Kommissar Hjuler interview

November 2010

Read the full transcript of Daniel Spicer's interview with Kommissar Hjuler, featured in The Wire 321...

Daniel Spicer: You have so many things happening in your artistic life.

Kommissar Hjuler: At the moment we really have, yes. It does not end, we just enter new spheres. Always talking to new artists that try to make more and it’s quite a lot of work.

It seems like perhaps you are always looking for a new project even when you haven’t finished the one you have just started.

At the moment I can finish all projects. I hope there will not be a time in the future when I’m no longer able to finish all projects. Then I would have to decide which project is the more important. At the moment I can just make some projects that are just for fun and some that are really responsible for me.

And, of course, you don’t just work in music.

We normally combine everything. If we have some painting, we make music for paintings and performances for paintings, just if we have a theme. We work on a theme with the paintings, with assemblages, with music, with everything we know.

This is for installations, of which performance may be a part?

In a way, yes. We have had exhibitions, normally we are making music for any exhibitions, the last exhibitions we did. And also we are performing with a theme of the exhibition. For instance, the exhibition by Mama Baer that she had at the museum in Amsterdam, we were given a theme by them, but we made a fault when we thought about the theme. The theme was explained to us in English and we misunderstood the theme. It was a series of exhibitions they had and we just interpreted it and made our own sign for it – it was about a kind of epidemic – and we focused on the behaviour of people, how people behave, they want to get rid of those ones who have the epidemic and those who are not infected want to live without the others so they separate from them. That’s just in a way normal behaviour for any people. Healthy people do not want to have contact. For us we just made some paintings. Mama Baer made the painting but we both talked about the ideas and it took a lot of my ideas for the painting and then we made several paintings by her only but some with my ideas in them and they focus on people who got into a reservation somewhere for being victims of this epidemic and other people who rule above these people just to get not infected. Doctors who make experiments with these people in the reservations somewhere – it’s harsh painting in a way. For this exhibition, we also made a performance, dealing with this idea that people are infected and people got separated from the not infected – and these people not infected rule above the other people.

So you interpret a concept through music and performance and visual art.

We normally do, but we came from the music. We started doing music. The art came about by doing all the artwork for our releases. It’s not that we did any paintings or anything else, we started just doing big objects to have our CD-Rs and tapes inside – or LPs. After some time – it was about 2006, 2007 – we first started to make objects without music.

I have seen some of your LPs with strange things attached – wood and doll parts and so on.

Yes, you cannot really store them in your collection.

So you started making visual art to accompany music, but now you make visual art, which is of its own importance.

Yes, but mainly if we have a certain theme we work on, we also think of doing music in this way. So, if we have a painting that is a big influence for us, normally we also do some music for it. For instance, we made some new workings of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. We also made some paintings for this. If we have a theme we work with, we work at music and at paintings.

Yeah. It is an interesting field for us. We started making performances only two years ago, I think, or three years ago, and then only made very few performances because it was not easy for us to integrate our music on stage. We do not play instruments. We do not know any notes. We cannot play. We are not used to singing. And most of our recordings we did with several channels. Often we used cut-ups but we cannot bring any cut-ups on stage. So we had to what we can do on stage.

There is one performance by me, by Brotkatzen – Brotkatzen also is a series of paintings and I worked together with a lot of artists in this series, making these bread cats – cats made of bread – they can build their own pictures and their own assemblages and we have had an exhibition and will have more exhibitions – all together with the other artists in a group exhibition. I made a recording of this Brotkatzen and for this I used cut-ups but when we made it live I really thought about what can I do to show the breaks I have in the cut-ups – it has a strong break at the end of each line. So, for doing it on stage I had a huge pot of water and I always dropped my head inside – then coming up, screaming around “Brotkatzen! Brotkatzen!” and then again inside the water. People thought I would die in the water. I kept that long underwater that people were just astonished. Always some people wanted to enter the stage just to throw me away from it. It looks to the audience as if I’d die there.

I have seen you perform twice and I get the impression that part of what you are trying to do is to test audiences too, to see whether an audience will go with you where you are going.

In a way, we interact with the audience. I just gave an interview about the Happening today. A Happening by definition is something that interacts with the audience that has a theme and gives it to the audience. This was the definition in the 70s. I was asked to explain how I see the Happening today. And in a way we also work with the audience. If the audience is feeling like they are kept by us we are also kept by the audience and we interact with the audience. We have had concerts where the audience was just sitting there and was not very astonished by us and did not like us. So we normally had short concerts there. We could not act as if we had an audience that is really kept by us and is sitting there astonished and wanting to see more – so we will give them more.

When you played at Colour Out Of Space, half of the people there thought it was genius and the other half thought is was a joke. You managed to make people confused.

Always, if we have a concert somewhere, there’s nothing between. There are no people who say it was OK. People say they hate us or they like us. Nothing in between. We always have a reaction. Some people say they really love it, it was the best thing they’ve ever seen. Other people say it is completely shit. To us, that is really great, better than if the people say ‘oh, it was OK.’

There is also a sexual element to your work.

Yes, in a way. I am always asked this, and I am always asked if I am not very friendly to females. But this doesn’t mean anything to me. My wife and I have asked ourselves why we do this. Paintings by my wife always show naked women or aggressive parts where women are victims of aggressions. We are not that aggressive. We are just normal people if you see us, if you know us. But I think that mainly, any man or any being can become a murderer in a way, if anything strange happens and this person gets out of his normal control, out of his normal life. This does not mean anything to the pornographic side. That’s just a part that’s something that people always tell me pornographic things do not belong in art. Several critics have said, ‘it’s nice art you do, nice collages, but you do not have to use any pornographics’ and I always say, well, I have to. Why are these people always saying I do not have to? So I often enclose some pornographic parts into my work.

Some are part of me, in a way. I made these parts [...] – that’s the coral barrier – it always exists of objects that come together to build a complete reef, a complete barrier reef. These reefs exist for years and become built up station by station. My coral reefs are, in a way, my own person. I’m always inside with a picture of my face, and some used condoms are inside as a part of me, and some things I have put away – some lost things by me, some things I do not use anymore – are inside this thing as a part of me.

And always, pornographic magazines: my first contact as a teenager with sexuality was when I found some magazines my dad had in his bureau. I found them when I was about 11 or 12 and was astonished by them. This was a contact for me with pornographic magazines and it’s part of every teenager to see any pornographic magazines. And therefore I put pornographic magazines inside this assemblage – just to show that everyone who stands there and says ‘you do not have to use any pornographic magazines’ has had some magazines, has seen some magazines, was in contact with magazines.

No, people who say it is shocking, they are lying. They just say it does not belong to art or it does not belong to life or whatever. It’s just a lie to say that pornographics are outside every scene one has to focus on. It’s always a part of life – especially for men. If a man sees a beautiful woman, he does not think of them ‘what a wonderful wife’ or ‘what a wonderful woman.’ It’s always what it would be to sleep with her. A lot of women think the same way but they would never say they do. If they see a pornographic magazine they would say ‘what’s that shit?’ so it’s a big lie just to ignore this.

It seems like you are a strong family and you have a strong home. Do you have a studio at home where you make your art?

It’s really a strong home and if we do any music we just take out all instruments and put the microphones there, put the recorder there and make the recordings – mainly in the living room – and afterwards we store all the instruments away and the next day we go on with doing music we put them there again. For painting it’s the same. We do it in the living room. I have a special room outside for my assemblages, where they are glued together, and I often use Plexiglas, putting items behind Plexiglas in a wooden frame, so that they are movable. It’s also part of my art that the owner of a work should be able to bring in a part of his own mind inside the work so I often do any movable parts inside, the colour of these parts are focused on the effect to the rest, but I allow anyone who owns this object to shake it, and to arrange it right, so they can become part of it in a way. It’s always interesting for anyone who owns any art to become part of it.

You are under contract at a gallery. Is this a new development for you?

We had been on a contract at Artware galleries but Artware galleries was not really a gallery like the gallery where we are now under contract. Artware galleries, I’m not sure if you know, it was kind of Nexus-Fluxus at Wiesbaden, an organisation of Fluxus artists and they mainly focused on music and Happenings. They had a room there where they also sold some paintings by us. But now, to be on a contract at a gallery, nothing great happened to us. Now, the gallery will show us as a part of their artists so we are just there in a room at the gallery. I’m not really sure if it’s really important for an artist to be under a contract from a certain gallery. In a way he more needs more other galleries to show his work. One gallery is just a fixed gallery to be at this gallery but it’s also an enduring part of an exhibition at a certain point. It’s better to be in several more galleries, to have exhibitions in several countries all over the world at different points – so it’s not that important to be fixed gallery.

Is it important to you to be associated with the No!art Movement.

If I see all the other members there, it’s really interesting to become accepted by these people. The other members of this organisation are mainly all Professors and working a really long time in their art and we are very new in art – we just do art for a few years now. And they accepted us without any questions. It’s a kind of honour for us for them to say ‘we accept you here in our society.’

Do you think they recognised that you were genuine? That you are also fluxus?

I’m not sure about that. The contact we have had with other members of this artists’ association – we are not known to all members, I think. Some members stated that they are not very happy about us there, members who are really worldwide known and really famous and have thousands of euro for one painting or so – but some of them are very poor artists – they are well known but very poor. They do not earn any money from their art, although they have been teaching art somewhere at universities. But I think for us it’s great to become accepted by the main part of this organisation.

It is interesting that you have grown to become successful so quickly. You have only been making art for a few years.

It’s astonishing in a way.

Is it because you are very busy? Because you try hard? Because you talk to people and meet people? Or something else?

I’m always contacting a lot of people. The main time of the day I’m contacting people – more than doing any art itself. I see other artists working, they do their work, they make their paintings and their objects but they do not really focus on presenting them to other artists, sharing them with other artists, working together with other artists or try to contact galleries. That’s what we do the main time. Each day I try to find new galleries, find new spaces to play somewhere, to have our exhibitions somewhere, to have our performances somewhere. It’s a lot of work just to manage this. And maybe artists who are under contract at a gallery, they say ‘my gallery will do it for me,’ but it’s not enough to trust a gallery. If I want to become better known I have to work for it.

Part of that is that you do a lot of collaborations these days – split releases and so on. Is that an important part of your work now?

We get better known to people who normally would not have focused on us. So if we are together on an LP with Bomis Prendin for instance – one of the next records to come out. It’s a band from the 70s, today even more unknown, but a lot of older people from the hippies will know this band – they made two flexis only. It was more pop music in a way – very unknown but very curious. It’s not really pop music. It’s like if you say normal music compared to Scott Walker. There’s an experimental part inside but in a way, normal music. There are some fans of this band who will think of us if they buy this record. There’s a group of people who like Bomis Prendin who will buy this record for sure, they will be confronted with our music and will have to think about it. Possibly they like it, possibly they don’t. Bomis Prendin like to be on the record as they expect other groups of people to focus on their music. We don’t just share the record, we also share the audience. So, the audience gets bigger. An audience for only Industrial music or only sound poetry mainly only focuses on this music, but for split LPs, to have something very different on it, they have to be confronted with other music.

You started to make music around 1999, and visual art some years later, correct?

1999, yes. The visual art was just for us, so we also made the packages for the music. Our first LP was a double LP together with a friend and he made all the arrangement for the music. My wife and me were just singing and also playing some instruments, but not really. We made the covers for this LP by hand. That’s how it started. Then this guy gave me an old tape recorder and told me how to use it. So I tried it myself. Then my wife also saw me working and tried it herself. So we just work alone.

My wife started doing visual art just for our own home. We were in a flat before we were in the house here, she did not like to have any paintings on the wall that are not by her. She wanted to have some personal paintings. So she made some abstract paintings and then began her own painting in a way. We have a contact with a famous painter here, Jan F. Welker and he told her how to use colours, how to work with it, and so she got a helping hand. We met through the internet and now he is a friend of ours, he has been visiting us and showing her how to use colours, how to work. But she mainly also tried alone. She had a lot of paintings that she did not like and threw them away. But it’s always in the beginning that you try yourself, try what to do with the colours, with the pencil or so, and today she can really see how to paint – there are no longer many paintings she throws away. This year she threw away one painting and the rest were ok to her.

It is unusual to combine your day job as a policeman with being an artist – they are almost opposites.

When I started doing any music or so I was a leading police officer – a leader of a small group of people. Today I am no longer the leader there, I am just a policeman there. I no longer have any time to have a leading function at the police. I’m a policeman now for 28 years. I joined the police when I was 16 years old. I have been in several cities. I come from Flensburg.

Do you find it to be a strange mixture? I suppose it must be normal to you.

It is really strange and there are only very few policemen in art – especially such experimental art. But I was a policeman when I began to work in art and at the moment I no longer regard myself as a policeman I am just working there, doing my job, as if anyone else is going to a company and works at the company: it’s just the work I do. Before I started the art I was really a policeman who wanted to be a leader of someone, and who wanted to do any good job for any other people. Today it’s just I am doing my work there to get some money. It’s no longer important to me and I will try to do a lot less at the police, to work there only half time or so.

There was a complete change in my life and this change just was about two years ago. I said ‘I am no longer really working at the police, and I do not need to get a good career at the police. It is no longer important to me. Up till that moment I was just working on one hand as an artist and on the other as a police officer. But at that time I just started focusing more on the art and since I do this I work even more in the art and we have more of a career in art.

Do your colleagues at the police know about your art?

Yes.

I have had a lot of trouble with them, especially with the pornographic art. I was always arguing with them. The Ministry of Inner Affairs here in Germany, they were talking about me there with several people and they had to decide if I’m allowed to work as an artist or not. They allowed me to work as an artist.

And do fellow artists give you a hard time about being a policeman?

Some do, yes. I wanted to play at Hamburg together with Brian Lewis Sanders. He fixed a place in Hamburg where we could play and they just stated ‘no police officers. No policemen here.’ So we were not allowed to play there.

Discrimination of the police arts, yes. I can’t understand this. This place in Hamburg they are always really hard fighting the police there. I have been there about 15 years ago. It was really a fight. People got hurt. It was really hard – as if one is at war. And so they do not like any police officer. No policemen there! But I have had that trouble also before. My first solo record was done by Beta Lactam Ring records – one guy there wanted to do this record and the pressing company they work together with said, ‘no, we do not work for cops.’ So, we had to find another pressing company to do this. Often the places where we play are very left, politically. They do not accept us. They do not focus on the music or the art or even the person himself. They just see the function as a policeman. They cannot agree to it. I have to say, in a way it’s correct to them – they cannot behave in another way.

But you are still known as Kommissar so you make a joke of it, too.

No, this name was given to me. When we started as Tuulen Laulu, the group, the artist we worked together with – No one was his name – he just said, we’ll call you Kommissar Hjuler. So we wrote it on the record as a joke at that moment. If I should have thought about a name for me it would have been Papa Baer – Mama Baer and Papa Baer. But at that time when I thought about changing to Papa Baer I had a lot of recordings as Kommissar Hjuler that I could not change the name.

We very early started to talk to each other in the third person. We just said Mama Baer and Papa Baer. I’m not sure why we had the names Baer, it just happened. She was Mama Baer and I was Papa Baer and our children do not know our names. They just know Mama Baer and Papa Baer. They are 8 and 4. And all people here on the street call us Mama Baer and Papa Baer. And we call each other Mama Baer and Papa Baer. ‘Mama Baer is thirsty. Can Papa Baer bring Mama Baer a beer?’ Yes, Papa Baer will do so.’ To us it has become normal. It’s always astonishing when we meet other people who do not know us, art a party or so, we come along and say ‘hi, I’m Papa Baer, hi I’m Mama Baer.’ They look at us as if we are aliens. We talk to each other in the third person and they are very astonished about this. But people who know us behave as if it is normal. Also I have a lot of colleagues who call me Papa Baer. Other policemen.

It’s also an example of how both of you – it seems there is very little difference in your minds between life and art. You are always art by just being people.

In a way, yes. We do not decide between art and life. If we sit at home and look at TV, we often get ideas to do a thing for art. Sometimes after TV is finished we start to make a recording just in our free time.

What was Mama Baer’s background before you two started to make art together?

She is 14 years younger than I. I met her when she was 17 years old. She doesn’t have a background. She was an outsider. She was not really good looking at that time. She had short hair and she did not like her looks. So she always wore a lot of clothes so people could not see her body. She was very shy when we met. We met by chance and I talked to her normally. She did not have a boyfriend before me. In a way we have had a deep contact since the first time we met. There was something we felt. I felt that she could develop to a really nice person. At that time, women of my age they always wanted to have a child. I was solo at that time. I was 33 years when we met. When I met a girl somewhere, they always thought about ‘is this right husband for me to have children?’ This contact with a girl who was 17 at that time was, to me, something completely different. This girl did not think of becoming a mother. But although she did not think of it, we got a child two years later!

Sometimes, yes. They also want to make paintings. They also want to work on assemblages. And we sometimes use any things they have painted in our artwork.

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Kommissar Hjuler interview

Read the full transcript of Daniel Spicer's interview with Kommissar Hjuler, featured in The Wire 321...

Watch videos by Mama Baer

Watch two exclusive videos by Mama Baer of the outsider sonic art duo Kommissar Hjuler & Mama Baer.