Isabelle Wenzel, Field 1, 2015 from the series  Field Studies, 2014/2015 © Isabelle Wenzel

Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie und Kunstforum der TU Darmstadt
26 May until 19 August 2018

Interview with Isabelle Wenzel

RAY: In the exhibition EXTREME.SELF you are presenting the work "Field Studies" as part of RAY 2018. What was the starting point to take your own body as an object of staging? Since when have you been working on this work complex?

Isabelle Wenzel: Basically, I acquired this working method during my studies. Since then it has been an integral part of all my projects. From the beginning I realized that I cannot really stand the classic balance of power of viewing and showing oneself. I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of projecting my image on someone else. I had the feeling that I could not conform with someone else. In addition, I'm not really interested in portraying a personality, but rather thinking about physicality and physical states. Movement is a big part of my working process, my identity and my thinking. I use movement specifically to create intuitive, irrational images. I do not see myself only as a photographer, but also as a performer, because I take the role of the observer and performer simultaneously. For several years I explored my own body in a specific studio situation. In doing so, I ran continuously between the camera and the screen to create a picture within a few seconds with the help of the self-timer. This way of working has strong action-related traits, like a performance without a viewer, only between me and the camera. At some point, I felt I had to change something in my process to rekindle my creativity. So I had to expose myself to unknown situations. That's why I decided to leave my comfort zone and relocate myself and my actions into the public space. Since 2014, I have been working on this work complex 'Field Studies', which is an open cycle in which, from time to time, new images emerge again and again. The big change was, on the one hand, that I could react to given circumstances, such as landscape, light, architecture or wind, and that, on the other hand, I suddenly had unexpected spectators, who accidentally passed by my workplaces and showed me partly unexpected reactions.  

RAY: By freezing your movement - a brief moment of your attitude - the body in the picture can become a sculpture. What is your relationship with photography? What does photography enable you to do?

IW: Photography is a construction. A new reality which I can portray my dreams and emotions with. It is also a mirror and a method of reflection. With photography, I relate to the world.

Isabelle Wenzel, Wasserbecken 1, Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, produced for RAY 2018 and Die Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie, from the series Field Studies, 2018, © Isabelle Wenzel

Isabelle Wenzel, Soestdijk, Baarn, Niederlande, In sight / Out of sight, 2016, © Isabelle Wenzel

RAY: Photography opens up a new field for performance artists: the camera replaces the audience. "Performing for the Camera" was the title of an exhibition at the TATE MODERN 2016 where the relationship between performance and photography was examined. How do you see yourself - as performance artist or rather as photographer?

IW: Neither nor. For me it is not important to find a concrete term.

RAY: You have taken new pictures in Darmstadt especially for the exhibition. How was the work here? Which places did you visit and why

IW: I came to Darmstadt without much prior knowledge. It was quite clear that Darmstadt is known for Art Nouveau, so I wanted to look around on the Mathildenhöhe. Generally speaking my way of working has spontaneous features. I always want to be very directly and intuitively inspired by the location. This means that I try to come to a place with open eyes and if possible search for something abstract, which gives my movements a certain space and freedom of interpretation. The wedding tower turned out to be a playful place, especially because I could walk along the facade. So I could take an unexpected perspective on the building and my body. The second central theme I did in a pool of water. Here I was particularly inspired by the recurring round shape and how I can position myself as a figure in the center.
RAY: The exhibition also shows a projection. Have you integrated the medium film in your artistic practice for a longer time?

IW: Since 2010, I have been making videos that reflect my working process but also act as an independent work.

Isabelle Wenzel, Wuppertal 2, 2015, from the series Field Studies 2014/2015, © Isabelle Wenzel

Isabelle Wenzel, Halde Haniel 15.1. Bottrop, from the series Field Studies 2014/2015, 2015, © Isabelle Wenzel

RAY: Your recordings remind of the surreal and ironic works of Anna and Bernhard Blume. Are there any other references that are important for your work?

IW: The “Blumes” are certainly a good reference, as a certain form of slapstick is fundamental to my work. My movements are not always smooth, but often unwieldy, dislocated or on the edge. It’s a lot about failure.

RAY: Your productions seem like amateurish attempts to achieve a perfect physical gesture. How important is the improvised, imperfect element?

IW: This is absolutely elementary and the basis of my work. It's also important to fail and to stand up again.

RAY: You try to overcome the gravitation in your pictures or you let yourself fall, as if you are magically attracted to the earth. They stand between success and failure and eternal struggle to stay upright or have a good attitude. Are your movements also an expression of your work as an artist? Is this the SELF element in your pictures?

IW: Yes, this is also my attitude to life - to deal with failure and inability to move on, to fall, to get up, to run, to stumble, to know nothing.

RAY: The theme of RAY 2018 is EXTREME. Where do you see the extreme in your work?

IW: Perhaps the most extreme thing about my work is that I am not able to do anything else and thus to a certain extent tread water. But through this stagnation, I also hold a position with a certain tenacity.