Interview with artist Antje Majewski by Elke aus dem Moore
(excerpt from the exhibition catalogue)
Your work Entity is part of the FUTURE PERFECT exhibition. Could you say something about how this work came about and also what precisely it has to do with the future?
The work itself is a futuristic story of the future, which was created for the exhibition Dubai Düsseldorf in the Düsseldorf Kunstverein. A number of people were invited to design architectural structures, fashion, flags, and a currency for the future twin-city-state of “Dubai-Düsseldorf.” It was my job as an artist to design the art of the future. I asked myself what an art of the future might look like, one which would be interesting for both Dubai and Düsseldorf. Dubai is an Islamic cultural area and thus for religious reasons subject to the prohibition of figurative images. Dubai imports a great deal of Western art. What could art look like that is not religious but nonetheless adheres to Islamic rules?
I then designed a scenario in which the artist “Antje Majewski” works together with a biotechnology company so as to develop an organism as a work of art: a living monad that does nothing other than digest itself so as to slowly die and transform itself into a mummified Entity. Entity is simply the “being thing” that has no further properties than to be and to live. I thought that people would develop some pity for this thing and thereby become aware of what being human means—communication with our surroundings and other people. A bit like in the work of Immanuel Kant. You come across something totally unknown, but it reminds you of what you yourself are. Via an encounter with the non-human we might experience what we could be as human beings in a community. When the viewer feels pity with the Entity, then this is with a being that can feel no pain of its own but that can provide people with a cathartic pain.
The painting entitled Donation shows how “Antje Majewski” presents the finished organism in the Pavilion of the Entity, a building of the future that is based on an architecture design by Ralf Pflugfelder and Markus Miessen (nOffice). Inside this pavilion I painted people I know, wearing clothing that I could imagine as a mixed fashion of various elements that could be used in the future in Dubai. The painting is reminiscent of a work by Piero della Francesca, Meeting between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, an encounter between two cultures that is very dignified and involves the handing over of gifts.
But then the story does not go on so well, for after another fifty years people have turned the Entity into an object of religious devotion. People try to touch the shrine, and it becomes a kind of Kaaba. Markus Miessen and Ralf Pflugfelder have designed an enormous center for pilgrims, with the shrine in the center where the Entity is kept. This now replaces all art. This is the art museum of the future, which has only one object on show.
Several decades later there has been a revolution and the shrine is destroyed. A vegetables salesman took a few remains away, a round decorative element, painted to look like the Entity, with abstract circles that could also be pimples on the surface of the organism. In my installation there is a piece of wall, against which the Decorative Element is leant, and underneath this there is a small glass cube, in which the totally shrunken mummy of the Entity can be seen. Between the handover and the vegetable dealer lies a period of about a hundred years. The whole story is told
in a text that you can take with you.
I am interested in how you address central questions and issues in interreligious and transcultural life and draw on forms of communication that are the basis of cultural translation. You work on making old knowledge available and experiential. Knowledge that is not just cognitive but also combined with intuition and spirituality. Do you see the chance of using art to activate forms of old knowledge?
For me Entity is the beginning of a journey, a search by means of objects, which culminated in a large exhibition project in the Kunsthaus Graz: The World of Gimel in 2011. The first object here, the Entity, is the object that is totally unapproachable, but perhaps holds some hidden meaning within (as in Kant). I think the moment when one realizes that the world is quite unknown in a crazy way can lead to two reactions. You can either be horrified or fascinated. The fascinating side to the strange world of which we are a part is something spiritual for me, the astonishment that the world is so magnificent and contains so many wondrous things. My monad is no stranger than a spider, if you take a close look at the spider. In The World of Gimel seven objects from various parts of the world were investigated. I went to the places they came from, to China, Africa, and Europe, and everywhere I spoke with people about the objects and learned a lot.
It is very important to respect the stories that an object contains, its cultural origins, the history of the people who once held these objects in their hands. There is also the respect for the autonomous life of the earth, respecting too that we cannot do what we want with the earth, but that ultimately even the things that we ourselves make are in a certain way inaccessible to us.
Antje Majewski, born in 1968 in Marl, lives in Berlin. She works with painting, video, and performance, often in collaborative contexts. Her works are based on anthropological questions, which she refers to concrete cultural and historical situations.