Interview by Frédéric Caillard, April 2017
What is your personal history and relationship with abstraction?
I come from the appropriation side of art history. Around 1999 we started a group called Oskar-van-Miller Strasse 16 in Frankfurt, where we would copy events that were happening in the city, like films, lectures or music from clubs. For example, we would go to a lecture by Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre, we would tape it, transcribe it and hold the same lecture at our place at Oskar-van-Miller Strasse 16. It was like a copy, everything that had been said by the actual author would be transcribed with all the mistakes, all the breaks. We even recorded the audience which would also appear in our lecture.
Some type of reenactment?
Reenactment has some type of sentimentality or melancholy linked to it, that was not our aim. It was about repetition and about what gets lost on its way. We would film a movie, screen it, film it again and screen it again. And that’s where it leads to a form of abstraction that is very interesting. I don’t want to sound too pretentious, but Kierkegaard said “It’s impossible to repeat a journey”. If you like a vacation in Italy and you try to repeat it the year after it’s not going to be the same.
What was the first event you copied?
It was in early 1999, it was a film with Andy Warhol and the members of the Factory, the Velvet Underground and Nico, at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt. We filmed it in super 8 with a friend of mine, and invited people to “our film” screening… We got well known at the time, we were doing hostile takeovers of things that happened. People would know our name, Dennis Loesch and Michael Riedel, or the name of Oskar-van-Miller Strasse 16, and every time we would appear, people would take care of what they said because they would be recorded or filmed or photographed…
The next thing was that we went to clubs in Offenbach or Munich or Berlin or London, and we would steal the music and play it in our space…
We recorded a lot of sounds and images, we would stage an event in our space but no one would show up, there would be like 4 or 5 people, so we documented the event with photos, we recorded it, stored it somewhere and then we played it again. This is basically the idea that led me to the Memory Sticks, the documentation of trivial stuff.
“In 1998… there was no proper internet… so we did our own internet”
It is the recording that makes things exist?
Exactly. In 1998, when we met, there was no proper internet with images and social media like today, so we did our own internet.
You seemed to be working a lot with sound at that time, what led you to work more with images?
The first show with strictly images that I did was in 2010 with Andre Schlechtriem in Berlin, before I went to Los Angeles for a year. I called it Backup. I showed all the data, image files, texts and graphics that were on my computer, it was the first Memory Sticks show.
How did you come up with the idea of using Sticks and not a regular rectangular format to print your images?
It all started with a joke. So we wouldn’t have to pay for an 8GB transfer, a friend of mine asked “to put the data on a stick” and send it to him. So I went to the Home Depot and I saw these wooden sticks of 2m40 and decided to glue my imagery on that stick, and that was the birth of the Memory Sticks.
So the first Memory Sticks you did were the one with the thumbnails?
Yes, I batch-processed all my files to the same size so they would fit on the sticks, using the batch processing function of Photoshop, all black & white at 300×400 pixels. A single picture is not interesting, it is more the value and the graphics that appear when you look from afar. In the first show I had 24,000 images. All had been on my hard drive.
Did you censor some images?
No censorship, I never blacked out an image, ever.
“I needed to bring data into a physical form”
The Sticks have been one of the main visual signature of your work, what did this specific format bring to your art?
They are like a system to create art, a display management system. It is a semi-automated system, because the final move is to place the pictures manually.
Then in 2011 I started a body of work where I would capture gradient screen savers on a series of sticks. It was very interesting to put a whole image on several sticks.
In 2012, it was Playboy’s anniversary, I did a series of playmates. There is another thing I found out about the sticks, later, when I started to hang them: if you interchange the stick order, you destroy the actual image. With a nude, you change the 1st stick with the 3rd, and the 7th with 8th, the whole image becomes totally abstract.
I then started to copy existing artworks to make it clearer that it is about a system, so I would copy an Ed Rusha gas station but I would not show it in the correct way so you could not recognize the gas station. You would somehow remember that you have seen this image before – if you are interested in art – but the image would not be there.
So we could say that the thumbnails works are related to digital memory and that the full image works are related to…
… subjective memory, yes absolutely.
What is also interesting with the Memory Sticks is that the whole image cannot be seen at once, you have to move around to capture what is on the side of the sticks for example.
I could have done flat strips on the wall, but I needed to get data into a physical form, so you can grab it, touch it. Data does not have a physical appearance, it’s just a binary code and that’s it. You can see data on a display but you can’t have it in your hands. That’s why I liked the sticks at Home Depot…
Now I use aluminum sticks, not wood anymore. The sticks are getting bigger too, they are now 6 cm, up from 4 cm.
Do you always keep the full image or do you sometimes take some “slices” out?
It is always the full image, there is never something missing.
Sometimes you show the Memory Sticks leaning on the wall or hanged at an angle?
Yes, that was during my Los Angeles time, I tried to hang them in a diagonal way, but I never did that afterwards. It is not an option anymore, I don’t like the appearance. It should look like a stick and a stick is straight in my opinion. It is a subjective and aesthetic decision that I took in 2012.
Dennis Loesch, The Oriental, 2012 / 160 x 140 x 4cm / inkjet print on aluminum (not shown in the exhibition). © Dennis Loesch and Gold Trust Collection, Vienna. Courtesy Dennis Loesch.
What about the SD cards?
For the show with the SD cards, I wanted to have more printing space on a single area than on the sticks where space is limited. I was sitting at my computer and as you can imagine I have a lot of SD cards around on my desktop. I save images on these SD cards too, so I thought I should use the form of the actual medium that I use to save data, to capture what I do. So for my last show at Dittrich & Schlechtriem, I wanted to bring the image of my desktop into the gallery. I had 9 SD cards on my desktop, the small ones, I took measurements, blew them up to 2m and 1m60, had them cut out of wood and then I put some imagery on the cards, I had a huge area to print on for the first time.
Can you also tell us about the Merge Visible show that you did at PM/AM in London? “Merge visible” is the name of a Photoshop function. For this series, you mixed some actual brushstrokes with digital brushstrokes?
The concept that is important in this series is anachronism. When you think about historical forms of art everyone thinks about painting. Painting is art, it is what makes art. I tried to keep it very simple in that show. I had a painter execute simple brushstrokes for me, I chose the colors and the length of the strokes.
Why didn’t you make the paint strokes yourself?
I cannot do it, I tried it for half a year and it never came out the way I wanted to, so I asked this artist who knew how to mix the acrylics to do it and she did it easily. And then my part was to find a fitting for the digital stroke that was printed on top. The goal was to see what happens between the actual painting and the print over it. You would have the oldest art technique, the painting, with a canvas glued to a wooden board and primed seven times with a special primer used by the old masters, and then I would just put the full format in the printer, and you would get the newest technique on top of it.
You have the actual painting and the image of the painting on top of each other…
There you go, exactly!
Is your work influenced by other’s work or do you rather work in your own sphere?
I do talk a lot about my work. I wouldn’t say my work is fed by other artists, especially the Memory Sticks. When you see the SD cards, a carved-out form, people say it reminds them of Alex Israel’s self-portraits. But I don’t see it this way as I think it comes from a totally different angle, it has nothing to do with data or storage…
What are you up to? Do you have any new series in progress?
I am getting more towards sculpting. First I did the Memory Sticks, which is clearly a medium to store imagery, files or data and give a physical appearance to it. Same thing for the SD cards, and now I am applying found images, graphics or text (it is not my own imagery anymore) on other forms. I´d say I think of myself as a filter for the daily based image and information flood. The first thing I did was with the painting of Salvador Dali, with the fluid watch: I shaped the form of the watch on wood and I am working on its surface now.
Main illustration picture: Dennis Loesch, Installation view of Merge Visible, PM/AM, London, 2015: Untitled (Magenta Magentanet), 2015 / acrylic and UV-inkjet print on linen / 200 × 140 cm. Courtesy PM/AM.