I HAVE THE KEY BUT NOT THE KEY
Mirjam Thomann, "I Had The Key But Not The Key", 2015; Window splashes (waterbased paints on windows of Mackey apartment, unit #3, 1137 Cochran Av., Los Angeles 90019), digital print, sign stand; Application window splashes: John King, King Sign & Graphic, West Hollywood; Photo: Joshua White
While galleries and alternative exhibition spaces abound
both in and out of the city, there’s nothing more intimate
or contextual than viewing a work of art from within an
artist’s home or studio. Below we profile a list of artists’
studios that you can visit and tour, both historical and
contemporary, as unparalleled exhibition spaces that
remain frozen in time, yet indefinitely relevant.
My studio is a place and it is a process. This text is part of it. The thing needs to be written, I’m already late. How to get out of my own way? Every day I wake up, I try to think about how I’ll do this work. With a form, a concept, I’ll somehow manage, without realizing it. I’ll use that hidden part of myself. The beginnings are always hard, maybe I’ll start in the middle. I’ll do the beginning after and leave the end open. I’ll grow out of the middle. I learned this from Chantal Akerman, who also said: “To make a movie, you have to get up. I’ll get up. Movies are made standing up. Let’s stand up!” Exactly.
To get things going I sometimes do them in the wrong order, at the wrong time. You know the feeling to start a new task when the sun is setting? It’s less rushed than in the mornings, slightly out of sync with the expectations around time and daylight. This is when I begin to think into the dark lines of the room. It’s interesting how certain spaces almost become teachers, teaching you how to live, shaping your working routine and daily ethics. That’s what my work is about, coming alive, again and again, at different sites. It’s about building a relationship to these places. Site specificity is a process of orientation and sculpture an act of positioning, this is how I see it. For me there is no such thing as closing the door of my studio, the work is never staying within the studio, and never emerges out of it alone. Some of the places that shaped my work I visited temporarily, others became part of my architectural biography. This can be an undefined, blurred and not realistic idea of a space, like imaginations rather than actual places. I see a studio among palms, ferns and tall bamboo. Its walls expand fluidly, the rooms become bigger, a breeze blows through every window, the gate is unlatched. I arrive there and it is seriously crazy, oh my gosh, the colors, the blues are like really green, and the wind is so strong it’s making the clouds move across the sky so fast, like everything is really intense, you know, I can’t believe my eyes or my luck. I’m carrying this place inside of me. It reminds me of Leonora Carrington, who said that houses are bodies, “We connect ourselves with walls, roofs and objects just as we hang on to our liver, skeletons, flesh, and bloodstream.” And it makes me think of what Deborah Levy writes, that real estate is always a self-portrait as well a class portrait.
I see this as part of the delicate relationship between a person’s life and their work. The work reacts to life, the life reacts to the work. I’m not sure what memory is to me, I just know that the past is always with me. This great, dead painter once said, identity is based on what we remember, it’s also a matter of choices and it can be a surprise. It’s not something hard, like a stone. It’s more like a salt brick, an object that comes into being and continues to change, a sign for an almost unfathomable scope of time that reaches far beyond the duration of anything built from it. In many different ways, I cannot escape from my memory, all the places I ever worked at are still here. Sometimes I’m amazed to see how there is a history in me which I was not aware of. In this sense there is no looking in or looking out of the studio. Things combine to become other things, to become other kinds of experiences. Inside and outside happen at once, as distance and visibility they are exchangeable positions, not only in their spatial situation but also in time. I certainly learned to loosen my grip on steadfast assumptions.
Spaces obtain their meaning from social agreements, confirmed by usage, which can vary. My studio is constantly coming back under my hand, the web is caught up here and there, reattached, realigned, loosened, straightened. I’m curious, I can afford to be. So today I decide to listen to Troy Brauntuch: “I probably should be more ambitious,” he says, “but I don’t like going to my studio. I don’t like making things. I like thinking about making things and seeing the work when it’s done. It is a very hard thing to keep doing. Only in the end, when the work is in front of you, do you know why you did it.” It’s the opposite of the supposed privilege I have read about, to be invited to an artist’s studio, being offered her daily life, her thoughts on the making of art, her childhood, as well as her worries (financial, aesthetic, maternal). It’s the opposite of getting the rare chance to contemplate the joys and sacrifices artists experience. That’s why I like it, thank you, Troy. Still, at the end it’s about the enjoyment to make objects appear, to connect them to an environment and to observe how they might continue to evolve. Just like houses, also tools and materials are not dead. They participate, they collaborate, they affect what you think and what you do.
There is more I would like to talk about and since I’m a question person let’s continue this way: What happens to the work in the absence of the artist, alone in the studio? Is the studio still of interest when the artist is not around? What does it mean to know this place? What kind of space is it becoming at night? What does it mean to be close or to be distant? Is there a part of me that can still be close in the midst of distance? Maybe I finally understand what you are saying, that a place could be sidestepping the present. It’s like having the key but not the key. It’s neither something you could get rid of nor something you can rely on. It is as fluid as connecting one place with another, working in one room while dreaming of a second. This is where I return to, and return to again.
Alice Sparkly Kat
Etel Adnan and Simone Fattal
Doris Lasch and Ursula Ponn
Mirjam Thomann was part of the event series Ein Haus für Künstler*innen [A House for Fe*male Artists]. with her artist talk „Theory & Action“.