German artist Gregor Hildrebrandt has a labyrinthine exhibition at the Almine Rech gallery in Paris until 25 February. In his new works, he continues to explore his fascination with music and its recording media. He cuts up and reassembles magnetic tapes and vinyl records to invent a new, impenetrable, sinuous musical grammar that reflects the collective memory that humanity has assembled over the years.
His massive floor juxtaposed chessboards is part of a heady reflection on duality and his title painting Alle Schläge sind erlaubt is inspired by the pattern on the drapes of a New York hotel. We asked Gregor Hildebrandt to decipher his new works for us, and to tell us about his passion for music and his fascination with chessboards.
NEWS OF THE ART WORLD – Can you tell us what you find interesting about recording media such as cassettes and records?
Gregor Hildebrandt – What most interests me is the music that the media contains and the imaginary world evoked by the song. What also impresses me is the transformation of multi-coloured audio cassettes that end up as big black paintings.
I discovered the moulded vinyl records at a second-hand sale in Berlin in 2003. I instantly liked these objects, and what they represented: music as a container. I was very excited and I immediately bought several for myself to use as fruit bowls and to store onions, and as birthday gifts.
I made my first piece from the moulded vinyl records in 2005. I asked the seller where I bought the bowls to mould a vinyl record for me. It was Jacques Brel’s Ne me quitte pas, which my mother had given me. What I like about the paintings that I am making at the moment in cut-out vinyls is that the grooves are very much like brush strokes.
What is the starting point for your works? In your latest exhibition, you can see that it can be anything from a photo, a song, or a hotel room, etc.
The starting points are always very different, but generally I can say that they are always things that are around me and that I like. Then, the things come together and cross over, like, for example, the view from a window, a song on the radio, or what might be running through your mind at some point.
You started working with cassette tapes in the 1990s. At the time, they were used a lot. Like vinyl records, they fell out of favour, before coming back into fashion… Do these changes in perception influence the way you think about your art? Or he way people who view your art perceive it?
I don’t necessarily think about it when I’m working. I have simply noticed that cassettes have become rarer and more expensive. They are like paint for painters.
How do you collect the records, cassettes and video tapes that act as the records medium for your work? Does what is recorded on them contribute any meaning to the final work?
I buy audio cassettes on eBay. What is recorded on them does not matter, because they are all recorded over when I make the painting – in most cases with a single song per painting that is repeated over and over again.
That said, I am not sure that as a spectator you need to know the songs to understand the pieces. I think that even without hearing them you feel something of them. Maybe even my enthusiasm for them.
What is your relationship with music when you work?
I like to listen to music and when I really like a song I play it over and over again, continuously. I do it at work, when I’m driving my car, or when I’m smoking, which I have not done for some time, sadly.
Could you talk to us a little more about your work Burning from the Inside (a wall of audio cassettes), one of the most imposing works in your exhibition at Almine Rech, and the way you imagined it?
It is the only figurative piece in the exhibition. In fact, initially, I did not want to have a Kassettensetzkasten (cassette cabinet) in the exhibition, because I already had a really beautiful in my recent exhibitions, but I found that it worked wonderfully with the Hirnholzparkett cassette tape floor in front of it. That piece – Hirnholzparkett – is sort of my Babylon. In the room, I wanted to create with Burning from the Inside a more concentrated zone that you come to like a kind of oasis in the centre of the exhibition. The title Kassettensetzkasten refers to the album of the same name by Bauhaus, which I adore. The motif also refers to the album cover, but its colours and atmosphere also refer to the cover of Faith by The Cure.
The entire exhibition is imagined as a labyrinth and your works are themselves labyrinths that lead from one groove to another, from one tape to another. Are you obsessed by this shape?
Yes, it’s true. I have transformed the whole gallery through the labyrinthine structure of the main room. The small rooms that give onto the courtyard no longer seem so small.
I proposed and created a viewing order, but through that process I also made it possible for the works to be seen in an ideal fashion. The room was divided according to them. It offers several viewing angles and front-on situations that create the feeling that sections of wall that are actually small are much bigger and more imposing than they really are. That also made it possible for me to show more works, because sometimes the more there are, the better it is!
You work a lot with black and white. In the exhibition, there is a superb, very bright turquoise blue work. What is your relationship to colour?
I generally try to not use colour. My paintings are almost all black, because the audio cassette tape is fairly black, and white, because the paintings are prepped with a white primer. There are also brown cassette tapes, but I don’t like them as much. My coloured pieces, such as the blue mäandern ins Blaue painting, which is in the first part of my exhibition at Almine Rech, are composed exclusively of the guard bands at the beginning and end of the cassette tapes. Before the song starts or ends.
For Hirnholzparkett we used over 30,000 audio cassettes and since you cannot see the precious coloured guard bands in the piece, I asked if we could collect them with a view to making some coloured paintings. In my opinion, the tape is reminiscent of a beginning and an end that are repeated endlessly.
At the end of the exhibition there is a chessboard floor. Can you tell me what you found interesting about the sets?
It was the star piece of my Ich möchte weiterhin verwundbar bleiben exhibition at the Grieder gallery in Zurich. I absolutely love chess. That is why, originally, I wanted to create a piece with chess pawns. With that idea in mind, I bought lots of chess sets and they all had chessboards. I laid the boards side by side and I really liked the effect.
A while earlier, in the Morne-à-l’Eau cemetery in Guadalupe, I found some tombs that were covered in a chequerboard pattern. That made me think of my “rip-off” paintings. They are paintings that I explore and that show a pattern and its negative. (You can have a predominantly black painting and a predominantly white painting, Ed.) So, I reproduced part of the cemetery in the paintings in my exhibition in Zurich. I was inspired by their spatial organization: each painting refers to a tomb, to which I added the chequerboard floor.
When we were talking about my piece Das Schachspiel (2008), Tina Sauerländer has remarked on the relationship between the black and white duality of the game and my “rip-offs”, which always comprise a version that is predominantly white and another version that is predominantly black. They often mirror each other.