Jochem Hendricks (*1959 in Schlüchtern) lives and works in Frankfurt am Main. Hendricks has worked as an artist since the mid-1980s. Hendricks’s oeuvre is based on a strong interest in artistic strategies. His cross-media practice ranges from visual arts and sculpture through photography, film, text and digital media to painting and drawing. Impetuses for his mostly long-term projects can be scientific collaborations, or they are based on investigative processes on the margin of legality. His oeuvre also always comprises a strong interest in economics and in the value and significance of work.
Interview with Jochem Hendricks
The topic of the festival is “Innere Sicherheit – The State I Am In” – which includes the political aspects of “Homeland Security” but also very personal, private aspects. How do you relate to these issues?
I personally am still shaped by my youth in the 1970s, during which the NPD was still organizing marches, many teachers and family members were broken Nazis – above all, though, when left-wing terrorism, Red Army Faction etc. were red-hot topics, which were vehemently and very discordantly argued over within the family and at school. As I’m a person interested in politics, to me there’s also one of the present day’s fundamental issues in the weighing up of freedom and security. Prosperity and justice are the older, correlating conflicting pair that can’t find a balance. I live in Frankfurt, a disparate, modern city; my studio is located opposite a mosque and right next to the PWC and Commerzbank headquarters in a very multicultural area, which is constantly changing as a result of the contrary parallel trend of gentrification and migration, as a result of social, economic and religious pressure etc. Quite apart from my economic precariousness, my accustomed and appreciated libertarian lifestyle can already no longer be taken for granted, too. Let’s wait and see how the dissolution and merging of cultures turns out. It’s come to my notice that there’s much to defend in terms of western basic values. That’s an unexpected attitude, which needs some getting used to, after the unconditional opposition to the State in the 70s.
How do you understand your work, including in the context of “Innere Sicherheit”?
Examinations of the theme in my work on the “Revolutionäres Archiv” are of course, at least emotionally, influenced by my youth, even if the flip-over into the present day requires an altered view and a different strategy. I’m neither a sociologist nor a political scientist or historian, though. I’m an artist in the present day. I’m interested in all these things and relationships; in the case of the “Revolutionäres Archiv” they’re part of the material to a certain extent. But it’s not about historical analysis and definitely not about nostalgic objects of remembrance or the naming of good and bad people. My work consists precisely of detaching the various levels from their concrete contexts and transcending motifs, images to form archetypes. Art is an open game without fixed results, and I certainly don’t have a particular hypothesis. In the “Revolutionäres Archiv” I’m trying to bring the political and art into a balance.
How do you relate to the issue of relevance and the use of archives?
To be honest, archives in the classical sense, as systems of remembrance and order, don’t interest me at all. Material gatherers make me feel rather uncomfortable and I can’t do archiving, myself. I’m glad enough when I’ve got the storage of my works in hand and nothing gets lost. Which happens again and again... No, in my current case it’s the potency of this police archive that’s driving me, not its ordering system. Even if it is impressively thorough. But the archive is only the raw material and the surface of my work.
What role does photography play for you, not only in your artistic work but in today’s times as well?
Photography is so omnipresent at the moment that photos are practically perceived as nature. And as a nuisance. The way trees get on your nerves in a forest at some point, if you’re not an absolute tree fan. The fact that, parallel to this societal trend, photos are also inundating exhibitions, has effects on the medium of photography, of course. But, as always, it’s all a matter of ideas and strategies.
In my case, photography is one medium of many that I use. I wouldn’t even describe myself as a photographer: I don’t take photographs myself, I don’t make prints; often I don’t even choose the motifs. My approach is of a conceptual kind. I develop an idea, in the case of the “Revolutionäres Archiv” based on the found material. After that I look for the right people and make decisions. I put together a team of able co-players, whom I then coach and motivate until we’ve come out with a result or the project has failed. That’s the way I mostly work: I don’t create sculpture, film, painting etc. any differently. With the “Revolutionäres Archiv”, the ball got rolling as a result of the encounter with Magdalena Kopp.
Why did you work together with Magdalena Kopp, of all people (she did the enlargements of the negatives)?
Even before I met her I’d had this police archive in my possession for 8 or 9 years and had repeatedly been creeping around the two crates it was in and taking a look at the material. There was never any doubt that it had potential for something exciting. But what, wasn’t clear to me for a long time. I only knew that something was missing, and Magdalena Kopp turned out to be the “missing link”. That was clear to me right away, when I met her via Nadav Schirman: She was an old-school trained photographer; she still had the reputation of being an ace in the darkroom 35 years on, and she was an internationally wanted terrorist until 1995. She worked at the beginning of the 1970s in Abisag Tüllmann’s studio in Frankfurt, was an early member of the Revolutionary Cells and then very rapidly, via her relationship first with Hannes Weinrich and shortly afterwards with Carlos the Jackal, was active in international terrorism. She lived with Carlos for 16 years, which must have been hell.
Once I’d managed, with a certain amount of effort, to break through Magdalena’s mistrust and hesitance and gain her for a collaboration, my first fundamental decision was to switch sides, switch perspectives and turn an ex-terrorist, a potential “victim” of police operations into a “perpetrator” of the interpretation. So the two sides extend the hand of friendship to each other behind their backs, in a way. In addition it was my aim to transform these amateurish snapshots into sophisticated art photographs. You know, Magdalena Kopp enters into my project not only with her spectacular life story, but equally with her skills as a photographer and in the darkroom. Magdalena is so important for the project that she’s always named as a kind of co-author and even signed the photographs along with me. Up until her death we jointly picked out negatives and image details, and then, in the darkroom we’d set up at a Waldorf school near her home, Magdalena made these wonderful silver gelatine prints on barite paper. Cartier-Bresson came to my mind, and there’s no great leap to Günther Förg, either.