News Update
December 1, 2012
Auxiliary Magazine
Jennifer Link
Editor in Chief
GOTTFRIED-HELNWEIN
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN
INTERVIEW
Auxiliary Magazine: Many pieces of your work are intimate glimpses to fascist figures and groups. Is this a theme you still feel is relevant? Helnwein: Mussolini once said: "Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power". Well, look around - does it look like there is a growing influence of bankers and big corporations on our governments and our lives? The new Fascists will not come as grim looking brutes in daemonic black uniforms and boots, they will wear slick suits and ties, and they will be smiling.
What of kind influence did growing up in post-war Austria have on you as a person and as an artist? Does your background growing up in antebellum Europe pervade over all your pieces?
I was born right after the 2nd World War, into a dark and depressed world and when I looked around as a little child I saw only daunted, grouchy and broken grown-ups. I had the feeling I had landed at the wrong place. I didn't know then that my parents' generation had just lost 2 world wars in a row and in addition to that accomplished the biggest genocide in history. The breath of death was still all over the place... Besides that, my parents were very Roman Catholic so I spent a lot of time in cold churches and I had plenty of time to look at the pictures of bleeding and dying saints and sacred corpses.
Many pieces of your work are intimate glimpses to fascist figures and groups. Is this a theme you still feel is relevant?
Mussolini once said: "Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power". Well, look around - does it look like there is a growing influence of bankers and big corporations on our governments and our lives?
The new Fascists will not come as grim looking brutes in daemonic black uniforms and boots, they will wear slick suits and ties, and they will be smiling.
What was it like working on the opera “The Child Dreams?”
When I read the script of "The Child Dreams", I was in a kind of shock because it was as if Hanoch Levin was talking specifically about the children in my paintings. I thought if one would convert my work into poetic writing it would be "The Child Dreams" by Hanoch. I guess the Israeli Opera considered me to be the natural choice for that project, and I was hired as the only non-Israeli in the production.
It was an interesting challenge and given all the natural limitations on an opera stage - I think with the fourth act we created a miracle.
I understand there was conflict working with Omri Nitzan and Gil Shohat during the production. How did you reach a mutual understanding while still maintaining the integrity of your imagery and were you happy with the result?
Well, an opera production is a very delicate and complex endeavor. You deal with so many people, often with diverse intentions -- the director, the conductor, the orchestra, the singers, in this case also the composer, the technical director, the staff and so on.
I have to admit that from beginning on I considered "The Child Dreams" my personal piece and I had a very specific vision. And I was determined to get my vision on that stage.
I know I demanded too much and I really pushed the boundaries. But I had no choice. I was on a mission; it was about artistic integrity. And I was convinced that I also owed this to Hanoch Levin who is one of the most radical and poetic writers I know.
I had no problems with Gil Shohat the composer, and the ballet kids loved being soaked in fake blood and suspended high up in the air. I also liked working with Omri, the director, but then I got the opera into troubles because I insisted on having real children on stage, because I hate the usual fat actors or singers with bad wigs, pretending to be little children.
Then the minister for labour demanded to read the script and was naturally horrified, so he decided that kids in that play could not be under 14. But I insisted that especially the name part had to be a real child: tiny, fragile and vulnerable; but the singer wanted the lime-light and fought for that role and Omri and the other singers took her side.
What was it like to be filmed for the documentary, “Gottfried Helnwein and the
Dreaming Child” while concurrently going through the struggle of manifesting your
design with the opera production team?
I was so absorbed in the struggle for my vision that most of the time I hardly noticed the camera.
Are you looking forward to the release of the documentary this month? Do you feel it’s reflective of your experience on the opera?
I think Lisa Colburn did a good job, she is a very passionate woman.
You say, “My Art is not an answer; it is a question.” What are you trying to ask
people to seek inside them when they see your work?
Any relevant art asks the questions that people need to be asked at that time.
I think sometimes it's the responsibility of the artist to force people to look at things they would rather ignore or forget.
Many of your images feature dark departures from Disney characters. What role
have these figures played in your life and your art?
My first encounter with great art that changed my life entirely was a Donald Duck comic book by Carl Barks, the great Disney artist. It was a religious experience. I was 5 years old and it redeemed me from the limbo of post-war Vienna. For the first time I had hope -- life had a meaning and the journey of my life had a destination: Duckburg.
What is it about malformed children, dental devices and bandaged, bloody subjects that resonates with you?
Since the early days of my childhood, I sensed the presence of a lurking darkness; all the grown-ups I saw seemed to be hurt and wounded. And I saw violence against the weak and defenseless everywhere, especially against children, but nobody else seemed to notice, so I thought I have to tell them.
Your work is often presented as larger-than-life-- held up by massive cables on such grand scales. What space has been your favorite to install your work in and why?
I love to interrupt the dull routine of a city by interjecting billboard-sized images of children's faces. I think my installation "Selection - Ninth November Night" between the cathedral of Cologne and the Ludwig Museum created a big impact. I like it when people respond to art and get emotional.
Where do you find inspiration from today? What are the forces threatening
innocence in today’s world?
Well, the food is genetically modified and loaded with chemicals, the environment is polluted, never before were children exposed to so many drugs -- legal and illegal, their parents are usually divorced, education deteriorates and falls well behind that of most 3rd world countries, and then there are these hours of moronic television and the internet, that provides them from early age on with horror and pornography, and computer games where kids can practice killing people by pushing a button.
I think innocence has a hell of a time these days.
You do installation, photography, painting, set design, costume and more. How do
you decide what medium to use for each project? Do you favor any specific one in certain circumstances?
I always experimented with different media and I like to mix and use them in unorthodox manners. I need them all because they inspire, inform and reflect each other. Photography and performance was always the main source of inspiration for my paintings, and my paintings are the base for my work for the theatre. And for the stage I have created characters, masks and costumes which I later used in paintings.
Do you have a favorite channel of creativity? What can we expect to see more of in the future?
I always wanted to make a movie. Maybe I will...
What would you like to say to those who criticize your work as being “disturbing”
or “twisted?”
Be my guest.
A Tear on a Journey
1987
The Child Dreams 6
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 2011, 239 x 437 cm / 94 x 172''




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