On October 9, over a hundred art fans arrived at the Apple Store Soho to gain insight into the work and life of German-American artist Florian Maier-Aichen. Organized by Art21, the early evening event featured a special advance screening of Season 5’s Fantasy episode, which features Maier-Aichen, and it provided an opportunity for the public to ask the artist about his artistic practice and inspirations.
Introduced by Art21 Manager of Education and Public Programs, Marc Mayer, the event began with the video segment and continued with a Q&A session moderated by Art21 Associate Curator, Wesley Miller.
Known for his digitally altered images, Maier-Aichen arrived in Southern California in the mid-1990s as a student to study art at UCLA. During his studies in Los Angeles, he discovered the American photographic tradition of the late 19th- and early 20th-century that popularized the majesty of the American West. He wondered if America’s love of photography, which he said is more respected as an art form here than it is in Germany, is rooted in this historic period when Americans discovered their nation’s natural beauty through the power of the lens. Miller added, to support Maier-Aichen’s point, that the awe most people felt when viewing those same early photographs contributed to the establishment of America’s first national parks.
While Maier-Aichen felt affinities with those early landscape photographers, such as Ansel Adams and Eadweard Muybridge, he says his work shies away from simple landscape images. “I don’t like pure landscape—it is too boring for me. I like the tension between [the city and nature],” he said.
Maier-Aichen how he felt the computer had opened up the photograph and how he also saw the medium as almost alchemical. It has been a tool that helps him realize his desire to abstract images and “turn the photograph into a scribble.”
When Miller asked him about Maier-Aichen’s tendency to rephotograph things, the artist explained that he was “not interested in originality” and that while he didn’t want to copy it, an image that has already been taken has “context and history,” which interests him.
Miller wondered where the general sense of doom and failure that many critics have recognized in his work originated, and the artist attributed this perceived sense of tragedy to Los Angeles, where he lives, which is permeated with a feeling that disasters (fires, earthquakes, etc.) are lurking on the horizon. He added that his computer process mimics that sensibility since it involves “‘damaging and destructing the image with a computer.”
He spoke about his work’s tendency to leave things open-ended while embracing a sense of “mythology” or “mystery.” He consciously works to maintain one foot in the early photographic traditions and one in the hip world of digital photography, since it represented another point of tension that contributed to his unique aesthetic.
You can watch a preview of Florian Maier-Aichen on the Fantasy episode here.
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