The Great Operator

-Interview with Daniel Knorr by Adina Zorzini,  Berlin, September 2011-

Daniel Knorr was born in 1968 in Bucharest, he lives and works in Berlin, belongs to the international art circuit, has represented Romania at the 51st edition of the Venice Biennial and was present, among others, in the 7th edition of Manifesta European Biennial; his works were exhibited in prestigious institutions dedicated to contemporary art like: Centre Pompidou in Paris, Neue Nationalgalerie from Berlin, Gagosian Gallery in New York and so on. 

Daniel Knorr transgresses conceptual art, defining himself as interdisciplinary, his practice is always context related and his approach includes working with public spaces; also, his projects combine attitudes and ideas from social political commentary art with low and hi tech ressources: a great operator…   

Nationalgalerie (2008), 5th Berlin Biennial for Art//Photo © Uwe Walter; Courtesy Galeria Fonti Napoli, Galerie Nächst St. Stephan Wien

Adina Zorzini: What do you think an artist should be using more when working, the affect or the intellect?

Daniel Knorr: I don’t know what to say exactly…

AZ: Well, just say which one is more predominant in your case and what do you aim with regard to the viewer, the emotional or the analytic capacity?     

DK: Ok, let’s just say I work with the future… I don’t aim to hit neither the right nor the left part of the brain, I’m interested in the whole head of the viewer and I care equally about both capacities…

AZ: Do you think art is a form of personal therapy, something like your own personal Jesus?

DK: Yes, of course art is that too, both a personal and social therapy, like everything else…

AZ: So what specific traumas do you manifest through your art?

DK: We all manifest some kind of traumas through everything we do, including me certainly, but I never thought about a specific one, and even though I feel this thing, I can’t give any specific examples right now, so my traumas probably manifest by themselves…  

AZ: Where do you extract your ideas from?

DK: From my head. 

AZ: Do you consider your practice to be politically charged or do you think of it as social commentary art?

DK: Yes, of course there is a critical dimension in my art, but in the end everything can be considered critical, depends on how you interpret things, how you put them in relation to their context… Anyway, art practice will always raise both positive and negative feedback… 

AZ: And do you care about how much the public likes you? 

DK: Yes, I think in every artist there is a little bit of a narcissistic tendency, we all probably want to gain public recognition or success, but I don’t really think about this when I work. 

AZ: How come you don’t do beautiful colored works?

DK: Because I can’t, that’s why…

AZ: What is your rhythm of work?

DK: I function in a free style manner, like a taxi, when the work catches me I just go with it.   

AZ: And are your projects especially conceived for the space you exhibit them or do you plan them beforehand and wait for the right place to appear afterwards?  

DK: That depends from one project to another, some of them are “ready made” and others are site specific, but they are usually planned beforehand and just fit in the right spaces and places. You know, with time you develop a sense or instinct of work. Maybe because of the specialization, this is the thing that gave the avant-garde a real chance…

AZ: What do you mean by specialization? To me it seems we live a time of liberalization with regard to making art: is not anymore even required to complete art studies in order to become an artist, all that matters is to find the right means for expressing the concept of the art work.

DK: Yes, that’s true, but you’re talking about methods of becoming an artist: I was referring more to the technical qualities of a medium, like painting for example. Painting is becoming more and more of a technical phenomenon and that is, in a way, the future of novelty. Like a derivation of the moment we find ourselves in right now, similar to that moment when Andy Warhol brought the idea of freedom in art…

AZ: Is Andy Warhol one of your favorites?

DK: No, I don’t have any favorites, just saying he’s an important artist.

AZ: Ok, but you must have some personal preferences.

DK: Yes, but I can’t name them like that. I like and dislike everything at the same time.

AZ: You graduated the Art Academy, right?

DK: Yes, both in Germany and America…And regarding Andy Warhol, I was trying to say he initiated the idea of serigraphy, which is a kind of dissection of painting and in consequence a technical innovation. This is what I meant to say, that painting finds its novelty aprioristic, through its technology. This is what I call specialization, the concrete material one: the moment you enter into the substance of the artistic medium and dissect it, when you dissect the blue, like Yves Klein did…               

AZ: And what do you specialize in right now?

DK: Uf, I don’t even know how and why I’m here right now, or why and how you are here… All I know is that I’ve seen art as freedom and that was what I was searching for…

AZ: Has it ever happened that one of the gallery directors or curators you were working with to try and impose something upon you as an artist?    

DK: Yes, it happened. Sometimes I accepted, other times I haven’t, depends on how I thought it was most adequate at the time…

AZ: Does art represent a path of self knowledge or knowledge in general for you?

DK: Of course I think art is that too. It’s a matter of perception: art is both the representation of the self and the system inside which we all live in.

AZ: So do you think your art represents the way you think?

DK: Yes, but not only my way, it represents a system and this system is not mine only…

AZ: Ok, but my representation of the world is my way of understanding, while yours represents your way of seeing things. And our different perceptions regarding ourselves and the world is exactly what makes us different. 

DK: Of course, but if we talk about art as representation of a system, it means then that system reflects in that art… By system I refer to everything, including this table and all the things we perceive. And this collective perception of things we commonly carry on becomes art or culture. And at the intersection of all these common perceptions, things coagulate in such a way that we obtain „the pieces” who represent the core of this network which represents the amendments of culture.

AZ: All right, but has art helped you to better understand yourself? 

DK: This is not my goal with regard to making art, I don’t have any self references in my art. I’m not interested in my self at all…

AZ: Than what are you interested in?

DK: I’m interested in the world, in the surroundings, that’s what my art is about, not me…

AZ: So there are no self references in your art.

DK: None at all. And I find the self referential art to be the worst kind of art, because it’s the easiest. It has no power of involvement, it does not imply or assume any other forces from outside it self. And my main interest is the world I live in, I want to understand it, I’m interested in my context, that’s what’s important for me, all thought I also care about feeling things…   

AZ: Do you document yourself about the place you’re going to make a project before you go and make that project happen?

DK: Of course. But even though I document on it, sometimes I’m forced to start producing the project before I actually see the place and that makes me feel a lot of things… That is the part related to perception…

AZ: Are you interested in facilitating the public understanding about your works? I mean, do you try to make your message as clear and accessible as possible?    

DK: Of course I care if the public understands me, but as a visual artist I can’t say I try to be more clear, because my art is not based on words, on text, since I’m not a writer… 

AZ: I agree, but there are works easier or harder to read even when it comes to visual arts: what I mean is that the same idea can be expressed in more than one way. So my question was if you search to find the easiest way of expression, the most clear of many possibilities?   

DK: Oh, I’m not interested in that at all. My works have a concept in relation to which they materialize in different directions, becoming tangible realities. But these directions are somehow independent in themselves, in such a way that the artwork does not give me the possibility of choice. Of course this whole process contains all the moments of a formal discourse, but these to are generated by a conceptual necessity that in the end creates the shape of things I do. In the end, the artwork has to be similar to a perceptive axiom to which you can’t add or take of any screws, so it can not be more and it can not be any less than what it is exactly… The initial moment is the one during which the artwork has the most clarity, afterwards it just materializes in what it does and what it communicates to people: actually, the people are the ones who make the artwork exist and become reality…  

AZ: What is your biggest fear?

DK: You’re my biggest fear right now (smiling).

AZ: Ok… So far, you have been described as being either a performance artist, a conceptual or situation related one, etc… How do you see yourself? I would call you an interventionist.

DK: I see myself as a plumber or a fitter.

AZ: You work a lot with the public and the public space. What exactly attracts you in this area of direct interaction? 

DK: For the people to see me (laughing). I’m joking… What attracts me there is the fact that out there is the public perception of an artwork, a democratic one, so to say. I mean, the sense of what an artwork is or represents is defined by the public perception of the work at a given time, right? And this is a very interesting thing, because it speaks about a common moment of the people who compile that public space. There is a moment of communion there: that is where their representation stretches in a way. I would go so far as to say that the public space is something like a reversed image of a museum, a house or any other kind of institution.  

European Influenza (2005),  Romanian pavilion, 51st Venice Biennale// Photo © Jens Ziehe; Courtesy Galleria Fonti Napoli, Galerie Nächst St. Stephan Wien

AZ: Daniel, do you think art is a personal option or that the artist is predefined to become an artist?  And how and when did you realized you are one, can you name a specific moment you realized that regarding yourself? 

DK: Well, the others kind of realized that for me, I personally don’t even realize what I am right now, an artist or not. In the end, we live in a suspension system that represents us, and just try to represent ourselves inside that system by what we do. Something similar there to the way that the art from a museum represents that country’s or state’s image… 

I for example did not plan to become an artist, but I read Irving Stone’s book Agony and Ecstasy when I was 13 and it touched me. That and maybe also the moment when I moved with my family from Romania to Germany: that’s when I thought to myself I don’t want to do any of the things people do in general, I just wanted to be free and do only what I wanted. Anyway, at that time I did not realize that art is such an overwhelming thing to do, in my imagination it was suppose to be more bohemian…

AZ: Can you please shortly describe your everyday life during the communist era? Maybe living in those times somehow later related to your need for freedom? 

DK: It was another way of life back then, another system, one that priced the competition concept a lot. In short it was actually a very capitalist vision: everyone wanted to be the best and everything was competition related. What can I say, after all I turned out to be very well trained when I arrived here, except for the fact I did not speak German… While living in Romania all I knew was that I wasn’t supposed to approach a list of forbidden subjects, but I didn’t knew exactly why and I also did’t knew how it felt to live elsewhere…

AZ: You were 13 years old when you arrived in Germany: wasn’t that a shock for you, culturally speaking? 

DK: Oh yes, of course, naturally: when I arrived I just followed a German guy who seemed to know his way around… After that, when I got to school, everything seemed so bright and colorful, everyone was so cool, my colleagues were all standing with their feet on their desks: I was suddenly facing a different situation, it felt like someone had planted a bomb next to me…

AZ: Most of your works carry within a dose of social and political criticism: where is that preoccupation coming from, your passion for the social political dimension, for commentary art?  

DK: I think it comes from the fact I always despised the authority and that’s why when I left Romania I started to search for freedom, but I later found out that the real freedom wasn’t here either. Afterwards I believed in art but here was the place where everyone was doing their jobs. After that I realized that my way of expressing things is different so I started searching very early, gathering ideas. At some point I even created a book of ideas… 

Alpha and Beta (2012), Technisches Museum & public space, Vienna; Courtesy Galleria Fonti Napoli, Galerie Nächst St. Stephan Wien

AZ: What is your personal stake in relation to art? What do you gain from it? 

DK: Art is what I live for.

AZ: And if you couldn’t be an artist what do you think you would choose instead?

DK: Honestly, I’m afraid to think about that, what if I wouldn’t have been an artist. 

AZ: How do you relate to death? 

DK: Well, death is a think that sometimes jumps into my face…

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