This week BLICK introduces you the next berlinerpool artist Matthias Mayer. In his works he often evokes the atmosphere of past decades of 70’s and 80’s. That can be understood both as a sentimental retrospection and searching for roots. The final effect is quite frequently a mixture of a visual medium and the rhythm of music. Moreover, with his curatorial activity in Spor Klübü, Mayer is one of the members of Netzwerk freier Berliner Projekträume und –initiativen.
Barbara Kepa: Could you describe how do you see yourself in the city. How are you connected to the urban culture?
Matthias Mayer: It is how I started to be an artist, because I had always a strong relation to the city. When I started, I was more a Lebenskünstler. Somebody whose life is art itself, living day by day, having no plans for the future. Just enjoying each upcoming day. I came up to be an artist after my travels. I could have studied, but I chose a different way. An Art Academy didn’t seem to be interesting to me. I wanted to feel totally free. Of course, at that time there was the obligatory military service, twenty months. I went for the alternative service and worked with handicapped people, which was OK. But I still felt like in prison. So afterwards I had to escape from everything. The great solution was to become an artist and just life your live. And that’s how I became close to street culture, because when you travel you are constantly outside, you are walking through the streets and observe other people. That built up my idea for being an artist. Freedom. Music played a big role as well.
BK: What did you create then? What kind of art it was?
MM: After travelling and seeing a lot, my biggest influences came from West Africa, I loved the African mentality. Being so positive, besides all difficulties and obstacles. Finally coming back from a trip through the US I moved to an alternative place, an old factory building in Worms. It was a living and working community, artists lived, worked and even sold their art there. I just did the same. At the end, it was like an own academy. In German we have this awful word Autodidakt, I would rather call myself as self-taught. I think, the English word describes the process better. All in all, it was not far away from how the formal education looks, usually art students work alone too. Finally, from the aspect of life I came to the aspect of art. I began with painting. From my trip through the US, Pop Art and Graffiti stylistic influenced me the strongest. I came up with my own style very suddenly. I painted colorful worlds with a wired family of figures. It was in the end of the 1980’s, beginning of the 1990′s when Pop Art was still present, Warhol had been in every mouth. Even the commune I lived in was called “Factory”(laugh). But for whatever reason probably the aspect of life also Beuys had an influence on me and what I did.
BK: Are you still in touch with the people you lived there?
MM: Yes, of course. I mean, not in very strong connection. That was quite long ago. Meanwhile, I lived in New York. I am more in contact with people I have met in New York back in the mid 90’s, because they live now in Berlin too.
BK: What was the reason to leave the Factory?
MM: The Factory was located in a province, in Worms. I was very active and involved there, so quickly I became well known. But what I really needed then was a wider perspective. So I chose New York, the most appealing art metropolis in the mid 90’s. I felt I have to be there. Thanks to the International Studio & Curatorial Program, grants and my agility I spent there two years.
BK: Was that time a turning point in your art practice?
MM: Yes, but I used this situation like I had done it before. The clue was being out there, walking the streets, visiting galleries, project spaces. Just put my ass on the street and be everywhere and see everything. Honestly, it is what I am still doing in Berlin. New York had a great impact on me. I think, that is why I am doing such things now, like organizing exhibitions for various artists. I really like not to be focused just on my own art, working with other artists can be so interesting. You can learn so much. I mean, it is cool to look what is inside you, being in a studio and doing your thing. The real big thing is to observe what others do and learn from that. That is a process of rethinking, understanding and discovering, that there is no such an easy division into good and bad art.
BK: How would you describe your role as a curator? What is your strategy?
MM: First of all, I would not do anything that would not interested me. A subject of a show has to appeal to me. This is how it was for instance in the exhibition I organized in Kunstraum Kreuzberg Bethanien titled “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em ”. I brought a group of artists together with works dealing with the interaction between music and visual art. How important the music is for a visual artist? Or is music the starting point, is it there before, like a motor to create visual art? I saw the whole project as my art project, not that I was curating a show. In fact this is what I did – curating, but it’s not my profession. So it’s almost the same with my project space Spor Klübü. What really interests me there is to work very close together with artists to develop the shows, to install their works in the space. So this got part of my own work.
BK: Could you tell me about your music inspiration? What music do you listen to?
MM: The thing is, that I am listening to old music, like funk music from the 1970’s. This is black music from the US and this is the music with the best groove ever. If I compare it to what is going on now, there is nothing better than funk. I think I am demanding and always looking for the best. Of course, there has been a lot of good music after that, but I am just interested in a high standard and I cannot find anything better than that. I just started a music project with the electronic musician Jens Christian Madsen from Tjaere+Fjer, cause I really appreciate a good electronic music, especially when it has more experimental approach. There is a whole lot of other great artists and bands that I listen to. Sonic Youth for instance was like my soundtrack during my first US trip. Arto Lindsay is a great musical hero of mine. What I like nowadays, is the fact that you can make music so easy using your computer. In my new project we want to do a mirage of electronic music, but the starting point are good, a bit forgotten, funky samples. So, all starts with a good groove and later we will put into it other rhythm, layers and some voice. We have just started working on it, but I feel good about it.
BK: Let’s talk about your art space Spor Klübü in Berlin-Wedding? What is the history behind it?
MM: I set up my project space in 2003. Spor Klübü, the name comes from the area – Wedding. This is when I got here, there were many windows labelled Spor Kulübü, which is the Turkish expression for ‘sports club’. Some Turks also wrote Spor Klübü, which isn’t gramatically right but that sounds cooler, so I took this. I liked the idea to match art and sport values, but more on the mental level, not as a direct subject. It is about being sporty, which means being active, doing a lot, being open. To have a kind of radar and control what is going on. That is how I understand running a project space. When I started I had no net of contacts, but I was lucky enough to find a space and have been supported for all that time by a housing association. After so many years I have a wide net of contacts and people who are interested in a collaboration. The major idea behind Spor Klübü is to provide space, to bea place where artists feel free to experiment with no media and discipline restrictions. Because it’s a non-budget project, I don’t expect anything big and I don’t plan shows years in advance. Artists can use the space very spontaneously as if they very suddenly would have new studio space.
BK: It means 2013 is an anniversary year. Any reflections, conclusions?
MM: Yes, ten years already. This is a funny thing, when people around notice Spor Klübü for the first time and they ask me how long does it exist. They are usually surprised. I understand it, that is the matter of Berlin, where so many people who come and leave after some time and they have not enough time to explore and discover all venues. So it is what you have to do. You have to go out and be everywhere, even if it is a bad weather or you are tried. You should kick yourself and go. That is a sport activity. All in all, it makes sense, to watch and visit.
Of course, running Spor Klübü is a challenge, because it is a non-budget space. It brings no profits, but consumes my work and energy. It demands professional skills and good organization. But what I do not want to do is to take part in a competition, proving that my project space is the best and the most popular. This is what I like, to be independent. Even if somebody does not know Spor Klübü, for me it is still cool.The other thing is, that since 2003, thanks to this place, I had so many possibilities to work with interesting people, artists and I have a good prospects for the future.
BK: So what plans have you got for the future?
MM: First, I would love to continue the music project. I am thinking about continuing my research in the common field of art and music. After the “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em” show, I feel there is still much to explore and discover. Now I am more looking for concepts for new projects, it takes some time.
BK: I wish you good luck and thanks for the talk.