<< With or Without Me

Henrik Mayer

Co-founder (with Martin Keil) of the Dresden based artist collective, the Reinigungsgesellschaft. Lives and works in Dresden, Germany.


I am Henrik Mayer from the Reinigungsgesellschaft. The Reinigungsgesellschaft is a cooperative group between Martin Keil and myself. The Reinigungsgesellschaft is set up as an open collaborative group but the result is that Martin and I are the supervisors of the group and we cooperate with other people from the society.

What is in your character that favors collaboration?

I’m afraid I cannot say anything that would give reason to preoccupations, that would be Martin’s task to do. What I can tell is that for sure there is a need for exchanging thoughts, and a need for communication, and right from the beginning of the cooperation with Martin – we started as painters and we were both quite unsatisfied with this traditional role of the artist sitting in his studio, so we decided to drop this and start an art practice which is oriented more towards the public, more to social engagement, more to communication. And I have to say there are two types of communication, first of all there’s the internal communication between me and Martin, and of course a very important aspect is the external communication with our project partners that in the Reinigungsgesellschaft projects also play a very important role.

They are your collaborators, but you are the ones that make the decisions.

Of course. That’s what I said.

I just wanted to specify that I’m more interested in learning about collaboration between people in the same level of hierarchy.

That’s actually about Martin and me. And you should ask him, too. I think there is a nice or mentionable side of my character, which is my need or preference for stability, even in the long distance this is quite necessary also from the point of view of your will to collaborate as this guaranties the spirit of continuity. I think that’s all.

What is in your character that opposes to collaboration – which can also be connected to the question whether you ever had frustrations in a collaborative relationship?

I think there is a wide range of character sides and I would define or generalize them as something opposite to the need of communication that I just mentioned. Like to be left alone, the need to even cultivate your own depression…

… the need to sit alone in the studio?

Yes, something like this. Confusion, instability, laziness – laziness is a very important theme –, boredom, actually. I think we are all affected by these factors, although maybe I can try to avoid these states of mind but never get them away perfectly.

You two are those people in my knowledge that are the most far away from laziness; you almost do your activity as if it was a regular job.

Yes, that’s what I tried to say, we are trying to hold on to the ground.

Could group work be considered a therapy against laziness?

Maybe, but I wouldn’t overemphasize this therapy aspect. It’s more like just enjoyable to be able to communicate through double potentialities. I think this is very important for the type of work we do because it’s very helpful if you can specify or distribute tasks according to the willingness or capacities of one or the other.

In this sense, collaboration has many practical advantages.

Of course. We stress on the positive aspects.

Good to hear that, as I’m trying to dig into your frustrations…What is your strategy in decision-making? Do you tend to dominate or you are someone that goes more for the compromises?

It varies, which conforms to the general strategy of the Reinigungsgesellschaft, because we only established one rule for ourselves, a very simple one, which says that we only do things that both of us agree on, which means that all of our actions have to be welcomed by both of us. If someone of us has doubts, it will not happen.

This is what you do in a dialogue, to solve disagreements, to negotiate…

Exactly this is what we do, sometimes you can find arguments to convince, or if this process is not successful, the plan is dropped.

This is what my question referred to, about your strategy or attitude – are you more on the doubtful side, or on the convincing side? In the end, you two are not the same person…

Of course. I mean, it varies, but there are many projects where the master plan, the great context is worked out by Martin, and I am the one who would be doubtful, asking questions for specifications, would ask for focusing on one specific aspect - I would be the one who actually puts it in a structure. But it’s not always like that; we are also able to swap, to exchange roles.

You said many things about why collaboration is attractive for you – do you have any negative feelings about it? Like, I don’t know, approaching it from the point of view that it is simply safer than individual work and that’s why it is attractive?

Well, I think it’s hard to say it’s safer. I think it’s just another kind of situation. Because of course you can double your potentialities, on the one hand, but on the other hand you have to share stipendiums or grants and this can make the situation very unstable.

That’s about the economical side…

Of course, but that’s also very important to mention.

Absolutely. But I also thought of the psychological side. For example, as one of the interviewees said that he prefers collaboration because in a group he is able to make more aggressive art than alone.

Yeah. But I can not be sure about this as neither Martin nor I have individual work – as artists we are only working in the context of the Reinigungsgesellschaft.

Was this a decision at the beginning or just came about like that?

It just came out that the Reinigungsgesellschaft fills all the space we have for imagination and occupied all the resources so we were just doing it on and on. We never established a rule out of it, in the sense that it would be forbidden to do individual projects but it simply didn’t happen.

So you think Reinigungsgesellschaft could be a life-long project?

Even longer than a life-time. Right in the moment Martin and I are the catalysts of the Reinigungsgesellschaft but I could imagine that the concept could be handled by other persons as the Reinigungsgesellschaft is not that much attached to our personalities, it’s more a programme that has to be fulfilled and this could be done by other persons, too. I can imagine stepping back from it, handing it over to other people and I wouldn’t even mind if they changed completely its programme.

And if you stepped back, what would you do?

I don’t know, maybe I would continue as an individual artist, it’s completely open. I would maybe continue the collaboration with Martin under a different name. But these are mostly playful ideas, they aren’t very realistic at the moment.

Is creativity in a group situation any different from what it is like in an individual practice?

I would say creativity in cooperation is simply just more pragmatic. As a group, you are more used to strategic thinking, not so much attached to subjective imagination that of course plays an important role, but as a starting point that has to be worked out, criticized, you have to step back a bit from it, change prospective on the topic, and I think this is very helpful in a collaboration.

On the one hand it is very helpful but had you ever felt exploited in a collaborative situation?

Well, I never felt exploited. I think certainly they are periods of doubts when you think well, okay, this is very far from the first idea, but still we are very much interested in the results and focus on the agreed tasks and if we can fulfill the task and can be satisfied with it, it doesn’t matter if the concept changed very much and is far from your original idea.

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