Axel Anklam was awarded the Great Art Prize Berlin 2017 by the Akademie der Künste Berlin in the category "Fine Arts". His works are part of the Frisch Kunstsammlung in Berlin. Various publications and exhibitions document his uniqueness and the great success he had achieved with his creations. Axel Anklam passed away in January 2022
We wanted to get a deeper insight into sources of inspiration and working methods and asked some questions:
Who are you?
I am Axel Anklam. I deal with sculpture and with myself, as we all deal with ourselves. This is also reflected in my work, but not in a way that I can influence. Sometimes when I complete something I end up realizing that a big part of who I am is reflected in my work. It's a process that I can't and don't want to influence directly.
How do you go about your work?
It’s a bit like trying to fit in, to "enact" yourself in your own world. For example, I often play with creating my own thought patterns, which I then use to develop my work. I set up my own rules of the game, so to speak, and not just out of a sense of self-understanding or self-occupation, but actually in order to recognize my environment and myself to some extent through it.
What are your works about?
My work is largely about developing my own point of view. This development allows me to weigh up what external perceptions are coming at me and how I have to evaluate and classify them. They are not just any gestural moments and forms that come out of the belly, but they shimmy along an idea. The point is to bring order into the supposed chaos that surrounds me and into which I give myself emotionally. By chaos I refer to my attempts to explain the world and the problems present in it. I try to make the complexity a bit more transparent.
How do your works develop?
My works always emerge from a continuity. There is a process behind it. Just as you don't start out as an insurance agent or a baker overnight. The same conditions play a role for me when I start a work of art. That means, in the beginning there was a story that I dealt with and that resulted in a question that influences my work. But this process is anything but straightforward. The way it works is that a complex of ideas is taken up that has developed over time and led to an idea that can be developed all at once. I can't just lay it down overnight.
What does it take to start a work?
Starting a work always requires an impulse. This impulse cannot be brought about directly, but one can prepare the field on which it arises. This field can be imagined in such a way that I find myself at home in a world of thoughts and that from this self-evidence the idea arises to begin a work. When this impulse is given, something very simple usually happens: I fall back on the things that already surround me and develop them further. That means, the individual work is not the supposed great throw, but is born out of a continuity, out of works that have been created before. Even if the works say something completely different formally or in terms of materiality, they all have something to do with each other.
How does someone recognize your work?
The distinguishing feature is basically the "non-sameness of form". My works have a rhythm that is unmistakable, but I don’t worry about this rhythm at all. It just reflects that my works are created out of a continuity. You also end up recycling thoughts and ideas and reassembling them over and over again.
How do you describe your individuality?
During the process of working I have a certain repertoire at my disposal. On the one hand, this repertoire includes my craftsmanship with my tools. This is trained and comparable to a musician who at some point only hears the notes and plays them freely. Something similar happens to me in the opposite way, when I look for the handling of the material at work. I have a certain idea in which direction it's going, but then I rely very heavily on the fact that my motor skills are so developed that I can handle it playfully. In order for me to be able to realize things in the quality in which I want them to be, it requires not only a clear, formal idea, but also precisely the moment of continuity in the work. I no longer think about the work as such, but it becomes part of what becomes the expression of the work of art.
To be able to realize a work of the quality that I do, it requires a long preparation in terms of craft skills that you have to acquire. I think that's one of the main things that sets me apart from other approaches. I rely heavily on craftsmanship and the idea of being able to make things happen. I don't understand myself there sometimes...
Why did you become an artist?
For me, there is no great idea to which I am totally attached, to which I submit everything and which I chase. I see it more as great luck to have chosen a kind of profession by chance, so to speak, where I could not foresee that I would enjoy it so much. I sometimes look at it with an almost humble look, because it "frees me up" in contrast to an employee who is tied down to certain tasks every day and can't enjoy this freedom as much.
I realize that this job shows me every day what can be played and that I actually play it freely every day.
Is there anything that influences you?
My world of thoughts. If one could look inside my head, I would be happy! However, there is no big idea that everything is subordinated to. It's more like swimming in that moment of reflection.
There is a story line that connects everything. Of the idea I have, there is a visualization in my head and during this the first moments and processes to realize it are already created. There are materials that have certain shapes and expressive strengths where I know I can use them to pursue an idea. There is an incredible range of possibilities for working with and using material, whether you approach it synesthetically or simply look at it from the surface and see: what does the material "tell"?
As an example: I have a piece of music that consists of 4-5 notes and I would like to translate it approximately in shape and color. Then there is the moment in this piece of music that spreads a mood: "warm, red, yellow" - it has a certain expression. I can take that as a prerequisite for the choice of my materials and also for the choice of form-giving means. Shaping-means can be anything, an outline, a 3-D model, a piece of wheel. After that, the choice of materials ultimately results and at some point a very concrete form emerges, which is still tied to the piece of music. It sounds a bit strange, but it then becomes very concrete because you can also express the individual tones in lengths. You can take those lengths and put them back together in physical tones. A lot of my work is based on that: Simple notation is translated from music into physis, physical imagery.
How do you describe your working steps?
My working steps essentially differ in whether I work with plastic or metal. Basically, I start by graphically translating a notation that has emerged from a world of ideas. In the case of sheet metal work, there is usually a line in which everything is actually already given. But this line as such is not sufficient to be perceived as a form. That’s the reason why I work here partly with the computer. The lines are scanned and formatted into DWX files, which I then in turn have cut into sheets: a highly industrialized process indeed. The resulting sheet metal shapes then come back to me in the workshop. Here I then start folding and bending them with my manual means. This results in something very personal and distinctive.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
When I manage to trick myself into doing things that I had previously forbidden myself to do, because in that moment things emerge that I hadn't expected. There is the door that opens and from which you can look further. It gives me a freedom that I don't allow myself otherwise. I was talking about play: Playing a game is actually not that easy, because you always inhibit yourself from being allowed to do everything, because in the physique simply not everything is possible. The physicality restricts you. In the spirit and in virtuality, an incredible amount can be achieved. But in the end, a sculpture must be able to stand, otherwise it falls over and lies flat on the ground. It doesn't come out of the material compiler but comes to a standstill through the fact that I shape it myself. That is the exciting process in sculpture.