting objects that can be re-shown, Klein documents arranged situations in the form of photographs and videos. This non-material aspect of his activity continues with online projects that often use trickster-like strategies to involve or mislead Internet users. Read more about the work of Georg Klein in the newest BLICK talk.

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Barbara Kepa: I would like to begin by asking you about a project where you organized a sound walk along the Spree River in Berlin that concerns the theme of lobbyism in the city. Could you begin by introducing this concept? Do you research and portray a city as battlefield between antagonistic powers?

Georg Klein: That was the main focus of this project, but it’s not only about lobbyism. It’s all about how you can be influenced by politics if it’s from the left side, the right, from the economics, or NGOs. It was very interesting for me to carry out research on this particular topic. I always choose to research a city or a certain place and for this project it began with a desire to do something with sound and the city. I heard about this new application for smartphones where you can do something very independent for visitors: a guided audio tour that you can create by yourself. So I researched the area of the government district. It stretches from the Bode-Museum­­­­­ through to the Humboldt University, Bahnhof Friedrichstraße, Reichstagufer and the Reichstag. The end point is Santiago Calatrava’s bridge where the Bundeskonferenz Zentrum is located. It is GPS guided, so you can start wherever you want and visit each spot in whichever order you choose. I was looking for an interesting topic that I could work on. I wanted to use this method creating sounds that you can listen to using headphones.  In certain situations you’ll hear voices or sounds with no visible origin. You can almost create a second reality, another layer on top of the true reality that we are surrounded by. I find this quite compelling; where you create a layer which plays or somehow mixes with reality, but is not visible. The fact that this piece is invisible also makes it political in my opinion. All these voices in Lobbyism don’t want to be visible. They are like pieces of unofficial talks between politicians. This is a link: invisible voices and invisible mechanisms of democracy in the economy. 

BK: Would you say this work has a critical approach?

GK: Yes, that is part of the work. My own opinion about the lack of transparency is very critical. But it’s also ambivalent. So you’ll find different aspects of that and you will have to think by yourself and come up with your own opinion. Participation is another element of this project. You can choose which order you want to listen to the voices and sounds; you can skip some parts or only listen to a few. You can even extend the experience by staying longer at any one point. Each bridge has its own electronic transformed sounds, so you can simply stay there and enjoy the sounds, the traffic flow and passing ships.

BK: Would you refer to these sounds as music in any way?

GK: There are some pieces that feel like they could be music pieces but it is essentially sound art.  There are stages of sound where you come in and go out of them. There is no beginning and no end. The sound is treated like an object or a sculpture, it’s just there and you hear part of it and then you leave and continue to something else.

BK: You talked earlier about creating an invisible layer in the public space that is for you a political thing. What is your attitude to public space? What does it mean to you and how do you rework it?

GK: As I said, I always conduct research about a specific place I’m supposed to work with. It was ten or fifteen years ago, when I shifted from concept space to a more diverse and complex public space, where conflicts are more visible and you can work with whatever tensions are present there.  The public is not confined by the gallery space or concept space, where just certain people will enter and experience my work. The public space is more accessible and open for participation. It was an important decision for me to work with the public space to establish contact with a different state of affairs.

BK: But is there a group of problems that you usually focus on? Perhaps there is a particular conflict or antagonism you constantly investigate? This question is maybe a bit about self-tagging.

GK: (Laughing) Yes, that’s a general question. I like working in a very specific way and of course there are some recurring, general problems that I like to explore. But I never travel to a new place with a specific plan of what I want to do there. I will travel to Taranto in Italy next and the first thing I intend to do is simply observe this new situation. Keeping my eyes and ears open will add to my perceptions of a place and during this stage a new path will develop that I will pursue. Discoveries from this first stage will influence my research and then I work towards an artwork. So I don’t want to tag myself. I also like to use any medium to express and achieve what I want. So maybe in two years I’ll paint a picture, if I feel the need! I feel it is unnecessary to categorize myself by medium and so I use whatever I need to make me feel quite open.

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Make me wild – Godwin / Tracing Godwin, European Media Art Festival (EMAF), Osnabrück 2011

BK: In some of your projects you incorporate the internet to play a role in the realization of your ideas. Websites you’ve created seem to be an additional platform for participation or even a contribution to your projects. As I expect, there is always a process over the final effect. Besides that, I would like to ask you to sum up some of your online actions.

GK: The main projects I’ve made using the internet have two parts. There is one part in a public space, like in European Border Watch and one part on the internet. This internet part is definitely not an art website. It is only to produce a fake, to support the part of the project in the public space. The websites for European Border Watch or Ramallah Tours are completely fabricated. I still get bookings for Ramallah Tours, even though this project is from 2009. The website exists and lives its own life on the internet. But that’s good for me, because projects in a public space like this are always temporary and eventually have an end point. Having this internet presence creates a kind of extension of their existence.

But in the Tracing Godwin project the usage of the website was different. It was an attempt to invite people to participate but not in a fake or dishonest way. People were asked to do something more than just visit the website. So the aim was different.

I like this idea of being present in a particular place in public and also being present in a worldwide internet, on the global scale. The European Border Watch is a good example where we invited people to join the organization. We didn’t do any promotion of it as an artwork and we got a lot of reactions. People wanted to know more about this organization and what was the aim, etc. To make contact with those people was a very interesting experience.

BK: Could you talk a little about your project from last year, G N A D E | M E R C Y, 2012 (as part of Mozart Festival in Mannheim)? How did you use Mozart’s opera to show contemporary problems of the state of the late capitalism?

GK: Frankly speaking, it was a difficult and long process. I received an invitation to take part in the Mozart Festival. I was given the chance create something and I was completely free. The only expectation was to use a public space. For a long time I had no idea what to do with this Mozart light motif. I visited the city of Manheim, but I couldn’t find anything that grabbed my attention. I visited only twice, and then worked from home but nothing came for months. Then I read a book of Ivan Nagel, who describes Mozart’s operas in a very interesting way as a conflict between mercy and autonomy; from the past society of the monarchy and feudalism, to the emancipation of an individual, personal autonomy. Mozart tried to be independent as a composer. For Beethoven it was the same conflict. He managed a little bit better because in his times the patronage conflict eased which gave new possibilities to earn money with music. I have this idea that mercy is mostly perceived in a religious perspective, but in former times it was strongly associated with the relation to society. Somebody was on a mercy of someone else. Mozart struggled in this way, which can be found in all of his operas. His operas end with a scene of mercy. So I thought, ok, sometimes I feel it too. We are somehow not independent, but we rely very much on financial conditions, mercy of banks etc. We in the arts know this too well. So it was a link to go deeper into that and try to combine them. I wanted to highlight this contemporary aspect of mercy in Mozart’s operas and in our daily life. I decided to work on two parts in which I wanted to work out the aspect of mercy. The first was to explore the aspect of mercy in Mozart’s opera. The second was to create a situation of confrontation using the word mercy/Gnade in a modern world, because it’s an old fashioned word.
I wanted to put it as a statue in a public space and to let it appear in public consciousness and in daily life. Finally, I placed it in front of several banks and in front of one Job Center, which was a bit ironic.  This idea spawned a conflict between me and the managers of the festival, because the main sponsor was Deutsche Bank and they didn’t like the idea of putting the word “mercy” in front of a Deutsche Bank. The management said “No, we can’t do that”, and this really surprised me. Unexpectedly, I was in the middle of a conflict about showing my project as it clashed with the demands of the sponsor.

BK: And the second part was the installation where the festival took place.

GK: The second part was a sound and video installation with six monitors. Four of them screened the “outer” situations, where the sign is standing in front of the building. So you see the word GNADE in the context of a place. It was filmed by surveillance camera,
so with just one point of view and you see people passing by. There was also a sound interaction part of the sculptures, so the viewer could watch the reactions of a passerby. The installation was a link between the festival and the rest of the city. Two additional monitors were screening scenes from Mozart’s opera, underlining the aspect of mercy. I used a video documentation of “Titus”. It was a good example of the embodiment of mercy, because the opera was actually very expressive. This part of the installation helped me to show the private, intimate aspect of mercy. To fulfill an extreme aspect of mercy/no-mercy I took examples from the contemporary world. I looked for stories from all over the world. They described how people arrived at their death because of the financial dependency, like credits etc. They all ended up committing suicide. Those people got no mercy from the system they were part of.
So, all in all, I used Mozart to work out these edgy and dramatic sides of the financial structure we are all entangled in.

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GNADE | MERCY, Mannheimer Mozartsommer, July 2012

BK: Watching a documentation of your site specific installation Der gelbe Klang2 and Make me wild – Godwin / tracing Godwin, you use in these projects and in other ones, a single color, with which one can almost identify each of your works. How do you play with color? It’s kind of an abstract question.

GK: Yes. I think at a certain point in recent years, I discovered that I often choose one main color for each installation. In the case of Der gelbe Klang2, it has its historical background with Kandinsky’s writings. But besides this, there is indeed something that I cannot really explain. There is a kind of feeling about the color when I’m working on the project. Once I did a project in a tram in Dresden. The tram travelled around the city and my topic for this was “growth”. The worst case for growth is metastasis. And for that I had an idea to use purple light.  For the European Border Watch I used green light. This was inspired by the green color from looking through night vision devices. So it’s not just about color, but about the light too. Usually, it’s not precisely about one color itself but about color of light.  I think sound and light are two elements that have potential to work very well together. They are both very abstract substances. For me it’s a very close connection and they just go together, these non-material elements. So maybe that’s why color also accompanies sound in my imagination.

BK: After visiting your website, I wondered if you have a particular method on how to document your works, which all are very ephemeral? You seem to prefer short videos with descriptions.

GK: Yes, documenting these projects can be a big problem. I think video documentation usually shows the main aspects. But very often you also need a good text to describe it and to explain the idea behind it. My works are almost always site specific installations with sound, so there is a need to experience each work in situ. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. For me it’s important to feel the location and its atmosphere. When you watch and listen to a video on the computer, you unfortunately miss a fundamental element.  You can’t confront it with its surrounding reality. Documentation means there is a distance, it’s irrelevant.

All in all, I like it to work in this site-specific, ephemeral way even though it makes things slightly more difficult for me to show certain pieces when I get invitations from galleries. What can I show in that kind of space? It’s complicated, because I seldom have material objects in my portfolio for two or three installations. Once or twice I’ve adapted existing works, even if they were especially dedicated to one place. It simply doesn’t work, even if I put in the effort to match it to the new circumstances. You can feel it. That is why I decided to make video documentation, to capture a situation, which exists just for a short time and to give a good impression of what it was about.

BK: Thank you for the talk.


[Berlin, 09. - 10.2013]


Barbara Kępa

Interview by Barbara Kępa

Barbara Kępa - Studied at University of Wroclaw, Poland and Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Was an intern in Tanas-Raum für zeitgenössische türkische Kunst and in berlinerpool – mobile artists‘ archive, both based in Berlin. She initiated and runs Currently, she is working on a Master thesis about biennalisation effect after '89, with a main focus on Rene Block’s curatorial practice.

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