Olaf Breuning Interview
Olaf Breuning as an artist and a person is refreshing, his work is incredibly honest and unfailingly joyous, reflecting the fact that he truly could not be doing anything but making art. His creative process is his life force and it shows. Born in Switzerland, Olaf now lives and works in New York working between film, photography, installation, sculpture, drawing or what ever medium excites him. He was nice enough to chat with me about his new film, Hip-hop and why he makes art.
Megan Christiansen: So why do you make art?
Olaf Breuning: Umm I don't have another option! [laughs] It's all I can do you know, I often think about it and when I am finished with making art I don't know what I'll do. I would be a very bad waiter!
MC: It's so hard to define what you do, is that intentional?
OB: For me as an artist, it's important that I go with the times as much as I can. Our time especially is so colorful and so different, for me it would be kind of a shame to stick with one medium or one way to do something. I'm always very happy to expand myself but I kind of have to stop now because I do to many things as an artist it's a little dangerous because you can lose your character. I would really like to start painting, there are many things I would like to do because my language is one thing and I can use that language over a cupcake or a canvas. It doesn't really matter.
MC: For you does the idea inform the medium you use or vice versa?
OB: Its usually the idea and then the medium, but I get bored with a medium. So for example I'm shooting a movie at the moment and after I'm finished I will be really tired of movies so I will be really happy to make photographs or do drawings. For me it's just very entertaining to change the different mediums, it's exciting.
MC: Could you make art out of anything or do certain materials speak to you in some way?
OB: Sometimes the material or the things I just get excited about them, lets say I would see a handmade candle and just think wow how can I make some art out of this. I think as an artist you are always inspired, sometimes from an idea, sometimes from a material you come across and you want to do something with it. It's always mixed but I can never really say where my inspiration comes from, I just want to tell a story about my life - but maybe I could make art out of anything you give me!
MC: I wanted to talk particularly about your films for a minute. You said you are working on a new film at the moment, can you tell us about it or is it top secret?
OB: [laughs] I wish my projects were top secret! I have shot two movies before called Home 1 and Home 2 and this one that I am working on is Home 3. Its actually shot in New York City, it's a film about a guy in New York City but also about New York City itself. It will be about half an hour long and it will have many strange stories, funny stories.
MC: What is it about film-making as a medium that you identify with as an artist?
OB: When you have me make a drawing, you need some paper, a pen, a table, a chair and you brain and you can make a drawing. Filmmaking is the most complicated medium because you have to think about the story, you have to film it, you have to edit it, you have to make music, you've got movement. In my choice of mediums it's the most complicated for sure.
MC: When you are making your films, are you concerned with story telling? Or is that not so much of a focus?
OB: I always like to try and tell stories but its always a question of how you tell the stories. In this movie I tell the stories a little bit differently then I have before. This one is more real, I tried to pin myself back with my obvious humor sometimes you know, I just want to make something that is strange in itself. That is the essential thing when you shoot the movie is how you want to do it, is it a more funny story, is it more serious or how do I make the story happen? In that way I hope it [Home 3] will be a more straightforward kind of movie, but the reason I like to make art movies is I don't have to organize so much. I have my main actor, my treatment and thats about it and when you make a real movie you need hundreds of people, you need permissions etc. So I'm happy I don't have to do that and a lot of things will happen spontaneously when we shoot.
MC: It's almost a more honest way of making films.
OB: Yeah it's almost like being a documentary director...
MC: When will Home 3 be released?
OB: My bosses in Amsterdam [the foundation] they gave me money to make the film and they say I have to finish in March but I had to call them back and say I cannot do it. So I'm hoping at the end of May it will be finished.
MC: I can't wait to see it! Who are you trying to reach with your art?
OB: My main focus is actually one person…that's myself. Whatever I do, I do it for myself, you know I could write a diary but unfortunately I would not make money with that! So that's the first thing, I have to do something that makes myself happy and I'll watch my films and say wow that's a really interesting thing. Eventually people like my art but I think that's based on it being easy to understand, it's simple and I would never go out and make something thinking of who is going to like this - I do it for myself.
MC: I think it shows in the honesty of your work. Will you ever run out of things to investigate? New things to create?
OB: Yeah I've already run out! I'm already burnt out, I'm in a big burn out at the moment because I bought a house and at the moment I clean the windows of my new house…it's the sign of a burn out! [laughs]
MC: What do you do to pull yourself out of that?
OB: I just think that when I bought this house, you work 15 years like an idiot and I tried to give myself a little bit of a break for a few months, but I can't do it because there are other things I have to do for my art and I have to finish this movie too. So I don't really think I'm burnt out but the reality is that when I started to do art 15 years ago and I didn't make as many new works, the horizon was just a little bit more open with new ideas. I mean how many ideas can a human being have in one lifetime? You just have one brain unfortunately, but I want to make art for the next 20 or 30 years for sure. It's also really difficult because often an artist will create a pioneer work that will change the art world with what you are doing and today I think it's this problem where everything has been done. Whatever you want to do someone has done it before. You have this idea and then you go home and google it and this idiot somewhere on the planet has already done it 10 years ago, it's a little bit frustrating. I don't know..
MC: Do you watch TV?
OB: Oh yeah alot!
MC: What kind of shows and movies do you watch, which ones inspire you?
OB: Inspire? No! The time when I got inspired was the very beginning I would watch John Carpenter but I don't think movies inspire me any more. I've just seen so many of them and I watch so many reality TV shows just so as an artist I want to know what's going on today. Even if it's some stupid cooking show, I want to feel what's going on. I just like to watch...Some of my artist friends are boring, they all watch the same moves and listen to the same music, so as an artist I always tried to have a taste like a normal person.
MC: Speaking of music, I heard you are really in to Hip-hop, what do you listen to?
OB: Oh yeah! Over the last 10 years I'm not like a super expert but for a white person I'm quite black! [laughs] Even for the new movie I met these kids, these 9 year old black kids and they are really cute. They are kind of a new generation and they grow up with gangs coming down to the bronx spraying the subway cars and these kids are very creative. So I met them on the street and we kept in contact and they all want to be rap musicians. I used them in a scene for the film, in a hotel room, theres 12 of them there. The story goes that the main actor Brian would walk into the wrong room and they will jump around and sing this Hip-Hop song they wrote. Through this the kids will come to my studio and just want to hang out there and it's really cool because they will tell me the latest music in the scene in New York. I think I like it because it's so far away from my Swiss heritage and where I come from that I think its very fascinating for me.
MC: Yeah I was going to ask you why you identify with it...
OB: Also when they say Keep it Real, its always the same ridiculous story - they grow up somewhere in the ghetto and then they get rich, they have big houses and have to burn the money. I kind of like that mentality to life - they just go for it!
MC: Finally, I know we have already kind if talked about this but what would you do if you couldn't make art?
OB: I really really don't know and I honestly don't want to think about it because sometimes I think about it I get melancholy. You know I couldn't be the president of the United States because I'm not American so I don't know, there aren't many other options!
MC: [laughs] So its either be the president or be an artist!
OB: Yeah! But I want to be an artist until I die it's just my dream, not because I like the art world so much but just because I like what I do.
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