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Images of junkies and voguing

INTERVIEW! Jeremy Shaw is the artist behind the ubiquitous "Christiane F." posters around the city in 2011, and is now featured in the KW's "One on One" exhibition. Catch it before it closes its doors on Jan 20.

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Jeremy Shaw: The Image of a Generation, 2011

Now with a new piece in KW’s One on One exhibition, Canadian-born Jeremy Shaw is perhaps best known for “Image of a Generation”, the series of ‘Christiane F.’ movie posters he put up around the city in 2011.

(For those yet to see the film, it is available on realeyz.tv in original language)

Many people find
 your work quite
 complex. Could you
 summarise it?

No! It
 varies. I go through 
phases but it’s generally 
related to the altered
 states. I just did a piece 
about vogueing; I shot a
 documentary-style film.
 It’s a work with a 
transgender voguer from 
New York, in the Bronx.
That’s always been a 
huge theme in my work, 
the marginalisation of
 subculture. But it ends 
up all boiling down to
 altered states, however 
people attempt to 
achieve them, to achieve
 transcendence, or however science attempts to record and map them.

Do you think those two worlds – the science and the subcultures – are oblivious of the other?

I think they’re not so engaged in each other’s goings on, I think the two worlds discredit each other quite often. Experiential drug use shouldn’t be discredited by scientific research. It’s just impossible for science to measure drug effects, so the mystical side of things gets just dismissed.

How did you conceive your piece for KW’s One on One exhibition?

When I was asked to be part of it, I felt like there were two ways you could go. You could go just purely with the beauty of being alone with an object of art, which is really a quite fantastic experience. Or you could toy with the fact that you have someone alone in a room, which is exactly what I went for.

Do you think there’s something inherently political in your work?

Not ‘political’ with a capital ‘P’. I think any time you’re dealing with drugs or marginalised culture, especially when you’re not part of that culture, it’s going to have a political nature. But I’m not wearing a pin on my shirt. It’s always things I’m very interested in and generally really enamoured with. I work with this voguer from the Bronx because I think she’s amazing. I’m totally enthralled.

What’s the tone of the film?

It’s a 16mm film, but it puts her in a hyper-contemporary form. She’s transgender, more woman than woman, wearing six-inch-high heels and she does these insanely violent spins and drops to the ground. But then I’ve situated it within the context and the aesthetic of a 1960s ballet film. So it’s really this situation that if you weren’t aware of it, you could easily be tricked at the start, until you began to really see what she was doing.

Your Christiane F. posters are still plastered all over Berlin. What is the image of the generation being born today? Do you think every generation faces a similar issue?

It all boils down to altered states

Yes I think so, but it’s certainly not at the Bahnhof Zoo anymore. That was definitely a moment, because it was during the time of the Berlin Wall and there was definitely a lot of neglect in those areas. But I think ‘latch-key children’ exist in every generation. I don’t think that will ever disappear and I don’t think drugs are ever going to go away, or children using them.

Was Christiane F. a reference in your life before you came here?

Before I moved here, Christiane F. was my only reference to Berlin really. I rented the film because it had David Bowie on the soundtrack. And then when I moved here I met so many expats that had the exact same experience. People from Columbia, from all over America, that had seen Christiane F. when they were young and that was Berlin. What else were we seeing? We saw the Wall fall on the news but you didn’t really see any photos of Berlin, not until Wings of Desire. So this really utopian, druggy, Bowie-soundtracked Berlin was what I grew up knowing.

Are you still a fan of Bowie?

I’ve followed him since I was a child. I’ve seen him play 13 or 14 times; I saw him first when I was 10. So yes, Bowie, first and foremost, but then, Mike Kelley has been a really big influence artistically, as well as tonnes of music and tonnes of films, actual motion pictures – that’s probably influenced me more than just going into an art gallery a lot of the time.

One on One | Through Jan 20, Tue-Sat 12-19:00 (Thu 12-21:00) KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Augustr. 69, Mitte, S-Bhf Oranienburger Str.