Interwiew with Heike Weber on April 25, 1997
Michael Krajewski: Heike, what will you be showing in the “windows 1997“- container on the Grabbeplatz in Düsseldorf?
Heike Weber: I intend to cover the white walls inside with white hairnets.
K.: How will you go about this?
W.: The hairnets will be spanned on pins about 2-3 cm from the wall, arranged in rectangles with a gap between them of about 5 mm - which I will measure out beforehand - and this is such a narrow one that the wall will be seen as a homogeneous surface, almost as if it were tiled.
K.: Hairnets are supposed to be almost invisible so that you don’t see right away that someone is wearing one in her hair. Will your nets even be visible?
W.: You have to take your time to really take in the work and get a feel for it.. Such a span of nets is dependent on the site to a great degree. Aspects of my work have changed in relation to different exhibition spaces. I am counting on the fact that the majority of the passers-by, who will not have come specifically to see the container, will walk past it and look in. At first they won’t see the netting, unless the sun shines directly on it and a lovely shadow-play occurs when the nets reflect the sun. On the other hand, diffused daylight or artificial light softens the walls. When you look through the window not expecting anything in particular, you get a strange feeling. The longer you look, the more you see.
K.: You have done similar hairnet installations in places where they looked completely different.
W.: Yes. I got the idea from styrofoam sculptures that I had made before, big boxes made of styrofoam sliced 1mm thin. These austere cubes also did not correspond to the expectations the viewer had, because their effect was very much dependent on light and they moved at the slightest breeze. They took on an autonomous life of their own despite their severe form. I have used this principle in my work to deal with hairnets within a specific space. For „Maikäfer flieg“ (“Ladybug Fly“), a group exhibit that Uta Weber and I organized with artists from the Czech Republic, Great Britain and Germany in a World War II air raid shelter in Cologne, 1995, I stretched hairnets along the walls of two stairwells, but in this time not white, but the color of the walls.
K.: They were concrete walls with weathered paint, parts of which were peeling off. The nets were hung directly under a harsh neon light.
W.: The light fell in such a way that you could only see them if you were standing directly in front of them. The site of the work - the stairway between the two exhibit levels - reinforced this psychological casualness. This is something I like. The work had a different effect in that bunker, an effect not confined to sensual stimulation. Even though it was basically a simple installation - one hairnet arranged in a rectangle alongside the next one - it called to mind a lot of different images: on the one hand, visual analogies and, on the other, associations. The hairnets seemed to protect the bare wall, similar to the way safety nets are stretched across mountains to prevent rocks from falling on the roads, just as the bunker walls themsellves offer protection. The interaction between these roles pointed to the special character of the site. The harsh neon light made it even harder to comprehend the delicate nature of the nets. Linked to the bunker, the associations were given a thematic and narrative aspect. You associate hairnets with older women of the previous generation, which takes you back to the time when the bunker and the people who sought refuge in it originated. I found this acceptable for that work but I was interested in trying something similar in a more neutral setting.
K.: In an exhibit room like the Otto Schweins Gallery in Cologne in 1996?
W.: I wanted to transfix the hairnets in a white space that didn’t have so many narrative components, where the work would be more formal and purer and the hairnet as medium would recede to the background. I wanted the viewer to enter the room and first feel the work instead of seeing it, to confront it physically and be led to the limits of perception. This works only in a room, not on sections of a wall. The work must surround the viewer. It’s also important for the container that the nets be placed all around it, so that you get the impression that the whole space is at issue here and not just one image.
K.: You cannot enter the container; you can only see the installation from the outside. Will it really be able to achieve such a spatial effect?
W.: That depends on the lighting. At first I was afraid that the appeal would be lost, especially in comparison to my exhibition at Otto Schweins Gallery, where you could come to the wall and see the installation from the side. However, because of the way the glass panes reach all the way to the edges of the container, it is also possible to have different points of view. Even though there will be reflections from the outside, I find that acceptable. I am not interested in simply repeating a work in a different space. I have achieved a new aspect of the work by working within a closed-off space - by doubling the contents, which is space.
K.: You couldn’t then imagine placing a second sculpture in there?
W.: No, never. I wouldn’t want to mix things. It’s all about the space, visually and thematically. This minimal intervention sets more in motion than you can see. It is not a question of a “wall piece“, not a question of the material, but of the perception of space.
K.: In relation to your styrofoam sculptures, you mentioned that you’re interested in light-weight, non-solid materials. Walls are flat, geometric and suggest rationality.
W.: Yes, and I am even more fascinated by the fact that they are calulable. My work almost always develops out of a severe form - either out of a right-angled room or out of cubes, as I mentioned. The same goes for my older wire sculptures. I’m now working on walls with ink and ink erasers, on drawings that change the perception of a room. I work with rational or spare forms which are not amorphous. But my choice of materials and the way I apply them triggers a contradiction. An installation like this irritates because the space has its original function removed; the wall can no longer function as you expect it to. This was similar in my early works: the wire figures, which all had the same measurements, bend in a way that is unpredictable - the rationality of the cube is suspended. That is also true of the snaking lines that I draw on the wall: they destabilize it. The perimeters of the room become questionable.