INTERVIEW / CORRESPONDENCE
with the artist Pio Rahner. Studied photography at Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen until 2015, then founded the ERLKÖNIG project space in Bremen.
Dear Pio Rahner,
Working on this BLOG sometimes prompts me to link texts, ideas and content from various contributions with one another. My last interview partner, Christina Irrgang, prompted me to think about Hannah Arendt and a quote that I always return to when looking at her work: “Without reality, without materiality, memory is not possible.”1
Whether you occupy yourself permanently and intensively with photography and also make use of the possibilities offered by digital photography in the process, it is primarily object-oriented installations of various materials that you present in the exhibition space. Photographs are sometimes integrated into this context, but works of wood, fabrics, wax or concrete are often the focus of the presentations.
Your installations follow no abstract idea or ideology here, but instead, similar to the procedure for analogue photography, the habits of the recording and preservation of a trace in artistic form. The elements pass through a story before you link them together. One can not only refer to this story, but also experience it haptically or spatially. This type of translation of experience appears to me to be a noteworthy aspect of her work. Would you describe your process as similar, or can you elaborate on your work methods based on an example of your work?
Around the turn of the millennium, I was taking part in an exchange programme in Olsztyn in Poland. Digital photography in the consumer sector was still young and mobile phones were primarily still conceived of for making telephone calls. My host family lived in an outlying district and all the buildings in every street looked identical. It was not possible for me to find the house using my usual memory strategies. I did not recognise any particular features I could use as points of orientation. The Polish language was still foreign to me, meaning that my possibilities for communication were limited. The option of orienting myself to specific situations in the street scene did not seem available to me at first. All of the buildings looked the same and there were either black Mercedes 190s or no cars at all parked in front of them. The trees were all birch trees, always arranged in groups of three. Every 50 metres, a streetlamp shone its yellow-orange light in the direction of the street of concrete slabs. On the first evening I had to be picked up at the edge of the district because I had lost my sense of direction. Now accompanied, I was on the way to the apartment and discovered a fat wad of cash beneath the letterbox in the entrance area of the apartment building of my hosts. I pointed out the big find to my host. It was really a lot of money. Almost 100,000 zloty. However, when 10,000 zloty became one zloty in the course of the currency reform of 1995, the caretaker of the building fashioned a door wedge five years later from a bundle of the old currency. I discovered it that evening and thought I had found a big treasure. Martha, my hostess, knew the history of money in her country and was thus able to easily explain my find. She had probably also never had difficulties finding her way home.
I am happy we are meeting in this way. Yes, I am a photographer. And even when I formulate works in which no photo is visible, it is always about photography. I really like this idea that the elements always pass through a story before they are brought together. I have never brought that together like this yet. However, when you describe it like that, it also sounds like a principle, like a common theme. I simply do not have the distance from my work to say ad hoc that it is like this or like that. I get completely lost already even trying. At some point it was clear to me that I tend more to work out of doing and do not perceive the story as a support, at least not consciously. I have found that haptics are especially important to me. Or how can I formulate this better. The work is done when I press the shutter release while taking photographs. So taking photographs itself is like an end or a receipt for something. I can then see directly whether it has turned out to be something or not. Of course fine technical details come into play, but it is principally that. The selection of images is then once again a theme for itself, but I do not want to head there now at all. A lot happens or develops while doing when it comes to my spatial works. There is interest in a material and of course I formulate a schedule for myself. It originates gradually and sometimes too much light shines on a particular point and then I have to start all over again. However, the point is, I can clearly recognise or see when taking photographs and the method of approach is different for spatial works. These two strands are not hermetically sealed off from one another. A photo that I conceived of as documentation of a spatial work can be an image in a different situation. Or I have a photograph that I reconstruct later, meaning that the photo was there first. There is thus very much an aspect in my work that allows for a certain permeability. I had to undertake several highly technical preparations for a work stay in Burkina Faso. I was about to leave Europe for the first time. I always envisioned something like a travel journal that I might have to create. And when one works with photographic images, it might make sense to preserve the travel impressions with images. That is of course highly contemporary. The menu of the smartphone is also set up today in such a way that pictorial stories can be created from the mobile phone photos in combination with the geodata; already completely automatically. It can ultimately be done. This is how it is formulated around memory. The playlist of the music streaming surface also offers an end-of-year review there in audio format. I wanted to report on my trip completely automatically with photographs. I did not end up doing that after all. Instead, I had a pair of shoes personalised, received these from the package deliverer and put them on on the day of my departure. At home again around a quarter of a year later, I took off the shoes and photographed them against a background of yellow cardboard. Because these shoes were always with me during my travels and during my work stay, the environment had been drawn into the soles of the shoes. Sand, seeds, dust, tea, chewing gum, warmth. For me, the photograph of the shoes was the congruent image of a travel journal, or at least a good version of one.
Again and again, you deliberately and bravely access new social spaces that result from or evoke the experience of transgressing limits. With the Erlkönig project space, you invite exhibition visitors interested in art into your private apartment. In the Goethe Institut Ouagadougou, you serve green tea with the photographer Vivien Sawadogo in the context of the opening of a cooperative photo installation. You convince the operators of commercial advertising spaces to exhibit artistic photography at the most varied locations. Please feel free to add more examples to this list and explain why the experimental redesigning of social spaces is important to you.
You once again describe a common thread I can follow. Although I would formulate it differently. And I am not contradicting you at all. However, I see this from the outside. These exhibitions, for example. It was mostly impatience.
I was finished with university and then did not know where to go from there. The idea of the apartment exhibition thus originated from this uncertainty and the related feeling. Organising something instead of waiting for something to happen. And the living room was the space available. There were also role models. Concerts performed in homes at the beginning of the 18th century, for example. The outdoor exhibition in Bremen on the actual commercial advertising surfaces was a reaction to a sudden standstill originating from the situation. These settings originate from the situation. That is perhaps how I would prefer to express it. For a long time I saw these exhibitions as separate from my other works. But no, there is obviously an interest in space or in sounding out the boundaries of pictorial and physical spaces. That is what I am doing.
In connection with crossing boundaries, I think of an experiment I began 12 years ago. I had read in passing that a landlady is not obligated to repay rent when the number of square metres deviates by a maximum of 10 %. This means that the rent is calculated for 110 square metres for you, but you only have 100 at your disposal. You notice this and receive nothing back. A clear calculation. I then thought there must be something to do about this. I had a small apartment in Essen at the time. I reduced the size of the apartment shortly before moving out. I simply built a wall ten centimetres in front of the actual wall. In this way I basically misappropriated 0.5 square metres and did not give it back. Okay, a half a square metre is not very much, but it is a good start. I then went from apartment to apartment, as well as to the apartments of acquaintances and stole space piece by piece. Nobody has noticed this during the apartment transfer to date. I have made use of the 10 % rule and now collect pieces of apartments. Immaterial for me, but physically they are no longer part of an apartment, but instead separate elements. At the time when I started with this, I talked to an architect. She found the intervention into the architecture of the apartment objectionable for reasons of ergonomics and usability for the tenants. Of course, but that is not the point. However, besides the socio-political debate that such actions can trigger, the debate about what apartment tenants may or may not do has fortunately been sparked. However, I will come back to the exhibitions now. Because one sometimes just has to see what one does not see. This reduction of space had the working title “Raumklau” (Space theft). Principally, what I am doing there cannot be shown. It can be described. On location it is invisible but measurable. One can of course trace the procedure or process with photography. However, the question of veracity arises of necessity. And to date I have not yet formulated an exhibition about this. And if so, the question would still remain as to how to best formulate that. Because I in fact do find the intervention on site most interesting, and then the discussion afterwards. This functions principally without seeing the spaces. A presentation of some kind of documentation would probably also involve the credibility of the image, and in doing so to some extent also distract.
Start image: Cc Rocket, Sesamsnack, Erdnüsse, Erlkönig Bremen 2017 / Foyer, Christoph Schlingensief’s Operndorf, Ziniaré 2016
1 The citation of Hannah Arendt preludes the text of a commemorative plaque in the public space, Grenzhus Schlagsdorf, Informationszentrum zur Innerdeutschen Grenze, Schlagsdorf.