Purple Magazine

urs fischer


interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
all artwork copyright URS FISCHER
courtesy of the artist and gagosian gallery

“When I think about the political in the visual arts, it’s how dreams — new or broken — come alive. That’s where the love is. Art always has room for anything and everybody. Art is whatever you allow it to be, as an artist or a viewer”.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s talk about the anarchic nature of love, which has a very private side, but also a political side. As an artist, do you feel more narcissistic or empathetic?
URS FISCHER — Are you calling me an anarchist?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Anarchist? No — empathetic or narcissistic?
URS FISCHER — You framed love as “anarchic.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, the anarchy of love. I mean, love is always in conflict with society and all that. When you fall in love, you separate yourself. You form a sort of bubble with this partner, and you run away. And when it comes to politics, love is anarchic because there’s no dream, no ideology.
URS FISCHER — You mean, blind passion? No rationale, eh?

OLIVIER ZAHM — [Laughs] Yes! And just an impulse. A very utopian impulse. But as an artist, how do you feel about love?
URS FISCHER — I don’t really know. I used to have a real need to find it. It made me feel alive. Real life paled in comparison with this intensity that activates every cell in one’s body. My relation to what
I understand love to be must have changed. It turned into something that has more to do with love for myself, my family, people, the world — it’s more that than mad love, which used to be my only concept of love. My mad loves had more to do with my own needs than anything else. Mad love can help make good art — that’s for sure. It’s rocket fuel.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you mean true love? Mad love is true love, true love is mad love…
URS FISCHER — Mad love, to me, is an intense feeling. Feels amazing at the time, but it never worked out for me and, for sure, did not leave me in a good place once it faded away. Feeling high or intoxicated, my body chemistry off, can be a very lonely place. Chances are that you will not see the other, and they will not see you because they only see this intoxicated version of you. The love I look for is for life, for everything. When I feel part of everything, my life is simply beautiful, open. Maybe mad love for everything… Looking and listening feel better than trying to make something fit your own reality. Love, to me, is when I feel connected to myself and the universe at the same time. What other ways do we have to understand our existence? Our brain generates specific needs: it builds endless stories and narratives to find context. It seems to me that we’re very limited in our capacity to understand. What we want, think we deserve, desire — they take up most of our mind space. What we actually have is more difficult to embrace. So, we don’t have much ability to be in the moment. But the moment is love.

OLIVIER ZAHM — “Being in the moment” — when you said that, I was thinking about your love of flowers. You constantly shoot flowers.
URS FISCHER — They’re hot, man! [Laughs] I have a beautiful garden with lots of flowers. They look like genitals from up close. Kind of abstract and alien. I watch hummingbirds and all kinds of insects fly straight to the blossoms, drawn in and seduced by the appearance and the scent, like flashy traffic signals in nature. The visitors bring some and take some stuff from blossom to blossom. So simple! Industriously philandering insects! The flowers, these inviting little fireworks of nature, are both male and female. And some of them turn into fruits — a birth of sorts. I love to watch them as they grow, born out of a flower! There is a pomegranate tree I look at every day. Out of its red blossoms grow these big and ancient fruits that are filled with juicy little seeds of life. As the outer shell bursts open, all kinds of animals show up and eat the seeds. They look like little red jewels. I mean, fruits, beans — they are all here to seduce; they want to be eaten, devoured. Nature is so attractive and intelligent. And as the seeds travel through bodies, we move away from the plant and deposit them in a new place, embedded in fertilizer. That’s where it’s at. Gotta love the fruits!

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s fascinating. I never thought about that. It’s sort of a life cycle?
URS FISCHER — So is our sexuality. I mean, whatever else we do with it, we can eat the fruit. Doesn’t mean you plant a banana palm in a yard in Paris…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think that art can still be something that helps us, and not just to describe the world or reproduce it?
URS FISCHER — Yes. Art has always been here. The fruits of our culture. The folktales and the mythologies have been here with us — they sort of are us. We make the same archetypal stories wear different outfits. So much art has been made that got lost, and some survived. It’s a permanent presence in our lives… Some art says the unspeakable: it’s a voice for what cannot be said. The need for new art or new outfits — the novelty — confuses me at times. I want to consume it immediately, devour and digest it. And then, not novel anymore, it moves into the distance and becomes an amazing accumulation of everything that has been done. The new is only one stage of the life cycle of an artwork. Most of what touches me is in the vast, calm memory of the old. To embrace both, the new and the old, the dialogue between them — that will never go away. You live in Paris: it still gives us something, perpetually, quietly, and sometimes excitingly.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It definitely reflects the moment. But people are so lost now, politically, don’t you think? Do you see art as something that can provide freedom from fear?
URS FISCHER — There are so many different views about how art and politics intersect. It seems to me that identity is what can be found in art, more than freedom from fear. I never had an interest in illustrating my political views, understanding, and wishes through visual art. As a platform for that, it always seemed a little out of touch and like preaching to the choir. Some of that has shifted through social media, with its speed and agility. What intrigues me about artworks is that they are like plutonium. They radiate consistently for a long time, but not so much at any given moment. In performing arts and entertainment, the story that’s in the present can bring excitement as it unfolds and vanishes in front of you. That can give me insights, which temporarily provide freedom from my fears. Back to mythology, particularly Greek mythology: in a way, these are all the stories that exist. By being the same, but retold in a different form, they help me understand mine. The stuff we streamed in this time of self-isolation filled us, in the absence of real-life encounters. When I think about the political in the visual arts, it’s how these dreams, new or broken, come alive. That’s where the love is. Art always has room for anything and everybody. Art is whatever you allow it to be, as an artist or a viewer.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think that the current gender revolution will bring something new to the art world?
URS FISCHER — How would I know?  Part of our skin has become frail and brittle, extending our bodies into the screens of our smartphones. It is much easier to be touched and to have our personal space invaded. Possibly, through the same fragility, if we allow it, there is room for a culture that allows us to understand ourselves and others in a deeper and more tolerant way. I’m very happy that the binary world I grew up in is shifting into a multidimensional spectrum, which actually has room for one to be. I oscillate between all kinds of different things — I haven’t often had the feeling of belonging or fitting in. At times, that’s a painful process. The definitions and divisions of the past, these conceptual fortifications, won’t be missed. We’re heading toward a much better place. Fear sucks and hurts. I don’t know how that will be reflected in art. Everything opens up. Art is to celebrate life. Emotions sing, agendas talk. But back to the ancient Greeks, one of my absolute favorite sculptures is [Bernini’s] Sleeping Hermaphroditus in the Louvre. It’s absolutely divine. And the way it’s installed, with the back turned to the side as the viewer approaches the figure, and how it unveils its nature: I really enjoy watching the broad spectrum of viewers’ reactions to a 2,000-year-old piece of marble.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You mean the sculpture at the Louvre? That’s incredible. It has always been there, in a way, this reality. But what has your personal experience been like? Has it changed much over time?
URS FISCHER — Yeah, I see things very differently. I don’t feel them that differently, but I understand my feelings differently. A lot of my subconscious is obscured to me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is that still very problematic?
URS FISCHER — No. Whatever conflicts I brought into this life and accumulated growing up — they keep me looking for love. Often, I looked in places where there was none for me. But that is part of the journey. But I need a lot of it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You need a lot?
URS FISCHER — Love? Very much so, yeah.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you seem much more in tune with love now. You don’t torture yourself so much with this.
URS FISCHER — No, but I don’t think that’s the same kind of love, what you’re talking about. You find what you need in somebody at all points. There’s always a need we have. There’s hardly ever a time that we don’t have a need when we interact with someone. Love can be muddled with all kinds of confusion and needs. I think I had a fair share of that… Like a long freight train or a subway train, one car after the other of the same. And when you realize they connect, it’s time to hop off the train.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Self-love — is that the solution for love?
URS FISCHER — Yes! Sounds awesome.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And what you do with your art helps you to be at peace with yourself.
URS FISCHER — I don’t know that. I don’t know what art is. I know what happens once it’s there, and then it becomes this thing that you engage with. Part of it is that it can be fun to make; part of it feels like it has a real urgency. Honestly, I don’t totally understand where it comes from when you make a decent work. What I do know is that when things align, they align — but usually they don’t. I’m fascinated by this. It feels good, but it’s also confusing. I do think art needs not just an inner, but also an outer. And it’s connected — it responds. It’s like a fungus, a virus, yeast in the air, and it needs other things. Does it bring peace? Feels more like temporary relief.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your art is very personal — you don’t give it a political message. Your art is an experience.
URS FISCHER — How do you define politics? If you define it as agendas, then no. But I love environments that have an open structure, where anything can take place. I’m always taken aback by a collective creative eruption, when the inhibitions peel away and people dare to create and feel empowered by the experience. This includes the destructive asshole who wants to destroy what others created — that drives me nuts, but then, I have to accept that they exist, too. There’s not only good — there’s everything. That, to me, is a political view.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you’re not in front of an obvious political message or opinion. As an artist, do you want to be loved?
URS FISCHER — I don’t know, man. As an artist, I think you want to communicate. But you’re also the one person who’ll always be blind to anything you do because you never have the joy that you experience when encountering somebody else’s work. And what I love about art, besides making it, is seeing somebody else’s work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But creating and sharing your work is also about wanting to transform the world, in a way?
URS FISCHER — It’s just art. That’s it. There’ll be more works. It’s interesting that it keeps going. There’s so much stuff. The individual, one work — it doesn’t really matter. The world transforms itself perpetually.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s still a place for freedom, don’t you think? Especially you — you’re really free. Each time you do a show, we don’t know what to expect. It’s a new experience each time, which makes us realize how free we can be.
URS FISCHER — Yeah. Or how unfree we are. Back to the love thing — we have so much contradiction in us. We know how life feels if there is no love. We know anger. Love cannot be a dessert. [Laughs] It’s the whole meal and washing the dishes, making the bed, taking a shit, doing your laundry.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I agree. And the artwork is not just a product, a process, of that?
URS FISCHER — Personally, I love artworks that come from a process, like somebody’s working something through, and it’s very odd and also goes bad and fails. And I like works that were way too easy to make, too — “tat, tat, tat.” They all have their own place. The power of art is that it deals with the uncontrollable, your subconscious, and what’s out of your control. And that is what’s beautiful. We’re people. We’re all a mess, man. You’re a child, you grow up with parents. That, in itself, guarantees a mess.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, it comes back to the anarchy of love. Leaving this possibility open, not trying to educate or to control people around you…
URS FISCHER — Yeah, if we define anarchy like this. I was just saying that you can have lots of loves. I have love for my children, for my friends, for life, for nature, for whatever… But my [idea] of love would be, in a way, to just let it be. Open. That’s love to me.




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