A Little Bit Like Alchemy
”Total Artist, multisensory, multimedia explorer, she crosses lines and transgresses categories to bring us an impressive body of work, through strange autofictitious or procedural stories in which she “produces” herself. Both playing by and playing around codes, she breaks down categories with a simultaneously distressing and glamorous aesthetic that dissolves the rigidity of social representation of the individual. In the spirit of a Jeff Wall or a Richard Prince, her photographic practice is a tool for analysis and reappropriation, confrontation of the fantasised, hijacked, infinitely reproduced image with its real referent.
Ego or essence? Intimate or public? Mauren Brodbeck loves getting us lost in the meandering of her multiple memoirs by fusing temporalities in a collage of memories and anachronisms. No frontier can hold in the face of her savage energy. She allows the creative volcano, activated by the indomitable singularity of her work. And she invites us to do the same. ”
Could you talk us through your sources of inspiration and influences?
This is such a vast and complex subject because I draw inspiration from everyday life and actual events, history, banality, and of course culture. Because I am very interested in multiform art, I am automatically responsive to cinema, music, design and art. I have been influenced by filmmaking and author cinema forever, some artistic movements such as Dadaism, Minimalism, Pop art and Post Modern Photography, with artists such as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha amongst many others, and artists working in the field of music, such as David Bowie, Laurie Anderson and also Aphex Twin, PJ Harvey, Erykah Badu. And then there is also literature, poetry, spoken words. So the influences in mediums, styles and genres are infinite in a way. There is so much creativity around and there was an explosion the past decades of accessibility to various forms of art and niches that the flow of influences became much bigger, stronger and wider. From there, my process is to narrow down my research and attention to the subjects, the forms and expressions that are in direct relation to the themes and areas that passionate me, to the ones I really care about. Because my work is an ongoing exploration of the identity and the belonging of our identity within our society, I tend to keep and modulate on my foundation of thoughts and reflections and built on these over time. That is why the notion of “person” from Carl Jung is always there, floating in a way, in my thoughts. I have been really trying to understand how we construct personas and behave in our created environments and how we can live in it, create new ones, identities, realities, environments depending on the degree of alienation we feel. So it really touches also memories, time and altered realities. How do we interact with the world around us, how does this world influences us and how can we free ourselves from it. David Bowie touched an important subject that is self-loathing for example. This subject also has quite a important place in my work because it is a serious issue in our societies and one that has to do with identity, especially the female body.
You operate through a variety of media and mediums, how and to what extent are these in dialogue across and within projects?
Ultimately, even if I create a new photographic series, I will think of it as storytelling, space and sound, imagery, words and movement. I think of it as a global multiform entity. The photographic series will then be one aspect of my research, the most apparent one.
Which means that maybe the specific subject and reflection I touch on at the moment is best brought to reality through photography. Over the past ten years, I realised that there is always a dialogue between all the mediums, they are linked together because I cannot exist and think on only one medium and they are part of each others even if it is possible to look at them separately. Our senses are after all the main ways we have to understand our world and interact with each others if we set aside more subtle ways of communication and understandings. Immersive environment are stronger in the feel and perception because the visual sense is one directional as music is in the entire environment. Through time, I am more and more drawn to create immersive spaces that can address all sorts of mediums and senses because the intensity of our lives are also stronger.
What is your most important ‘tool’?
My awareness, my observation of my surroundings. But more practically, my notebook. I write a lot, everything, everyday. Notes, observations, my life, ideas, reflections. Then I go back, highlight, colour, resume, re-write. I am actually writing a book on creative processes and the art of living a creative live outside of the norm with a strong focus on the women in the arts. I also have a huge visual database of images I collect, snapshots, screenshots from the internet, photographs of my life, many many many images from my tests, unfinished artwork I will probably never show but use as reference, try-outs, ideas… I have been building this library for years and my biggest challenge is archiving and storing images because the software I used recently stopped doing updates and I had to change. Since I work a lot with colours, their meanings, their feel and I always create color palettes for all my projects, I have boxes for every colours of images and tones and small objects I collect.
In projects as Motel deconstructed and Mood Motel, how important is the video recording of the event as permanent trace of it?
The performances for this projects are meant to be lived as a happening, a one time event that will change and evolve depending on the location where it is taking place and the guest artists I invite to perform with me or in the room by themselves. The recordings are therefore important for cataloguing and archiving. They are a trace of what happened.
I can then use them to work on the project as a reference but also to make the project evolve and grow. They do not have an artistic quality in itself, for the moment at least. What happened in the moment is the artistic quality, the memory is important. I want to bring this project to many different places, not only a center for the arts, because I want to disrupt the categories.
Therefore I want to install my motel rooms and their performances in empty apartments, outdoors, galleries, etc… It is this dynamic I am interested in for this project because the motel room represents an open a space, a playful space to explore our own personality and identity and re-draw life.
What drove you to explore and challenge this typology and environment?
Storytelling and filmmaking. This is where I started, by talking photographs and making videos and movies. I always loved the power of storytelling, the immersive-ness of the movie theatre, or the act of watching a movie and the making of it, the process of creating a movie. I love all the component that make them so real, the set design, the music, the lighting, the acting, etc. It is all matched and intertwined to create a new world, a new reality. It is a little bit like alchemy and I love the idea of creating new universes, unique worlds where you can escape your reality for a moment and bring back to your own life an element, big or small, that touched you.
When I started with this series in Hollywood the process was very similar to shooting a movie except for the random improvisation based on the feel, mood and energy of the place. I was the actor in my own photograph. I experimented with the places. My process was simple, I would go to a motel and check-in: with two suitcases filled with clothing, accessories and lights. And then I would improvise and make up a story going with what the room was telling me. I was becoming the character in my own story. I was feeling and living it and for that I had to stop and be very sensitive to the my surroundings, the smells, the colours, the ambiance, the sounds from the room, from the rooms next door, the spots on the carpet, traces on the walls… Then I realised that motel room are the perfect places to create a new identity or be confronted to our own that we might want to avoid, to be confronted to our humanity in a way, our fears, our angers, our desires… And what we do in our societies now is avoid our humanities, our true nature. The entire process was cinematographic so creating a multisensory installation and a series of performances was a logical progression.
What prompted projects as Urbanscapes- what was the intention of these white outs in a Baldessari aesthetic?
I was reflecting on our the banality of our environment, on places we pass by everyday and don’t notice anymore. The ordinary. The ordinary fascinates me because it is where people are stuck. It is what we take for granted and don’t question, and if we question it, it is hard to escape it, change it, free ourselves from it.
We are programmed, to a certain extend, to accept our ordinary, our banality and we don’t see it anymore because it has become so familiar. We live in a very interesting time where the symptoms of our banality have become so huge that we cannot cope reality anymore so we avoid it. We cannot honestly look at what is going on in the world right now and not feel a thing, so we avoid. Distraction has become major in our societies, and it is also what holds us hostage in our beliefs. We all do this to a certain extend. The stakes are too great. So by looking at my photographs, I was finding that by removing what is “unnecessary” to the picture, the noise, I would go to the essential.
The white outs come from years of messing up with chemicals in the lab which brings a lot of color dripping, flatness and shapes and especially erasure. What is interesting is that it is the surface that holds the image that is starting to be faulty, the image cannot grab on to it anymore and that create a strong parallel to memory. I started doing the experiments by developing super 8 mm films and them 35mm and continued when I was in Art Center College of Design in Pasadena with medium and large format negative and positive film development because the labs were so fantastic there and not a lot of people where using them. Creating color shapes was a similar process but without chemicals. It is reducing the image to the essential and erasing the main subject. I love Baldessari’s work by the way!
What defined the scapes you chose to capture and subsequently manipulate? What defined the type of manipulation and intervention?
The initial reflection and exploration on the theme I am working on defines my starting point and then I start to explore with various mediums. So my subject does along with the results of my observations and researches. But it is a process that goes back and forth during the entire time. I am looking to find what will best express what I feel, what I want to communicate, what I discover. In Urbanscapes, the moment in the day where the photographs are taken also is really important as well as the location : the banal. It is the first artistic decision – the time where both artificial and day light exists together – it breaches two worlds.
What matters to me is looking deeper and truly stopping and really seing our environment. There is something really poetic about that, about taking the time to stop the time and stand outside of the world that moves so fast. My photographs in these series are not of amazing places. They are banal, warehouse, industrial areas, places your drive by everyday but wouldn’t stop unless you work there or because you have to because you have to make a living which is the cycle of the human conditions in our constructed societies.
How and to what extent does the urban environment & environments in which you have lives impacted the way you approach your work?
Because I have lived in different continents, I am understanding different cultures which has impacted my live and the way I approach my work. I feel it is a blessing and a curse because I cannot related completely to one or another. But the true impact that is related to my work is the fact that I am living within a contemporary society that I don’t completely support because I can see that there is a lot of suffering. That it is based on a male dominated consensus where power and control are the roots of it. I am trying to figure out how to be free as a woman and female artist, while still functioning with its parameters and create my own reality. So yes, my environments has influenced my work and lot and my resistance to this environment, my approach to it. This brought me on the quest of understanding who I really am, why I am here and why it is so important for me to create and connect with others. That is a total part of my artistic process and my artistic process is totally intertwined with my life. On a more practical basis, the stories, the narration and also the colours have influenced me a great deal because I draw from my environments to create my own stories and colour palette , for example. I belief we are all impacted a great deal by our surroundings, probably more than we realise, and it is time now to really become conscious of it and re-draw a society that is more human, more compassionate and awake. I don’t think we can do that without re-writing a completely different societal model.
Mauren Brodbeck, born 1974 in Geneva. Lives and works in Geneva
Trained in painting and drawing at the Collège de Saussure in Geneva, with a diploma in film production at Vancouver Film School in Canada, in photography and imaging from the Center College of Design in Pasadena, followed by postgraduate study in interactive arts and new media at the Geneva Haute Ecole d’Arts et de Design (HEAD). Parallel to her purely artistic work, she devotes part of her time to a variety of major art direction projects. Among her major exhibitions are: Photo Miami, Paris Photo, Art Cologne, Andata Ritorno Laboratory for Contemporary Art and Auer Photo Foundation (Geneva). Mauren Brodbeck’s work is held in a variety of private and public collections, including Geneva Contemporary Art Fund, The Elysée Museum in Lausanne, Vaudoise Insurance, and Auer Photo Foundation.