Tobias Rehberger: Interview
Matrix Curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson spoke with Tobias Rehberger in his office in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 15, 1999. The following is an excerpt.
HZJ: How did you come up with Sunny-side up, the title of your installation at the Berkeley Art Museum?
TR: It expresses the way I like to look at art. Viewers have a choice about how they want to see something. They choose their perspective much the same way as they choose their eggs: sunny-side up or down.
HZJ: Why did you decide to use plants as a medium?
TR: The first time I used plants I had this idea to make a small park. Parks, along with architecture and streets, form the classical public aesthetic decisions. I like working with plants because they are controllable only to a certain extent. Also they make the viewer decide how to use or interact with the piece: whether to look at it or to pick something.
HZJ: It is up to the viewer to determine on what level he or she wants to engage with the work, visually and/or physically?
TR: With Sunny-side up , I am creating these areas of private space (the planters) in a larger public space (the balconies of the museum). Tall plants create the perimeter of each planter. The heights of the rows of plants get lower as they get closer to the center. The viewer can enter the planters and rest in a relatively small space that can hold a maximum of five people.
HZJ: Do the planters have different personalities or characteristics?
TR: Yes. Aesthetic factors determine the character. The combination of plants results from the visual tensions they create. The two functional plants in the middle of each planter are mixed according to their taste.
HZJ: So, the selection of different plants is a combination of aesthetic appearance and functional quality, a duality that is a recurring element in much your work.
TR: It is because I am very interested in the idea of having multiple perspectives on a piece. Asking how can or will the art object be dealt with by the viewer. A very interesting thing in art is that the creation of an artwork always happens in the viewer.
HZJ: What is the intended experience for the viewer inside the planters?
TR: I think the basic intention is that the viewer can experience a gap that encourages a decision about what perspective one wants to take on the installation. The other sensation will arise from standing in front of the installation and not really being sure what one can or cannot do. I think that this could elucidate the idea of how to approach any artwork.
HZJ: By now you know that Berkeley is a big gardening community. I am wondering if you think this adds to your installation or if you think it detracts from the piece?
TR: I think that it will add to the work if the installation is strong enough to distinguish itself from already existing gardens. If my work is clearly not just a nice planter with a couple of plants in it, then the community interest might add additional depth to the sculpture. The knowledge or experiences the viewer brings to the work can help point out the distinctions.
HZJ: I am starting the new MATRIX program with your project because I think it brings to the fore issues that many people bring with them to the viewing of contemporary art‹questions such as "What is it?" and "How do I look at it?" I think creating an installation out of a medium (fruit, vegetables, and flowers) that people are already familiar with as non-art can facilitate a shift in the way that people see and think.
TR: It might be true. I hope so too.
Tobias Rehberger / MATRIX 180 Sunny-side up, a collaboration with the UC Botantical Garden, is sponsored by American Soil Products, Inc., and The Gardener.
Additional support provided by: Bamboo Giant, Aptos; Neishi Brothers Nursery, Oakland; Lassen Canyon Nursery, Inc., Redding; Big B Lumberteria, Oakland; Blue Heron Organic Nursery, El Sobrante; and Magic Gardens, Berkeley. We also gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the UC College of Natural Resources and Oracle Landscape.
MATRIX is supported by Phyllis Wattis, Ann M. Hatch, the California Arts Council, the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment Fund, and anonymous donors.