Berlin based artist Daniel Gustav Cramer brings together distinct space considerations, synthesising abstractions drawn from the artist’s personal experiences in his show Five Days, on now at Entrée in Bergen. Interview by Tiago Bom
Tiago Bom: Your exhibition Five Days, at Entrée, relates to different instances in your life; aesthetic considerations drawn from personal experiences. To start with the title, what does it relate to?
Daniel Gustav Cramer: The title Five Days suggests a temporal space, five moments and scenes. I wanted to bring together two parts: One is the experience of the exhibition itself, being in the space. The elements in the space are abstract and somewhat restrained, certain forms are echoed throughout, the way colours, forms and proportions are used to create a dialog between objects and images. There is a particular stillness surrounding the works.
The second part are the journeys reflected in the individual works. Each work suggests a different tale. When you think of these stories coming together, overlaying, the show begins to shift.
The works in the exhibition describe scenes in a desert in Southern California, in Australia’s Outback, at a fjord in the north of Iceland, in a forest in Norway and on a mountain top in Sweden. One of the works, an additional and almost invisible work titled XXXVI, 2017, an iron sphere placed on the floor, refers directly to the experience of being in the space. This work has a single property: It must remain in Bergen.
TB: A lot of your work, namely the photographic one, seems to stem from your personal travels. How important is this itinerant character in your work and why?
DGC: I love traveling, to be on the road, I am constantly longing for it. Do you know the experience when you travel with a train and outside your window houses pass by, windows upon windows - and you wonder: how is it possible that behind each of these windows whole life stories unfold, of happiness and sorrow, infinite routines and for a split second you pass by, look into this world, become a part of it, a window that is in an instance replaced by another one. The relation I have to my surrounding is different when I am in a place that I don’t know – I am alert, observant and open. I have problems recalling what I did on a specific day three weeks ago in my studio... but I can see with the greatest clarity what I ate that evening in Vernazza and how the sand between my toes would tickle me while waiting for the food to be served.
A memory; experiencing a memory, is entirely different to the present experience. Time is absent or deformed. I see a scene in front of me, a mood, I feel something, but the duration is distorted. This scene has no before or after. A memory is like a shape, it has an inside and an outside.
TB: Photography as a medium constitutes an important part of your oeuvre. Apart from its reproductive quality, what attracts you to the medium and what is its role in conjunction with the other media?
DGC: I like the idea that the engagement with my surrounding and subjects leaves no single trace, it doesn’t affect anything. When I photograph, I am not taking anything, transforming what is in front of me, but observing, the gaze through the lens is the only active tool. My interest has never been about what is visible in a photograph, but rather what is not. What hides behind the subject, what happened before this moment was captured? What changed between two photographs that look identical at first sight? There is a photograph entitled Moose, 2017 in the exhibition at Entrée. Espen Johansen and myself drove on a road in Norway. All at once, a gigantic moose came onto the street right in front of us. I grabbed my camera, focused and... it was too late. The framed image now shows an empty street.
TB: This exhibition features works relating to a visit to the Old Tjikko tree site in Norway but also a voyage to the desert of Algodones. Here you seem to be drawn to inhospitable areas, an Arctic forest and a sand desert in the south of the USA. What draws you to these locations and how is that reflected in the work?
DGC: I am fascinated by these kind of remote places. They inhabit a certain type of purity. I don’t mean this in a romantic or esoteric sense. They are in a positive way one- dimensional spaces. A desert is not that far off from the image one has of a desert: There is sand, a little shrub here and there, it is hot, a cloudless sky, a particular silence. A photograph taken on location turns into an image of its idea. Places far away have elements that are familiar to us. This creates a certain tension. Eight years ago I started working on a continuous instalment of exhibitions, each titled after the amount of works in the exhibition itself. The installation at Entrée is perhaps the 18th show of this series. The works are all elements of an expanding web connecting those exhibitions. They reference historical events, discoveries, scientific researches, unresolved cases as well as particularities of locations all over the world. The works might use formal structures of song writing, story telling or research as well as the language of existing works of art.
TB: If you allow me the poetic interpretation, the subjects or moments you focus on seem to often have an almost “Delphic” aura; Animals and plants seem to acquire an almost totemic quality; archetypal if you will and, particular captured experiences draw a sense of augury – as it is the case with the attempt to capture a moose crossing the road present at this exhibition. Either intentional or a formal and visual artifice, the abstractions you capture invoke in me a sense of upmost respect when dealing with personal experience. Can you tell me a bit more about the work subjects you choose and what role personal experience plays in it?
DGC: Stories are an essential part of the human spirit. Stories are passed on from generation to generation, children hear stories before they fall asleep, the news cycle produces one story after the next. A contemporary way to express oneself on social media is to create a narrative around one ́s self. Yet, there is no single “true” story, an event cannot be repeated or be retold in the exact same way it occurred. In this sense every story is an abstraction, a creation. I am using stories as tools to describe a form or shape or to hint towards something else. A very simple example: think of a man who walks from a tree to a lake and stops. His movement has created a line. As it is a story, written down, both the first and last word of this story are visible on the same page. Consequentially, the man is at the same time at every point between the first and last step of his walk. There is a line drawn into the landscape or a kind of sculptural space by his movement.
The works, even if in part they might appear diaristic or personal to the viewer, are to my understanding abstract and deconstructed. Having said that, my motivation to make work, ultimately, is personal. With each work I am trying to understand a little bit more about the world around me, about belonging, friendship, death, how time affects everything and the necessity of form. And each work added to the existing works adds a bit more to the web of thoughts and questions between all of them.
TB: Are there any particularities of Nordic landscape and culture that you find recurrent in your work? Do you think you’ll be doing more projects in Norway in the future?
DGC: Most of the time I am intrigued by similarities I find between seemingly detached places and how the different circumstances produce difference. A sandy path on a mediterranean island seems almost identical to one in Iceland. But there are distinct variants as a consequence of the different climate, the different vehicles or animals using the path, etc. I have not seen a lot of Norway yet and feel the urge to go again in the summer, to travel the fjords and discover much more. I am really amazed, how warm and friendly the people are. During my time in Bergen, it rained almost every day, but the faces were smiling as if on a hot summer’s day.
TB: What other projects do you have planned for the future?
DGC: For several years I am working on and off on a vampire film. I shot most of the scenes last year in Transylvania. It is not an actual vampire movie. Rather a visual conversation about, a friendship and its evolution and disappearance. I have just produced a first screen print in many years, it is shown at Entrée. I would like to return to this technique. Right now I am preparing an exhibition at Sies and Höke in Düsseldorf for the end of January 2018.
Five Days, curated by Espen Johansen, is on until until the 13th of January 2018. Daniel Gustav Cramer was born in Düsseldorf, Germany. He is based in Berlin. He studied at the Royal College of Art in London. He has exhibited in numerous places, including dOCUMENTA(13), Kassel, Kunsthaus Glarus, La Kunsthalle Mulhouse, Kunsthalle Lissabon, Kunstsaele, Berlin, CAAC Seville, etc. This year he has exhibited at grey noise in Dubai, UAE, at Verksmiõjan In Akureyri (Iceland), at Vera Cortes in Lisbon, Portugal and Sperling in Munich.