As if everything stands still
Anna Heidenhain (Villa Romana Fellow 2010) in conversation with Angelika Stepken.
You brought the island metaphor into play after only a few weeks at Villa Romana, when I asked you for a statement for our image brochure. You then continued working with this theme in the “Apogee” project, in which the island/isolation theme was approached from various perspectives. Why did your stay here lead so soon to this theme?
The Villa is an artificial situation; it is a German establishment in Italy for artists who are all provided with a grant. They have none of the problems of everyday life here; they don’t have to pay electricity bills. In many respects, Villa Romana is a protected space, in the most positive, ideal sense – a free space.
But of course when people talk about an island, they also think of it being surrounded by water ...
Yes. But when we were working on the book for “Apogee”, we immediately thought in many different directions: about the island as a place of retreat, as a place of yearning; one chapter is also about sleep and wellbeing. A place that is completely cut off would of course be a horrific prospect. And indeed, many horror films are set on islands.
So you worked through what an island and isolation could mean for an artist?
Yes, we are still working on that. The book has six chapters. At the beginning it is about how everyone works alone on their own accord, observes and comes to decisions alone; then it is about island societies, about recovery, ecology and integration. Whether we also include the science fiction aspect still depends on the corresponding input.
So the island as an emergency situation became the catalyst for reflecting on artistic self-image, the figure of the artist? What does he need?
Yes, the project is also a counter-pole to the idea of total network and transparency. Our starting point is this: that everyone who wants to accomplish something must first of all take a step back.
Tell us again who you mean by “us”, or rather “we” ...
It refers to “nüans”, which is made up of Elmar Hermann, Maki Umehara and me, an interdisciplinary artist project that started with an exhibition space in Düsseldorf in 2006. Since then, we have created projects in many different towns. In the meantime, our circumstances have changed: Maki was on a scholarship in Mumbai this year, I was here, Elmar is going to New York soon – we all knew exactly what did us good and we wrote to each other about it. It was our ambition to publish a 300 page-thick book, not as a magazine but rather as a “rounded/self-contained object”. It will go to print for the next exhibition in Istanbul.
You also collaborated with Italian artists on “Apogee”.
Yes, it is always the idea to work together with local artists and those from outside.
During the ten months you got to know the small art scene in Florence very well and then you invited Jacopo Miliani, Paolo Masi, Leonora Bisagno and Riccardo Ruberti as guest artists and Paolo Antognoli as guest curator. Were these acquaintances close to you artistically?
They are artists who were interested in the idea of the project, and thus island candidates. For example, I got to know Paolo Masi when we visited his studio and I then invited him to the project because he has been one of the organisers of the “Base” artists’ space in Florence for ten years. The art scene in Florence is not very big and complex but I did think that many more people from this field would come to the opening of the exhibition. We were interested in presenting the project in the local scene. However it was rather tough.
In the exhibition of Villa Romana’s 2010 Fellows in February this year, you exhibited reworked property advertisements that you had brought with you from Istanbul. Deleted image areas altered the context of these idealised standard architectures. How has your artistic work developed here? Amongst other things, you have derived large three-dimensional sculptures from these paper works.
I had the opportunity to be able to concentrate incredibly here. I started and finished the book of collages, which was presented in the summer at the Haus am Waldsee in Berlin. I knew when I came here that I had a never-ending amount of time. So you can carry out all the projects that you want to carry out. In Istanbul I would never have been able to tackle a book project such as “Apogee”, just because of time constraints.
You worked on a whole encyclopaedia...
Yes, an encyclopaedia about the sky, a French book that I found in Istanbul. I wanted to connect the images of the sky and the stars with all areas of life, thus completing the encyclopaedia by placing images over the text. I therefore had to completely edit the book. As regards the sculptures, I had also previously created large works in Düsseldorf but then in Istanbul I didn’t have a suitable studio and worked rather with external workshops. Here in Florence I was able to create everything myself again.
At the beginning of the year you presented your “nüans” project at the Scandicci theatre and Anna Möller her interventions and collaborations at the Golden Pudel Club in Hamburg. Nothing further developed from that here on site, did it?
That is right. Nothing further resulted from that. I had of course just spent two years in Istanbul where I had the experience of starting completely afresh in a town and investing in these projects. I wanted to use the ten months here differently. Otherwise I would have left just when we had created something. Indeed Anna Möller said from the outset that she had outgrown this age...
Ten months are a long time but also not enough for such initiatives ... How quickly did the time pass for you in Florence?
The days and weeks seemed long, especially at the beginning. But there is an unbelievable amount to see here, from a history of art point of view...
We are often asked whether the Villa Romana Fellows are still interested in the treasures of Florence.
You would obviously be ignorant if you weren’t. And of course with our museum pass we could walk around the collections as if they were a second living room. That is wonderful. But I didn’t have any particular research project here related to the history of art. Whether and how these encounters are then reflected in your work is only noticeable later. Certainly, in Florence you are exposed to an incredible standard in that the works here are still able to inspire people so much, even 500 years after their creation. Transience, mobility, temporary arrangements – they are all interesting but they are also called into question.
After 10 months in Florence you are now returning to Istanbul. Have you become used to living abroad by now?
I must say that I often had the feeling here that I was living in Germany. I already knew Martin and Christoph from Düsseldorf and then there were so many visits from Germany. Yes, to a certain extent, you can get used to it. But actually I believe that the concept of “abroad” is outmoded. Only once it becomes political do you notice that you are a foreigner, that you barely have a political field of action.
Did you already have a particular image of Florence when you came here?
I came to Florence once for a language course ten years ago. And ten years later the city looks so unbelievably similar that it is as if everything stands still here. It stands still in this lovely image of Italy as the tourist industry likes it. It is reproduced and reinforced over and over. Just like the Berlusconi stereotypes: it is farcical how he governs and makes headlines – you can hardly believe it. You remained stunned. Maybe that is why this paralysis reigns.
... because people don’t even talk about politics anymore?
Yes, it appears obvious what is going wrong and then people don’t talk about it anymore. But also part of the paralysing stereotypes of course is the arrogance or the disinterest of many of the German artists who ask whether there are any contemporary Italian artists at all. On the other hand the Italian artists are focused on overseas and Berlin, where many of them also live and work. In Istanbul the situation is completely different. The interest in Turkish artists and Turkish politics from outside is so great that local events are filled with an unbelievable energy. Therefore, more and more artists are also coming from abroad to Istanbul. For someone who wants to make something new, the notion that a town will look different in 50 years is naturally refreshing. And that is a starting point.