Portrait of Jonathan during exhibition at CFA
Sankt Ich V, 2002
The Third Man in the Round House, 1998
Ahoi de Angst, 1999
Soldat Meese (Staatsanimalismus)Maldoror Turm, 2000
De Sau, 2000
Archaeopteryx, 2003
La chambre de Balthys IV, 2001
Der Eimeese, 2001
Nofretete's Getreidesacklein, 2003
Warmeese Soldat "Nonninei de Hot", 2003
Untitled, 2005
Untitled, 2005
Holdon Caulfield's Sommerferien…, 2001

JONATHAN MEESE

Conversation with Sue de Beer and Felix Ensslin

“I don’t believe in the history of art,
because I think that everything that is right

Jonathan Meesehas no history”— Jonathan Meese

Jonathan Meese
Born in Tokyo in 1971, the painter, installation, and performance artist Jonathan Meese attended the Hochschule der Bildenden Kunstein Hamburg. Upon graduation, Meese exhibited his second solo show at Contemporary Fine Arts in Berlin and had numerous solo shows in Germany. His most recent was ‘Young Americans’, at Contemporary Fine Arts in Berlin andModern Art in London. His work has been featured in international group exhibitions, including ‘Generation Z’ at P.S.1 in New York.
(All images courtesy of Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin)

“Will stand out on the street, with a hammer in my hand” — this is how Jonathan Meese says we will recognize him when we go to meet him in his Berlin apartment. And he does, but it’s no Thorlike weapon of war he is brandishing; it’s a little tool your next-door neighbor might use to force a nail into the wall to hang his wedding pictures. Soon the conversation centers around a more dangerous and exciting presence when we visit his gallery, Contemporary Art Berlin, which is conveniently located in the same back alley in Berlin’s hip “Mitte.”

Meese, now thirty-five, began to attract international attention at the first Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art in 1998 with installations like “Ahoi de Angst”, a room plastered with images of various pop and political figures suggesting an adolescent’s homage to violence in the previous fifty years. Often as busy as his installations, his solo performances are characterized by military-style garb, salutes and primitive vocalizations. In the tradition of Actionist art, these works employ performance to further develop conceptual pieces.

Like his art, Meese is at the same time extremely concentrated, almost monomaniacal, and all over the place, no limits seeking delimitation. We all followed his drive, talking, pointing, interrupting, pausing to look up an image or to just sip some coffee. This is the conversation that ensued, between the three of us, back in the virgin days of the year 2004.

Jonathan Meese: Saal is a very important word, because it means “hall.” Everything started in a hall — all revolutions started in a hall, like in Richard Wagner it’s this “Saal” where Hagen von Tronje is sitting in front to protect the hall. Adolf Hitler was also in this Brauhauskeller, which is a hall, too. It’s always a room, or a temple: this space where something happens.


“Saal is a very important word, because it means “hall.” Everything started in a hall”
— all revolutions started in a hall” — Jonathan Meese

Felix Ensslin
Born in Berlin, Germany in 1967. He obtained a BA in Philosophy and Drama from Lang College of the New School University and a MA from the Graduate Faculty of the NSU. After eight years as a senior level aide to the Green Party in German Parliament, he returned recently to the Arts and Academia. In 2003 he co-curated the exhibition “Regarding Terror: The RAF-exhibition” at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin. He works as a director, most recently with his own play “Durch einen Spiegel ein dunkles Bild”, at the German National Theatre in Weimar, Germany, where he opened this Januarywith “Die Räuber”, by Friedrich Schiller, co-directed artist Brock Enright. He writes frequently on politics, arts and philosphy in publications both in the US and Germany.

Felix Ensslin: Saalbefreiung, the liberation of the hall.

JM: I don’t want to give so many explanations. It’s just, uh, for me this word is somehow something that you put everything next to. Saalbefreiung, Saalgott, Saalfreiheit, Saalbibel. Like this word Erz — arch — you can also connect everything, Erzmenschen, Erznahrung …

Sue De Beer
Born in Tarrytown, New York. She obtained a BFA from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA from Columbia University. De Beer has exhibited internationally extensively, and her most recent exhibitions include a solo show at the Whitney Museum at Altria in New York, “Greater New York” at P.S.1 in New York, “Zur Vorstellung des Terrors: Die RAF” at Kunst Werke, in Berlin, and the 2004 Whitney Biennial exhibition in New York. De Beer currently lives and works in New York and Berlin.

Sue de Beer: Okay, let me just check that this is recording …

Frank Castorf
Producer Frank Castorf, born in Berlin. In 1992, Castorf became director of the Volksbühne — the People’s Theatre (Founded in 1914 by a workers’ association, the Volksbühne is one of the symbols of Berlin) In 1992, Castorf took over as director of the theatre, reviving its revolutionary, avant-garde tradition. Attracting both praise and controversy, he has managed to crystallize passions with performances that are provocative, political, decadent and extremely popular among Berliners of all generations.

FE: Our interest in you and your work came out of talking about your installations in staging a play and creating stage sets, so it is interesting to hear that right now you are working in the theater in collaboration with the director Frank Castorf at the Volksbuhne in Berlin.

SB: Is this your first set, or have you done this before?

JM: I have only done it for myself. I mean, all these installations are somehow stages, in fact, where I also performed and did my things, but it is the first time for somebody else.

SB: Does each installation usually have a performance? Do you build the installations for the performance?

JM: Not all of them, but if I feel fine and the situation is ripe, then I can do something there, … to make it a temple, to make it suitable for the situation.

SB: And how is it different building a piece for an actual theater rather than building one for exhibition?

JM: Um, uh, my first idea was totally, ah, without connection to the theater. I just did what I wanted to do, and I gave this idea, this, this Eiserne Kreuz (seen below), an iron cross in the theater. And I didn’t think about the rest. But then, now I have to think about the rest, and it’s quite hard because you have to convince all the people who are involved. But this is okay for me because I like somehow this being a slave. I think this is fine.

SB: Can you talk a little bit about this longing for passivity, Jonathan?

JM: Um … for me this is … um … I need this to relax a little bit again, because I was so much on power, and energy, wasting energy, that I am a bit tired at the moment. And I need somebody who I can look up to and say, okay, I believe in what you are doing, and I can do something for you. This is so nice. It is also hard but in a different way. I really respect Castorf because I think he is a genius and marvelous and can bring me something that is important for my life, and I want to be his slave, his good slave, and I want to do something that is good and suitable for the situation. And that’s…what makes me…happy.

SB: And your exhibition at CFA [“Curry Expo,” which ran from March 23 to April 16, 2004, is a collaborative exhibition. Was this also part of this drive to have another kind of energy through your work?

JM: Yes. To involve people because before, I mean, not working with other people meant that I had to do everything. That was also good because I have some, some strong wishes and some, some strong laws to tell people, but this makes you very empty after a while. And I did … I mean … performances between 1998 and 2000, and then I stopped for three years because it was so exhausting to do everything. And now I’m starting again a little bit. I had a pause of three years.

SB: When did you go back to performing?

Bazon Brock
Born in1936, he describes his role as a “high official mover” who in his unusual Theory and Practise propagates his aesthetic of reception. As a professor for non normative aesthetics, culture criticism and multi-medial “Generalist” (Brock’s word for a lateral thinker able to make conclusions from a broad range of disciplines) he has published widely, and collaborated with artists such as Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell. His main work is Aesthetics as Communication. Biography of a Generalist.

JM: Right now, I am so confused that I can’t think of what happened last year … It was six or eight months ago or something, that I also had the feeling that I had to do something on stage again — to shout, or to do things. It was in … I had a performance in Munich … but also to do it with someone, with Bazon Brock, a theoretical …

FE: A theoretician. A performing theoretician one could say, hmm?

JM: Yeah. But also an artist, a strong person and tyrant, and really a god of his own quality. It is really important for me to work with these totally independent people who do what they want. And, umm…And now I also feel that if this all works out maybe I will have a chance to make a performance in this building one evening in the Volksbuhne.

FE: Would you be doing it alone, or would you have the actors and actresses who would normally be in the play there and you could maybe spontaneously direct them, or be with them, or use them in some way?

JM: It’s not yet decided. I mean, I would love to do something alone, because alone I am always the best. This is something I know. But I would also take the chance or would like to take the chance, to use, or to work with the actors because some of them are really very, very good. And I know them, and I would love this. Also, I mean, it is a question of taking risks, and doing something new. I mean, some artist friends – I think they are horrified that I am doing a stage project because they think it’s a kind of treason to … first of all work for somebody else, and then to go into theater, because theater is meant to be the worst of all things you can do.

SB: Do you see acting as at all related to performance? Or how does the performer compare to, you know, to the actor?

JM: It’s really different because the actor always repeats, or has to repeat, and as a performer, I had the wish, uh, always to surprise myself with something totally different. And also really take the risk of doing something stupid.

SB: Do you script your performances?

JM: No. No.

SB: Do you ever rehearse them?

JM: No.

SB: Do you ever do multiple performances in the same installation space?

JM: No, never. It’s more an initiation for the room that I build. It’s nothing for the public, and also not really for me. It’s for the thing. Für die Sache — for the room, for the temple. The room always tells me whether the performance was a success or not.

FE: So it’s a kind of Weiung?

JM: Yes, it’s a Weiung. Absolutely.

SB: Now you have to translate that word for the American audience. [laughs]

FE: In the context of our culture it’s, uh … it’s mostly connected with a religious rite that denotes a building, or even a human being, or somebody into an office, right? Like a priest would come and say this church is now geweiht. Unfortunately I don’t know the English term.

SB: Uh, consecration.

FE: Yeah, consecration. Consecrate. That’s it. And it’s deeply connected to the idea of formation, transubstantiation, something that changes its substance by being consecrated.

JM: Yes.

FE: That’s your relation to the space? And the installations too, right?
It changes its substance?

JM: Yes. It uh … The substance itself shows me whether I presented the thing appropriately, or not. It can tell me.

FE: So it can fail?

JM: To me, it can say it failed, yes. Because when it’s a success there always comes a point where I can’t see anything but, I don’t know … I can’t say what I see but I don’t see, I am in a situation where the things only come to me, and where I am the filter, the total … the medium. It sounds very, I mean …

FE: It sounds ecstatic. It makes me think of mystical traditions.

JM: Yes.

FE: Which is what ecstasy means, right? To stand outside of yourself. And I am interested in to what degree do you think of that transubstantiation, changing the substance? Is that a metaphorical process to you, like this space means something different? Or is it a literal process?

JM: I think it’s both. It comes together, and it says, now it’s done, and it’s worth it that it was done. Um … Yeah, it’s a kind of positioning, the thing and not me, it’s not important. Um … It’s also … I want this moment where there is a high risk that you say something very bad. This is what I love. To really come to the edge of something.

SB: … which could lead to bad language, or bad thoughts.

JM: Yes, really bad thoughts. But where, and also this is very logical, these bad thoughts, not just saying something, it has its own logic.

FE: It comes out of a development that forces it as a consequence, and not as a posture.

JM: Yes. Exactly, yeah.

FE: Do you know the movie, Fight Club?

JM: Yes.

FE: Would you connect this idea of doing violence to yourself to free yourself…?

JM: No. It’s freedom for the thing. Not for the human being.

FE: That is interesting.

JM: Yes, because without freedom for the thing, freedom for the people is not possible. This is the first door to open. It is not you as a person—it is not my wishes, and ideas, and my state of being. My state of being is not important. It’s another direction that is much more difficult and much more ‘albern’.

FE: Unserious, in the sense of not being officially serious.

JM: Yeah. It’s somehow very uncool. Fighting in this is cool. But what I would love to do is not cool. That’s also the attack, the criticism which I will often hear, that what I do is not real, it’s too stupid and too,…

FE: Then, in those criticisms there is an equation between coolness and being real.

JM: Somehow, yes.

FE: So, with your tower installation, you went exactly the opposite way. You went from coolness, and being hip, and the posters, into your direction, into you, that is, a path, if you describe going from the first tower that we saw in the image to the second?

JM: Total necessity. It was totally necessary, because otherwise, it would have ended. The whole thing. That was the only way out. I mean, there are not many ways out for me anyway, and it’s very difficult for what, I could puke very often onto myself. It is so difficult and so hard to realize what you want. And, uh, there, for example, when I started this with the pop images and everything was so full of images and everything, people often came to me and said, “Ah, wonderful. That is really super cool.” And it fitted into the history of art. But I don’t believe in the history of art, because I think that everything that is right has no history. It is always the same point that it comes to.

FE: For someone who doesn’t believe in history, you talk a lot about figures from history.

JM: Yeah, but I think they are all the same.

Joe Dallesandro
Actor Joe Dallesandro, made a name for himself in several of Paul Morrissey-Andy Warhol projects — known as the naked guy in Andy Warhol movies.

Zardoz
Fantasy / Sci-Fi film directed by John Boorman (1974) starring Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling. In the far future, a savage only trained to kill finds a way into the community of bored immortals that alone preserves humanity’s achievements.

Emma Peel
Fictional television spy played by Diana Rigg in the British 1960s adventure series The Avengers. The name Emma Peel was a play on the phrase “man appeal” (“m-appeal”).

SB: And also cultural history. I actually want to step back for a minute and talk about talk about the iconography in your work in relation to this idea of authenticity. And yet you, in terms of making an avatar for yourself, or a kind of fantasy image for yourself in your work, you are drawn to people like Joe Dallesandro, or Sean Connery’s Zed in John Boorman’s film Zardoz [1974], who is a futuristic man. He is a play-acting of this idea. Or Emma Peel, who is all about being unreal in a way. She is all about being a fantasy. Can you talk about that difference? What the fantasy figure means to you in relation to your interest in authenticity … realness?


“I think that the artist is totally un-free. Always. And that is his free-ness. That is his freedom. Because the only thing that is totally free is the art. And the art as a god takes me when it loves to take me. And it also destroys me when it loves to destroy me. Without any reason. This is what I love about art” — Jonathan Meese

JM: In fact, I don’t believe in authenticity and realism. This is also a very weak language and expression, because when you are an artist you are never authentic. In relation to art you are always an actor. Because art is in the hierarchy, it’s not touchable. I think that the artist is totally un-free. Always, and that is his free-ness. That is his freedom. Because the only thing that is totally free is art. And the art as a god takes me when it loves to take me. And it also destroys me when it loves to destroy me. Without any reason. This is what I love about art – that it doesn’t care. That’s why I am never authentic. Because it doesn’t come from me. It’s not important what I do, it’s important what the art wants me to do. But it does it without rules.

SB: So your objects are using you in a sense.

JM: Yes. Hopefully …

SB: And then could these figures be a vehicle for, whatever it is that their meaning is? Does Emma Peel function in the same way?

Caligula
The third Roman Emperor and a member of the Julio–Claudian dynasty, ruling from 37 to 41 [A.D.].Known for his extreme extravagance, eccentricity, depravity and cruelty, he is remembered as a despot. He was assassinated in 41 [A.D.].by several of his own guards. Caligula’s reign is the most poorly documented of the Julio–Claudian dynasty. The literary sources for these four years are meager, frequently anecdotal, and universally hostile.

Klaus Kinski
German actor of Polish descent, in the second half of the 20th century (1926–1991). He started on stage in Germany, became a legend as a monologist (presenting the prose and verse of William Shakespeare and Francois Villon, among others) and soon moved to films. His international reputation was built on five films with director Werner Herzog in the Aguirre films: The Wrath of God (1972), Woyzeck (based on the play by Georg Büchner)(1979), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982), and finally Cobra Verde (1987).

JM: She is a god unto herself. That’s what I love. That’s what makes her important. She doesn’t give us anything, and she doesn’t take. She is what she is, finished. And I try to find these people who have no, who are absolutely what they are, nothing else. And that is why for me they are always the same. That is why there is no history existing for me. For me Wagner is the same person as Caligula, Caligula is the same person as Klaus Kinski.

SB: How does Zardoz fit into this, because I would think that James Bond would be a little bit more iconographic than Zardoz.

JM: Zardoz is the figure. For me it is the most appropriate god that has ever shown his face on this earth.

SB: What is the combination of things that makes him so?

JM: Um … his ruthlessness and his love, because he doesn’t love us. That’s what I love. He doesn’t care. That is what I want a god to be. A god not to care. This is what I need for my fantasy world. I live in a naïve world. Fantasy. I want a god not to care.

FE: Um, we all have our own preoccupations, right? And what strikes me is that theanguage that you use to describe your relationship to art could almost be verbatim a language that, say, an early reformer, like Martin Luther, used to speak about God, or a mystic like Meister Eckhart used to speak about God, and about this deep suspicion of autonomy, of making yourself a principle, of closing off, against an outside source that is stronger, more powerful, more meaningful, more truthful. And so to you — something like coolness, or pop, is that a kind of closing off to that outside force, to the outside truth?


“A god not to care. This is what I need for my fantasy world. I live in a naïve world.” — Jonathan Meese

JM: Yes, yes. It’s maybe a necessary stage, and it’s also funny sometimes…

FE: I really, I’m going to interrupt you, I’m sorry, when you say “stage,” that’s a history, right?

JM: Yes.

FE: So there is a development, but there is no history.

JM: Yes, exactly. It’s a Schein-development. Pseudo. It’s also why we use art history to make something sweeter and more consumable. I think there is no history. There is nothing that is not. We always want to give things names, like “Concept” art, or this art and I don’t know what, like Cubism or something. I think this is all rubbish.

FE: So art like the Old Testament God, who says “I am who I am.”

JM: Yeah.

FE: And you are looking to those iconographic figures for, well you can’t really say a representation of that, but for an expression of that. That they are what they are.

JM: Yes, they are what they are. And Concept art doesn’t exist because art is its own concept anyway. It makes no sense. Also to use private myths. For example, this is something that many people say about what I do, that I talk about my private myths. But myths are never private. So this is only used to make us insecure, and to make us small, and to make everything suitable in terms on consumption. I think art is so big or so small that you can’t consume it anyway, and so it’s not necessary to use words to describe this. It’s better to accept that something is art, and something is not.


“I think art is so big or so small that you can’t consume it anyway, and so it’s not necessary to use words to describe this.” — Jonathan Meese

FE: And so the opposite is State Satanism.

JM: State Satanism. Yeah, [laughs] but nobody really knows what that is. The question of what a state is, is the most important thing for me, absolutely. And this is anyway, my … something that I want to know. Uh … I think in what we live nowadays is no state.

FE: What is it?

JM: I think it’s the obscenity of harmlessness.

[Laughs]
FE: Obscenity of harmlessness?

JM: We live in something, we can’t even call this a country. There is no word for this harmlessness existing, in what we are living. There are no enemies at all at the moment. This is really crazy for me.

FE: Enemies for you.

JM: For me, or for everything. Because everything is so weak. I mean, this is something that everybody knows, but I think there is something else behind it. And we have to give the state the respect to be what it wants to be. The state is a totally independent figure. And we always want to say what the state has to be. We never let it be what it wants to be. Which could also mean very difficult times for us. But if we let the state be what it wants to be, then after a while we will be in a very interesting situation.

SB: What will the situation be?

JM: I don’t know yet, because we’ve never allowed it. We always try to find some explanations that we need a democracy or we need a dictatorship or something. It’s all rubbish, I think. Let it just run.

SB: So if your iconography and the world you are building is about a leveling of history or making transparent this kind of iconographic weakness, or equality, and you are a vehicle for this work to speak, to come alive, are you in some way trying to create this rupture for the new? The new state of being? What do you hope to achieve by transforming these objects or becoming a vessel for these objects?

JM: First of all, I would love for somebody else to do what I do because then I could sleep. I mean, I just, I would be very happy if someone else would do this but on the other hand what I want is to be drawn into a
radical situation. I want that somebody comes and says to me, “Here, I am totally radical. Uh … Jonathon, what do you have to say to that? What is your response to my radicalism that is so strong that it will kill you in a few months or weeks?”

FE: Would you recognize that in a statement that says it’s about going from a state of being undead to being alive?

JM: Yes, that could be, yeah.

FE: What strikes me is that in fields outside of art, like in philosophy, one would say this is like anarchy. It’s the attempt to make man or woman understand that we are not the principle of our being, that it comes from the outside. That it is not autonomy, it is heteronomy.

JM: Yes.

FE: That it comes from the outside.

JM: Yes, it comes from the outside.

FE: And you, when you think about the state, for example, you want an objectifying experience of that outside.

JM: Yes.

SB: A state that is stronger than you.

JM: Yeah, and also that is stronger than everybody. Nowadays we always want to minimize the risk of everything. It’s an escape from real danger. To get drugs or something, that’s too easy, I think. This is too personal. This is something the state wants you to do, in fact. They want you to be involved in these childish, not really strong, strong-ness-making things. This is something, in fact, the state wants. This is what is called state nowadays.

SB: The tone of your current exhibition is completely different than this conversation we are having. It is extremely playful. I asked you before about rock music and staging and you said that that also was staging and repetition and therefore less interesting, and you just put out a record, Johnny! [Laughs]

JM: [sadly] Yes, I know
[giggles].

SB: What’s up with that?

JM: It’s somehow …

SB: It’s a contradiction!

JM: It’s not only that, it’s also a trap. But I have to take it.

SB: Why do you have to take it?

JM: Because otherwise I’m too bored. I can’t …

FE: Waiting for God is too boring?

JM: Yes. It’s too, too, too boring. I make so many mistakes at the moment, it’s crazy.

SB: And part of this is re-understanding where God could be? An exploration? Research, perhaps, into God?

JM: [laughing] Yeah, but this is also not really possible.

SB: Really?

JM: [laughing] Because he takes you whenever he likes!

SB: God does?

JM: Yeah.

SB: How so? That’s very sexy.

JM: Yeah. Uh. Yeah, but that’s okay. But, uh. You could wait, like he said, wait sleeping, or you can do just rubbish things, you can do just what you are doing and sometimes I did quite good things, and now more and more traps come. More and more silly things. More and more.

SB: Hmm. What is your relationship to the adolescent girl?

JM: To the adolescent girl?

SB: The teenage girl. Do you identify with her at all?

JM: Yes, of course.

SB: How so?

FE: Because she gets taken!
[laughter]

JM: Because she has the power
I never have.

SB: How so?

JM: I don’t know!

SB: What is the power of the teenage girl?

JM: Nobody knows it, but it is there.

SB: It’s an unnamable thing?

JM: I don’t know.

SB: Is it desire?


“What I love about [teenage girls] is they are totally independent, they are really what they are, they have their own rules who will never be discovered. Nobody can write down these rules that are in their brains…. And this is something so strong. This is the strongest weapon in the whole world….This cannot be bought, this is not shown in a building. I mean you have the pyramids, which are maybe the same as the face of a teenage girl, or you have the Holy Grail, or gold.” — Jonathan Meese

JM: Nooo. What I like about these … you mean teenage girls, yeah? What I love about them is they are totally independent, they are really what they are, they have their own rules who will never be discovered. Nobody can write down these rules that are in their brains. When they are exactly what they are. And this is something so strong. This is the strongest weapon in the whole world.

SB: They are a state of anarchy in a sense? Embodied in a person?

JM: Yes. If they are what they are. But that you never know. I think only from one hundred million teenage girls, one has this quality, to be exactly the mirror of herself.

SB: Did you ever know one, like when you were in high school, who embodied this for you?

JM: Uhhh, somehow.

SB: Can you describe her? You don’t have to name a name.

JM: [laughs] I thought that she could have been that. But she was not young enough, in fact.

SB: Can you describe this girl to me? Did she live in your town?

JM: Near. Near. Near the town

SB: What kind of clothes did she wear?

JM: Ummm. Never looked at them.

SB: You never looked at them. You are lying!

JM: No! No!

SB: Tell me about her shoes!

JM: No idea! [laughs]

FE: Did you see all the places where you could see her skin?

JM: I have never seen her skin. I wanted to, but I never have.

FE: So it’s a state of corruption.

JM: Yeah, yeah.

FE: That you would like to inhabit yourself.

JM: Yes. And that’s one human possibility.

FE: To be a teenage girl.

JM: Yes. One direction. One way to show a real definite total law of humanity. That’s a total law. What is established there in these faces. When they are real. This cannot be bought, this is not shown in a building. I mean you have the pyramids, which are maybe the same as the face of a teenage girl, or you have the Holy Grail, or gold.

FE: This reminds me, maybe I am totally off track, but this reminds me of Pasolini talking about the criminal, or talking about the young gay trickster, using the world for his pleasure, or for his survival and pleasure. Is that something that you would relate that to?

JM: Yeah. Somehow. Also in the person of Pasolini everything is done. Fulfilled in the way I love it. In the films of his, especially the last one, it’s a bible. This last one, Salò …

FE: Well, but isn’t, in fact, Salò (is) a kind of step backward from the hope, from the promise of that? Isn’t that a much more, like a negative utopia? Dystopia?

JM: It’s maybe the acceptance of failure for him … but it’s the figures that are shown in this film. They are partly gods. Especially the one man who is shown in this film. The face of this one man. The president.

FE: There have been readings of Pasolini’s work which say, precisely in the last film the promise of substance change or of bodily change, for example as in Decameron or in other films, was reneged upon. That he was pessimistic in this last film about the possibility of freedom, of expression. What would you say about that?

JM: Maybe that’s a very human way of looking at your own things that have gone through you. But I must say this film is a high level — a very high level. Like A Clockwork Orange, or, the Marquis de Sade, There are sometimes these very delicate, and very important law books. For me this Marquis de Sade is a law book. It is a book for society. It is a state book. It shows how a perfect state could be. But they never tried to establish this state because they are too afraid.

[pause as tape is changed]

FE: Jonathan just asked me if I believe my phone is being tapped by the police. I said no. Then he said, well, what did you say? He would like his phone to be tapped.

JM: Yes, I would like for my phone to be tapped. Totally. I think this is very necessary.

SB: To be tapped? Why?

JM: Because, uhhh, this is the first step.

[laughter]

SB: To having a stronger state?

FE: I can completely understand that. [giggles] You have to talk.

JM: Yeah, I mean … In the game it’s the first step in the logic of what’s going on.

FE: But you have to explain this now. You have to work.

JM: When you are not tapped, it means you are not visible. You are not there, you are non-existent. And I mean, that means that we are very harmless, in this logic. Uh … of course its necessary to be listened to. Also to be listened to in your private rooms.

FE: So the desire for a state that is cold and unloving is the desire to exist — to be made to exist.

SB: That is also the position of the teenage girl. It is the position of waiting to be fantasized about and waiting to be looked at.

JM: Yes. Absolutely.

FE: Jonathan, there is a psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan that says “The big Other doesn’t exist.” This is what you have to accept. What would you say about that?

JM: Uh, I think that that is, umm, that this arrogance is not acceptable. And that this person has to be killed.

SB: Jacques Lacan? [laughs]

JM: No! But he has to be killed by that thought!

FE: He would probably agree.

JM: And then he would see.

FE: He would agree. He would say that it is true that the big other doesn’t exist, but it is in a certain way necessary to think that he exists.

JM: Yes, exactly. And for that the other one is also allowed to kill you. For this sentence. But the other one has to arrive then and say, “Hey you, Lacan, sorry, but I exist.” But that’s what he was also waiting for. That’s why he said this.

FE: In On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche writes, “to think of an animal that can make a promise.” That’s what you are looking for.

JM: Yes, yes.

FE: When you look at the iconographic images, you are looking at something that could make a promise if it wanted to, and could keep it.

JM: Yes. Absolutely.

FE: So that’s what they mean to you. I understand.

JM: And also these images can be, or are, the state,or are the adolescent girl, the One the One who is also allowed to kill you to rule, and also not to kill you.

FE: So when you consecrate a space that you have built, with iconographic images, with all kinds of things, and you have a performance, is a successful performance a performance in which there is a being like a figure that can make a promise?

JM: Yes, it comes up.

FE: So the consecration of the space is giving a name or a promise to the space.

JM: Yes, yes. And sometimes this name comes up and it is shouted or it is said, in the head, and sometimes you forget it. It comes like a small figure and you close your eyes and it is there. For me it’s like washing gold and the big nuggets stay, and you wash more and more and more, and at the end there is only one thing.

Sankt Ich V, 2002, photo: Jochen Littkemann
Jonathan during exhibition at CFA, photo: Jan Bauer
The Third Man in the Round House, 1999, courtesy: South London Gallery, London
Ahoi de Angst, 1999, courtesy: P.S.1, New York
Soldat Meese (Staatsanimalismus)Maldoror Turm, 2000, courtesy: Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach
Archaeopteryx, photo: Jochen Littkemann
La chambre de Balthys IV, photo: Jochen Littkemann
Der Eimeese, photo: Jochen Littkemann
Nofretete’s Getreidesacklein, photo: Jochen Littkemann
Warmeese Soldat “Nonninei de Hot”, photo: Jochen Littkemann
Untitled, 2005, photo: Jan Bauer
Holdon Caulfield’s Sommerferien…, photo: Jochen Littkemann

Related Content