RMIT Gallery visited curator Mathilde Weh in July Munich at the Haus der Kunst to talk to her about the new Goethe Institut exhibition she curated – Geniale Dilletanten: Subculture in Germany in the 1980s.
A touring version of the exhibition will be held at RMIT Gallery from 13 November – 27 February 2016, with a local component – Australian Ingenious Amateurs – reflecting aspects of the Australian scene.
Mathilde Weh will visit Melbourne for opening week events at RMIT Gallery.
RMIT Gallery: So, you had a big opening night for the exhibition just recently. Tell us a little bit about the party, who played there?
Mathilde: There was a concert two days after the opening from the band Einstürzende Neubauten and it was a really great concert and I think Blixa Bargeld was in Melbourne very often because he played with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
RMIT Gallery: That’s right, so it’s very familiar to Melbourne audiences and a lot of Australian audiences who came of age as artists and musicians in the 1980s will find this exhibition really fascinating. Why did you decide to pursue this idea of German subculture in the 1980s?
Mathilde: We, from the Goethe-Institut, wanted to make an exhibition about subculture and then we decided to do it about the 80s because it was a very interesting time. The medias were mixed; music, painting, literature. It was a mixed-media time!
RMIT Gallery: That’s true also in Australia because we had so many people who were involved in the music scene, who were making films, who were painting. Australian musician Ash Wednesday who was a touring musician with Einstürzende Neubauten recalls the local ‘ingenious amateur’ scene, and that’s exactly what this exhibition celebrates, isn’t it?
Mathilde: Yes, yes. And the new possibilities to make films with Super Eight. And you have samplers and Casios and all the new recordings. This was a new feeling for musicians.
RMIT Gallery: The exciting thing about this was it was a cheap technology for the time, and people could readily get their hands on it and it wasn’t complicated so they could all have a go. (Hence – Brilliant Dilletantes – the English translation of the exhibition title)
Mathilde: Yes, it was not too expensive and everyone could make a film. There will be many of these films in the exhibition not seen before by many people.
RMIT Gallery: So to be a ‘Brilliant Dilettante or Brilliant Amateur in this scene, you didn’t have to be a professional film maker?
Mathilde: Yes, yes. That’s right. And also many artists in the eighties didn’t want to be a rockstar, they didn’t want to play a rock show… not to be able to play very good instrument. That was okay.
RMIT Gallery: Can you talk about the intriguing home made instruments that were part of the scene?
Mathilde: The artists had self-made instruments, like a plastic box with lego, children play with it. You can make noise with it and other instruments. And this is the Robotron. I don’t know, it is an instrument that can make noise and they change it a little bit, edit and change. With Einstürzende Neubauten (Blixa’s band and he played with Nick Cave) the first time they played together they had no money and they sold the drums and they found things (hammers, electric drills, saws) and used it to play. In one legendary show, the music was recorded without an audience in the hollow interior of a motorway bridge shortly after the band performed. And it was a really small space, you couldn’t stand up but it was a big noise, strange noise.
RMIT Gallery: Politically, what was happening in Germany in that time in the early eighties? How did that impact the subculture?
Mathilde: Here were many demonstrations against the government. It was an important time. The Berlin wall was still up, yes. And it was really a subculture.
RMIT Gallery will be showing a new movie as part of our public program events that explores 1980s German subculture of the time and the political climate. It is called “B Movie: Lust & Sound in West Berlin (1979-1989)”. Stay tuned!
RMIT Gallery: Can you talk about the paintings in this exhibition and how they fit in with the period.
Mathilde: Many of the painters made music too. Musicians and painters and film makers. Some of the pieces are very big – 28 metres. It was painted in three days, the exhibition lasted one day and then it was over. A little bit like a performance. And the base of the techno music was in the eighties with these bands.
RMIT Gallery: How many bands represented in this exhibition?
Mathilde: We feature seven bands from across Germany – Einstürzende Neubauten; Die Tödliche Doris; Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (F.S.K); Mode & Verzweiflung; Palais Schaumburg; Ornament und Verbrechen; and Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (D.A.F.) They used German titles not English titles because suddenly in the beginning of the eighties the musicians were using the German language. Not the English language but the German language. This was new. I think many of the singers said they wanted to express the lyrics in their own language.
RMIT Gallery: Have these bands and this scene had a lasting impact on art culture in Germany?
Mathilde: Yes I think so because now young German bands play music in the tradition of the eighties and use the sounds and equipment from the eighties like the little Casios. Also, very important in the eighties was the cassettes. CDs didn’t exist. Cassette recorders were very important because the bands were not with big, professional record labels. They had their own little record labels. Everything was self-made. It was also the time that music videos began to be bigger. Some bands had music videos but only in West Germany not in East Germany, it was not possible to make them.
RMIT Gallery: What’s really fascinating as well in this exhibition are the documentaries you have made with the artists and singers and musicians from the period, and their reflections on that time and the work they did.
Mathilde: Yes, I made two video’s, one is one hour and a short one, twenty-five minutes long, with the artists and some other people, with photographers and film-makers, not only the musicians and I think painters, It was very interesting to me to track these artists down and speak to them because I know them from the stage and from the records, from the paintings.
RMIT Gallery: You have put together an interesting range of public programs and events for the exhibition in Munich.
Mathilde: Yes, there are concerts and artist talks at the Haus der Kunst.
RMIT Gallery: RMIT Gallery is going to have a similar range of public programs – with some big name German artists coming. Including yourself. We look forward to seeing you in Melbourne in November.
Mathilde: Thank you, and I am very happy the show goes to Melbourne. I will see you all there!