in conversation with
Renee Preisler Barasch
Renée Preisler Barasch – Can you first tell me how you chose to become a photographer and what led you to working with Professor Andreas Gursky?
Louisa Clement – I didn’t choose to become a photographer, I am an artist. But of course for me photography developed into the main medium with which I transform content into something visualized. I work with installation, video, sculpture and performance as well, and this was one of the reasons I wanted to work with Andreas Gursky. At Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, he teaches what is called an “open class” (Freie Kunst), which is not explicitly a photography class. The interdisciplinary discourse that arises when you bring together artists working in many different ways and mediums is more than enriching. The focus in Gursky’s teaching was always about having a strong connection between content and visual quality.
RPB – Has the legacy of the Düsseldorf School been helpful to your current and prior successes?
LC – Kunstakademie Düsseldorf is where Bernd and Hilla Becher led a class (just like Gursky today) and established what became the so-called Becher or Düsseldorf Photo School. In their class were artists like Laurenz Berges, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth, so it is obviously one of the best places to study if your work has anything to do with photography.
Düsseldorf and its surrounding cities are saturated with many artists who live in the area. The exchange with them is very frequent, not only in the academy but also in daily life as well. You get to know them quite easily, and you can learn from them personally and professionally.
RPB – With your “heads” series, what were you thinking about and what were you trying to express with those images? You also took these photos with your iPhone. How did that experience change and influence the images?
LC – The idea of the series came up when I had new identification photos made for my passport: how little character and emotion can you express with your face to get the right biometric passport picture? What does a face need to be a person, and when does a form become a head? Standardization is a big topic in our society.
With this idea in mind I observed the mannequins all over the city without eyes, noses, and mouths. I started to take their “portrait” to find out the line between abstract form and head. Using my iPhone is an absolutely logical step for me, because I produce most of my pieces on the go while in my everyday life. The iPhone has become a natural part of our daily life, so for me it makes sense to use this camera now
RPB – How did “heads” lead you to the “Avatar” series? Did it grow organically from “heads”?
LC – The heads series was about trying to find a personalty in a form in some way. This filling of a form with a personality led me to think about the digital personality every one of us builds up by using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. I asked myself: what do these avatars have to do with our real personalities?
RPB – What kind of camera did you use to make “Avatar”?
LC – The photographs were also taken by my iPhone.
RPB – The “heads” seem to gender-neutral, whereas in “Avatar” there are some markers of gender, could you expand on that? With “Avatar” are you trying to express issues about gender? Or bigger themes?
LC – No, I’m not. For me, the different levels of communication are the main topic of the series. The question has always been, is digital communication something different than a real, face-to-face communication between human beings?
RPB – There is a long history in photography of representing mannequins, puppets, or dolls—are you referencing other artists’ works? Think of the Surrealists, Vanessa Beecroft, Laurie Simmons, Hans Bellmer, etc.
LC – Of course, I am aware of these artists, the use of mannequins, and their relevance in art history. Bellmer and Cindy Sherman have been especially important for my series. But the most important influence is Oskar Schlemmer and his theories about the ideal human in space.
RPB – In a few sentences please tell us where you see your work heading?
LC– I see my work more and more questioning the world and developing into a bigger statement like a complete work subdivided into series and pieces as a part of the whole thing.