Questionnaire on the occasion of the exhibition:
Material Conceptualism-the comfort of things
at Aanant & Zoo, Berlin,
September 7 – October 19, 2013

1. What meaning does Arte Povera hold for your artistic practice?

Just by being aware of the existence of Arte Povera, I am being influenced
by it. I sympathise with its engagement and its rudimentariness, but in its
dogmatism I miss a sense of humour that could have very well benefitted
from exactly the gratuity of those cheap materials that are excessive and
modest at the same time.

2. Is the term ‘poor material’ still relevant for you?

Not really. When I think of Arte Povera, I think of works that are made with
twigs, rusty pieces of iron, broken glass. ‘Poor’, being a mainly negatively
connotated term, forces these materials to stay poor in order to have a
right to exist within those works. From today’s point of view, this strikes
me as somewhat sentimental and even oppressive. Since things have
gone so cheap, being poor today doesn’t necessarily mean having a life
less materialistic.
Whether a material is poor or not is perhaps a matter of taste, and not
necessarily connected with the cost of it. I would call a material poor if it
only has a very narrow scope of meanings, of uses. Canvass is a poor
material, for instance. So is gold.

3. Which role do materials play I your work? Do they serve a narrative,
political or social function, or purely for the production of aesthetic fields of tension?

I would like to use the term ’material semantics’ when considering the
reputation of a material, its scope of meanings and how I, or we, know it in
its use in an art and in a non-art context. Material semantics are a very
important part of my work.
It’s important that the semantics of the materials I use support the
intention of the work and its raison d’être. Materials should be able to
reflect on themselves as much as serve the work. All possible implications
that a material carries play a role in the way the work is read, and therefore
I do my best to avoid that any counterproductive or irrelevant signals are
being transmitted through any of these implications. Which doesn’t mean
that I avoid contrasting implications. What I also like about materials, is
that they can subtly add a sensual component to a conceptual work. MEDIUM,
the work in this exhibition, is exemplary for my attitude towards the use of materials.
The material that is used to make this work is not only the plastic that the
strips are made of, it’s much as well the curtain that these strips originally
amount to. Such a strip-blind, normally seen in the doorways of caravans
or kitchens in summertime is a functional object that has an air of lightness
and playfulness. At the same time it has a strong potential to be an
abstract object, an austere colour-field piece. It refers to its use outside of
art as well as its potential to be art. The lightness of the original is
overthrown by the disorienting immersion in colour that is the result of its
multiplication into a materiel battle.

4. Why do you choose certain materials over others?

I follow two strategies: either I start working with a certain material
because I need its surface, its colour or lack of colour. I subsequently
adjust the direction of where the work is going to the semantics and the
physical properties of the material. Or I choose a material because of ist
semantics and then see how its appearance, its colour and physical
properties can shape the work into a credible and convincing object.
I use flexible materials a lot. Rubber and PVC, but also woven fabrics and
sometimes silicone. Because I cannot fully control the effect of gravity on
these materials there is always an unexpected element in the work.
Showing the impact of gravity on the work reflects again how I value
something physical to influence a product of the mind.

5. The plurality of materials in the 21st century has brought on imitations and surrogates
– how relevant is the authenticity of any given material?

I don’t divide between real and imitated materials, since the latter are real
materials in their own right. Laminate for instance might be fake wood, but
it is real laminate. It could in turn be imitated by a photographic print,
which in turn could be meticulously carved in wood and so on.
‚Surrogates’ of course have a different semantic catalogue than their
originals, but not necessarily a more limited one. This has an effect on the
characteristics of anything that is made with it. For me it is important that
an object –art as much as non–art– is integer, that it is true to itself and
how it is made. There is no reason to hide a being in plastic, unless the
intention is to be something that it is not. That would then be kitsch.
I am thinking about the impact that the imminent availability of 3D printers
will have on the way we look at objects and the authenticity of objects and
materials. 3D-printed objects will be made out of a wholly new material. A
material that has ‚Imitation’ written all over it, but that enables everyone
with a computer to produce not only copies of useful and sometimes
illegal tools and models, but also complex (or simple) original objects. It’s
a material that is still poor, still void of semantics but will doubtless have a
rich career ahead.

© Geerten Verheus