Anne Imhof’s Unnerving Hall of Mirrors

While in Italy final yr to put in her multimedia work “Sex” (2021) on the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, the German artist Anne Imhof got here throughout an deserted seven-floor workplace advanced, constructed within the 1970s, within the Parella neighborhood of Turin. She was captivated by the fats bubble letters of the graffiti that embellished its smoked glass partitions, in addition to the tags etched into its filthy floor. Over the previous decade, Imhof has made a reputation for herself creating immersive, operatic works that discover the isolation incurred by our more and more digitally mediated, consumption-driven society and, to her, the construction was rife with symbolism: a website of labor reworked into a bootleg canvas.

In May 2020, with the assistance of the Berlin-based structure studio Sub, she salvaged the constructing’s facade after the advanced was demolished, then shipped it pane by pane to Paris, the place she has used the supplies to rework the huge three-floor inside of the Palais de Tokyo right into a vertiginous fortress of metal and mirrors for her solo present “Natures Mortes,” which opened earlier this month. Where the venue as soon as had white inside partitions, there at the moment are towering screens of glass, which Imhof opted to depart soiled, and throughout the museum’s second flooring, she has constructed an in depth glass maze that goals to disorient with each its winding structure and its partitions’ various levels of grime-induced opacity. In October, she’s going to activate this atmosphere with a troupe of performers, who will crawl on all fours, carry one another and stroll across the house at various extremes of pace and slowness in a haunting, processional choreography.

Smoked glass screens organized in two rows create a slender lane that mimics the curve of the uppermost gallery.Credit…Aurelien Chauvaud

Though Imhof, 43, works prolifically throughout portray, drawing, video, music and sculpture, she is finest identified for staging brooding, large-scale endurance performances, which frequently unite these numerous media in singular compositions. These items — which have a tendency to make use of the whole thing of their atmosphere (in a single case, the empty oil tanks of a former energy station), a crew of sometimes athleisure-clad performers and a soundtrack of rock music — study and push towards the trimmings of neoliberalism by imitating its aesthetics and using harsh choreography and culturally resonant props: in “Sex” (2019), a performer created frantic vignettes with objects together with beer cans and bongs, and in “Angst” (2016), drones flew round a smoke-filled room, seemingly surveilling the viewers. For what is probably her most celebrated and fearsome work up to now, “Faust” (2017), Imhof crammed the German pavilion at that yr’s Venice Biennale with a dozen dancers who screamed, sang, thrashed about to heavy metallic, crawled beneath a glass flooring put in underfoot and began small fires. Behind a 12-foot-tall wire fence, barking Doberman pinschers guarded the doorway to the constructing, which was constructed in 1938 throughout the Nazi regime, a incontrovertible fact that compounded the already disconcerting impact of Imhof’s critique of energy. (The piece earned the artist the Golden Lion, the Biennale’s prime honor.)

A collection of Imhof’s work, “Untitled (Natures Mortes)” (2021), resembles a sundown descending into darkness.Credit…Aurelien ChauvaudImhof’s work “Untitled (Nature Mortes)” (2021).Credit…Aurelien Chauvaud

Despite the essential roles that buildings play in her work, although, Imhof isn’t interested by structure a lot as in house — particularly the institutional selection and “what is completed with it, the way it’s divided, who decides the place it goes and who might be in it,” she says. And in some ways, her identification has been formed by her need to exist outdoors these areas. In her early 20s, she performed in a punk band known as Die Töchter aus gutem Hause, named for the Simone de Beauvoir novel “Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter” (1958), and lived in a commune outdoors Frankfurt. In the late aughts and early 2010s, whereas finding out at Frankfurt’s Hochschule für Bildende Künste-Städelschule, one of the nation’s most revered artwork universities, she embedded herself inside the metropolis’s underground nightlife and music scenes. Many of the rules she realized throughout this time — particularly, a dedication to collaboration and an acute skepticism of the institution — proceed to tell her observe. Today, she maintains a modest studio, with a number of rooms wherein her pals can work concurrently, in Berlin. But for the set up of “Natures Mortes,” she rented a flat in Paris along with her accomplice, the American artist and mannequin Eliza Douglas, with whom she collaborated on the staging of Burberry’s spring 2021 present final September, and who helped report the soundtrack of guitar riffs and minor-key vocals that may be heard in disembodied fragments all through the Palais de Tokyo exhibition.

Within the maze, a glass construction with a speaker inside will grow to be a stage for Imhof’s troupe of performers in October. Credit…Aurelien Chauvaud

The present additionally encompasses a choice of Imhof’s drawings, work, movies and sculptures — amongst them “Untitled (Wave)” (2021), a video wherein Douglas takes a whip to the waves breaking on a seaside, as if attempting to dominate the tide — in addition to the work of over 20 invited artists (together with Sigmar Polke and Wolfgang Tillmans) that equally contact on themes of house and time, life and demise, and which can be stationed all through the inhospitable glass panorama. Viewing a collection of Imhof’s yellow-and-black summary work by means of a glass display screen on the museum’s uppermost degree creates the sense of peering by means of a window at a mournful sundown. “Natures Mortes,” a reference to the French time period for the nonetheless life style, may appear a peculiar title for an exhibition like this; few of the items fall into the titular class in its conventional sense. But Imhof was impressed by the artist Francis Picabia’s satirical 1920 assemblage “Natures Mortes: Portrait de Cézanne, Portrait de Renoir, Portrait de Rembrandt,” which advised that previous modes of artwork making had grow to be irrelevant by evaluating its masters to an inanimate toy monkey.

“I like the presence of death in the French translation,” she says. “It speaks to the temporality of life, and the unfinishedness of it.” And so decay is ever-present inside the eerie world she has conjured — maybe most actually in an untitled work from the Argentine sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas’s “Rinascimento” collection (2015-21) that consists of a freezer stuffed with beer bottle caps, discarded crustacean shells and rotten produce, a composition that calls to thoughts the overripe fruit seen in 17th-century vanitas work. Like the present as an entire, the work is an unsettling memento mori that invokes the conventions of artwork making solely to radically upend them. In between making closing changes to the exhibition’s set up, Imhof answered T’s Artist’s Questionnaire from the Palais de Tokyo.

A element of an untitled sculpture from Adrián Villar Rojas’s “Rinascimento” collection (2015-21) that Imhof has displayed inside the maze.Credit…Aurelien Chauvaud

What is your day like? How a lot do you sleep, and what’s your work schedule?

I journey rather a lot, so my work schedule is all the time very completely different. I believe I’ve extra of a routine once I’m right here in Paris, for instance, away from the place the place a routine can be extra needed. Because there’s a studio and there’s on a regular basis life, someway I all the time discover it very laborious to take care of routines in Berlin. When I’m engaged on initiatives like this, principally, I by no means cease.

I don’t sleep rather a lot, round six hours. The relaxation of the time I’m having this half sleep that I like, the place issues grow to be very crisp. The moments the place you’re in between sleep and wakefulness, you may see issues clearer. You’re in a really weak state the place you’re not but on this planet. I like that for fascinated about issues.

Many of the items included in “Natures Mortes” reference Imhof’s earlier works, together with these untitled work, which have been displayed on the partitions of the German pavilion on the Venice Biennale for her efficiency “Faust” (2017). Credit…Aurelien Chauvaud

What’s the primary piece of artwork you ever made?

The first reside piece I did was a live performance and a staged combat in a membership in Frankfurt in round 2002 or 2003. I forged a band after which invited folks to field. There was additionally a section, once I was perhaps 10 or 11, throughout which I began drawing and collaging issues. I took out a lock and mounted it on a wood panel. I used to be actually interested by making that lock’s floor very shiny. I bear in mind any individual asking me what I used to be doing, and I stated, “Nothing.” I spotted that I did this only for the sake of the way it appeared.

What’s the worst studio you ever had?

It was in Paris, round 2014 or 2015. I used to be dwelling and dealing in the identical house, which was the worst and the perfect factor about it. Actually, for that point, it was wonderful to me as a result of it was massive. But I used to be a younger mother — my daughter was already 13 then — and it solely had one bed room, so I slept within the studio. I needed to juggle making music and artwork and serving to with homework and internet hosting her pals. It was a time when the boundaries between my work and life have been completely blurred.

What’s the primary work you ever bought?

It was a small drawing that I bought to Michael Krebber, the painter. Back in Frankfurt, I used to be half of a bunch present hosted on this little gallery, Neue Alte Brücke.

Imhof first encountered the German artist Sigmar Polke’s set of seven work “Axial Age” (2005-07), which seems in “Natures Mortes,” on the Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 2016 whereas engaged on “Faust.”Credit…Aurelien Chauvaud

When you begin a brand new piece, the place do you start?

It’s by no means the identical steps. Sometimes it’s actually laborious to begin a brand new piece. There’s all the time a void and insecurity. I don’t actually take pleasure in that half of the method a lot as a result of there’s typically a restrict to the creation section. At some level, you must resolve what it’s going to be, there are choices to be made. There’s one thing lovely about when issues don’t but should be realized and you may think about.

How are you aware while you’re completed?

That’s laborious, typically even so laborious that you must begin over. With reside works, it’s simpler as a result of there may be solely the second the place it’s premiered or it’s present, that one thing is offered. But even then, it doesn’t cease. Especially in “Faust,” for instance, I used to be fairly shocked by the various pictures taken by folks coming to see the reveals, and what it did with the work. In a manner, it crystallized life right into a single picture, and the photographs grew to become like views of the viewer contained in the reveals. It was their very own frames, however they grew to become a form of archive.

Beside one other glass construction inside the maze is Imhof’s video piece “Untitled (Wave)” (2021), which options her accomplice, Eliza Douglas.Credit…Aurelien Chauvaud

How many assistants do you will have?

I work with completely different folks for various issues. I work with Sub, for instance, after we’re doing a present of this dimension. I’ve a small studio with two or three those who assist me, largely organizing and producing, and any individual that I paint with. And final week, the core crew of performers have been right here and we labored collectively on a chunk.

Have you assisted different artists earlier than? If so, who?

No. But I labored with Tino Sehgal as soon as as a performer once I was a pupil. I wanted cash and was working as a bouncer on the time, and it was a manner of making a break with that evening job. At that point, I used to be doing my first performance-like concert events, so we had some fascinating conversations about our work. Sometimes it’s good if one other artist sees you, and you’ve got a second of, “OK, this is something real.”

What music do you play while you’re making artwork?

I normally don’t play any music within the studio. I want quiet and silence. But once I work on work, I do typically take heed to classical music. There was one album that I listened to for 2 years nonstop: Mozart’s Requiem. I don’t know why, however I all the time got here again to it.

When did you first really feel comfy saying you’re an expert artist?

Shortly after college. I educated myself to say it. I stated it rather a lot of occasions, even once I was not so certain being an artist would work out.

Recordings of guitar riffs and shrieks typically overlap as they play from numerous audio system all through the exhibition.Credit…Aurelien Chauvaud

Is there a meal you eat on repeat while you’re working?

Does espresso rely?

Are you bingeing on any reveals proper now?

I watched “Pose,” which I beloved. But I hardly watch TV, I believe as a result of I didn’t develop up with it.

What’s the weirdest object in your studio?

The props that we deliver from the items. There are canine leashes, rather a lot of skulls and bones.

How typically do you speak to different artists?

Every day. My accomplice is an artist, so I speak rather a lot along with her, buying and selling concepts about all the things. Eliza really made music for the present, so there’s a continuing austausch, or trade, of concepts. She’s accountable for lots within the work, particularly within the efficiency work.

What do you do while you’re procrastinating?

It’s really the identical factor I do once I’m not procrastinating: I draw.

What’s the very last thing that made you cry?

I cry typically about music. Billie Eilish’s music “When the Party’s Over” touched me deeply. There was a second, sitting on the aircraft getting back from Turin, the place I felt rather a lot of aid as a result of the final couple of months have been so tense, and I used to be listening to her album.

Imhof’s bronze sculpture “Untitled (Imagine)” (2019), which takes the shape of a human head, sits within the middle of the Palais de Tokyo’s first flooring.Credit…Aurelien Chauvaud

What’s your worst behavior?

Everything that turns into a behavior. I’m very addictive when it come to issues I like. Everything that goes in that course turns into a behavior and needs to be watched.

What embarrasses you?

Being too confident, and the expressions of that once I catch myself.

Do you train?

Yes, I’ve a exercise routine. I train with weights and such, with a coach. It’s actually good to try this.

What are you studying?

A e book of early writings by Antonin Artaud.

What’s your favourite paintings by another person?

It shifts. I don’t assume I’ve an all-time favourite. But there’s a video work by David Hammons, “Phat Free” (1995), that’s my favourite piece proper now. It reveals him taking an evening stroll, and he kicks a bucket by means of the streets of Harlem. It grew to become a core piece of “Natures Mortes.” The sound of the bucket is unruly, unsteady, however nonetheless very rhythmic, nearly like a heartbeat. You can hear it by means of the entire constructing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.