Phillipp Fürhofer’s art ranges from installations to paintings and sculptures, to theatrical set design. It is inspired by questions of mortality and eternity, by humanity and technology. We caught up with Fürhofer, 38, ahead of his talk “Art as Rescue” at Palais Populaire on August 11, to hear about his new book (Dis)Illusions and how almost loosing his life changed his outlook and work.
In May of this year your book (Dis)Illusions was released. Can you describe what inspired it?
The book was conceived to put my art into an aesthetic and visually direct form; to show the different transparent materials, the reflections. The cover, for example, is a lenticular image. It shows the changing and flexible nature of my work. It’s a collaborative of several great minds, but mostly the great work of my friend and editor Thierry-Maxime Loriot, the curator of the fashion retrospective “Thierry Mugler Couturissme”, currently shown at Kunsthalle München. It was his vision, really.
As a young aspiring artist I was consumed by self-doubt. But this experience really put everything into perspective for me.
You are very open about your “personal borderline experience”, where you had a partial heart transplant. How has this impacted you, your life and your work?
Well, when it happened, I was getting towards the end of my studies of Art at the Universität der Künste. As a young aspiring artist I was consumed by self-doubt. But this experience really put everything into perspective for me. I knew that if I were to survive this, I would become an artist. And it didn’t matter to me what anyone else would think, that is the path I will take. In that sense it became a very inspiring circumstance. It also reminded me of how dependent humanity is on technical and medical progress. I started to develop that idea visually in my art. My light boxes, for example, mimic x-rays. The way the illuminate the motifs emulates radiation going through human bodies. That is also being discussed in the book. The foreword, for instance, was written by the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, who had a similar transplant and who wrote extremely important texts about that. They, too, inspired me immensely during and after the time of my own transplant.
Speaking of the body and making art – how did you experience the Corona lockdown?
It’s quite interesting actually, on the one hand Covid really impacted my work, but on the other, it wasn’t just negative. I would normally do set designs for two stage productions per year and was supposed to work for the Bayrische Staatsoper’s Opernfestpiele in June, but that was entirely cancelled. This gave me lot more time at the atelier, which is something I really needed. The art world was much less impacted than the stage – at least as far as I experienced it. Now that everything is starting up again, I feel like people were limited so much on their usual experiences – travelling to art fairs or going on vacation – that they are happy to experience the culture that is available to them where they live.
Your talk at Palais Populaire is titled “Art as Rescue”. What should we expect?
Susanne Hermanski, the culture editor at Sueddeutsche Zeitung will be leading our discussion which I hope will be about my situation and my projects in Munich, but also about how art really can be a form of rescue. That’s what I experienced and what I believe holds true on a more general level. Without art, without existentialist thought about us, our world and our existence – it would just be dreary, especially during times like these.
This is connected to the idea of the book, where you see a lot of overlapping of art with x-rays and bodily forms, and that’s interwoven with the idea of rescue as well. It discusses those existential questions: What is mortal? What is eternal? You’ve got the infinite reflections in the light boxes in combinations with the very mundane sight of cables.
You have studied at the UdK and are living and working in Berlin. Is it still a good place to make art?
I have lived in Berlin since 2001 and it has definitely changed over the years, but I still believe it to be the only true artistic metropolis in Germany. It has such a big urban art scene and it allows a genuine freedom. In a more practical sense, Berlin has so much studio space – which is so important. It’s been harder to find room in the past few years, but it ‘ s still such a welcoming city for artists.
Art as Rescue Aug 11, 19:00 Palais Populaire, Mitte