Maix Mayer

Maix Mayer: Notes from Utopia

`Maix Mayer´; Hrsg. Galerie EIGEN+ART; Copyright: Hatje Cantz Verlag GmbH & Co. KG Maix Mayer; Copyright: Gregor HohenbergThe films, photographs and installations of the Leipzig-based artist Maix Mayer trace the architectures of the sixties and seventies. He is interested in the forms and ideas from the time of his childhood and in what still remains of the odd-shaped utopias. Now, for the first time, an overview of the artist’s work has been published, with brief descriptions of the individual works of the last ten years.

From the allotment shed...

Basically, says Maix Mayer about himself and his approach, basically he is a modern archaeologist of images of spaces. He wants to "use media to fix atmospheres which one sniffs out like a hunter".

Maix Mayer, melancholie 70, 2001, installation view,  Galerie EIGEN + ART Berlin, 2001; courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin; photo: Uwe WalterThe Kugelhaus universal (spherical house universal), which was first presented at the Leipzig Trade Fair in 1970, is an example of these excavations used by Mayer in a three-part "collection". The construction set developed in the GDR can be used to build a sort of space station the size of an allotment shed. The hollow body, which is made up like a football from twelve pentagons and twenty hexagons, is nearly five metres in diameter, and has 13 square metres of floor space.

The installation Melancholie 70 takes the poles intended to support the structure of the Kugelhaus and turns them into a sort of floating room divider, and thus vaguely recalls the principle of the time in which even the smallest dwelling was structured according to the function of its parts. Furthermore, projected onto a porcelain surface, the computer-animated Kugelhaus floats like a spaceship through an urban scenario and thus refers to the first satellite sent up into orbit by the People’s Republic of China in 1970. The well-known satellite was called The East is red (Der Osten ist rot) at the time, but the reverse side of the tile has the title of a film by Werner Herzog from the same year burnt onto it in Chinese characters: Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (i.e., Even dwarfs started small).

...to the dead city

The protagonists in Maix Mayer’s films are always on the move. Never hectic, they move calmly amongst these pieces of architectural lost property, which were once intended to point us to the future, or in places which are loosely connected with one another. He regards them as "passengers of the present, permanently located in zones of transition where experiences of space and time merge".

Maix Mayer; Hanoi 12, 2004, Diasec mounted to Aludibond, 79 x 106 cm; courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin But who does still move towards "Ha-Neu"? Until the end of the GDR, the Neustadt suburb of Halle (shortened to "Ha-Neu", pronounced "Hanoi") was a separate town with 93,000 inhabitants who earned their living in the area’s chemical combines and only went home to sleep. Today, the lack of work means that the town is undergoing a dramatic shrinkage. Most of the artist’s photographs are taken head-on, and show apparently two-dimensional townscapes devoid of people, in which the components become mere surfaces: the prefabricated apartment blocks, structured façades, urban furniture and empty fountains. The images were intended as a preparation for a never-realised film. The visitor to the exhibition can relive Haneu via an audio CD with a specially produced play.

Untouchingly sentimental

Maix Mayer’s works, be they photos, films or models, are painstakingly researched, precisely realised documentations of a past which actually wanted to be the future. There is less nostalgia, or even "ostalgia" , here and more a recollection of seeing things through the eyes of a child who can only gaze in wonder at the possibilities offered by the future. When the artist was born in Leipzig in 1960, the first journeys into space had already had an initial impact on areas like fashion, design, architecture, film and literature.

In Subfiction 2, for example, Maix Mayer refers to the short French film produced by Chris Marker in 1962 called The jetty (La Jetée). Mayer couples Marker’s film with personal recollections, played in the film by his own children. When the latter recently asked him why he never cries when watching films, he had no explanation to offer. Mayer, who graduated as a marine biologist and has been a visiting professor at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, says: "As long as I cannot give them a satisfactory answer to this question, I shall devote myself to my own film productions and dry my moist eyes in an unobserved moment."

Maix Mayer, psycho 70, installation view, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand, film, DV on DVD-PAL/4:3 and 16:9, 115 min double projection; courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin

For Psycho 70, from 2002, Maix Mayer filmed his aged mother sitting in the cosy plush atmosphere of her living room in a prefabricated block and watching Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho for the first time in her life. By the time one has followed the expressions on the lady’s face in the stills from the film pictured in the book, one is certain that her son’s eyes cannot have remained dry.

Galerie EIGEN+ART (ed.): Maix Mayer; Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern, 2008. German/English, ISBN 978-3-7757-2128-8
Daniela Gregori
is an art historian and freelance journalist and author. From 2002-2004 she was President of the Austria Section of the International Association of Art Critics.

Translation: Andrew Sims
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online-Redaktion

Any questions about this article? Please write to us!
online-redaktion@goethe.de
April 2008

Related links

Dossier: Media Art in Germany

History, tendencies, names and institutions