‘Surfaces are the access points to this world. They’re what we see and how we understand things.’ An
Juliane Tübke graduated from UdK Berlin in February 2018. She also studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Juliane was interviewed by Art Springboard's Wolfram Schnelle in Berlin in March 2018.
Wolfram Schnelle: Let’s start with your final presentation. What did you show and how did you get there?
Juliane Tübke: Over the last years I’ve been more or less occupied with one set of questions – this interest in understanding my surroundings through materials and surfaces and how to approach these materials.
I never understood why things look the way they do, and I was trying to find a way to get to grips with that. I discovered this special paper technique and thought that it would be a great way to approach a material, especially since it was made for research purposes.
W.S.: Can you explain how this technique works and how you’ve used it?
J.T.: It’s a technique that’s used in archaeology to take imprints of inscriptions on stones. You have a special paper that you moisten and then put onto the surface of a stone. You tap it with a brush until the fibres of the paper connect with the surface.
Once the paper is dry, you remove it and then you have a perfect copy of the surface, which is pretty robust. I’ve collected these imprints from various stones and stony surfaces that I’ve found. And then I’ve treated them in various ways before photographing them.
W.S.: What do the papers record of those stones? What were you looking for – and what did you find?
J.T.: I thought it was interesting that this kind of paper was originally used to record texts that had been carved by people onto stones. I was interested in seeing if the stone by itself had something to say that would come across through the paper. It was an attempt to understand surfaces. Surfaces are the access points to this world. They’re what we see and how we understand things.
Photography then adds an interesting element. I like scientific photography where often you use macro photography to grasp every detail. But then in this moment of trying to grasp these details when you’re looking at my works, you also realize that these details become overwhelming and this attempt to see something ends in being further distanced from what you were trying to understand.
W.S.: Tell me more about the image of a hand, which you described as a digital sculpture.
J.T.: I scanned my hand as a 3D scan and then created a digital surface. This surface replaced the skin on my hand. And it was sort of related to the idea that when we try to touch something we’re not the only ones touching – the material also has an influence on us.
W.S.: Imprints also seem to be something that have always been present in your work. Why is that of interest to you?
J.T.: I’m interested in them for a lot of reasons. It’s through the contact of two materials that this copy is created. An imprint is also used to fix or preserve something, but because it’s a negative imprint it’s also alienated from the original. Something becomes visible that wasn’t visible before. We try to grasp something but then realize that we still don’t understand what the thing is that we were trying to grasp because it becomes something else through the imprint. Also the fact that this contact happened but that the original is not there anymore. This distance and this absence is also interesting to me.
W.S.: Why stones? Why choose the surfaces that you choose?
J.T.: That has to do with the technique that I use, which was specifically designed for stones and I wanted to take that into my work. Stones also represent objects where you think they can be transformed into something else. But they were also already there before we existed, and they will still be there when we no longer exist. They are a testimony to time and see things that we don’t see.
W.S.: You then went on to create your own stone.
J.T.: For the series fac simile I wanted to create my own stone, which then became the basis for a series of photographs that I made of the imprints. I poured a concrete block and then worked my way through this block, layer by layer with a hammer and chisel. The point was to see how I could work with the material and how I could create images together with the material, which resisted my intervention in many ways. The images then became a testimony to what had happened in this process of working with the material. It was an attempt to get to know the material before I then turned back to being interested in working with found traces rather than traces I had created myself.
W.S.: When is a work finished for you?
J.T.: An image is finished when I have the feeling that I can say goodbye to it. When it continues to have a life of its own without me. And has a message of its own that I don’t necessarily need to comment on.
W.S.: Tell me something about size. How do you decide on the size of your artworks?
J.T.: The image usually determines the size of the print depending on which details should be visible and which ones shouldn’t. But I often work in quite a large format because I want you to be pulled into the photograph as a viewer. But it can’t be too big since the details have to be the way I like them. Also, if it’s too big it becomes such a part of the room that you lose the dialogue between the image and the viewer. In the series fac simile I played with different sizes.
W.S.: You were in the US and studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York. How did that experience compare to your experience at UdK?
J.T.: At UdK I learned a lot about working with techniques that otherwise I wouldn’t have had access to. I spent a lot of time in workshops and worked there. That was the most important aspect.
New York was a culture shock. The rooms were tiny, the students were all super young and often had no clue what they were interested in. Despite the fact that I was in a Master’s program, the format was very different from UdK. The atmosphere was such that I preferred to retreat rather than participate in the student life. I spent a lot of time learning how to use different digital programs. That was the great thing about SVA. They had a 3D workshop where I was introduced to 3D printing processes and a so-called Bio Lab where I could take photographs with microscopes among other things. That was super interesting to me.
W.S.: Before starting to photograph you worked in different media. Have you found your medium with the camera or is it possible that you’ll go back to work in other media again?
J.T.: Working with a camera was a kind of research and a way to look at things more closely. And while I see the photograph also as an object, I absolutely want to try other techniques. I want to work with material directly and show it without taking photographs. In my work with the camera I have come to a point where I can end my investigation for now. I saw my degree show as a way of looking back at my work with the camera and understanding what I’d discovered and what I was interested in.
W.S.: When you speak of working with objects are there any specific things that you’re thinking of?
J.T.: I have a hard drive full of photographs that I haven’t yet shown, and my idea is to develop sculptures from the photographs I’ve collected. It’s taking the materials used in photography and photography itself as a point of departure, and I then see something in the photographs that I try to create in the space with materials. Surface always plays a role in this.
W.S.: Let’s talk about colour versus black and white. Why are your works all black and white?
J.T.: This large one here is actually in colour. That is something I find important. From further away it looks grey but once you get close there are actually quite a lot of colours.
The reason why it hasn’t always made sense to work with colours is that the colour always creates associations for the viewer that I sometimes don’t want. If I show how materials change due to my intervention – as I did in the fac simile series – then I want it to be as neutral as possible and not have the possibility that the use of colour calls something to mind.
W.S.: Looking at the artworks here in your flat and also at the exhibition at UdK, I’ve noticed that you pay a lot of attention to how your works are presented. Almost as if you’re creating an installation. How important is that for you?
J.T.: Installing images takes a lot of time for me even if in the end there’s only one image on the wall. I think you can tell a story through the way you present something. I want to control the viewer, who is moving in space, and determine when he sees what and what he might not otherwise see when looking at certain things. Especially when what happens between the work and the viewer is important. For my show at UdK, the chance to have a moment of calm in front of an image was important so that you don’t get distracted by other works that might be close by. That’s why I had a very reduced number of images in the exhibition.
W.S.: If you want to control the viewer, what are you trying to achieve?
J.T.: I would like the viewer to experience something similar to what I experience when I look at the work: that feeling that the image somehow sucks you into its own space. A space that isolates you from everything else. A moment where, through the material and through the image, you find a certain calmness without having associations that would lead you away from this space that is created in the moment of seeing and of focusing on the work.
W.S.: That makes me think of Abstract Expressionism and how with all-over painting the room became much more a part of the work.
J.T.: Absolutely. I studied art history before and my final exam for my bachelor’s degree was about all-over painting. This idea of considering the surroundings and creating a space when viewing the work, a space that also includes the viewer, is maybe something that I’ve developed from there.
W.S.: Where do you find your inspiration?
J.T.: At the moment, my inspiration comes mainly from books that I read, that are categorized as New Materialism, for example Macht des Materials – Politik der Materialität [Power of Material – Politics of Materiality]. This is about the momentum and the sphere of influence that matter, materials, and things can have. I am interested in considering them as active rather than passive elements of our surroundings. My degree show was also inspired by a text called Willful Stones by Sara Ahmed.
W.S.: What are you planning after your time at UdK?
J.T.: At the end of May I have a last exhibition at UdK, because I was nominated for the Meisterschülerpreis. After that I’m going to Beirut for three months on a DAAD stipend and I’m really looking forward to it. I have a studio in an artist’s residence and will do an exhibition there at the end. My plan is to look at the city from the perspective of the walls. Last year I did my first trials in the city of Beirut – that was the first time I used the paper imprint technique on the walls of buildings.
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To learn more about the artist, click here.