In Galway, Ireland, the last two weeks were spent in an exciting and electrifying atmosphere of Galway International Arts Festival. Thomas Brezing’s environmental art project “Out Too Far (Wishing Too Many Things)” formed a part of the festival in the exhibition “Memory has a Pulse”. Last week My Good Planet talked with Thomas Brezing about environment, plastic, activism, and of course, art.
The German artist Thomas Brezing’s (born 1969 in Herrenberg) work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. He moved from Germany to Ireland in 1991, but it took another 10 years until he had his first solo exhibition in the Basement Gallery in Dundalk. Brezing is not your typical artist, he did not go to art school after finishing high school. Instead he shaped his own path into art at the age of 21, this is important to note to fully appreciate his origin as an artist and his work.
This Brezing’s latest environmental art project asks some harsh questions and hopefully it will make people think, as he writes in his book:
“Art gets to the core of our being because art is tasked to present the world as the difficult place and imperfect place if it actually is a difficult and imperfect place. Art, too, is tasked to show how the world might become better in some way, somehow, yes.”
Brezing’s upcoming exhibitions, where you can experience his work and purchase his book “Out Too Far (Wishing Too Many Things)”:
Soundwaves Festival Skerries, September 11. – 24;
An Tain Arts Centre, Basement Gallery Dundalk, October 12 – November 4.
My Good Planet: Please tell us shortly about your environmental art project “Out Too Far (Wishing Too Many Things)” that was a part of the Galway Arts Festival exhibition – “Memory has a Pulse”?
Thomas Brezing: Out Too Far (Wishing Too Many Things) came out of my love for the environment, the world we live in and my love for literature. It is a kind of love letter to the world, which I consider to be a wounded, fractured world. A beached whale is a broad metaphor of the disturbance of our eco system.
I see it as a challenge to ‘translate’ words into the visual. With this project I tried to translate several books into the visual, Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, The Book of Jonah, In the Heart of the Sea etc. Those ‘translations’ are a bit like leaves blowing in the wind, they take on their own journey. But books, words, a sentence often trigger something in me which I then want to give form to.
MGP: Can you tell us how you came to an idea or what brought you to this idea to make a 25 foot long and 7 foot high whale/massive fish skeleton with a smaller skeleton in it out of GAA balls, with plastic bottle caps scattered around it?
TB: For a number of years I have been working with pre-used, pre-loved materials and objects, stuff which is deemed useless, unwanted and at some point discarded. You can tell a lot about people by what they use and by what they throw away, and at what point something is considered precious and at what point it is considered obsolete. Take a Christmas tree for instance, for three, four weeks in December it’s considered one of the most delightful and precious things in the house, come January it’s stripped naked, then chucked away, it has outstayed its welcome, served its purpose, on to the next thing we go. In this hurried approach to life we fall into a spin of consumption. After the Christmas frenzy there is Valentine’s Day, Easter, birthdays etc. and for each day we are told this is what you have to buy and consume and do in order to ‘honour’/celebrate the day, a set of consumer rules come with it. We are so dizzy from all those goods and things we are told we need we can’t think clearly anymore about what’s good for us and what’s harmful. […] There is an immense pressure to perform and function in a certain way, we are made to believe if you don’t you stand out and fall behind. Maybe we are filling our lives with so much stuff to stop us from feeling empty.
Although I am freaked out by all the products we produce I am also intrigued and sometimes fascinated by it. Plastic, for example, is scary and amazing at the same time. It’s also very seductive. The colour alone has the whole world in its clasp. […] And it seems so harmless and clean and sanitised. Plastic fits the mould of the rat-race and would be perfect for the fast times we live in if it would just go away after use. But there is no away. It’s here to stay and we are getting buried under it. It’s inside animals, inside us. The whale carcass or giant cocoon is a symbol for where we are at. If a necropsy of a beached whale takes place what is most likely to come out of its stomach are car parts and plastic waste. I also see the carcass/installation as a Gastrolith. ‘Gastro’ is the Greek word for stomach and ‘lith’ means stone. It’s like a stone inside our stomach. Some animals and birds sometimes eat stones to clear their stomachs, but we humans get sick.
I was aiming to build a large carcass/cocoon to represent the state of the world and how our bond with nature is being interfered with, and I wanted to be as true to how I feel about it as possible. Raising awareness was the key motivator. There were no plans to present an answer because I don’t have one. All I have is a question mark, asked by the sea, and a mirror held up to us. And hope. A canticle. The smaller cocoon inside with its passenger/human presence suggests the spirit of hope, as a cocoon stands for renewal, new life, transformation, redemption, the prospect of beauty and otherness. Perhaps the lonely passenger inside the cocoon is a prisoner about to be released from captivity, or it is Jonah waiting for God to re-deploy him, perhaps he is James Bartley, perhaps captain Ahab, The Old Man, or Ishmael another orphan floating in the sea ‘seen by a sky-hawk… from its natural home among the stars’ (Herman Melville, Moby Dick).
MGP: One of the pieces from your environmental art project “Out Too Far (Wishing Too Many Things)” is also a short film of the same name, and in this film actually two of your art projects come together – Carpet Man (2011 – date) and GAA ball whale skeleton on the beach of Loughshinny – can you tell us about the interaction between these two art projects and what they offer to each other?
TB: The first thing that comes to my mind is both are made from recycled materials, Carpet Man from an old piece of carpet and the carcass/cocoon from old Gaelic balls. Carpet Man is an ongoing performance project (2011 – date). I see Carpet Man as a narrator, drawing attention to something. In a way the carcass does that too. On an emotional level both are vulnerable and feeble, in need of protection, compassion and empathy. I think everything is connected in some way. A painting I painted 10 years ago is connected to the current work because it comes from the same source and the same heart. One work informs the next. A little bit of something is in something else. In the same way as there is a little something in everyone that’s in all of us, people are not too different from each other. When I began working on Out Too Far I didn’t plan on bringing Carpet Man in on it, it happened naturally. Leading up to the main film day on Loughshinny Beach I felt this urge to make Carpet Man part of the film and part of the unfolding of the day. […] There is a scene in the film where the two are side by side. To me it feels like one found the other, the son found the father, or daughter the mother, their spirits met if you like. In the book Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn he quotes a beachcomber: ‘why do we like to walk on the beach? All the cells inside our bodies realise they are close to their mom’. To me it felt like that urge I was talking about had to do with Carpet Man wanting to be close to his mom, as odd as it may sound!
MGP: The short film “Out Too Far (Wishing Too Many Things)” can be viewed as both a work of art and an environmental activism, would you agree? Throughout the film, as a part of narration, you use the text, and some of it is as striking as images that you use within the film, some of the lines that really carry the message of the environmental activism are: “we looked at nature’s material and thought we could do better// plastic allowed us to live accelerated lives/ convenient lives/ it has allowed us to be ‘modern’// now plastic is everywhere/ inside animals/ inside us/ and it’s killing us”. So could you please talk a bit about these lines, marine life, plastic, environment and human relationship or maybe even fight with nature?
TB: Yes I do agree. […] As soon as work is presented to the public it becomes a form of ‘activism’. I guess the beach clean-ups which I took part in and which in a way are an extension of my work are a clearer, more direct form of activism. I don’t just want to shout from the rooftop ‘clean that up!’ to someone else. I’d rather not shout at all, but just quietly grab a litter picker and pick it up myself. Even if I personally haven’t dumped it there, it is in a roundabout way my trash too, because I live in a society where I let this happen, I am part of the system, no better than anyone else. I am not in the position to complain about the zeitgeist, I am part of the zeitgeist. […]
As regards the words in the film. There are two things I am not so sure about, the pace of the footage and the words. The pace is very fast. I would have preferred a slower film, but I worked with a professional film maker who was keen to keep up the pace in order not to bore people. […] I would have stretched each scene by a few seconds and bored people. […] I like things that are slow. […] I also like things which are going against the grain, against ‘progress’. Some things/technological inventions/ideas/tools/discoveries/methods in our ‘modern’ world are considered progress, yet they go against nature – how can this be considered real progress then? The pressure on the industry to invent new things for the consumer is immense. While some new inventions are useful, I feel many ‘new’ things are regurgitated old things, just shinier, with more buttons. Many products are gimmicks, made to fill an empty void in us that cannot be filled by things.
In the end I was happy to trust the film maker […] – sometimes it’s good to step back, surrender and let someone else take the reins.
The words are in the film to push the message through. The message is: change your ways, consume less, buy less, be more modest and less greedy, don’t litter, make do and mend, conserve and reuse materials, spend more time outdoors, dream, appreciate this amazing planet, be angry towards the de-sensitised heartless plastic industry, don’t believe what the ads say on the TV, don’t believe it when they say you need this or that, some of it you might do, most of it you don’t. Again I want to stress I am also pointing the finger at my greedy self, there are many things I could do better…
MGP: At the end of the book, that is a part of “Out Too Far (Wishing Too Many Things)” art project, you have a page dedicated to a set of questions, and I would like to ask you two of them:
– Could we un-train ourselves as consumers, little by little, and stop turning a blind eye on so many things that are obviously harming us?
– What are we doing to the environment we live in and why are we behaving like a throwaway, careless society and when we will stop treating our environment like a commodity?
TB: For complex questions there are no simple solutions. […] Unfortunately I don’t have any one answer to these (my own!) questions. But I think we have to go to the very start – production, and we should begin to think in a more circular way and what happens to the product/material even before it’s put into the world. The powerful plastic industry has to be tackled. We have to find alternative, greener ways of packaging. We are still ok with lots of plastic entering our homes, we shouldn’t be ok with it.
I think slowing down a little would do no harm. I grew up in Germany and used to be told ‘time is money’, that’s the biggest lie anyone can tell you. Time is much more precious than that. One of the reasons why I left Germany 25 years ago was I couldn’t stand the pressure. The pressure of having to know everything… And there was less room for failure and mistakes. If you are not allowed to make mistakes there can be no art. My art comes out of failure and mistakes, I have nothing else to show or give. A smaller wall based installation at 126 Artist Run Gallery, Galway, is entitled ‘A Catalogue Of Errors’. I work through stuff, build up layers of errors and arrive at something, when my instinct tells me to stop. That’s it. Inspiration has nothing to do with it. It’s just working through things, listening, in a pool of promise. But I think and hope my work comes from a loving place and hopefully not a place of pride. Pride and male pride in particular is toxic in this world. The old man said to himself: ‘You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, you killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill. Or is it more?’ (Ernest Hemmingway, The Old Man And The Sea).
He first follows this great desire to hunt down the fish/trophy, then he feels remorse, he was just thinking about himself and his own desires. And this leads me straight to the words ‘I am starting with the man in the mirror, I am asking him to change his ways, if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change’ (Michael Jackson, Man In The Mirror). I don’t know if this art project will do much to raise awareness towards our increasing problem with plastic/marine pollution. Time will tell.
Looking at My Good Planet website and the Plastic Free July initiative and Plastic Detox mind map makes me think, we are on the same page. I like the direct, instructional, explanatory and educational approach of yours. Hopefully both of us will be able to bring the message across, each in our own way.
To conclude this interview I would like to sincerely thank all the donators of sports balls and all the people who have assisted in some way and helped to develop this project.