Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Conversation with Angelika Rinnhofer

Menschenkunde II: 1997, © Angelika Rinnhofer

Angelika Rinnhofer's portraits are classic and throw you back into the days of Rembrandt with her use of lighting. I first learned about her work from my work-study job days at Light Work, where Angelika was an artist-in-resident. Also, in this past July, one of her photographs was the cover image of PDN, , the Fine Art Issue.

Felsenfest I: 2005, © Angelika Rinnhofer
Menschenkunde XXXIV: 2006, © Angelika Rinnhofer

Nymphoto: Tell us a little about yourself.

Angelika Rinnhofer: I was born in Nuremberg, Germany, and have lived in the US since 1995. At that point I took a long break from taking photographs; my main occupation was surviving in a country that is not nearly as lenient in terms of making a living as an artist as is Europe. As a child I wanted to become a painter and/or a dancer. Nuremberg housed a number of Renaissance artists like Albrecht Dürer and Veit Stoss. In first grade we had to create a self-portrait, which I modeled on one of Dürer’s paintings. Needless to say, he and Nuremberg’s history have had an immense influence on my art making. In my most recent work, executed as videos and drawings, I investigate my childhood memories of wanting to become a dancer as a potential force to create visual artwork.

Felsenfest II: 2005, © Angelika Rinnhofer

NP: How did you discover photography?

AR: When I was 17 and attending art school, one of the media I was introduced to was photography. Remember, I wanted to become a painter before long. I got hooked on photography the first time I printed my images in the darkroom at school. I remember one image in particular – a self-portrait with the camera aimed into a tall window, reflecting the silhouettes of some of my friends who were with me, and some architecture of Nuremberg.

Menschenkunde XXXII: 2006, © Angelika Rinnhofer

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

AR: Actually, I can’t even identify particular situations or events that might be considered inspirational, to me every moment and every encounter has the potential to stimulate new concepts. Conversations have a huge potential to inform ideas; I would like to record all my conversations to be able to listen to them whenever I want. Then there’s reading books. To me, that’s almost like having a conversation with the writer. Looking at other artists’ work can have the same effect.

Seelensucht II: 2006, © Angelika Rinnhofer
Menschenkunde III: 1997, © Angelika Rinnhofer

NP: How do your projects come about?

AR: My work deals with mining memories and probing their significance for my art making. So, whenever I’m in Germany visiting sites that played a role in my upbringing, I investigate their history and other indicative data. Take my series “Felsenfest”, in which I paired Christian martyrs with scientists, science and religion indicating crucial parts in Nuremberg’s chronicles. I read up simultaneously on the lives and deaths of Christian saints as well as scientists experimenting in specific fields, and connected these narratives in my images according to the way one died and the other worked. The legend of St. Placidus of Subiaco, for example, states that he was a monk and that pirates decapitated him. So, I grouped him with a scientist holding a dog on a leach, alluding to his experiments with head transplantation. American and Russian doctors Robert White and Vladimir Demikhov respectively, established their scientific practices reattaching heads.

Felsenfest X: 2006, © Angelika Rinnhofer

With my latest series in which I stage fictitious scenes of famous Americans’ suicides I point to this art historical tradition. My images emphasize the taboo of suicide and the obsession with celebrities in Western society. The initials of the names of the suicide victims, some of whom are well known, others have been almost forgotten, serve as titles for my images.

The series "To R.Cory" refers to historical paintings again. In times of political changes and social crisis depictions of suicide seemed to serve as metaphors for uncertainty but also as tributes to morality.

In my images, the settings of the suicides are people’s homes. The splendor as well as the demonstration of individuality of our personal spaces is an important component of our society. We like to decorate, change, and control the environments we own, and we have countless options to do it. I don’t borrow themes from antiquity but create contemporary situations. The suicide victims in my photographs are not considered heroes, unlike Cato, Socrates, or Lucretia, whose stories inspired classical artists.

CMV, from the series "To R. Cory," © Angelika Rinnhofer

: What’s next?

AR: In the past year I have started to venture out and make art with new media. I’ve always considered my models to be collaborators in my photography projects. We’ve been creating fantasy worlds for each other by combining history and fiction, conducting role-plays, and thus introducing new narratives for the viewers and ourselves. I am planning to collaborate with people in Nuremberg on a project that will be expressed by public interventions and ephemeral installations. The work is informed by the notion of migration, in my case from Germany to the US. It also concerns the role of Nuremberg as a significant trade post in the Middle Ages throughout the Renaissance, and the influence this had on its history. Apparently, the first commercial gingerbread bakery in Nuremberg opened in 1395, supported by the availability of spices from Asia. I intent to substitute ingredients bought in the US in an ancient gingerbread recipe from Nuremberg; I will send these ingredients to Germany for my collaborators there to bake the sweet treats. I also want to collect and record stories concerning the main market square of my hometown; in exchange for gingerbread cookies people will be asked to iterate their narratives. I plan to sprinkle spices on the cobblestone of the square; traces of color and the smell of spice will thus be distributed over the old town.

IS, from the series "To R. Cory," © Angelika Rinnhofer

To see more of Angelika Rinnhofer's work, please head to You can also purchase a beautiful exhibition catalogue from her residency at Light Work.

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