Alice Könitz


Mm: When did you move to Los Angeles, and what brought you there?

AK: After finishing art school in Düsseldorf at the end of 1996 I started renting a studio in Cologne. I had my first gallery show at Luis Campaña Gallery in Cologne. I applied for a travel grant to see what living in a far away place was like. The decision to go to Los Angeles was based on the geographic conditions; the desert and the ocean, and the fact that I could enroll in a graduate school. I went to Cal Arts. [...]

What does your studio look like?

It’s a prefabricated metal structure with a roll up door, I share it with other artists. I like to arrange as much floor and wall space as possible.

What materials do you consistently work with or collect?

I use construction paper, Chromolux paper, plexiglas mirrors, cardboard, rocks, wood, film and video. I also use plaster, clay, bricks and cement.

What is your studio process like; do the pieces arrive from a more fluid, exploratory place? Or are they planned out?

More exploratory than planned, both really. A lot of work develops from traveling and driving around, observing landscapes, or particular objects or images. Some exhibitions developed from thinking about specific aspects of the exhibition space - imagining what kind of work would alter the given situation into a certain direction. Sometimes I discover specific material qualities that I would like to simulate, or materials that I would like to use. I make a lot of sketches, drawings, and cardboard maquettes.

You often use lightweight and impermanent materials (Styrofoam, paper, cardboard, hot glue) to create sculptures that employ strong looking, monumental design sensibilities. Can you address that duality?
[...] I actually don’t like using [hot glue], except for temporarily holding something in place. Hot glue deteriorates fast and is messy. That said, I did make sculptures out of melamine board, foam core, construction paper, etc. This has to do with my work process and with the idea that these sculptures are representations of possibly existing objects. Sometimes the materials stand in for other materials, but since the objects I’m making are completely invented, it’s hard to say what these materials would be. In this sense, the reflective cast coated silver paper works better than the polished metal, which it was meant to imitate at some point. I like using materials like acrylic felt, construction paper, etc. because they look ‘unreal’, like something that would only function in a model world. Because most of my work is specifically intended to be shown in a protected space and it’s made to be looked at, not used, I have the advantage of being able to use any material I like, without having to bother too much with the effects of weather, use, or vandalism.

One of your pieces, OLLIE, is comprised of several interlocking disks adding up to a larger whole. Each piece has the same cut lengths on each side, suggesting that this pattern has the potential to be infinitely adapted or extended. Interlocking shapes (both circular and hexagonal) and lattice/ honeycomb pattern appear in many of your other works as well. Where did your use of pattern originate? What does it signify to you?

The use of pattern originated in picking up simple recurring shapes from my environment. For a while I arranged these shapes in patterns to create a background for drawings of owls. I also created my own shapes. I like things to have an inner logic in terms of construction that could theoretically be extended or reproduced. OLLIE (or Icon) is part of a series of sculptures that I made in reference to common patterns, or geometric figures that are part of a public knowledge, while their origins seem relatively obscure. I’m interested in the fact that I’m familiar with them and that they evoke certain contexts, but still remain vague to me. I’d like to build an archive of them to possibly help me understand relations between these objects.

You were in an exhibition last year titled Sun Zoom Spark , showing two sculptures and a video piece, The Premonition. Could you talk about this video?

For a long time I had wanted to make a video of people and their pets crossing the Los Angeles River. There’s a mythical element associated with the crossing of a river and I had wanted to capture this by filming people walking through the Los Angeles River with rubber boots, carrying their pets to the other side. This was in part inspired by observing people with all kinds of exotic animals like boa constrictors, ferrets, cockatoos, lizards, etc. walking through downtown Los Angeles. It turned out to be difficult to get people to even bring cats into close proximity to dogs, so I settled on making a film about a group of people traveling on a raft to meet up with another group of people further downstream. I’m interested in the river as a geographical site in the middle of a city. It’s history as the stream of water that made Los Angeles possible in the first place while now relating to the city as something external to it.

With titles referring to furniture (Magazine Table, Circle Lamp, Hexagon Chandelier, Table for a Family of Three Smokers) , it comes with little surprise that your sculptures appear as props in your video work. In The Premonition, they are almost begging for human interaction, or to be “used” in some way. What is the relationship between your sculptures and films? How do they inform one another?

I became interested in making sculptures that were determined by a hypothetical use-value to create parameters for formal decisions, and to relate them to everything else in my environment. Of course, as soon as you single them out as sculptures they’re not part of everything else at all anymore, no matter how much they might look like functional objects. In order to deal with these questions of definition and belonging I started making videos to place my sculptures into a specific context. The films create situations in which the sculptures have very specific functions. For Premonition I needed a device that would allow one to have a view up and down the Los Angeles River without having to turn ones head. In the film you see two people ‘operating’ the mirrored sculpture. It turns out that they don’t only see up and down the stream, but they can also foresee what happens toward the end of the film. My first video, Owl Society, was based on a sculpture that would partially obstruct your view of what was going on behind it. It became a partition that structured the three acts of a filmed theater play that was written around the sculpture and the costumes.

Your sculptures are influenced by modernist furniture, and the titles of your pieces suggest functionality (table, lamp, etc.), yet you are creating non-functional objects. Do you see a middle ground between “art object” and “functional object”? Perhaps this is where prop, or relic, exists? How (if at all) has the Bauhaus influenced your work? Buckminster Fuller?

I have used the language of modernist design in my work, because it made sense in the specific context. One show had a lot of modernist furniture looking pieces. It was called “Two Proud Society Spouses Are Reclining on Contemporary Furniture As A Golden-Eyed Ghost Lady Looks Over The Coffee Tables “, exploring the 'utopian space’ of a California lifestyle magazine, which I had used as a background to make collages. The reference to furniture establishes a hypothetical open ended narrative. You could call the pieces props, in the sense that they are objects that establish loose narratives. I have a problem with the word though, because the sculptures are the very thing that I want to get from the narrative. You could also call the narrative a prop for the sculpture.

You have also made installations that call for public interaction. One of the most significant exchanges was with Raffle Sculpture, a piece that doubled as a receptacle for raffle tickets that viewers could purchase at the museum shop during the 2008 Whitney Biennial. The winning ticket boasted airfare and a three-night hotel stay in Los Angeles, in order to view an area of unfinished, debris-strewn highway. To you, what is the relationship between the sculptural work that exists in the gallery and this piece of unremarkable land?

The lottery for the Whitney Biennial came closest to something with an actual use value within a set situation. I saw the entire lottery, including the winners journey to Los Angeles as part of an art, or a theater piece, taking place over a long, not completely determined time period. When I first moved to Los Angeles, the Glendale Freeway overpass was one of the things I found remarkable about the city. It was right there with La Brea Tar Pits, the river, and the Bonaventure Hotel. When driving onto the freeway, I noticed a vast empty lot. It was there for a moment next to me, and then behind me. I drove by for a few months before I decided to park the car near the entrance to see what this was about. It was possible to climb up to the unfinished highway and watch the cars speeding by without even being noticed. It seemed like a secret place right in the middle of the city. A friend mentioned a novel by JG Ballard, called Concrete Island. It talks about a similar situation. I was fascinated by the place for years, and I thought about installing an elevator to the top of the overpass. I’d still love to do this! When I was invited to take part in the Whitney Biennial I thought of a way to connect the overpass to New York. The sculptures at the Whitney Museum marked a satellite station that connected a widely acknowledged cultural gathering spot with a location that’s relatively undetermined, and officially almost unacknowledged. There’s no formal relationship between the site and the sculpture, the sculptures are related to a travel agency or a lottery. The raffle sculpture tries to emulate a somewhat dated casino style by using faux leather. The plaster sculpture relates to traveling in a mystical sense, the table features a modified travel magazine. The artworks at the Biennial were used to determine a potential visitor to this site.

What do you perceive to be the tone of your sculptures; do you see them as optimistic, pessimistic? Cynical or Utopian? Cautionary? Or none, or all of these things?

I don’t perceive them as cautionary as much as all the other adjectives. I think they’re funny, too.

Referencing modernist furniture, models, props, Art, systems of consumption and outdated utopian agendas, the power of your work is derived from this multiplicity of forms that defies easy categorization. Does it bother you when people try to distill down or compartmentalize your work by applying one narrative or specific reading to it?

Yes, this happens. People like to pin it down to a critique of design, which in some respect it is, but it doesn’t end there. There’s a multiplicity of meaning. Sometimes it’s nice when people introduce me to other possible readings. [...]

Can you share the best and worst responses you have gotten to your work?

The most devastating one was when my Professor Hubert Kiecol walked into the classroom to critique my work, and walked right out and went home when he saw my sculpture. I enjoyed how my self distilled room spray that I showed at a small Kunstverein in Northern Germany last fall got used up very fast.

How do literary works influence your work?

There are some direct influences taken from essays about art and architecture. I love reading novels, but they rarely enter my work, or maybe they do on a less obvious level. I try to avoid influence that is too direct and dominant. It tends to flatten out the artwork. Maybe the book that most influenced my work was Kafka’s Amerika, which I read the summer after graduating from high school, before I started studying art. My most direct interaction with literature was the theater play that I pieced together from a number of modern classic and contemporary playwrights for the video Owl Society that I mentioned above. It amounted to a simple narrative that worked with the structural givens of stage, costumes, and location.

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck with you?

Paul Thek at the UCLA Hammer museum.

Any upcoming shows or projects to tell us about?

I’m one of six artists invited to design one of six stages for an opera called Crescent City. The set that I’m designing is a swamp in which a judgement scene takes place. I’m also planning to build a museum outside of my studio, and there’ll be a residency in Groningen, Holland.

How do you take your coffee?

With lots of coconut milk.

**Alice Könitz was born in Essen-Werden, Germany. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Her work has been exhibited at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, Villa Arzon in Nice, LAX Art Los Angeles, The UCLA Hammer Museum Los Angeles, the London Institute, London, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Hudson Franklin Gallery in New York, Elizabeth Dee Gallery in New York, Wallspace Gallery in New York and many other places. Her work has been reviewed in Artforum, Frieze magazine, Flash Art, Sculpture magazine, Art and Text, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other magazines and newspapers. Her work is featured in the catalogue The Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture by the Saatchi Gallery.

More about Alice can be found on her website:**