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Living in the Lobby - Interview with Flo Maak by Teresa Meucci

Flo Maak, image control, future 1, 112 x 72 x 8 cm, pigment print, aluminium, lamp, electric cable, 2010, Ed. 4 + 1 AP

I met the German artist Flo Maak (b. 1980) at Villa Romana, an international artist residency program located in Florence, where Flo is participating in the group exhibition "After Prisma", curated by Paolo Emilio Antognoli Viti, open until July the 29th. Flo Maak is a Frankfurt-based artist working with photography, video and installation.

TM: Hi Flo, and thank you for accepting our interview. Other than the group exhibition at Villa Romana, you are currently having a solo show titled "Living in the Lobby" at the Bernard Knaus Gallery in Frankfurt, which runs until the 30th of July. This show features ten photographic works realized in 2011. Are they all part of a series?

FM: The pieces in the exhibition "Living in the Lobby" are not conceived as a series, but are a selection of single works. I like to think about exhibitions as constellations. When you look into the nightly sky and draw imaginary lines between stars, their individual position suddenly makes sense, because they become related in connection of something bigger. But the same stars can be part of different constellations and thereby crucially change their meaning. This idea of constellation is expressed in my practice at least on three related levels. First, I always look for situations to photograph where things start to "talk" through the context in which they appear. Secondly I work with my archive, put things next to each other to search for relationships. For example, some photographs included in this exhibition, shot while I was traveling in the U.S., are related to places of transit and transition, but they could be part of totally different narratives. Also, the installation of each piece Ė choice of format, framing and position in the space Ė determines different possible connections and interactions between each work. Finally the images allow different experiences and readings and therefore many other relations can be drawn. This is the third level, the one generated by the spectator who steps into the constellation of the exhibition and alters it. Accordingly to this conception the exhibition is not an ending point, but rather a living process. This doesn't mean that I never work with series. A while ago I produced a group of collages titled "Shelter" (2009) and even in the current exhibition the three pieces "Image control, future 1, 2" and "3 "were conceived as a series. Some ideas need variations to be expressed, but often a series is just a comfortable convention.

TM: Youíve just mentioned a personal archive where you collect and relate different kind of material. The practice of combining found motifs with other created by yourself is one of the most distinctive aspect of your work. Would you tell us more about the content of this personal archive?

FM: The archive not only includes my photographs, but also found images, objects and all kind of texts including newspaper excerpts. I donít like defining myself as an artist who works with archival material. This archive is only a tool for me, a big container of inspirational material. Almost every day I bring my camera with me and I take pictures to collect situations. Together with other things, that caught my attention during the day they become part of my archive. At Villa Romana, I am showing a photograph, "The order of things "(2009), which depicts a scene on the street in Athens. I didnít set or changed anything for this picture, thus you could say it documents an actual situation. The peculiar combination of objects and textures in this image suggests the order you could see in a natural history museumís display. Of course it is not only a found situation, as I reinterpreted what I saw with my perspective and choosing a particular light and moment. Working with my archive consists in building connections between already existing things.

TM :

Drawing on your archive, you play with photographic borders creating two-dimensional collages ("Shelter")" and three dimensional ones ("Image control future"). Somebody, referring to your work, talked about "extended photography", and I think it is a correct definition of your artistic practice. Are you agree with that?

FM: I like the term extended photography, because it emphasizes the relation between the image, the space around it and its reference. I also consider any conventional photograph in these terms. In my work I try to make this extension visible as you can see in "Stairs (red)", (2009), an installation you are allowed to walk on, which has been presented together with the collages from the "Shelter "series. My purpose was to extend the image out of its frame into the exhibition space. There are also earlier works depicting public toilettes where I literally continued the space in the picture in the space in front of it. In the three works "Image" "Control, Future 1", "2" and "3" (2011) I tried to short circuit these relations within one piece.

Flo Maak, stairs (red), installation view, approxa 135 x 60 x 135 cm, bleached oak wood, MDF, paint, 2009

TM: This shift from the image-based work to its material representation reflects a long tradition of conceptual art. I am thinking about Joseph Kosuth whose work was part of the very beginning of conceptualism. How is your approach to this artistic inheritance, do you feel part of it or do you distance yourself from it? If yes, in which terms you define your personal contribution?

FM: I was quite interested in Joseph Kosuth's work while I was studying. He was one of the first who scrutinized the triangle of photographic, textual and physical representation of an idea. Within the context of what we call extended photography his work is of great importance, because he puts different media of representation in relation with each other. However looking back upon his work now, his analytical approach seems a little bland to me. Even though his work is a referent point for me, I prefer to approach representationís issues on a more affective level.

TM: "Image" "Control, Future 1", "2" and "3" (2011) are works dealing with the concept of "grid", a predominant iconographic element in your work. How did you conceive these three pieces and what does the grid mean to you?

FM: I am haunted by grids. They are a precondition of any order and it seems they won't vanish soon, if ever. In these works the illusion of a three dimensional space through grid structures, as it is often used for advanced architectural models, was my starting point. I played with the illusion of depth by adding actual lamps on top of the images, but instead of reinforcing this illusion the lamps and their light work against that, creating a short-circuit. I also like to combine different levels of quality perception in my work like the precious appearance of the metallic grid with the cheapness of the neon. Considering the present obsession of predicting and controlling the future due to newcomputer technologies, these forecasts are drawn on grids of pixel. I like to make fun of this.

Flo Maak, "Daily Pattern, "60 x 80 cm, pigment print, matt, artist frame, 2011, Edition 4 + 1 AP

TM: There are other two works in the exhibition concerning the grid. I am thinking about "Daily Pattern" (2011) and "In the grid "(2011) which were both shot in New York. I am sure that the grid configuration of Manhattan was deeply inspirational for you. Wasnít it?

FM: Yes. Living in New York, you become deeply absorbed by its urban reticulate which was planned to facilitate city control and architectural planning. It helps you if you are new in town, but the grid still has a negative connotation for me, because you are trapped in it. There is the expression "being off the grid", which means to become invisible and able to escape from any control. Sometimes becoming part of the grid is the best way to get off the grid.

TM: The title of this exhibition, "Living in the Lobby," is drawn from a video you are still working on and refers to the transitory nature of hotels. Also "The reading room "(2010) is a photograph shot in a hotel. What make you feel so fascinated by these transitional places?

FM: "People are coming, people are going, nothing ever happens." This is the opening statement of the movie "Grand Hotel" (1932) by Edmund Goulding. The hotel in general is a place with a very particular relation to history. It can be a place of escape, chance, opportunity and transformation as well as place of anonymity, privacy, and seclusion. Hotels are places suffused by the ghostly presence of earlier travelers and ongoing transitions. "The reading room "depicts part of an hotel lobby, which the manager of that place presented me as the reading room. I wondered how I could ever read there, while every gesture multiplies in the mirrors. It certainly has to be queer readings! There are quite valuable things in the room, others are rather cheap, but it is hard to distinguish them. I have always been interested in environments that make you feel unable to judge them. The space depicted in the photograph becomes flat, reduced to one plane image. But depth misses not only in terms of space, but also in terms of time. The flowers won't vanish because they are artificial and not concerned by death

Flo Maak, "The Reading Room, "100 x 70 cm, pigment print, polysterol, artist frame," "2010, Edition 4 + 1 AP

TM: The effect of a flatten image is something you also obtained in the work "Bringing the war home," (2011), where the buildings reflected on a recruitment centerís window are flat as the soldiers silhouettes. What is this photograph about and what does flatness mean in terms of image composition and meaning?

FM: The title of this work is borrowed from Martha Roslerís homonymous collages series, where she combines images found in homemaking womenís magazines of the period with images of war. Rosler brought together the private and the public spheres to call their separation into question. Nowadays borders between public and private are much more blurred and the reality of war is brought home in real time. I like when spaces and places overlap, that otherwise are conceived to be separate. Photography doesnít need to resort to illusionist expedients to obtain deepness as painting does, the linear-perspective is already inscribed in its physical conception. I like to work against that, and search for flatness with the photographic medium.

Floo Maak, "Bringing the War Home", 87,7 x 128 cm, pigment print, dibond, artist frame," 2011, "Edition 4 + 1 AP

TM: The "Shelter "series is a project born in 2009, where you reflect on the relationship between man and animal. In particular, Shelter 01 looks like an homage to the famous action by Joseph Beuys, "I like America and America likes me", realized in 1974 at the Renť Block Gallery in New York. At the end of the "performance "the artist obtained a reconciliation with the wild animal. Is this also your goal? And how did you come up with the idea of overlapping little animals images on not well recognizable objects ?

FM: The reference to Beuys now seems quite obvious, but I actually have never thought about his work in relation to my picture before. It is interesting because even though I don't like Beuys work very much, I find the images documenting this particular action quite challenging. The coyote didnít want to sleep on the hay, but it preferred the stack of newspapers. The felt Beuys was originally covered in looks like a tent and was violently removed by the coyote. It seems they were negotiating about appropriate shelter and ways of coexistence and doing this they became affected by each other. The animal for Beuys was highly symbolical like everything else he worked with. I have been more interested in real animals, not so much their symbolical connotation, as well as in the relationship between them, humans and architectures. I built models of simple shelters using cheap material, and then I staged and photographed them in the studio. Through the computer I added pictures of animals photographed in zoos and parks giving them some transparency and altering their colors to make them look even more artificial in their new environment. I think there is a fascinating similarity between the zoo and the museum as public institutions. Both first appeared in the 19th century for the purpose of education, study and enjoyment. They stimulate an interesting mixture of visual perception, pleasure and knowledge. This has been a focal issue in my work, around which turns not only the "Shelter" series, but also other photographs, a video, an audio play and several sculptures. Important references were films set in zoos like "Zoo in Budapest" (1933), "Cat People" (1942) and its remake from 1982, as well as Werner Herzog's documentary "Grizzly Man" (2005) and many others reflecting on the complexity of human-animal relationships.

Floo Maak, "shelter 01," 85,7 x 100 cm, c-print mounted on Dibond, 2009

TM: Have you always worked with digital photography?

FM: All the images in the exhibition at Bernhard Knaus Gallery have been made with a digital camera. When I produced the "Shelter" series I used an analog medium format and a small format camera and I scanned the negatives afterwards to compose the final images on the computer. I worked this way because I needed high resolution material and it didnít seem possible to achieve it with the digital equipment at this time. Now the potential of pictures taken with a digital SLR is so great that I donít need to use an analog camera anymore

Interview by Teresa Meucci


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