I can’t help it, but when I look at your work I see a connection to Jenny Holzer, an artist I really admire. Do you know her work?
I just imagined that you would be asking me that question, and was thinking what I would answer then (laughs).
(laughs) So is Holzer an inspiration for you?
Yes, of course. She uses different sentences than I do, but I think it’s quite interesting how she works.
She has a political message.
She also uses different materials, bones, for example. I normally don’t use different materials. The sentences I collect I use on walls or into windows… and now I started another project where I use marmalade glasses. I think Holzer is thinking in more big terms when she uses her sentences, on huge walls and so. I prefer to work with small things, because my sentences are about small talk. It wouldn’t be so useful to blow it up like she does, but maybe in the future… I’m not sure.
How is your selection process when you collect all these text samples?
For me it’s important that it’s the language that I grew up with, not only the content, but also what emotion is carried with the text. I like those things written “between the lines”, like the sentences which you normally use in a conversation when it suddenly stops, and you’re not so comfortable… and you try to get it running again. Those sentences are my favourite ones.
They look very simple, like: “hey, what are you doing?”, or something like that, but they are kind of an opening for a conversation.
What are your favourite sources for finding the texts?
I tried several newspapers and I prefer the weekly newspapers before the daily ones. In the weekly news the writers have more time to produce something special. For me the German newspaper Die Zeit is a favourite. And when I collect sentences from television I prefer very, very, very stupid series or soap operas.
This is a special field, because when I work with TV content I concentrate on different genres. So when I use material from news broadcasts, it’s something different than soap operas. It depends on the topic. I can’t say which is my favourite channel there.
You record all the TV content for later editing then?
Yes. Normally I keep the image and the sound together. But sometimes when I make an animation with the material, I transfer it to something different. For example, my work Tintenkiller, I kept the sound together with the image.
But with the knitted video Tele-Dialog, there is only the sound as a collage with self-made images.
The Tele-Dialog animation, is it completely knitted by yourself?
Yes, I really did it. But with a machine, I had to program each stitch into the machine. It’s almost like you would have done it by hand.
I can somehow relate to the tapestry of televized background noise. And here you built something from the noise. Out of the noise, you gave it a structure.
It’s a kind of hidden political statement, if you want. When I try to analyze what mass media is showing to us, then it is political.
But I’m not expressively voicing my opinion on the subject in any way. The message is there, but it’s not visible, you have to look for it.
When you put together all the different pieces, how do you know where they fit?
It’s a long, long process. And the audio-collage I am doing, I will normally have five, six or seven versions to decide on before it’s done. The audio mix always comes first.
Are you looking for symmetry, or how do you know when it’s a perfect match?
Sometimes I’m trying to make it more humorous, because I think that works best. People laugh at it and while they are laughing they suddenly realize… “Oh, I’m laughing at myself”. Sometimes you just understand the fun in it when you know these series from TV, for example. Like holding up a mirror in front of them.
It’s like a puzzle, and I’m trying to see which parts fit together. Then I have several bigger pieces that needs to work together. I find a good sentence, and I need to find the matching second. Then, with other pair of sentences it’s the same. It’s a modular kind of work. The process is very intuitive.
I have a huge archive of sentences. When I began to collect them I was just putting them together on pieces of paper, adding an archive number to it. Then i started to make combinations of them.
One category for me was to find special combinations of quotes, because newspapers love to change quotes a little bit. That’s so stupid, but they try it all the time over and over again. That’s one thing I really love to collect.
Another thing is when they write something like… “roses, houses and shoes!”, which sounds so absurd. And my favourite ones are those simple sentences in conversations… I think I have 20 different boxes where I put all my sentences in. Then, like my video process, I take each sentence and try to see how they fit together. Sometimes it can be five sentences with the exact same structure, sometimes it’s more in the form of a dialogue or monologue.
You keep all your material in some kind of database?
Yes, I have a filemaker database and I also make scans of my headlines. And then I have my “real” archive here (goes away to fetch a folder). It’s always like this: five sentences on one page.
This is a good example: “Er will doch nur spielen”. They use it all the time! It’s about when violent dogs attack, and the owners always reply “he just wants to play”.
I imagine that working with masses of text is a bit like playing a lot of Tetris; when you sleep you dream of blocks falling in the right place… is it the same for you when you try to fit the pieces of text together?
(laughs) To compare it with Tetris is quite good. But it’s more like building those rows until they disappear. When the row is gone, it’s perfect. I get five fitting sentences, and I’m like “yeah!” — next one.
It’s an obsession, of course. But I’m not dreaming of it. I do this now since almost 20 years, I think. So I feel sometimes I have to stop it, because it’s just too much. Whenever I see a bunch of old newspapers, I think to myself “oh my God, this is raw material! I have to check it for sentences”. When I get that feeling, I take a break for several months (laughs).
But it’s the basis for several works, so whenever I am starting something new, I can just look through my archive. Sometimes I use the sentences as the title of my exhibition.
You have collected material for 20 years!?
Yes, when I was around 10 years old I started to collect pictures from newspapers. And the coming years after that I found out that the sentences were interesting as well. It was a visual thing in the beginning, then I started to be interested in the written as well.
Was there any point in time when you realized that this interest would be your calling in art?
I don’t think it’s so easy to define when you start to do art. When I was in school I was always decorating my books and things with sentences. It was a kind of comment to the teachers I didn’t like or like. Just to show them how I was thinking about them. It was “just a quote”, so I didn’t say anything! I could put a bad sentence on my math books, then I could excuse it with “I just found it in the newspapers, it doesn’t have anything to do with you…” (laughs).
So in the beginning, it was just a kind of a joke. Then in my time at the university, it was good to be able to use these things.
And you use your texts in exhibitions, but also for interventions in the city, for example. Are the interventions legal or illegal?
They are legal, I’m not a graffiti artist or so. I never use spray cans, it’s always done with brushes. It would take far too long for me if I would have done it illegal… it would be stupid (laughs). For me it’s very important to use the exact typographic style that is used in the newspapers, so if I would have done it the illegal way I need stencils, and then the art would look all the same everywhere. That’s not in my interest. I use each sentence once.
Are the works done in public made as a montage or are they real images on the wall?
It depends. I made a video in 2004, it’s called Schildertausch, which replaces pre-existing texts on billboards. It was in Linz where I studied at the time, and it was a montage. I just replaced the pictures digitally.
Then, when I presented the video for the first time in Linz, at the Architekturforum, they liked it and allowed me to put one sentence on the building… and it’s still there! Ten years after.
From my point of view, you seem to be extremely productive.
I’m good in collecting all my activities (laughs). Maybe I’m just a good collector. It comes from my way of working, I guess.
And your current project, can you tell me something about it?
I am working with these marmalade jars, the project is called “Eingemachtes”, that means something that you brew and then conserve, like with other food. In German, Eingemachtes also means when you are talking about serious things; “es geht ans Eingemachte”. So it’s a wordplay. I then make engravings on the glass jar, so the sentence from the newspaper that is inside the glass is also engraved on the glass, so it’s doubled.
And the sentences are as simple as possible. Like conversations when you connect parts of communication. This here (shows a bottle) is a sentence you always can say; “es kommt drauf an” — “it depends”. I tried not to use these serious things, but the opposite thing.
It looks great. You know where you will show them?
Yes, it will be at das weisse haus, in the 5th district in Vienna. They make exhibitions that is meant to be on sale. It’s called “Jahresgaben Ausstellung”, for artists who have already exhibited there, a kind of fundraising thing for the gallery and also the artists. It opens on June 12.
You come from Vorarlberg, but you live in Vienna. Where do you consider your “base” to be?
In Vienna. But I am working for the Land Vorarlberg, the county. They have a commission for several areas of art, and I’m in the commission for film as a jury member. So I have to go there sometimes to discuss projects.
Are you curating art for them?
No, no, we’re not making exhibitions or so. We are discussing eligibility of funding for applicants in the county. I normally get a huge pile of applications that I have to go through. So when we in the commission meet, we are all prepared and we discuss each project together.
Is your responsibility for the filmmaker applicants genre-specific? Documentary, fiction, etc.?
No, we have different people there. Some are from the film industry, like a cutter, producer or teacher at the university. So I am coming from the art side in the commission. The group come from different areas and we discuss everything, it’s a good mix, the diversity is better in that way.
How is your relation to the language as a tool in your “artist toolbox”? In which way is language interesting for you in your art.
I prefer to only work with quotes in my art. I think it’s a big difference if you write it yourself or if you use already existing material. I am interested in using what is already there, to transform it to something own. I give a personal style to it but I am using something very neutral to do it. Like sampling, or constructing poems, for example. I would never say that I am a writer, I just like to “write with pre-existing words” (laughs).
I also like to show where the words are coming from. Often you have a feeling that this kind of sentence is only used in news and television, crime stories… it should always be obvious where it comes from. So I am sort of analyzing the media/genre in that way.
It’s very important where I take the sentences from.
How do you work with the language in your video works? For example Sicherheit and Wartime conditions?
Sicherheit is about advertising on TV, all these happy faces that are trying to sell something to us.
Wartime conditions consists of three parts. One part is 3D animation, one part is maps and one part is live broadcasts… “we now switch to Jim Clancy in Kuwait”, or something. I was interested in how they sell “no information” to us. They try to show us news, but they don’t have news, so what are they doing? Going live from here to there, asking questions like “whats’ going on there?”, and then answers: “right now nothing”, or “the same situation as yesterday”.
In the beginning of the second war in Iraq they couldn’t say anything. They just hid it with stupid animations and maps with “there are some tanks, bombs and stuff”… so what? (laughs) Maybe that’s a good example how I like to analyze the genre when I collect it from the source. How are TV channels reacting on suddenly appearing things, huge events or catastrophes and such.
A lot of bla bla…
Yes, but it’s interesting which kind of bla bla.
You also worked more recently with videos, and specifically with TV news presenters.
I was invited from the ORF to do a solo exhibition in Vorarlberg. They allowed me to use their regional news material. And I edited… I don’t know how many hundreds of those new shows, Bundesland Heute. Each county has its own news show. They have very local themes and topics in their show. It’s quite funny, because some of the presenters take their job very seriously and some other of them are having a lot of fun (laughs).
It was interesting to analyze each one of them, as a presenter, and also to analyze the whole show. I presented my video installation with five monitors and on each monitor focused on different things.
The specialties of this show was split into five parts… so one presenter was just saying the “welcome hello” in different ways, and introducing themselves to the viewers. One part was the “summary of coming news”, another was the introduction cue from ORF — “this show was presented to you by…”. One was the presentation of the weather, funnily enough the weather was becoming better and sunnier all the time (laughs). The last segment was the “goodbye and good night” part of the show.
Are the text samples in your collages taken with regard to the content or theme of the artwork?
Not for every project, but most of the times. Sometimes I generate different layers with different size of the pixels in the computer. I then use a mosaic software for the different levels and then I put the layers together by hand. For other projects I have used specifically chosen sentences fitting to the topic.
One of my last works was a self portrait (see top header image) where I use sentences related to “me”, “myself”, “I” etc. It wasn’t about me, it was more about the construction of an ego.
In the beginning I only used the sentences to build up the structure with no further meaning behind it. But for the architecture project I made, it kind of fitted, like the sentences were the bricks of the construction.
You work with moving images, graphics, textiles and more. Do you prefer to work with any of these mediums more than the other?
I can’t say that. For me it’s necessary to do this, then that, then the other one again. I need the mixture. If I would always do animations it would be so annoying, intense and boring all the time. Even if one animation is just five minutes, you have produced maybe 5.000 images to accomplish that. After that you need a break (laughs). You can’t do that all the time, if you do animation like I do it.
Usually, I invent different visual techniques, depending on the topic I am working on. For me it’s important to do a huge part of the work by hand, and then transfer it to the digital world. That means it takes a lot of time and energy.
Your main language is German in your work, did you also work in other languages?
I tried it with English but it’s not the same, unfortunately. It would be so much easier to reach out for an international level but I just don’t have the feeling for English. German is my mother tongue, so… I would love to work in English too, but as I said before about the hidden meaning of the sentences, what lies between, I don’t have this feeling with other languages. Maybe after ten or twenty years, but not now.
And with your animations? Would subtitles work?
It’s difficult with subtitles, if you use them people will concentrate on the subtitles and it’s almost not necessary to have the animation there anymore. In my videos the sound collage is very quick. Having subtitles there would mean you would only be reading reading reading… to get the content. It’s more like an audio drama. So, no. The sound thing is so important that you would be concentrating on the subtitles all the time, you wouldn’t get what’s going on in the images. Then everything would fall apart, it’s not worth it.
I have shown my work at international film festivals, and they liked it because of the technique, but they didn’t get content in the sentences. They would say “wow, it’s all knitted!”, “wow, that’s all painted with ink!”… yeah, but that’s not the reaction I wanted.
You have also made textile exhibitions, and in regard to the importance of understanding the content, how important is it then to understand what is written on the panels of the textile exhibition in Vorarlberg, for example?
It’s a very special dialect, one from Lustenau in Vorarlberg, on the border to Switzerland. For this exhibition I took the dialect that my grandmother used, then it was written by my dad and animated by me.
What you see here is a side project for the animation. The village I am from is famous for its textile industry. They embroidered that for me. Here it is presented in the textile museum in my village. But already in the neighbouring place, they wouldn’t be able to understand the words or phrases written here.
This is something that looks the same for you or somebody else from Vienna. It’s cryptic, not meant to be understood. It’s an historic work.
If you could choose any project to work on, do you know what it would be?
I don’t know, I decide that from one project to the next. I’d like to do more things with time-lapse, I am interested in how things change when you use a different frame rate. That’s partly why I am interested in animation also.
You used this technique in “Calle San Francisco”, right?
Yes, right. I tried to combine day and night, putting all the images together in one frame. This was a possibility to almost stop people from moving… so many layers that the movement almost stopped. It kind of destroyed the movement. In the field of animation I would like to make animations like the way Terry Gilliam made them. With cut-out paper. I would probably like to start with that in the future. Now, I always built the animations frame by frame, but I’d like to use modular parts to create moving images.
I think he wrote a book on how to make animations in his style.
He also has some videos on the internet where he shows how he works, it’s great. For years, I have been wanting to do something like that. But I don’t want to just copy him, it should be an idea where the technique fits to the topic.
Do you have other artists, filmmakers or creators you find inspiration from, or generally like really much?
I guess he’s not so well-known here, but I think Peter Piller is quite interesting. He collected newspaper images based on the motifs. Like one category would be “people staring into a hole”, or “reflecting people”, because people with those reflectors on their clothes, and you take a photo with a flash, then they shine. He collected these pictures from regional newspapers and made a book out of that. It was a bit like I collect my headlines. You have special topics and assort them in different categories. I even have a box where I collect things about animals, names of towns, names in general, for example.
There’s also Peter Roehr. I think he died very young, in the 1960’s. He used found footage from advertising, television or cinema, and made loops out of it. He took one sentence and repeated it all the time. And that is so weird, because then you really hear the pronounciation and the sound… it’s almost like a sound installation.
In the textile field I also like Rosemarie Trockel, her knitting projects, the early ones. She always made her work with a machine, never hand-made. Because in a feministic way she refused to knit by herself. Anyway, I think nowadays you can go back to manual work again. But I don’t like this “handcraft hype”.
I don’t like hypes. When everybody says “this is cool”, then I don’t think it’s cool. (laughs)
Even if you liked it before the hype?
Yeah! Well, I like my work, but not the other ones’ (laughs). No, but seriously, I think there was suddenly a trend a few years ago to knit around trees, around everything… meanwhile that’s so boring, uncool.
Interview by Anders Khan Bolin, @strayl1ght