Interview by Sarah Sieber, Contributor
Erik Andersen was born in Freiburg, Germany in 1977. He lives and works in Berlin. Andersen extensively uses materials such as epoxy resin and fiberglass. His sculptures, installations, and paintings often tread the line between two-dimensional and three-dimensional space. He merges recognizable elements of the human form with a semi-abstract, minimalistic visual language. Layered, tactile surfaces play on physicality and movement, while prompting interaction with the viewer. Andersen’s work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Germany, Europe, and the US. Andersen currently shows at Diskurs Berlin as well as in the show Chimera at Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin, Germany.
Sarah Sieber: We are in your studio within the ID-Studios, a building which used to be a GDR prison, can you talk a bit about that?
Erik Andersen: Before the Berlin wall came down in November 1989, the area where the studio is located was used as a prison by the Stasi—the GDR’s secret police. Today it is a memorial for the conditions under which people were politically incarcerated. Some of the tours are guided by former inmates. Of course, time takes its toll and today the children of former prisoners continue the work. The artist studios are next to the prison, in an area that was called Operativer Sektor (operative sector), where the Stasi would survey private communications and produce bugging devices. Even after the wall came down you would just find a white space on the map. Today, there are around three hundred studios in the building. A place built to suppress and censor turned into a place for freedom of expression.
Sarah: Having spent so much time in this former GDR studio space, does it influence you and your work?
Erik: When I first discovered the space about eight years ago it felt weird to be here every day. My first visit was on a cold grey dark December evening. I walked through these huge corridors, scanning hundreds of rooms to decide which one it was going to be. It felt very far out from the center, but today so much art is happening here. Whether there is an influence on my art itself is hard to say, although all surroundings have an impact on our daily routines and logistics of course. The size of my studio and the size of the building dictates of course how big work I can create.
Sarah: How did you start with art? And how was your interaction with art school? You dropped out very soon after starting.
Erik: Since my childhood, I was drawing things to understand them. After my civil service (option to military service in Germany, where you serve society instead) I met someone who owned a bronze forge; I was pointed to a place near Konstanz in southern Germany where I could get a studio. I jumped right into it because I wanted to live like an artist before going to art school. When I later enrolled at the Berlin University of Fine Arts, Akademie Weißensee, my expectations were quite different from what I found there. I had a vision for my work, but also knew my ideas where fragile and art school was jeapordizing them. Which is perhaps why I dropped out shortly after I started studying.
Sarah: Where did you grow up and how did it impact your work?
Erik: I grew up in a sleepy small southern German village at the Lake of Konstanz; Close to Hermann Hesse’s and Otto Dix’s houses who both used to live there. For a lack of a local art scene, I loved to read books about artists like Michelangelo, Rodin, Henry Moore, Eduardo Chillida, Pierre Soulages, and Alberto Giacometti. I remember as a child spending countless hours making drawings based on Michelangelo’s sculptures and sketches.
Sarah: What artists or movements have had an impact on you?
Erik: One of the first artists I was fascinated with, was Francis Bacon. I remember visiting an artist neighbor and looking at a Bacon catalog that was published for the show at Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in 1985. That night I woke up thinking about his paintings, questioning whether they were real—thinking perhaps my memory had tricked me. It was a magic moment for me. I was attracted by the way he hides information in partially covering that it with additional layers.
Today I immerse myself into different works of artists each year. The older I get, the faster I go through an artist. It is more and more about getting myself informed rather than being influenced.
Sarah: How do you decide which materials you’re going to use for a piece? What is your process for creating an art piece?
Erik: As a sculptor, I have to make crucial decisions on a daily basis. I have to solve a lot of complications with the materials I am using. It’s not only about finding the right concept or idea, but to deal with the particular characteristics of specific materials; Like weight, corrosion and much more.
Most of my works are made of resin, mixed with large amounts of chalkstone powder and pigment, so they are very heavy, even if the fiberglass can be applied in very thin layers. What I love about the material is that I can use it in liquid form and later, work on it in its solid-state.
Sarah: I like the material of glazed ceramic for the piece Handshake, it reminds me of things we are used to touching, like bathroom sinks and other surfaces.
Erik: Yes, it is artwork that is supposed to be touched. With the glaze on top, the surface feels cold, which creates a barrier to really touch the work which was intended. Another aspect is that you can only put your hand inside to a certain limit. Once the viewers try to touch each other through the opening on both sides of the object, they realize that there is a wall and therefore no real interaction—contrary to how one would judge from the outside.
I often work with the technique of scaling an object bigger or smaller then it naturally is. The handshake just needs to be larger than life in order to make the suggested interaction possible. Sometimes the way in which this changes the meaning of a piece or the behavior of the viewer is more speculative.
An idea I am currently engaged with is how to create distance between two points, which is a significant, yet often unconscious process in our lives. We are constantly on our way from A to B. Therefore I created Handrail, which is meant to get attached to a handrail in a staircase and has footprints on it going one direction; as well as an early video (8 Minuten), in which you can only see a hand trying to open a door by turning the key -- but eternally stuck in this process, with the excruciating sound of keys repeatedly hitting the lock.
Sarah: It is intentional to have the viewer take some mental steps?
Erik: Yes, that is hopefully what happens when there is an interaction between a viewer and an artwork. That’s when the intention of the artwork becomes real.
The small piece called Cut is just a dummy of a saw blade cutting into the room from behind the wall. It portrays that in life there is the visible, but also a more hidden dimension which is out of our control. It raises the question of what might destabilize the very construction(s) we rely on, while at the same time putting the wall as an object into the center. Normally a wall is doomed to be a background to art. Cut also highlights the everyday processes and tools of the studio as a source for artworks.
Sarah: Can you talk about the black piece, called Better Vertical 01?
Erik: I created a series of paintings called Canvas, in which the works are based on a small piece of canvas that I painted in large-scale. It's full of paint, but at the same time, it’s like an empty surface or canvas and serves as a projection screen for possible paintings. Better Vertical 01 is based on a situation I found on my studio floor. I decided to use an old canvas lying on the floor to make a sculpture, so I modeled it in clay, made a negative form and used it to produce the final piece out of epoxy resin.
There are different layers of material: the first layer looks like a roll of canvas; the next one looks like it is folded. After that, you see additional flat layers. If you perceive it as the folded material it once was, you will see nothing.
The title Better Vertical 01 refers to the decision-making process in the studio, about what I think is the best way to present the work, but also an invitation to argue for or against my decision.
Sarah: You imagine something that you can’t actually look at?
Erik: You see something, but at the same time, you don’t see anything. I think my work emphasizes paradoxes and ambivalences. The installation Ladder is made of two black electric cables, each 82 feet long. They are structured like a ladder coming out of the ceiling, attached with plugs to it as if they were going into an electrical outlet. It’s an invitation to climb or touch; however, the fragile connection makes the spectator quickly realize that neither is possible. I am interested in the mental processes that accompany that realization. I also like the fact that the higher the room is the more fragile the connection becomes, increasing the gravitational pull.
Sarah: You had a residency in the US back in 2009. How did that residency impact your work?
Erik: It changed my work a lot. At that time, I started to work with Gallery Charim Ungar Contemporary. The gallery owner, Lisa Ungar, invited me to spend a couple of weeks in the Rocky Mountains. I was offered an isolated studio about an hour from Telluride, Colorado. The gallery expected me to create new pieces, but I preferred to explore the amazing landscape. I spent a lot of time figuring out how it feels to do an art piece in an environment where I lost all the references to a form of surroundings I knew. I developed an interest in using the body as a starting point to my research on how things are connected to the body; how it constitutes itself and what remains when it is gone.
Sarah: It’s about your body and how it acts in any given situation because your body is always with you?
Erik: Right. It feels very natural to start the creation process from the body, as well as from small objects in daily life. Maske - Selfportrait is a conceptual work that relates to that train of thought: it is based on a mask I use when I work with chemicals or dust. The area of my head is like an empty space and inside the mask you find the negative form of my face. I would like to produce a large-scale iteration of Selfportrait, so that people can physically walk through my head, creating and walking a universal picture. Almost everybody has to handle opinions, arguments, and interactions from outside within their personal system. So Selfportrait could be a portrait of anybody, even if it’s based on the forms of my own body.
Sarah: A lot of your pieces are black, and if they are not black they are white or another monochromatic tone. Why is that?
Erik: I just feel drawn to monochromatic colors. It makes it easier to put diverse works or ideas next to each other. So I decided to reduce colors.
Sarah: The exhibition title God’s Biometric Data, from your show at Diskurs Berlin, sounds challenging.
Erik: I really had to turn this around in my head, because it touches so many areas—like theology, philosophy, ethics, politics and more. I wanted to stick with my thread, so I used basic elements and constellations, like mirroring elements, playing with front and back, inviting people to discover the space in between. I made a decision to build an installation that contains the basic geometric forms: the square, the triangle, and the circle. I was also reflecting on the absurd title as a metaphor for all of mankind’s attempts to figure out mysteries by conceptualizing an installation called Cast, using fundamental sculptural processes as a metaphor for collecting information.
Sarah: What are you working on right now and what is next?
Erik: I just finished working on a big piece called Circle, which is presented at Diskurs Berlin right now together with Amit Goffer. The title of the art show is God’s Biometric Data. Another Group Show is coming up in cooperation with the Hungarian embassy, bringing together artists from Berlin and Budapest.
Sarah: Please also tell us something about the show Chimera you are in currently, at Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin.
Erik: The group show, Chimera is part of a yearly exhibition series about diversity which started last year in 2018 and is initiated and curated by the curator.site editor and artist-curator, Semra Sevin. The installation I did for Sevin’s show last year is a piece called Untitled which is made of black epoxy resin and placed on a heavy wooden construction. Untitled is sort of a passageway with footprints engraved inside. The idea was to create an image referring to the title of the show: Passengers of a Kaleidoscopic Journey.
Chimera contextualizes that Berlin has a cosmopolitan art world that lacks German artists with migrant backgrounds and where women have fewer opportunities. The show has 30% artists of color and 50% women, which is important for Sevin, and I am happy to be part of it.