In the Studio

Clemens Krauss

Berlin, Germany

»Sleeping dogs that should not be woken.«

The work of Clemens Krauss, who was born in Graz and who now lives and works in Berlin, examines in depth what truly defines human identity, in the process of which painting and performance, sculpture, psychoanalysis, and video art fuse together and current social, political, and autobiographical issues become relevant. 

Clemens, can you explain in a few words what your art is about?
I combine material, space, and even my own body with social and political observations intending to produce works that evoke something, that don’t leave you cold.

What personal concern forms the basis of your artistic work? 
My work is characterized by the basic motivation of each artistic creation to critically examine the elements that define our world. When I simply reproduce certain things instead of reflecting on them I am only confirming this. Artistic interests offer infinite possibilities of critical examination such as exaggeration, aestheticization, and humor. Only reflected repetition leads to knowledge production or the acknowledgement of even unpleasant aspects. It can be compared to a physical digestion and growth process and applies to both the individual and society as a whole.

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Among other topics you always concern yourself with individuals and society, is that correct?
Precisely! At the moment, I am very interested from an analytical point of view in the role of the individual in our society and I want to find out what it is that actually establishes social order, beginning with the individual, the individual (human) body, and ultimately with several bodies in interaction, that is society as such, and to ask the questions: Who are the observers and who are the observed? Who are the actors and who is the audience? What degree of freedom does the individual have in the society we are talking about?

Where does interaction begin for you?
Interaction begins with myself, with the object and the viewer. Seen this way, a micro image of society is created. Ideally, social connections become inferred and perhaps even comprehensible. These things are interesting to me and I consider them important particularly in times of such contradictory political processes. It concerns us all and we ought to continuously ask questions like: Where do I stand, where are we standing as a society? Where is something critically negotiated and processed? What is only being produced and actually simply repeated? 

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You are known for your structurally strong oil paintings that represent human bodies seen obliquely from above looking like their own shadows. Can you say something about their origination?
I have lived for long periods in London and São Paulo. In both places I had the experience of being under constant surveillance. One is aware of the monitors in public spaces on which one can see oneself and others from strange angles. Through this change of perspective in both the real and the symbolic sense the body becomes on the one hand more complete, the viewer on the other hand is being brought into a bottomless situation. All this occurs through a mere reduction of materials. From this observation originated my motifs of the “plan views”.

Through the chosen perspective the represented persons seem to lose individual personality. Is this intended?
I am concerned with the prototypical individual. In my representation – at least I maintain this – it is sexless, has no identity and is ageless. And it is not at all myself! I am saying this expressly because it is often suggested. Although I model occasionally for my own paintings, it has nothing to do with self-portraiture in the classical sense.

So you function more as a kind of deputy?
Yes, that is the right term! However, it is certainly different with the skin works. In those I serve quite obviously as the model.

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Your work “Self-portrait as a Child” shows you at the age of approximately thirteen and it evokes strong reactions. On this year’s ARCO in Madrid your work was the probably most photographed artwork. How did you get the idea to portray yourself in a skin casing as a young teenager?
The teenage years are the most sensitive phases in the life of each human being. Each viewer can identify with this child. At this age, I began to deal more intensively and more seriously with art and about that time I made my first videos. I still work with the material of these videos. The Self-portrait as a Child is both autobiographical and a reference to my own artistic practice.

“Self-portrait as a Child” has been presented in various places. It is interesting that it has been laid out differently each time. Was that the intention?
There are infinitely many possibilities to lay out and present this sculpture. There also exists a basic construction instruction for it so that others can lay it out. In principle the presentation is about a moment of a “being thrown down” of the extended body surface. A very anti-heroic and also unprotected gesture!

Does the body “posture” and the interaction of the two halves of the body mean something different each time?
In the exhibition Kunst und Scham (Art and Shame) at Museum Marta Herford 2017 my intention in the positioning of the body was very clear. The theme shame is very present in early adolescence. It is a vulnerable age in which one struggles with becoming oneself and with change. It is an enormously conflict ridden time as childhood and youth have to be understood as in conflict. Therefore this special age interested me very much, especially in relationship to the videos that I made at the time. These are by nature very playful and in a certain way were quite immature. Twenty years later I make works from them which are presented in a professional, artistic context. Here a cycle is completing somewhat.

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Can you give us a glimpse into what you will show in your next exhibition at Galerie CRONE, Vienna, in the fall?
Throughout the entire duration of the exhibition a display of various media and formats will develop. The current series Sleeping Dogs will be the topic. The phrase ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ has been in use for a considerable time and certainly has its counterpart in other languages. Metaphorically, it is comparable to the myth of ‘Pandora’s box’, which, as with “sleeping dogs” that should “not be woken”, it is advisable not to open. In addition, viewers will be invited to engage in individual conversation with me in a separate area of the exhibition space.

Interview: Agnes Wartner
Photos: Kristin Loschert

Clemens Krauss website
Galerie CRONE, Berlin/Vienna

#loveart, #clemenskrauss

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