The Aesthetic of Consumer’s Culture: An Interview with Josephine Meckseper

by Carla Ingrasciotta
August 29, 2017
Carla Ingrasciotta

On the occasion of her first solo show in Mexico City, we interviewed artist Josephine Meckseper to give us a preview of the works she is going to display at Proyectos Monclova. The exhibition is opening on September 22, 2017, coinciding with the Gallery Weekend.
Josephine Meckseper was born in Lilienthal, Germany and she currently lives and works in New York City.

Carla Ingrasciotta: Let’s start from the artworks you’re presenting on the occasion of your first Mexican exhibition. Could you tell us about the creative process? Where did you take inspiration from?

Josephine Meckseper: The exhibition is in some ways an introduction to my work to an audience in Mexico City, as it is my first show here. I am therefor going to show mixture of works, a large colorful glass and steel vitrine, painted wooden sculptures, a shelf work, and paintings on denim material, as well as a large wall assemblage work. There is also going to be a new mirrored floor installation and a video work.

C.I.: Your art has a strong reference to the modernist masters and to the concepts of readymade, consumerism and the material culture. In which way do you develop these references? How do you translate these ideas into your art?

J.M.: The shop windows and vitrines in my work reflect the role of the artist in our current consumer society and point to the instability of capitalism and post-Fordian society. But aside the cultural critique, there is a literary and philosophical approach in my work, a sense of storytelling with objects and capturing life in all its manifestations.
In the subsequent steel and glass vitrines, a melding of the aesthetic language of modernism with the formal language of commercial display came into play. The design of the display cases themselves draws a direct correlation to the way our consumer culture has historically shaped industrial production and how early modernism and the avant-garde developed into a form of political and aesthetic resistance to classism and capitalism. As installations and a container for consumer goods, they were intended to look like protest “targets” and often included broken mirrors. Shop windows, art historical and political artifacts are faced together as they are in everyday life. They are a fragment of our time and take into consideration “the split second” that allows us to shift our perception and to imagine a counter universe.

C.I.: What about your background? How did you get to the art practice?

J.M.: My hometown of Worpswede is a utopian artist colony founded at the beginning of the twentieth century, with a rare combination of Jugendstil, German Expressionist and modernist architecture. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a book about the town and Rainer Werner Fassbinder shot one of his films in my friend’s house next door to mine. My great-grand uncle, the artist and revolutionary Henrich Vogeler was one of its founders. Rainer Maria Rilke was a close friend of Vogeler’s and wrote a book about him and the town.
Both of my parents are artists too. Since I was two, I have painted, written and played instruments.

C.I.: You were born in Germany but currently live and work in New York. Why did you decide to move? Do you think New York is a stimulating place for an artist to live? Do you miss your hometown and in which way?

J.M.: Around 1990 when I was living between Tuscany and Berlin, I met a group of American artists and became interested in exploring that continent to pursue the conceptual direction I was interested in. I studied at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Los Angeles where I subsequently finished my master’s degree. One of the first videos I shot in the US is of a twenty-four-hour happening, coinciding with the Rodney King riots, on a rooftop in Los Angeles.
When I finished college, I was uninterested in exhibiting in galleries. Instead I started the conceptual magazine project FAT. The magazine offered scope for work of a more subversive kind. I set it up with a handful of friends in New York in the early ’90s. Sylvère Lotringer wrote for the first issue in 1994 and illustrations of artworks by Monica Bonvicini, Sam Durant, and Jason Rhoades were fitted into a stereotype boulevard design.
Around 2003, at the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I began filming the ongoing anti-war and anti-capitalist protests in the streets of New York and the surrounding urban shop window displays. The objects create a tension between their own materiality and the illusion of an urban landscape of infinite demand and supply. They also explore the relationship of the vitrine window and the objects to viewers, as well as to an abstract world outside of our human perception.

C.I.: How is your typical day as an artist? Where do you collect the everyday materials you use for your works?

J.M.: I think we are born with our ideas. The less distraction from mainstream media I have, the better I can let my ideas rise to the surface. Everything revolves around the creative process rather than the other way around. When I’m not making art, I write fiction and poetry. I write best in transit or in public spaces. The subway, which I only take occasionally, is one of my favorite places to write. Observing people on trains can be very inspiring. Most of the materials I use in my work are from stores in my neighborhood on the Lower Eastside and Chinatown.

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