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New York
Interview with Stefan Eins
by Natalie Hegert

New York, Dec. 2011Stefan Eins finds art in some of the most unlikely places. In 1978, Eins opened an art space called FASHION 時裝 MODA МОДА* in the South Bronx, in a neighborhood that, at the time, more closely resembled a bombed-out war zone than a borough of New York. Fashion Moda (1978-1993)  was a “museum of science, art, invention, technology and fantasy,” and he and his co-director Joe Lewis subscribed to the radical (still) notion that art could be made by anyone, anywhere, regardless of race, class, gender, or education.

I met the soft-spoken, sometimes inscrutable, Austrian-born artist in the course of doing research for my Masters thesis in art history. We met at Washington Square Park in the shadow of NYU’s Bobst Library, where the Fashion Moda archives are stored, and talked about the seminal art space, his involvement in the artist group Colab and the influential Times Square Show, and some of the first exhibitions of street art and graffiti.

Eins’ art practice in many ways mirrors his openness to all manners of artistic activity. His work concerns a blending of art and scientific experimentation, appropriation, objets trouvés, and recognizing profound coincidences in everyday things, from paint spills on the sidewalk to uncanny resemblances in photographs. He quoted Isaac Newton: “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

* The name translates to the word "fashion" in the four most spoken languages in the world, English, Chinese, Spanish, Russian.

Stefan Eins, DRAGONFLY, 1999 / 2011, Ink splash,  Length of image: 6 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Natalie Hegert: At Fashion Moda and in the Times Square Show of 1980 your inclusive curatorial approach embraced all manner of art works, from folk art to graffiti to site-specific public installations, marking what you’ve claimed as the “death of Modern Art.” What are your opinions on exclusivity in the art world?

Stefan Eins: John Ahearn and Tom Otterness organized the Times Square Show. Fashion Moda inspired it, I think. I remember a young stranger suggesting to John Ahearn at Fashion Moda: “You should do this on Times Square.”

Please define folk art.  Not much folk art was shown at Fashion Moda, if any. I am uncomfortable with the term, because it has condescending implications. 

As to the art world since Fashion Moda, I believe there is more versatility, and so much more is accepted and encouraged. Because of it there is more great art out there, and on a global level. Exclusivity is part of the art world. People can do as they please.

NH: With "folk art" I'm specifically referring to the time that you showed Hispanic statues made by a local manufacturer in the Bronx.  I agree that it is a problematic term. Why do you reject the nomenclature of “alternative space” when it comes to Fashion Moda?

SE: I do not like the term “alternative.” Fashion Moda is not and was not an alternative to anything. It was rooted in its own concept. Alternative would mean being defined by the other.

NH: I find it interesting that your photographs are almost always accompanied by extensive labels, translated into four languages (those most spoken worldwide), and sometimes maps. In this way, your artworks take on the role of a kind of scientific research. What is the relation between science and art in your work?

Stefan Eins, BIONIC GROWTH, 1986 / 2009, Acrylics, gesso On wood, 4 x 8 in.; Courtesy of the artist

SE: I do not differentiate between doing art and science research. It comes from the same human instinct to play and create.

For instance, around 1985, when painting I found that how paint mixes, flows, and splashes, correlates to certain biological formations. In the process I discovered the formation process of the vertebrae, of the horseshoe crab, bionic growth and other forms. My findings were published in the catalogue to my show at the National Gallery / Österreichische Galerie in Vienna (1991). I concluded that the physics laws regulating liquid formation, biological formations and life are the same.  Later in the late 80s, when I poured paint, randomly recognizable, representational and at times “surreal” imagery manifested itself in my paintings.

NH: These paintings—do you engage in them as a scientist would an experiment?  As in collecting data and processing them for hypothesis? Or is it more of a process of alchemy? You mention sorcery and religious manifestations in your statement.

SE: I am empirically observing the results of my random pouring and seek a scientific interpretation of how recognizable imagery becomes apparent again and again.    

NH: Your work is in many ways concerned with happenstance, found objects and coincidence as communications of profound significance. Do you keep up a regular studio practice? A research schedule? Or do these things simply find you?

SE: Years ago, around 1975, I realized that coincidences happen necessarily and if coincidences happen necessarily nothing is a coincidence. I have regular inside and outside the studio practice. These things find me and I find them.

NH: You speak sometimes of “another physics reality,” which directly concerns your series of the same name, photographs of rather violent paint splatters found in your neighborhood in Harlem.

SE: In the early 21st century I started to find paint spots in the urban environment of New York City. The series from another physics reality, is a good example. Other samples were exhibited at MoMA PS1 in 2007, which are about investigations and events that document unexplained phenomena. A potential communication with an alien intelligence. A random paint spot looking like Bill Clinton near his office in Manhattan--coincidence / not a coincidence? A portrait of me embedded in a sidewalk...

In from another physics reality I found some splatters that can be interpreted as  pertaining to violence, like: SLAVERY and BLINDED BY ABUSE. By the way: Harlem is my old neighborhood. I am in SOHO now.

Stefan Eins, Slavery, 2007-2010; Courtesy of the artist

In the piece SLAVERY, for instance, I see an angry profile. I later realized, if viewed from another angle, this spot can also be seen as a torso, fist raised. To create an image that can be interpreted in two different ways is in itself difficult and, if found, it’s very unusual, exceptional, “miraculous”—even more so if both interpretations relate to the conditions of being a slave. Since I first noticed this spot, dramatic changes have occurred - randomly. Eyes and a mouth appeared in 2008. Lips spitting at a “white” profile in 2009; that could be interpreted as an expression of protest. As to other-dimensionality referenced again: a paint spot slashing from one segment to another segment of the sidewalk, appearing in 2010. These changes in the imagery – all making sense - support the notion of an intelligence creating them. From another dimension?

NH: You’ve also mentioned this phenomenon of a reoccurring self-portrait in Manhattan that appears each year projected by the sun.  It reminds me a bit of ancient methods of celestial observation and astronomy, like solar calendars built of stone—as if the edifices of Manhattan were built in order to manifest this portrait once a year at a specific time. How did you come to observe this pattern?

SE: Every August 15th the sun casts a shadow profile: PORTRAIT SELF onto a wall on 76th Street, between Lexington Ave. and Park Ave. in Manhattan. As the sun rises between 8:40 AM and 9:20 AM the profile’s appearance changes. The profile version I most identify with is visible at 8:52AM.  I observed this shadow pattern first a few years ago from the window of my room at the Lenox Hill Hospital after an overnight stay.

Stefan Eins, PORTRAIT [SELF], Shadow Projections by the Sun, Reocurring Between 8:40 and 9:20 AM Every August 15th on 76th Street, Betw. Park Ave. and Lexington Ave., New York. Courtesy of the artist.

NH: You’re working on a collaboration with artist Richmodis duMont. Can you tell me a little bit about what that will entail? What are the dynamics of your collaboration and how did you get together?  

SE: We planned to do a project at Fashion Moda in the Bronx in the early 90s. It didn’t happen. Richmodis duMont found me on the internet. She sent me her drawings and collages and I painted and posted into them. She responded to my response. INTERACTION is about many levels and aspects of male-female relationships presented in a manner I have never seen before. It was shown in 2011 in the Kunsthalle in Viernheim / Germany, at the Broadway Gallery in Manhattan and will be exhibited in Miami in 2012. Gunilda Woerner is also involved; her collaboration involves a musical installation for all three exhibitions.

NH: Before you came to New York, you studied theology - what effect, if any, does this have on your work? 

SE: I also attended the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna. I am not sure what effect my studies in theology have on my work. I was raised to be a Christian and live in a culture with Christian traditions. I am not involved any more beyond this cultural connection. I consider being spiritual a basic human identity. I abide by a code of ethics.

NH: Tell me a little bit about your objets trouvés in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul..

SE: The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the amazing Christian sanctuary from the 6th century, is my objet trouvé.  Through this, I reinterpret what this amazing architectural achievement is about.

Embedded into the main support columns of the Hagia Sophia, are “folded out” marble plates, about 12 x 8 ft, arranged as if in a Rohrschach test.

In one of the “folded out” marble plates I found a profile with pony tail.  I see a creature sending light onto this profile – haloed. Am I this creature, having created this profile from another dimension alerting mankind to the significance of the imagery in these marble plates?

The viewer could interpret the Rohrschach imagery as referencing alien creatures and other-dimensionality, grave threats and danger, open thighs and sexual abuse, the alien personified abusive force also called devil or satan… What’s important is you can do your own interpretation.

ArtSlant would like to thank Stefan Eins for his assistance in making this interview possible.

--Natalie Hegert

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