The following text is made up of two conversations with artist Florian Germann held on August 7, 2013, at Bullingerhof Park, and November 23, 2013, near Lochergut, in preparation for his contribution in Torrent No. 2. Linda Jensen and Florian Germann had a chat about his research processes and skimmed through his source materials. The next issue will include a commentary by the artist on the below mentioned materials, thus, for now, the many omitted images. Check back on the site in May 2014!
The Wendigo National Park River Project is Germann’s fictive scheme revolving around a national park, having carried out research on geological phenomena (e.g. recreating scenarios where one can experience the pyroelectric ability of the mineral Tourmaline or a machine that creates stalagmite-like forms in wax) and forest ranger iconography. A talented alchemist, Germann subverts the norm, tweaking our imagination to believe otherwise. To see a repertoire of his practice visit his gallery page here.
Linda Jensen: The word Wendigo has two definitions. There’s the mythical creature from the Native Americans, that either looks like Sasquatch or Big Foot or some interpret it to have owl eyes. And there’s this idea that it is a spirit that takes over a person?!
Florian Germann: For me the word Wendigo represents a transformation. In the story and the park there are different stages of consciousness. Like a membrane you have different sites, seeing different types of language. The forms can be seen or you can see something else, you always have a transformation. This is the core of the national park.
LJ: Have you been travelling and visiting national parks in America?
FG: I have never been to America, it’s a dream to go. I was searching for a place where I could place my geological ideas. Like a movie maker I have looked for a set. The national park is perfect for this, you have animals, geology, people that work there, the artificial side of nature, the paths, signage. It’s now one and a half year ago since I’ve started the project. I did not want a Hollywood national park, but an artificial national park.
LJ: But goats, they don’t strike me as a nature park animal?
FG: There is a story behind the goats. They only have three legs. For me the national park is a special place with a special energy and they have lost one leg. And usually when you loose something you become stronger in another sense. They have a side car so they can stand more stable, a coin from Abraham Lincoln.
LJ: Do you conduct your artistic experiments with the mind frame of a scientist, with a hypothesis asking a question?
FG: Yes, I try to see how I can make processes visible.
FG: I have all these things from e-bay, I sit two to three hours on ebay on the computer everyday and select things for my stories. First I have a storyboard, before I start my sculptural or video. I prepare it not for the narration, but more as a uhmm…
LJ: Kind of like a web of ideas or brainstorm?
FG: Yes, genau!
LJ: Do you still have this? Is it something you keep or do you throw it out?
FG: What does ‘throw it out’ mean?
LJ: Das nicht haben.
FG: Ah ok, wegwerfen!
FG: I don’t know, maybe I have it in my studio. Normally I do, I will check. (Loud Frank Sinatra playing in the background.)
LJ: Wait for a second I’m just going to ask them to turn that down!
FG: Ah, here we have some tests for titles, to create feelings with titles. For example an idea for the protagonist of the Wendigo River project movie which would be actor Kevin Bacon. I don’t know why it’s especially Kevin Bacon, but he was an important figure for me especially in his older films. He played in a film called Mystic River with Sean Penn. I don’t know why really…
LJ: In Wendigo he plays the part of the national park ranger?
FG: No, he plays the man that speaks the infoboard.
LJ: Here’s written Cavern of Darkness, Crystal Meth Transponder, Carlsbad High – which sounds like a place and Wendigoriverpark.tv sounds like some kind of live transmission.
FG: Yes, absolutely. They’re all ideas to make Ausleger. You know plants, small lines out of the plants.
FG: Yes, a small tv show.
LJ: Who sent you this package?
FG: It’s a transport bag from Ebay, which I’ve written on. But it’s only for me, it’s not an artwork. I have contact with the people who send me the packages because I order a lot of items and they help me find special items. It’s like a network, but it’s different, not like Facebook.
LJ: Yeah, like specialists?
FG: Genau, there’s a lot of nerds interested in special things.
LJ: Did you ever meet one of these people?
FG: No, but one person who I bought some stones from he went to St. Moritz to ride sheep.
FG: I don’t know if this is important for the interview?
LJ: Maybe not, but it’s funny! (laughing)
FG: I have friends on Ebay. Most people I encounter on Ebay are specialized, it’s their livelihood. They for example sell crystals.
LJ: What did you receive in this envelope?
FG: The woman sent me this magazine.
LJ: Ok, so she’s a rock pro?
FG: Genau, it’s Rock & Gem magazine. I have now close to 20 issues. And I’m using it for a new work that I’m doing.
LJ: Why do you collect the old issues? This one’s from 1977.
FG: For example this one I got because the front cover has a stone that is bioluminescent, it glows in the dark and it’s also radioactive! When I read I try to learn English in these magazines. (both laugh)
LJ: I’m curious, what’s the stone?
FG: It’s uranium. It’s very small, you wouldn’t be able to see this with the naked eye.
LJ: Kind of special with the headline “A new uranium boom?” especially in today’s context with the U.N. checking Iran’s nuclear program.
FG: You can use uranium for different things, it’s used in medicine to locate cancer. You insert small particles into the body and then you’re able to see
LJ: This article on rockhounding must be interesting too.
FG: What is rockhounding?
LJ: It’s what rock collectors do, they hound like dogs. Here it’s referring to the different types of rock collectors, so you’ve probably got the Sunday enthusiasts or the more serious amateurs…
FG: Or the freaks?
FG: They have a old-fashioned graphic design. This is the back page of the magazine.
LJ: These are gemsai.
FG: Like a bonsai, gemsai! Ah, yes, very strange! It’s interesting with these hobby geologists they have a special language amongst each other, special terminologies and a common aesthetic. There’s a B quality to the magazine. It’s all I find low quality. If you look at the displays, or when you go to the fairs it has the same kind of aesthetic. I like the fact that it’s not all so well done. This is when a star dies. The photo was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, this moment only takes place in one or two seconds and it’s very far away.
LJ: Wow, fantastic.
FG: I bought it from NASA’s Ebay channel, you have wonderful pictures there. They look like they’re artificial but it’s a natural phenomena. It’s real.
Here is a preparatory photo from the project in Hong Kong with people burying a hole in their own garden and a small child near a hole.
LJ: What out of this, interests you?
FG: The darkness.
LJ: That one is pretty surreal.
FG: Yeah, the child darkness: holes and graves.
LJ: It looks like they are building a well and sharing a family moment.
FG: I don’t know whether you find these images to be uncanny. (unheimlich) But I don’t know why. I find there is a strange linkage between archaeology, geology and psychology. I know it’s just a hole in a ground, but there’s some kind of force that emanates. It is something I want to discover further, these associations between stones and the human body.
LJ: So this type of material creates an aura for you to start working?
FG: Yes, its more an aura, that’s a good word for it. This is the largest meteorite on earth.
LJ: Incredible, where was it found?
FG: In Minnesota, in the middle of the desert. It’s a very heavy metal. It’s not a stone, I have seen videos after meteorites have landed and people have great angst. It is 2-3000 degrees hot.
LJ: Would you say it’s an apocalyptical moment?
FG: Yes, and this is only a geological “body”. Sometimes it has been small meteorites, but nonetheless the phenomena make newspaper headlines. And here we have old helmets from coal miners, they have built their own mine monument, it’s a group built plastic sculpture. I don’t know why it interests me so much, but these organic forms, it reminds me of a Mike Kelley sculpture. He reproduced a public sculpture that was in Chinatown, and it is also a very uncanny. I don’t know why I like it.
LJ: Ah, this relates to one of the titles we saw earlier, the Carlsbad Cavern.
FG: Yes this is a souvenir from the Carlsbad Cavern. Carlsbad Cavern is very famous. Every day half million of bats fly out of the cave. I have around 50 cards similar to this one of the entrance of the cave. The bats fly out and like a black cloud comes out for one or two hours, and then they go back in to hunt. The visitors that come are changing the form of the cave, because of the air humidity. It’s a transformative process from the body heat, the atmospheric pressure. It’s like a social plastic.
LJ: Wow, bizarre.
FG: This is a post card to support the bats. It’s a hot metal print on wood, and I’ve have adapted this technique to make cards for my Wendigo River National Park, like an entrance pass to go inside. I like the bad quality of it. This is the gift shop of Carlsbad. I have this post card since 7 or 8 years and I always look back at it, I like the room aura. I want to build a room situation that has the same aura.
LJ: Is there something about the 70s aesthetic that you like?
FG: Yes, its not so processed. There’s always a smell of the items and this change of materials.
LJ: Do you feel nostalgia about this time?
FG: I’m absolutely not nostalgic, it’s more to recreate something safe from childhood. In my generation this time was a very safe place. Oh no, that sounds naïve!
LJ: And that sounds nostalgic! (laughter)
FG: Yeah, that sounds nostalgic and naïve, but I also use futuristic imagery. The images from the 70s I want to use for warm things, and when I need colder things I go to another time and not to places like America. These pictures have their own warm temperature, but I have never been to America. This is inside the Carlsbad Cavern. These are strange buildings that have formed because of the slow growth process. For me I was always interested in sculpting without hands. We have a situation here where nature creates its own sculpture and plastics.
LJ: Is that what you have in mind with the activation process of your sculptures?
FG: Yes it’s a closed process of something that grows by itself. I must activate it though. I do a lot of preparation for the works that I activate. When the activation starts, it’s a very short process. I sit on a chair for 5 or 10minutes. Last time in Paris I worked every day 10 – 12 hours, it was horrible. And the activation process experienced by the public was very short, maybe 3 minutes. It was a powerful moment to see how it works and it has a total another reaction than what I had imagined. You can’t influence these natural forms.
LJ: You’ve told me once about the odd phenomena of a stalagmite and stalactite forming one.
FG: There’s a work in the Wendigo River project that relates to this where a bat died on a young stalagmite. Now, after one or two million years, the stalagmite has the form of the bat. That’s so cool! I’ve thought about doing something with this process. But uhm…
LJ: Wow, but you might need one to two million years (laughing)
FG: Yes (laughing) and it’s not interesting to see something that’s made by the human hand. The story is more interesting than what has happened with the form.
LJ: Yes and the element of sheer coincidence!
FG: Yes, genau. It’s an interesting idea, but I have not found the right way yet. There are sections of the cave with wonderful titles, that one is the Old Wine Table, or this one is called the Two Flutes. They have very poetic titles. I see stories behind these forms.
LJ: There is no longer a darkness? I mean here we’ve got the Fountains of the Fairies.
FG: Yes, I think there still is. When I see this picture I always think about the human body, these forms similar to the inside of the body. Just like organs. You see the inside of the earth, a deep showing of the inner structures and not just what happens on the surface.
I don’t want things to be on the surface. A lot of art today is very surface oriented. I think it’s super important to get into depth with a theme, not just with a Wikipedia search. I learn things on Ebay through these objects. They sometimes have connections, there is a system of things.
LJ: Yeah, you’ve bought atypical artefacts and most of them are somehow annotated or unique. It’s a particular way of gathering and constructing information.
FG: This picture was hanging in the first Wendigo River park installation. It’s quite big its 1,80 x 1,20. I hung it inside the room. Every person got a Wendigo River entrance pass. Every person becomes a number. I’ve counted that there are 246 people in this photograph. I wrote down the numbers directly on the image with a pen.
LJ: Do you have this image?
FG: Yes, I have it in my studio, hanging just like in a classroom like a pull-down image. I made it just in case no one came to the national park I would have these people! One part of the installation was a table where I wrote up the passes. I had them write up their names and only these people are allowed to enter the park.
LJ: (laughing) Where was the first part held?
FG: It was at the Kunsthaus Aarau. The first part was an action sculptural and the second part in the gallery was a sculptural installation. It was not like a real artwork. I was inside in a room, speaking with a microphone. It lasted two months, every weekend everyday eight hours speaking with the people.
LJ: Where are they waiting?
FG: It is the last car show in Detroit for Ford Motors. It’s from 1982. I asked the photographer if I could use it for my installation. And he said, “No problem.” It’s a historical moment for Detroit, after ’82 it crashed.
LJ: It’s peculiar how people are socialized to wait in lines like this.
FG: Yeah, and they are in different groups, you have the Blacks, the Whites… It’s like a human snake.
LJ: You counted them yourself?
FG: Yes, and I have a bad short-term memory!
FG: Yes, many things about goats! I have a big collection of goats, figures made in wood and porcelain. And I don’t know why, really. It’s an animal that is very close to us psychologically. More so than a pig, than a horse or than a dog. It has a strong personality, a strong character like humans. They are very intelligent. Not all races, but most.
LJ: I had no idea. Have you heard of fainting goats?
LJ: It’s a strange phenomena. It is a type of goat that has a genetic problem which affects their neurological system. If you scare them, “Boo!”, they freeze and then they fall over. It’s hilarious. Twenty seconds later, they’re up again.
FG: Cool! (laughing) This is from the Detroit Zoo. I came from the previous image taken in Detroit to this via the connective system of Ebay…
Florian Germann took part in the real-time activitiy festival From Dusk Till Dawn, as part of I Think It Rains which took place May 24, 2013, at Cattle Depot Artist Village, To Kwa Wan. His inspiration draws across the board from contemporary myths to age-old chimera mixing fictitious scenarios in process-oriented sculptural settings by transmuting materials from one form to another. In the performative work Wendigo River / The Crystal Source / Kowloon, Germann worked throughout the night with his sonic sensitive digging tools, off at the old Aviation ground in Kowloon. The reverberating noises echoed against the sound of night birds and crickets. Germann’s labour intensive night performance was an experimental steer in the direction of his ambitious Wendigo River National Park project, linking his global project with the city of Hong Kong through an underground tunnel. The recorded sounds were later installed on the grounds of the Cattle Depot Artist Village.