LA PAROLE AUX ARTISTES #6 — JANINE EGGERT
JANINE EGGERT’s works are recognisable by their preoccupation with forms of ornamentation, production processes and constructional elements. In recent years, she developed a series of minimalist and abstract sculptures, often covered with colourful layers of epoxy resin or made of stained glass. The sculptures undergo a transformation process in which they are enlarged or change shape, resulting in absurd and unique objects. By doing so, the artist reveals the essence and aesthetics of the object in all its banalities. We spoke to the artist about how she started working with these sculptural forms and how the artworks evolve from small drawings to large-scale sculptures that ultimately build an interaction between object, space and the viewer.
SARIE NIJBOER: The objects you create often involve forms of ornamentation, as well as elements of construction and abstraction. How did you start working with these different sculptural forms?
JANINE EGGERT: That has developed over time, during my studies I dealt on the one hand with abstraction; how I can represent something with few means, and on the other hand I explored minimal art – specifically the relationship between viewer and object, or space and object.
With abstraction, I find that one inevitably comes to ornamentation, because it can be viewed as the first original form of artistic expression, like the ornamentation of objects in the Neolithic era and also seems to be the actual original abstract representation of the world. So for me, ornaments are the origin of abstraction, of construction, which is something that I have been occupied with a lot.
Through my involvement with minimal art in relation to the production of sculpture, I came to be more intensely involved with industrial techniques. I have always been fascinated by production processes, and at some point there was a connection between machinery, that is mechanical, technological and constructional elements, as well as abstraction.
SN: These elements are in a certain way still recognisable, one recognises the form, but at the same time through your artistic process there is an alienation, for example by the colouring or the use of materials, but above all by the play with scale, enlarged or shrunk. What processes do you go through in the creation of your work?
JE: It starts with a visual archive that is constantly expanding, in which I collect images of components, machines and architectural elements. There are images that have been around for years but suddenly catch my attention, for example because of a quality they have or because they evoke an idea of how I can realise them as a sculptural form. To further develop the qualities that have intrigued me, I start with pencil drawings where I begin to think about proportions and form. When I later on decide to produce something, I draw it in 3D on the computer. I then create a blueprint, a kind of cutting plan, which I then develop manually with polystyrene, steel, epoxy resin, paper, glass or other materials. It’s a ping-pong between manual or analog and digital elements.
SN: In this process, do unexpected things happen that change the concept or is there a certain fixation to the outcome?
JE: There’s always something changing during the process. I have an idea in my head and create a production repertoire, but when I start making a work, often new elements arise. That’s why it’s important for me to make the sculptures by hand. For example, the finish that I often use for the surface – dripped and layered colored epoxy resin – is something that has emerged during the creation process.
SN: The dialogue and contrast between very smooth and rough surfaces is recognisable in your practice, but also the presentation in space and how your sculptures can change the surrounding. How important is the relationship with the space during the making?
JE: I think that’s something I developed from my involvement with minimal art. The idea that a sculpture is not an image of something but that it is an object in its own right. It is what it is and it doesn’t want to be a representation of a picture. I always have a reference to how I envision it in space, it should reflect a kind of usability, or an active element waiting for action.
SN: In addition to your polystyrene and steel sculptures, you also work with glass, which is a completely different medium, involving more fragility and fine details. How did you come to work with glass?
JE: It is a long history how I got into it, but this too, already started during my studies. I was interested in stained glass and the context of religion, not because I grew up religious, but because of an experience of religious fanaticism in a family where I lived as an exchange student. As a result, religion took on a particular alienating meaning for me and I started looking into the images and structures religion relies on. So I eventually came across the techniques of stained-glass church windows. I was so fascinated by it and then applied for an internship at a small workshop working with lead and coloured glass. If you work with this medium, you immediately come to the Tiffany method, or copper foil method, a stained-glass technique where copper foil tape is soldered between the pieces of glass to hold them in place. This technique was originally developed in the 19th century in the US within the Art Nouveau movement and used to create very precious glassworks. Later in the 70s or 80s of the 20th century it became very known because of these coloured lampshades that were cheaply mass-produced and than became popular kitsch items. The great thing about this technique is that you can arrange it three-dimensionally, unlike lead glass. While studying at the time, I made my first sculpture using this technique. I kept working with it, not because of its origin, but because of the ambiguity of this technique, on the one hand it is kitsch but on the other it has an artistic background, such as the Jugendstil movement.
SN: Another reoccurring part of your practice, is your collaboration with your partner Philipp. How did this collaboration come about?
JE: The collaboration with Philipp started while we were both studying at the art academy in Hamburg. There was a desire to leave the art academy and not work there in the studios of the academy but outside of it. With a group of people we were able to get a large empty office space for free. There was a dissatisfaction with the way the art academy was functioning and the idea that you don’t necessarily have to work at the university to create work, you can work anywhere, and we wanted to see what that would look like. The desire emerged because we had friends across classes, but the school is organised so that you have your permanent professor with your permanent classmates and your permanent classroom more or less. So the new place really became a social hub of the different disciplines, we ate together and did a lot of work that might not have been done at art school, because we felt more liberated and not observed. It was during this time that Philip and I realised that there was a lot of overlap in our practice and we began to work together. A main component of our collaboration is dialogue; ideas emerge through conversation and research together. We both have an interest in production techniques and this has further developed over time. The joint work influences our individual work and vice versa. It’s always a question of whether we still need all three practices, but we always come back to the idea that what we produce and brew on our own feeds back into the joint work. I am interested in many things and the joint work offers different parameters than in my individual work. I find it very enriching to have both.
SN: In the past you have also collaborated a lot with other artists through curating and organising exhibitions. What role does it play in your artistic practice?
JE: I see curating as a prominent part of my practice because again it is about the engagement with space. I always choose to work with certain architectural places, not per se art-specific places, like for example the projects I did with Sybille Jazra and others in Funkhaus in Berlin. (https://www.funkhaus-berlin.net/p/silent-empire-sep17.html, http://www.arcadia-unbound.de/) That was always part of the curatorial consideration, that the space should have a character, a specificity of its own, that gets activated by the confrontation and juxtaposition with art objects, the same for the project space I had in Moabit. This space was right next to my studio, which was passed on to us by a happy coincidence. The studio was in an old brewery, where we were as a temporary tenants because the building was to be remodeled into a shopping mall. Next to our studio, on the same floor, was a 400m2 metal workshop and the guy who rented the space retired already a few months before the final eviction of all tenants. So I was able to convince the landlord to leave it for the remaining couple of months to me and together with Philipp I put a lot of energy into cleaning it up. It was a cool space, it was important to me to show sculptural positions there because there was this large space with a 5 meter high ceiling. I mean, which project space has that? So I used this architectural feat to expand my network, I always invited people (that I didn’t know) to curate an exhibition with me specifically with sculpture or space related works. The result was a mixture of artists who didn’t know each other, and I got to know a lot of people through that.
SN: Are there any projects in the pipeline for the coming year?
JE: In October this year, I am going to Los Angeles for a Villa Aurora fellowship. There’s a video project I want to produce there, as well as a couple of sculpture and screen print projects that are related to what I’m doing now, but with a different focus. The video is a very conceptual piece about architecture and again space and spatial politics and architecture theory. I hope I will be able to do the project because it depends on whether I get access to the location I plan on filming at. I am very curious to see what will happen and how it will eventually take shape.