On May 8th, Berlin based artist Jenny Brockmann’s exhibition Air opened at the German Consulate in New York. The site-responsive projects deals with daily phenomena and cycles that are invisible yet in flux. Many of the works, even though created and installed in New York, allude to Berlin. Guest writer Eric Booker met up with Jenny who is also currently an Artist-in-Residence at ISCP in New York.
Eric Booker: So, I know that we already talked a bit about the project in person, but maybe (for Station to Station’s sake) you could start by telling me how the exhibition at the German Consulate came to be? Was it a site that you already knew you wanted to work with? I find the liminality of such a place to be fascinating…
Jenny Brockmann: I like the expression liminality in relation to place. Since it is a word referring to sociological processes, the positioning of this idea within physical space suggests that place is formed by the people who use it and vice versa. This relates to my work of recent years in which I have been exploring ways to visualize the immanent connection between mind, body and architectural, sociological as well as environmental surroundings.
In response to the invitation to exhibit my work at the German consulate in NYC, I realized, that my only possible approach would be to refer to the specifics of the site. The idea of a consulate as a place which represents another place (country) seemed very intriguing to me, and an interesting starting point for new work.
Eric Booker: Prior to creating WINDOW (2014), one of the main works in the exhibition, you initiated a dialogue with members of the consulate through a notice board that you placed in the elevator with daily questions, prompts, and images, effectively creating a social barometer of the space. There’s a certain scientific methodology that you employ in your work, collecting and presenting data with each project. Yet rather than arriving at a finite conclusion, you use this material to question what most have already accepted as fact.
Jenny Brockmann: Working with the space in an environment like the German Consulate is like working in public space: the intervention, which is situated in the entrance area of the building, affects people’s daily route to their office. I wanted to interact with the people that use the building prior to the exhibition. I posted in the lift questions like ‘do you count clouds’ or ‘how does rain smell?’ or ‘ do you search for the treasure at the end of rainbows?’ The questions are dealing with things you probably don’t think of or you haven’t done yet, but could be worthwhile doing. I asked questions that relate to weather on one side and to the personal experience on the other. Both, weather (surroundings) and the personal experience are important components of my project. In addition to that, I asked people to share the view outside their window. I wanted to take part and share their perspective, looking through their eyes outside the window. The images I received I assembled in a film, which is on show on a monitor in the exhibition.
The idea of scientific methodology is to let reality speak for itself. Showing a process that is related to scientific methodology evokes probable conclusions for the observer. These different hypotheses are interesting to me. Also, the process itself – shooting a picture of the view from the window and then seeing them in relation to other people’s views – might sensibilize the idea of a relationship between personal perspective, building, and city.
Eric Booker: This is most apparent in WINDOW (2014), where a universally recognized system, the window and the light that passes through it, is brought into question. By displacing this everyday occurrence, you reveal something about the overarching system in which it operates. I wondered if you might like to talk about the process behind this work?
Jenny Brockmann: Our motions through space are shaped by architecture. That means that the position of doors and windows of interior space and streets and buildings of exterior space determine the paths we take through our environment. These qualities are essential for our comfort, but we don’t necessarily recognize it as such important circumstance.
I wanted the installation WINDOW to be as simple as possible. It consists of a spotlight usually used for events at the consulate and a 16in x 16in piece of foil used in theatrical lighting attached to a tripod. The light from the spotlight shines through the cut outs in the foil and traces a 9 ft x 9ft light projection on the wall, mirroring the central window above the main entrance of the consulate. The spotlight switches on automatically at sunrise in Berlin (11.30 pm NYC time) and off at dusk (2.30 pm).
The light is positioned where no window should possibly shine. Through this installation there is a new point of attention created in space as well as in time. It suggests a possible starting point from which new paths could emerge.
Eric Booker: STONE (2012-2014) also utilizes what one would normally think of as a factual system, temperature, and a common material, stone. You position these two devices against one another to create a paradoxical outcome. How can the temperature of a distant location affect the stone that stands before you? It seems that this work, as well as WINDOW (2014), might come from a more aggressive place in your practice, as opposed to some of the other works in the show, such as CLOUDS (2014), which seem more introverted. Could you speak about this?
Jenny Brockmann: In the work STONE I reproduce the natural movement of stones according to temperature, through digital data. Two pieces of granite from a quarry near Dresden (Germany) are lifted by an air cushion, usually utilized to break rocks apart. The air is pumped in and out automatically through valves controlled by a digital program that is responding in real time to temperature data from a small weather station in Berlin Kladow. It is a very gradual and silent process.
The uncanny atmospheres which the works STONE and WINDOW can evoke, especially if you don´t see the movement of the stone or the switching on/off of WINDOW, mirror extreme conditions in the ‘outer’ world. Foucault speaks in ‘Of Other Spaces’ about the dislocation of objects and people as a crucial fact of our present time. I bring a stone across the ocean from Berlin to NYC and connect it to its original position through temperature data sent over the internet. I’m implanting material and data from another continent in this building in NYC. That could rise questions about how we deal with location and roots, but I think it is also about how we use time.
For me the clouds provide a physical connection between locations. We all share the same sky, and it’s not inconceivable that the same cloud might travel between Berlin and NYC. As objects they are often connected to romance and innocence. They include memory and dreams. On the other hand they connect to topics such as engineering the weather (cloud seeding) and changing of weather (e.g. hurricans through global warming). The power of the weather is maybe more than ever our main delight and our main fear.
Eric Booker: Having such a site-specific practice (not “site-specific” in the traditional sense, but rather that you allow the elements of a place to inform your work), perhaps you could talk about your experience working in New York? How has this differed from Berlin? Has your experience here led you to approach your work in a new/different way?
Jenny Brockmann: I think the work I did in the consulate is a hybrid, in that it responds to two locations: the consulate in New York, and the time, weather and materiality of the sites in Germany. That is maybe a new point that makes it differ from traditional ‘site-specific’ practice.
A strong connection to New York came with my collaboration with Clara Halpern, the New York based curator, in our two month dialogue prior to the exhibition I learnt about her perspective on several topics, e.g. site specific practice, which differs from the European one, and I found out about the philosophical commonalities, which were both a pleasure to discuss.
At ISCP, where I have been Artist-in-Residence for three months, I was part of an international community with which I could exchange heterogenic perspectives on the city.
Eric Booker: Finally, you mentioned that you are currently at work on a piece that involves the trips you’ve made out along the East River? Could you tell me about this?
Jenny Brockmann: Last year I began a work which includes performance and research based projects in public space, in the cities of New York, Istanbul and Tel Aviv. I went on different paths which are connected to the recent history of German emigrants in these cities. In New York, I went on the East River with a very small motorized boat. I collected data, photos, film and material samples. What I encountered here was the pure nature (water, animals) in this very super-natural city. The work in the consulate was in part inspired by this experience.
I will show the process-based outcome of all three projects later this year in Berlin, and plan to continue my research in NYC in 2015.
Jenny Brockmann will be in conversation with Michaela Gleave, discussing AIR at ISCP on Tuesday, May 27th, at 6:30 pm.
International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP)
1040 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11211
The exhibition at the German Consulate closes this Friday, May 30th.
German Consulate General
871 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY