“I often compared my approach to the work of a gardener. I plant ideas like seeds in fertile soil, watering and feeding them so that they hopefully sprout”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging to art?
TP: I grew up on the outskirts of Cologne. After finishing high school, I went to Bonn to study chemistry. But dropped out after one semester. It just didn’t work out. There were only nerds and budding pharmacists, all the conversations revolved around chemistry. Chemistry from 8am in the morning to 8pm in the evening, chemistry for breakfast, chemistry in the underground, chemistry with beer. But when I came home in the evening, I just had to draw to somehow get by. But studying chemistry doesn’t work like that and so I preferred to spend half a year watering flowers in a big chemical company to earn money and do my portfolios for the applications to the academies on the side. How did I come to art? Art as an activity, in my case drawing, has always been with me. I was drawing before I could even speak and have never stopped since. I think it’s that simple.
AT: When did it become serious?
TP: The first time it got serious was when I was 12 years old. We had organised a drawing competition with friends. At the end, we had our parents and their friends judge the quality of the results. It was decided that there are two winners: me and another child. The question arose whether one of them would actually become an artist. This moment made a big impression on me at the time, almost shocked me and definitely made me giddy. Even though it was only hypothesis back then, being an artist suddenly showed up as a real possibility. It then became really serious, as I said, during my chemistry studies.
AT: Are there any persons that have been significant in your progression as an artist?
Europa nach dem Regen, 2017, pencil on paper, 196×283 cm | Solo exhibition at Eduardo Secci Contemporary – curated by Domenico de Chirico, 23 November 2019 – 15 February 2020 | ph. Stefano Maniero
AT: What’s your first approach to the work? Could you describe your practice?
TP: I often compared my approach to the work of a gardener. I plant ideas like seeds in fertile soil, watering and feeding them so that they hopefully sprout. During this process I touch the sprouts and experience how they react to my heat and how they make me feel. Maybe I feel repelled, but the thought of changing the environmental conditions there can already be a kind of response. Sometimes, though, I have to cut them off again or just burn everything to ashes. Basically, however, my approach has changed a lot in the course of the last three years. It has become broader, you could say – also in terms of the use of different media, but above all broader in the sense of being more-dimensional or process-oriented. I allow more, try out more and started to include results that I would have discarded in the past. I also no longer allow myself to be guided so much by aesthetic parameters anymore. What remains are the moments when the seed is planted for a new work or a whole series. Something catches my attention, thrusts with force into my consciousness and begins to blaze brightly. Here it starts triggering a chain reaction of associations and manifesting itself more and more clearly, if still as a mere inkling, in my existence. Another image I like, when it comes to describing my approach is that of a fisherman. You could also say I am fishing in opaque waters, and what gets caught in my web of lines emerges as a complex ‘Gestalt’ from the depths of the human nature – seemingly ancient and yet as alive as if it had just been born. It seems as if only a subtext, the deeper level of an unknown narrative, is emerging here. The ‘Gestalten’ themselves remain elusive. If one tries to get hold of them descriptively, one fails because of the dualism of linguistic comprehension. Again and again they elude clear definition and behave like fluid spiritual entities that have difficulty adapting to a vessel – sometimes they change their form, but never their essence. And although they are clearly identifiable, they cannot be separated from the whole. Like in a bloodstream, they are irretrievably connected to each other. If you nevertheless separate them from the composition with the scalpel of reason, they die and lose their vitality. The task is to capture the ‘Gestalten’ alive without cutting their umbilical cord. You could say it’s more of a dance together than a hunt. The artwork as such is the carrier, which is marked by traces of this interaction.
AT: What do you want to reach with your work?
TP: I would like to make an intellectual contribution with my work. It is important for me to go through certain questions: What is the motivation for my actions? What is my identity based on? Where does my origin lie? What is my self? And where is the foreign? What are the causes of fear? Why can we observe a shift towards irrational decisions in our society? What structures determine the irrational? And what means do we have to access and possibly influence these structures? I don’t want to claim to be able to answer even one of these questions at present. I am not interested in finding answers. But exploring these questions has brought me, albeit a long way, to a greater understanding of the complexity of human existence and our culture. I see it more like an exploratory journey into the shallows of human existence. It is a journey marked by violence, loss and trauma, but also by love and devotion. During my work over the past three years, I realized that the symbolic sphere is extremely relevant here. Symbols in their highest and deepest meaning and significance provide some kind of “key“ to open up the irrational structures of our being. When asking myself about that sphere of the irrational, the underworld, the identity, and the origin, I found out that they are one of the cognitive “tools” involved to unveil possible answers, at least partially – and open up to paths that simply go beyond the rational and causal – enlightening a sort of universal substructure. Art is very relevant here and can contribute something that is beyond acute crisis management. It can provide long-term visions that give us trust and can carry us through dark times – give us believe and fulfill us with faith for what we want to be and how we want to act!
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
TP: A4 papers, F hardness pencils from Koh-i-Noor, black ballpoint pens, markers, my old laser printer, my notebook, my iPhone and lots of cheap copy paper.
AT: How do you feel while you are working? Do you think of the final result?
TP: I usually feel great while working. Or I don’t feel myself at all. In the best case, I sink into a total flow state and am simply gone. Then I don’t even think consciously any more and certainly not about the result.
Exit II (Prolog), 2019, HD Video, 10:42 min (Voice by Insa Langhorst, Camera by Damien Vignaux and Paul Jung) | Solo exhibition at Unttld Contemporary, hosted by Megamelange, 08 April – 05 May 2019, Cologne, Germany
AT: How do you understand when a work is finished?
TP: I know exactly. It feels like putting the last missing piece in a puzzle.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
TP: Inspiration for new work can come from anywhere. More and more, however, it comes from my own practice and less often from outside. Basically, it can be said that it is often marginalities that form the trigger, or as I said above, the seed for a new work.
AT: There are any artists who influenced your works? Why?
TP: Again and again, other artists have had a strong influence on me over the course of time. Most of the time they hit me completely defenceless with their work. I then always needed a long time to free myself from their spirit again. I always liked this kind of encounter – or maybe it’s better to say crash. When an idea is so strong that you run the risk of losing yourself in it. It can be hard to learn how to deal with it. But when you have managed to integrate it appropriately into your own world view, you have usually been richly gifted.
AT: How important is for you the role of social media?
TP: I love social media. No, seriously – I use Instagram a lot as part of my artistic process. For me it’s like a kind of rehearsal stage. A place to test how the idea feels and possibly changes when confronted with a public.
Dissociation 003 (Your Skin is my Skin), 2017, Pencil on paper, 200 x 150 cm | Solo exhibition at Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve, 09 September – 07 October 2017, Paris, France
AT: What’s your opinion about the contemporary art system nowadays from your point of view as an artist?
TP: I am quite critical of the art system. Especially in the current situation, where the cultural sector is being hit hard by the effects of the pandemic, I expect all cultural institutions to work on keeping art – in clear contrast to the art market – out of any economic value chain. I expect them to take their educational mandate seriously and to contribute to the low-threshold mediation of culture but also to the critical questioning of society. But above all, I expect them to work hard to impress upon the public the importance of art and its relevance for a vital society. It must be a matter of keeping free and opening up spaces that are capable of conveying the long-term relevance of every form of cultural expression and freeing themselves from having to be measured against any form of short-term profit thinking.
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
TP: The biggest challenge is and remains making a living. It is nice and right when art finds buyers and thus finances artistic creation. However, the artistic process must not be exclusively subject to this mechanism of value creation. It is very important not to confuse the value of art with its sales value on the art market – there is not necessarily a correspondence here. The main task in the future will continue to be to think about further, different and new models of financing. Challenging art in particular can inevitably only really be judged at a historical distance. However, the survival of the artist must be ensured in his or her present. This results in a temporal discrepancy that must be bridged. The greatest reward for me is the moment just before a work receives its completion. Especially the last night before a big drawing is finished, on which I have been drawing for weeks, is just ecstatic.
AT: What do you do outside of art?
TP: These days I’m totally fascinated by psychology and mythical narratives. I try to read as much literature as possible from this field. I also regularly listen to lectures on the subject. But most of all, I love cooking for friends and having wild discussions with them over a glass of wine. And I love to go dancing. I really hope that this will soon be possible again and that techno culture and everyone involved will survive this hard blow.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
TP: To be honest, it was only last summer that I really started to look at the question of my vision. So far, I have failed to come up with a satisfactory answer. The only thing I have put down on paper is one sentence: “I want to start a religion!”
Portrait in studio by Nicolas Blanchadell
Tim Plamper (b. 1982) is a German visual artist currently living and working in Berlin, Germany. "Plamper's works are made up of entities that succeed in surviving, but at the same time are able to give rise to new ones or to retrieve past ones from memory. They seem to be subject to both mental and physical tension. A tension that, while generating instability, represents a stage in which the elements retain connected – in a composition that is perhaps precarious, but still undeniably existing" (Giulia Frattini, 2019).