Words by Anthony Thomas
Look around, what do you see? People, objects, colours? All of those things and more no doubt. Now take another look but this time put your abstract goggles on. You see the same objects but what do they simultaneously occupy and create? Space. It’s this concept that Berlin-based artist and photographer, Andreas Schimanski, has devoted a lifetime to understanding.
Schimanski describes space, as an abstract description of our environment and that it doesn’t actually exist. I’m eager for an elaboration on this. “Of course there is space on your table, in your home and city. But does that define you? Space doesn’t exist as a fixed dimension within four borders. In my work I am following a concept of space that is not only defined by Euclidean geometry.”
Under this definition, space knows no limits. It could be the natural, built or digital environment, the same as it could be a geographical, historical, financial or psychological space. This vitalic fascination with space is hardly a coincidence either. Schimanski previously studied and worked as an architect before crossing disciplines into fine art.
Artistic practise is inherently experimental, so it’s odd to come across a quote describing Schimanski’s work as carefree and light-hearted. He agrees, “Being in the studio (with) my reasoning and scrutinising while working on something doesn’t feel carefree and light-hearted to me. There are too many questions, trials, energies and feelings in the work before it’s there.”
Where some artists go to great lengths to keep their studio practise from the eyes of the public, Schimanski forgoes this privacy preferring a transparent approach to his almost scientific creation process. “You could call it a sketchbook. I’d rather call it a lab, a lab of perpetual change. The results are constantly complemented, converted, condemned thus articulating my mindset and stance toward the image. You can follow my mode of operation, what I am investigating, which images I am occupied by and how I try to respond to it.”
For an artist so preoccupied with space, naturally, I’m curious about his perceptions of galleries. “I like galleries and exhibiting, I am just not exclusive to them. An exhibition works for like a container, where the viewer experiences the space in relation to the work. Most of all it is an experience of the room, possibly shaped by the objects and other art works exhibited.”
He chooses to detail all the variables involved in experiencing the Mona Lisa as example. Telling me the other viewers, light incidence, photographers, security and space itself all play a role even before accounting for the work itself. More succinctly, “So an image in a space is not just an image. (It) forces you to examine, associate and establish a relationship all in a defined space and within us.”
Interestingly, Schimanski has said the average viewing time in a gallery is ten seconds. I ask him if he would consider exhibiting the same image six times to force a minute of engagement. “I don’t want to force anybody to watch art. I’d rather take the picture and create five different versions of it. Deconstruct it, fragment it. Instead of all the layers on one canvas, I could break it down, lay them out in six spaces and present them a sequence to pass by or walk through.”
And what about in the buyer’s home, does the work become about the actual image or how the painting interacts with the rest of the room? “Living with a work of mine is opening an additional room in your life. Of course, this new space will immediately start to interact, interfere and intermit with everything that define the human existence. Your home, lifestyle, taste and mood but from what I can do it is just the actual image that I produce, everything else if your own influence on the work.”
To talk about space from an educated and philosophical perspective provides limitless avenues for conversation but when trying to communicate that into an effective message understood by audiences does it translate? Are they aware of these spaces? As with all higher end thinking, it’s debatable yet Schimanski remains optimistic.
“Space is a basic condition of life, beginning in the womb. We have an inner and an outer space, which is always determined by culture. Even a suit or dress (for example) is personal spaces to express or shelter yourself. It is positioning the person in a social, cultural and economic space.” He gives an example of his own circumstances and the space they place him in before continuing, “I like to make myself aware of it and investigate it. (It) all makes me curious to explores spaces with art. Though I can’t tell what a viewer likes about my work or what he/she sees or it makes him/her feel.”
Schimanski told me previously he was out in the German countryside working on a project. It sounded interesting so I thought I’d ask what he was working on. “I’m exploring space on canvas with a new approach – just painting on canvas fabric without a frame and hanging the pure linen casually on walls with all its wrinkles and crinkles as they appear due to gravity.”
Another day, another exploration (what Schimanski prefers to calls his painting) it would seem. His career has wound its way through architecture, photography and painting, yet his journey seems to have hardly begun. Just as the galaxy above us occupies infinite potential for exploration, so too does Schmanski’s art. I’m not typically one for clichés but the “sky’s the limit” has never seemed more appropriate.