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Interview: Ariane von Mauerstetten

Ariane von Mauerstetten was born in Innsbruck, Austria. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nürnberg (Akademie der Bildenden Künste Nürnberg). After her studies she lived in Namibia and South Africa for one year, followed by two years in New York/Manhattan. She has lived and worked as an artist in Düsseldorf since 2000.
Her latest work entitled n-tv Guantanamo Bay - Abu Ghureib 2004 was on display at Bodensee Art Fair 2004, an installation of twelve collages and a plaster sculpture with welding googles, breathing mask and headphones.

Ariane von Mauerstetten
'n-tv Guatanamo Bay- Abu Ghureib, 2004'
12 collages, sculpture

You recently showed an installation at the Bodensee Art Fair. Did the fair live up to your expectations?
Actually, I didn't have any expectations when I went to Art Bodensee. I was aware that an art fair was not necessarily a platform for social-critical work. Despite this, there were some extremely interesting reactions from the visitors. Some people expressed concern and physical unease. Others left the installation without making any comment or observed it from outside and did not go in at all. What astounded me was that nobody tried to start a discussion…

The work you presented at the Bodensee Art Fair is clearly about the atrocities committed against Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghureib prison in Bagdad and in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Are you trying to throw some light on what happened and unearth the truth through your work?
No. What is the truth? I am not in a position to judge. I was only confronted with censored material presented to me by the media, I was never actually there. The most important thing for me is to create a situation of intensity, of anxiety and shock, to evoke a feeling of self-awareness. I believe that in the moment you stand inside the installation, you don't think of haunted people or ethnic minorities. Instead you put yourself in the position of an agonized person. Suddenly, you experience a projection onto your own identity. The interchangeability of victim and offender is what interests me. As soon as we are directly addressed and involved in the subject, we react a lot more sensitively and consciously.

Is it moral obligation that drove you to tackle the subject?
This subject is more appalling than other forms of violence. Something we believed to be long gone, an American icon of racism and violence, has surprisingly resurfaced: The silhouette of the anonymous Ku-Klux-Clan criminal. This suppressed symbol of 19th and 20th century U.S. history has been conjured up again by the acts of torture committed by American soldiers and it is being absurdly transformed into a victim icon of the 21st century.

Would you say there is a link between the way you express yourself artistically and your cultural background?
I don't think that there is a single person who is not shaped by their cultural background.

How would you like the public to react to your work?
I challenge them to take notice of my work and to debate it. I would like to break through the complacency of the public's every-day consumerism. In spite of my anachronistic materials, I grab the public's attention with the radical language I create with shapes. I've noticed that I often manage to provoke the people who are strongly influenced by media culture. My work arouses either strong negative or strong positive feelings, and in doing so, I achieve my goal.

Ariane von Mauerstetten
'n-tv Guatanamo Bay- Abu Ghureib, 2004'
12 collages, sculpture

We found the use of concrete in your work very expressive and powerful. Why did you choose it?
I'm very happy that you find my work powerful and expressive, because concrete is in fact a rough and cheap material. It can only make a strong impression through its shape because the surface of the material itself is not particularly striking. Concrete presents me with innumerable possibilities. I use a tight wire netting for the first mould and apply concrete unevenly. Sometimes the surface is coarse and jagged and then I flatten it out again. I like the unpretentiousness of it, the direct contact with the material.

You repeatedly showed the same hooded prisoner standing on top of a narrow wooden box. What does repetition convey in your work?
If something is meaningful, then perhaps it becomes even more meaningful if it is said ten times over. It reinforces the statement you are trying to make. If something is absurd, it seems more absurd if it is repeated. I believe that a feeling of obsession comes with repetition. Through repetition the object or figure being represented suddenly becomes more threatening and the border between victim and offender becomes blurred.

Is there any artist or artistic movement that has inspired you?
I admire artists from various artistic movements but they are not my source of inspiration. My biggest inspiration is my own life.

Which direction do you think art is heading in today and where would you place yourself?
That's an interesting question. In my opinion, there isn't one main movement in contemporary art at the moment. It has become very complex. That's the interesting thing about today's art, that it is no longer seen as a homogonous movement. Just like other artists I try to head in my own direction.

Are you planning any new projects soon?
Right now I'm preparing a piece for the group exhibition foreign affairs in November at the PAN museum in Emmerich. My next presentation will be at the tenth Kunst Wien in the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna (Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst) in October, ( represented by the gallery Fischerplatz Ulm.

Interview: Marzia Belvisi
Translation: Anja Zinke
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