Interview with Michael Baumgartner by Ian McInerney, The Black Mariah, Cork, Ireland,    Dec. 2014

You asked me about Martin Buber, he was a jewish philosopher and is one of the godfathers of modern anarchism. His most important work is “Ich und Du“, “I and Thou“. What he says is simple: there is no “we“ without “I and you“.


My work is all about contact on a basic level: the seeing of each other. Lacans “Mirror State” is an influence, I love Lacan. I read his works like poetry, often not understanding. He says, when a young child of a certain age sees itself in the mirror, it sees an-other, but isn’t it so that it’s the same with grown ups? In viewing certain artworks it happens, that you see yourself -when there is no you: you look to the “ground” of the work and thats yourself.


Some of the maquettes for the exhibition at The Black Mariah in large scale would be used as performance settings: performers would be in the objects and do simple things, often just being there. For example in “Pigsty” there would be 3 persons in suit and tie inside, crawling on hands and knees, always in a circle. If you look into the mirror path of the work from the right view, you see them crawling up a deep manhole, and in an instant falling down again.


The maquette of “Bodybox”, the only work to be shown at The Black Mariah that has been realised in large scale was built and shown in Switzerland 15 years ago was used as a temporary home for my girlfriend, my daughter and me. It was as if we moved into the gallery as parasites.


Maybe my work is just the backside of my social-phobia. There’s a strong longing for contact in me, at the same I fear it. My works are vehicles to help me make contact. Half the population of the world would describe themselves as shy. So maybe my works could help these 50 %. It’s like “playing” contact. There is always a playful moment in my works. Sometimes they produce comic situations involuntarily.


Object-subject condition is another topic: by looking at someone, you make them an object. This happens to my performers. But as soon as you look them in the eye they are subjects again. It’s sometimes heavily irritating. Some works are like letting an exhibitionist meet a voyeur, very hardcore. In the scale models one would have to imagine this.


The maquettes are test vehicles, 1:10 models for larger versions. It’s hard to imagine the mirror path, the optical path, by just drawing. I make maquettes with my carpenter so the little babes get value.


I use the periscope principle but with multiple mirrors. The order of the mirrors produces the form of the works. Sometimes there is a last mirror at 45 degrees that sends the whole path back. You look yourself in the eye, but your picture is far away, at the end of a corridor.



What I do is minimal with fleshy content. A contradiction maybe. The minimalism is formed in the principles of the making. My heroes were the big names of the sixties: Nauman at first, then Dan Graham, Judd, Morris, Flavin. I was born in the sixties and studied in the eighties when all was “Neue Wilde“, wild painting, I hated it. I was unhappily 5 years too young to be one of the late eighties artists. In Austria these were Gerwald Rockenschaub and Heimo Zobernig amongst others. I started with copy art, first in black and white, then in color, working on “water” as a symbol for the flood of information. These were big works out of Din A4 pieces of copies on aluminum in raster, filling walls.


I started the mirror works 15 years ago, but the idea is much older. When I was 19 I studied stage design. I had heard that actors won’t stand a real mirror on stage due to superstition. Apparently a real mirror on stage brings bad luck. So when a mirror was needed, they used silver foil. I was making fun out of that and designed a stage consisting only out of mirrors.


These maquettes are like memories, afterthoughts of larger versions already existing.


My drawings (which I would like you to make available on request only), are something different but have to do with perception too. It’s a kind of conceptual drawing: a few fast strokes on the paper get painstakingly caught by perfect lines made with gauges. What comes out are abstract drawings, but perception always seeks the figurative. This might refer to the early stages of us as humans, when it was important to recognize an enemy or preying animal, so the works often resemble abstract comics. The “ende” sign in the circle brings in time: I set it, when the work is finished. So the aspect of time becomes part of the work. I do lots of these drawings, about 9000 in the last 6 years. It’s a daily routine. I think I’ll do one more year and then it’s enough. But I’m not sure to be able to stop.


I have problems with groups, so I construct my works for the meeting of individuals.


I read a lot, but not theory or philosophy, I adore the art of the novel. Right now it’s Colm Toibin who captures me.


The WE LOOK banners are, what they are: words in big letters in a certain environment. Maybe minimalistic poetry. WE LOOK in a gallery setting is nothing but a statement of the status quo. There is no meaning but WE LOOK. That’s what we do. We look at the art, at each other and through the works in this case. At the same time, WE LOOK is the title of the exhibition and a statement as well.