25 luty 2008
JOIA Magazine
Chile
Alvaro Fierro Nadales

GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN - INTERVIEW
"Finally we are living now in a society that is a combination of what Huxley foresaw in his "Brave new World" and Orwell in his "1984". We are caught in a stream of constant propaganda and we are under total surveillance. This is the Age of materialism, consumerism and decadence. Our heroes are idiots like trash-princess Paris Hilton, in their sad 15 minutes of fame. Children are shooting other children in schools before they kill themselves and in other parts of the world they blow themselves up in the middle of crowds. Doesn't that look like the end of a civilization, the second fall of Rome?"
Epiphany I (Adoration of the Magi)
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 1996
How do you remember your childhood in Vienna? How much did growing up in that era influence the development of your work?
Vienna was a bleak and sad place after the war. Many buildings were in ruins, and everybody was depressed and grouchy. As a little child I never saw anybody smile and I never heard anybody sing. I always had the feeling I had landed on the wrong planet, and I I was convinced I didn't belong to these people.
What I didn't know then was that my stupid ancestors had just lost the second world-war and participated in killing 50 million people and turning thousand years of great architecture into rubble.
The only art that I saw in my early childhood were paintings of tortured saints, bleeding martyrs, burning sacred hearts and holy corpses in cold churches, in which I spent quite some time.
My family was very Roman Catholic.
Your work manifests a particular vision of beauty. How would you define beauty?
Beauty and ugliness are very subjective. At different times and at different places, people have very different notions on what these are.
These terms change. I couldn't care less about what some mediocre society currently believes is beautiful or ugly. As an artist you have to make your own decisions. There is an independent system of aesthetic values that is deeply seated within you as an artist - and when you betray that you loose everything. You know when it happens.
That's the fundamental difference between aesthetics and beauty. Aesthetics remain constant. The idea of beauty changes and is subject to fashion. Like the difference between morals and ethics. Morals change from society to society, from time to time, but there is a basic concept of ethics that's universal for all human beings, and that doesn't change.
In post-modern society the issue of children is often used to highlight the degradation of humanity, but this can also be expressed with different themes, why do children feature prominently in your work? Does this respond to personal experience?
I don't know why, but since my early childhood I was obsessed with the idea of justice. When I learned what people of my country did to innocent people during the Nazi-regime, and how mass-murderers got away after the war and made big careers - everything stopped for me right there. I lost my trust in the world of grown-ups and their value system.
In a child the full potential of humane values and virtues, of innocence, trust, love, compassion and creativity is intact.
Children are sacred. But they are vulnerable and defenseless and depending on our fairness. And it seems that adults tend to betray that trust. In the sixties long before mass media ever mentioned child-abuse in Germany, I researched that subject and I saw hundreds of police-photographs of dead children's bodies, fragile, skinny, broken and sometimes deformed beyond recognition; tortured to death - mostly by their own relatives. I could never forget these pictures.
My work is about the struggle of human existence and children are the heroes of my visual narratives.
You have often cited Donald Duck and cartoons as a major source of inspiration, particularly in your earlier works.
In the agony of my childhood-limbo in post-war Vienna, Donald was my saviour. We had no children's books or comics. I guess some PR officer of the US occupational forces had the idea to publish Disney comics in Germany and Austria to introduce a good influence to us Nazi-kids. We were lucky because we got the stories of Donald Duck - created by the most important artist of the Disney studios and probably one of the best comic-artists of all times: Carl Barks.
Opening my first comic book and stepping on Duckburg's sacred soil was like seeing daylight again for someone who had been trapped underground by a mine-disaster for many days. I squinted cautiously because my eyes hadn't gotten used to the dazzlingly bright sun of Duckburg yet, and I greedily sucked the fresh breeze into my dusty lungs that came drifting over from Uncle Scrooge's money bin. I was back home again, in a decent world where one could get flattened by steam-rollers and perforated by bullets without serious harm. A world in which people still looked proper, with yellow beaks or black knobs instead of noses. And it was here that I met the man who would forever change my life - Donald Duck.
In your 2007 series, "The Disasters of War" there was a clear allusion to Asian contemporary cartoons, mixed with the theme of children in various situations. What can we say about this series? What does it reflect? Does it work as critique of contemporary society?
Exactly 200 years ago Francisco de Goya started his famous "Disasters of War" series, almost 100 drawings and sketches depicting the cruelties of war-torn Spain.
In memory of this great master I started my own "disasters of War" series.
I think as an artist you sometimes have to act as a witness and you have to deny people the right to be oblivious to these ongoing crimes and all that pain. You can't allow them to just go on with their lives and forget.
Today we learn of all the disasters through mass-media, mainly through electronic media, like television and the internet, and for most people it's almost impossible to distinguish between fact and fiction. Special effects in movies and videos usually appear to be more real than reality and all merges to a maelstrom of confusing and thrilling entertainment.
Our kids are growing up a world where death, torture and killing are just virtual incidents in computer-games.
Thats why I introduced Manga and other contemporary cartoon characters into my disasters and mixed them with real people.
What attitudes and characteristics of today's society call to you and provoke you the most?
Oh God, I don't know where to begin. Finally we are living now in a society that is a combination of what Huxley foresaw in his "Brave new World" and Orwell in his "1984". We are caught in a stream of constant propaganda and we are under total surveillance. This is the Age of materialism, consumerism and decadence. Our heroes are idiots like trash-princess Paris Hilton, in their sad 15 minutes of fame. Children are shooting other children in schools before they kill themselves and in other parts of the world they blow themselves up in the middle of crowds.
Doesn't that look like the end of a civilization, the second fall of Rome?
What was your relationship to Charles Bukowski and how did you come to have the opportunity to photograph him 3 years before his death?
We wrote letters to each other for a while and then I visited him in his house in California and I took a series of pictures of his amazing face, which to me looked like one of his poems.
How was your relationship with Andy Warhol? What can you tell us about his personality and his work?
End of the 70ties I met him in Vienna and in Germany and 1983 Andy invited me to the factory in New York and after the usual compliments how he loved my work and so on, he asked me to follow him into an empty room where we sat down opposite to each other and he just froze and he didn't say anything and he didn't move. We sat in silence for some time and I didn't know what to do - at first it was strange and it felt kind of awkward, but then slowly everything started to transcend and the tension dissipated and nothing seemed important anymore. Andy looked like a wax-dummy in the posture of a pharaoh that had been dead since thousands of years - the room around us became darker and darker and the white of Andy's face and hair got a glow so intense that it started to burn my eyes. I realized that we were floating now somewhere in outer space and nothing mattered anymore and I raised my Nikon and shot.
William Burroughs referred to you as a "master of surprised recognition."
How is that related to the fact that your work is recognized and admired through out the world?
My work always polarized. It seldom leaves People indifferent, in my experience usually they are exited or touched and moved by it, but some are upset and some hate it.
You have worked in the art world for many years and have worked in many of its branches, so you have had the opportunity to observe its development quite closely. What do you see as the key factors in the evolution of the contemporary art market?
Since the 80ies the international art-scene evolved into a kind of stock-market. Art today is mainly seen as a smart investment and the nouveau rich use names of artists as trophies, as brand-names like Gucci or Chanel to impress and gain social status. It's part of the process of cultural decay of our society, but I think that's changing already, more and more are looking for art that has substance and meaning.
You have worked extensively with Marilyn Manson in the past and you have become rather good friends through your collaboration; how was the celebration of his wedding to Dita Von Teese?
Manson is a dear friend of mine and he is very close to my heart. He is a sensitive, inspiring and incredibly gifted poetic being. And I also love Dita, her sincerity, beauty, honesty and innocence always impresses me. The wedding at our Irish castle was a beautiful and strange event, I'll always remember.
How well do you know America? Do you have any relationship with Chile?
Well I know the United States to some extent, because I have lived there on and off since 1977. Around 2001 I settled in Los Angeles, where I have a studio now. Most of my friends are from America, many of them are from Mexico and some from Argentina and other South American countries. But if you believe it or not - the only spanish speaking country that I ever visited so far was Nicaragua.
And regarding Chile: I always followed the political and social development closely, ever since Alliende won the election and through all the following sad events.
English translation from Spanish
2007
The Disasters of War 3
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 2007, 200 x 293 cm / 78 x 115''
Original version in Spanish:




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