interview with julius heinemann

Julius Heinemann photographed by Agata Madejska. Image courtesy of the artist.

Julius Heinemann (born 1984) is a visual artist based in Berlin. He was educated at Folkwang University of Arts (Essen), Academy of Fine Arts – Leipzig and the Royal College of Art (London). Heinemann was also the recipient of the prestigious Jan van Eyck Academy residency, a post-academic institution for research and production. Recent selected solo shows include: Pueblo Potemkin, Condeduque, Madrid (2022); Solo booth, ARCOMadrid, w/ Jahn und Jahn, Madrid (2022); Ma, Forum Kunst, Rottweil (2021); The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld, Geukens & De Vil, Antwerp (2021); Dinge und Undinge (o las formas de las cosas), Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City (2019) and; Double Exposure, Jahn & Jahn, Munich (2018).

LUCIJA ŠUTEJ: How do you see the role of the camera obscura in your work and what interests you about the method?

JULIUS HEINEMANN: The camera obscura is one if not the fundamental principle of photography: through a simple hole in a dark room an image gets projected on its opposite wall. This simplicity has always fascinated me. Employing a small puncture, a live image of reality is created. There is something magical about it. The first time I saw it, I was very moved.

I have a very strong interest in photographic concepts and optical devices, as they relate to our visual apparatus. At the same time, these devices play a big role in the history of painting. This connection between painting and photography, how optical devices have changed painting and thus again how we look at the world, has always fascinated me.

Sketch for the installation “Camera Obscura (Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City)". Image courtesy of the artist.

Photographic concepts often serve as a source of ideas for me, as moments of reflection for my installations. I used a camera obscura for the first time in my 2016 solo exhibition Prisma at Proyectos Monclova in Mexico City. Rather than depicting the outside world, as is most often the case, a small hole in the wall projected the exhibition seen in the previous room into the next one, yet upside down – as if one was entering a large eye looking at the exhibition.

That exhibition consisted of three moments: the work “window piece” – a work in situ for which I cut a section out of the wall in a hallway and stretched a piece of gauze into it. Looking through the material, one could observe the storage of the gallery and a proper window inside of the frame. The gauze-covered opening was a transparent painting: painting as a fragment of a wall and painting as a window. The second moment of the exhibition consisted of a classical hanging of paintings. And the third moment of the exhibition was formed by the (distorted) image created by the camera obscura. The entire exhibition was thus a reflection on painting itself, as surface, interface, image, and ultimately space.

“Window Piece (Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City)", 2016, site specific installation. Size: 200 x 150 x ∞ cm. Spray paint on transparent fabric. Image by Julius Heinemann.
Exhibition view of “Prisma” at Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City. Image by Julius Heinemann with image courtesy of Proyectos Monclova.
“Untitled (Spaces)", 2016, 200 x 300 cm / acrylic, spray paint, graphite and crayon on linen. Image by Julius Heinemann.
“Camera Obscura (Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City)", 2016. Photo by Moritz Bernoully with image courtesy of Proyectos Monclova.
“Camera Obscura (Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City)", 2016, site specific installation / ca. 989 x 610 x 300 cm / camera obscura, objects made out of plaster and wood. Photo by Moritz Bernoully with image courtesy of Proyectos Monclova.
“Prisma", 2016, 240 x 180 cm / acrylic, spray paint and graphite on linen. Image by the artist.

LŠ: Could you define the role of space in your practice?

JH: The centre of my practice is the perception of the here and now, in which time and space are crucial factors. Space often serves as a point of entry. It was in 2010 when I realised that I have to draw directly on the wall. Only in that manner was I able to create an imprint in direct relation to the space and to stress the physicality of my body. And so it happened that I soon started to make installations, as they address the perception of the viewer within a specific space. They create a directness that you don’t have in other forms of work. Photography in particular almost always refers to another place and time. And paintings usually have a border and can be hung in different places.

It has always been important to me to create experiential spaces that point to the here and now of the viewer. What interests me, again and again, is the interplay between reality and imagination, between painting and concrete space. In the piece Panorama (Van Eyck, Maastricht), for example, I stretched transparent fabric across the garden of an inner courtyard, and thus created a superimposition of painting, architecture, and nature. Ultimately, a direct confrontation of painting and space.

“Panorama (Van Eyck, Maastricht)", 2019, was a site-specific installation. Size: ca. 1020 x 820 x 360 cm. Materials: aluminium, steel, transparent fabric and spray paint in garden. Image courtesy of the artist.
Floor plan for “Panorama (Van Eyck, Maastricht)". Image courtesy of the artist.
Maquette of the installation “Panorama (Van Eyck, Maastricht)". Image courtesy of the artist.

LŠ: Could you tell us more about the project MA researching the relationship between space and time?

JH: Ma is a Japanese term that means “negative space” or “interval”. It deals with space in a completely different way than the Western way of thought, which always defines space through limitations. Here, the focus is on the in-between that defines space: volume, air, or emptiness. A kind of space only created through subjective experience, through an encounter of the in-between.

The subjective and the void are two things I consider essential to our perception of the world. That’s why I was fascinated by this concept and made it the central theme of my exhibition MA at the Kunstverein in Rottweil in 2021.

Installation view of “MA (Forum Kunst, Rottweil)”, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.
“Ma (Forum Kunst, Rottweil)", 2021, was a site specific installation. Composed of the following materials: wall paint, spray paint, acrylic, graphite, copy of a permanently installed shelf, different objects, wooden poles, wood, steel wire, mirror, glass, metal table frame and office chair. Size: ca. 14,3 x 12,3 x 7,5 m. Image courtesy of the artist.

I treated the exhibition space as my material and developed an installation based on its characteristics. Installing rods, I connected the two levels of the room, at the same time creating a kind of rhythm. An interplay of space and time via architectural lines.

Then there was also a shelf: a basic, white shelf at the entrance of the exhibition space which normally serves to display flyers and handouts. I loved how that shelf presented an archetype of space. A basic structure of several small rooms.

I took the shelf as a starting point to arrange small abstract still lives in there. I also produced a copy of the shelf to create an interval between the first encounter with the shelf and the next. A temporal interval – a déjà vu.

The third moment in the exhibition was a mirror piece. I produced a mirror in the size and shape of one of the windows and hung it about two meters in the opposite direction. The back of the mirror, which faces the room, is white. From a particular angle, it seems to cover the window completely. The sides of the mirror reflect the window itself. Looking at the mirror, you are thus looking through the window concurrently. The space between the window and the mirror became a non-existent space between outlook and outlook, so to speak.

LŠ: How do you see the role of architecture and “place” in your work?

JH: I have always been interested in architecture because it so heavily shapes our environment. Through architecture, space is redefined by humans following notions of purpose and goal. I find it very exciting to see how this happens and what problems and solutions arise. As a teenager, I wanted to become an architect for a while. My interest has remained, but now I’m more intrigued by the concepts of space and time that surpass the notion of purpose and in installations that have a purely artistic and/or philosophical claim and no other purpose than to be spaces of experience.

However, architecture plays an essential role in my work, because my installations cannot be separated from their sites. They are rather determined by it. Each place always comes with a special character. The place is not interchangeable. And I use the place as material.

Maquette of the installation “Ma (Forum Kunst, Rottweil)", 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.