A pleasant encounter during Berlin Art Week last September, was meeting self-taught Berlin-based artist Tilo Schulz who was then on show with a solo exhibition at Galerie Jochen Hempel located in the dense gallery cluster around Lindenstrasse. The show notably presented an impressive suite of paintings made on location but we learned that Tilo's practice stretches far beyond the medium of painting with a notable interest in the physical space stemming from a background in wrestling.
C-P: We first met back in September during Berlin Gallery Weekend the day after the opening of your show at Galerie Jochen Hempel. It was a most pleasant surprise as I wasn't familiar with your work prior and you were most kind to offer a brief introduction on the spot.
The show mainly presented abstract paintings made on location at the gallery premises. I learned, however, that your cross-disciplinary practice extends far beyond paintings and not only to visual art but also to poetry and curation. Having read up a bit on your work since, architectural elements, play on dimensions and the notion of space seem to reoccur throughout your body of work, as for example in the cases of 'Stage Diver' (2008) carried out at Secession in Vienna and 'Schritte, zwischen' (2014) at Haus der Kunst in Munich. Where does this interest stem from?
T.S: In 4th grade I began to wrestle. Wrestling combines movement and space in an almost architectural way. In German you even find architectural terms for techniques like "Brücke" (bridge). You constantly create different spaces in reaction to and combination with your opponent. This physical approach towards space through movement or denial of space has become one of my main concerns since then. Having grown up in a political system which denied access to a whole part of the world or cut of a space in the middle of a road like in Berlin, I developed a specific relation to access and denial of space, physically and mentally.
As an artist I have worked with the idea of space as much as with its physical presence. You refer to the rather large installations at the Secession and the Haus der Kunst but you could even bring in 'Tied up and down: how to consider force a privilege' (2013) at The Model in Sligo and 'Orbit' (2014) at the Kunstverein Hannover. All of them altered the existing architecture in a way which looped back to your own movement and existence in that space. By doing so each installation touched upon different spatial elements and characteristics. 'Stage Diver' was a built-in architecture which combined different kinds of architecture of presentation: stage, studiolo and catwalk. 'Schritte, zwischen' was a mixture of a poem sound piece, a massive spatial structure and few painterly interventions. It dealt among others with expulsion of space. 'Orbit' was different in the sense that I didn't build a whole structure. Instead I used different elements of space; these elements redefined the transition from one exhibition space to another and redirected your perception of the actual exhibition spaces and your motion through them.
To come back to your original question: over the last 25 years my understanding of space has taken different forms and shapes in front of different ideological backgrounds. It goes back to very personal experiences as described earlier and has led me to a notion of space less related to presentation and more to perception-room. For me it is less interesting to fill an exhibition space than to work with the 'coordinates' of that space to create a defined number of trails between visitor, artwork and space. Some of the trails keep you inside the exhibition and some lead you outside. And this practice has less to do with ”institutional criticism” and more with a 'potential' view on my surrounding.
C-P: Tell us a little about your method of working.
T.S: It all depends on the topic, the situation and my reaction to it. I don't have a specific media, I am not specialized in any style. I change my methods from time to time. Therefore my answer to your question will have to be rather generic:
I see the advantages or in some cases even the necessity to work your whole life in one system or style or with a specific method. And I understand that it might be crucial to make a living from your artistic practice. I am not blind or naive in that way. But I always felt the urge to question my own system after a while, not only to adjust but to re-evaluate. I am very serious and thorough in developing a method, style or system to work in. But I am as serious and thorough in dismantling those systems. Of course, this means that my claims or answers to a problem are sometimes only temporary. Some experiences I could carry through different periods of the last 25 years and some I am arguing against today, taking a very different point of view.
I once had a math teacher for an advanced math class. He really couldn't give a fuck about the result. Instead he tried to motivate us to find our own way to solve the problem or maybe two or three ways but not to use any given way. To look at a problem from different angles with different glasses in different moods at different times.
Sorry about me drifting away. But as an artist I am constantly confronted with new academic terms like 'method of work', 'artistic practice', 'research' without that these terms are questioned nor the ideologies behind them. Sometimes I feel caged by all these descriptions, classifications etc. You asked me about my method and I could talk about 15 different methods I used and some of them would not approve each other. And still these methods might have been right for me at the time. The approach to my work is constantly challenged by my own development as a human and vice versa. During the last years intuition (very often physical intuition) has became a serious part of approaching a problem or developing the outline of an exhibition. I learned to trust intuition as a wrestler in the 1980s. In the 1990s for several reasons forgot it and worked and lived with rather rigid systems. And now intuition is back. And I feel the world is much wider and brighter.
Having said that, I don't want to sound arbitrary. What I am trying to say is that I need to agree or disagree with myself and others. I need the freedom to do an exhibition which claims the opposite of what my exhibitions claimed 10 years ago. And therefore I have to challenge my methods constantly.
C-P: You're a self-taught artist which I find quite rare, at least among a younger generation of artists working today. How did things start out for you?
T.S: You are right, most of the artists today have an institutional education. But it doesn't necessarily mean a bad thing. Times have changed, academies have more to offer. And I guess in the end it is a personal decision which way you walk and what you pick up along that way. In my case there is no big story. I come from a working class background, did my apprenticeship as a mechanic in a power station in a coal mining area. During the turbulent times of the late 1980s my world got upside down. And I guess at one point I was looking and was in the need for a more precise and different language to communicate, to exist. That language–without my awareness at the time–became art. I started writing, painting, interventions in the city space, curating. It seemed natural and strange to me at the same time back then. I always have been reading and I mentioned my history with wrestling; I guess if you have a structural view on the world it is easy to switch from one system to another. From wrestling to installation, from text to painting.
C-P: On the note of curation, I remember you telling me about having worked with celebrated Swedish artist Cecilia Edefalk in an exhibition a while back. Is there one among your curatorial projects that stands out as particularly memorable?
T.S: That is a tough call. There was my first curated show back in 1996 called 'Structures of painting' which I am still trying to understand. Or the more conceptual approaches with 'the real and the fake' at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm or 'exhibition without exhibition' in the late 1990's. There was a series of shows at Haus für die Kunst founded by 77-year-old artist Erwin Wortelkamp in a rural region of West-Germany. Between 2013 and 2015 I have been occupied with a curatorial project called 'six memos for the next...'. I worked with two curators, an author and two artists as a team and we just published a book as a result of shows and processes over two years at the Magazin 4 in Bregenz. It was one hell of a ride.
The show you refer to was called 'The second gaze' and was a collaboration with Veronika Olbrich in 2013, the former director of the Städtische Galerie Nordhorn. It was a sensual entanglement of works from the 1980's until today by Cecilia Edefalk, Carsten Fock, Schirin Kretschmann, Matts Leiderstam, Fabián Marcaccio, Platino and Cornelia Renz. All works which have a kind of reflection of their own existence as part of the work.
But if I would have to pick one out without degrading the specific quality of each curated exhibition, I would go for 'squatting', a show I curated together with art historian and curator Jörg van den Berg at the Temporäre Kunsthalle in Berlin in 2010. It was maybe the most elaborate and precise installation of artworks I've done so far in such accumulating combinations like On Kawara, Anna Opperman and Antje Majewski or Michael Schmidt, Franka Hörnschemeyer, Bojan Šarčević and Simon Wachsmuth. The works dealt in various ways with remembering and forgetting as personal and cultural phenomenas; and that at the Schlossplatz in the middle of Berlin, a site which continues to be occupied for different ideological reasons.
C-P: Having recently tried curating myself and currently with some projects under progress, I'm curious to know the considerations that go into your curatorial practice.
T.S: Instead of an answer I would like to put something out there to argue. As part of the 'six memos for the next...' book we* published a kind of manifest as a result of the 2-year exhibition program.
1 In the artwork significance is experienced as a sensual organized sense.
2 Decisions by the artist form the artwork.
3 The work’s reception is its production. The viewer is the second producer.
4 Exhibiting means to create visibilities respectively experiences.
5 Exhibiting means to trust the artwork’s vigor and resoluteness.
6 Exhibiting means to strengthen the artwork’s vigor.
7 Exhibiting means to deal with artworks.
8 Exhibiting means to stage encounters between artworks and between artworks and people.
9 Exhibiting means to shape distances and proximities.
[EXHIBITION AND CONTEMPLATOR]
10 Exhibiting is a sensual event that requires thinking in a space.
11 The staging of an exhibition is itself the intervention.
12 To experience artwork and exhibition as perception-room asks for contiguousness.
[POLICY OF EXHIBITING]
13 Artwork and exhibition take the visitor out of time.
14 Artwork and exhibition offer the visitor time for immediate insight – beyond sheer imparted knowledge.
15 Artwork and exhibition develop experiences that enable the visitor to indirectly act differently.
* Jörg van den Berg (curator), Sandra Boeschenstein (artist), Wolfgang Fetz (director), Barbara Köhler (author), Schirin Kretschmann (artist) and Tilo Schulz
C-P: When we chatted back at the gallery in Berlin, it turned out that you had quite a few ties to Stockholm having spent some time here in the nineties with previous exhibition stints at Moderna museet and the late Ynglingagatan 1. I believe you also did a residency at IASPIS. Do you have any particular fond memories from this period that you would like to share with us?
T.S: The connection to Swedish artists at the time had a major impact on my own development as an artist. And with some of the artist I am still close friends. Artists like Matts Leiderstam, Annika Eriksson, Johan Thurfjell, Annika von Hausswolff, Johanna Billing, Peter Geschwind, Gunilla Klingberg I have closely followed since then, worked with them or just enjoyed their work. For some reason I lost contact with a younger scene in Sweden. My fault. Ynglingagatan 1, IASPIS, Index, Magasin 3, Galerie Nordenhake, Andréhn-Schiptjenko and the Moderna Museet project ... I was sucking in all the inspiration, conversations and impressions. At the same time I always felt very welcome on a personal level. I recall dialing Johan Thurfjell one day to ask if he wanted to hang out and it turned out that he was on his way to the movies, already running a bit late. I rushed out myself without havig asked what film we were about to see. I made it just on time and we entered just as the movie had started. It was 1999, I hadn't heard or read anything about it. To make a long story short, it was a horror movie based on found footage and I totally freaked out. It really got to me... It was the Blair Witch Project. I can still feel it today.
C-P: Finally, with the year just beginning, what's coming up for you?
T.S: I am very excited about a show at the Lajos Kassák Museum in Budapest.
To learn more about Tilo's work, please visit:
A rush and a push and the land we stand on is ours
230 x 600 cm (5 pieces each 230 x 120 cm)
Acrylic paint on aluminium
200 x 60 x 40 cm (each, 2 pieces)
Acrylic paint on MDF
Photo: Uwe Walter
Courtesy of Jochen Hempel Gallery
Black MDF, Acrylic, ropes, 5 speaker, sound piece
Haus der Kunst Munich
Photo: Maximilian Geuter
Tied Up and Down, How to consider force a privilege
Ceiling div. materials, 4 sound pieces, 1 video, boat sculpture (on the river)
The Model, Sligo
Photo: Tommy Weir
Portrait of Tilo Schulz by Maximilian Geuter
There is a circle in your life that needs to be repeated
2 parts each 420 cm x ø 600 cm
Corduroy fabric, wood, foam
Courtesy Galerie Jochen Hempel
Thin red line
210 x 510 x 110 cm
Acrylic paint on MDF, black mirror
Courtesy acb Galéria