Adrian Schoormans‘ studio is in a back courtyard which he shares with a wine warehouse. The carefully stacked cases of expensive red wine are in sharp contrast to the untidy pile of wires, boards, plaster and bones which Adrian collects for his work. We sit down in the middle of a cabinet of figures which watch our conversation attentively from their pedestals. So it’s no wonder that we at once start discussing the liveliness of art and transience of life.
Adrian, you describe your mission succinctly as, “Born to do art and dissolve into particles.“ You are very successful with the first part of your task. Fortunately you haven’t dissolved yet, otherwise we couldn’t be having this conversation. AS:(laughs) Yes, but I’m still in permanent motion. Take my body as an example: really this body isn’t the same one as 5 minutes ago. In that time masses of cells have died and new ones have developed. As an art-lover you always have the beautiful illusion that art makes you immortal. But your work seems to contradict that. AS: AS: The interesting thing about art is that it depicts something constant. While my body changes with time, the works of art that I made with my body remain the same. They are moments caught in time, which you can see like in a display cabinet. That is as maybe, but you still work with transient materials. Let’s take this laptop. It looks like it’s made of compressed maize … AS: Yes, that’s right. However the maize is moulded in resin and then laminated to make it permanent. What I’m doing here is making use of nature by man. This was sparked by something: when I was a boy, my uncle took me to the USA and showed me fields that stretched to the horizon. There was no tree, no meadow, just monoculture. We know composed landscapes in the history of art, a suggestion of something natural – but here an artificial nature had been created in agricultural reality. It was my idea to play this back in art and by moving the context directly on to foodstuffs to draw our attention indirectly to our relationship with nature. One of your best-known works, Body Incoming, shows your own skeleton, which you made with the help of a process from a tomography. What does it feel like to watch your own skeleton being printed and spat out into the world in 3D? AS: The first meeting was indeed strange. When I unpacked the skeleton for the first time and placed the scull on a cushion I had goose-bumps and thought: Yes, that‘s the way it’ll be later. On the other hand the project will survive me. The installation is completed with a video image of me, which I always take shortly before the exhibition. When I look at the catalogue from 2000, this picture shows me that I have aged. But the skeleton is frozen in the state it was before. In art history, a skeleton is usually used as a symbol of vanitas. As observers we have no option other than to see it as a sign of our own mortality. What is it like with Body Incoming? AS: I tried to cancel out the skeleton as a symbol of mortality, the work is supposed to stand for something living. Of course, that was a one-off – I grasped this symbol but it remains a gesture. MW: But that doesn’t fit in with the physical reaction you just described. That was already a near-death experience. AS: Yes, the body functions very archaically sometimes. I think something up and design a new frame for this symbol, but my body reacts differently. When you see an X-ray of yourself for the first time you can understand the shivers a bit. You used a new method of picturing yourself with the computer tomography, which nowadays is becoming more and more reality. Were you surprised by your own clairvoyance? AS: No, not really, because I watch these trends very closely. It’s the same with the 3D printer. I still remember reading a report from MIT in Boston in 1996 and it was talking about people having their own 3D printer at home by 2006, and they’d be able to print their own crockery. I then found an institute at the RWTH in Aachen which was offering this procedure of Rapid Prototyping in Germany. However it cost an estimated 84,000DM – I managed to cover a half of the costs with donations but I had to provide the rest myself.
“I tried to cancel out the skeleton as a symbol of mortality, the work is supposed to stand for something living.“
Volker Busse and Martin Welp, what is it about Adrian Schoormans‘ work that fascinates you as collectors? VB: I have to admit that for a long time I couldn’t classify it. In the ‘80s art really turned away from images – artists like Imi Knöbel or Blinky Palermo reduced art to its most minimal means. They stopped painting and it was only about the structure of the canvas and colours. At that time your works would probably not have been regarded as art at all. AS: I remember when I showed you my pictures for the first time, you said I was spaced out. VB: (laughs) That was meant as a compliment. I got to know you first as a person, then as an artist. It took me a bit of time. Today I know that the things are fantastic but you have to get involved with them.At the beginning you reject this kind of art. This clearly didn’t stop you exhibiting some of Adrian‘s works in your office on Erkratherstrasse. VB: That’s right. For example in the lobby of our office we have one of the figures and I notice again and again that visitors stop to look at it and they can’t work it out. It’s just not the kind of art where you say, “That’s lovely“ and that’s it. Instead a discussion ensues. Socially that’s great, because you have something you can talk about. AS: In fact I often experience that people reject my works. But really I intended these moments of irritation. My art should leave its mark. VB: That of course is a problem if you want to attract collectors. Private people can be ruled out as nobody wants to hang a skull on their wall at home. I do have one of your figures at home and have got used to the discussions. MW: I’ve got one of Adrian’s figures at home too and I really find it very good to confront it again and again. But the main reason I’ve got it there is of course because it pleases me aesthetically. Adrian, with Phase 5 you’re being talked about again and again in connection with current projects. What does the artist advise the architect to do? AS: I think they know very well themselves, what they’re doing. But perhaps being close to an artist keeps their thoughts alive. And anyway there are many parallels between our work. For example, I remember a design for Hamburg harbour – you put a steel skeleton made of ramps in the foreground that was great. It really looked organic. And when I visited the “Schwanenhöfe” last year I got the impression that a kind of social organism had developed. VB: I think it‘s an important comment to say that buildings are really bodies. In the “Schwanenhöfe“ we just sawed down some brick walls to get more light. That was like working on a sculpture and Adrian was an important support. MW: Also how to deal with structures is an important topic for us. Adrian often works with broken up surfaces where different structures blend in with one another. That’s a very good help for us when we’re trying to blend a large building into its environment. What’s the state of the relationship between architecture and art? Le Corbusier once said that art is present in a beautiful building. But still people have to find their place there too. VB: From my point of view that was one of architecture’s biggest mistakes in the last century. Or at least I don’t see myself as an architect that celebrates my own designs while having no interest in who’s going to live in the building. AS: Yet a building as a body in a town can have an incredible social effect. I’m thinking about the Biblioteca Espana in Columbia, which was built in an area that is one of the most dangerous in Latin America. When the building was finished people suddenly started to decorate their front gardens. VB: Yes in the meantime there are trends in architecture which support the archaic when building and are also rediscovering people at the same time. A street is a collection of houses that people have had built and not a structure which is there purely to serve economic interests. I think we should build houses which serve people and not the world of finance.
Adrian Schoormans was born in 1962 in Kerkrade in The Netherlands. He lives and works in Düsseldorf. His works, which have been shown in numerous individual and group exhibitions, deal with natural objects and their manipulation. This leads to the emergence of sculptures which confront the observer with his own mortality. Schoormanns often develops the ideas for his work through his intensive, conceptional engagement with the media, particularly the Internet.