The Berlin based artist, known for setting the roof of the Neue Nationalgalerie alight, speaks to IC about his “artistic activism” and what role that has with his collectors. Here, Fabian Knecht discusses how you purchase something that is ephemeral and the various methods of commissioning and documenting an artwork that does not fit in the typical confinements of an art collection.
Do you have a particular collector that is present in the creation of your work?FABIAN KNECHT
It always depends on the project. There are artworks I finance by myself. Bigger artworks are mostly financed by collectors often in cooperation with my galleries. The work ‘FREISETZUNG’, 2014, is a good example of how to work together with the participants including the collectors.
After receiving the possibility to offer an artwork for the Neue Nationalgalerie I created a concept which was site specific to the Neue Nationalgalerie building of Mies van der Rohe in a nice and also critical way. The building is a huge weight for any artist. You can’t deny it like a normal white cube or other institution. There are no walls to hang work on and every sculpture one puts inside is then also inside the city and not separated from the outside. In a way, the building seems to not funcition as an art gallery. I saw the difficulty as an oppurtunity and decided that I wanted to revert the building back to a functional (architectual) object. To use it as a pedestal, a stand, a plinth. After this initial concept, there was also the thinking of the use of smoke; a perfect contrast to the architecture. It is white, chaotic, in movement, transforming… and of course there is the possibility to see the museum as a power station, vision and cloud factory as well as the pictures from war and catastrophes coming into our mind. All of this created a basic idea which I then sent to art historian Dr. Ursula Ströbele who created a comprehensive text and a fundamental view for the piece.
As soon as we got the okay for ‘FREISETZUNG’, I spoke to some collectors of mine if they would be able to support the artwork. They saw the concept and the sketches and were happy to give me the money needed to realize the project. I think that’s pretty important sometimes to get the chance to realize a work and it is a bit dangerous as well. I had this vision in my mind but there is always a chance, especially in performance and “Aktionskunst”, that it could fail or that the sketches look different to the final artwork. For example, if there is a foggy day the vision is gone. After doing a lot of performance work inside public spaces you learn how to avoid the great risks that come with this way of working. I am happy that the collectors trusted me and in the end they were all happy with the final artwork.
Your work is often large-scale or performance based, in particular Freisetzung and Entladung. How do you go about selling it to a potential collector?FABIAN KNECHT
Most of my “Aktionen” and performances are time-based; a limited experience, so of course there is a difference between the “Aktion” and the documentation. The challenge is to find a way that the documentation becomes a stand alone aspect of the work which represents the Aktion in a special way. The video for ‘FREISETZUNG’ is showing the smoke sculpture from around 50-60 different angles, which as a visitor you can’t see. So the documentation gives the Aktion another dimension.
For the work ‘Endung’, 2014, a man jumped from a 23m high building. With the use of photographers, I was able to freeze the moment of the fall which made the situation more abstract. This is also an extension of the human capacity.
A current Aktion ‘VERNEINUNG’ happened in Baghdad, Iraq and I’m now presenting the project in my current exhibition in Berlin as a photograph, and a video with the art object (a huge poster of 8 x 3 m) that was produced in Baghdad. In this case my hope is that the documentation, done by Iraqi artist Murtada Faisal, brings the content to new places and that it can be shared around the world.
How important is the role of a collector to an artist?FABIAN KNECHT
The role of a “good” collector is important. For me a good collector is someone who is not just interested in decorative objects. Why are so many people just collecting pieces that are hung on the wall? In general this has nothing to do with the art I understand. If you buy an artwork you get an universe, a philosophy. Are you nailing a book on the wall as a decorative object? Probably not. However, that doesn’t mean that everything on the wall is bad, but we have to keep in mind that we all came into this world with nothing and we all leave this world with nothing. Collecting art pieces that are conceptual and/ or immaterial can be something really beautiful.