Reduced Rooms with Changing Arrest (Reduced to 88%)
Kassel, June 5, 2002
ML: Could you talk a little bit about your work in Documenta 11 and why you chose a reduction of 88%?
MM: The reconstruction – or the reduction to 88% – of everything in the installation, makes for an interesting parallel with the many documentary-like works within Documenta11. The 88% reduction is more felt than seen and, therefore, has a somewhat alienating effect. Both the alienating distance that accompanies this reduction and the interwoven moments are related to photography. I also wanted to create a number of spaces in which a person could experience what it’s like to be taller. The viewer is slightly more distanced from things. I was looking for a certain subtlety, which is why I reduced everything to 88% and not 85%, for example. A greater reduction would have been too theatrical for me. All the objects in this installation are actually real, three-dimensional, reduced representations of the original objects. It’s simply a three-dimensional photograph.
So it’s a representation of reality that, up until now, has never appeared anywhere in the world. It’s a reduction of a reality that doesn’t exist. Could you talk a little bit about how each of the works within this concept relate to photography?
In Sand Room (Three Reconstructions at 88% of Three Consecutive Moments from May 15, 1993), I stacked three reduced reconstructions of a room on top of one another. The piece, which I made in 1993, consists of a room made completely of sand. In one of the corners of this room is a quantity of sand that continually takes on different forms. The three rooms that have been stacked on top of one another are reconstructions of three consecutive moments from May 15, 1993, and can be seen as three three-dimensional film stills.
So the sand in the corner of the room is constantly mutating.
Yes; on May 15, it was initially a round, moon-like head with a body that gestured subtly to the wall and the floor of this sand room. A little later, this figure turned into a volcano and then a toilet, on which two femurs lay. These changing forms are always made up of the same amount of sand, which transformed itself beyond my reach. This process continues unabated, and I could conceivably make countless reconstructions of it. For Documenta, I chose three consecutive moments with a time difference of only one frame.
In another work in the same installation, namely the two figures in Reduced November Room, a similar doubling of moments in time takes place.
Yes, two large figures that appear to be identical at first sight stand on the table, but a closer examination reveals that they are actually the same figure at two consecutive moments with slightly different facial expressions and posture. They appear to be two replicated film stills, which give the figure a life of one second.
What led to the figure’s creation?
The figure was created by means of a rather complex process. First of all, I combined three nude models into a kind of hybrid: two girls and a boy. I then altered the resulting model by means of a diagram based on the differences in form between two existing kinds of fish. You can imagine that one kind of fish evolved into another kind by a contorted, clumsy process of compression. I applied the diagram derived from this transformation process to the hybrid model. Subsequently, I gave the model more anatomically correct features. I made the walls of the installation about six feet high, which are approximately a foot away from the immaculately white walls, which are just over sixteen feet high. The resulting effect is the creation of an endless white space behind these low walls.
One of the buckets in this room also consists of two moments, but unlike the two figures, the buckets are joined together.
I created a classic still life with this bucket and several other objects, which include a bone with a bump on it and a large group of packs of sugar, which together carry a red arrow. In any case, I was very precise in arranging the individual elements of this still life. I then made an exact copy of this still life, after which I shifted the original in relation to the copy, as one might do with two identical slides on a light box. A small iron pin behind the bucket functions as a turning pivot. This is how the joined buckets were created. Another result of this shift was that the arrow of the sugar group of the first moment points to the bump on the bone of the second (shifted) moment.
Those sound like descriptions from a medical textbook to me.
Yes. Ultimately, of course, these are all attempts at incorporating the passage of time in the building that is at a complete standstill.
Could you talk a little bit now about the kitchen you made?
It’s a convergence of various things I’ve been working with for many years. It’s actually a three-dimensional painting. At the back of the piece is a large, empty, unprepared canvas. I’ve made an enormous frame around the canvas in the shape of a kitchen. The kitchen eventually became the front of the piece. I’ve stripped the word ‘kitchen’ to the point that only the naked essence of the concept of a kitchen remains.The stream of water has been adjusted so that it looks as if it’s standing still.
It’s become a completely different material; only by looking very closely can you tell that it’s actually water.
I created a sculpture around a simple, everyday object. It’s a reference to Vermeer’s unbelievably static painting The Kitchen Maid. Actually, just like in Vermeer’s painting, it’s about a moralistic aspect of artistry – namely, the lifting up of an everyday object.
A faucet also appears in Machine Constructed to Provide Persistent Absence.
It’s difficult for me to talk about this sculpture; I worked on it for about seven years. The result was all different types of metals that constantly turn into different words: from an iron faucet into an iron stream of water into an iron projector, and so on. It’s a kind of series of words and, in its syntax, seems to be an ‘escape machine’ driven by two stylized iron dogs. In its entirety, it’s actually a big, iron body. It’s similar in many ways to Staged Android (p.59). The formal structure of this work is based on the construction of a simple organism or life form. The basic functions have been enlarged and converted into objects and wordless forms. The piece has an obvious entrance with a number of aggressive iron pins and an exit in the shape of a smokestack. Above the smokestack is an iron gauge. In addition, a big, rugged animal form has been crudely bound to the table. The animal most closely resembles a simplified, bolting cow that has been attached to the iron construction under the table. Underneath this sculpture is a reduced set of clothes as well.
I’m struck by the fact that both works suggest movement – with the boat-like piano form and the driving dogs in one and the animal in the other – but because of the way they’re made, neither of them allows for movement at all; they’re more like unwieldy pieces of furniture that will never leave their rooms.
These two works within the installation also refer to a kind of landscape, to something located outside a living room.
We spoke earlier about your nocturnal landscapes; here, you’ve completely integrated a nocturnal landscape into the architecture of the installation.
It’s an enormous three-dimensional night photograph, which has been cropped by the walls and the glass. In the landscape is a reduced scene, a scene that officially should be dramatic. Because of the way I composed the still life, however, it’s actually pure melancholy. I purposely arranged the rugged still life in a typically Dutch, linear, stern manner. It’s a very rhythmic arrangement, one that, fictionally, was made on a warm Sunday afternoon, after which it was abandoned and then appropriated by the night.
Because of the chairs, it also resembles an enormous table with a three-dimensional, surrealist representation.
I don’t think my work or this work in particular has anything at all to do with surrealism. I see my work first and foremost as clear, conceptual constructions in which poetic representations sometimes do, in fact, appear. In my opinion, the surrealists worked in a very different way – more like someone who uncontrollably knits a scarf; I think that Dali best illustrates this. My work has nothing to do with dreams or with Freudian writings, either.
I find it an incomprehensible but still quite familiar representation. Of course, it’s a mental night photograph originating in the artist’s mind which has then materialized and been laid on the sand. It’s a representation that has never been shown before: a rope hangs loosely between two bottles, traversing a cat that has been cut in half; then, with heavily hanging loops, it makes its way over three little cups, after which it concludes with a long inverted arch between two more bottles. Both inverted arches seem to create different visual tones but, despite their similarity of appearance, are completely different, since the first inverted arch cuts through an area of extreme tension. There seem to be myriad possibilities regarding the placement of objects in relation to each other in the world.
Because of the effect of the glass, the scene is almost a ready-made photograph that visitors make in a split second in their heads and then take with them.
The entire installation Reduced Rooms with Changing Arrest (Reduced to 88%) should be seen in relation to a normal chair which has not been reduced and which is shown behind a glass display case (p. 47). In this way, this normal chair sets itself apart from reality and the reduced installation.
An identical copy of this chair at a reduction of 88% is also part of the installation. By placing the normal 100% chair in the display case, reality is in fact displayed.
So this is how you incorporate reality in your three-dimensional photograph.
My work is an ode to the fictional, ‘as if’ way of thinking. I believe it’s important that people deal with fiction as if it were reality, despite the understanding that it’s fiction. The fictional element in my Self-portrait as a Building, of which this installation is a part, serves as a pole vault, which, upon my release, propels me forward into new territory. It’s not an attempt to escape reality; it’s a part of reality. I simply want to explore how far one can go in thinking and how that thinking can creep into a particular material which, from that vantage point, is then repeatedly registered in the mind, over and over again.
Finally, could you talk briefly about how you decided to become an artist?
It was a convergence of several aspects, of course. First of all, it’s fantastic to live and to be able to zoom in on a piece of wood that might be lying in your garden. I can’t allow myself to leave this world without first having said something. When I was eighteen, I realized that I had an affinity with the language of the visual arts, and I immediately felt a great sense of obligation to use it with care and in a concentrated way. At that time, I was also extremely fascinated by the fact that I wore shoes and that my feet had become so weak after undergoing such a long evolutionary process and that they could no longer do without the protection afforded by my shoes. I was extremely fascinated then by how humanity had arrived at the human world through innumerable decisions and how the human body related to this. I wanted to add a self-portrait to this – not a personal self-portrait in the literal sense, but more the idea of a self-portrait, the idea of a construction, a fictional self-portrait. A construction found outside the body, like shoes. I still believe that art is the language to work in. It’s ultimately closer than science. After all, what am I? A human being who unfolds into a horrifying amount of language and material by means of very precise conceptual constructions.