Interview with Jonathan Meese
The morning before his performance, calling to prophets, at the Trade Fair Palace at the National Gallery in Prague.
Download the interview here.
Jonathan, what are you doing here?
I’m playing around. This is a game I’m playing. This is how I serve Art. I do my duty. I love Art and I do my duty, so that Art rules the world one day.
You’re now fulfilling your duty among all these special people you brought here, all these prophets on your canvases, what is your relationship to them?
I’m just a visitor, I’m a friend, I’m a guest. And, I’m no prophet. But I’m surrounded by them, people who were prophets or thought they were prophets. But Art is not prophetic.
What does it mean to you to be a prophet? Or in your case more precisely, not to be a prophet?
I prefer to be a child, which is somebody who plays. You can play to be a prophet. You can play being religious. You can play being political. But you should not be it in your reality. Because Art is no ideology, no religion, no politics, no spiritualism, no esotericism. It just plays with a material, Art is a government of the future.
So you think the child can never be a prophet?
Only in horror films. That is just an invention. To feel the wish to be a prophet comes as an ideological wish that comes when you are an adult. Before that you are just playing around to be a king, to be a queen, to be in power. To play is Art. And you should not leave Art. When you become a prophet, you automatically leave the realm of Art.
How do you play with your prophets?
I can phone them. Or they phone me. In a game. They talk to me, I talk with them. We talk about Art. Even the biggest prophet has to go to a toilet, has to sleep, has to eat. And when he sleeps, he is no prophet anymore. He’s just sleeping. And that’s the super thing. Even the most ideological person is not ideological anymore when he sleeps, when he breathes, when eats, drinks, digests, sweats. These things are not ideological, they are not religious, they are just happening. That’s the important that even these prophets, who thought they are something special, they cease to be when they’re on toilet. Their importance at that point is just to be on toilet without any prophetic gestures. Art is just a playground and we have to extent the playground to become a government of the future. We don’t need any real politicians. We need people who are playing. And we need K U N S T, Kunst. As a Führershaft. As the chief as a chef. My mother is a Chief, but I didn’t vote her, she just comes like a love. You don’t vote for love, you don’t vote for friendship, you don’t vote that you digest, it just happens.
You don’t vote for a prophet either. Could your mother be a prophet?
No. My mother is total authority. And she never wanted to be a prophet, she is too pragmatic. Sometimes to be a prophet is not bad. If you really thing you should be prophet, it means you are holy. And Art is not holy. That would be a mistake. You don’t bow in front of these works of Art. Art is a governmental system of the future and the past, but you don’t kneel in its presence.
You talk with your prophets from this box, enclosed environment filled up with your personal things. Are you intentionally creating a distance, a barrier between you and them?
No. But the element of distance is very important, you need friends, but you have to sustain your distance. That is very important. To keep room between you and me, that is Art. To be in a box, that is good. But in the future this box will be bigger and bigger and bigger. It will be big like Prague, it will be big like Europe, it will be big like the World, like the Galaxy and all that will be Art. This Art box will expend, not me, but the box. And it will take over. Outside of this box other systems rules. But in the box just Art rules. Here is no political system, no parliamentarism, no democracy, no communism, in this box is all of this not valid, it doesn’t function like this. In this box no religion functions, only Art. Even in this room surrounded by prophets. Me and them, we are all visitors. We have to behave, we have to be friendly to each other, we have to say goodbye to all ideologies, and then Art will come. Before us, before we came, this planet was ruled by Art. But only the adult person decided that ideology is more important, to be right wing, left wing, Catholic, Protestant. Those are inventions of adult people, which are outside the world of Art. A book or a telephone is not religious. This telephone doesn’t vote and it can exist without it. Without putting yourself in the ideological position. I also don’t position myself. Jonathan Meese is free of ideological position.
Jonathan, you say: “I’m not a prophet”, but still you’re predicting the future, the future of this world being consumed by Art.
So how do you explain this prediction?
It’s just logic. Pure logic. What is the nicest thing, or best most radical thing, what surrounds you, those are friendship, love, the sun, nature, planet. This is all not votable, this is all not religious. This is not based on God, on anything, just its own existence. When you feel tired, you want to sleep and that is logic. When you want to go to a toilet, when you feel the urge, you have to go. When you’re hungry, you have to eat. Without any politics, your body screams, “Now I’m ready”. And that is the leadership of Art, which gives you directions what to do. And we always want others to rule. But we should rather let these impulses rule instead. This should a governmental form. Animals don’t create political systems, they don’t create churches, but still they live in very complex societies and they are very strong. When we are gone, the insects stay. Why? Because they are very humble, their instinct of creating is based just on necessary things. Mankind on the contrary always creates things which are not necessary. And we call that politics and think that it is the most important creation, but it is not. You have to trust in Art.
Art is then the only non-political form of government, which has to be always present?
Absolutely. It is always present, even though adult person goes against it. He or she wants something else, power, wish to be a part of certain group. This is all very nostalgic old thinking. Art is not international, neither national. Art is not left wing or right wing. Art is not protestant, or atheistic, or communistic, or catholic. Art is free of all that. And we need this freedom, we have to shout it out, say that we want this freedom. Not my personal freedom, not what I define as freedom. Art is a freedom. Sun is shining and gives me certain possibility to exist, and I know I can’t go to close to the sun, then I would be Icarus, and I should not be to far away, because then I can not survive. So I have specific space which is free for me to act and that is Art, to use this space but keep it free from ideology.
Please tell me then how you position your work in the midst of contemporary art world, which is full of politics, rules of economics, social governing constructs?
I am always the thorn in the flash, I am always the drop on the stone and one day the stone will break. It depends for how long I have the strength or others have the strength to put this up. To continue breaking the system or supporting it. In Germany we say that Art is always “system-breaking”, Art always disturbs stability of political systems, Art says “No” in a nice way, “No thank you, I’m not this or that, just thank you, I just play, I play.” If you will be repeating it long enough, it will have an effect. If someone invites me to do something, I’m always the thorn. These prophets around me were at some points of their lives also thorns of systems they lived in.
They also worked on the creation of new political systems, new ways of dealing with reality.
That is OK. To think about alternatives, it’s always good. But to fight ideological system with another, that is wrong. To fight politics by means of politics is wrong. You have to fight with Art, and not even culture, because culture is already to cultivated. Culture is politics. And politicians want a curtain culture to rule, then you get to culture fight. One culture fights another culture. I’m against all this. It should be Art. Art is no culture, no culture fight. You can not instrumentalise Art, but culture is instrumentalised. I sit in this box so they can’t instrumentalise me, they can only look and then go. I have to keep my distance because I don’t want to be swallowed up. This is very important for us to properly sense the fact that the culture always wants to swallow you, digest you on the lowest possible level and transform you into a politician. These people around me, these prophets also had this problem. Their society wanted to swallow them, some were, some survived. But most of them made the big mistake to found of to generate new ideology. You have to resist that.
Are you going to criticise these prophets for their mistakes during your phone calls?
I want to talk with them, I want to thank them, I want to criticise them. I want to exactly ask them, why they wanted to fight ideology with another ideology, why they wanted to build groups. This is for me very strange for example, the question why they wanted to have disciples, people around them. That is important for myself, because I don’t want any followers. That’s why I never become a professor, that’s why I like to keep distance, that’s why I love to be at home, I want to be at home. I want to do my things, want to be in my atelier, in the hermetic room of Art. But all these prophets, same as Joseph Beuys, he created this free school, which sounds good, but then he become a guru. But Art is no guruism. As a prophet you have to say “No” to your follows, more then Monty Python, you have to say: “No, no, thank you, go home, play in your own studio, play with things around you”, just do not build this guru system. We know this from religion, but that is not Art. Then of course I want to call with other people, like my mother, Richard Wagner, Parsival, Mr. Scock, I want to phone Lolita, or an animal, or a mountain. Maybe they won’t talk to me, I don’t know, then I would just talk to them. To tell them how much I love them, but from the distance, long distance call, then I will hang up, say “sorry, wrong number”.
Why do you have so many phones around you? Do you want to talk to all those people simultaneously, or is every phone selected for different person?
Number of phones or their order is not important. I want to be called and then I decide if I like to talk to that person. Maybe one should phone with the Master of War, or with the Master of Digestion, Mistress of…uhh, Water. And then we suddenly understand that no mountain is holy, or no sea is holy. That is just a projection of people. Mountain or forest would never say about itself that it is holy. Those are all inventions, good just for fairytales. You should not kneel down in front of people or buildings or gods. This is not reality. You have to say goodbye to this fanaticism. You can do this on stage.
And what about Art, can we kneel in front of Art, since Art should be the way of the future?
You have to be respectful in front of art, but never kneel down. I would never allow that in front of my Art. This space is not a cathedral. Nobody should destroy my art, or steal. They should do their own Art and work on it, in their bathrooms, in their kitchens, in their studios, there you can play.
So you want to inspire people to live through Art. But are you not getting close like this to the boundaries of possible discipleship?
Not really inspire, just emphasise the possibility that you can play, that you can remember that you were a child one day. This information is so general. It’s not a guruism. It is just like going to cinema. You go there, pay the ticket, watch the film and go home. You don’t even have to pay here. You just come, being respectful, you can have a look at what is around you or you go home, because you are not interested. But ok, that’s it. And whatever you take home is your thing, I don’t care in fact. I do my duty, I do my job. I do a radical thing, this whole presentation is radical, because it is against ideology and it screams it out, it says it. And if you really look closely, you have to understand that. Everything is mixed, everything is used. There is no fear, this is a room of no fear. In politics, they just make you afraid, if you don’t do that, this and that happens. Then you are in danger. No. We have to bend ideologies, and then everything will be super. But everyone has to do it on its own. You yourself decide if you want to vote for certain political party, you yourself can decide what is your religious believe, it’s just your decision.
Is there any hierarchy in this mixture of used items?
Everything is the same. Of course there are things I love more, but I will not make an ideology out of it. These are just practical things, you have mirrors, bottle of water, stuffed animals, stickers, a lamp, aspirin, nothing special. Some of those prophetic artists, they wanted to create mystical rooms, rooms of religious energies, this is not a room of religious energies, this is a normal room of art. Nothing is holy, neither am I. It should be simple, normal, childlike. When you go around this box, you can see a sign saying “Kinderzimmer”, this is a child’s room. The fact that nothing here is holy is very important.
You are mentioning quite often basic human needs, eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom etc. In your box, you will be isolated from all that, how do you interpret this in relation to yourself and your prophets?
That’s OK, it’s a certain phase, just for two or three hours. I don’t know if I would have to pee, maybe yes, maybe no, but we will see. But you know, this space is not holy, I can leave if I would really want to. Somebody will open the box for me and let me out to go to the bathroom. It is a radical game and the game has to win, not me. Not the audience is winning, not me, just the game itself. That is very important. I never wanted to create religious situation, no thanks, this is no preaching, no prophetism. It’s neither about capitalism, critique of capitalism, absolutely not. This is a critique of every possible ideology in general, not just some plain thing. Of course I have a Mickey Mouse here, everything is here, and one can say, this has this certain meaning, but no, it means nothing, these are just toys, I am a toy of Art, these elements are toys of Art. Everything is OK. Just that I should be left alone. It would be a big problem if someone would try to enter this box. Because that would be respectless. This is no place for cooperation with someone.
How would you react if someone enters your box?
I will try to say, no thank you, go home. I would be very friendly, but my friends could say: “Hey, no!”. Many people misunderstand, this is not something to join in any way. You have to have a distance. You have these holes around to look in, you can look from above, and that’s it. Finish. You can go home.
You started to do Art when you were 22 years old, without much knowledge about Art, now you are referring to all these prophets, to certain aspects of Art history, how do you perceive this shift from, let’s say, voluntary ignorance to intentional references to specific data?
Knowledge is not really important in Art. What matters is instinct and love towards Art and that didn’t change in my case, it just intensified. It is like gold-washing. The big things stays, things that are liquid, not really strong enough, those go away. Some artists I love at the beginning are not there for me anymore. Here it is the same with these prophets, also a principle of gold-washing, we will see about the reactions of these prophets, who are still present here, not physically, not mentally, but as representations. I’m not talking to dead people, I’m not a zombie man, I’m interested to talk to their images, to their masks. But I’m not religious, so I would never talk to the dead. I’m not shaman, no Manitouism, that is not my style. I have no more knowledge then others. I’m just playful enough. Like with my mamma. I have a right to talk to her, or to a book, but then I can’t expect the answer. It’s a game.
Do you plan to call someone else from your family besides your mother?
I love my brothers and sisters, I love my family, but the most important is my mother, I can also call my girlfriend. But this never happened before, so I don’t know. Maybe this will come in the future. Mothers are very natural elements to call to. Just to find out, are you ok, is everything fine?
So your mother is not coming to be here personally?
Not this time. She will come definitely here and I want to do a private performance for her and explain her this situation. I want to sit in this room with her and I want to go around these paintings and explain. And she should ask me questions, but alone, without any people, just private. Only later it could be placed on YouTube, where you can watch it, which is always a very special situation. My mother has such a specific ways of thinking, she is so pragmatic, she will always put it on even more pragmatic level, it is super. But she unfortunately doesn’t have time today, she is also quite afraid of these performances, but this one will be OK, because I will be safe, I’m not on a stage, I’m in the box.
Is this your first performance in such an enclosed environment?
Yes, enclosed like this, for the first time. I did some private things with a box, but never in front of public. It is a first step to something new which makes me happy. I have to develop. And to be on stage is completely different situation. We will see, it will come back.
Music is a natural part of this set-up too, how do you value music?
Music is very important to take you into the future. I love the beat that gives you specific direction. Always the same: bum bum bum… It takes you into the future. It could be march music, military songs, Richard Wagner, 80s, when they were very precise about this even on the level of popular music. But I don’t care, popular music or not. I just has to be the right music, for the right situation, for the future. And this music never ages. Because it is the beat of your heart, it is the blood in your veins, you will always have music your body, it is there. And especially Richard Wagner composed the music for your body.
What kind of music will you play during the performance?
Maybe I will play some of my music, or some 80s songs, maybe I will sing, in my own ways. Sing to those prophets when there would be nothing to say, or I can also tell them about my favourite songs from the 80s. This music makes fun of itself, it just goes by itself. Just saying: “Hey, this is the future”, make yourself pure and free. You don’t have to think, it just takes you there. Gesamtkunstwerk.
Any final comments?
Dictatorship of Art means Love for Art. Many people misunderstand this always. They think: “dictatorship? - that is bad”, no they are wrong, it is good. The Sun is a dictator, sleep is a dictator, but they are good dictators. We also know bad dictators, human or gods. But I don’t care about them.
The artistic work of Jonathan Meese (b. 1970) integrates paintings, sculptures, installations, performances, drawings, collages and works for the stage. During the opening of the exhibition Artists and Prophets. Schiele, Hundertwasser, Kupka, Beuys and Others the artist presented an art performance created specially for the National Gallery in Prague. Within its course he conversed from a hideout with the prophets featured in that show. In the Trade Fair Palace’s Small Vestibule until 18 October 2015, a collection of his paintings tellingly entitled My Über Daddys is featured that also allude to the activities and impact of the prophets.
Although Jonathan Meese perceives himself as an anti-prophet, in his performance “You“, Living in the Erzbox: L.O.V.E. de LARGE (VISIONTELEFON), he draws on the tradition of the visionary movement of the artists-prophets. In the late 19th and early 20th century, social revolution was among the chief themes of these figures whose lifestyle and outlooks influenced the output of other prominent German-speaking artists.
From the beginning of his creative years, the concept of integral art, emphasis on performance art, the notion of art as the counterworld and “the dictatorship of art” that define all of Meese’s works link his oeuvre with the theater. Meese became widely acclaimed during his debut at the 1st Berlin Biennale in 1998, where his art installation celebrated a panoply of heroes and antiheroes from world history, mythology, film and pop culture. Thereafter followed numerous invitations from renowned art institutions to exhibit and perform there, among them the Tate Modern London, MoMA PS1 New York, Kestnergesellschaft Hannover, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Magasin Grenoble and Gemeentemuseum The Hague.