DLD 2023 – Looking ‘Beyond Now’: Implications for the advertising industry

DLD can certainly make your head spin. There are only few conferences out there that manage to pack as many high-class speakers and experts from very diverse fields into a tight schedule of 20 to 30 minute sessions and make it work. Somehow. Covering topics from robotics and the industrial metaverse to the latest developments in neuroscience to the opportunities of generative AI for businesses in an hour is a bold move.

Recalling DLD organizer Steffi Czerny’s opening remarks, it all made sense in the end: We live in a time of global poly-crisis. Old rules often don’t apply anymore, but pessimism is not an option. We must look ‘beyond now’, the conference’s motto, to develop a narrative of progress to discover new opportunities for the future. Innovation in the fields of technology, science, communication, art and design, business and industry can provide us with the tools to take back control and tackle the most pressing issues of our time.

AI as the technology of the year, if not the decade

Generative AI has been one of the major topics in the tech world for quite a while. With the recent release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November 2022, the excitement in almost every industry has reached new peaks.

In his tech industry predictions for 2023, Scott Galloway pointed out that unlike other recent technology hypes (namely Metaverse and Crypto), Artificial Intelligence was backed by years of academic research like other key technologies like mobile communication. According to Galloway, AI will do for information workers what robotics did for manufacturing: It will fundamentally reshape entire industries.

New challengers for Google Search

The opportunities of challenging Google’s quasi-monopoly by utilizing AI for search was one major talking point at DLD 2023. Startups such as and Neeva have already integrated AI technology into their search engines. Also, Microsoft’s recent announcement of investing an additional $10bn into OpenAI and their plans to integrate AI into all their products (most importantly into the Bing search engine), could lead to new competitive innovation in the market. However, several speakers, such as Neeva’s CEO Sridhar Ramaswamy and Scott Galloway, pointed out that building an AI powered search competitor is not an easy task due to the increased operational costs and computing power needed. Furthermore, Google employs some of the world’s leading AI engineers and the company has years of experience in the field. So, it is by no means certain that Google will not be able to maintain its dominance.

Alex Turtschan and Simone Jocham, Mediaplus International, at DLD 2023 in our Munich House of Communication

AI as a fluid computer interface

AI might not only change the way we search, but it might also change the way we interact with computers. Today’s interfaces are mostly based around the concepts of apps, often with highly specific use cases, yet lacking a universal, user-centric approach and context sensitivity – as often demonstrated by the lackluster usefulness of many “smart” assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Hey Google. But what if the user could just tell the AI what they wanted to do instead of opening a specific app to solve a problem or complete a task? What if the AI was the smartphone operating system, evoking apps on the go and being highly aware of the context of the problem to be solved?

AI for more fluid and relevant advertising and commerce

As Serviceplan Group CEO Florian Haller pointed out in his session “Beyond Advertising”, many people are annoyed by advertising. Ads often lack relevance and are not relatable. Marketing must become much more immersive to stay relevant. AI can be a part of this by generating relevant product shots and visuals on the go that are tailored exactly to the users’ current expectations and desires – and which might be unique in this form. The same rings true for e-commerce: imagine an online store that doesn’t just show clothes or shoes worn by the brand’s models one doesn’t necessarily relate to, but also provides AI generated shots that match one’s own body type, size, and age?

The future of media and publishing

An inspiring session by Brian Morrissey dealt with the future of publishing. The current media and publishing landscape is quite volatile, and we are facing several bubbles. The streaming market as a direct-to-consumer business is overcrowded with too many players competing for the consumers’ time, attention and share of wallet. We might experience a backswing towards more bundling of content into packages – a landscape, streaming providers initially challenged with their then new business models. Subscriptions have become ubiquitous and have at least partially replaced advertising-based business models in several sectors. With big players like Netflix and Amazon now exploring ad-based tiers for their streaming offerings, we might see a growth of the overall advertising spaces in the video streaming industry.

The big shifts ahead in media and publishing are quite versatile, but come down to human connection, individual relatability, and emotion, not unlike the outlook on the future of advertising drafted by Florian Haller. Individual creators can turn into established brands, a development we have already been seeing in the gaming industry, in live-streaming, and podcasting in recent years. Reaching the biggest audiences no longer is a sustainable future business model, as demonstrated by the disappointing IPO of Buzzfeed and the decline of similar mass-market-mass-appeal-low-effort publications. But most importantly, for Morrissey the future of publishing is about the human connection and emotional bond to the audience, especially in an age of AI-generated, synthetic content.

DLD ventured a wide view into the digital future and the industries affected by it – let’s see where all of this takes us.

Gallery owner Johann König on the digital transformation of the art sector, the significance of personal experiences and the allure of art for young target groups. An interview with Eva Simone Lihotzky.

EVA SIMONE LIHOTZKY: Mr König, you are regarded as one of Germany’s leading gallery owners. In recent months, you have designed and implemented a number of digital formats, such as an exhibition called The Artist Is Online together with Anika Meier. The international group exhibition could be seen offline at the KÖNIG GALERIE and online in Decentraland, a virtual world based on blockchain technology. What has been your experience with formats like these?

JOHANN KÖNIG: We are initiating many of these digital formats on www. with a view to being accessible and removing barriers and thresholds. For instance, in Decentraland – a virtual world based on blockchain technology – we held an online exhibition that ended with an online auction. However, we found that it was very difficult to access and that collectors were finding it difficult to buy an NFT – the underlying process was too complex (editor’s note: non-fungible tokens – NFTs for short – are counterfeit-proof certificates stored on a blockchain, effectively rendering digital artworks unique). As a result, we set up our own marketplace that allows people to pay with credit cards and bank transfers. This makes the market more accessible.

Do you think the art world will hold onto digital platforms like this in future or are they just a passing fad?

JK: No, they’re definitely here to stay. What’s also interesting is the technological possibilities that it opens up. That’s why we are planning to sell fractionalised artworks on as well – so people can buy part of an artwork instead of the whole thing. We believe that this will get far more people interested in art and lead to a greater identification with the market.

In another interview, you say that one of the main functions of the art world is to allow people to experience art more. In the business world, this would be termed ‘customer centricity’. What does the art sector need to do to be more customer- centric in its thinking?

JK: To answer this, I asked myself: “Why don’t people buy art? Or, to put it another way, what reasons are there for not buying art?” We then tried to identify and eliminate these objections one by one. In most cases, it’s because people don’t know the price or aren’t able to determine if the given price is reasonable – or sometimes it’s trivial things like not knowing how much it will cost to transport the artwork home. We resolved all of this with a software that brings all of these factors together

Immersive art experiences are an art form where the audience takes centre stage – just like Turkish-American artist Refik Anadol does with his works. What makes these artists’ work so special?

JK: First of all, I believe that art is always a holistic experience. And that you always need to feel it – not just see it. When you look at Refik Anadol’s art, it’s like being hypnotised: they are always moving and, thanks to AI, always new. That’s why it’s like a kind of meditative performance. He has succeeded in bringing aesthetics and concept together.

Do people who visit an immersive art exhibition have a different connection to art than they might have with traditional exhibitions?

JK: For me, it’s important for all KÖNIG GALERIE exhibitions to be immersive experiences – so we can use a space to let people experience something that they wouldn’t normally be able to. It’s only by offering your visitors an experience money can’t buy that you will make a lasting impression on them. At the same time, I believe that the experience factor in itself is becoming increasingly important. And that, in the age of social media, it’s very important to share the experiences with others, so that they in turn will feel compelled to experience them and will also be in a position to do so.

Do you think there will be more and more collaborations between commercial enterprises and artists in order to create exactly the kind of experiences we are talking about here?

JK: We are getting more and more commissions in this area in particular. This is because companies – or their brands – are not familiar with this kind of thing, don’t understand how the art market works and don’t know what relevant positions there are for specific target groups. We, on the other hand, have plenty of expertise and know what the right artistic position is for any given company. This is definitely an area that is not directly related to our gallery work where we are positioning ourselves to a greater and greater extent. We take a close look at the companies in question and determine what they stand for, what they want to achieve with the artistic collaboration and what target group they are aiming to reach. We also carry out a data-based analysis so that we can find the right position for the right company.

And then when you have your findings, you come together with the artists to create experiences that will make a lasting impression on the companies’ end consumers?

JK: It’s a mixture of things. It needs to be related to the brand and, in some cases, it needs to sell the brand – and of course it also aims to make something possible. But due to the fascination for art among a younger generation – or a wider group of people – we are also noticing that more and more companies are exploring the possibilities offered by art.

Why does art play such a great role among younger generations in particular?

JK: It’s because their own creativity plays a more important role. And because art and their own preferences and niche interests are a lot more accessible these days thanks to the internet and social media.

So you believe that, if companies differentiate themselves through various art collaborations, this could put them higher on the radar of younger generations?

JK: Absolutely! Thank you for talking to us, Mr König.

This artice first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

Do artists have to like people to make them the subject of their work? Does art have to have a message? And why do modern people in a digitalised world need culture to be optimistic about the future? These are the questions we put to internationally renowned sculptor Stephan Balkenhol when we visited him at his studio in the Nordstadt district of Kassel.

FLORIAN HALLER: Your figures often appear devoid of emotion. Why do you always give them the same stoical expression?

STEPHAN BALKENHOL: I prefer to give them an ambivalent expression rather than an extreme emotion such as laughing or crying. If I carved those expressions in wood, they would look frozen, but when I show an indifferent expression, it’s a lot more open. This leaves it to the audience to join the emotional dots, as it were. In this case, the expression is undeniably more alive.

Every time I look at one of your figures, I feel as though I can see right inside the person. But I can’t explain it…

SB: When giving a presentation on my work, one of my wife’s students once said they were like wooden mirrors. I feel they are a cross between a mirror and a projection surface. With a figure, you can ask yourself what kind of person it is, what they do, what they are thinking, where they come from and where they are going? Or you can imagine that you are this person. You and your feelings are mirrored in them. Both are possible.

If you don’t mind my saying so, you’re not exactly the extrovert entertainer type…

SB: No.

Do you like people?

SB: I have nothing against people, but I don’t always like having them around me. I also like being alone. In fact, when I’m working, I need to be alone – apart from my wife, who I don’t mind having around me all the time. But take my children for instance – as much as I love them, how much of them I can take really depends on what kind of a mood they are in that day, and what kind of mood I’m in. It’s impossible to like everyone but I’m not a misanthrope.

You once said that your work involves being in a constant dialogue with the sculpture. What do you mean by that exactly?

SB: I think I can express myself through my sculptures. It’s how I communicate with the world and, at the same time, how I explore the world.

KATHRIN BALKENHOL: If I can just chime in here: I feel that Stephan’s work allows him to understand himself better. Sometimes I have the feeling that something indeterminate is working within him and that he will only be able to understand it once he has carved his way to it.

So working on art has a therapeutic effect?

SB: Artistic work can be healing and beneficial – just like any other kind of work. Not primarily but secondarily. Of course, it does me good to work. And looking at a sculpture can also have therapeutic effects. I once had an experience in Rome where a large sculpture of mine called ‘Sempre più’ was on display in the Roman Forum. An Italian woman came up to me and said that her day had got off to a terrible start – because of a divorce or tax audit or something unpleasant like that, I can’t remember exactly – but that she felt a lot better now she was at the exhibition.

KB: Looking at art can open up the mind to new kinds of reflection and cognisance. I have no doubt that, deep inside, we all have fears, shame, guilt and other things we have no words or images for and that we give a wide berth to. Art can help to ward off dangers and dispel fears by visualising them. I see this is being more of a magical, ritual effect than a therapeutic one.

SB: Yes, but these existential questions are not illustrated in the sculptures directly but rather indirectly and metaphorically. That’s a fairly common misconception about art – some people set out right away to detect something or decipher a message. And, with my work, this often causes confusion. The Bojen-Mann (Buoy Man) on the Outer Alster in Hamburg, for example, doesn’t have any message to convey and rejects this expectation. We have been conditioned to believe that monuments in public spaces should automatically represent an important person. But when it’s just a man in a white shirt and black trousers, some people can take a while to realise that it could just as well be you or me.

Why do you work primarily with wood?

SB: Out of a personal affinity and because it affords me a kind of freedom. I can process wood myself and don’t need anyone else to help me. If I were to create a bronze casting, I would need two or three other people to help me at various stages. But with wood, I can do it all myself. I could even go into the woods, cut down a tree and make a sculpture out of it. As well as this, wood is relatively quick to process and there is no transformation process. While clay or plaster involve an element of transformation, with wood you have the result in front of you throughout the entire process.

What is the process involved in working on one of your sculptures?

SB: It’s all about communicating with the material. After all, I could cut into it once with a chainsaw and say: “Okay, it’s done.” The interesting thing is deciding when to stop. Some sculptures are more like sketches, half finished and relatively rough, while others are finer. This communication, deliberation, examining it from different angles – that’s what makes working on a sculpture exciting. There’s a joke about a sculptor and a lion, where a visitor asks the sculptor: “Is it difficult to carve a lion out of marble?” To which the sculptor replies: “It’s quite simple, really – all you have to do is carve away everything that doesn’t look like a lion.”

KB: Another point is that Stephan can only carve as fast as he thinks. With stone or clay, it’s different. He once made a bronze sculpture of Richard Wagner for Leipzig. The clay model for the cast was ready to be collected and we were due to get married two days later. So there was a lot to be done. And then Stephan went to the studio at five in the morning and gave the Wagner statue an entirely new face. Because clay modelling is so fast and each movement of your fingers produces a different facial expression. This additive technique leads to another decision- making process. Carving a sculpture from a block and removing all the extraneous elements is somehow a better fit for Stephan.

SB: When I’m carving and get the feeling that I can’t see where it’s going, I take a break. And once I know where it’s going again, I carry on. This is rather baffling for visitors to the studio, because I spend most of the time running around the sculpture with a cigarette in my mouth.

© Stephan Balkenhol / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Does it make a difference what type of wood you use?

SB: I know from experience what wood is most suitable for each purpose. The reliefs for Serviceplan, for instance, are made of poplar wood, because I know that the colour doesn’t change over time. With softwood, the resin would cause it to get darker over time and small cracks would form. But I generally use the wood that I happen to have or that I am being offered at the time. I have probably carved sculptures out of 20 different types of wood. It’s not all that important. After all, I’m not making a wooden sculpture to show how great wood is – I’m using the material as a means to an end.

Unlike stone, wood is an organic, living material. Is that a relevant factor for you?

SB: Yes, wood is a living material and is always working – and will continue to do so even in a hundred years’ time. I would also describe stone as a living material, but steel and plastic are rather lifeless.

The term ‘sculpture’ makes most people think of the masterpieces of antiquity. Is this period a source of inspiration for you?

SB: Yes, absolutely. I’ve always loved going to museums that have a collection of antique works. The Glyptothek in Munich, for instance, is fantastic.

I was really impressed by the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. Those giant statues have such power.

SB: Those ancient myths are great narratives. The beauty of these images is that there is always an element of intricacy and mystery – there is nothing direct or ‘in your face’ about them. And even though the stories are about divine beings, they always hold a mirror up to us humans.

On that note, is your own personal history reflected in your works?

SB: Certainly, there’s no way of avoiding that. I come from a very specific cultural setting in Central Europe, Germany, so it goes without saying that I’m going to be shaped by certain influences I grew up with. My parents were Catholic and I had to go to church every Sunday. I was often bored there but always found the holy statues fascinating. At some point, I realised that these figures were supposed to represent Saint Anthony, Saint Elizabeth and others, but in fact it was the sculptor from the 14th or 17th century who had immortalised himself and the time he lived in. When you look at figures like these, you get a sense of their time and a sense of the eternal as well. I’ve always found that exciting.

Do you have a favourite among your own works?

SB: It’s always the one I’m working on. Otherwise I couldn’t do anything else – my work would be done and I could shut up shop.

What is art?

SB: I haven’t the faintest idea (laughing)! The beauty of art is that it has no use – it doesn’t have to be useful. And the value is only contrived when it is there and reveals itself. At which point you realise that you can no longer do without it. But everyone has their own individual reasons for this and they need to find them out for themselves.

Does art have anything to do with the zeitgeist?

SB: No, I find that too short-sighted. The function of art is not to mirror some zeitgeist phenomena. Of course, art is influenced by certain elements – there’s no question about that. This is perfectly legitimate and, in any case, probably can’t be prevented either. But I don’t agree with the expectation that art has a duty to comment on these elements – let alone to make the world a better or more just place.

© Stephan Balkenhol / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Can a work of art be viewed in isolation, or does it always have to be seen in a human context?

SB: Art always has a human connection because it is made by people. And because people look at it and are influenced by it. It expands people’s horizon of knowledge and experience and that is part of the artwork.

What are your feelings on the art market? Artists always claim not to care but then when you’re talking to them, they soon mention that some other artist’s work had reached a higher price than theirs. If the market is so unimportant, then artists wouldn’t use it as a yardstick, would they?

SB: I am part of the art scene and, as I make my living from it, am thankful that the art market exists. Otherwise I couldn’t work the way I work. And it’s part for the course that the market hyperventilates every now and then. Jonathan Meese put it very nicely: “Being famous is all well and good but the most important thing for an artist is being able to work in their studio”. That is happiness indeed.

So art does have a therapeutic side after all…

SB: Happiness is always therapeutic.

What role can culture play in our modern-day society?

SB: Lots of things that used to give people safety and stability no longer exist or have lost all meaning. All we can do is hope that the state or policymakers manage everything in a way that allows us to lead a halfway decent life. I believe the function of culture is to preserve an immaterial level in society that creates another kind of security. By this I mean that the insecurity doesn’t come across as being threatening but rather as natural – conveying to people that they can be happy despite being aware of death and all the difficulties associated with life.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

This interview first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

Can art create a better world? In our interview, Jonathan Meese – one of the most important contemporary German artists – calls for a radical new beginning, founded on individuality, respect and doing away with established realities.

Florian Haller: Whether it’s international relations, our economic model or consumer behaviour – at the moment we are busy rethinking our entire world. But of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing we had before is of value. You were once quoted as saying: “Art is the destruction of the prevailing order.” Isn’t that a very negative way to look at the world?
Jonathan Meese: That’s just a kind of rallying cry, of course. I do tend to make a lot of proclamations and manifestos and a certain amount of exaggeration is par for the course. Art is destruction, yes, but that’s not what it sets out to do – it’s just something that happens. For instance, art destroys ideology. Or mediocrity. The concept of “average” doesn’t exist in art, which is why there is no democracy there either. But art doesn’t destroy the past – it calls it into question, examines it, classifies it anew. Sometimes it is supposed to eliminate the obstructive taste it leaves behind. Or its naysayer negativity. I’m not negative in the slightest. On the contrary, I hate bitterness and resentment.

From a personal perspective, what have you destroyed in your own life?
Jonathan Meese: I have burnt a lot of bridges. For instance, I have no time for people who have betrayed me. Or who want to stop me from looking to the future. There are people who are always out to scare you. This fear of moving forwards is something that we should do away with. Is the future going to be horrible? No, it’s going to be great! That’s also what you have to tell children instead of harping on resentfully about how terrible everything is getting.

Is it the idea of creating something new that drives you?
Jonathan Meese: Yes. Art creates new things, embraces them, guarantees them and never fails to endure them. Most people are no longer even able to cope with a new thought. They get caught up in the old vicious circle of religion, politics and mindless conformism and think that the next guru who arrives on the scene is going to rescue them if they worship him. That’s a load of nonsense. Nothing is coming to rescue us. You have to sort yourself out and learn to come to terms with yourself.

The coronavirus has forced us to learn that the hard way …
Jonathan Meese: Yes, that’s the most important thing about this whole coronavirus situation. People can no longer stand themselves because they can’t relate to themselves anymore. Which is why they are taking to the streets in their thousands, thinking they are being individualist free spirits. But you can only be individualist at home. If you’re standing on Alexanderplatz in Berlin with 50,000 other people, you’ve pretty much subordinated yourself to a guru-led system of conformity. It doesn’t matter if the guru is Greta Thunberg, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin or Angela Merkel. Or you say that you stand behind what you think and do and will do that alone. People always think they’re strong when they’re with a big crowd. But the strongest people are those who go it alone.

Do you drive your art or does art drive you?
Jonathan Meese: I give myself over to art. By this I mean that I get rid of the ideologies, religions and everything else that gets in its way. And then I am free and the field of art is there to be cultivated. The field of Jonathan Meese’s art, which can then grow larger – as large as the whole world. I have complete trust in the total freedom of art. But I don’t need to throw myself at its feet. At the same time, it’s not something I can choose or reject. I’m not a conformist – I don’t choose anything. I’m not even interested in voting – that’s just zeitgeist and has nothing to do with art. Art is something timeless – it is what has survived. Every god and every political system has had its time, but art is always there and is still going strong. Why don’t we allow ourselves to be ruled by the strongest and most amazing thing we have? Art!

When you’re working on your art, do you have a concept in mind?
Jonathan Meese: No, I put myself in the hands of art. Whenever I don’t know what the next step is, I just go to sleep. That itself is art because I dream when I’m asleep. I’m in a place of longing, in an alternative world, in another time. Rather than having a concept, it’s all about giving yourself free rein and letting it happen. After all, art is the great liberator, freeing us of emotional baggage, misgivings and fears.

How do you achieve complete artistic freedom?
Jonathan Meese: When, for example, I’m painting a picture, I don’t let myself think of the person it’s for. I never create art to please someone or to satisfy their needs. I do it simply for the sake of creating art. And if someone loves it, great. Most young artists ask what they should do. To which I can only answer: do what you think and what you want. But please don’t do what I’m doing. Lots of people come to me and tell me that they want to do what I’m doing. But that’s not how it works. I can’t do what they’re doing and they can’t do what I’m doing. Otherwise we’d have a guru-type situation all over again. I don’t want people to see me as some kind of guru. That’s horrendous. They need to do what they do with love, respect, humility and radicalism. And if they have nothing to offer, then they’d be better off sleeping.

Your work regularly deals with art and reality and you also use virtual reality, like in the VR installation you created with your mother in 2018. What is the relationship between art and reality?
Jonathan Meese: Art allows us to rise above this dreadful reality that we are currently experiencing. And we should make room for other realities. For Catholics, there is only Catholic reality, for SPD members, there is only SPD reality and for the CDU only CDU reality. This kind of thinking is wrong – it is petty-minded nonsense. I find the idea of wanting to force Germany into such a small reality quite obscene. Art is above our reality, above our lives – it is what allows us to survive. Art is above all things. Of all the things that once existed, only art has always survived. Let that sink in for a minute.

In a recent interview, you said that censorship was back again but it was the artists who were censoring themselves. What did you mean by that?
Jonathan Meese: There are several aspects to consider here. There are artists who are terrified of making a wrong move and end up producing obligingly compliant work. Other artists realise that they are not really very good at what they do and become political activists instead. They feel safe in a group and look down on individualists. They even look down on Van Gogh. An artist like that is almost impossible to find these days – someone who simply does their own thing. People like that are almost laughed at. To young artists, I can only say: don’t censor yourselves, don’t actively serve any clientele, never get sucked into the guru system – just do your own thing and stick to your guns.

How exactly have you seen artists censoring themselves?
Jonathan Meese: There are artists who claim that people shouldn’t paint certain things anymore. That’s hard to get your head around. And there are actually artists who want to destroy old sculptures without contributing anything themselves. Those are the destroyers who want to destroy something that is far more impressive than they are. If you’ve nothing to offer yourself, all you can do is destroy things. True to the 1968 mentality of tearing down things that you feel oppress you. That’s another of those collective efforts. I hate collectivism. Most artists nowadays are collectivists-by-necessity that only make an appearance in groups, completely anonymised. They no longer have any faith in their own ability and start censoring things so they at least have something to put their names to. They say a white person can’t paint a black person or vice versa. So does that mean I can’t paint an animal because I’m not one myself? It goes without saying that artists should be allowed to paint, write or say anything and that they should avoid sanitising the past. There are certain words or phrases that were normal in the past that are no longer acceptable today. But I can still accept them with a little humour. Like a statue of a slave trader. It’s a bronze sculpture, the guy is long dead and it’s ancient history. You have to be magnanimous with stuff like this. I wouldn’t destroy a single sculpture from the past but rather put another one next to it to counteract it. People should take things to the point of absurdity – including themselves and their way of thinking. And stop just making it about themselves for once.

How do you react if someone tells you that you can’t do something?
Jonathan Meese: If someone tells me that I’m not allowed to paint something, I really feel sick to my stomach. And then I’ll get stuck into painting it. I wonder why these people don’t invest their energy in the future instead. It’s not as dependent on the past as people think. The fact is that art is different from culture. Culture is what used to be; art is what is coming. And it usually comes like a lightning bolt with a completely crazy idea that people initially can’t imagine ever working. How many times in my life have I heard things like “You can’t do that”, “That won’t work”, “That’ll be the end of you”…? I was kicked out of the Bayreuth Festival and removed from the German Literature Archive in Marbach because apparently I’m too radical. There are so many times that I’ve been censored, insulted and shown the door. You have to get up again each time and say: it’s about the future, about taking a risk – a personal risk.

Is it art’s job to be radical?
Jonathan Meese: Yes. You have to be radical towards anything that is not art and radical towards yourselves and other people. With a good dose of humour thrown in. As I said before, art does not tolerate half-measures. We can’t accept mediocrity any longer. Art is not up for negotiation; the future is uncompromising. Art is uncompromising. It can’t be defined by politicians or religious types. Politics is the opposite of art, the enemy of art.

Where does art come from? Where do you get your inspiration?
Jonathan Meese: Art always comes from the child within me. You have to play freely. And I’m even freer than a child because I know what it means not to have that freedom. I am so free – that is my only real quality. But these days, being so free in your thoughts and actions also leaves you open to attack. Other people constantly want to show me where they personally draw the line and lure me into their clientele. But I have zero interest in that. I want Germany to be ruled by art – I want the political parties to leave the stage and for us only to serve art. And that day will come! It’s just a question of how long it will take.

What role does the current crisis play for art?
Jonathan Meese: Art is independent of everything because art is what always remains. But I’m noticing that, as a person, I’m getting softer, almost considerate! I am liquefying myself. And I’m fine with that. But many people around me are finding it hard to deal with. They say that these are tough times and that I need to toughen up.

Looking to the future from the current crisis situation, what kind of a future do you envisage for yourself and for the rest of us?
Jonathan Meese: We just need to have a rethink and question ourselves, and to straighten out ourselves and our egos. To really see if we want to carry on as before rather than opening up to change. Everything that we are currently experiencing – the US elections, for instance – all of that comes and goes, they’re just temporary phenomena. None of that is of any importance to art.

Lots of people are very concerned that a large part of what we call creativity will eventually be taken over by AI.
Jonathan Meese: I think artificial intelligence is brilliant. And I really love it when robots and computers take over certain functions – because this opens up other “playing fields” again. All we need to do is identify these other playing fields and get to know them. We also need to constantly examine, question and rethink things. This fear of robots is a load of nonsense. The constant insistence that we need to carry on as before because we are the be-all and end-all, the pinnacle of creation, is nothing but presumptuousness and hubris. Yes, we are amazing but something better might come along. Perhaps the most amazing thing really is the supercomputer Colossus from that film. Or maybe Darth Vader is the most amazing person who ever existed.

What is your idea of a good future?
Jonathan Meese: We can finally start to turn Germany into one coherent work of art. Right now, we have the opportunity simply to say: okay that’s it, we’re going to put it all in a museum. I would put all political parties and religions into a museum. Start again from scratch. Just be open for a change. We should also question things that we always thought were set in stone for all eternity and cheerfully admit we were wrong about lots of things. But you have to take risks. You also have to risk people thinking you’re a nutcase. You also have to risk losing friends, encountering obstacles, having to deal with resistance. And not just in art but everywhere. In other words, we have to prepare the ground for something new.

What are you personally doing to help bring about this future?
Jonathan Meese: I’m ploughing my own furrow and doing things the way I want to and how I think best. Unfortunately, there are lots of artists who are only interested in depicting reality. They look in the newspaper and see a subject they can do something with. But that’s wrong, that’s just day-to-day politics. Many artists just want to make reality even more real. That’s the biggest mistake. It produces so many victims; it’s so cynical. Art doesn’t produce any victims – it just simulates them. If you see it through seriously, with love and humility, you can relocate all wars to the stage, to the screen, to advertisements and to the pages of a book. We need to come to terms with evil – but through the medium of art! We need a Bond supervillain to help us with this. A whodunnit where someone is murdered. We need it in all these fields that are art, plain and simple. But not in reality. We need to combat reality with something other than reality itself.

Thank you for this interview, which was certainly anything but mediocre!

This interview first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the seventh issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “Rethink!”. The e-paper is available here.