CONVERSATIONS Mousse 11
Maurizio Cattelan Interviews Urs Fischer
by Maurizio Cattelan
It’s common knowledge that Cattelan enjoys to wrong-foot us. When everyone expected an exhibition/hoax from him and his Wrong Gallery partners, he drew out the beautiful (and super gloomy) Berlin Biennale. Again, now that we were almost getting accustomed to his mocking interviews, he comes out with a very serious one. And by “serious” I don’t mean “grave.” I mean that here Cattelan really tries to dig in depth into the work of Urs Fischer (that in the last times has been repeatedly crowned with laurels; just think of the Venice and Lyon Biennials and the recent solo shows at Gavin Brown, Eva Presenhuber and Sadie Coles). He tries to understand what is inspiring to him, what is his vision of his own work is, what process he goes through while conceiving a work. It’s a hard, perhaps impossible task. But it is also extraordinarily attractive.
MAURIZIO CATTELAN: Do you consider your art chaotic?
URS FISCHER: No. I don’t think so. It’s cautious and friendly, has nothing to do with chaos. It’s all a fairly sickly, boiled-up pudding.
MC: Do you really think it’s that sickly? But you keep returning to the same point: everything you touch becomes beautiful, and then you bust it up again.
UF: That’s right. When you’ve got a nicely set pudding like that, a cake, and pour chocolate over it. And then cream on top of that. The more your put on it the sweeter and nicer it gets. Is that really so? Yes, I think so. I get angry with my art, with the fact that it’s so sweet and sickly.
MC: It’s too sweet for you? So you add even more?
UF: Something like that, perhaps. I try to put a little bit, a bit of shit on top. I’m too nervous to really pour shit over it. I’m too nervous to really make something that’s kaput. I make sentimental sweeties, this ruinous thing here, it’s all so peaceful and gives a nice smile. My works really smile. They’re not horrible ruins. Not like real ruins, on top of a mountain and inhabited by terrible people, robber barons and murderers and perverse slavedrivers. Nowadays you can look at them and think: Oh, how wonderful, how beautiful the sun looks. But they fall apart sometimes, there’s nothing to be afraid of any more.
MC: Does that annoy you, or do you think that that’s simply the way it must be?
UF: I use it as a little trump I can pull out during conversations. Like now.
MC: But didn’t you really want to produce shit once?
UF: I don’t think so.
MC: Just talk about it?
MC: And in writing?
UF: Yes. Just act as if. There was this old book dealer by the name of Wittenborn, I don’t know whether you’ve heard of him, he’s dead now. He was a German book dealer, a Jew who fled from Hitler. I got to know him in New York because he always bought these funny books. I had just read the Shit book, and I had a copy with me and I showed it to him, and he said to me he didn’t think it was that daring. Because: you can be daring and write shit, but he didn’t think it that remarkable to say so beforehand and placate people a bit and pull the wool even further over their eyes. And I realized then that he could see through what I had done. Although it actually created difficulties for me.
MC: I’m trying to imagine it, yes.
UF: Yes, I’m telling it to you the way I feel it.
MC: Your work is often characterized as totally honest and open.
UF: That’s going in the direction of when I say: I’m simply a pudding cook, or the like. That’s a kind of honesty, isn’t it? I could say: I’m not that. And people would even believe it, I think.
MC: You don’t say I’m a pudding cook usually. Often I heard you saying: I’m at home, I can’t sleep and so on. Is that a true record or fiction?
UF: That’s not fiction. I don’t think so. Only inasmuch as I require the German language, which has its own built-in fiction. In any case, I don’t think it’s such a problem if you have your own particular rhythm, a particular sentence structure. I can’t speak of an accident using correct sentence structure because the horror gets lost in the correctness. In that sense my work is not as terrible as I’d have liked it. What I mean is that I’m not telling the truth because it cannot be told: I’ve tried making mistakes and leaving them there.
MC: But the authenticity is important to you?
UF: I would feel ashamed of myself otherwise, if I wanted to fantasize as well. Film myself and then act as if it was something else.
MC: Is it important for you not to have to feel ashamed of something when you do it yourself?
UF: Something like that.
MC: And do you always manage that?
UF: That’s not possible. There are some things I can’t look at any more, they make me feel so ashamed.
MC: In front of whom?
UF: In front of my imaginary judges. The great judges of art are located somewhere in my head and play the judge there and do me in. I have to keep watching out that I don’t offend them. But obviously they are simply my own creations, so they are fairly limited creatures and not exactly the best judges – small, small, what’s the word? Scold-dumplings. Little things.
MC: Little what?
UF: Scold-dumplings. I imagine to myself that they scold me when I don’t behave. When I can’t keep up my heroic act – which obviously is just a part I play – then, my o my… You haven’t much time left to change your ways, they say, your days are numbered.
MC: Do you have to feel less ashamed nowadays than previously?
UF: In the old days I used to feel ashamed of myself in front of my teachers and parents. That was realistic, that was shit. That was revolting, truly revolting. Nowadays I only feel ashamed of myself in front of these vague figures.
MC: But also in your art?
UF: I am only ashamed in a very cautious way. I’m trained, you know, in not-being-ashamed-of-myself. That’s not so bad. I’d really like to be ashamed. But I can’t manage that any more, that’s over. My heart doesn’t work any more – so shame doesn’t work for me either (laughs). With a bit of alcohol the shame becomes quite simple, it dies, drowns. And civilized countries like Switzerland are also good in that respect. You can build a nice, small, civilized theatre there with civilized marionettes that don’t say anything too nasty, and you can get by quite nicely.
MC: And what’s your aim?
UF: (Very fast) My aim is to be able to die without suffering. That’s my aim.
MC: And in your work?
UF: I’ve no aim there. I simply carry on. One has these worries and anxieties about losing one’s job and then having to cut back. So – I have to carry on a bit longer.
MC: But isn’t it one of your aims to make work and life identical?
UF: I’ll never manage that. I’m such a soft-soaper and pudding maker.
MC: Or are they already identical enough?
UF: Yes, that’s it. That’s how I see it. I mean: that’s what I say. And perhaps it’s not that way at all. But it strikes me that way. That I’m a kind of soft-soaper and flatterer and pudding maker. The pudding often looks like a ruin. But in point of fact it’s a pudding. It’s a construction made of sweet nothings. Even though it looks as if it’s made of solid bronze.
UF: You can almost laugh at it, can’t you?
UF: One can really have a good laugh about it, all this stuff. Sometimes it acts as though it wasn’t laughable. (Grins)
MC: Do you think your success is due to the fact that people want to do the same. They also have anxieties but do not admit it.
UF: Could be, yes. But I don’t admit it either. I simply act as if I hadn’t any anxieties, don’t I?
MC: But basically you do admit it.
UF: Yes, to you now. I’m ashamed of course that I’m doing better than the other scaredy-cats.
MC: But it’s quite a relief!
UF: When one has no more anxieties?
MC: No, for the people who look at it.
UF: Could be.
MC: It’s an enormous relief.
UF: I don’t really know about that. I don’t talk enough with people about that.
MC: You don’t know your own self?
UF: Let’s put it another way: I don’t know the effect I have on others. I’ve a few friends who say that I’m writing a tragic chapter here. But I can’t talk them out of that either.
MC: But isn’t there something that’s very liberating as well?
MC: Going to exhibitions of your works.
UF: Yes, that’s not such a solemn affair, is it?
MC: No, it’s quite liberating and relieving.
UF: Yes, that’s possible.
MC: You really lift a weight from people’s shoulders.
UF: Do you really think so? I’ve never thought of it like that, never heard anyone say what you’ve just said. That would be marvellous if it was true. I mean I could be proud of that, perhaps.
MC: Yes, I think that’s what you could be most proud of, perhaps. This relief, this liberation has an enormous value.
UF: I wanted to be Mondrian, elegant and serious and without a trace of humour, or perhaps I wanted to become Malevich. But I can’t manage that. So all that’s left for me is a bit of song and dance, as if everything were in order. But that also involves quite a lot of effort, you know. I don’t think that my heart has been worn out by all these things for nothing.
Originally published on Mousse 11 (November 2007)