“My Biggest Fear Is Being Harmless” Martin Nill
Artist Martin Nill’s oeuvre consist of three-dimensional dioramas, objects and sculptures. He started the Nillmuseum in Hamburg in 2000 which today has transformed into a virtual museum, a digital space around and dealing with images from the cultural memories and elements from pop culture, historical memories, anecdotes from the literature and sexual digressions.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW YOU CAME TO CHOOSE THE ARTISTIC PATH YOU ARE ON.
For many years I saw myself as a painter and I earned a little money with painting landscapes, but that was not a very satisfying work. Although in my youth I learned the craft of a stonemason and sculptor but never thought of working 3-dimensional in art. I travelled a lot to Russia that time and one day I discovered a little museum in St. Petersburg which was dealing with arctic and antarctic expeditions. It was located in an old christian- orthodox church, but the interior was very socialistic and showed the heroistic conquest of north- and south by the soviet people in paintings and dioramas. Because I had my problems with painting (I thought painting is all about style and historical context), the dioramas seemed to me a solution to tell stories without being to artsy- fartsy. And because I wanted to see my work in a museum), I decided to set up my own museum. I had a little room in the Speicherstadtin Hamburg and I built a lot of dioramas and opened the nillmuseum. It was quite a little success, but after half a year I had to close, because it was a bit illegal.Now museum exists just in the digital world. But the spirit lives on! I like to think of a museum not in terms of art or in art-context, but more as a museum for natural history or ethnological history or archeology. Where people can look at things without art-glasses. Of course my work developed and stepped out of the cases and was dealing with other more widespread items. And in the end I became The sculptor I refused to be in my youth.
YOUR BIGGEST FEAR IS BEING HARMLESS?
Of course I am a man of many fears, but normally I try to hide them, in my everyday-life, especially in my artwork. But the fears come up, there is no way to repress, and sometimes they show themselves in a funny or comic way. And I like the way in which sometimes the subconscious speaks and tries to get my attention. Sometimes I Iook at my work like an alien and ask myself: what the f…are you trying to tell me? Is it really this bad?
And there is another explanation. You have to face the fears to get rid of them. As an artist, I have to depict them. As I was a young man, in some psycho-intellectual scenes there was a device: “Wo die Angst ist, geht’s lang”, and I think, there was even a book which had this title, that means something like: fear shows you the way to get healthy, to cure yourself. But this get´s a little too psychological, and I don´t think of art as therapy. But I like the idea of facing the evil like some ancient tribe- rituals with masks, disguising as animals and so on.
WHEN YOU SAY “THERE IS NO WAY TO REPRESS”, DO YOU MEAN THAT YOU ARE PROCESSING YOUR FEARS THROUGH YOUR ARTWORK, YET YOU STILL GO TO A THERAPIST?
As I said, art is never a therapy for me, I think, one can only use the upcoming from the darker parts of the brain as a material to create art. I´m in this business for a long time and I can say that
my fears didn’t get less, so processing in this way does not work for me. (It works because I pay my therapist with my artwork- joke). Art in my opinion has to be entertaining, and the audience would be pretty bored watching me processing my fears. Nevertheless I think, there are fears which are not only mine, but social or historical, (for example apocalyptical fears), and there is a connection between my fears, fears of the society and the expression and description of these fears in pop-culture. And that is where my work starts.
AND THE ASPECT OF CREEPINESS THAT SHOWS IN YOUR WORK, ISN’T THAT YOU FACING YOUR FEARS ?
I’m creating mainly small sculptures, which look like cute little toys, but of course I don’t want to be a toymaker. So I had to find a way to get away from this tiny cute thing, I had to make my work more adult, and there are some easy methods: sex, crime, violence and humour (irony, although irony is not very contemporary, isn´t it?) My work has to be interesting for myself, so often I try to astonish myself. If I think, this is too creepy, this is too stupid, I know I´m on the right way, I have to do it.
HOW DID YOU COME TO THIS CONCLUSION ?
It doesn’t mean that I do exactly the opposite, it means, there has to be space for experiments. Often it is a quality, when I´m surprised by my work or don´t understand it until it’s very end. And another aspect is that sometimes it helps to work with contrasts, that means for instance, if form is tiny and sweet, make a big roaring content. Like you bite in a jellybaby and it’s hot or bitter or spicy. My experience with the audience as I ran my little museum in Hamburg was; that people look at the exhibits in a different way than me. I want to tell something and they understand something else. And that is ok! There is me, there is my artwork and there is the spectator, and they are all three independent from each other. And there is me, my fears, my unconsciousness and on the other side there is reality, pop, comic, history e.t.c. and these two worlds come together, they are rubbing each other and there is tension (friction). And plop! there appears another funny creepy little sculpture!
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