Interview with Marietta Schwarz
By Monserrat Aurioles

1) The first time I looked at your work I noticed that even each subject and material
was different. Though, there was something (that of course I can not explain)
present in all your work, something that was, somehow, linking all the pieces
together. How would you define this element? Are you aware of that?
Of course, I am. Actually, I presented (to) you a choice of photos ranging from
some of my very early work up to most recent productions, so that the process of
my work becomes comprehensible. For me it is natural to have this variation of
material and form. It is an expression of my thinking. I have to contradict though,
that each subject is different. The source, or the initial point, in all of my work is the
human body and mind and its relation to space. This is the link, you asked me for. I
examined that with different focuses and different materials and forms, and I even
did before I started my career as an artist during my medical studies. I always long
to find the most simple and precise solution to bring something into form and do not
like to restrict myself to certain means or tools in order to reach that. In addition
the medium I use is often reflected by the piece itself. I always try to keep open,
although I would never hinder myself to use materials and forms as often as I want.
The variation in my work sometimes earns me my colleagues' incomprehension.
Most of them tend to work in more repetitive ways. I' d say that the focus in such a
work then is another than in mine. Basically, it is a question of personality and
character for which style of working you go. I need the change.
2) Can you talk about some particular interest or personal search that can be found
in your work?
With pleasure! In general, my interest shifted from a concrete occupation with the
human body to an abstract and conceptual one. According to this development I got
deeper into the occupation with space and its perception..
I was always concerned with the human body and nature and I followed this interest
throughout my medical education as well as in my artist career. In the artist field I
am free to work interrelated and interdisciplinary, I may cross borders whenever I
like. I may also use strategies and cognitions from other disciplines for my work,
without loosing my poetic vision and sensitivity.
It is the interrelation between the human body, surface and space that interests me
as well as perception as a cognitive process. I like the audience becoming part of
my work. I enjoy working with concrete spaces, analyzing them and asking myself
what a certain room means to me, what it means in general, and how I can alter it
so that the audience is becoming aware of a spatial quality it either already has or
that I create. In general, I am involved with certain aspects of space - usually
referring to human nature. Sometimes I am focused more on a conceptional,
perceptional way to work, sometimes the psychological moment is enhanced. It
depends on the character of the room, my own dispositions and the context.
Since my project Blindversuch** in 2007, during which I lived and worked
blindfolded for three weeks, I gained a complete new impression and "vision" of
space. Undergoing such an experiment, your brain is organizing itself anew,
* I leaned the term Blindversuch (Blindstudy) from scientific research where it is used as a standard
term to describe an experiment in which the proband does not know which of the substances tested he
focusing on the acoustic, haptic and sense of vibration. I cannot really tell you how
fascinating it was to realize this! I had to surrender to this development, had to
trust this undergoing process and found in doing so I learned quite fast to use these
new qualities to orientate myself. It was like walking in a big "sound bowl", more
like a dome maybe, and I was feeling people, walls, doors, materials, space! That
inspired me so much that now I am longing for realizing new spatial works in which
I will bring to life what my new perception on space was teaching me. Otherwise no
one but blind people may follow what I experienced!
Of course, I organized a good documentation of that Blindversuch (Blindstudy) -
including the initiation of scientific study carried out by the Max-Planck-Institute for
Brain Research in Frankfurt - but seeing this you are only looking from the outside.
In realizing new spatial work, I want to give the possibility of a sharing view to the
audience, but without putting them into the position of a blind person. I am still
reflecting on this.
The Blindstudy is embedded in my wider project called The Knowledge of Space,
which also includes interviews on perception, image, space and art with people who
were born blind. I want to learn from them. Another part of this project is The
Instinctive Knowledge of Space, which you find in animals like the migrating birds,
spiders or elephants. I am coming to this through my love for and observation of
nature, but it is too fresh to speak about yet!
Foto: Stefan Lenz
3) What are you afraid of?
Senselessness. Cold-heartedness. The all-over destruction of our planet.
4) How is your process regarding the creation of an art piece? Can you describe an
artist's working day?
Well, an artist's working day is always depending on the respective stage of the
project. Are you in the creative phase of conception of a piece? Then you will be
concerned with thinking, drawing, trying and researching. Or are you already in the
phase of organizing all the needed elements? Then there is more research and you
will have to organise and talk to many people... Or are you in the end of the finishing
process yet, building up the piece?
As an example I can tell you something about the developing of my Installation o.T.
2007 in the Cicognani Gallery in Cologne. I was invited to participate by the artist of
the show, Achim F. Willems.
The souterrain rooms of the place are not very charming and have a stiff or static
atmosphere. Some supporting pillars, a staircase to the cellar room and a white tiled
floor lead to a domination of square lines and blocking elements. Although it was
‘difficult' I liked the room due to its sculptural possibilities. I felt inspired to change
the room completely considering its logic of movement, visual focus and forming
elements thus giving a more vibrating atmosphere to it.
In the first phase I was walking and moving around the room, feeling its essential
inner logic. I was present in the room. In that I feel familiar to Richard Serra's
sentence "I am thinking on my feet." Next I was thinking and drawing a lot: analytic
drawings of the space, but also others that were just coming to me. I was trying
some little pieces in different materials when I finally decided to have the pillars
disappear and to contradict the dominant lines. According to my drawings I
developed the idea of wiping out the blocks with "spatial lines" and soon ordered the
amount of wooden laths I needed, after Achim accepting the piece in its full
consequence. With the laths I opened up a new space that led to a new logic of
movement and focus. It also clamped floor and ceiling together, somehow giving an
idea of the weight of the 6 storied house that rested upon this room. The piece
brought as much vibration as tension in the space, some visitors even told me that
they experienced an irritating shift in the floor level between inside of the wooden
space to outside - what I actually did not realize myself, nor did I intend this effect.
5) Nowadays, in a world surrounded by design and new technologies, what does it
mean to be an artist?
Art is a way of reflection that finds its expression in a visual and sensual form.
Keeping to that vision, you make a distinction. As an artist you are not bound to
produce something "useful." The way an artwork is "functioning" lies in its own
subject, logic and formal strategy. Personally, I like the idea of interdisciplinary and
trans-categorical work, wishing for myself to cooperate with people from other
disciplines to realize interesting projects. Artists should mingle in the important
ongoing discourses. Design disciplines, cinematography and the new technologies
led to a high standard of image quality and representation, but also to an inflation of
visual productions. Additionally, some of the natural sciences like the neurosciences,
molecular biology and genetics are generating profound new images - even down to
the molecular level - and want to influence cultural discourses as you may follow in
the concept of freedom or the question of "free will" e.g. in the feuilletons of the
leading newspapers. Some of the protagonists of these sciences try to put their
scientific axioms and standards on top of everything. Here, the artists as well as
everybody else in the cultural field should keep a critical distance, I think. Many
artists reflect and work on this "new technologies" and biosciences. I personally
hope that artists with their ideas are taken more serious again in our scientific,
functional orientated societies. Art is not a luxury, it is an Lebenselixier (elixir of
6) What is the purpose of working with spaces that apparently were not created
with an artistic purpose? For example in the piece named "e-Topography", where we
see a white room that somehow was "invaded" by art?
I am not depending on rooms that were created for an artistic purpose. So far I
would say that I might create a piece that makes sense anywhere. The question is,
whether I like to do it or not. Often I feel inspired by so called "Off rooms", because
they are somehow fresh and not so much burdened with "artistic expectations".
With The Change and The Corner (both 2005) I was happy to work in rooms that
never were used for art presentation before. I really liked that very much and was
happy with the results of the exhibitions.
The idea expressed in e-topography basically goes with every room that has
electricity. I am thinking of the electricity as being the central nervous system of a
room or house. I examined all the rooms - there were 3 - with a metal detector for
their electric mains and conduction wires inside the walls and marked them. After
painting these areas black I designed cables with plugs on both ends and connected
all of the plug-ins, so that they were under electricity. The method I lent from the
idea of "physical examination". I treated the room like a living thing and the result
was like that: you vividly "felt" the presence of the electricity. People got nervous...
The invasion, as you proposed, was from the inside to the outside. It is still one of
my favorite pieces.
7) Do you expect to create a particular reaction in your audience? Specifically with
your installations?
Well, I am developing works with a defined inner logic and context, which means
there are always certain formal and psychological characteristics to which the
audience may react. This is not the same as creating "a reaction". I do not design a
piece in order to get a special reaction by the public. Sometimes my work integrates
the audience. People become part of the piece, if they want to. Often I give a
certain choice to the public as you may see (it) in The Corner (2005), Folienraum
(2005) or in my piece Installation o.T. (2007). People are invited to enter the
pieces, to move inside the foil rooms for example, but some do not follow this
invitation and prefer to watch others entering them. You can assume but not
predict, what they will do, but if your work is well controlled, then its inherent
characteristics lead to certain consequences. And then there are pieces that are
more seductive than others....
8) When you are creating, are you affected by knowing that the final product will
be received by an unknown spectator?
No, not really. Actually, I like that the audience is unknown to me. Of course, I
enjoy showing my work to my friends and the people I know, but neither the first
nor the last does affect my work anyhow.
9) How do the abstract and the figurative elements of your work coexist, thinking
for example in pieces like "Fingers"?
Fingers is an old piece and reflects the process of forming as well as the subject.
The focus was the individual finger, not the whole hand. Presenting them separately
but in their correct row leads to more attention to the single fingers, despite the
context being obvious. It also inspired me to think about what fingers may do,
personally it reminds me of the keys of a piano.
10) The "Installation o. T", (Wuppertal, Pavillon, 1999) (Place and year has to be
mentioned here) refers directly to human skin. Somehow this piece makes me think
about the nature and pureness of the human body, but it also creates an
uncomfortable effect that would be easily described as sinister. What was the effect
you wanted to create in your spectator?
Actually, I did not want to create an effect in the spectator. But your question leads
to the fact that there are always several ways to see a work. Ambiguity lies in the
nature of art, because there is always the spectators with their own individual
dispositions that make a great part of their interpretation. The way I presented
these two human body (latex) skins, a male and a female, refers to this ambiguity.
On the one hand, entering the bright room, you see the beautiful microstructure of
the skin, when you are close by. Also the architectural site - a 19th century pavillon,
originally designed as a music chamber - was very beautiful: it had a poetic and
light atmosphere, standing in a garden above the City of Wuppertal. Somehow it
was a stage. These characteristics enhanced the theatrical element of the piece as
well as the notion of pureness that you mentioned. On the other hand the
presentation of the skin devided in the different body parts may lead to an aspect of
cruelty and sadness, so that the scene might be perceived as a tomb. This,
however, was not my intention. I wanted to create a piece that alters with the
different stages of approximation. Coming to the place you first saw the work from
outside through the windows. Each window gave another perspective on it. Entering
the room you saw the installation as a whole, but were immediately driven to see it
from close by against the light. Most people were very curious and realized these
filigrane structures for the first time in such a clear way.
In the end it is difficult to draw conclusions about an installative work only by
photographs. What is the atmosphere of the work and what is the contribution of
the photographic image? Basically, the photo gives the idea of the piece, its content,
material, place and position but it cannot replace the actual experience of the work
11) "Space drops" is an installation where several elements are determined by the
space in which the piece was located, like the color of the wall, the carpet and the
light of the lamps reflected from the roof. This makes me think about the control
you might have or lose when you work in common spaces. How much control do
you have in a piece of art or in an installation? Do you want to control your work
and it's surroundings? If so, how do you succeed?
Basically there are at least 2 forms of control that you have to distinguish as an
artist. The first is that you have to control your piece. That means you should be
aware of the inherent formal and psychological aspects of the work and its context.
This is about the logic of the piece itself that can be described by certain formal
parameters. Having this control means to create a work that does not lose its
essence despite of different conditions.
The other form of control refers directly to reactions and reflections in the audience.
You cannot control the people, at least I think as an artist you should not, because
this would be manipulation as it is used for example in commercials or political
propaganda in order to reach certain goals.
In my installations I try to create an open situation of choice. Therefore, I control
my piece very well, but leave open a component of experience and experiment to
the audience. I like the idea of corporal and mental reflection and emotion.
Space drops is my contribution in an installation worked out together with Achim F.
Willems. It was realized in an unattractive cellar room without natural light and a
transitory atmosphere. We wanted to do a very simple piece that on the one hand
masters the room and on the other draws a connection to what happened upstairs.
In each balloon you find the image of the room according to its position (in the
room). The balloons were reacting flexible to the movements of the audience
without ever loosing their central image that immediately adapted to every new
position. They were indicators for the movements of the air that was stirred up by
the people walking around, at the same time reflecting them. The people were able
to move wherever they wanted without disturbing the piece they were even part of
the piece.
12) What can you tell to our readers about your influences from music and
Well, I am a passionate reader of all kinds of books. I cannot imagine my life
without reading. Any book may reveal something to you, when it meets you in a
distinctive moment. Regarding my artistic career the philosophical work of Henri
Bergson, especially his book Matière et Mémoire, was a source of inspiration and
reflection for me. By that time I was also reading neuroscience literature, texts on
perception and the constructive nature of the brain. At the moment I am studying
another of Bergson's works, which has the original title Sur les données immédiates
de la conscience.
Another very important book for me is Mein Name sei Gantenbein by the swiss
author Max Frisch. It is a very beautiful and sophisticated novel telling the story of a
man who pretends to be blind after a car accident. The question whether it is only
happening in the imagination of the protagonist is left open until the end. The basic
sentence in the novel is "I imagine..." like "I imagine, my name being Gantenbein..."
Everybody surrounding the protagonist thinks that G. is blind - even his wife - only
because he makes them believe that. He constantly makes "mistakes" which might
reveal his lie, but nobody realizes. It is about how imagination and perception are
bound to knowledge and thinking. The text inspired me to undertake a time of real
voluntary blindness. It was a complex reflexive process that lead me to the three
weeks lasting work Blindstudy. After my blindstudy I realized the importance of the
acoustic element in spatial perception. I want to work with that in the future.
Am I influenced by music? Well, I would say inspired. I remember having a very
deep impression during a concert with contemporary organ music in the cologne
church of St. Peter in December 2006. I experienced the music virtually corporal - it
was a very intense, spatial, three dimensional event for me. It stirred me up and
somehow found its progression in the Blindstudy.
At the moment I am deep into the piano works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and
Schubert, also in Schubert's song art and some of Beethoven's symphonies. I would
love to learn from them and regret that I cannot play the piano myself.
When I am in the conceptional process for a work, I usually never listen to music,
because I want my full concentration then.
13) Which artists have influenced your work and how?
For me the question of influence is more a story of inspiration. I am constantly
influenced by many things around me, but I am inspired only by few. Inspiration
leads your attention to certain aspects and to a personal reflection on them. This
reflection may be of a more formal or of an emotional or psychological kind or of all
together. It always depends on the matter.
Of course I learned from my teachers at the Art Academy in Duesseldorf, Jannis
Kounellis and Daniel Buren.
With Jannis Kounellis the colloquiums were sometimes a bit of a riddle to me. It was
in the beginning of my education. He was always working with you at the essential
point in your work where it meets the essential point of your personality. He saw
things and pointed to them often before you could line them out yourself. Somehow
this had a "spiritual quality". Once in a while I understood a sentence I was taking
down some months later in its meaning for my work. It was very fascinating. I
never met another artist so far, who has such high sense of spirit in the work of
others. He looked to every kind of work and was not restricted by means or
materials, only by quality. In this he really is a Vorbild (model).
In Kounellis' work, especially in his installations, I find a complete unity of material,
formal and emotional logic in relation to space. Somehow he creates theatrical
stages, where things already have happened. It is as if the spectator was too late
for "the piece" and now is left to rebuild it again in his mind while moving through
the exhibition. This leads to a poetic and melancholic trait. It feels like being in the
amphitheater of Epidaurus seeing the stage and the beautiful landscape behind,
moving around and creating a work out of what is given to your eyes. With Kounellis
I developed my skill and ambition to work simple and essential. I want to say that I
always go for this unity of content, material, form and relation to space in my work.
With Daniel Buren I learned much about the formal control of a piece and its relation
to the context. He is a very sophisticated artist and teacher and in our class
colloquium we had extensive intellectual discussions that really brought me to
develop my own thinking on art. He also encouraged us to write. For that I am very
Some other artists that inspired special attentions are Richard Serra, Bruce
Nauman, Barnett Newman, Eva Hesse, Michelangelo Antonioni and the Swiss
architect Peter Zumthor. Lately I also experienced a very good piece of the French
choreographer Jérôme Bel that gave me a good deal to think about.
Richard Serra literally moved me with his work, when I was visiting the 49th Venice
Biennale in 2001 where he was presenting his two big ellipses Left/Right in the
Arsenale! Entering them I almost lost control over my balance, but I had a great
pleasure in walking in them! I never forgot this experience and started thinking it
over. Since I was developing my own 3d work in space, I came back to study
Serra's work two years ago. He is addressing not only the visual, but all our senses,
like the acoustic and haptic as well. This is the basis of 3d perception. Serra's work,
I suppose at least his late work - is one of the few that might be experienced and
understood by visually handicapped people as well, due to their capacity in acoustic
perception and sensibility to vibration. Serra's material seems to be space itself and
he uses the steal elements to form it.
In my own work I decided to have all these perceptive elements addressed that
create a three dimensional experience. Movement in time makes your experience in
space - with this basic realization I work since I read Henri Bergson's Matière et
Bruce Nauman's work expresses a very close relationship between the formal
aspects of a work and its physical and psychological aspects and consequences. He
is always to the point and his pieces never miss atmosphere. I particularly like his
early works, but Mapping My Studio is also one of my favourites.
Eva Hesse had an extraordinary material sensibility that seldom was reached again
by someone else. I love her fragility.
Of course I also learn especially from fellow artists when working or exhibiting
together and hereby I would like to thank them all for the good talks and
discussions we had!
Marietta Schwarz
Foto: Till Hoinkis