Four years ago, I visited the open day at the Alanus Hochschule, strolling through the ateliers. A series of work caught my attention and I found myself being stoked by realistic paintings of old trees, which I found out years later were painted by Michael. (I remember my boyfriend and me wondering for minutes, whether they were photos or paintings).
Michael Weiss is in his last year of the Master of Fine Arts and art pedagogy and held exhibitions throughout Germany and at the New York Academy of Art.
A lot of things make me happy. Taking a walk in the forest, painting of course, my books – I love books, and I love being surrounded by books – spending time with people I cherish. Knowledge makes me happy, hearing and watching smart people talk. I love watching scientific discussions, especially about things like the universe or astrophysics, stuff I have no idea about. I like feeling stupid at that moment, just knowing that there is so much more. Receiving knowledge, but also forms of passing knowledge on, brings me a lot of joy - I don't know if it's due to my studies or even before that, but I tend to be a teacher in a lot of moments in my life. I have the tendency to lecture people, even when they didn't ask for it (Michael laughs).I know that a lot of people might get a bit angry when I do that because they feel I would teach them in a superior manner, but actually, I just love to say “by the way, fun fact! ...”, to contribute something that is hopefully new and interesting.
This is going to sound pathetic, but I kind of carry my home with me, at all times. Due to the fact that I am an army child, I had to move every three years to a new place or even a new country. I never really had a home; a place that stayed the same, I was always in transition. The only stable things I knew where my parents and myself. Also, being an only child, I had to deal a lot with myself. For instance when I had trouble with my emotions or with the fact of having these sudden transitions, I always had to deal with my own thoughts. I didn't have someone that helped me with that. So I sort of learned that I had to create home within myself. Now I have the feeling that I could make any place my home as long as I have a roof; I can even feel at home in the studio, any place actually. So home isn't really a place, but … I don't know, it is in me.
I thought a lot about my roots. A lot of people, when they're done with school, they have the tendency to leave the nest and travel the world. And I love travelling, but I didn’t have the need to move to any new places, to find a new home. I had, and have the need to set roots, to really stay somewhere. After my grandfather died, I did a lot of research into our family tree and I noticed that that gave me a strong feeling of comfort, of roots, a feeling of belonging in some place and time. Just knowing that this is where I come from, these are my roots and they are fixed to a certain geographic point, gave me this inner feeling of being rooted to this point, even though I've never been there or even met most of those relatives. So maybe home is fixed to a place, but to a place I've never been to.
Obviously, again the fact of me being an army child, of having to deal with that, of having to move and lose your friends every three years, not really staying in contact with them – that of course changed the way of how I acted, how I perceived people. Because I noticed how I learned to very quickly gain new friends, to be very extroverted and open, but I also noticed that I wouldn't let people very close to me, because I knew that we were going to be separated at some part and that I didn't want to have that feeling of loss. I didn't let people very close to me, to protect myself. This was probably a bit weird for other people, who wanted to come closer to me, who wanted to have a stronger friendship. Especially, because I seemed very open, but just shut at some point. What I also noticed about myself was that I always felt like a puzzle piece that had been placed in the wrong puzzle. Because every time I came into this already existing constellation, usually the students in the classroom all knew each other since kindergarten, and I was always the new person. It was like every person in that class already had his or her niche, an ecological niche, a role in this whole tiny micro-organisation; and I didn't. So I always felt misplaced somehow and had to adjust to that. I realized how I became somewhat fluid; I would try to adapt, I wouldn't be myself, but I would try to see where there is a hole where I could fit in and I’d change my personality due to that.
I think, that was basically my survival instinct that I had as a child; you either adapt or you're always left out. It wasn't until I reached the age of 14/15 that I started to realize that I was doing this and that my dearest friends, that I already now had let closer to me because I knew I was going to stay here for a longer period of time, actually liked the sides of me that weren't adapted, that really came from me. That really gave me the reassurance to be myself. Especially, when I started studying here, and I was in this place where I could start new again, I could really embrace myself and show “This is who I am, I don't have to adapt anymore”. Those were very shaping things in my life. There are a lot of little important moments, of course, that shaped my life, but that's probably the biggest one. It really shaped my personality, my character, my way of thinking about the world. I noticed for instance, that in comparison to other students at my age, I had a much broader horizon, just because I've been to other places before. I had less borders in my head, basically. When I moved to Leipzig or later Bonn, I realized that some of these kids had never left their suburbs and that that was their world, while I had already lived on two different continents and in at least three different German states. I learned at a very early age that different people from different places have different ways of living and different ways of perceiving the world. And again, that kind of secluded me; because I was kind of like the released prisoner in Plato's allegory of the cave, who saw some part of the light (though I highly doubt that I’ve seen the whole light yet!), and returns to tell his friends of the crazy things he’s seen, but their only reaction is “Well, you're crazy”.
Another interesting thing I learned about myself, especially when I came to Bonn – as I said, I’ve never stayed at any place this long – in pedagogy, you always learn, how important rhythms are. And I suddenly knew what that meant, because I was in this rhythm of moving every three years, so the minute I stepped into a room I knew “I am not seeing these people again in three years”. Usually, you have between two or three people you try to stay in contact with, but it loses itself, especially when you're younger. And there was no Facebook or anything then; you would write a letter, then maybe just one to their birthday or Christmas, and eventually stop. And I was always aware of the positive side to it, that I can always start new, I can always re-start my life because I can always encounter new people that don't know me yet. And I didn't have that in Bonn! I really noticed that after three years, I got really agitated, shaky, I had this need to escape and just see new faces and start over. I got really sick of seeing the same faces, which was a really, really weird feeling – I felt bad for it, like something was wrong with me, because these were great people, so why am I bored of them? How utterly insulting of me! I actually had to reflect upon what this feeling was and I recognized this rhythm that had shaped my entire life since then. What I did to cope with that was just to rearrange some of my furniture in my room, to create the illusion that I sort of moved. It helped a little bit. But eventually, I lost this rhythm. That was a moment in my life where I didn't necessarily want to reflect on that, but it just sort of knocked on the door.
As an only child, you spend a lot of time with your own thoughts; I guess that's how you start to reflect. I don't know if it comes naturally, but if I had not created that ability, I don't know how I would have handled those life situations, that encountered me. My parents were always there for me of course; I wasn't left alone. My father was usually working, but my mother decided to become a stay-at-home-mom. She chose to do that just because she knew that this was the only stability they could give me. And I am very grateful for that. Interestingly enough she had to put up with a lot of critique from other women who pitied her for not being a “modern women” with her own career.
Gabriele's question: Have you ever had an encounter with any kind of art that deeply moved you?
I am a realist painter. But interestingly enough, on major encounter was an abstract painting that had a remarkable effect on me. In school, I was always on this mind-set that abstract painting is just stupid, I just couldn't understand it, because I really wanted to learn techniques, I wanted to really know how to draw, how to capture nature as realistically as possible. I couldn't understand why people would just throw paint around, that always seemed weird to me. I really had an inner opposition against it. After my Abitur, my parents and I went to New York again for a visit and of course we went to the Metropolitan. The section for modern art at that time was like this: You came up a staircase, like walking up a temple, and the very first picture you saw was this huge, giant Pollock, “autumn rhythm”. And it just hit me, violently. It really hit me! It came over me and I was not prepared, I couldn't make this shell of “this is stupid, I don't like this”. It was just this huge thing I was surrounded by and I couldn't see anything else. And I suddenly realised the power of seeing an original instead of tiny reproductions and thought: “Oh yeah.. I kind of get what everyone was talking about”. So interestingly enough, even though I cherish realistic painting and especially the art of the 19th century, it was an abstract, modern painting that probably… maybe not touched me the most, not like in an emotional way, but that really attacked me. I can't even find precise words for it. All in all, I am not a fan of Pollock... (Michael laughs)
Michael's question: Imagine, you could have a dinner party and you could invite two people from history (Any two people that have ever existed, throughout time and space).
Who would you chose, why, and what would you want to talk about?