Reykjavik Boulevard interview with Sebastian Bieniek 2013

SEBASTIAN BIENIEK: Looking for the perfect recipe to perform his art

Sebastian Bieniek was born in a little Polish village in 1975 and he is now living and working in Berlin.

He is a painter, performer and also a film maker. In his website you can read his beautiful definition of (his) art.

For Sebastian art is a continuous discovery, the same that a cooker, who wants to understand how to create the perfect recipe, does. Everyday in your travels, you can add new experiences and primitive emotions to your background that can be used like new ingredients and exotic spices in your personal dish, to make the recipe correctly balanced.

After his last performance April 5th, all the social networks started to share the video
documentation of Sebastian’s action.

Reykjavik Boulevard was really impressed for this successful event so we decided to contact this irreverent artist to know something more about his experience and his work.

How did you start to make art and how did you reach Performance Art?

Actually I always did the same in my life, so there was not a starting point, like meeting somebody or an experience. Of course I would not call it art, because earlier I did not know what art is – and actually I still don’t know, so what I do is just what I like to do – but from my point of view this was always the same – it never changed. Just the places, settings and my age changed, but not my attitude, behavior, intention or my taste.

So the pattern – as far as I can remember – was always that I did something and it became – or it looked – like a (reason for, or) a ceremony for somebody else.

I remember that when I lived as a child in a small village in Poland once I made a drawing, the teacher who saw the drawing took me the drawing away and went with it to his colleagues, closed the doors of the teachers’ room behind him and after a few hours all the teachers came drunken from the room. The same did my father. When he saw a drawing of mine he took it with a bottle of vodka and went to the neighbor where they started to discuss about the drawing. Usually they seemed to talk that intensive about it, that after a few hours my father couldn’t talk or even walk anymore.

So from the very beginning I realized that the stuff that I do can be useful for somebody else.

Later when I started to think about a profession, it just happened that I went to an art university, because nobody – my first boss in a music store even offered me money for leaving, because I built during my working time towers out of he CD’s instead to selling them – had a use for me but an art university, where I immediately felt familiar because there it was like in my childhood. We drew something and than we went away to drink and talk about it.

I did my first official performance in 1996 in my first year at the Braunschweig University of art (HBK Braunschweig). The name was “sponsored by”. I went with a plastic wrap on my body pulling seven “caddys” [apostles] as Jesus, pretending to by sponsored by all the big companies, along the shops in the center of the city.

In that time I was thinking that this was the best and the only way to make a statement to the people. If that was a performance or not, it was less important for me. At the same time I realized that it was possible to bring people together and to make them think and talk about something (often political) without drinking. This finding was something very new to me and I liked it a lot because after one year at the art university I started to hate vernissages, that were for me always the same. I just started to like the situations which in a way were somewhere between the art and real life. Something that was not only artificial but also real – with real people, real opinions. That was the edge, and the edges – like the physicist say – are always the most interesting places to be – much more interesting than any gallery or museum. This is the pure living energy of life. Something that can develop on any direction, something you cannot control, but you can dance with, and if you have the right rhythm it can even look like it does what you want it to do but in reality it just does what it wants to do with you.

Who inspires you?

This is very simple: girls. I have never got those who I wanted, and that’s something I can’t understand. Therefore I always miss something and I always try to find something out – maybe the reason why [I don’t have the girls I want]. And because there is not a reason why, I always feel like flying – losing the ground under my feet. This flying brings me to a position from which everything seems to be like it shouldn’t be, so I have to correct it.

You were born in Poland but now you are living and working in Germany. What do you think about these two different artistic scenarios?

I would not say that the art of Polish and German artists are that different. From my point of view the difference is more the point of view that the artists have to the potential of its own surrounding.

A lot of Polish artists – who live in Poland – that I know believe that the German artist have a lot of money but less talent. Because of this, they feel like a kind of handicapped because they believe that without this money that foreign artists are supposed to have they can’t realize their own ideas, and in fact they very often don’t.

The artists from Berlin (I don’t know any artists from other parts of Germany, so I guess there are not any), just don’t care about the others. They don’t have any money, don’t have any job, but they do and do and do art. That much art explodes in every direction. In Berlin everybody is an artist. The girl at the bar, your hairdresser, your neighbor, everybody. And everybody who lives in Berlin is poor.

Therefore when you live in Berlin you don’t feel that much a connection between art and money [that you could feel when you live in different places], because in Berlin you don’t consume art from the media, that usually mainly writes about for how many millions Gerhard Richter sold his last paintings, but from the street. Here people don’t need to read a newspaper to know what is going on in the art-world, they just have to open the window. And that’s a big difference, because you actually see with your own eyes that a Gerhard Richter has nothing to do with the art. He’s just a name in the newspapers, maybe he even only exists in the newspapers.

Do you think that Berlin is a good city for emerging talents? Can you suggest us some places in order to discover the no-touristic side of Berlin? (pubs, clubs, contemporary art centers, non-profit organizations… )

I personally believe that Berlin is the best place for art on earth. But not because of a special organization, bar or place. It’s more the rhythm of the city. It has a very, very certain rhythm. It’s critic, it’s cool, it’s suspicious, it’s self-confident and it’s priceless. But this is basing on my own definition of art. If you just want to make money with art or if you believe that art is what is expensive, than you should rather go to Vladivostok or any other place in the world, because Berlin is by far the worst place for art in the world. But if you don’t care that much about what others think and you just want to make art, than you should come to Berlin. And when you’re here, you shouldn’t believe in a kind of special magic place for artists, you should just start with your neighbor, because he’ll be for sure an artists with a lot of experience.

Last Sunday night your performance called “My friend Mr. Winker from the Deutsche Bank” became famous thanks to social networks, catching the attention of well known artists too.

Can you explain to us your successful project? How did you have this idea and what is the goal of your project?

To promote the opening of its Kunsthalle in Berlin the Deutsche Bank announced that everybody who bring his work on the 5th of April to the Kunsthalle can exhibit there (just for one day) until the Kunsthalle is full. The best should even get a prize (500 €).

That caused that from 5 in the morning more than 2000 people were standing for up to 7 hours in the cold with their artworks and waited to come into the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle.

While all the people were patiently waiting, I came very late, with a painting made out of bird shit (titled: “bird shit on 4 square meters gold”) in my hand and said that I was a friend of Mr. Winker, the director of the Kunsthalle and because of this I’m the winner of it all. I told to the people to go home and not to be that sad, because next year maybe they would get another chance.

Well, first I always think when I see people in a line waiting, that the time of waiting, the waiting itself is by far more interesting than the reason why they are waiting. Because, when I was a boy in Poland there was the state of war there, so I have a lot of memory of standing and waiting in a line. This was and is for me a symbol of being in between. You want to get in, you believe that you’ll get in. So you’re not anymore out but you’re also not in. So where are you? You are between the places, you are in the edge. A kind of exposed and naked. Therefore this is actually the most exciting moment, much more exciting than what was before and what I’ll come after.

So this situation was from the beginning an extremely interesting setting for me. People who hope, wait, are afraid of not coming in, of not winning, etc.

Actually for me such a situation is already a goal. Of course it’s also a balancing act, because you have to be there for hours and because you never know how aggressive the people can become. But usually I even like such situations. I like the chaos. When I make movies (I’m also movie director) I try to produce the chaos because for me chaos is mainly a situation where I can do everything I want to do. For me chaos means that nothing can stop me in this moment and I can go further than without it. Therefore I’m much more afraid of rules that of chaos, because rules are there to stop me, and that’s something I don’t like.

What do you think about the reaction of the “audience”?

The reactions were at the beginning aggressive and abusive against me, but changed later through my performance into funny and helpful – some people even wanted to carry my painting. I think it’s because when I came there I first destroyed what the people believed in, because of course everybody believed to become the winner – that was the reason why they were standing and waiting there. And after they saw my performance they looked at it with more distance. Maybe they realized that they have been used. Of course I used them the same way as the Deutsche Bank did, but that’s the point. If you’re an artist, when you stand and wait in a line you’ve already lost. But my message and the massage of the Deutsche Bank were opposite. Deutsche Bank said: “Wait and you’ll be the winner.” And I said: “Wait and you’ll be a loser.” So I think at the beginning the people believed in the Deutsche Bank’s message and at the end in mine, and I think I was for most people more true than Deutsche Bank – even when I was lying and Deutsche Bank was telling the truth. That’s a very important point of my work. It’s a kind of theme I often work with.

What is your personal definition of Performance Art?

I would say if I’m exposing mainly with my physical presence, than that’s a performance.

What is your relationship with cinema and theater? Is there a specific connection between this kind of art and your work?

In 2002 I thought that most of the artists I knew were so boring and therefore I should have started something different. So I started to study film directing, but unfortunately in the film school my teachers and fellows started to call me “the artist” which sounded like an insult, so I became quite disappointed, also because that was what I was running away from.

But – as you see – I’m not running away from it anymore. Meanwhile I try to put it together and not to ask what is what, how to call it, or am I more this or that.

But of course meanwhile when I’m “performing” I see it more from the filmmakers perspective. I go more – as a filmmaker – for situations. I provoke situations. I am not thinking in this moment about art, just about the situation, about the conflict, the people. I want what a filmmaker would want to have in that moment, as like it would be a movie scene.

Have you ever been in Iceland? What do you think about the Icelandic artistic scenario?

Unfortunately not. But I really like movies of Dagur Kári. I love the humor, I love the actors, the characters, the cinematography and I usually fall in love with the main female actress.

In 2002 I was working as a museum technician in a big Berlin Museum (Hamburger Bahnhof) during a Dieter Roth exhibition. My chief was a boy and artist from Iceland who was maybe two years younger than me. After we spoke a few sentences with each other, we decided rather to go out and smoke, drink beer and talk about life than to work, and that was what we did all the day. That was maybe the best experience I have ever made with an artist: we smoked, drank and talked all the day and we were very well paid for it. He was the son of Dieter Roth from Iceland and a very good artist.

Can you tell us something about your future projects?

I would love to make a movie again. Actually I am working on a script for a movie. In that movie – if it’ll be realized – I’ll play the main character. That would be my next big project. Beside of this I’ll paint, make from time to time a performance, write a book and see what I’ll come.

Interview by reykjavikboulevard,
april 17th, 2013

See the original article on the reykjavikboulevard website

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© Sebastian Bieniek