Mind's Eye Views

By Groys, Boris | Artforum International, February 1995 | Go to article overview

Mind's Eye Views


Groys, Boris, Artforum International


Martin Honert works slowly - he has produced fewer works than one expects from an artist his age. Unwilling to compete with the speed and communicative demands of the modern media, he makes works that seem to stand alone - "decontextualized" and uncommunicative. Together, these works don't so much constitute a closed context as suggest a kind of semantic emptiness. One suspects relationships among Honert's three-dimensional images, perhaps shared meanings, but they are never explicitly produced.

Visiting Honert in his studio in Dusseldorf, I wanted to ask: what are the reasons behind Honert's slow procedures and the aura of isolation surrounding his works? Honert's first reply, as is often the case with artists, was a technical one: it is because the works are time-consuming to produce that it takes to produce them. The questioner was unsatisfied by the answer: aren't the techniques used because they slow the work down?

BORIS GROYS: Looking at your works, I have the feeling that these three-dimensional pictures so objectively quoting reality - they're like a photograph, or an illustration in a scientific journal - suggest also a certain feeling of danger, of being lost. Isn't that an allegory for the situation of the contemporary artist, who removes himself from the life context and puts himself instead in the institutional context of art?

MARTIN HONERT: That's not the reason I do these works. I very much like the images in dictionaries, where, for example, under the word "fire" there's a little picture of a fire. That's actually an image in the clearest sense of the word: so, that's what a fire is! Those pictures always seem alone, isolated, removed from their context. And that's what interests me about them - this hermetic quality of being closed in on themselves.

BG: But are those sorts of illustration dictated by the usual, pictorial understanding of the image? As you say, they fall under a certain linguistic logic: "house," "fire," "tree " - they function almost like ciphers, or Platonic ideas corresponding to particular concepts.

MH: Certainly.

BG: You ask, for example, What is a house for me? And you answer with an image.

MH: Exactly. My works begin in an internal image. Haus [House, 1988] is like an image seen with one's eyes closed.

BG: But there are so many linguistic concepts - why produce so few images? Why this severe selection?

MH: I want to start small. It's a question of temperament: I'm scared of large, complex relationships. I need to begin with simple images, single images. I don't want to show other people what a house looks like; I want to show myself. And when I'm doing that, I try to purify the house, to show it as cleanly as possible.

BG: Why this cleansing, this universalization?

MH: I don't want my work to get too personal. I may begin with a personal image, but then I try to see how I can formulate a more general one. In the case of Haus, that building is completely a particular type. I've always known houses like this one; it has an ugly modesty that's absolutely commonplace where I come from. So this house is autobiographical, in that it's tied to my own biography, my own history. At the same time, it has nothing specific to do with me - my grandmother didn't live there, I wasn't born there, nothing like that. I don't want to tell stories, so I try to reduce the image to its purest state.

BG: The region you come from is important to you?

MH: Yes, it matters that I come from the Ruhr. A lot of the images I use are deeply connected to it.

BG: I know a lot of artists who want to get away from those kinds of ties: they want something universal, something shared, something valid everywhere.

MH: That's certainly an interesting theme for many of my colleagues, but it doesn't interest me, and it would be dangerous for my work - the more universal I became, the more risk I'd run of getting flat and pathetic. …

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