Brigitte Waldach

Interview & Photography by: Mart Engelen


Brigitte Waldach, Amsterdam 2016


A conversation with the internationally acclaimed Berlin-based artist about her life, art and inspiration.

Mart Engelen: You started with studying literature at the university. At what time did art made its entrance in your life? Brigitte Waldach: That happened already in my childhood. At an early age I visited many museums and was impressed, of course emotionally and not intellectually. I loved that experience because it was my way to understand the
world and existential feelings.
ME: Why did you choose to study literature and not right away for example at an academy of arts?
BW: I started both, fine arts and literature, at the same time. My first goal was to become a teacher. But I cancelled that idea when I met Georg Baselitz. He invited me to study under him later also in his masterclass. That was my starting point. He was such an intense person and was able to understand the topics in my drawings and paintings as well as my kind of thinking. He is not an intellectual person in the traditional sense but he can see people in a different way. His approach is more instinctive. All that was so interesting to me, that I decided one week later to join his class.
ME: In what way did Baselitz influence you in your art if you look back now?
BW: I was influenced by him regarding his way of questioning art, for instance, asking :What is authentic? His method was to provoke his students, maybe because he thought the most important point is to find an authentic way to express yourself. To find your own topics, and the sooner the better.
ME: Did he mean by that also that your art has to be provocative?
BW: Yes, in a way, but of course it depends on the topic. Sometimes you need a very strong gesture and sometimes it’s good enough to be more intellectual, political, or subtle.
ME: Recurring themes in your work are: Deutscher Herbst, Terrorism, Jesus, Hitler. Where did it come from to choose these themes?
BW: Well, I grew up in Berlin in the ‘70s and my father was studying at that
time. He is of the same generation as Gudrun Ensslin, even born in the same year. Ensslin was a founder of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), a German terrorist group fighting against the mental consequences of the Nazi era in Germany and abroad. I was very influenced by the mood at that time in our society, but of course at that age I could not understand the intellectual and political background of that movement, which was supported by many young people back then. This might have also been my starting point to try to understand existential feelings like fear, violence, and
ME: The words and text you use in your art – do you see that as political art?
BW: Yes, in the sense that thinking about existential conditions is political. In the ‘70s there was a motto: The private is political. In my work I like to analyse systems
social, political, and scientific systems. What is the reason for disturbances within society? What has gone wrong in society? What is the reason for fear, violence, and resistance? I choose the topics in my art also to understand this kind of confusion.
ME: Does the current situation in this world influence your work now?
BW: Yes, of course. I don’t like to document the problems of the world but I am looking for an individual approach to these themes, probably to find an artistic transformation in a more universal sense. Every day, our political experiences could be the gateway to a new body of work, as I sometimes use details from political movements like symbols.
ME: Germany has brought over the years very important artists and many have referred in their art directly and indirectly to the Second World War. You can maybe call it even a kind of tradition. How is that now?
BW: Well, I would say that “German art” has a kind of special tradition, influenced by the Second World War as well as socialism. In my generation you can see traces of it. We didn’t have direct experiences of that time, just a knowledge through the media. But an important point for me and other artists is simply to make art, to find the proper abstraction and transformation for each topic. Finally, it has to contain a secret in it. In my opinion, artists should not explain the world.
ME: When I look at your work, it’s very precise, I think you have to be very disciplined.
Are you that as a person?
BW: Oh God (laughs). I think my character is varied and complex. I am a very passionate woman but at the same time also analytic, philosophical, and poetic. As you know, I studied literature, philosophy, and fine arts. It’s challenging to find the best composition to express my feelings without becoming an illustrator. To achieve that I need to be precise.
ME: Does that mean that you control your emotion?
BW: Yes. I have to.
ME: Otherwise it’s not possible.
BW: Yes. The first step is to be very emotional and to be impressed by…
ME: Terrible things?
BW: Yes, also terrible things, but beautiful ones as well. The second step is to find a way which is not only private. It’s art and should be abstract, it’s not a diary or
something like that.
ME: When I saw your work in Berlin called “Mother’s Day”, where Ulrike Meinhof looks out of her prison cell into the stars. I assume you put yourself into that person to create this work. Do you have also a fascination for that person?
BW: Yes, but it’s of the same importance to think generally about the existential experience which you might have before you die. And what does resistance mean fundamentally, not only against the political society?.
ME: But for example you could have chosen also Saddam Hussein or Hitler but you have chosen these individuals.
BW: No, it’s not my aim to analyze certain historical people like them. I always need a private starting point, a similar experience. In the case of Meinhoff and Ensslin it’s the bourgeois background. Furthermore, Gudrun Ensslin studied German literature like me and she preferred the same authors. Two of her favorite writers and philosophers were Wittgenstein and Kafka and I am impressed by their work as well. Thus, I was able to understand how their writings might have an influence on her.
ME: Why is the title of this work “Mothers Day”?
BW: Because the day of her death at the prison in Stuttgart was Mothers Day in Germany. Ulrike Meinhof was also a mother.
ME: Do the titles of your works play an important role?
BW: Yes, but sometimes it’s just a trace. The title could be useful for the viewer finding their own direction for understanding my art.
ME: I can imagine that if this artwork would have the name “Ulrike Meinhof” it would spark other sentiments. Is this chapter in German history still so charged?
BW: Yes. It’s one of the most disputed topics because we haven`t found the right solutions for that chapter of our history yet. The RAF was perhaps a typical German radicalization. Our society was and is afraid of this kind of violence because the content was intellectual, but at the same time emotional and radical. Our government was not able to deal with this properly.
ME: In one of the articles about you I read they call your work poetic and political. Do you agree?
BW: Yes, both are possible, it’s not a contradiction. You will find many ways to interpret my work.
ME: At what moment when you are at work, does a work become a work of art?
BW: Oh God, that’s hard to say. Sometimes it’s like a magic moment. Suddenly you feel and understand – that’s enough! Maybe it’s just the moment if you understand instinctively that you won’t be able to find a solution or the next step.
ME: You make drawings but installations as well. I assume the working process is different. Can you tell me more about that?
BW: For my installations I need the support of a professional team, such as an architect to create a 3D model of the venue. The sketches and drawings I do alone. Actually the idea and the starting point is the same, but the realization of the work is completely different.
ME: Do you have a special theme that fascinates you today?
BW: The process of radicalization still interests me. But currently I am more interested in the existential feelings of human beings, such as the question: What moves us?
ME: I am looking forward to the interpretation of that in your future works.
BW: I am not a journalist and don’t want to make a documentation, nor a statement. I prefer to pose questions and to reveal surprising details regarding the process of making art.
ME: Thank you for this conversation.

—Copyright 2017 Mart Engelen


Balance (Diptych), 2015
(Detail), Graphite, Gouache, Pigmentpen on handmade paper, 197 x 280 cm
Installation view