Interview

with Thorsten Brinkmann

Thorsten Brinkmann Porträt

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Thorsten Brinkmann

Thorsten Brinkmann
La Hütte Royal, 2013 (Special Edition)

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ISBN 978-3-7757-3757-9
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Thorsten Brinkmann

Thorsten Brinkmann

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ISBN 978-3-7757-2205-6
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“And so what was there was mixed with additions to form something new.” The artist Thorsten Brinkmann in an interview with Caroline Schilling (Int. Press, Hatje Cantz) on his house installation, La Hütte Royal, and the crazy desire to combine things that don’t belong together.

La Hütte Royal is the biggest installation you’ve worked on to date, and at the same time, it’s a transformation that juggles playfully and sometimes bizarrely with the great themes of time, space, and reality. How did this total work of art come into being between 2011 and 2013?

My collector, Evan Mirapaul, asked me in mid-2011 if I would be interested in realizing a house installation. He said that now that he has a few works by me, he would like to give them a suitable home. Since the bottom had fallen out of the real estate market in Pittsburgh, it was possible to buy houses incredibly cheaply and to allow artists access to them. I listened to his offer and signaled my interest right away. Two months later he called to tell me that he had acquired a house for me, and if I wanted to, I could go and have a look at it. That was in October 2011. I didn’t see the house until November 2011. It still contained all of the former owner’s things; they had secretly made off in the middle of the night and left everything behind. Structurally, the house was in very good condition, but my first impression was still extreme, since it had been occupied for two or three years by squatters, and it was completely trashed. Since I didn’t want to simply erase the entire history of the house, I kept everything that could still be used and stored it in the garden. I visited twice more, each time for a couple of days in spring 2012, to see what kinds of ideas I could come up with for the house, and to consult with contractors to figure out what had to be or could be done in advance, so that I could get going. I didn’t actually start working on the house until September 2012. Since I was also working on other exhibitions at the same time, there were always breaks. But things really got started in September, then again in October, and finally, in December, each time for a couple of weeks, at least two to three weeks. Because of my visa I had to take a longer break until April 2013, and from then on until October all I did was commute between Hamburg and Pittsburgh, since the house was supposed to be finished by October, in time for the Carnegie International.

From the start I wanted to treat the house differently than I would a museum show. For the latter, you usually have to plan everything very carefully in advance, since there is generally not much time for the installation and everything has to be transported at the right time. I wanted the work to develop on site and not have everything planned ahead of time. I deliberately took my time there, so that one room after the other developed in a process and fit together as a whole. I wasn’t interested in building a kind of “clean” Brinkmann Museum. I was more interested in what happened in the house when I spent a lot of time there, in what kinds of spaces might develop out of the things that I had found there. For instance, there are only three rooms in the house that I had built before in similar ways. All of the other twelve rooms emerged as I worked on the site. The process was very playful, and I always worked on several rooms at a time. For example, the “Record Rooms” are on the ground floor. Since I found a lot of records in the house and one of the former occupants was a DJ, I just let that all flow into the work. I wanted to revive some of the history there, without turning it into a history exhibit. Even the fans on the record pillars are from the house—they all still worked. So the idea of putting all of this together with the records in the first two rooms gradually emerged. Of course, the records had to be played, but it shouldn’t be a particular song, because that would be too much specific music all at once. So now there are four record players there, all of them playing the end of a record, and they make a carpet of sound that is always changing, since there are slight differences in speed. One sounds as if it’s breathing deep and hard; it almost sounds as if the house is breathing. So nearly every room developed through a process, including the hallways and the entryway.
One day I saw an enormous wooden clock at a second-hand dealer’s. I was immediately drawn to the object and after making a couple of phone calls to find out about the sizes of the windows in the house, because it wouldn’t fit through the door at all, it was clear: I had to get the thing. Now it’s hanging in the entryway. These kinds of things can’t be planned, I know; you have to wait to run into these kinds of “finds.” And the longer I stayed in Pittsburgh, the more unusual things I found. Ultimately, it means that this house grew and developed piece by piece over a period of two years. Also, I didn’t make any specific drawings, just a couple of very loose groups of ideas, and it was obvious that these were just reference points. After all, you can crawl into a space that, under certain circumstances, can remind you of Alice in Wonderland. There are five rooms in one; all of the architecture evolved, step by step, at the site. Nothing was fixed beforehand. Except that you can climb up the chimney and come out somewhere in the cinema one floor up. On the way up you crawl and climb through five hidden rooms, and the further in you go, the more isolated you are from the external world, since you can’t see outside. There’s also a golf room, which came into being because I found a complete, ancient set of golf clubs in the house. I designed wallpaper for it, laid out grass, used a basketball net for a hole, and an old hubcap from a truck for a ramp. So what was there was mixed with additions to make something new. The old things I found there also create a leap in time, back to the period that they come from. In some rooms I only added a little something, or just rearranged the light. These are found sites that mix with the other scenes. But you don’t know if they are also staged, and so the staging is mixed with the “reality of the house.” I also deliberately left some of the architectural elements alone—the stairs for example, or the floor and the door frames—in order to create a link to the history that was experienced in the house, to soften the boundary between reality and scene, and to allow the different layers of time to exist side by side.

 

A catalogue usually accompanies and documents an exhibition. You’ve decided to do something special, so you’ve created 222 one-of-a-kind pieces. Strictly speaking, your unusual artist’s book is an LP with a booklet. Where did the idea come from?

As a matter of fact, there is supposed to be an extensive book about the house. But since it was impossible to realize something like that in time for the opening, and I wanted to have something that people could take with them as a souvenir, I had to think of something else. It had to be fast, so it had to be small, but it had to be great, at the same time. But something else besides an announcement for an upcoming book, because nobody will want it later … So while I was mulling it over, I was sitting in the record room, surrounded by hundreds of records. I would go so far as to say that these records stood in my way to get what they wanted; I was just their helper. I picked one up and looked at it very carefully, and it dawned on me: original record, cover with text and booklet and pictures: fantastic! The next good idea was that my dog, Ernie, who has already written about my work anyway, would appear on the cover.

 

Your works arise out of the readymade tradition. What kinds of objects speak to you? Do you have selective criteria?

I’m interested in different characteristics of objects. Sometimes it’s just the shape or the color. But there are also things that are so ugly that I simply have to have them. I often don’t know what I’ll use them for until later. But ridiculous objects whose function is not obvious at first glance are also interesting. Then there are a lot of extremely “normal” objects, without any special sort of design. Making something out of them is also a very attractive idea, because otherwise their existence is quite unspectacular. Very worn things have great advantages, since they have a lot to say, and their surfaces can have casual traces of paint or show how long they’ve been in use.

 

When discussing your work, art critics often refer to Kurt Schwitters. What kind of significance does he have for your art?

I myself like to mention Kurt Schwitters frequently, because, as far as installations go, his Merzbau was a trailblazer. He worked on this building for years and let the space grow. Over time his sculptural works came to occupy the space, appropriated it. It’s an installation that grew out of itself, or grew wild, you might say. A process I feel very close to. I feel the same way about his collage-like works, the process of finding new meanings by combining things that don’t belong together. And besides that, I like his clever sense of humor.

 

The motif for your Collector’s Edition arouses curiosity. Is there a story behind it?

Yes. The things are all original found pieces from the house, like the records for the “Artist’s Book.” I also found lots of bowling trophies and bowling balls in the house, so I believe that the owners of the house must have gone bowling often, besides golfing. The title, Never Die, came from the figure on the picture. I thought it fit really well, since we carried out what you could call “life-saving” measures on the house, and we were able to save a great deal from the dump.

January 27, 2014

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