INTERVIEW / CORRESPONDENCE
with the artist Stefan Mildenberger who studied fine arts at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg until 2013
Dear Stefan Mildenberger,
When I discovered the conceptual work JALOUSIE for the first time, it initially appeared to me like a photo-technical game, like the demonstration of a possibility for collaging two images with the help of Photoshop. However, I could subsequently no longer shake this seeing experience, which was new to me, although it builds on the familiar viewing of lattice images. I wanted to look at all the motifs and more closely study the movement that originates from the viewing and interplay between two image variations of a motif, which you present successively adjacent to one another as a diptych.
I have chosen six motif examples for our interview and would like to delve deeper into the first one shown here. These are the collages of two portraits by Andy Kassier and Leah Schrager. Both are web artists that have been discussed and exhibited many times in recent years. They stage their (digital) identity on Instagram on the basis of selfies and interact simultaneously with followers, who are not always able to comprehend these presentations as art performances.
This deception worked better in the case of a web artist also represented in this context, Amalia Ulman, because her well-known Instagram series entitled EXCELLENCES & PERFECTIONS was a cohesive project of three months, whereas Kassier works continuously on the construction of a successful entrepreneur and “white, male, sunny boy” and should in the meantime be known for this. He most recently celebrated his “coming out” as a painter, in addition to his staged self-representation as a successful businessman. After Leah Schrager saw herself subjected to malicious insults from viewers and digital followers during a selfie action in the public sphere that was not clearly comprehended as an art performance, she also presented herself clearly as a “digital art & online performance” artist at Instagram.
One might laugh heartily about the various figure representations, sometimes silly selfies of Kassier, Schrager and Ulman if they did not intensify feelings of discomfort when viewed over a longer period. It seems as if it is primarily the broad public and the sheer number of fans that decide the success of an artist, and less an interesting discourse in terms of content. It is thus the (like) algorithm that first lends the work its medial presence and dominance. At the beginning of her career, Leah Schrager very deliberately targeted primarily men interested in pornography and pin-up art in order to even acquire a large number of followers, which is rather difficult to acquire in the art and culture segment. “Social media are full of photos like those Leah Schrager makes (…). A young woman in sexy poses, that does the trick. Schrager knows this, because she lives from, among other things, the fact that men want to see her photos and more.”2
With EXCELLENCES & PERFECTIONS, the performance artist Amalia Ulman presented, aligning with feminine role clichés, a psychologically unstable person who alternates between various stereotypical victim roles. In the interview, Ulman claimed that there was no unadulterated EGO, “because we always act as a reflex, and this in the way we want to be seen by others”1.
In staging himself, Andy Kassier’s figure exclusively seeks the favour of the digital follower. He never shows himself with another person in the image, and it appears that the camera installed on site at a distance, which is aimed at his actions, is attached to a tripod and is never held or operated by another person. Although “success” in society can also be negotiated through friendships or at least forms of useful fraternisation, he prefers to work alone (or with animals) in an environment meant to depict his success. This includes, for instance, a place he calls “South Africa, Hogsback” in his Instagram posts – a territory that has been permanently influenced by colonial structures and subjugation of the indigenous population.
In your photo-conceptual work JALOUSIE, “a female and a male figure with similar historical and societal backgrounds are selected in corresponding poses and superimposed onto one another in a collaging process”, as you describe it yourself. The picture that arises with Schrager and Kassier, appears to me to be strangely authentic in its representation of the two artistic personalities and of their web characters. This may on the one hand be due to the exaggeration of the pose, but also to the visibility of the masculine and feminine aspects of the respective figure of the opposite sex: the selected abstraction reinforces the impression of a representation of medial “man-woman” constructs as victim figures. That may be my highly personal perception, and yet I would now like to ask you about your motivation for presenting your collage work as an in fact very comprehensive series, in which you weave 238 prominent figures together with one another?
Dear Birgit Wudtke,
My initial motivation in starting the ongoing JALOUSIE collage series was to come to terms with the “man-woman” dualism artistically. The deconstruction of the iconographisation of persons by the media was also a driving force. The latter was inspired by the lecture Nur das erkannte Falsche ist noch wahr (Only the recognised false is still true) by Bazon Brock in the Panoptikum Hamburg in 2009, which was initiated by the noroomgallery. In the context of my artistic work, it is a matter of concern for me to liberate the original content of the mass media from its political and social impacts with the help of abstraction. Through the use of conceptual, as well as random processes and compositions, I transform the original image conventions and create abstractions from them.
The collages with Kassier, Schrager, Ulman, Eidinger, Byström, Soth, Gilden, Scheynius, Collins and Toledano originated from extensive research on artists at Instagram. Exhibitions to mention here would include Performing for the Camera in the Tate Modern, The Artist Is Online. Painting and Sculpture in the Postdigital Age in the König Galerie, Link in Bio. Kunst nach den sozialen Medien and Virtual Normality Netzkünstlerinnen 2.0, both in the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig.
In the context of the exhibition What Cheese are you? Video, Digitalisierung und Internet today! in the Kunstverein Jesteburg, the collages JALOUSIE #104 There is a horse in my kitchen (Andy Kassier & Leah Schrager) and JALOUSIE #106 From analog to digital and back again (Arvida Byström & Alec Soth) were exhibited for the first time. The exhibition was curated by Isa Maschewski and the artist Malte Struck.
An in-front and a behind always arise in the collages; an intermediate space that never entirely closes because it is occupied by part of another persona. Andy Kassier, who stages himself again and again on Instagram in an identical fashion, is complemented by Leah Schrager, who acquires her followers on Instagram in the space between art and pornography.
JALOUSIE #104 There is a horse in my kitchen (Andy Kassier & Leah Schrager) brings their two worlds closer together and leaves room to grow beyond their actual web characters and to escape the representation of medial “man-woman” constructs as victim figures.
The first “man-woman” representations that inspired me to the abstraction of their likeness were people on magazine covers. I cut up their images into stripes with a boxcutter and collaged them superimposed onto one another. The subsequent change to digital collages took place relatively quickly because I decided to find pictures of famous people on the Internet. The historical and societal level that accompanies the found photos also became relevant for me in the course of this. One example of this is one of the first collages in digital form with the title: JALOUSIE #22 Someone`s shame is another one`s fame (Michael Jackson & Madonna) from 2010. In the two images, one saw the superstars grabbing their crotches. It is composed of photos of Madonna during her Blond Ambition World Tour, which started in 1990, and of Michael Jackson during his Dangerous World Tour from 1992. Toward the end of the tour, the “King of Pop” was publicly accused for the first time of having abused a child. Twelve years later, he stood trial for this and was acquitted despite many grave accusations against him.
The constant grabbing of his genitals was often described as a “dance move”. He himself said the following in an interview with Oprah: “I think it happens subliminally. When you’re dancing, you know you are just interpreting the music and the sounds and the accompaniment if there’s a driving base, if there’s a cello, if there’s a string, you become the emotion of what that sound is, so if I’m doing a movement and I go bam and I grab myself it’s… it’s the music that compels me to do it…”3
Madonna’s grabbing of her crotch during the performance of Like a Virgin was on the other hand the subject of major controversy. Pope John Paul II called upon the broader public and the Christian congregation to refrain from taking part in the tour and called it “one of the most satanic shows in the history of humanity”4. The protests resulted in the cancellation of an Italian show. In Toronto, the police threatened to arrest Madonna for the performance of Like a Virgin because she was simulating masturbation. Madonna nonetheless continued with the show without changing anything.
These “grabs at the crotch”, evaluated so differently on the basis of the biological sex of the persons, merge in the collage pair JALOUSIE #22 Someone’s shame is another one’s fame (Michael Jackson & Madonna). Like with the JALOUSIE #104 There is a horse in my kitchen (Andy Kassier & Leah Schrager) collage you describe, an interesting interplay of the two protagonists is also taking place here. Two new figures result, the interpretation of which can now take place in an art context.
The resulting diptych appears identical at first glance. When one looks at the eye area more closely, however, one can see that both collages are different. 100% different. The facial expressions of the two new figures sometimes also appear different, and sometimes even contrary to one another. In discussions with visitors in my JALOUSIE exhibitions, it has been determined that some viewers more often recognise a “woman” and others more often only a “man” in the collages. I find this difference in the perception of sex attributions extremely exciting and would like to research it further in cooperation with scientists.
Start image: JALOUSIE #106 From analog to digital and back again (Arvida Byström & Alec Soth), 2020, Collage, Diptych, Digital C-Print, Dimensions variable
1 Amalia Ulman: Wie virtuelles Leben reale Anteilnahme weckt, 11.11.2015, source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SM0uNdANvXM; accessed 13.02.2021
2 Theme of Selfie-Performance von Leah Schrager “Niemand sagt: Sie sehen Kunst” by Anika Meier, source: https://www.monopol-magazin.de/leah-schrager-selfie-pornografie-kunst?slide=0; accessed 09.04.2021
3 Gal Mux: Michael Jackson’s Fascination With Grabbing His Crotch; source: https://medium.com/illumination/michael-jacksons-fascination-with-grabbing-his-crotch-c6c602fe4511; accessed 21.04.2021
4 https://de.qaz.wiki/wiki/Blond_Ambition_World_Tour; Wikipedia; accessed 21.04.2021