Artist's Favourites by Antje Majewski
All five of the artists I’ve chosen have great personal and artistic significance for me. Except for Leonore Mau, I’ve worked with all of them in various ways, engaged with their work for years, and learned a lot from them in a lively and ongoing process of exchange. In selecting them, I’ve been guided above all by two thoughts: how can one relate to situations and objects so that there is an exchange among things, people, and world? And what might an art look like that speaks creole, non-Eurocentric languages?
Issa Samb (alias Joe Ouakam) is an artist, philosopher, and writer. He was a member of the group Laboratoire Agit’Art, which was founded in Dakar in 1974 and sought to discover a new, experimental, and shared language for art. It attached great importance to a dynamic and participatory process in which not just people but chance – environmental noises, for example – could also play a role. Samb lives and works in an open courtyard surrounded by arcades. Cords stretch from these arcades to a huge tree in the middle of the courtyard, with countless things hanging from them: dolls, knives, X-ray photographs …. All these objects have meanings for him that can enter into new constellations on a daily basis. Four years ago, I had a conversation with Samb that was very important for me. I was thinking about several objects in my private universal museum, "the world of Gimel". Samb talked about using objects: "There is still the refusal to accept that beyond the meaning we give, or that people give, to socialized cultural objects, there is the meaning that objects give to themselves, which we haven’t created. But we have to have the courage to take that step. To recognize that beyond the fact of being able to charge up the object, […] the object in and of itself possesses a force; a life that signifies, and does so independently of our volition, of our needs, of our wishes, and our aesthetic concerns to make objects go in those directions that we indicate to them."
*1945 in Senegal, lives in Dakar
Juliane Solmsdorf works with pictures of objects that she translates back into sculptures. She registers found situations with a camera or commits them to memory. It often takes great effort to reconstruct them and turn them into artworks that endure beyond the fleeting moment. With barstools waiting to be transported by the side of the road, she makes exact copies if that specific model can’t be found. In the exhibition space, a wind machine creates a simulation of the wind that fills plastic bags caught on a wire-mesh fence. Juliane and I have worked together several times in the past, particularly on performances, but we have also exhibited my paintings and her "Remarked Sculptures" together as a combined group of works. At first glance, figurative oil paintings and barstools have nothing in common, but actually our methods are similar. We come upon a real situation or arrangement that is already "art" and register it with a camera. Through our work on a sculpture or painting, it acquires a form that can then be communicated to others. Conversely, we also create ephemeral performative situations that can be experienced by others; these are captured on video. For me, making art with others is a great joy. For two years, we have both been members of the feminist group ƒƒ, through which we work with various artists and of course continue to collaborate with each other.
*1977 in Berlin, lives in Berlin
This fall, Paweł Freisler and I are planning a joint exhibition at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź that will center on apples. I should point out that I only know Paweł from a long exchange of e-mails. It began when two Polish friends of mine told me that my performance involving a black ball from Poland (one of the Gimel objects) reminded them of a steel egg that Freisler had commissioned from a precision instruments firm in 1964. It was supposed to be the ideal egg, the model for all chicken eggs. The egg was not to be displayed at exhibitions but carried around, for example in one’s pocket. Whoever it was given to had to produce it on request and tell a story about it. I simply had to have that egg, and I got it too, but only after solving a lot of riddles and borrowing, copying, and stealing it. A copy of it is buried in my garden in Porta Coeli today. One of the riddles was from the egg to …, which fortunately I was able to complete with the help of the Roman saying "ab ovo usque ad mala" ("from the egg to the apples"). Hence Freisler’s request for apples, which I’m naturally planning to honour – all year long. But Freisler’s time isn’t linear, and it doesn’t follow our calendar. So it’s hard to say how long I’ll be dealing with eggs and apples – probably I always have and will forever.
*1942 in Kaposvár, Hungary, lives in Malmö
In the 1950s, Leonore Mau was a successful architectural photographer, married with children, when she met the writer Hubert Fichte, who was gay and twenty years her junior. They became a couple, long-term, and in 1962 began travelling widely, especially in South and Central America, as well as in Africa, where they became particularly interested in the African-American religions Cadomblé, Vodoun, and Santería. While Fichte studied the plants used to make drinks for initiation rites and the local gay cruising spots, Mau took photographs of ceremonies and people in trance states – also of everyday life. In Psyche: Annäherung an die Geisteskranken in Afrika (Psyche: An Approach to the Mentally Ill in Africa, 2005), they brought together images and conversations, including some from the experimental research taking place at the Fann Psychiatric Clinic in Dakar. Mau’s images, like Fichte’s texts, reflect a passionate and respectful interest in alternative ways of understanding the world. Neither of them actively participated in the ceremonies, and neither did they undergo initiation themselves (unlike the photographer Pierre Verger, aka Fátúmbí). Nevertheless, they are not ethnologists or anthropologists. They are artists. They transform what they see into something new, a creole language with a new web of meanings and relationships – like the religions they studied.
*1916 in Leipzig, †2013 in Hamburg
Olivier Guesselé-Garai’s roots in France, Cameroon and Hungary inspired his search for a lingua franca in the arts – a universal pictorial language based on geometric forms. What I find extremely interesting is his attempt to revive the language of modernism and shift it into a global field, opening up new possibilities that could potentially save it from its categorisation as a Eurocentric, masculine, hegemonic language. For him (as for me), the writings of Édouard Glissant are very important; in particular his idea of a tout-monde or "whole world" in which languages could merge and generate new creole languages. Guesselé-Garai is fascinated by the works and manifestos of De Stijl, but he also loves the work of lesser-known female abstract artists such as Hilma af Klint, Katarzyna Kobro, and Dora Maurer. For him the »universal language« that these artists strived for can only develop if its universalism is deconstructed at the same time. Only then can we reach a truly global viewpoint, allowing the wonderful colours and intricate geometric forms that can be found in traditional glass-bead work in Cameroon, for example, or Ndebele house painting in South Africa, to count for as much as De Stijl.
*1976 in Paris, lives in Berlin.
Translated by James Gussen
Antje Majewski (*1968) is interested in the independent life of objects, in their innate meaning and its capacity for change. Objects from far-away lands such as seashells, stones, and snails are incorporated into her universal museum, "the world of Gimel". They emerge in surreal scenes in her figurative paintings and are also the subject of conversations recorded on video. Majewski is a member of the feminist artists’ network f f. She lives in Berlin.