For the exhibition in the Foyers from November 2022 to July 2023
With their backs to the opera
Tatjana Doll discusses Dummy_Akku-Akku. Interviewer: Jörg Königsdorf
As powerful, artistic portrayals of the people who hewed them, the Easter Island steles have acquired iconic status. Can you describe the effect that these statues have had on you?
I saw the stamp that a friend had got in his passport when he left Easter Island. It was in the shape of a moai profile, instantly recognisable as such. Surfing the web, I found that the most common photo of my IP location was of an ahu supporting six of the mystical statues, of varying sizes. I chose that photo to serve as the basis for my Akku-Akku paintings, to harness the established and widespread appetite for tourism.
In Dummy_Akku-Akku you focus on two steles in particular, creating two rows of variations. To what extent is the interaction between the two groups important for the series as a whole?
There are 6 variations of the moai on the Tongariki Ahu, (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moai), which I painted based on the photo uploaded to that web page. There came a point where I decided to flip the photo to produce a mirror image and give me a better idea of the island. So now some of the pictures are looking to the left and others to the right.
The pictures were produced over an extended period between 2014 and 2022. Is that a finished project for you now or do you see them as a motif in your ongoing trajectory as an artist?
The Akku-Akkus remain an underlying theme for me; they protect all my other painted works – cars, aeroplanes, containers, pictograms, and the like – insofar as we see them as an interface between two high cultures, one bygone, one modern. I like painting the Akku-Akkus, especially because of the way it triggers something kind of spooky in me. I find myself dreaming about them at night, which is not something that happens with other subjects of mine.
What’s your process for creating a series? Do you have a holistic idea of the end result from the start or is the realisation that the project is finished suddenly there?
A series is an accumulation of one particular kind of thing, and I’m fascinated by that. I may be looking at 40 trees that are all the same, but that doesn’t mean they’re identical. In my private way of viewing the world I find the idea riveting that differing conditions engender variations on that particular theme – or, going one better, I’d say they engender mistakes – and this despite having the same core characteristics. So the series is complete when I’m at the end of my discovery, and I don’t get the impression that this one is finished yet. The last Akku-Akku I painted, ‘On Oath’, is raising his hand to swear the truth of what he’s about to say. This picture is much blinder than the other Akku-Akku portrayals. Painting a picture that is not there, but which is seen nonetheless, is something that fascinates me in the same way that Monet’s Water Lilies series does.
Each picture has its own title and some of the titles form their own cluster. Some titles such as Mandarine and Gold have a direct link to the materiality of the motifs, but some – like Faith in Strangers or Luxury Problems – are more obscure. How did these titles come about?
Sometimes I rebel against a connotative title that distracts from what’s in front of our nose. Other works get given an auxiliary title that reminds me of what was going through my mind when I created the picture – for instance the moment of deciding that the picture is ready and complete. When you’re cooking a meal, there are metrics that determine when it’s done. With painting it’s different; only later is the painting given its title, like ‘Science & Industry’. I don’t come up with the titles myself; I just allocate them. Most evenings I spend four to six hours listening to music, and a lot of my titles are the names of compositions.
What led you to chose this series over others for the foyer of the Deutsche Oper Berlin?
The paintings are hung with their backs to the opera, in a direct allusion to the moai. They’re protecting whatever is going on behind them in the auditorium, a bit like the marshals at a football match, looking outwards towards the crowd.
In the foyer the moai look out to sea. The sea represents not Berlin or the world but the Here and Now.