× Good Enough Sculptures:
What Happens When Sculptures are Made to be Filmed?
A Territory – Preface Introduction Three ‘Finished’ FilmsThe Research Practice Collaborative Films Improvisation Sequences and Split Screens The Camera, Film and by Extension Perception Aphorisms Filming ‘Real’ Sculpture Gifs The Sculptures and Objects More Generally Conversation with Franz West, April 2019 Table Tops – a Conclusion of Sorts. Nothing is Finished Download as PDF
Conversation with Franz West, April 2019


BL – Hi Franz, thanks for talking with me, given the circumstances.

FW – No problem Bill. I’m always pleased to talk with other artists. What did you want to ask me?

BL – I just went to see your posthumous exhibition at Tate Modern (Franz West, 2019) and I realised how important your work has been to me for such a long time. I suddenly see your influence in all of it.

FW – Well, that’s very good to hear, I think. That it’s been useful?

BL – It’s the reference that is so close I’ve not been able to see it. There was a big exhibition of yours at the Whitechapel Gallery maybe fifteen years ago that I saw. It was a better exhibition than the one at Tate I think, although that may just be that it was the first time I’d seen your work in the flesh, so to speak.

FW – I remember this show well.

BL – I was making performance then and had come from a theatre background, and still felt very much like an outsider at contemporary art galleries, but your Passstuecke were really relevant and exciting, and that made me look more at your later work and, although I didn’t know what to do with it in terms of what I had been making, I loved it. I think I started making sculptures because of them. The work made it feel as if making was possible.

FW – So you copied them?

BL – Yes, I think so. Your work and some other peoples’.

FW – With good results?

BL – No, dreadful! Although your sculptures seemed so accessible, when I started to make things, I realised how incredibly sophisticated your sculpture-making was. Seeing all that work again made me remember both the feeling that things were possible, and that difficulty. Then there were films I hadn’t seen before. I was sitting watching this one where you seem to be making a sculpture on a boat, and at the end (which was the first bit I saw), you put the sculpture on a table and filmed it, so that it almost looks like one of the cliffs that rise out of the ocean. It’s not the most original gesture I guess. Henry Moore did stuff like that with photography, but to see it on film, or video rather, seemed like a different thing. Irreverent somehow, like a lot of your work.

FW -Yes being a bit stupid has always been important, although I don’t think I really try to be like that, it’s just what happens. I am very serious about the work and I like working with film. That one in fact was made by Bernhard Riff.

BL – Yes, I saw that. There’s another one too that he made of you working on plaster sculptures in your studio. I couldn’t read the subtitles, but it was nice to see how roughly you handled the materials – using electric saws to lop pieces off and sticking different bits together.

FW – That is what I find the most useful about these techniques and materials. Everything can always be changed. But you also must work with the materials. I think it was Adorno who wrote about the logic of materials. I remember reading this in the late 80s before I began making outdoor sculptures, but it was true for the work I had already made. The idea that a different aesthetic comes out of different materials, this is very interesting to me.

BL - A kind of humility in the face of the materials? Looking for what they offer not trying to dominate them?

FW – Perhaps.

BL – There’s something playful about all of it. Do people say that a lot? But I also feel a little conflicted, especially with the later work, because it is made from a position of privilege. So, I wonder how much the playfulness and irreverence are a product of being an outsider, and how much it is something enabled by a position of privilege.

FW – I’m not sure I can really answer that. Of course, I have always come from a relatively privileged position and then perhaps later, in the art world, a very privileged one. But I have tried I suppose to stay true to those early works, which were in many ways a reaction to the seriousness of much of the work that was happening in Vienna at the time. I felt that I had to make work that was less serious, and that meant I was not successful for a long time. I have tried to keep that same feeling always.

BL – And has film and video always been important?

FW – Yes, for sure. It was necessary to document the early works. They were not the same if they were seen merely as objects. I wanted them to be activated by the people who picked them up and did things with them, and I had nowhere to keep them. I took lots of photographs too.

BL – Yes, and they all have people in them, don’t they?

FW – Of course! What would be the point of photographing them alone, other than to give them some sort of importance as sculptures that they do not have? They are important because of what they make people do, how they make them act. This individual piece of plaster and metal isn’t important. I have had to remake them, like for the Whitechapel exhibition.

BL – So, could other people remake them now you’re dead, and use them to make photographs and films? Would that still be your work?

FW – No! It would be there’s. But you are right, the forms are important but not the individual objects. And again, they can be a little different and no matter.

BL – But it is important that it is you who has made them?

FW – Yes, I think so. Otherwise it would not be my work.

BL – Could you have designed them and had someone fabricate them?

FW – No, I do not think so. How would I sense how an object might affect someone if I were designing them only on paper, and waiting until they arrived, in order to understand whether and how they functioned? It was necessary to make them by hand, with my body so to speak.

BL – And the later sculptures, they are singular material things, aren’t they? Viewers can’t touch them. People can own them. You couldn’t just make another.

FW – This is true. They must be what they are. Although they often have parts of other older works in them, like the collages in the little rooms I make.

BL – There’s a sense with them all I guess, because of the type of construction and the textures and application of paint, that they could easily have been different. They have emerged through the making of them.

FW – Yes, you cannot really plan and design work like this, and often you find you must take things apart and remake them before you find a satisfactory form.

BL – So, is the video a way of keeping that conversation with the materials open?

FW – Perhaps. It is also a way of showing that the process cannot be entirely planned, because it is a dialogue with the materials.

BL – There’s something self-mythologising about that too isn’t there? Setting yourself as the creative genius in the studio, forming things intuitively out of bare materials?

FW – Perhaps yes, but I always want it to be more messy than that; as if I don’t exactly know what I am doing. You are right though. When you become successful, it is hard for any gesture to be… what’s the word? - to be ‘provocative’.

BL – So that video, the one of you in the studio, both uncovers a kind of messy, not too serious approach, but also creates an aura simply because of your position.

FW – Yes, I mean in the context of the Tate it must be read like this. If it were being shown in some little gallery somewhere, people might write it off as undermining the work. I don’t know.

BL – The video kind of pushes in two directions at once.

FW – Maybe, but this is another reason for the outdoor sculptures. At the time, the only public sculpture allowed was so serious. It was a Richard Serra. And I was in the position, to change this, to do something provocative; make forms which were unexpected; which people could climb or sit on; which did not impose themselves so much but were a little silly. It was a new context I could approach as an outsider.

BL - There were two early films in the Tate show too, that I hadn’t seen before; both of people performing with the Passtuecke. I think one was just of the First Passstuecke.

FW - Yes, I think this first Passstuecke is important. It was a response to these Cy Twonbly paintings of big circles, do you know them?

BL – Yes, I think so. Big canvases with red circles a bit like spirals.

FW – Yes exactly. I saw these in the 70s and did not know what I could to do with them. And then I was also reading Kant. You know Kant’s Uninteressiertes Wohlgefallen … how would you say this in English… disinterested engagement?

BL – That’s in the Critique of Judgment?

FW – Exactly. So, it has to do with use without end. And at the same time, I had read Wittgenstein and probably misunderstood, but anyway, he wrote that words can be like tools. So, I thought the Passstuecke could be like this. Tools without ends for people to do things with. They make people self-conscious; the interactions are awkward because there is no obvious reason for them.

BL – They are open for people to explore them however they want?

FW – Yes, but of course this is constrained by the social context and the psychological one. It is more that the focus is on this interaction and not on the reason for it.

BL – And the First Passstuecke was based on those Cy Twombly paintings?

FW – Yes. I also read in Wittgenstein that drawing is a symbol for the senseless, and this then seemed to fit with the idea that these Passstuecke would have no defined use. They were based on senseless drawings. Not that drawing is entirely senseless, but it is not a symbol for sense in the way language is.

BL – Are the films just a means of documenting the Passstuecke and people’s interactions, or do they do something in themselves? They are very particular. In the First Passstuecke film that was shown at Tate for example, the sculpture is in the middle and people walk in and pick it up, do a little action, then put the sculpture down and go off. The framing is awkward too, a little close maybe. It doesn’t feel like a document, it feels like a performance made for the camera.

FW – Yes, I think this is right. The camera changes the way you behave just like the Passstueke, but it is also an end. We were not making those interactions in a disinterested way, we were thinking about the film, so perhaps this is a problem.

BL – Your photographs also tend to be quite theatrical; people pose with the sculptures; they do not feel like they are documents of something happening anyhow. Do you know this little sculpture by Gaudier-Brzeska, which he made for a friend who was a writer? For him to fiddle with while he was writing? This seems similar in some ways. An object without a particular end, but in this case a solitary and private one, unlike your sculptures which seem very public, very caught up in display.

FW – Yes, display is important. For the exhibition you mentioned at the Whitechapel Gallery, we made an area where people could interact with the Passstuecke in front of large mirrors.

BL – Yes, I remember that, but at Tate there were these strange little curtained off areas, almost like a hospital ward, for people to take the objects inside. There were some of the original sculptures in glass cases. It didn’t feel right to me. And at the Whitechapel, the mirrored spaces were separated off too, like changing rooms.

FW – Yes, perhaps this was to allow people to feel free to do as they wished without feeling that they are being watched. Perhaps there should also have been a stage, so that these rooms were for practising, and if people felt like it, they could then display what they had done to others. I am thinking in two ways here. Yes, the Passstuecke have to do with display and with performing, but they are also about a personal and individual engagement. A fiddling of sorts, which might well be better done in private, or partly in private. I’m not sure if it is important to decide one way or another.

BL – No. I totally agree. It needn’t be one thing or the other, but this discussion uncovers the complexity of that engagement. It can certainly be both; it should be.

FW – I feel this is the same with my understanding of philosophy. It is not important that it makes you understand things, but that it helps you to have ideas. It makes you ask questions. Sometimes a misunderstanding can be as productive as an understanding. More so!

BL – Yes, I agree with that too. Philosophy must inspire action, it must cause problems for your thinking so that you question things. It definitely shouldn’t wrap things up. That would be terrible, especially for art works. Then there would be no point in making things. At least not from my point of view.

FW – Yes, I think the way I make sculptures, if this doesn’t sound a bit grand, is a kind of philosophical thinking, because I am not certain where it will lead, and things are discovered through the process. Even if they are ever so small.

BL – Yes, I think that’s exactly how I feel about my work. Thanks Franz, this has been really useful. It’s funny, although I don’t think anyone would look at the sculptures I’ve made, if they are sculptures, and say that they look like yours, I think there is a deep similarity in approach. More than ever, I want the making to be free of too much pre-conception, so that it can feel lively and have a sense of discovery to it. I think this is also why I am drawn to making films and to your Passstuecke, because the making carries on through the interaction and the play and the performance with the objects, which is of a particular character, because it is directed towards the camera. It is both personal and public, awkward and enabling.

FW – Precisely. Is that not what much art is about? The personal and the public? When you make things you often do this alone and yet you imagine someone else looking or interacting with it?

BL – Yes that’s true. But in my case, I am also imagining how I will interact with the things I make.

FW – Of course, me also. How else can you imagine except through your own experience? Did you play with the Passstuecke at the Tate?

BL – No, I felt too self-conscious.

FW – Why not behind the curtain?

BL – That would have been worse.

FW – You’re sure you are in the right line of work?

BL – (Laughs) Thanks Franz

FW – No problem Bill.


As well as my own experiences, this text used three online sources as reference. An video interview between Franz West and Hans Ulrich Obrist (2013), a You Tube video, Franz West (no date) posted by Parkett Art and an interview with Tom Eccles in ArtReview (2012).