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Interview with Felix Kiessling
by Devon Caranicas

Berlin, May 2012 - The content of Felix Kiessling's work is monumental. In an ongoing exploration into the authenticity of perception, scale and physical reality, Kiessling navigates these weighty topics with a distinct reductive aesthetic. Utilizing controlled installations, documented land interactions and sculpture, the Berlin-based artist produces elegantly succinct works to portray the conceptual notions that drive him.

One such example of this is Der Vektor (The Vektor), an ongoing piece that began in 2011 and will be included in the artist's upcoming solo show Tür und Stern at Alexander Levy in Berlin. This group of photographic diptychs archives temporarily installed white steel poles that Kiessling has set up on opposing parts of the globe. The documentation is strictly formal, as each thin rod assumes a horizontal or vertical  focal point within the frame and tilts the landscape background accordingly -- a tactic that underscores the Earth's spheric nature. 

At thirty-two years old and fresh off the heels from his recent showing at the 2012 Marrakech Biennial, Felix Kiessling has made it clear that he is an impressive force in the new wave of artists emerging from Berlin.

Felix Kiessling, Der Portinax-Tempelhof Vektor, Spain/Germany, 2011; Courtesy of the artist

Devon Caranicas: How would you describe your current state as an artist and how has that changed over the years? 

Felix Kiessling: My work is shifting from total precision to chaotic structure, from total dissolvement to something very material and heavy and attached with meaning. And then back again. This loop doesn't stop. After many years patterns and how these patterns correspond to other patterns from my environment and times will emerge, but at this point in time I can't make any objective observation about what I‘m doing. You need distance for that and I‘m too close.

DC: Understandably. Currently you are working within sculpture, installation and photography while constantly overlapping these mediums. How do they operate differently for you?

FK: Often my piece is the experience itself. The photo, the installation or the object is just the medium transporting this experience. The actual materiality of what is shown, installed or hung doesn't mean anything -- it is innocent. I place an object but I‘m not so interested in the object itself rather what it does to the space, to a visitor within it. While I work I experience and explore. I want to share this experience. My often very minimal and phenomenological approach to space and material may allow a naive glance behind the curtain of how things appear to us. But then -- for others -- minimalism and reduction turns something into something very flat -- a surface. Thats fine with me too. I‘m not forcing anything.

Felix Kiessling, Planet (Schwindel), Berlin 2010 (installation view) ; Courtesy of the artist

DC: I think the reduction you speak of is a hallmark of your practice. You often highlight metaphysical notions of geography, time and space with a very simple gesture. How have you arrived at this sort of restrained presentation?

FK: I think anything we do is a product of complexity and this can by no means be figuratively represented. Only symbolically. By reducing and minimizing I think I step closer to how things really are. I have to force myself sometimes to leave my own psychology out of a piece and try to avoid vanity and gestus (of course deciding not to transport my own psychology is already a psychological act itself). But since everything you see is a product of your brain processing and rendering reality, I believe in a strict visual reduction. You will find this in many of my works.

DC: Der Vektor is a great example of this. However, while the concept is physical the documentation is strictly formal, almost mathematical, and also photographic which is something that is a bit unusual for you.  Could you speak a bit about the concept and presentation, and also how the locations are chosen?

FK: Some of the Vectors are based on a stomach decision, I can‘t really rationalize why. Other locations are derived simply from opportunities. For instance when I had the chance to exhibit at MOT in Japan they were looking for a piece connecting Japan and Germany. I simply created it.

I link these places not through photography but through the vector and its experience itself. In this case the photo is the only way we can understand size. I know the fact that we stand on a huge sphere is not very new but it is still a comical fact for me. There is no direction and angle in space. If you put a coordinate system around this interview situation, while we write and read this interview you and I are both arranged in a different angle in space. So if I‘m doing a work that takes place through the planet and out on both sides simultaneously -- how am I able to document this? I use the word document not in a sense of creating a valuable object but rather in a sense of understanding and observing what I'm doing. If I had a camera that could be placed so far out to get a total view of this planet I would definitely use it. I don't, so for me the only chance to transport this imbalance is to take a picture on each sides and put them next to each other.

Felix Kiessling, Planet, Koutoubia Cisterns, Marrakech 2012, documentation by Johannes Förster; Courtesy of the artist

DC: You most recently showed a piece in the Marrakech Biennial titled Planet Koutoubia that was extremely experiential. Can you talk about that piece?

FK: I placed a sphere into the darkness of the Koutoubia cisterns. This object was the only thing illuminated and the darkness didn't allow the space to have any dimension. It was impossible to see it in ratio to your own body or any other recognizable object. Consequently, you felt neither the object nor yourself had a clear scale and position in space. The object could have been huge, much bigger than you, but very far away, or tiny and right in front of your eyes at the same time.

DC: How was the experience in Morocco?

FK: It was great. A big thank you to Vanessa Branson, Nadim Samman and Carson Chan. To be honest I spent most of the time setting up my work underground down in the cisterns. It‘s a dark, cold and wet bricked tunnel system that is many hundreds of years old. Working with the other artists and local construction and technical workers down there so closely (power fail at least once every hour, language barriers and the collective panic of being not done in time) also meant getting to know the culture and the people more in depth than driving around in a sightseeing bus. We all became friends working there. That was so great about this Biennale. The parties -- when everything was done -- were great as well, of course.

Devon Caranicas

ArtSlant would like to thank Felix Kiessling for his assistance in making this interview possible.

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