Interview: Thomas Köner

Theres a stereotype concerning artists, claiming that a true artist must seem disconnected and distant, as if he was only part here on Earth, and part in his own universe, the one hes trying to represent with his earthly emanation. Ive always considered it ridiculous to pigeonhole people like that and judge something as abstract as art by its creators appearance, but in the case of Thomas Köner, it really rings true and seems justified to a certain extent. Talking to him wasnt like talking to anyone else. It seemed as if he was merely the PR manager for the true Thomas Köner that was stuck on another plane of existence. The pause of 4-5 seconds after each of my questions and the profound look on his face during that pause was far from awkward; his facial expression was as if asking me to kindly wait while the query is forwarded to his superiors. Just when youve thought that his behaviour is indeed a bit funny, he comes back with a superbly laid out response, one that seems far too complex to have been thought through in a few seconds. This sparked much interest on my side, involving me in what Id deem a conversation rather than an interview. The effort that Thomas invested to explain himself despite his painfully obvious fatigue was so evident that it almost made me feel inferior. What follows is our conversation that took place immediately after his performance here in Belgrade.

Hello, Thomas. Why such a long and drawn-out look on your face?

It’s been a very difficult day… I had power outages and other technical difficulties the entire afternoon, so I was unable to prepare the sound for the performance in advance. I even had to visit a dentist… Not a very good day for me.

So, overall, are you satisfied with your performance here in Belgrade?

Yes. I was particularly intrigued by one thing… There was a man who asked me about a sound I used at one moment, the sound of a closing door. He said that it reminded him of the bombings in 1999, and he asked if it was intentional, used as a reference, if it was supposed to sound like that at all. You see, in my work, I try to create a space that is as empty as possible without collapsing. I invite the audience – each visitor – to fill this space with his own memories, his own content. This is actually one of the complaints about my work sometimes – that my music is boring. This boredom is a means to allow, to persuade the audience to drift off from my story, the one that I provide with my work, and to connect to their own story, their own memories, their own life. This is a thread that goes through all my works, be it visual works, sound works, photography or anything else.

How and when did you get the idea for this exhibition?

Well… I’m very interested in the present moment, you see. You don’t know what the future will bring, and the past is already gone. The present is all we have. The images of these saints… I see them as pictures from passports issued by the country of Heaven. I wondered what those people might have looked like when they were still normal. It has something to do with me personally as well – I am normal, as an artist, like anyone else. Seeing these icons, you understand that you have the potential to become a saint yourself. You don’t know if you are challenged in any way or not – again, it’s about the relation of the future and the present – but you have this potential, the hidden energy in this moment; you can relate to the holiness that is captured in these icons. My idea was to create a space which would seem very local, almost banal – as these are all orthodox icons displayed in Serbia, an orthodox country – where all that potential would be addressed. Not that there’s any need for it, that something is missing, or that there’s even a point in it. It’s… Like a perfume.

Are you planning to take this exhibition anywhere else? Have you already presented it somewhere?

I had one show with the same setup in Germany. I’d love to take it to other places as well, but there are no fixed dates for now.

When you create an audiovisual exhibition, what do you start the process with: composing music or visualising the concept? Or is it all simultaneous?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? [laughs] Both senses are addressed, the seeing and the hearing. They are not connected by themselves. What’s connecting them is you as a person, as a being, as someone who has a history, a memory, an emotional state, someone who changes by the hour. It’s a random situation anyway, in terms of physical perception. I’m addressing the sonic space and the visual space as two different rooms. As a visitor, you’re invited to connect these.

What is the difference, if any, between this type of performance and the performances you have at music festivals?

Well, you have a much better sound system! [laughs] There’s no conceptual difference, really, I’m just able to express myself much better in terms of sound… With this sort of exhibition, I feel like I’m expressing two percent of my potential, and even that’s distorted. [laughs]

Now, I know that this is something highly subjective, but what would you say is the main thing you’re trying to portray when you’re performing live? What do you want the audience to feel?

As I’ve already said, I’d like everyone to feel something unique, something different. I don’t want you to feel what I might have in mind. I’d like you to accept the invitation to do something with the things I offer. The music doesn’t feel recognisable anyway; there’s no beat, no storytelling, no narration or anything. It’s basically either that you accept the invitation or turn around and go home.

I’ve heard you say that you don’t mind people talking, walking in and out etc. during your performances, which is very strange for a musician or an artist in general.

I see it as salt in a soup. If you have the perfect amount of salt in your soup, you cannot ruin it. You can have a lot of bad side dishes as part of your meal, but the soup remains perfect.

It’s been two years since “La Barca” (Fario, 2009), your last studio album. When can we expect new material, do you have anything in plan?

There’s a new album coming out in the autumn. I can’t really say a lot about it now, as I still have to finalise all the details concerning it.

As for your earliest albums, the so-called trilogy from the beginning of the nineties, what do you think about them nowadays? What do you feel when you listen to them today?

I don’t think I could record anything like that today, not with all the entropy and decadence… So it’s good that I did it back at the time, so that I don’t have to worry. [laughs]

Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you have any particular sources that constantly feed you with ideas?

I don’t know if I have any ideas at all.

That sounds like Kierkegaard.

[laughs] I just try to establish the kind of situations that I’ve mentioned. What you call ideas are just results of applied principles, which are the general field of my research.

Finally, what would you like to be remembered for as an artist?

Do I have to be remembered at all? Can’t I just disappear?

Is that what you would prefer?

It’s what will happen, regardless of my wishes. And again, it’s the difference of your preference and mine…

Official Thomas Köner website

Photo #1 © Pieter Kers