Interview with Mariele Neudecker
Camberwell, 9th of January 1999.


Nina: Can you start by telling me a bit about your proposal and what you are going to be making.

Mariele: Basically I will make images of a piece that I have just installed in Bristol, in Spike Island, which was called 'Unrecallable Now' and was sort of in a nutshell - a mountain range sitting in a huge glass tray full of white liquid ... and for the piece I'm proposing for this, I will use a couple of images of those mountains which in themselves look very virtual somehow, even though they're made of fiberglass resin and they're airbrushed with acrylic paint ... but they have this very strange look to them, they look quite virtual and untouchable ... and I want to use those qualities in the images, so they look as if they could have been generated on a computer but they are actually real, and hopefully the images will be detailed enough that you get a bit of a sense of the materials.
Using those images I want to animate a cloud type, well I guess I could call it a cloud ... a blob that is animated in Photoshop and Morph.

Nina: A 'haze' maybe?

Mariele: Yes, I could call it a haze, it will move from one image to the other ... each image is coming from either side of the mountain range - so the background of one image is the foreground of the other, and so I want to set up this kind of film where the haze, or the cloud, is moving across from screen to screen - this is a projection piece. I think for technical reasons I have to have them either in a corner or slightly apart in two corners, so that you can see both at the same time. You can also stand between them and get a sort of sense that the cloud is moving through you, which is coming from another digital piece I've made called 'Deluge' where these spheres travel through space from monitor to monitor, so a lot is left to the imagination of the viewer ...

Nina: So, you are literally standing in the space between the two?

Mariele: Yes, and you have to literally, physically, whatever help them across the space - so in your mind the cloud will travel over between the two screens, and they will come towards you, the cloud will move into the screen and then fly out, so there's quite a sensuous, physical thing that I want the viewer to experience.

Nina: How does this relate to your existing practice? Because I've seen quite a lot of your work over time and I think most people are more aware of the pieces in tanks or vitrines and are maybe not aware of how you have moved onto producing more digital work.

Mariele: Well, I've started making digital work, since last year maybe, sort of parallel to the sculptural work, if you want. I've maintained quite a diverse approach, I'm still making these painted map pieces ....

Nina: I've seen those, they were in the show in the CCA ...

Mariele: Yes, and there's always that kind of underlying sense of memory or perception in all of them in a way. I've just installed this big show in Middlesborough with twenty six pieces, and they initially look very, very different in their making, but for me it was quite useful for me to see the underlying ideas as quite similar actually. It might be a memory map, or one of those tank pieces, or the digital ones where ... they are sort of quite straight forward really ... they use the monitor screen in a similar way to the tank edge, or the containment of these other worlds. It's quite comparable really to the physical models, but then again it's always so obviously digital ... and I do have a problem with that.
I have a love hate relationship to computers and pixels I think...

Nina: Perhaps we could talk about question three - do you count yourself as an artist who works primarily with new technology? Probably not in your case?

Mariele: Probably not no, but technology informs the work a lot, even the mountain range, 'Unrecallable Now', has definitely got a relationship to technology, just in terms of memorizing that image as a possible view point, is only possible from a plane for example. So, these views or landscapes seen from the air are only available since technology, the invention of the plane ... do you see what I mean? There's a certain sense of technology at the back of them.

Nina: I know what you mean, it extends to images taken from space ...

Mariele: It extends to my interest in scale or size and my interest in playing with sizes, which in the computer becomes a really obvious thing, just because of the nature of size in a 3D program, it's so ambiguous and 'nowhere' - those spheres could be vast and tiny at the same time, and once it is digitally generated there's no real sense of scale ... which is interesting for me, because there are definate limits with the scale of the memory in the computer ... sort of technical rather than technological limits - such as the size of the workshop in Infini D being 52 inches and I think that goes through quite a lot of programs, there's a limit to how large you can make something, and resolution limits ... things like that. I tend to work right on the edge of those limits, I'm usually happiest to experiment with those borderlines where it becomes quite obvious what the technology allows.

Nina: Yes, like you I like the idea of when you reach the edge of a model - or when a 3D model is cut by the screen, you get something very much like the edge of your glass cabinets. I quite like it when they go wrong too - you build a model and there's a gap in it by accident, which you can't really see until you render it.

Mariele: Yes, and so far it's quite important for me that they do look hand-made still, that there's imperfection in them similar to my sculptures, which are quite deliberately not too perfect. It's important that you see what it's made of for me, it's important that you get a sense of the 'stuff', this is quite visible, you can see the grain of the fiber sometimes or with the forest tank I showed in Spike Island, there's very obvious little bits of rope and string making up the branches of the trees, but visually initially you are convinced that you are looking at a forest. It sort of flips back and forth between seeing the actual material and the sort of representation of the image ...

Nina: Mm, who else's work do you look at, because I don't know if you saw the review of that piece in Art Monthly? I thought it was quite interesting where he was saying "who else would make a sculpture of a forest?" and I was trying to think, well who else would?

Mariele: You did! (laughing)

Nina: Yes we did, but Julian Opie springs to mind, his landscape pictures ...

Mariele: Or Robert Gober, did these sort of forest things with wallpaper didn't he?

Nina: Yep, but the Opie pieces are quite nice because they do reference technology, in a much more obvious way than your things maybe, where you know ... he's made quite a lot of computer animations, kind of banal landscapes ...

Mariele: ... they're more cityscapes aren't they?

Nina: Well there are landscapes with the odd tree or ...

Mariele: Has he made a forest?

Nina: No, but it is interesting how that work has dated rather oddly, at the time it looked really sort of fresh, but now already it looks very much of that period. How else's work do you look at, less contemporary work?

Mariele: I look at a lot of painters actually, because most of the work, even though it is sculpture, it always goes back to either photography or painting, I started as a painter. I look at everything that comes my way, there are quite a lot of German artists that are important to me - like Gerhart Richter and Sigmar Polke.

Nina: How long have you been working in the UK?

Mariele: In Ireland for the first two years when I left Germany in '85, I spent a couple of years in Cork, Ireland, then the last twelve years in London and now I am over on the West Coast in Wales - 14 years ... quite a long time anyway (laughing).

Nina: Did you choose to be here, or is it just something that's happened?

Mariele: Of course it's a choice, but, I initially meant to leave for a year, then two years, then a three year course in London made it less and less easy to think about going back, so I just felt quite settled, or healthily unsettled in London.

Nina: (laughs) I like that! So, how do you feel about being nominated for this award?

Mariele: Oh, it's fantastic ... (both laugh)

Nina: ... and generally about the concept of an arts prize? Have you been nominated for other awards? You must have been ...

Mariele: Yep, I've managed to win a few prizes - so I've been spoilt.

Nina: Have they been competitions in this way? Or has it been that you're nominated and that's it?

Mariele: Different things, nominated was ... how does it work?.... Well probably the biggest prize was in the Portuguese Biennial, near Lisbon and I was nominated and curated into the exhibition, and there was one sculpture prize which I got - which was normally only given to Portuguese artists, and so I was very pleased about that one ... great support. I mean these things are good when they come along and happen, because that is all you want isn't it? Financial support to carry on and buy yourself time. With this particular one, it's a big prize 20,000 but it seems that it will be immediately absorbed into the solo show that is bound to winning the prize. So, in a way it's not quite the same thing, it's not just a money prize to support generally your practice, because it supports one particular show, which is quite different I think. It's generally you get nominated and end up in shows like that. How else? How else!

Nina: So, you view it as a necessary evil!

Mariele: In a way it's quite nice that it's almost beyond your control anyway, otherwise you would be paranoid and be busy just trying to get into competitions ...

Nina: What do you think about it being a women only show? More generally do you see the fact that you are a woman as very significant to your practice?

Mariele: No, in a way ... I find it totally irrelevant to my practice...

Nina: Do you?

Mariele: I don't think that my work deals with anything particularly gender related.

Nina: No, but I don't think you would think that it's made by a man ...

Mariele: Why do you say that?

Nina: I don't know, it's difficult to tell, because obviously I know that it's made by you but ... there is something, I don't know, maybe the Romanticism of it ...

Mariele: But if you look back the main Romantic figures were all men, so where does that come from?

Nina: I don't know. Rachel was saying that she feels it's obvious that her work is made by a woman but she couldn't really say why. We had a discussion about whether when you look at other peoples work ...

Mariele: ... you can detect gender ...

Nina: Yes, or do you respond differently to work by women than work by men. I was saying there's quite a lot of work by men that I really like but which I can't actually imagine making ...

Mariele: I can, I could.

Nina: There is quite a lot of other work by women that I like and I can imagine making.

Mariele: One thing that strikes me is that, in Germany as a woman artist you have a much tougher time. In that respect it might make quite a difference to be here as a woman artist in England. In England there is a much more liberal approach, and here there are a lot of successful women artists - in Germany you have to look quite hard to find them.

Nina: Really?

Mariele: Yes, there are some figures like Rosemary Trockel, Rebecca Horn, Katarina Fritsch and then you have to really look hard. It's a very very male oriented culture over there. Even the heads of all the museums, all the institutions they are all male there, if you look round England nearly all the directors of the main institutions and museums are women, which is important, and that, if anything, makes more of a difference to me I think - to feel hosted by ... well what is possible in England I guess as a women artist ... but I wouldn't even call myself a women artist, I guess, I would call myself an artist.

Nina: But do you mind being in a show that is being billed very specifically as women artists?

Mariele: It bemuses me a little bit, but I don't mind ... I wouldn't take part if I did mind.

Nina: As you know my piece for the competition involves encouraging people to gamble on who the winner's going to be, and I wanted to ask the other artists involved, at this stage, whether they had any reservations about it, you can be completely honest about it! I guess I'm also interested in whether you think gambling is something that would go on anyway, and how you feel about someone trying to aggravate that.

Mariele: What do you mean by gambling would go on anyway?

Nina: Well, do you think people would gamble on who the winner will be anyway, in the way that they do with the Turner Prize, for example?

Mariele: No, I don't think they would, because, well first of all the list of people is not quite on the same level as the Turner Prize list ....

Nina: No.

Mariele: I think my only reservation is that in a way you put the other four in a position where we can't really say no - we are a part of your work, so there's a bit of a trust element that you actually get it right, and that you do a fair representation - that's a gamble in itself. To be represented in a short way by one of the artists for the competition is quite different to just having the work speak for itself... what you're doing is trying to make the character of the artists more relevant or something ...

Nina: Well, in a way, that's exactly what I'm going to try not to do!

Mariele: Oh good.

Nina: Because I want to try and make a point about the cult of 'artist as personality' and how that has really been pushed to the fore by things like gambling, so I'm going to try very hard to make a piece that absolutely cuts across that. But, obviously it's quite hard because the easiest thing is to go for ... "Oh, look here's such and such ..."

Mariele: It will end up being names ... it won't necessarily have the space and the time ... I don't know enough about Ladbrokes, but, to me from this distance now I can't imagine it will talk about the work in any serious way, it's more about the names really ... and I worry about that ... a list of five names.

Nina: It's interesting that you say that because we ... this is exactly what I was talking to the person from Ladbrokes about, saying "OK, I'm offering this up as something that Ladbrokes could gain a lot of publicity from, but the deal is that no publicity goes out from Ladbrokes without me being involved in it in some kind of collaborative way", so, the idea is that we would write the press releases and stuff together and that they would have a very different feel to ones which ... so they are not going to be the one liners ... "One woman makes mountains, another bends time, another does this ... ". By consciously being involved in those processes you try and deal with those things rather than shutting down and thinking they happen but I can't be involved with them. I think the question I have is - even if I try really hard to make a tangible difference to that, will it make a difference, will it seem any different to the headlines that would have appeared in the Sun, perhaps, anyway.

Mariele: What is Proctor and Gamble's position on this? Because Ladbrokes will obviously want a share in the publicity.

Nina: Well this is in a way my role in the project ... as a go-between. Between, the artists, primarily, who as you say enter into a real relationship of trust ... assuming that I am not going to take the piss or trivialize what they are doing; and Ladbrokes, who want publicity from it but equally are agreeing perhaps to help; and then Ulay again, who very obviously want publicity or they wouldn't be organizing it, and maybe the publicity they organize is again not how we would want to be seen ... so it's basically trying to deal with that very directly rather than just shutting down and hoping it will go away! (laughs)

Mariele: Oh, no, you put yourself in quite a vulnerable situation there and best of luck to you! (laughs)

Nina: I acknowledge that it is a real position of trust with the other artists ... and in a way that's what these interviews are about, me getting to a point where I feel confident about the other artists work, that I am not going to misrepresent what they are trying to do. I think with the video piece in the gallery I have much more of a chance to do something very controlled, whereas when you work with the media generally ...

Mariele: So, you are going to have it set up in the gallery during the show?

Nina: Yes.

Mariele: So, it could go through quite a huge change during the course of the four weeks?

Nina: It could do but it's probably technically not very feasible to do that ... it might be more feasible that it changes at some point, when the prize or the winner is announced. The actual video piece I would like to be quite controlled and I'm going to write a commentary, which I won't read, but maybe someone who normally reads the racing results might read ... but it might actually be I don't know quite a poetic commentary, very different to something that you would hear on horse racing ... but because of the way that it's shot and the sound and the commentators voice, you'll make the connection.
Anyway, we digress! Do you have any experience of betting or gambling?

Mariele: Probably not, but I did go to a casino just before Christmas, just for somebody's birthday, and it was quite a revelation because I expected it to be very glamorous and it turned out to be quite tatty and you end up with builders and taxi drivers really. Which is kind of what you expect in betting shops ... so that was quite funny, not quite living up to the Las Vegas casino thing.

Nina: What's the situation with betting in Germany? Is it a similar set up?

Mariele: Well, the lottery has been in place for decades, but there' not that cultural funding attached to the lottery at all.

Nina: It's just a business ...

Mariele: Yes, straight money gambling, I don't know too much about it, I was never that interested in gambling ....

Nina: ... me neither! (laughs)

Mariele: I mean I always like to have bets with friends about things but you know every kid does that ... or you still do that ... but no, I don't know any anecdotes from first experience.

Nina: The last question regarding whether you've thought forward about the piece is a kind of double edged thing ... in that ... well, for example you are kind of doing this quite experimental piece, for you, with technology - have you thought about how that might impact on future pieces? Then also, if you won the prize how might that impact on you?

Mariele: Well, in a way, it coming along now is good timing, because I've had such a sculpture based, studio making year, this last year in Bristol, that I'm definitely ready for a different kind of working. I tend to go in patterns, you know have an emphasis on different ways of working and I'm really happy to concentrate on something digital now, because I'm quite exhausted from the 'overalls and mask' business.
I'm quite intrigued also to know how it's going to work using images of other work - it might not work at all, I might end up using photographs of real mountains, I don't know that yet. I've made a little test just with photographs of real mountains just to sort of see what it does, and I was quite happy with that ... but I'll wait for the day that I scan in my own images. It should be ... I'm still into it because it is to do with a strange reality of the image ...

Nina: Mm, I think a lot will depend on how much you can see the texture of the objects and stuff maybe. What kind of scale will they be then? On normal monitors?

Mariele: Well, there's a limit because of the size of the gallery, initially I wanted to have a sort of floor to ceiling, wrap up both sides ... but technically ... no, not in that space ... So, at the moment it looks like we're going to have suspended screens filled up right to the edge ... which supposedly will look ... I haven't really got much experience with projections. I've resisted it really because I like the space of the monitor ... being quite close to how you actually construct the piece in a computer monitor, to actually show it, you know, in the same media.
It's an experiment really to see how that works because part of me says that if you project anything it ends up being quite an impressive visual experience, it's quite deceptive, you can get away with a lot projected large basically ...
It's a gamble! It will be interesting to see. Ideally the bigger the better, because I want the mountains to be quite 'real', but maybe the intensity should be closer to that of a monitor, We'll see I don't know ....