German artist Katharina Grosse uses more than 8,000 square metres of suspended canvas in her vast new work
It is hard to miss German artist Katharina Grosse’s new work. A vast tent-like structure – using more than 8,000 square metres of suspended canvas — hangs on, and plays off, Carriageworks’ internal structures.
Walk inside The Horse Trotted Another Couple of Metres, Then it Stopped and you enter an other-worldly universe: one dominated by folds of fabric and swathes of colour, akin to a psychedelic rainbow.
Grosse, 56, is based in Berlin but has shown everywhere from Norway to South Korea to the United States. Known for her site-specific works, she often paints directly onto existing walls, interiors or landscapes, incorporating heaps of earth or reams of fabric, using tools ranging from an industrial spray gun to everyday household rollers. Following a months-long installation process in Sydney – including a complex rigging system and ten days of painting – Grosse gives the lowdown on her latest artwork.
In your site-specific works, you usually paint directly onto surfaces. What is different about The Horse Trotted Another Couple of Metres, Then it Stopped?
This is the first time where the fabric is actually establishing a space itself. It has an outside and an inside that is created. I borrow the roof in Carriageworks, I borrow its columns, but the space itself is like a bag that has been pulled up. It has an architectural element.
What attracts you to painting?
Painting comes directly from your corporal system. I have had months of trying video and performance and I also play music. I always come back to painting because I find its relationship to the body so intriguing. A painted surface generates a reaction in my body where everything is responding: my emotional abilities, all my senses are opened up because the tactile surface of a painting is very visceral.
The artwork “is like a bag that has been pulled up”
Critical to The Horse Trotted Another Couple of Metres, Then it Stopped are the folds in the fabric. Why is this?
The folding structure is one ingredient that my work needs – I want my painting to sit on something where it can contradict, where it can have friction. Folds are fascinating; the fold covers something that you can’t see. It’s an extra layer of space that has been hidden away. Folds are very much their own world.
Tell us about the process for this artwork
We had to sew together 8,000 metres of fabric on an industrial sewing machine. We created three different sized scale models to find out what the relationship of the piece should be to the architecture. We made a sewing plan, a rigging plan. I had three people in Germany working on it – one made samples of knots. He made maybe twenty then we decided only three or four would make it into the final work. We also have a forklift in my studio, where we hoist up material to see what it looks like, how heavy is it, how the folds transform.
“Painting is very visceral”
You call this contemporary painting; but others might see it as a form of sculpture. Is there any right way to look at it?
It is an offer for how contemporary painting could look like and the audience has to figure out how to deal with it, how to look at it. They are invited to see it from the outside, from above, from the inside, from behind – these perspectives might be puzzling. There is no one right way.
What inspires you?
I am particularly drawn to the Aboriginal artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye. There is a famous photograph of her sitting on the canvas whilst she is painting. She had this independence of space that painting can happen anywhere under any circumstance; it is not restricted by studio walls.
“The audience has to figure out how to deal with it, how to look at it”
Is that what you want to do?
That’s what I want. In Carriageworks it was a huge advantage for my work that I couldn’t paint directly on the walls as it forced me to experiment. When you go into a situation like Carriageworks it also doesn’t make sense to put canvases on the walls. It doesn’t relate to the theatricality that takes place here.
“An artwork is always really interactive — you have to engage with it and make sense of it”
What attracted you to the space?
Carriageworks is a unique institution, the way it invites hybrid practices. It is so dynamic: there are performances and theatre, but it also invites people in the visual arts to expand their practice too. They allow me to make artwork without making me compromise – that’s very special.
What were the challenges?
When painting it was very hot! We had a day where we couldn’t work. Definitely, though, the light is very interesting and very special here.
Visitors can walk through, sit on, and touch your work, despite you defining them as paintings. Do you view your artworks as interactive?
An artwork is always really interactive, because you have to engage with it and make sense of it – if you are not making that effort, nothing is really going to happen. I dislike the thought that if I want to show a painting I have to build a wall [to hang it on]. I like the idea of different forms and scales and expansion – like swimming in the pool and swimming in the sea. Both times you swim. Each model gives a different challenge.
What will you do with the 8,000 metres of fabric once this exhibition closes in April?
I am planning to have it folded in three or four different sections and then to reuse it. It will not be installed the same way, it will be different – maybe it will be repainted. It is really something to keep and rework.
The Horse Trotted Another Couple of Metres, Then it Stopped by Katharina Grosse is showing at Carriageworks in Sydney from January 6 to April 8 2018.
The artwork is supported by Schwartz Carriageworks, BresicWhitney, Sydney Festival, City of Sydney and Goethe-Institute Australia.
CREDIT: KATHARINA GROSSE, THE HORSE TROTTED ANOTHER COUPLE OF METRES, THEN IT STOPPED, 2017, COMMISSIONED BY CARRIAGEWORKS, SYDNEY. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND GAGOSIAN © KATHARINA GROSSE AND VG BILD-KUNST, BONN 2017, IMAGE: STEVEN SIEWERT