Meta Marina Beeck: You have employed numerous different techniques and explored numerous artistic genres, and have now arrived at what are known as ‘Spray Paintings’. How do you trace your artistic development, starting with your early weaving, progressing to your current spray paintings? When did you do your first spray painting?

FB: My first painting was completed in 1999, and was based on a collage. The collage was comprised of an advertisement bag which I combined with new words and shapes, which I then transferred onto an acrylic canvas with spray paint. My enthusiasm for experimentation, with both material, form and colour, led me to my final result. My early weaving - originally with wool, dyed fabrics, and later with steel strings and wires – was in some respects the beginning of this approach to my work. It is the materiality of these works which can be seen as a continuation in my works today. Besides weaving with materials such as wool and steel, I later explored materials such as nylon and fishing line as well in the following years, expanding my interest for synthetic materials, where transparency and three-dimensionality play a big role. The progression to painting and acrylic based work was achieved with the spray paintings.

ABC, 2000, steel mesh, 100 x 70 x 5 cm

MMB: How did the development of your motives come about? You just said that your first spray painting was completed in 1999, what did it look like?

FB: The title of my work “BLUMEN-TRANSIT-EUROPA” (flower-transit-Europe) is a new word combination, which links directly with fashion advertising. The term “transit” symbolises an opening up between east and west, as well as a movement back and forth. Both vehicles and passengers in transit, were commonly visible images at the time of the GDR.

BLUMEN TRANSIT-EUROPA, 1999, spray-paint on acrylic, 58 x 46 cm

MMB: How do you choose the advertisement material? Are there aesthetic criteria? I know that you have used plastic bags from the oil conglomerate Shell, which adds a political dimension to your work. Does that play a role? How do you arrive at the stories that you tell in your works?
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FB: My works often have a sense of humour. They also contain small series which I mould into collages, which always possess a humorous element, and yet also comment on daily events or are connected with my own biography. The advertisement images stand at the front, placing emphasis on them, with the stories following behind. Let’s take for example the characters of Damon and Susie, who have particular qualities and experience something specific within my collage and express it. When the ‘Damon’ piece with the Shell plastic bag first appeared, the oil company and its dubious activities in Africa was at the forefront of the daily news. In this respect, current affairs and the media have an influence on the themes and the motives of my work. I then take the logo of a large corporation like Shell, and place it in a new context.

We had problems, 1999, Spray-paint on acrylic, 110 x 80 x 5 cm

MMB: You have often said that some of your themes are autobiographical in the sense that they document journeys, just like the London series. One of the pictures from this series shows the funeral march of the Queen Mum in 2002, another one depicts a huge banner with the message „Imagine“ in Piccadilly Circus, as a homage to John Lennon, and finally Vivienne Westwood’s fashion boutique on the King’s Road. Do all these works come directly from you, from your own camera? There is also a ‘shop window’ series. So the question I want to ask you is how you decide to actually make a series? Do they simply develop by chance, or do they arise through autobiographical material, which then leads to a spray painting?

FB: When I travel I keep a graphical diary. I do drawings every day during the trip, and a certain characteristic arises from these recordings of the journey. This is a very personal exercise for me, and something that arises adjacent to my other works. These are however drawings that I have not yet exhibited. I develop the spray paintings at a later point in my studio, and model them around my drawings and photos, which are not necessarily done by me. I sometimes even ask someone to photograph a certain theme for me.

I experienced the funeral procession of the Queen Mother myself in fact. What interested me about this theme, was not necessarily the funeral itself, but rather the imperial pomp and circumstance; the guards dressed in red and black and the whole rhythm and choreography of the event. The British Empire arose and took shape on this occasion. That is something that I wanted to express. It was not about a creating a form of documentation, but rather to illustrate whatever features and aspects I could recognise.

In another picture entitled Kew Gardens (2011), I did not simply want to depict a beautiful south west London park, instead I wanted to capture its dynastic character and its relationship with nature. By incorporating words and my own texts into the picture, I try to find an expression which is not only a form of documentation, but which also questions and discovers something new.

Queen Mum, 2006, Spray paint on acrylic, 178 x 101 cm

MMB: The ‘shop window’ series and even the London series are self-contained series. When is a series completed, when do you add images, how do you interact with it? Do you then reach a point when you no longer have the desire to make any more shop window images?

FB: In regards to the ‘shop window’ pictures, they were a commission for an exhibition. I was already interested in this topic and then completed the series when the exhibition was official. I don’t work particularly fast since the pictures take up a lot of time. And I do not produce many pictures from this slow process either. I certainly don’t end up with a hundred pictures from the themes that I work on, often only ten. There are also often works which are developed within a series which do not even fit the cycle at all, such as small neon spray paintings, early sketches and other concepts of shop windows. The exhibition provided the framework for the ‘shop window’ theme, and my trip to London formed another series. There are of course also themes which stay with me all my life.

MMB: Let’s take a look once more at the work you did before your spray paintings. There is a work which depicts woven pieces of cake, and in an earlier series you also experiment with pig windows from old farms. How did you develop these themes?

FB: These topics always come to me from the outside world. In the case of the pig windows, it is simply due to the fact that I live in the countryside and many farms were demolished thirty years ago, and these cast-iron pig windows were also supposed to be removed. I collected the windows, worked on them with a drill and made a steel mesh to give them a durability. That was particularly interesting to me, as a comment on the changes of the countryside and the death of the farms.

MMB: You cultivate a kind of artistic exchange in many of your works with the commissioners and technicians. With the spray paintings you work closely with a company which produces your acrylic or aluminium bases. There is also a commissioned calendar of the Wümme River which has been in existence now for many years. It is a calendar which also acts as an advertising medium for a printing factory. To what extent do you come across new ideas through these collaborations? Do these collaborations play a significant role within your works?

FB: Yes, of course, I always like to work with commissioners. I also see myself as an entrepreneur in my own role as an artist. I particularly like the collaboration and the development of a project together, with a united input. There are certain challenges and restrictions which follow. I particularly like to work with experts, because I experiment a lot with different materials and consequently need advice. My work is often pioneering and in this regard collaborations are very important. The questions which arise when producing the calendar are often those surrounding the relationship between the original and the mass produced series; such as print colours, and also technical developments such as digitalisation play an important role.

Shopwindow I and II, 2008, Neon spray on paper, 22.5 x 33 cm

MMB: The Wümme calendar is based thematically on this specific region and its nature. You do not simply regard this calendar as a piece of commissioned work, but also as an experiment.

FB: We have developed the Wümme calendar for more than thirty years now, from what was a not much appreciated invention in the beginning, to what is now a highly respected product. I produce this commission every year, and when you work on a commission for so long, it gives you a high amount of flexibility, allows you to develop new questions, and constantly search for new, interesting topics. It has, as you yourself mentioned, a regional focus restricted to the small area surrounding the Wümme river.

I try to connect the countryside and even the home, with a spirit of modernity, romance, and experimental techniques such as spray paint. How can you create a relationship here? Is there one at all? Where do I find a common denominator between these two poles? It is with these questions in mind that I start working on the thirteen pictures needed for the calendar. Due to the relatively small format of the calendar pages, and the manageable number of thirteen pages, I try new techniques and themes. The calendar reaches its audience each year through its publication. The direct feedback that we get is also very interesting.

MMB: You recently got back from Dalian, where you organised and conducted a large exhibition in the Modern Museum of Dalian. You have been a key figure in the German – Chinese – Exchange for many years now. Your first exhibition took place in 1998 in the Goethe-Institute in Beijing. How much has China changed over the years?

FB: My first exhibition in Beijing took place at a time when I didn’t yet have a computer at home, which meant that I sent and received faxes from China at night, and the information that we did receive was extremely minimal. The only thing which we were told, was to include no sex, no violence, and no politics in the artwork. Just before the start of the exhibition I discovered that it was forbidden for Chinese female artists to display their installations in public. Because of this, I changed my whole programme and put together my installation “One hundred small boxes”. “One hundred small boxes” is based on a graphical drawing of the “Battle of Austerlitz” by Napoleon. With a table, makeup implements, a chair and the drawing duplicated on the wallpaper, I created a room. The “Battle of Austerlitz” is comparable to “the hundred small boxes” of everyday life.

My exhibition received a lot of attention at that time, as I was one of the first German female artists who had ever exhibited in China. In 1998, there were still no galleries and no museums in Beijing for modern art, or even a public art scene. Artists met in small private flats where artworks were pulled out from beneath their beds. That was extremely exciting. The prevailing themes of their artworks were single child families, the individual and society, the handling of the Cultural Revolution and the Mao era. The discussion of art existed at that time, and the exchange with the artists was incredibly inspiring, which is why I decided to transport art from China to Bremen in order to exhibit it, and in return to allow artists from Bremen to visit China. This is how the exchange started. Dalian was my fifth exhibition in China. Life is very fast there nowadays, but the exchange of art and culture has not necessarily become any easier unfortunately.

One hundred small boxes, Installation image, Goethe-Institute, Beijing, 1998

MMB: You always mention the big challenges that you faced in China, especially regarding the size of the galleries. How did you solve these problems?

FB: At the beginning of my art career, the exhibition halls were certainly not official rooms, and I was often given very little information about the exhibition rooms during my preparation.  The only thing that I knew, was that the rooms would be big. Official rooms were practically colossal at that time. It was during my second exhibition at the Teachers-University-Gallery in Beijing in 2000, where I first experienced such gigantic spaces. The Chinese side demanded a five meter long mural artwork, or rather a room was simply available to install such a work. This was a truly huge challenge for me, both in regards to the transportation of my work to China, and in regards to the implementation of my spray technique. I consequently completed my first spray painting on paper for this room. I have also presented an installation at every exhibition that I have shown in China, which has always created an interesting discourse with the Chinese audience.

MMB: Are there any new ideas or experiments with the materials that you work with, or are you still spraying on acrylic? There are however works which are forcing open the boundaries of classical images. With your newest works such as “Garden of Eden“, you are exploring installations once again. 

FB: From steel meshing, which indeed functions as a spatial object, to spray-paint. My spray painting has a back and a front side, and a three-dimensional quality to the images due to the acrylic. I therefore constantly work with space, which is why this sense of “forcing open the boundaries of classical imagery” is simply a natural continuation for me.

But I could definitely imagine that some of my works may transform back into weave or embroidery once again. Then the gap would close itself again. To turn modern spray-painting back to traditional practices. That is still a dream of mine.

MMB: one of your murals in Bremen, which you completed with a graffiti artist, has in fact become a much despised image for the city and for many residents. The mural became an installation in the town gallery of Bremen with an accompanying documentation of the work. How was that for an experience? What changes when you are working on a wall?

FB: This is not my sole wall mural. I see this experience as a constant process of field research. As an artist working alongside a graffiti artist, that doesn’t make me complicit in their acts, walking the streets at night and spray-painting walls illegally. The relationship when dealing with the particular canvas, be it acrylic glass or wall, and even the appreciation of word and writing, is after all something different. However, there are many overlaps: words and graffiti, and therefore spray painting and writing have a lot in common. Yet the choice of words that a graffiti artist employs is often different, dealing instead with lettering design and comprising fewer words. I concentrate first and foremost on the content. The mural on Heinrichstraße was implemented due to a successful proposal by culture board in Bremen. Tobi and I had a lot of fun, we both brought our music with us whilst working together.

The interview took place on 15.07.2015 in the artist’s studio.