Interview / Verena Issel
Interview with Verena Issel by Petrus Entertainment
Entering Verena Issel's installations can make you loose orientation, yet in a funny, not uncomfortable way. The Hamburg-based artist is currently resident at Taipei Artist Village, where she lives and works for two months. We talked to her about working environments, her shows in Taiwan and a special kind of symphony.
ESCAPING THE MUNDANE (PSYCHOGEOGRAPHIES II), Various works and materials, Installation view Gallery Unofficial Preview, Seoul, South Korea, 2016 (Photography by Jung Hyun Kim)
What role does the place of work play in your artistic practice?

"As my work is often inspired by literature or philosophy, it doesn't necessarily make a big difference in terms of the work's content. If I was working on a project based on literature for example, I could do it in Alaska or Morrocco, the only thing important would be whether there is a heater or an Aircon in the studio : )
On the other hand my work often results in room-filling installations, so the very workspace does influence me a lot indeed. A big studio would often result in bigger works... (Once I had a very orange studio in a building from the 70s and I kind of had my »blue period« as a reaction, haha!)"
Where are you based in Taiwan?

"I'm living in a former military favela kind of village here, which was turned into a kind of artist village in order to protect these old buildings. Art as an urban development factor - but that's another story. The village is surrounded by skyscrapers. The very old ramshackle buildings here are settled on a hill covered by thick jungle - or better, they're almost right within the jungle. Loads and heaps of different wonderful plants are all over the place and insects keep singing their swaying songs. And then again, a couple of metres further down the hill the big highway starts. This village is in the middle of the city, but the jungle keeps growing into the village and some of the uninhabited buildings were already taken back by the forest."
Taipei Artist Village Treasure Hill
So you're working close to nature and a totally urban environment...

"Exactly, and to come back to your first question again - living in a different country actually does affect the work a lot too. You get a whole new perspective on many things. Issues cross your way which you wouldn't have been aware of otherwise. The very environment breaks your routine and that changes your thinking a lot. That's why I love to work abroad...
As I looked deeper into the ecological issues of Taiwan, for example, I realized that Taiwan is engaging a lot in the field of climate engineering. The country is heavily affected by natural disasters like earthquakes, heavy rainfalls and landslides, tornados and more. That's why scientists here were one of the first trying to alter the climate - for example different measures are applied in order to keep areas dry or more wet for agricultural reasons. I could talk about that now for hours, but maybe you want to google it...
Anyways, at the same time, there is this big indigenous, so-called aboriginal part of the Taiwanese population. Some of them still wish to live in their traditional ways in union with nature. But often climate engineering projects take place right in these areas - which is causing conflicts of course. So my next project is dealing with these topics. It is truly a very site-specific project, made in Taiwan and made for Taiwan."
And you developed works for two shows here?

"One of them already opened two weeks ago at Barry Room, TAV, Taipei, the other one last Friday. The first show is called ON DISPLAY (ABORIGINALITY). It's up till September 5th, so if you happen to be in Taipei you could still visit! I'd be glad :)
ON DISPLAY (ABORIGINALITY), Various works and materials, Installation view Barry Room, Taipei Artist Village Treasure Hill, Taipei, Taiwan, 2016 (Photography by Kairon Liu)
It's quite a big installation dealing with the indigenous people of Taiwan I mentioned above. There are various tribes here, supposedly the origin of all Melanesian and Polynesian culture - extremely ancient groups with very highly developed cultures, and very diverse. They have all been sent off to the hinterlands and apart from that, they're being regarded as a curiosity by the majority of Taiwanese people, who have their roots in Han China.
So-called aboriginal people are seen as something interesting, exotic, strange and maybe cute, but they're not being taken seriously. Their rights are often totally ignored. For example atomic waste was dumped on the island of Lanyu lately, traditionally sacred land of the Tao people. At the same time the aboriginal people are being broadly and proudly displayed in the museums of the capital in a very romantic way...

In my room installation at Barry Room, TAV, I copied displays shown in the »Museum of Taiwan«, Taipei - romantic images taken of the people in the above mentioned island of Lanyu. You see colourfully dressed, exotic »Indians« smiling happily in paradisaical surroundings. Of course not one word about atomic waste is mentioned in the museum. I copied the displays on Lanyu people in my way, altering them into very flashy poppy collages. I combined these pieces in an installation with the museum's information stands, metal objects usually containing leaflets. I left the dispensers empty, no information is given whatsoever. And I replaced the leaflets with plastic bamboo pieces, imitations of the symbol for the Han Chinese culture. But I removed the leaves' pointed tops, in order to make it look more European, which is very fashionable here. Additionally I put a lot of split wood everywhere in the room - a trigger for a computer game look. Pokemon Gooooo! The whole installation looks very pop and fun. And maybe that's all that remains of the aboriginal people...
STRIKES BACK - SOLAR RADIATION MANAGEMENT, CARBON DIOXIDE REMOVAL, THE JUNGLE AND MY GRANDMOTHER, Leaves destroyed by pesticides and sun reflecting foil, Installation view Gallery One, Taipei Artist Village Treasure Hill, Taipei, Taiwan, 2016 (Photography by Kairon Liu)
My next project which will be displayed at Gallery One at Taipei Artist Village Treasure Hill is called STRIKES BACK - SOLAR RADIATION MANAGEMENT, CARBON DIOXIDE REMOVAL, THE JUNGLE AND MY GRANDMOTHER. It's dealing with the climate engineering mentioned above. I will show methods of climate engineering used in Taiwan with a technical diagram, installed as a big wall painting, which will be made of leaves of the very jungle in Treasure Hill, right by the village I'm living in. It will have a very tribal or aboriginal feel: a technical drawing made out of leaves... Private things and governmental decisions... What do you care about? About beauty? In Asia for sure more than in ugly dugly Germany, haha! And yes: It will be very pretty, hell yes! My artwork is sometimes called very aesthetic and decorative. I think people mean that as an insult. I like it in fact: it's a trap. Taiwanese Venus flytrap from Treasure Hill, haha."
Tell us about the video!

"What you see is a video I was shooting preparing the mentioned show on climate engineering. I was making a collage out of leaves, so that's why I went to the jungle nearby in order to collect the material. And then there is this massive insect concert going on... A super good band - and many butterflies! The band is called BUTTERFLY EFFECT AND THE TALL GIRLS. They're live in concert in Maokong, Taipei, 2016. I-pop* for more nature appreciation and awareness of micro-life and micro-change."

What can we expect when you're back in Germany?

"My next project will be an exhibition in Leipzig in October at D21 Kunstraum. The fabulous Michael Barthel (of Kunstraum Barthel) is co-curating a group show, using the French movie LA BOUM as a springboard to explore the »Freedom of Art«. I think I will do something on youth culture...
The opening is in October 13, feel free to come by - I'll bring some rice wine!"