An Interview with Florian Genzken

Joanna Holisz interviews Florian Genzken about his recent online exhibition, World Minus Human: On Spotlessness. For New Wave Press, June 2021.

Can you explain the decision to have extended blank spaces between the works and the writing in your exhibition? They almost mirror the content of your work; they are long enough that when scrolling, the screen can be almost blank, but never entirely. They are like breaths which can only be held in for so long before they have to be let go.

Making an online exhibition is – obviously – very different to setting up an exhibition in a physical room, that’s why it was hard for me in the beginning to think about it as a scroll instead of something that you can walk through. In a physical exhibition you’d have to think about viewing axes, spaces between works and of course their format, which all becomes obsolete when it’s about an online show. Texts that come with offline shows are usually written on the wall or given to the visitor in the form of a flyer, therefore the visitor is free to choose the order in which artwork and text are perceived. Curating a show which the viewer has to scroll through gives you more control over the order of perception. Because I didn’t want the text to become something that was merely commenting on my works but having an equal importance, my sister and I decided on leaving the blank spaces. It can also be seen as an invitation to take your time, to first read a text and then look at a work, to go back and forth and to stroll around instead of having the scrolls that are packed with seemingly endless information, that each of us is dealing with daily.

Your landscapes include subject matter which is naturally evasive or in-motion; snow, grass in the wind, clouds, rainbows… Weather seems to be important in the work, and the conditions and landscapes that are created in its temporality. Can you speak about temporality, time, and motion in your work and whether these play a part in your process? 

The aspect of transience plays a big role in my work because I think there‘s an interesting moment in saying „I was here“ by pissing initials into the snow, knowing that this tag won‘t last long. It can be read as a metaphor for making art itself, doing something in the hope of that the product will be seen, that it will last, but at the same time knowing that it‘ll be gone and forgotten soon. Making birds fly the way I want them to in a painting is a ridiculous (or say: humorous) attempt of stating that I‘m there, that I‘m the author of the work and that I‘m the one in control. The idea of being in control is a lie that we all like to tell ourselves in order to overcome the fear of mortality. The birds will pass; the hill will stay.

Stains on a mirror or footsteps on a hill are marks of an action that took place beforehand and have now been completed. Painting these remnants is interesting to me because the act of painting itself means (intentionally) leaving stains. Depicting fictional footsteps takes more time than leaving actual ones.

You paint with a distinct softness which is then often contrasted with a sharp and anomalous marker; a ‘signature’. Where does this contrast come from? What do you think about the interaction between natural and digital landscapes?

The interplay between the two systems text/sign and image is very interesting to me, because they somehow contradict each other in many ways, not only visually but also conceptually. It‘s inevitable that the one is contrasting the other and changing the viewers perspective. In some works I try to figure out how a painting (and our perception of it) changes, when there‘s a sign or letters on it. A bracket stands somewhat disturbingly in the middle of a painting and weakens the illusive impact of the depicted; it’s in the way, sitting on top of the painting without connecting, commenting but making an unclear statement.

Signing a landscape means forcing abstract characters onto it, making it one‘s own, making clear that there is no such thing as an unbiased view, that looking at something always means projecting on it. What’s remarkable about ‚natural‘ and digital landscapes is that they are both designed but when we look at a digital landscape, we know that we‘re looking at something that is man-made. Looking at natural landscape, we mainly see our attributions. 

Your play with the self-portrait is really clever. Scanning mirrors which become prints derails original function. Pissing in the snow – a physical signature, but one which won’t last, and doesn’t explicitly point to you. Can you talk a little about how the self-portrait comes into your work, and whether this is something that you intended to come through at all in the first place?

I came to work with the mirrors because I was thinking about the relationship between surface and superficiality. A mirror is somehow a supersurface, because it is not speaking about itself but instead just throwing back what you put in front of it; mirroring without reflecting. Scanning a thing means just portraying the very surface of something, because it is technically impossible to depict depth. Vain light illuminating itself, broken only by powder and filth. The stains they carry, tell stories about how they‘ve been handled, where they‘ve been touched, showing remnants of an action that has taken place beforehand, witnessing an interaction between human and object. Everyone using a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other personal device is used to being confronted with interacting surfaces giving feedback at any time. What is disturbing about the prints of the scanned mirrors is that they don‘t give any feedback at all but instead the illusion of great black depth and void.

In the landscapes, as well as in the mirrors, one never sees people but only the remnants of their actions. The traces that people leave on objects or their surroundings say a lot about our view of the world surrounding us, one which mainly focuses on utilization. 
In the landscape paintings, I‘m trying to integrate my signature into the imagined environment; forcing my initials on it, inscribing myself into it, forming it, making clear that what we look at is a very individual perception of our surroundings.  

You’ve collaborated with your sister, a writer, on this exhibition. Can you speak about this process; did it change your experience of curating these works and do you think this collaboration has changed how to view your own work or process in general?

It was interesting for me to see how Lisa‘s texts and my works interact, also because – as described above – the interplay between the two systems image and text/sign are important in my work, too. I thought it would be nice to have texts that don‘t explicitly connect with my works or comment on them but stand for themselves instead. The process itself was quite playful because we pushed around my works and Lisa‘s texts in kind of a construction kit manner and tried to find out what could work out well. In my view, both complement each other in a good way because the texts give another perspective on the works and it functions the other way around, too.

Thank you, Florian.

To see more, find Florian on instagram: @floriangenzken