April 2017 Artist in Residence: Claudia Weber

This month we are welcoming Claudia Weber as our artist-in-residence! 

Claudia Weber is a German artist who currently works between Chicago and New York, where her mixed-media projects have been featured at White Columns, Thierry Goldberg, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, and Wave Hill, among other venues. She has also shown nationally and internationally, including Vox Populi, Philadelphia; Inés Barrenechea Gallery, Madrid; Croxhapox, Ghent; 5533 Space, Istanbul; and Kunstraum Bethanien, Berlin. In 2009 Weber was the recipient of the Workspace Residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) in New York, and in 2011 she became a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. More recently she was awarded a Travel and Study Grant by the Jerome Foundation, and a project grant by the Puffin Foundation.

Over the last years Weber has expanded her art practice, which now includes an ongoing photographic observation of New York’s Financial District. She is also the founding editor of Plot, an online platform dedicated to the narrative networks of images, which was launched in 2015: www.plot.online

Read our Q & A with Claudia to get some insight into her practice.

Looking through your website, you have created a lot of work! What keeps you motivated to keep creating and keep interest in the projects you work on?

A couple of years ago I found an Icebreaker candy container on the street and discovered that it offered two openings. The “to share” lid was significantly smaller then its “not to share” counterpart. I thought that this might be a useful example to understand my continued interest in and concern with the economic forces of late capitalism, and how its ideologies shape products and spaces, and eventually the users’ perception, with the end goal to reinforce a social order that keeps the status quo in place.

In my works I want to address these sometimes very creative expressions of economic ideologies, and discuss them through a chosen object or space. And for each of them I start from scratch. For example, what work can I develop for a building that was nicknamed “Nonesuch” by its original owner, a wealthy businessman, and is now a not-for-profit art space? How can this title’s spectrum of connotations, the “unique” and that “which doesn’t exist,“ both lead to a deeper philosophical reflection on our value system?

In another example I experimented with the name of an upscale beauty product (i.e. a face cream) that was called “Take the Day Off.” I appropriated its title and drafted from its command a one page declaration that ask the staff of the gallery in which my work was shown, to take a paid day off.

It is these kinds of questions or experiments that keep me working, because I want to see what other questions or responses come out of them.

This isn’t your first run with a residency. You had a very long Workspace residency with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in New York. What was that experience like? What did you learn from that time that you’re going to be bringing to this residency?

The LMCC provides artists and writers with office spaces in New York’s Financial District for nine months. The residency also comes with weekly salons and studio visits. And because of my interest in the creative powers of the economy, I was very inspired by the hybrid character of my office/art studio. From my windows I could see straight into the open floor layouts of the office tower across the street. And the workers there could look into my studio, seeing me building a super tall tripod, photographing from the ceiling down, and in a final act, blocking the windows with architectural foam: Spatially we were so close, but conceptually and creatively I think, we couldn’t have been further apart. This tension ended up leading to its own installation project, I Prefer To.

So what did I learn there that I am bringing to Latitude’s residency? To embrace the specifics of each residency and its community and let it influence my work.

As a mixed-media artist, how do you choose which medium will become the dominating factor in a series? How do these different mediums bring cohesiveness to your work?

I have realized many of my works in or with places that are very different from the typical white cube gallery. They included an office space, a former mansion’s sunroom, an artist studio, a living room, etc., and they often come with a set of existing sculptural elements (i.e. a carpet, panned windows that look out onto a garden, existing art materials, furniture, etc.). We all know these space types and their material expressions, and are so conditioned to them that we hardly think about how they help to reinforce the status quo. For me the context and materiality of each space triggers a different approach, and raises different philosophical questions, and that is what finally guides me in my material and media choices. The selection can range from raw to processed to discarded materials, to found or store-bought objects, to photographic prints, but also texts, experimental guided tours, etc.

I would say, that in my art practice there is never one medium that dominates the others; the tiniest object (e.g. a cashew nut placed in the gap of a disjointed window) and the biggest print are equally important for a work. I have this work philosophy that I pay attention to the tiniest details, be it the material that is already in the space, or material that I bring in. This approach makes sure that everything has its voice. That doesn’t mean it is an uncontrolled screaming from all sides but rather that I provide a syntax through which they can all be connected and equally participate.

I therefore think that it is mainly my philosophical and political orientation, and my attempt to maneuver all materials into a close and experimental collaboration that brings the media together and creates a cohesiveness, or let’s maybe call it balance.

From growing up in Germany and now living in the United States, what has the international travel taught you? How do these experiences influence your work?

Having lived in the US for quite some time now, I feel like I have reached this conundrum, where I am too American to be German, and too German to be American. While this can be an exhausting state to be in, I also admit that I have actively steered myself into this condition, since it provides a tension that is helpful for my work. It constantly requires me to compare the two countries and reflect on their differences.

What will you be working on during your residency at LATITUDE?

I will be working on Share (tentative title), a long-term photographic study of New York’s Financial District, that began in 2013, and currently consists of over 20,000 photographs. It is still difficult for me to talk about this work because the images haven’t been exhibited yet, and the associations that people might have with this neighborhood (which includes Wall Street) might trigger certain visual stereotypes and assumptions. But this was also exactly the reason why I started this project: To build up a different body of imagery that takes a deeper, more philosophical look into the complexities of this oldest neighborhood of New York, and its rapid transformation from financial center to luxury residential enclave.

While Share is definitely a departure from my art practice until now, both in photographic approach and scope, I also see it as a logical continuation of my inquiry into the formal and material details of the built environment and the ways the forces of late capitalism work to shape our daily lives.

To sum it up, this project has come a long way. Its first seeds were planted during my nine-month Workspace Residency with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in 2009/2010, but it took me a few more years to push my practice to be able to take on this endeavor.

Are there any books, movies, magazines or podcasts that you would recommend people check out?

In the end of 2015 I founded Plot (http://www.plot.online), an online platform dedicated to the narrative networks of images. As its managing editor I do a lot of research, checking out other projects that also address image culture. Here are two that stand out for me:

Still Searching... a continually growing online discourse by the Fotomuseum Winterthur (Switzerland) on the media of photography featuring multiple participants. It adopts many of the features of an ordinary blog, but turns them against the spectacle, offering an intellectually challenging and interactive discussion on all aspects of the photographic.

Circulation Exchange: An online writing project by Kate Palmer Albers that is devoted to contemporary art practices that engage with our current world of moving photographic images (i.e. not moving images as in film, but images moving through space, between friends, across platforms, from digital to material space and back again). http://circulationexchange.org/

On top of that, I recommend the movie Tony Erdman by German filmmaker Maren Ade (2016), a deadpan and hilarious study of generational conflicts and capitalism’s influence on the social fabric.

Lastly, if people were interested in traveling to Germany, where would you suggest they go? What food should they try out? Where should they go to experience the art community?

I will actually travel to Germany this summer, and there are many good reasons to visit: DOCUMENTA 14, which only takes place every five years, opens in Kassel from June 10–September 17, 2017 (there are related exhibitions in Athens from April 8–July 16, 2017). There is also Skulptur Projekte Münster, an extensive exhibition for sculptures in public spaces that takes place every ten years.

Berlin itself has so many art communities that I wouldn’t know where to start.
But there is a good exhibition newsletter called INDEX that provides information about openings across the city: http://www.indexberlin.de . And don’t forget to check out Motto Berlin, a store dedicated to books, magazines, artists’ publication and editions.

Considering German food, well, there are many dishes that are great, but my personal favorites are:

1. White asparagus. It only grows between late April and June and is totally different from the green version you can buy in stores in the US. It is often eaten wrapped in a slice of ham with hollandaise sauce.

2. Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (Green Sauce), which is a kind of yoghurt sauce made with seven fresh herbs. It is popular in the region around Frankfurt. It is served cold and usually combined with boiled eggs or meat and potatoes.

3. Fresh German plum pie in the early Fall.