WOLFGANG HUBER LANG | Interview With Marko Zink | I Want To Close The Circle Between Painting And Film | Vorarlberg-born Artist Marko Zink Talks About His New Series “Olympia”
Q: Marko Zink, did calendars play a big role in your life before this project?
A: They always have. It started with my grandfather who always had this Hundred Years Farmers’ Almanac with sayings of wisdom and country sayings. This calendar’s shape was quite practical, fitting into every pocket. And my grandmother had a tear-off calendar for the entire year with each page having a recipe on the back, a “love is…”-saying, an aphorism or something like that. Whenever my grandmother liked something, she tore it off and put it onto my breakfast plate. This is how I grew up. One may find such calendars bourgeois, but somehow they are quite charming.
Q: Some years ago, the traditional calendar form playfully made its entry into the modern cultural worlds of advertisement and everyday life. Of course, what comes to my mind are the Young Farmer’s Calendars, which produced much offspring in various forms. The common element, however, is the combination of naked skin and certain professions. Which aspects thereof have found their way into your “Olympia”-series?
A: At first glance, these calendars are extremely amusing. Apparently, they are primarily bought by heterosexual women. No matter what anyone says, these calendars are of course nothing else than a certain, very blunt way of pornography, with phallic objects and naked torsos. I wanted to address this approach very stereotypically. But a bare male torso is perceived less sexually than a stripped-off female body.
Q: In your series, you have used the element of nudity in various ways, sometimes also very explicit in different ways. What was the underlying concept?
A: There are two figures shown in explicit nudity. I have joined different chats and have assumed several aliases, which was a fun but also productive spin to the series. Most of the explicit questions such as the one regarding the size of the privy parts were posed when using the aliases “Black Male” and “Sergeant” or “Bundesheertyp”. This is why I have specifically chosen these names. What is important: Whoever takes my work for what it is, may be on the wrong track. All my work somehow plays with irony and jokes. When I was studying literature, I could at some point no longer avoid the comedy theories, from Aristophanes to Dürrenmatt. I was completely enthused by the irony of their works, because it does not fit any category. After the first look, one has to let my work rest for a while. If you look at it once more after that, you will hopefully notice its humour – and then you will also grasp its concept. For me, this the crucial point of this series. In my view, art always asks: Why? Why is there something disturbing in a picture? Art which puts me in a safe place is less exciting for me. Nothing is worse than a picture leaving you at ease or even cold.
Q: The “Olympia”-series consists of 13 subjects. What do these 13 positions represent?
A: The series marks a caesura in my work. Before, I used to play with hiding places, now it is, for the first time, about different roles and stereotypes. The starting point dates back a long time ago, but it has never left me. The much appraised movie “Brokeback Mountain” was met with standing ovations. But I myself was quite annoyed that the story took place in the 1960s, because it makes you believe that in today’s Texas, gay cowboys are better off. This only makes me laugh. It would have been more courageous to set the story in this day and age. My series is current and classical at the same time. “Olympia” refers to heroic presentations of athletes in ancient times, to their toned bodies. I tried to remove these corporal aesthetics, these Olympic contenders from their pedestal in order to transfer them to modern days.
Q: Even though we see a footballer, a horseman and a tennis player, it is not always about athletes.
A: It is about roles which – at times – display a very clear reference to virility. The soldier, the lumberjack, the hunter, the cowboy, but for example also the gardener, who ever so often turns out to be the murderer in detective stories, from the French New Wave to Hitchcock. There are always attributes which refer to a phallus or neutralise the stereotype such as the Dyson vacuum cleaner. Or I let the cowboy assume a very feminine pose, allowing him to bend his leg and hold his boot. There are sufficient photographers putting the perfect male body in the focus, with its toned muscles and unbuttoned shirts. This is exactly what I wanted to contest.
Q: And who are the models posing with masks?
A: It is always the same: All these shoots are self-portraits. But sometimes I exercised a lot before the shooting, sometime I ate a lot. Thanks to advertisement, we are used to a slender and athletic human image. Often, I come to think: What are they doing to us by promoting this exaggerated cult of the body? For it also reminds us of other times, just think of Leni Riefenstahl’s work. It is for this reason that I find the masks so fascinating. This is not the first series with masks that I made and also the world of fashion is full of them. In my case, it results from curiosity, it takes inspiration from the circus world. Thus, it was just logical for me to use masks which represent stereotypes and, moreover, are vintage products. This is why, for example, the representation of an Asian or a black person is permissible and should not be interpreted in a racist way. All this was part of the carnival festivities in my childhood. I myself once dressed up as a punk…
Q: How does “Olympia” with its mixture of installation, concept and photography fit into your oeuvre created so far?
A: I have not been gifted with the talent of a painter. There came a point when I had to be honest with myself and tell myself: This does not make sense. In the past in Vorarlberg, I was also active as a writer because I have always been fascinated by literature. It was Ingo Springenschmid who introduced me to photography and at first, I did not at all understand what concepts were. A gorgeous portrait photo was art. A beautiful landscape scenery was art. Until I read up on the history of art the history of photography. Today, I know that art and concept need to form an entity. In order to understand why I take photos, it is important to know photography always had the reputation to water down painting, a criticism also uttered by Susan Sontag, who once supported photography, once contested it: When photography entered the market, it meant that all of a sudden everybody could be an artist. I have always considered photography as an individual artistic medium. Otherwise, we would also have to deny film its unique artistic character, because it has evolved from photography. However, painting has the additional benefit that you can play with colours, with perspectives. Therefore, I have tried to make photography more pictorial. This is why I started cooking the film and had a real recipe book in the past. By now, I have learned how long you have to cook a film at a certain iso-number in order to obtain the desired effect. For that reason, the colours are so extreme that they almost resemble digital photography. But in fact, everything is analogue and has not even been manually refinished. But in the meantime, the photos need to be scanned as otherwise I could no longer print them. And I also have to scan the negatives for data back-up, because due to the cooking process, they dissolve after a certain amount of time. Narrative photography, this kind of staged photography, has over the past years become so big that I have exactly defined the choice of this narration for myself: in order to place photography in a corner of the movies. The way the photo looks, it may also be painting – but its content may resemble a movie. I want to close the circle between painting and film.
Q: Did you use self-timer or did you work with assistants?
A: Both. Also because there will be four short movies. I have embraced filming since 2010. There is a short movie for each calendar quarter, one about the gardener, one about the hunter, about the Asian and about the tennis player. The photos were shot simultaneously with the movies. For each movie, there was only one setting, all of them are one-shots. But in one case, we needed 30 takes, because there was an airfield nearby and we had to deal with the airplane noise. That was a never-ending nuisance. And then I thought that I would never be able to produce an entire feature film. But actually, I would love to do that.
Q: US artist Matthew Barney enacts movies which share the mixture of artificiality and theatrics and staging with your work. You never know what you will get, but one thing is for sure: It is not going to be reality.
A: In terms of its colouring, the series has a surreal element. It is no coincidence that I refer to the French New Wave with this work, which was entirely shot without studio light. Certain elements almost make you believe that the series or parts thereof were made in the 1950s. The series would not have worked for me if it had been shot indoors. For me, the private-public space is in the focus. The Young Farmer’s Calendar, to come back to it, very often uses public space, although they are staged in a way that it makes you laugh. In my series “Schwimmer” I enacted natural moments with clothes: A dress drifting in the water that it resembles a sea shell. Somehow, this was a Darwinesque reference: Where did we evolve from? In “Olympia”, I add the Gods, who were the rulers of humans and animals. The reference to nature is apparent, because the environment is often very unsophisticated, rural and, of course, professions such as farmer or lumberjack are rather set in bucolic surroundings.
Q: Did the shootings not cause an uproar with the locals?
A: I found it very exciting to choose football or tennis pitches, also because I deliberately took the risk that people may be watching. That was also a challenge for me: How far can I go? For me, this series was extremely bold. It was difficult for me when Nan Goldin took photos of the private family she had chosen and of the gaunt bodies of people infected with HIV. But I also really liked the fact that nothing was staged anymore. But she always excluded herself and never took a self-portrait – up until the moment when she was beaten up by her partner. She called the series “Ballad of sexual dependency”. I thought it was a brilliant piece of art. And I thought: There comes a point in the life of every artist when they have to strip everything off and have to project everything onto themselves. And this is what I have done in “Olympia”.