Lukas Heerich in conversation with Caspar Giorgio Williams
CGW: Lukas, we met in Paris. At this time, you were working towards a number of projects, including a solo exhibition at Studio For Artistic Research, in Düsseldorf. Our conversation steered towards your travels to Californian wildfires and flame retardant as one of your media. Later, at Rundgang in Frankfurt, I saw your wide-ranging presentation across the Städelschule's buildings.
The first work of yours I encountered was Bank. Above a grated metal floor, stood a stainless steel structure reminiscent of an operation table, and at once a plinth, with a line of five pairs of black rubber boots. In line, they were glistening with the sunlight that inundated the room, and they seemed to be standing to attention, like soldiers.
LH: I had looked into the containment practices in butcheries, cleanrooms. At a closer look each boot was an individual entity, they all had different edges and organs. They were positioned with their backs facing the entrance. Ready to be used, if you will.
CGW: On the wall, by Bank, were these Untitled c-prints you referred to as 'Peels', masks with voids for eyes nose and mouth. There is this foretelling element in your work which I feel strongly about. These absences/presences - positives/negatives, were to me foretelling of the ensuing pandemic, and I found myself thinking back at them.
LH: I started doing beauty masks in hotel bathrooms, in the beginning mainly with friends from the fashion realm. After removing the coagulated mask from the face, I then took a photograph of it lying on the washing table. Looking from the inside through the mask, with its fingerprint of their faces' landscape – and all the dead material caught in it.
CGW: I met you at Rundgang's second building. You took me up to your large studio space, and by 5, 2019, a work made of a hanger-like stainless steel structure, supporting rubber forms reminiscent of a suit - or, perhaps, bodybags, was a large inkjet print: Turn, 2017. We spoke about it for some time: I was hoping you could share about the work once more.
LH: It was really interesting for me to see their interaction. 5 includes 4 bags. There's one long bag, constructed like two bags connected in the middle, shaping a U between the I's. The rack was from a series of objects I made during my studies, which look like off-the-shelf products from transit spaces, but were meticulously handmade, to the highest standard. Turn is a series of prints. I'm sure you have seen some of the standardised photos of fashion shows. Taken by a pack of photographers. The moment connecting the inside world of invitees to this exclusive event with the general public outside. At a specific distance, models are taught to turn, to give way to the next. Their moment is over. Just before turning they often leer into the new direction. The intense look with which they fix the lenses vanishes. It's more than a side eye, it seems like a gaze inside. A personal moment. This was the base for this series.
CGW: Sound and music are at the pillar of your practice. Kunstsammlung NRW in Düsseldorf recently acquired Rise / Fall, 2021, a work of yours which exists both as a physical space, with a sculptural, authoritative presence at the centre of it, and dark walls, and a displacing sound. Could we speak of what your concerns are, when working with this sense?
LH: Sure. The room in K21 was filled with an infinite composition, it moves around you as you are moving through the room, but leaves you unsure of directions. To me sound is sculptural. One reason I left the conservatory to go to art school. It's amazingly fluid, our ear just decodes changes in air pressure as sound within a specific range. I want to address this fluidity more in my work. I'm just beginning to finally finish more pieces that expand into all senses. Sound is so primary, it is constant, deeply linked to our emotions and memories. It has been the core of everything I do. I have worked for years in the field of sound and music. It has been natural for me from an early age to convey narrative through sound.
CGW: Your Glocke, 2020, towered high in Portikus. For the 300 kilo rubber bell you had built a mechanism that made it ring a dumb sound, an umph. It was so incredibly powerful to see it: it was a bell to mark, a bell to celebrate, to warn and to alarm.
LH: I had worked on the topic of bells extensively. The bell in this installation had the perfect shape according to literature, while the actual foundry families who inherit their secret specific bell designs, told me this bell in reality should never be made. So I decided to make that bell – but from insulating material. I love deep diving into universes like that, before ever knowing what might come out of it. There was an incredible amount of people involved in the realisation of this project. I realise it's easy to talk about production and research of pieces – but they all come a very personal place. Of personal experiences, observations, of mourning.
CGW: Of course. Since visiting your exhibition at Portikus, we had been speaking about an exhibition. We had thought of London, we had thought of what the format could have been, and kept this conversation going: Glocke, was always on my mind. You had told me you had this idea of showing it lying on the ground. Fallen. A bell, deprived of its capacity to ring, and fallen from somewhere, fallen from the sky. In parallel, I had started a conversation with the Ministry of Culture, to rent a large garden in Venice, in Palazzo Soranzo Cappello. This is where I wanted to stage my first exhibition as a gallerist. You and I had spoken about Venice many times, it is a place you feel close to you, and think about and know. We decided to visit together. It was Winter. The garden was asleep. We walked around, and took in the space.
LH: Seeing a place for the very first time is always magical. When you invited me to see the Pallazzo, we took a quiet walk and just let the place speak. I researched a lot, but sketching all the placements into the map was quite impulsive. I think especially with research heavy or more conceptual work it is very important to give way to intuition and feelings.
CGW: The idea that emerged from the visit to Venice was that the exhibition would include only four materials. Rubber, Stainless Steel, Lime, and Flame Retardant.
LH: Yeah, the show seemed to be a great moment to make a clear selection, to gather a specific strain of work. I think besides other considerations, maybe one could group the selected pieces around questions about the physical traces and manifestations of humans in the face of disembodiment.
CGW: I had seen one of your Pleat works in Frankfurt when I first visited you there. You had explained you always hang them at your height, 6'7". They are made of rubber but feel like glass, and like the laguna. They are, as you put it to me once, objects of tension: each and every one of their atoms is under enormous pressure, because of the way they are made. The pleats you construct with their surface are at once elegant and aggressive.
LH: People have a hard time identifying the material or the way they are made. They are very different in real life than in photographs. It's a strain of work that has existed end evolved for a while but it's still hard to speak about it.
CGW: New Untitled, braid-like works had been in your mind for the exhibition, I had seen their preparatory designs, and had thought, through our conversations, that they would have been a coming together of material, much like Venice, and much like the garden, and this coming together would be held in shape, tied. When I look at them now, they are to me also a reflection on power and on force.
LH: Right, the ideas of power and force are really crucial to me. These two pieces were important to engage in a conversation with the garden and its history. Already formally they engage with their surroundings in the garden. I wanted to activate specific spots that struck me and interact with them. There is a definitely a play of loose and tight in these two structures.
CGW: Blatt is positioned at the far end of the garden of Palazzo Soranzo Cappello, under the largest loggia in Venice. It is watched by two sculptures weathered by centuries of salt erosion. Its large rubber leaf is still, every vein of it visible in detail, spilling over a shiny stainless steel plinth. It resembles a pair of lungs, or a heart. One of its readings, and one I am most keen on, is that it eternalises the ephemeral. On a windy day, it will be surrounded by real, fallen leaves, blown off a nearby tree. Blatt does this beautiful thing where it crystallises life. And so, in my mind, the loggia has become the temple to the fallen leaf.
LH: Yes, a leaf falls off a tree to die and to move on into a different form of existence. Like many pieces in this show, it is a reconceived version of an older piece. I entered a whole conversation with myself when revisiting these pieces in the context of this show. Are they updates or new pieces? What makes them different, how does it change the piece?
CGW: Your use of Stainless Steel is wide-ranging and goes hand in hand with your knowledge of chemical agents, which can be used to alter its surface, even invisibly. It is, like rubber, a material so tied with trade and warfare. It is used for weapons, and for ships. So, in many ways, it is at home in Venice, its legacy as a city of military, industrial, and economic strength still alive in nearby Marghera.
LH: Stainless steel, like rubber, is one of the cornerstones of productive industrialised society.
CGW: Untitled is a stainless steel and lime work, which stands, as a presence, amongst baroque sculptures of Roman emperors. You painted its upper curvature in loco and placed it in an alcove which feels made for it. At one point during the install, you removed it to work on the lime part of the work more, and the alcove, and the whole Corte felt empty, like it was missing something without it. I enjoyed its contrast with the flowering meadow in Spring, and I feel it has this elevating capacity, like it can lift the ground upward.
LH: That's interesting. I had worked on the shape for years. I made a heavier version for Venice for it to be outside and finally show it publicly. Some visitors said it's like a tongue, others perceived it hi-techy. There is a layer of lime running from the edge upwards and then down the back, so to say. It's easy to oversee but it changes the whole dynamic of the piece.
CGW: Untitled, is a work that is changing day after day. Every rainfall, the lime the upper stainless steel panel is painted with, drips down onto the lower one, creating a series of streaks which gather at the bottom of it, a halo between the two panels, and small specks of white on the grass below. It is 'poetic' both on an aesthetic level and on a factual one: 'poiein', in Greek, to make/to craft, and this work is made by you, with the sky.
LH: A meaningful dialogue with the Palazzo but also with the context of the Venice art season was a huge challenge. I wanted people to find those panels in a slow process in this hidden courtyard. It only appears at a very specific angle walking the main garden. I am hoping to provoke a deeper exploration of the place.
CGW: In Lukas Heerich Palazzo Soranzo Cappello you use flame retardant and lime in a painterly manner. Lime has this strong association with painting, as it is the basis upon which frescoes are be painted. It is also a dangerous material: the mafia uses it to accelerate decomposition, in the military it has a tradition of being used to blind prisoners. In Venice, as for this scene from Death In Venice we have gone back to time and time again, lime is used to cleanse the streets and the campi during the plague.
LH: And I had worked with disinfectant materials and lights for a long time. I am very curious of the disinfected realities I move through on a daily basis. In general, I constantly research and travel. But then I do quite intuitive or abstract drawings and selections.
CGW: you were the first to obtain a license to import Phos-Chek - the flame-retardant fugitive pigment you employ in your practice - from the US into the EU. Fast forward a few years, and this is commonly used in the EU to contain the spread of forest fires.
LH: I flew to wildfire regions several times. When Paradise burnt down, I went there. In California I had become familiar with containment strategies involving planes and flame retardant. I was fascinated by the painting around the fire from an equal distance above, tracing its growing shape. It was an ordeal to import it for the first pieces. As with a lot of the materials I use, I developed a relationship with the manufacturer over an extended time. We poured well over a thousand litres in Venice.
CGW: To date, Aisle is your largest flame-retardant installation. For me, seeing the work being made was an incredible experience. The physical labour involved, the bloodiness of the paint, the pungent and salty smell of it, all made this in my eyes a manifestation of such power. The material itself is protective and at once denoting of urgency, of violence. Now that a few months have passed, and its colour has turned from red to a chalky pink, it still holds this energy in my eyes, and when I walk down it, I am drawn back to the image of a pink sunset reflecting in its pools the day it was completed.
LH: It's the only centred piece, it was the first piece that we put in the show. I like drawing and preparatory work, but joined physical labour to me is a beautiful part of creating art. We decided to do most of the show outside and release the pieces into a process. In my way of working with control and it's absence, I think it is a meaningful experience to let go and watch.
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Lukas Heerich Studio, Berlin. Courtesy of the Artist.
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