luka fineisen


this e-mail dialogue with luka fineisen took place over many weeks as we prepared for her solo exhibition in our new york gallery.    i’ve spared you the construction and shipping logistics…

TH:  what do you want to call your show?

LF:  I want to wrap poetic phenomena in a term of science — “phase transitions.”

TH:  meaning?

LF:  It’s a term from the study of thermodynamics that describes shifts between solid, liquid and gaseous states of matter.   The materials I use imply change – not only concerning movement, but also transformation to another state of being.

TH:  so tipping points… as in the way you represent the moment just before the drip separates from its source and splatters on the floor.  or that instant when your work goes from being attractive or “fun” to being a bit sickening or dangerous.

LF:  Yes.  I think of it as border crossing.  It’s about emphasizing limits — of the room, the material and the viewer.   It’s also about possibilities.  It’s like life.  The most wonderful, perfect thing can tilt over into something bad, just because of one word or moment too much.  It’s a subtle thing.

TH: what is it about that instant that attracts you?

LF:  The balance and tension.  Learning how far can I go until everything changes — the excitement of getting closer and closer to this instant — awaiting the tilt.  And the risk.  I love broaching and playing with control — and the lack of it.  The best moment for me as an artist is when the piece of art slips from my grasp and develops into something that I can no longer predict from the ingredients and process I used.


TH:  what leads you to the types of materials you use? frost? gold glitter? viscous liquids?

LF  It’s their potential. Some materials hold much potential to change or become something new. It’s best when the material starts to “live” as I use it.  Materials that are transparent or react to light, or substances consisting of many similar, moving particles, like fluids or glitter, offer great possibilities.  I wish to create something not so easily understandable, something hard to define.

TH:  not only are the materials you’re using sensual, many of them have a yuckiness to them…    the first piece of yours that i experienced was the piece with the fragrance of vanilla.   would you describe that piece and talk about what you were trying to do and how people responded to it?    the fragrance was nice at first, but quickly was gross.  that simultaneous attraction-repulsion is one of the qualities about your work that i love.  can you talk about that?

LF:  Yesterday I looked up the words “appetizing” and “yucky” to describe my work, but got distracted from it.   Today you came along with the same words!  You are very right: on the one hand I am not afraid at all of beauty – but the line between beauty and “too much,” to the point of something alarming, is critical.

A good example is a piece I made called “pump-swamp.” I filled a room with 10 tons of thickened milkshake-colored fluid.  It appeared like a yummy pancake-dough.  Some visitors even stuck their fingers in to taste it.  I installed air pumps in it, so every once-in-a-while a big, viscous air bubble would pop loudly.   That, combined with the enormous mass of the material, gave the installation a repulsive quality.

then, i invited 10 people to sit in the “pump-swamp” and eat a meal of creamy white food.

The scent work you mention is called “baking-house.”  I transformed a former gate-keeper-booth into an inconspicuous scent-distributing machine. The inside I painted completely with a light vanilla colour.  I added a cream white carpet to give it something soft and a scent machine and blower.  I filled the inside of this building with a carefully mixed vanilla and caramel odor. This is a combination very appealing to human noses.  Fans in the four windows transported this “filling” onto the sidewalk. Nowhere in this area is a bakery or coffee shop, so when the yummy fragrance reached people, it led to a mixture of attraction and confusion. As they got closer, the smell got more intense and the impression changed pretty quickly to slight disgust, then repulsion.  I intended to somehow contaminate a big area with the sensuality of my art.

It’s the same, when a material like cellophane is assembled into huge sculpture.   It’s fascinating, but is so massive and overwhelming that one might think of the sculpture flooding over people in the next moment.   It’s appealing, but definitely makes you think of the possibility of drowning or suffocating.

TH:  the media you use often seems to be one thing, but isn’t really what it appears to be, such as drips or the gigantic bubbles or walls of foam… are you cheating when you use a material that appears to be something other than what it really is?

LF:  The artificial versus the natural; the permanent versus the temporal.  I find it wonderful to mix up these themes. I like to challenge the viewer to leave his accustomed views. This way I am opening new doors and offering a new spectrum of possibilities.

TH: your work seems to me to be very much about the human body, even though you never represent the figure… do you intend those references or is it just me?

LF:  I am happy you read this in my work! I don’t overtly use the human body as a theme because it can get flat very quick.  But right now I am working on a sculpture that is heated constantly up to body temperature, the form however is very minimal.   Tubes lead fluid to a sculpture, machines “feed” the object, organic volumes seeming to grow out of them selves and disperse.  The “living material aspect” of my works definitely deals with the body and its limits.

“Phase Transitions” can be experienced at our new york gallery at 531 west 36th street at 10th avenue from 3 february – 31 march 2012.