Kristina Kulakova: How did you become an artist? Why did you choose to study art?
Kay Walkowiak: Funny enough, at the beginning, I had no clue what to study. In the first year after moving to Vienna, I signed up at the Department of Philosophy, but I was still going to different universities and attending a variety of classes, trying to find out which subject I could really dedicate myself to for several years. Even after I decided to apply to study fine arts I was still not sure about my move. When I had to work on my portfolio for the entrance exam, I really enjoyed the process, and it was then when I realized that I could imagine myself doing it for a living. When I was accepted at the Academy of Fine Arts and at the University of Applied Arts at the same time, I did not know if I would be able to keep this joy while working creatively on a regular basis. Finally, during the first two years after graduation and teaching arts as a side job in school, I realized that I want to work full-time as an artist.
KK: How did it happen that you were teaching for two years?
KW: When I just started university, I was interested in sculpture and installation. At that time, Erwin Wurm was the head of the class of Arts and Communication at the Angewandte (later on he shifted to his own class of sculpture and multimedia), so even if I never wanted to be a teacher, I ended up with a degree in fine arts and an unexpected teaching degree as well. After graduation I needed a side job and decided to give it a try and to teach part-time at a school. This was fine for me because I knew that I didn´t want to stay in this field for a long time anyway. The final decision – to quit teaching – was made when I received two scholarships for India and China last year. Since then I have been working full-time as an artist. I didn´t regret my decision yet.
KK: You worked at a regular school. What is your opinion on the presence of culture there?
KW: I think that the whole education system still lacks many things. Creative subjects, such as the arts, make up the smallest part of the curriculum; sometimes only one hour per class a week. Beside this fact, the rigid structure of teaching arts, for a maximum of two hours in one go, makes it very difficult to take pupils for a studio visit or to a museum. I tried to make as many excursions as possible, and the response was really great, but this is additional work and many teachers give it up, the longer they are in the system.
KK: What is the main lesson you learned at university?
KW: What I learned was how to keep the ability to change in your work and how to try out different things, not getting stuck in one style and continue repeating yourself over and over again.
KK: What did you struggle with after graduation?
KW: At the beginning, after losing access to the workshops, equipment, and great possibilities of production at the university, I had to build up my own working environment. It was also a challenge to find new ways to present the work, and it takes even more effort to get in contact with curators and potential collectors. All this takes time. I remember a quote from a gallerist who once had a lecture in our class and said: “You know, there are so many artists who want to be shown in the gallery, and it kills us when everyone is coming by and bringing a portfolio. So, just do your work, and if you are good we’ll find you!” I didn’t really stick to this advice.
KK: You work a lot with sculpture and video. Tell us a bit more about your recent project “Minimal Vandalism”, which was filmed at the Generali Foundation?
KW: As an artist I am interested in the aesthetics of daily things, their colors, shapes, and material. In “Minimal Vandalism” I was curious to see how a skateboarder, as an athlete, receives or perceives minimal objects or sculptures. He or she is probably not wondering about the colors, rather more about the structure and the quality of its surface, the angle of the pieces and about the way they can be used. I wanted to set up a field where something new could happen. When Kilian Martin came to my studio, one day before the shooting, he looked at the pieces and at first sight, he couldn’t imagine how it would all work out. Immediately he made some sketches and started his creative thinking process. During the shooting it was a try-out process and learning the moves on the sculptures on spot.
KK: Can a regular viewer physically interact with your sculptures as well?
KW: This interaction happens in the viewers’ imagination. So far there was no concept to get in real contact with the artwork. In my video pieces there is an interaction happening. But this interaction is part of the work itself; it creates a narration, and it leaves its traces before it is presented to the spectator.
KK: The video piece, which is now shown at Salzburger Kunstverein, was made in India. Why India?
KW: I’ve been traveling to India for many years, and I am interested in the diversity of their culture. I am fascinated by the variety of forms, shapes, and colors in public space. I like that people in India build, recycle, and fix whatever they need in their own way. When I was in India the last time, the Maha Kumbh Mela was happening parallel. My interest was to initiate a dialogue between my work as an artist and the Hindu tradition of yogic ascetics.
KK: What do you think about the contemporary art scene of Vienna?
KW: There is a lot going on. I would appreciate it if there were more opportunities to exhibit, to have a greater range of young artists’ work on display.
KK: Which artists inspire you?
KW: Artists that I find interesting nowadays are, for example, Pierre Huyghe. I really liked his work the at last Documenta. I also like the formalistic installations by Thea Djordjadze, Tom Burr, Manfred Pernice, some works by Ryan Gander and many others.
KK: Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
KW: I get my inspiration by traveling because I get confronted by different mentalities, different cultures, and different daily routines.
KK: You are not part of any permanent gallery program in Vienna. Why?
KW: At the moment I am represented by the gallery FELDBUSCHWIESNER in Berlin. Let’s see what Vienna will bring along in the future.
“What you see is what you see.” The famous quote from Frank Stella hovers in the room like a mantra when Kay Walkowiak seeks out sadhus at the Maha Kumbh Mela in India to give them minimalist painted objects and ask for their interpretation in Making Sense Out of Abstraction. As “sannyasins” or “yogis”, sadhus have renounced worldly life, live free of possessions, and their only pursuit is the search for liberation, freedom from karma and reincarnation through unification with the highest reality. At Kumbh Mela, the largest religious festival in Hinduism and the world, which symbolizes the constant pursuit of knowledge and understanding, sadhus come together from the most remote parts of India and can be consulted on issues of “earthly life” at this time. In seven short episodes the film shows the ascetics’ different reactions to the minimalist works that are contextualized and laden with individual meaning when received.
You can also see the works by Kay at the group exhibition «DIE EIGENHEIT DER DINGE» at the gallery space Franz Josefs Kai 3 (FJK 3) (22.02. –09.03.2014) and next month his solo show “Ritual Union” will open at FELDBUSCHWIESNER Gallery in Berlin (21.03.-25.04.2014).
Kay Walkowiak *1980 in Salzburg. Lives and works in Vienna. Studies in philosophy and psychology at the University of Vienna, art and photography at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Art and Communication Practices plus Sculpture and Multimedia at the University of Applied Arts Vienna with Erwin Wurm and Expanded Expression at the Tokyo University. Various prizes, purchases, and scholarships, many exhibitions at home and abroad.