I love it when you say: We are ghosts, Kaputt and the consequences, 19991


Ghislaine Dantan: I recently read the following phrase: people don't live or die, people just float.2 You said in an interview with Toby Webster that the images you create "seem to float in a parallel world beyond the regulation of the narrative and the plot. They are not dead, they are ghost".3 You also mentioned that the self "has no beginning or an end". In this respect, how does your work engage with the audience?


Lothar Hempel:"I saw a squirrel the other day jumping from one tree to another. I looked again and surprisingly it was still there, jumping, suspended in between moments, frozen in time, floating in mid air for eternity. It seemed to be dead smiling and so it made me dead smile. Later this afternoon, further away in the park, deeper in the woods, where the old trees are, trees of 6000 years of age, there was a polish theater troupe. They were all dressed in bright colors as if. They also asked for money before they even played. They were amateurs. It was a forest full of amateurs. Later I went to an old Villa to install a new sculpture next to a ballroom. It depicts a colorful Lady floating on dark waters. The people who liked the sculpture asked:" Who is she?" I turned away as there are too many answers to such question."

All this above could be the short story of a pleasant day I had a while ago, just the highlights, condensed to adequate and inadequate forms, cutting and mixing, bending and extracting, highlighting and simplifying the layers of a reality. This kind of liquid experience in a floating world is often to be found in my work. Memories and emotions, facts and mythologies, thoughts, references and lives interwine and coexist, fertile or sterile. I try to focus, so that we can go into the middle of this. Here is where my images gather, like water in subterranean caves. They form constellations, they prepare the primal games. This is my landscape, this is where the conflict is. Der Nullpunkt. From here nothing and everything is possible. Bathing in an artificial and dramatic light on an endless stage us become real. Lothar: How to use a sculpture? The Crow: Only in a symbiotic way!


GD:Since your early pieces, performances or music sets until your recent large-scale installations, you "build" timeless spaces and intermediate zones, you develop non-linear narratives and open-ended scenarios. Liam Gillick speaks about a "world of suspended actions".4 Can you comment on the performative dimension in your work?


LH:The sculpture above is called "Bacca Paranoika". She is a doll, a puppet, a mannequin, an actress. She uses the mirrors to keep the people on distance and to lure their gazes into the vortex of her fragility, as she is very fragile. Of course that is just her role in public, she is very different in private: she isn't that flat. But now that she is on stage she shows you all that you want to see and only that. But as you walk around her now and you come to her backside, you arrive backstage and eventually become sympathetic with her. You might want to support her. You don't want her to fail. An important moment. A moral decision. And she could really use that drink.


GD:Paradox, as you mentioned, is a central element in your work, which continuously oscillates between 2 and 3 dimensions: the paintings and the puppet-like characters, the print montages and the sculptures. Is this "oscillation" a way for the isolated individual to deal with the relation to the community? To evoke the self in regard to social order and discipline?


LH:More important and useful as the actual piece of art are the relations in between the works. It's all about correspondence, the space in between, the energies that are being created as the contrasts stand still. Certain works, like the felt puppets were just invented to make the flat work look even flatter. They are just meant to give birth to another dimension, creating a certain depth to the whole installation. But also a confusion, a drift into unknown areas & new dimensions. This is where my work is more choreographed than installed. I'm looking for experience, not Konsum. I want the puppets to dance as they stand still and I want the puppets to become aware of themselves as they get something started. I leave them alone as much as possible - it works better like that. I regard my work as endless: the images come from somewhere,they pause for a while ("suspended action"), That's their state as part of one of my installations, and then they carry on as we carry on. That's why I constantly use imagery from the stage, music and ballet: frozen movements, frozen moments, frozen music, but there is a before and an after. Erst nichts, dann Form, dann wieder nichts und immer weiter und von vorne…


GD:If we have a closer look at the "characters" in these paintings and sculptures, one can notice that they are made of many fragmented, dismantled pieces put or sewed together. Is it a way to engage with the idea of a multi-faceted self? More generally to allude to the human condition?


LH:These characters are people on stage! It's their big moment when they are to be seen by the audience in full light. We watch them from the side, hidden behind a curtain. When they feel our gaze being locked onto them and when they gaze into the audience where this gaze will be amplified and mirrored, they transform out of their role into a principle. This is why I have this particular obsession that I want to paint those paintings in such way that they can be read. Everything has to have its place in such rigid order, in this geometrical syntax. I hope they become iconic in a non pompous way. Like the characters from playing cards. They should release equal information than a text. But what do you read? Nothing of matter, an attitude only. I guess the puppets are similar, but different. They are the pawns in the game, replaceable and disposable. Of course I want them to look as good as possible. But however hard I try, they keep a certain smell of provinciality. They are mishmash, no history, no future. I have to admit that I like that. Look at this one: He is nothing but an example.
A proud amateur who is not totally aware of the dimensions of the game he is playing in.


GD:In the work Mantra, you first showed in Athens back in 2004 in your solo exhibition On the Olympus,5 as well as in the more recentStella Umbrella series (2006), you use a recurrent pattern that clearly refers to Frank Stella. How do you define your relation to such emblematic modernist references?


LH:Frank Stella is one of my favorite post war American painters. He is a real modern master in his elegance and consequence. I used early paintings of him only for their inherent qualities. They are so classic that they seem to belong to everyone. They have real iconic status. They are already as clear as words and I use them to make something speak, that I can't reach otherwise. This is how I use all references. I trust them.


GD:Your recent exhibition at Anton Kern Gallery in New York, Kats, Nerves, Shadows and Gin,6 refers to the concept of Sprezzatura (the ability to be two things at once: skilful and unskilful, decent and indecent…) and its implicit link to illicit pleasures. Is eroticism always present (be it underlying) or do you see it as a new dimension in your work?


LH:It's true. My work has become more and more explicit over the last years. It was important to bring the bodies and figures in my work to another level of intensity. I needed to animate them. To turn them on. Now they are stronger and more equal in their Libertinage to their pornographic counterparts in the mass media. They seem to be more mature now and work on more levels of meaning than before. And funny enough: the more I try to sexualise the sculptures the more they really turn into machines. They serve me better now like this. They start to answer when not being asked.
Maybe Eroticism was one of the important artistic sub-movements of the 20th century, the cheerful demolishment of what used to be woman and man and their conceptual relations or non-relations. Nowadays we seem to walk in the ruins of the former eroticised bodies, like we walk through the ruins of civilisations of the past. We find parts and fragments of incomprehensible beauty. It's a lustful destruction, I hear people say, and true, it's full of options. Even though it still hurts in its stupidity, one might wonder what comes out of it. It's a former battlefield open now for reinterpretation and analysis and the development of further strategy. A rather romantic place as you deal with the results of something now that was regarded the end of the world not a long time ago. And I wonder if by sexualising my work in a comical and grotesque way I finally will reach a level of intimacy where the final séance will be possible.


GD:Your recent biography includes major exhibitions such asAlphabet City, your first retrospective at Le Magasin in Grenoble (France) in 2007. You now participate at the second Athens Biennale, under the generic titleHeaven. How did you approach this proposal, in the context of the recurrent ideas of disaster, surrender and survival in your work?


LH:I love the title "Heaven" in addition to the previous one: "Destroy Athens!" They make such an odd couple. Who thought of this? Were there the same people responsible for both titles? It's really strange when you think about it. My disasters are mostly beautiful and deliberating catastrophes. They are transitions from one possibility to another and just mark a moment in between. I find these always the most interesting when one ideological construction falls and there is this moment of non-definition before something new imposes itself. It feels like a crack in the floor where light shines through. It has a circular form that goes all the way to the bottom of things. It seems that all affections, names, etcetera… are slipping off the surface and everything shows itself naked and bare for a second in its genuine naivety.


GD:Υou are now based in Berlin after many years in Cologne. Does this change have any impact on your work? What are your plans for the upcoming year?


LH:Berlin is a strange place these days. Nobody speaks any German. Everything is international. It is sometimes frightening and it often makes me feel paranoid. But, as usual, the downside of one thing can be the benefit. You can't feel at home in Berlin in the sense that you think that you belong in the city and the city belongs to you. Berlin doesn't belong to anyone. And because there is no money, there is no hierarchy. If Berlin has changed my work in any way, than probably that I regard doing art as less special now than back in Cologne. Everyone's an artist here. In Cologne we were princes, here we are paupers (laughs).



  1. Kaputt und die Folgen, solo exhibition at Robert Prime, London 1999.
  2. Bob Dylan, Man in a long black coat, 1989.
  3. In cataloguePropaganda, ICA London, 2002
  4. In catalogue Alphabet City, Le Magasin, 2007.
  5. Unlimited contemporary art, Athens, 2004.
  6. February - March 2009.


 view the interview & images in Kaput.06