Drones, nudes and pencil drawings. Tim Plamper in a conversation with Maria Abramenko talking about his artistic path, Joy Division and Berlin.
When have you decided to start your art career?
That’s a delicate question to answer. In the end I must say, that I didn’t take the decision from one day to the other. It rather was a process of years that finally made me decide to enroll at an Art Academy and seriously start an art career – whatever that means. Until now I’m not sure, if it’s about a decision at all. It seems to be more about the admittance that it’s the only way to go. But if you want it more tangibly, I’d say that the first seed was planted when I was about 12 years old. Back then my best friend asked me what I would like to become later. And my answer was, that I want to become an artist. I still remember that moment very precisely as my answer surprised and also kind of shocked me.
Back then the possibility to be an artist seemed lightyears away from what could be possible. I also could have said, that I’d like to become a knight to fight dragons one day – this wouldn’t have felt more unlikely. But still I understood something very important back then – that in the end it’s on me to make it happen. The final decision to apply at an Academy then was taken, when I already studied chemistry. I had started this subject mainly because it would have guaranteed a well payed job, but also because I liked the field and I was simply very good at it. But after some weeks, I realized that I was missing something of crucial importance for me and that this whole setting I chose wouldn’t provide at all. I simply needed to draw and instead of concentrating on my studies, I spent more and more time with that. At that moment in 2002 I knew what I needed to do.
In a way this path of becoming an artist very akin to the way I approach my work today. I often compare my process with the work of a gardener. I put ideas like seeds in fertile soil, water and feed them so they hopefully sprout. I touch those sprouts during that process, experiencing how they react to my heat and how they make me feel. I may feel rejected after all, but considering to change the environmental conditions in there can already turn into a kind of answer. But sometimes I have to cut them down again and burn all of it to ashes, that provide the fertilizer for sprouting new seeds. If I’m more lucky, those new plants grow together into an entire garden and I can start harvesting the fruit.
Could you tell me about your musical New Wave background and how it influenced your art later?
Music always played a very important role in my life. But the discovery of Joy Division through »Control« by Anton Corbijn, which was rather a car crash than a contact had an impact on me personally as well as on my art that I still can sense. I always had a crush for Grunge, Punk and New Wave, but back then something else something much stronger happened to me. Anyway – and it didn’t change until now – I always admired the ability of music to intrude and influence emotions directly. For me it’s still the most powerful of the arts. It’s not my field, I know that. But I always took most of my inspiration from music and while drawing it’s a necessity for me to be surrounded by it. During my time at the Academy I necessarily wanted to sing in a band. I wrote a lot of songs and tried to contact several bands or start my own. Nothing ever came of it. But I continued to experiment in this field and tried to find new forms of integration from my musical enthusiasm into visual arts.
One major step into this direction was caused by what first seemed to be an accident. But in the end it turned out to be extremely fruitful and led to a kind of concept album and an entire exhibition with drawings that were created directly from one of the tracks. I would not say that it is an album in the classical sense – rather a collection of soundscapes. On a journey from Berlin into the mountains of Kaukasus in autumn 2014 the memory card of my camera was damaged when I needed to send a photo from Istanbul for the announcement of my upcoming solo exhibition. It was the time of the Islamic State’s siege of Kobanê, and since I lived in Beyoğlu, a district inhabited mainly by Kurds, I experienced clashes between residents and the police every single night.
Sometimes I had to wait until late at night to get into my apartment because the tear gas did not allow me to pass before. Of the stored video recordings, only the sound files were left readable as fragments. So only these digital traces of individual sound scenes remained: street fights – with helicopters circling over Istanbul, border crossings, rivers, the Bosporus. Ultimately, it was a stroke of luck, because I had to rely on my memories and was forced to work with the existing sound recordings. Back in Berlin, I worked on a series of soundscapes that consisted mainly of layers of these unrecognizable stretched tracks – something like the soundtrack of a fragmentary dystopia. It struck me that the visual representations of these soundscapes had a lot to do with the pictures I had supposedly filmed: dark, almost unrecognizable landscapes reminiscent of reflections on a watery surface.
The result was a series of large-format drawings entitled »Atlas«, which, based on one of the sound collages with the same title were intended to bring the lost images back to light. For the first time I worked with the superimposition of different image layers. As I did with the sound material, I put layers of visual material on top of each other. For me, it was important to translate the temporal component of the soundscapes into the spatiality of the drawing – to expand the two-dimensional aspect of the picture imaginarily by a depth dimension and not imitate time as in film through the sequence of pictures. The sequence as a structure was rather vertically aligned on the viewer. These drawings were first shown at Unttld Contemporary, Vienna in 2016 – along with the eponymous sound work that filled the showroom, while the drawings leaned against the wall as sculptural objects. Maybe this body of work washed a certain method to the surface for the first time.
But in general I always have the need to go on journeys – may it be getting taken away by music to new spheres, or exploring foreign countries. It’s a general need for drawing connections, making intersections and weaving different strands together again, unfolding others, exploring those paths and undertaking journeys at different levels. I guess that’s simply how I try to make sense of this my life in this world.
What is your opinion on Berlin’s contemporary art scene?
In my opinion, the best days of Berlin’s art scene are over since a while already. I still find it very inspiring to life here and I’m grateful to be surrounded by my great friends that share the same life and ideals with me. But from my point of view, there was certainly a lack of solidarity among the art scene in Berlin during the last decade. But also the city of Berlin missed the chance to support its „figurehead“ on many levels. All of that led to a situation that became less and less fruitful for a blooming art scene. For a long time since the wall came down, there was at least the big benefit of low rents here in Berlin. But as also that changed so rapidly over the last 10 – 5 years, I don’t see a big potential for a vivid development in the near future to be honest.
What are you working on these days?
As all exhibitions were cancelled or postponed to an unnamed future, I took the opportunity to review and analyze my artistic point of view and to overcome outdated patterns. This was and still is a very fertile process and it’s also strongly connected to my upcoming projects. One that is of highest importance for me these days, is the next chapter of »Exit II« that hopefully will be realized at NoD in Prague this year. I started to work on that piece in early 2018 and the first chapter was produced on occasion of my exhibition at Melange in Cologne in April 2019. To put it simply, »Exit II« is a questioning of the underworld concept from a psychological point of view and with regard to the current political situation in Europe and all over the globe. The work itself describes a journey that is characterized by violence, loss and traumatization, but also by love.
It is important to me, if not to clarify certain questions personally, at least to think them: What is the motivation of my action? What is my identity based on? Where is my origin? What is my self and where‘s the foreign? What are the causes of fear? Why can we see a shift to irrational decisions in our society? Which structures determine the irrational? And what means do we have to use these structures and possibly influence them? These questions seem to be very important – especially in the current global crisis. There will be a lot of suffering and loss and the psychological consequences that affect all of us are most probably not yet foreseeable in their full extent. But it would be advisable to start dealing with the coming traumatization already now. During my work over the past two years, I realized that the symbolic sphere is extremely relevant here.
Symbols in their highest and deepest meaning and significance provide some kind of “key“ to open up the irrational structures of our being. When asking myself about that sphere of the irrational, the underworld, the identity, and the origin, I found out that they are one of the cognitive “tools” involved to unveil possible answers, at least partially – and open up to paths that simply go beyond the rational and causal – enlightening a sort of universal substructure. Art is very relevant here and can contribute something that is beyond acute crisis management. It can provide long-term visions that give us trust and can carry us through dark times – give us belief and fulfill us with faith for what we want to be and how we want to act!