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A talk with Constanze Klar

Dear Constanze, it's nice to meet you at 2chairs. Could you please tell us your story of how you have come to the art?

Hallo Lena! Nice to meet you!
Phew, I think art actually came to me. God put some ugly feet in my cradle, but the ability to express myself artistically. I was born into one of those post-war families where people didn't yet talk about their feelings, and couldn't talk. Art became a way for me to communicate. Even though no one around me understood it. In school, art was the only subject in which I got good grades, in which I didn't feel stupid. Besides, it was fun for me. After graduating from high school, I wanted to study art, but I was too much insecure. I didn't dare submit my portfolio for fear of not being good enough. I felt like this might be a world I couldn't fit into properly. I come from a working-class family. Breadless art, my baker father said. I should rather do something "real." I cleaned in a hotel, did an internship in the social sector, which was a lot of fun, and then studied social work. There I discovered my fascination for people with mental illnesses early on. After graduating, I worked in Berlin for about 8 years in various projects and accompanied people with mental illnesses. That was a very exciting and crazy time. I learned a lot about being human. But it was also very exhausting. I was missing something. As much as I was inwardly looking forward to this job, I actually wanted to do art. I painted and wrote alongside my work. This step toward myself, away from others (that's how I felt at the time), was very difficult for me. I had a great work environment, very familiar, and my work was valued. To make a long story short, different things came together and I ended up in the hospital with a major depressive crisis. (Warning/ Danger: Outing) There I met a therapist who was an artist on her first chair and a great art therapist. In a way, that was very fateful. Two women immediately put me on the path. Then the path took another year. But I was so determined and uncompromising that I wanted to study art and I knew it was either now or never. I was 35 when I was accepted at the University of Fine Arts Braunschweig. I left my old life in Berlin behind and started all over again in Braunschweig.

When you decided to change your life, did you have any kind of support from your family, friends or colleagues?

Well, I would say that given the fact that I was in really bad shape before I decided to study art, no one said anything when I announced this decision. My family and friends accepted this decision, and later even supported me in it. Also my boss at that time and my colleagues. It seemed as if everyone had already realized before me that I had to do this. But due to the fact that I was already older and wanted to study again because I knew that I needed and wanted the protective framework of a study and the contact with other art students in order to form my "artistic self", I looked for further support. I worked with two artists in a group who were intensively preparing to apply to art schools. Sure, it wasn't at all clear if I could do it, but with their help I did. It's funny, but once I made up my mind, everything fell into place and I had and still have, come to think of it, a bunch of support. Knock on wood.
How do you feel being a student at 40s? What relations do you have with your classmates and professors? Does your experience hinder or help?

That's a difficult question, because it's extremely upsetting for me right now that I'm dealing with a midlife crisis (never thought this would happen to me). I used to be the youngest, suddenly I was one of the older ones (fortunately, the students were very heterogeneous in terms of age). When I started, I was 36. This year, I will graduate at 42. I may have had more life experience when I started college, but as far as art was concerned, I was as much a beginner as anyone else. Sure, there are isolated situations that confront me with my age, where I feel strange and different, where I also sometimes have to deal with discrimination because of my age, but from the beginning I felt very comfortable with and among the other students, a bit like at home, less of a stranger than before. My fellow students make me feel like I belong just as much and I have good friends who are much younger than me. Sometimes I find myself in the maternal role, giving advice to my younger friends regarding personal problems or spouting valuable life wisdom. I have a professor with whom I feel understood, in relation to my artistic language and my life path. He has totally supported me in my artistic development, a bit like a father figure. I have been very lucky. Or in the right place at the right time?

Studying is a privilege and requires a lot of discipline at 30+. I have to work while studying to make a living. I have two student jobs. In one of them, I work in a residential home for mentally ill people. That has turned out that way, and is somehow also fate I think. The mentally ill don't let go of me either, or vice versa?

I think there are a lot of reservations about older students. People think that they are less malleable, too set in their ways. As for me, I thought I would paint. I ended up in a sculpture class, working with space, making video installations. I was open and wanted to learn. And I learned a lot. I have the feeling that because I'm older I have to prove myself twice and three times more. I became much bolder within the studies, learned to speak (still bumpy but anyhow), learned to see critically, developed my artistic language in the confrontation with others. During my studies I never doubted that this was the right thing to do. My experience helps me personally in the artistic formulation of the things and topics that occupy me. My artistic work is based on the experiences I have had. I think it also makes sense that I had to get older/bigger to make art. In terms of sharing in class, I guess that my experience is both valuable and unnerving sometimes. I hope it is more valuable.

You combine study and work, in other words, you're still sitting on two chairs. How does your social work reflect into your artistic practice?

I honestly never had the feeling of sitting ON a chair. I always had the feeling that I was sitting between chairs. And they are different chairs. Not just the professional ones. For example, as a social worker assisting a person with mental illness, I was often the next of kin, an advocate, a mouthpiece in the outside world. But I was employed and had to defend the framework of the institution, which is necessary because it ensures that people can live together. Difficult situations when my client, whose needs I tried to respect and defend, came into conflict with the rules of the institution, due to an acute psychosis, for example. When somebody put himself and others in danger, so that I had to commit someone to the hospital with a court order, knowing that this is the last thing this person wanted. A conflict to deal with and an exemplary situation where I found myself caught between two chairs.
I've had a couple of different jobs. When I started my studies I worked in a gas station. (very inspiring Job!) Then I found a job in a residency for mental ill people. Of course, I was familiar with the work and the people. By the way, even there I feel between the chairs, because I am a qualified social worker with work experience, but employed, perceived and paid as a student. Yes I chose that myself. Means less responsibility and more time for studying. Maybe I also feel quite comfortable between the chairs?Anyway, when I think about it, I have always tried to transfer the things that I have experienced, especially the conflicting, contradictory, kind of basically existential questions about human existence, the interpersonal and social, into an artistic form. In this way I make things somehow manageable, endurable for me. Humor helps name the tragic. Accompanying people with mental problems also means having to deal with existential and social questions. That has always been very close to me. Many of the questions also concern me personally. With my artistic practice, which has become more complex, I try to approach these very issues, which I perceive as equally complex. In the end, everything is actually quite simple.

Video work represented at the show called "Kind of Artist Statement". What is it about for you?

First of all, it is quite a challenge to present a work on two chairs, which in turn is presented in a kind of small room or frame on the Internet. That doesn't suit every work. I wanted to address the theme in terms of content. Contradictions (i.e. two seemingly opposite things) are part of my work. My "kind of artist statement" consists of fragments of different works of mine. The main part is a montage of a multi-channel video installation titled "Family Album". In this work I have dealt very freely with the great text/theater piece "Hamletmaschine" by Heiner Müller. Parts of the text are from Hamletmaschine. Heiner Müller was a well-known playwright of the former GDR. A mad text made a heavy impression on me in its force. My confrontation with it, however, was a very personal one. It is about interpersonal (unconscious) relationships of, in this case, German family members. It's about boredom, human neediness, constipation, nakedness in the real and existential sense, wishes and reality, the futility of human longing and the struggle with one's own limitations. Roughly. At the end my father yawns. It is the last day of his life as a baker. The whole thing starts with a counting rhyme, like children use. "Eene meene muh and out are you" (translated). That plays on the one hand with my age - 41. That's how long you have to count off, which is rather tedious, why you don't play that as an adult either or use it as a decision-making tool, because that's what it's all about. Someone flies out or something. I don't have to weigh it up by thinking about pros and cons, just count it off. On the other hand the counting rhyme refers of course to the 2 chairs. It already interrupts and begins.

I can imagine that your social work with mentally ill people can be exhausting. Do you find art as a recovery tool for your well-being?

Well-being what? To say it with Heiner Müller "I believe in conflict. I don't believe in anything else. I'm not interested in answers and solutions. I'm interested in conflict." Further I have to deal with some (self)doubts. There are moments of well-being when I sit with friends on a balmy summer night, drinking beer and laughing a lot. Those little moments when people meet. Or when I visit a good exhibition. Seeing a great play or an inspiring film. That is recovering.

The student job with the mentally ill people is not as exhausting as the job as a social worker back in Berlin. So I have less need to recover in that regard.

As I said, artistic practice is a way for me to deal with the issues that preoccupy me in a "productive" way. It helps me to endure contradictions, intra-psychic, interpersonal, social, without simply resolving them. Art keeps me company. In the meantime I take artistic activity too seriously to use it for relaxation as in the practice of a hobby. There is this good feeling, when you manage to get into a workflow. Unfortunately I have to deal with blockades (Attention: if there is someone out there who knows about blockades in the practice of artistic work, please let me know!).

In short, yes, in a way it's a recovery tool, it helps me survive, keep my head above water. I feel (shortly) recovered when I have succeeded in transferring a topic that is relevant to me into a convincing artistic form.

Do you see yourself somewhere in art therapy for your current clients? Have you experienced any art-workshop for handicapped people?

I also worked kind of artistically with clients as a social worker back in the day. But that was a bit different before my studies. I encouraged people who needed to express themselves artistically to do so. At the moment, I offer two workshops in the residency I work in. In one we draw experimentally, in the other we make experimental music. This is not art therapy in the classical sense, but I think that artistic activity, combining personal abilities and interests in a creative way, can be "healing". Already in the sense of Joseph Beuys, who famously said "Everyone is an artist." The joint artistic work in terms of the Social Sculpture. To shape, to change social conditions together through artistic processes and actions. In relation to the "extended concept of art" I also believe that art can change societies. Last summer, together with an artist friend, I worked on a participatory art event with a church congregation as part of an art and churches exhibition. That was anything but easy, but very instructive.

There is still a lot to do. Very few people know what art is and can be. There are many reservations and prejudices, and at the same time a very conservative image of art. Many people (like my family) think they are too stupid for art. All wrong. You have to get these assumptions out of your head. I would be interested, besides my own artistic work, in working at the interface of artistic and social practice.

What are your intentions to being an artist?

I have never been a normal social worker and I don't think I will be a normal artist either. But what is normal? In truth, I want to conquer the world and run away or hide at the same time. Anyway, art can be more than decorative, it must be more than decorative! As I said, I believe that art has the potential to change society, even though it is not democratic. I would like to make my contribution to this. But above all delusions of grandeur, I simply want to work and show my work. I want to irritate, disturb, laugh or cry, and make me think. I want to get into conversation with people and stimulate conversations among themselves. I definitely want to continue and work more artistically, because I need that and out of a kind of personal well-being I want to contribute to the well-being of others. Not everything is beautiful. There is no artistic activity without conflict. There is still enough to do. I'm not running out of ideas.

Could you please share your plans for the future?

First, make a diploma this summer. I don't know what will come after that, but probably I will start all over again. "I want to stay where I have never been". (Thomas Brasch) I would be happy to meet people around me with whom I can exchange ideas about art, to meet people to whom art is foreign and distant. I want to do projects, by myself and with others. And become even more courageous. Not to give up. To not be discouraged by difficult circumstances or failures, to play it safe again out of convenience. I never want to go back to working exclusively as a social worker. So I will probably continue to sit between two chairs (I like it uncomfortable) or build a new chair between those two chairs, but to be honest, I prefer to sit on the floor. Even though my joints are becoming more noticeable as I get older. Oh: Plans for the future: Exercise. Quit smoking.

At my age, I don't have all the options, all the possibilities, how the conservative art world, the market makes me understand (grants are often age restricted, etc.), like my younger friends. I wish I didn't give a shit. But I don't. On the other hand, it depends on the options.

I'm a little proud of myself that I've managed to turn my life around. For all of you out there who actually want to do something completely different: following your desires is possible. It gets harder as you get older, but that's only because your strength wanes, the hair becomes gray and the rest of your life gets shorter. You have to be a bit cocky and shit on social conventions. Sometimes it makes you lonely because you have the feeling that you have outgrown the old world, but are still somehow foreign in the new one. It's exhausting, but it's worth it. Maybe a little pathetic, but we only have this life. At some point, we'll all be dead.

Until then, I want to get my work blocks under control, so that I can still make some work, show some work. And be a little happy.

Thanks for coming! Good luck and hope to hear from you soon!