Jesse Ash (read)
Kerstin Brätsch
Ian Law (read)

3 conversations 3 works.

A series of conversations about a single work.
(Online only)

interchangeable mylar from Glow Rod Tanning Series (Kerstin Brätsch for DAS INSTITUT and UNITED BROTHERS, 2011)
(oil on mylar, ca. 48 ' x 65')
Jesper List Thomsen in conversation with Kerstin Brätsch

Jesper List Thomsen: Are you allowed to move them around as you like?

Kerstin Brätsch: Yes, you can move them around, back front, top bottom, you can change the layers. It really kind of functions like create your own sneakers - compose your own painting. I am just providing the tools and the ‘analogue effects’, the actual painting is only made once it has left its place of creation; the studio. These mylar works follow the principle of accumulation: they are paintings that exists only as a variable configuration - shapeshifting.

JLT: So, it is the kind of art you are suppose to touch?

KB: Yes, these are the ingredients and then you do what you want.

JLT: The viewer is activated and he becomes a participant quite literally?

KB: Right, ...that creates minor problems because no one wants to do that.

JLT: Because no one dares?

KB: The idea was really to give up the responsibility, in order to bring down the hierarchy of what painting normally is ‘suppose to be’. Painting is all about verticality, creating a hierarchy; there is a master and the masterpiece.

JLT: And it is about reaching a level of the absolute, isn’t it? Painting is sort of the medium you can’t mess with. And when the painter has finished the painting it is almost as if it has reached a divine state.

KB: That’s comical, right!

JLT: It tells a truth and you are not allowed to interfere with it.

KB: I don’t like that.

JLT: You don’t like it?

KB: No, I mean, of course it is amazing that a painting can do that, and I love looking at old masters as much as everyone else does, but today things MIGHT be different.

JLT: So what? The painting should be an interactive thing rather?

KB: No, that would be regressive. But perhaps a generator for an active mental state, where the painting suggests a platform for social structures on an abstract level.

JLT: But this painting seems to operate on a purely compositional level. The fact that I can engage with this work, the fact that I am allowed to swoop these three sheets around, doesn’t mean that I am changing the world, all I do is change the composition, which is somewhat dealing in surface only. So, you are allowing me to deal in surface. But then it becomes an analogy of sorts, right? A proposition for worldly affairs, for the political?

KB: I don’t look at it that literally. The fact that you are allowed to compose your own painting is an invitation to reflect on what a painting can be today; what are its limits and where to sideshift some hierarchical structures. I don’t want to deny the fact that it is a painting. The space of painting allows for a physiological space, it creates something that I couldn’t achieve by using mass production means, or, if I didn’t use my hand, so to say. Further, I like the painting to become a stand-in, it might as well function as a surface, a screen or skin….Don’t we encounter a world of touch daily in a global working environment of computing devices?

JLT: The action that your brain supposedly tells your hand to perform, that moment makes for something that a straight concept, one executed, by say; industrial means, wouldn’t achieve?

KB: Yes, but then it becomes distorted or infected further by the aspect that I always dedicate things to DAS INSTITUT. Even while producing I know in the back of my mind, that this is going to be in relation to something other, and the other is a dedication, an arrow or platform for the painting to exist in.

JLT: Is DAS INSTITUT like a stage and everything that goes onto it a prop?

DAS INSTITUT is a massive multiplication (and therefore creation, obfuscation, and perpetual annihilation) of the self.

Adele’s Digital Abstraction is used as quasi painting.

A painted brush-mark by Kerstin is used as an enlarged brushstroke and a quasi digital tool.

What is a Painting?
What is a digital De-Sign?
What is a Sign?
What is En-Sign?


KB: DAS INSTITUT is providing various services. In the very beginning we called it an Import Export Agency. It is based on the idea that Import Export can be an extremely broad exchange. You can get almost anything you want, you don’t know how, but you will get it. And, we called it such because it provides a tremendous amount of freedom in a collaboration and it provides a way of spreading out into the world (not just the “artworld”) - a fictive platform to provide freedom for ourselves, a mental trick to work with.
And when I say, OK, I paint, and I am a painter using paint and brush and paper, which are traditional means. But in the moment when I say that I paint this painting for this Import Export exchange I have with my friend, the painting achieves a different agency. And because Adele [Röder]’s practice is ephemeral and digital I think on a subliminal level that influences me as a painter. I don’t think about a painting in the sense of painterly application or the divine, I am more interested in what painting can be outside these framing devices that most often define it.

JLT: I think that is interesting as an approach, that your paintings come about because of those reasons and then again enter the discourse…

KB: …of painting.

JLT: Yes, of painting.

KB: It just goes around in circles!

JLT: And then history will do its thing and your work will be read in a fairly conventional manner, if it isn’t already. And that is because it is painting, right? Because it is such a strong historical medium. You can fight like a madman to get out of it, but at the end of the day it seems impossible somehow?

KB: Yes, but that is the contradiction I have to deal with; it’s a challenge and a curse.

JLT: But isn’t it also a great place to be? Because it is where you might find the biggest challenge?

KB: I feel like today’s painters have a different agency, one which is beyond I go into the studio and put up my easel

JLT: And when you say agency, do you mean responsibility?

KB: Yes, responsibility, but not in a didactic way.

JLT: What is the responsibility of the painter today?

KB: I can only talk for myself, and for me there is the desire to include something other. I am interested in a definition of abstraction, where abstraction isn’t based on a formal construct, or ideological construct, but one where it (ABSTRACTION) could be: a place holder…..a device, a virus or monstrum for a social structure. It could be the formation within the work itself, it could be the artist in quotation marks, it could be transaction, or the relation between various artistic positions. My interest is to find a new definition without nessecarily changing the ingredients.

JLT: You want to stick with the dirty stuff?

KB: Stick with the dirty stuff….there is a certain set I take as a given. I might use different materials, but a certain set is just there.

JLT: You are already breaking a big convention by suggesting we can look at a painting from the back.

KB: Well, Polke did that too… but that is exactly what I find compelling - a painting which is adjustable to a given space: it can curl, crumble, bend, roll, it can be free floating in space, become a room divider, cover, curtain, banner - it can be décor or it can be purely functional; it is multifunctional in its definition and application. Plus, you can walk around it and see through it so it deals with one of the oldest themes of painting: LIGHT.

Glow Rod Tanning with . . . .2 The subject: the suffering of painting. The aim: to cast a damning light on painting.3 A painting always asks, craves, to “be in the right light” (to find its place under the sun . . .). But imagine a Vermeer hanging in a garage: It would suffer. The transparent paintings are exposed to artificial light—to aggressive light.4 Backstage light. They are scrutinized and dissected. And, as in an X-ray, each painting MUST fail—fail its beauty—because nothing is hidden.

1 “. . . this invented world,/ The inconceivable idea of the sun.” (Cf., being in the right light.)
2 For BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed, from “Glow Rod Tanning” series, by Kerstin Brätsch for DAS INSTITUT and UNITED BROTHERS.*
*Ei and Tomoo Arakawa. Tomoo runs a tanning business named Blacky (near Fukushima).
3 Poussin on Caravaggio, “to destroy painting.”
4 There are also cryptic aggressors in the paintings: hair, fish bones, fluff, spines . . .

JLT: You deny painting one of its vital materials: the canvas. Yet, the discussion surrounding your work is very much grounded in post WWII painting. I am interested in how your work enters this discussion and especially in relation to a certain group of German men?

KB: I think that is biographical, you know. I am from Germany and went to art school in Germany. And then I continued studying in America and suddenly I became aware of certain questions that I might not have asked myself without having the geographical and psychological distance. So, with that distance I started to address certain questions within my practice: being a painter, a female painter …from Germany, but living in a place where the discussion surrounding the medium of painting is for sure a different one. I also kind of wanted to include everything I felt slightly embarrassed about in an attempt to confront myself. So, say, when I painted the Psychic Series, I wanted to include expressions and materials that I would normally be repulsed by, using certain colours I am opposed to, using (EXTRA) large scale, to simply confront myself with this physical challenge. All the clichés that I am suspicious of, all the German ways that I am pre-judgemental about, I wanted to include into my practice. You can’t deny the fact that the history of German painting is completely ruled by men from a certain area/era in Germany, and amazing works have come out of it. But what do you do with that heritage? What do you do with that history? As a (FEMALE) artist of a younger generation?

JLT: It is impossible to not know of it, isn’t it?

KB: I mean, how do you do this in your work? You come from Denmark, you live in England?

JLT: I think my relationship to this is a very personal one too. I am into the notion that things should be a product of my own experience, which is a bit like what you are saying. But obviously we are influenced by our knowledge, what we have been taught and gained by whatever means. Where you are saying, that in the Psychic Series you are trying to grab that knowledge and deal with it, in a really staged manner.

KB: Yes, staged or performative.

JLT: So, by using these means did you also want to create a new language?

KB: I wanted the painting to stare back at you…in the end we are talking about painting and about what a painting can and can not do. And I didn’t just want to include the discussion about painting, say from the outside, I need to find and establish my own position within it as well.

JLT: What is your own position? Is it that of being critical, but living your work too? If that makes sense?

KB: It is an oscillation between 3rd person perspective and resolute dedication towards non-subjective forms of subjectivization. And, through my collaborative practice DAS INSTITUT I also include a multimedia practice that nonetheless insists on painting as its central element. So, I am kind of contradicting myself, but I think this is part of my whole practice. Yes, I am painting – ohh, I hate being a painter – so, how do I, without being completely self-destructive, deal with that reality? And how do I find a way to talk about a more liquid form of identity and modes of abstraction, which carry an interest towards disfigurement, displacement and the uncanny in a pure abstract form. How can I find a definition for myself?

JLT: Do you think abstraction is an optimistic form?

KB: I don’t even know if it is a form. It’s a device for conversation.

JLT: A device for interrogation or a device for engagement?

KB: Engagement.

JLT: It is by default an open-ended phenomenon isn’t it? It is not really trying to tie matters down.

KB: Or it is like a definition of identity and I am also just searching in that sense. For example, for the photo series Viola / Viola Ghosts (DAS INSTITUT 2007-2011) which Adele and I shot with Viola [Yesiltac], we used our own bodies to create templates. With perfunctory application of make-up we underwent simple facial alterations. The body itself became a tool and played a simple trick towards a desired trompe-l’œil effect, which was revealed in the moment the face was turned (towards the camera).These “ghastly” profiles and created personas become an affinity for the monstrous, and, they become a tool in the same way as painting or a computer or fabric is a tool.

JLT: Is it like a Beuys-ian attitude?

KB: Not really because in that sense I think Beuys was really hierarchical, also his idea of “Soziale Plastik” is very much based on idealism.

JLT: The ego always gets in the way.

KB: The myth of the ego! I try to find a way of spelling out my name and then re-spell it and then do it backwards and sideways. What if you look at something and you have always looked at it from a certain angle - a certain point of view. And, suddenly you force yourself to take a different position, and confront the fact that nothing is hidden. The painting is supposed to be a painting and I don’t want to deny the fact that it is. But in the moment where it is nonchalantly displayed as a background for some other activity, or, is literally used as a divide, it is transformed; it changes again and inhabits another role. It is an urge to bring things together and an urge to un-define things.

JLT: So, the create your own sneakers approach is a way to reinforce that process over and over again. To deny anything reaching a level of concreteness, of final form?

KB: At least not just one final form. And, you can’t look at one formation without seeing it in relation to its surroundings, since it’s a transparent material. Whatever is produced always refers to what was before, you define one step and then the next thought refers to a former, and then the next one refers to the first, and, the next cancels out the one before. It is not linear. It is more like simultanious flattening out of painterly transparency….

JLT: So there is no idealism?

KB: If there is, it is staged.

JLT: Fake?

KB: No, staged, with a sense of distrust.

Kerstin Brätsch is a German artist living and working in NYC, US.
Jesper List Thomsen is an artist based in London, UK.

interchangeable mylar from Glow Rod Tanning Series (Kerstin Brätsch for DAS INSTITUT and UNITED BROTHERS, 2011)
(oil on mylar, ca. 48 ' x 65')

Images © Jesper List Thomsen

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