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Issue 186

Building Time

An interview with Chris Reinecke about her LIDL performances in collaboration with Jörg Immendorf, and her recent work

BY Hans-Jürgen Hafner in Interviews | 19 MAR 17

Hans-Hürgen Hafner Around the time of your retro­spective ‘Time and Work. Moments 1965–2016’, at Beck & Eggeling in Düsseldorf last summer, you turned 80. Your work was also included in the exhibition ‘The Invention of Abstraction’, at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, alongside that of your former teachers, Gerhard Hoehme and K.O. Götz. It seems like it was a year filled with looking back.

Chris Reinecke Well, the Academy exhibition also included younger artists – I did a headcount as soon as I received the invitation – although the ratio of women to men is just as bad as it was in the 1960s. At some point, you need to let bygones be bygones, but the divide between the sexes now seems deeper than ever.

HJH Process plays an important role in your work. You’re in your studio every day, drawing and making notes. The works on paper of the encyclopaedic ‘Mappa Mundi’ series (1998–ongoing), which you’ve been developing for nearly 20 years, grow through multiple parts and layers.

CR Some themes I return to time and again. Aleppo (2016) deals with the civil war in Syria. For the ‘September’ subseries of ‘Mappa Mundi’, I collected newspaper clippings about how tunnels are constructed under cities, then built over in layers. There are holes everywhere: it’s uncanny! For these works, I made a stencil with varying apertures. I wanted to show how an image is composed and then breaks down.

HJH You’ve long been interested in removing things from their contexts – together with a focus on architecture and town planning – and in economic, political and cultural structures that organize and build co-existence.

CR And it’s all still topical: look at how they’re building in Düsseldorf now! My family arrived in Düsseldorf in 1951 – the same year as Sigmar Polke, incidentally. My father was posted there. Vast numbers of refugees had arrived and we all needed somewhere to live, but the city was shot to pieces. Housing for us had to be built quickly. Just like today’s refugees, sadly, we weren’t very welcome.

HJH Then, at a young age, you moved to Paris.

CR Yes, in 1957. I met a man who gave drawing lessons to young people. I looked after his daughter and, in return, he let me join his preparation course for l’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, which I attended soon after. Morning to evening, 70 easels in a semi-circle, we would draw Greek sculptures. People would say: ‘Women, Jews and blacks can’t make art.’ If that’s the case, I thought, I’ll do it anyway. My friends were from the colonies: Vietnamese or Caribbean – no French. And there was a painter who had survived Auschwitz. He showed us his prisoner number.

Chris Reinecke, Kaugummiplastik auf roter Bühne (Plastic Chewing-gum on Red Stage), 1970, LIDL performance documentation at Schauspielhaus, Düsseldorf. Courtesy: the artist and Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Düsseldorf; photograph: Professor Jörg Boström

HJH At the time, could you imagine becoming an artist?

CR  Truthfully, I was on the verge of starvation, although I managed to scrape the money together to buy a cheap easel from the flea markets at Porte de Clignancourt. I lived on the seventh floor in a house on rue de la Villette, where it was too dangerous to go out in the evenings. The Algerian War was still going on and many Algerians were just living on the streets – people were literally lying in the mud on cardboard. It was terrible! Like in Calais today.
My hope of making some money from my art didn’t work out, so I returned to Düsseldorf. There, I joined the Kunstakademie, where I was the only woman in the class. L’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris was strict, but in Düsseldorf everyone did as they pleased. My classmate Franz Erhard Walther always arrived around midday with his pot of honey and began by having breakfast. The only class where it was different was Joseph Beuys’s.

HJH The politicization of the Düsseldorf scene, in which you played an important role, didn’t start until around 1967. The murder of student Benno Ohnesorg by a policeman was a watershed moment, triggering a radicalization of student protests. Around then, you stopped working on painting and sculpture and turned to performance and actions. Had you seen the pivotal avant-garde events in Düsseldorf in 1963, such as the fluxus-organized Festum Fluxorum festival or the action-exhibition Leben mit Pop (Life with Pop)?

CR I saw the fluxus presentation, but it didn’t appeal to me: I was still too Parisian for that. My mother would bring me pork ribs to the Academy, which I would paint, like my favourite artist, Chaim Soutine. Later, we students began performing actions of our own. I got together with Walther. Polke and Gerhard Richter were together the whole time – they wouldn’t stop giggling. The four of us were in Götz’s class. They’d say things like ‘wanker’ or ‘rubber fetishist’, when I once wore an apron made of rubber, but it didn’t get to me. I wanted to be independent. I always had a job on the side: at the clothing store C&A, at the tax office and, later, as a craft teacher.

HJH After your studies, you continued to attend the famous discussion circles with Beuys that took place from 1966.

CR That was interesting! We talked about things that had never been discussed before – Rudolf Steiner,  for instance – but plenty of nonsense, too! When Beuys founded the German Students Party in June 1967, I was sceptical. There was nothing behind it. And when he spoke about ‘social sculpture’, it just didn’t work – especially when it collided with everyday politics and his activity in the Green Party.

HJH When did you meet Jörg Immendorff?

CR That was in 1963. He was at the Academy, even though he wasn’t formally allowed to study at the time, since he was only 17. His mother had sent him to live in a men’s hostel and I thought: this just won’t do. I had a grant and lived in a room of my own on Arnoldstrasse, so I invited him to come and stay with me. But, people wouldn’t hold their tongues and my parents pressured us to get married. At first, Jörg did set design and wrote poems. I don’t know why things got so different later.

Chris Reinecke, Sie haben die Macht (You Have the Power), 1969–70, felt-tip pen on paper, 29 × 21 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Thomas Flor, Berlin

HJH One of your legendary joint projects was the series of ‘Frisches’ (Fresh Stuff) action evenings that you organized in your apartment on Bankstrasse in 1966. It featured a spectacular list of participants, including Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik, as well as Beuys, Verena Pfisterer and Walther. You became increasingly politicized. How did that come about?

CR Christianity! For me, it had to do with brotherly love, caritas (charity), a preoccupation with what is just and unjust. In politics, Jörg and I had different views: his centralist perspective versus my emphasis on multiplicity and dispersion.

HJH Prior to your joint work on the LIDL projects, 1967 was an important year for you as a solo artist. Suddenly, you were making radically independent work.

CR I became radical for myself!

HJH That year, you exhibited at Helmut Rywelski’s ambitious, if short-lived, Art Intermedia gallery in Cologne. For ‘German-Danish Days’ (1967), at the student-run Galerie Aachen and on the riverfront in Düsseldorf, you were involved in actions that aggressively called for participation. These and the LIDL works have often been linked to fluxus, though they strike me as more directly political.

CR Fluxus never interested me. For Aktion 67 (a precussor project to LIDL), on the Rhine riverfront, Jörg washed cut-outs of baby heads and human figures, and I used what I called Umgebungskleider (1967) – clothes constructed
of transparent plastic on which passers-by wrote their thoughts. It was the time of informel, the ‘space’ that Hoehme spoke of, Rupprecht Geiger’s colours, pop. But these were never my fields. My space was always in the present moment. The show at Art Intermedia, titled ‘Co-operative’, required viewers to use their senses of sound, sight and smell. And people really did get hands-on.

Chris Reinecke, Dosen (Cans), 1995, ink on paper, 14 × 19 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Düsseldorf; photograph: Christoph Münstermann

HJH For Schattentasche (Shadow Bag, 1967), people were encouraged to draw shadows of objects suggested by you on plastic envelopes that contained the actual objects. In other works, a motif such as Cologne cathedral was supposed to be ‘coloured in’ by visitors using chewing gum, following instructions given in the picture. There was even chewing gum stuck to the invitation.

CR But it went wrong – a fact I took as symptomatic of a lack of social progress. I made a statement on this in the flyer for Arbeit mit blauem Faden (Work with Blue Thread) on 8 November 1969. I said to myself: from now on, hands off! In Schutz gegen Anfassen (Protection against Touching, 1970) the work is literally bagged up, sewn between two layers of denim – I’ve no idea what’s in there.

HJH  LIDL was invited to take part in ‘Jetzt. Künste in Deutschland heute’ (Now: Arts in Germany Today) at Cologne Kunsthalle, in February and March 1970. During the course of the installation, however, the group was banned from the premises due to repeated protests. You had cod liver oil with you and they thought it was petrol!

CR That was the final straw. After that, I was glad to get my contract as a craft teacher.

HJH In the spring of 1968, you and Immendorff co-founded the first LIDL space with the writer Hans-Jürgen Bulkowski and publisher Wolfgang Feelisch. With series such as ‘Friday Evenings for Adults’ you aimed to create social transformation through artistic renewal. Then, in 1970, you founded Büro Olympia in protest at the Olympic Games. Such projects gave rise to the tenant solidarity movement. Your artistic work became completely absorbed into your political activities.

Chris Reinecke, Packung-Riechen (Smell-Package), 1968, paper, sheet, felt-tip pen, watercolour, 35 × 26 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Thomas Flor, Berlin

CR As part of a neighbourhood project in Wersten, we sold condoms to women. We protested against extortionate rents and the housing crisis: nine people in a room, four people in a shipping container, slaughtering animals in the corridor. The tenant-solidarity movement was a pretext for solidarity with the working class. But the only ones who showed hospitality were gastarbeiter (guest workers): Greeks and Yugoslavians. They understood. If you’ve read your Vladimir Lenin, it should be clear: in Germany, there was no basis for the working class.

HJH But you kept on making art. Since the late 1990s, your works from the 1960s have gradually been receiving more attention – your contribution to LIDL, in particular, has been highlighted.

CR Yes, I still have a folder with pen-and-ink drawings from 1971, ‘German Faces/German Bodies’. That went on until 1975, but nothing was published.

HJH In photographs from the period, you often appear on your own. I’m thinking of documentation I have seen of Läufer (Runners, 1968), which you crocheted in situ as literal ‘connecting lines’ to other participants, and of your action Zeit und Arbeit (Time and Work, 1969), as part of ‘Festival 2000’ in Copenhagen, where you sat on the floor and, over the course of eight hours, produced a uniform graphic pattern as a tangible equivalent to the working day. Or your chewing-gum sculpture, as part of the protest action at Düsseldorf’s Schauspielhaus Theatre in January 1970, where, during a discussion betweenpanellists and the audience, you lay alone in the middle of the stage and, obviously bored by the conversation, pulled out strings of chewing gum, using chewed-up pieces to construct a pyramid form.

CR The men, like Beuys, had their followers, but I didn’t want students or apprentices. So, I stopped being an artist. Even as a teacher, however, I found women were brought down. If women knitted during meetings or speeches, they really got a roasting. Men took papers from women and presented them as their own. At the women’s congress in Frankfurt, in October 1970, as spokeswoman for the tenant-solidarity movement, I addressed the question of whether women should adopt the man’s role. I don’t think they even understood what I meant.

HJH You’ve always continued making art in some form, however. In the 1980s, you produced a number of large- scale paintings, while your recent works on paper include painting, drawing and montage. Yet, they also refer to aspects of your early practice, especially the socio-political angle.

CR It’s more fun that way!

HJH The new works are great.

CR I know they are – and I mean that in all modesty! I’m very happy with them.

Chris Reinecke lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany. In 2016, she had a retrospective exhibition at Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Düsseldorf, Germany. Her work has most recently been shown at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (2016-17), Garth Greenan Gallery, New York, USA (2016), and Förderverein Aktuelle Kunst, Münster, Germany (2015).

Hans-Jürgen Hafner is a writer and curator based in Berlin.