Nina Lola Bachhuber: ‘The creative process is like a virus in my brain’
The Munich-born artist’s delicate drawings depict invented characters that are then given form in sculptures. She explains her methods and her choice of materials and says a humorous air of surrealism leavens a wild energy in her works
Nina Lola Bachhuber: Bankett/Banquet
Heinz-Martin Weigand Gallery, Berlin
19 September 2014 – 17 January 2015
By CAROLINE MENEZES
Nina Lola Bachhuber is an artist who seeks the unexpected in her daily routine and transforms what she finds into even more unpredictable art pieces. Working with drawings and sculptures, she creates different approaches to the same theme using the contrasting nature of the material she applies. Her ideas are based on her own inner world, populated by invented characters in strange scenarios that raise questions about the female body, passionate actions and freedom of movement. From tangible and identifiable elements, such as human limbs, mirrors or adornments, the artist conceives a fantastic universe with voodoo-like objects, animalistic organisms or mechanical figures.
Bachhuber’s delicate drawings depict uncanny creatures that show themselves as if they were posing for a portrait, while, on a larger scale, she builds sculptures that give form to these peculiar characters, setting the environment for their existence. The artist, who was born in Munich and lives in New York, is presenting the exhibition Bankett/Banquet at the Heinz-Martin Weigand Gallery in Berlin. In this show, she presents a series of drawings and two powerful samples of her sculptural work. Bachhuber has artworks in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s collection and has participated in shows at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; The Drawing Center, New York; Gallery Min Min, Tokyo; Glasgow Sculpture Studios and The Museum of Israeli Art in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv. Here, she explains her creative process working with two types of media and the peculiarity of each one.
Caroline Menezes: The title of your solo show in Berlin is Bankett, which means banquet in English, right? The title comes from the large sculpture Bankett (2013) that dominates the first room of the gallery. What are you implying with this name? Who are the guests and what is being served?
Nina Lola Bachhuber: It is all the same thing. The guests could concurrently be what is being served. An ambivalence exists between guests and offering. Bankett in German also means something of a festive gathering. In my sculpture, there are elements that might remind you of something else – they are both mechanical and animalistic organisms in a celebratory activity.
CM: You work with a mixture of materials that not only look different, but also feel different, with contrasting textures – soft and hard or warm and cold. I see that you used umbrellas, coil springs, fabric, hair, feathers, and so on.
NLB: My sculptural work really originates from the material used. I find some material that I am attracted to and I combine it with something unusual, and then together they become something else.
CM: How do these materials attract you? What makes them appealing? For instance, a broken umbrella is not something that someone normally thinks is attractive.
NLB: For example, I went to a store in Chinatown, New York, and I saw this wooden umbrella whose cover was kitsch. I thought that if I ripped off the cover, I would basically have a skeleton and it would lose its purpose. It would no longer protect you from the sun or the rain. However, I would have a structure for something singular. By painting it black, you forget what it was originally and you can see a spider-like figure or filigree. Then, I combined it with another material, which was hair. Hair is part of the human body and it always has an erotic or sexual connotation. Hair can be attractive – a woman can use it to be charming – but it can also be repulsive and can remind you of death. In the hanging sculpture, Untitled (2008), I use hair, together with tights and necklaces, accessories that women use. But instead of making something beautiful, I created a beast – something wild, scary, like a voodoo type of thing. There is this dark energy, but it is not that dark because there is a humorous aspect of surrealism.
CM: When you find these materials, like when you saw the umbrella in the shop, could you already see it connected with the hair to make a sculpture?
NLB: Not at all. Initially, I have no clue. I take them home and strip them. I sit in my studio and play with them. It is like a blank page before the drawing is done. In a very intuitive process, I imagine how I can transform them to make them suitable. For this piece, I took the umbrellas as a starting point and then they became creatures. I spread them all on my studio floor and visualised that something soft was needed that would integrate all the elements, so I used the red cloth. The creative process is like a virus in my brain, it is a very intuitive thing. It is a question of following and controlling it. Obviously, while I’m working, I make clear decisions: “This is not the meaning that I want” or “This is going in another direction”, but it is an organic process.
CM: We can also see this organic development in your drawings. Could you explain who these characters that you created and appear in the drawings are? How does this virus in your mind decide what they are going to be? Are they connected to a fictitious narrative that you create?
NLB: I basically make up my own entire world. I never draw from a source, but rather from my imagination. The characters are also connected with the body and its movements and seemingly move in the space. I am interested in knowing if I am able to create a figure that is going to be novel even to myself. I am drawing and, suddenly, something is looking at me, and I ask: “Who are you?” It has become something unique that I couldn’t foresee when I started out. I don’t want to tell the whole story. What I really want is to make suggestions. To myself and also to the viewer, so we all can make up our own narratives in our heads. Occasionally, I stick with a type of figure for months or even years. I need to be interested myself in what happens on the page, and so I follow that. Sometimes, you can see the symbioses of two creatures with several legs or arms, or even tentacles. There are also the more geometric ones and those in which I use cut-outs.
CM: In the same way you explained how the sculpture-making process works, can you tell us more about your drawing routine. I imagine you doing a drawing per day. Do you start many at the same time, or do you finish a drawing and then start another one?
NLB: There are periods in which I only create sculptures and don’t draw, and there are periods in which I only draw. During this phase, I draw nearly all day, every day. I start in the morning before anything else. Usually, I begin and finish a drawing in one day. But this does not mean I can’t look it again the next day or sometimes months later, and if there is something I don’t like, or I feel is not finished, I can go back to it.
CM: Even when applying intuitive gestures, do you draw directly with ink?
NLB: I draw with a brush and ink, which is more difficult than using a pen, because you need a very quiet hand. Every mark is permanent. If there is something that you don’t like, you have to start all over again. Unlike oil painting, for example, in which you can always cover it up, drawing is very incisive and ritualistic. It is also very honest. Painting gives you a second chance, you can redo it, but with drawing this alternative does not exist. It is what it is – if you have screwed up, you have basically screwed up. [laughs]
CM: Your drawings are small, intimate. With this 24cm x 32cm format, they are petite in comparison to the sculptures, which are big. How do you see this difference of scale?
NLB: The drawings are very direct. They are very personal, and the material I use is minimal. They have to relate to the size of my hand, and my hands are not big. I could never make this line [she pretends to draw a line with one single gesture] on a large piece of paper. It would be a completely different way of working. What is depicted in the drawings is also intimate. It is like the viewer is part of something rather private. Regarding the sculptures, I am also interested in taking over the space. There are elements that connect the drawings and sculptures. Both have some relationship with the body, whether human or animal, but the sculptures’ material dictates where I am going. You need more guts to do sculptures. To start with, it means more investment of money, more space, and so on. It is a different mindset. Drawing for me is something very tender, fragile, even the way the brush moves over the page. The paper is something very delicate, like skin.