Michael Beutler is a bricoleur, a tinkerer who improvises using the materials he finds at the locations where his artworks are to be presented. The artist creates complex installations from available resources, often by inventing and developing new tools and methods. A host of helpers engage in a collaborative working process, where materials are repurposed and spaces are transformed. The materials used in Dessau include tree cuttings from the Georgengarten. The portico of the Georgium’s former kitchen building becomes the setting for process-oriented sculptural re-constructions utilizing the space within the now-vanished cubic form of the building destroyed in the war. This project will not end with opening of the exhibition but will continue beyond the duration of the 2019 Werkleitz Festival.
Interview Michael Beutler with Kristina Tieke
KT: The work you are creating for Model and Ruin in the Georgengarten will appear at the site of the Royal Kitchen building, of which only the portico remains. A visual axis establishes a connection to the former kitchen garden. The location seems ideal for you. You have always been interested in traditional crafts – to which I rather generously count traditional fruit and vegetable gardening as well as the culinary arts. What role do the historical conditions in Dessau play for you?
MB: To begin with, the history creates the basic conditions in which I can develop my work. The portico in its present state is a product of many different histories or narratives that continue to be told through the present. There is now no way to tell how the missing building was used in the past. A local association has nevertheless started an initiative to reconstruct the house and is using the occasion of the exhibition Model and Ruin to draw attention to the rebuilding project by laying a provisional foundation. The new history is in this way stacked on top of the old one and the work to be created here will have to take both into consideration. I willingly take on these narrative threads and will try to see them as part of the work from the very beginning.
KT: You develop your monumental installations using articles from hardware stores and basic materials like plywood, corrugated cardboard and paper. The charm of the temporary and incomplete in your works always betrays something about their creation. The precarious nature of your structures reveals the transience of all achievements and at the same time suggests the idea of a sustainability that is pioneering in the recycling of raw materials.
What will your installation in the Georgengarten look like? What materials and production methods will you be using?
MB: In order to construct the provisional foundation a few trees had to be cut down, which I will now be able to use. From the wood I will build several hay balers. Each of the balers will press the hay into a different form so that the bales won’t just be round or square, as is usually the case. All together the bales will yield a kind of construction set that will make it possible to extend the portico into at least part of a building. We will buy the straw from a farmer in the region. The bales will all be pressed and bound by hand. The new bales will be sheet piled – or to be more precise plied together – and plastered over using mud and limestone. In this way a surface will be created that ideally will look like a large brick and thus correspond to the appearance of the other buildings in the Georgengarten.
KT: Together with a team you are realizing your project on site. Not a single phase of the work will be outsourced, nothing will be delegated to machines – with the exception of the self-made, non-electric apparatuses that will become part of the installation. This is a counter concept to our outsourced working world, playful and self-assured. A celebration of solidarity and cooperation. What importance do you yourself attribute to this working process?
MB: It all sounds quite utopian and it often really is. When after a typically lengthy planning period the basic conditions for the initiation of such a process have been established it becomes evident in the course of the following working or rather building or – more generally – production process what can be created from this situation. Ideas that seemed fantastic vanish into the realm of impossibility, yet in the active process new constructions and previously unknown mechanisms divulge new possibilities. In this way everyone involved is often surprised. If the group is able to deal well with the new situation it’s a wonderful thing. For this reason the ideas are always formulated openly and require a corresponding flexibility in their implementation. For me it’s always important to be able to react and in this way to remain a component within the production.
Situation, labour and end result all correlate with one another in such a method. The structures may become monumental but never unproportional.
KT: The exhibition Model and Ruin is part of the Bauhaus Centenary. Your project in the Georgengarten is not far from the Meisterhäuser. One is tempted to see a common idea or context, perhaps something like that the ideals of Bauhaus artists can be interpreted in a way similar to your work: as a model for a better society. To what degree is there a utopian core to what you do?
MB: Art is able to facilitate utopian ideas and to live them out in a certain framework. As I described above, I have the fortune to repeatedly encounter situations in which things believed to be utopian appear to be experienced in real life. That is above all the case when the work flows automatically, when all the elements intertwine and everyone involved becomes part of the general project on the same level. I wouldn’t say that these are models of a better society. But they are at least moments when I wouldn’t wish for anything other than the given situation.
Situation, Arbeitsaufwand, Resultat entsprechen einander in solch einem Vorgehen. Die Dinge werden vielleicht monumental, aber nie unproportional.
KT: Die Ausstellung Modell und Ruine ist ein Beitrag zum Bauhaus-Jubiläumsjahr. Dein Projekt im Georgengarten liegt in Nachbarschaft der Meisterhäuser. Man ist versucht, hier einen Sinnzusammenhang zu stiften, und sei es jener, dass die Ideale der Bauhauskünstler sich lesen lassen wie deine Arbeit: als Modell einer besseren Gesellschaft. Inwiefern gibt es einen utopischen Kern in dem, was du tust?
MB: Die Kunst vermag das Utopische zuzulassen und im Rahmen auszuleben. Wie schon oben beschrieben, komme ich glücklicherweise immer wieder in Situationen, in denen das utopisch Geglaubte gerade gelebt zu sein scheint. Am ehesten ist es der Fall, wenn die Arbeit wie von selbst läuft, alle wichtigen Elemente ineinandergreifen und alle Beteiligten auf gleicher Ebene Teil des Ganzen werden. Ich würde selbst nicht sagen, dass dies dann Modelle einer besseren Gesellschaft sind. Zumindest sind es jedoch Momente, in denen ich mir keine andere Situation als die aktuelle wünsche.