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Maria Brigitte Mayer

The End

of the Icon


E.M:  Brigitte, you were born in Regensburg, but you have lived in the German capital for about thirty years now. Your work, so distinguished and full of body archetypes, depicts the human being on a certain tonality where the search for identity is very much at the core, a search that allows us to understand the context of Modernism, including by taking a look at the past. Religion, ethnology (rather myth) and sexuality are three elements dominant in your work, elements that can’t be

separated even after the inclusion of films you have been making over the last few years. The staging of the body in your work is of sublime nature and creates a distinctive apocalyptic atmosphere. In other words, you create a universe of fundamental questions. Brigitte, is it a dramatic talent, I mean, where does that energy come from, that enthusiasm and interest, in the process of composing a work of art? 


My work is the basis of my life, it’s that simple! My father died very early and what he left me, or rather what nobody would have wanted from the things he had kept in his closet, was actually a camera. I took that camera and taught myself to take photographs. 

When you build a church, you hope that God will come in, by building something for his presence and for the divine, that’s what this camera represented to me. For me, the detail in the viewfinder was just that particular space. I have not had the capacity to classify the world, to give me the distance I needed. The camera offered me the possibility to create the necessary distance through the cut-out. Even as a child, I felt as if I was in a world that didn’t really offer me much, to which I didn’t belong, that was too confined, too unreal, strange. I grew up on the outskirts of Regensburg, with multi-storey buildings all around. However, there were also many baroque churches in Regensburg, for example the large cathedral. And when my father and I visited the castles of King Ludwig, I was struck both by the impetus of the greatness and the impact of the staging - the fact that one builds rooms for the divine, for something beyond the present, for yesterday, today and tomorrow. 

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The rooms I design in my studio are actually some kind of temple. Mostly they are rather basic, in different colours and materials, but right now it is a room covered with gold leaf in which I am staging the St. John’s Apocalypse. The atmosphere, the light within, is of great importance to me. Usually I think about the motives for months, hoping for inspiration and providence. Finally I start with the cast, focussing in particular on archetypal faces. There are people you notice, and you think this face belongs to a painting of Dürer or Caravaggio or the like. Timeless faces or features I can transfer. When photographing in the studio, I try to do as much as possible on my own. Filmmaking, however, is a team effort, so I have to delegate. That’s why I sketch out every image meticulously. 


BMM: Since I was twelve or thirteen, I never wanted to do anything else, so the idea of trying to do other things than pictures and expressing myself in them didn’t even occur to me. When you had very intensive experiences as a child, death or illness for example, or when you suffered overwhelming emotions too early, then you keep looking for this intensity, everything else does not matter, does not touch you. Of course, you can achieve that by using drugs. I prefer to stun people with images…

Although I consider our western secularized world safe and practical, I believe that there is also a need for greatness and deeper intensity, for the sacred. This experience is not only associated with happiness and euphoria but primarily with pain. However, we live in a society of pain management that marginalizes death, illness and poverty in daily life. With homeless people, for example, a form of schizophrenia arises as a result of our lack of respect for them and our negation of their existence. 

Trauma and pain are the main components of our culture, both of ancient myths and the Christian religion. Aphrodite was born out of her father’s chopped off genitals, born from blood and sperm, Jesus was tortured and disgraced by death on the cross. The most beautiful pieces of art were then created out of those cruel myths. You always have to cross some border, experience boundaries, or otherwise we all remain stuck in some kind of childhood phase. We know quite a few people who emotionally have remained children, since many of them are hardly exposed to extreme experiences anymore. 


BMM: Each time I start a project, I look at fashions dating from various eras, do research on traditional clothing or uniforms. I am interested in knowing when certain items of clothing became icons, e.g. blue jeans, bomber jackets, sweatpants or hijab. I then attempt to modify these icons, to exaggerate them in a Mannerist fashion or to alienate them through other materials. In this context, colours have an important meaning when it comes to quotations, so I often fall back on paintwork. The tailoring is especially important to me, the model/actor may look great, but if the make of the costume is not right, well, you can just drop everything. 

I love fashion. In fact, I would rather be invited to fashion shows than exhibition openings. The complete exaggeration of the absolutely useless tempts me.

I actually tend to go beyond the aesthetics and I consider beauty to be really beautiful when it is in some way combined with violence, with the archaic. Otherwise, it’s just surface. It needs the contrast, that’s what creates the height, the pathos.

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BMM. MODELS BRD videostill

BMM: I came to Berlin after falling in love with a woman living here and I stayed because I never felt any freer elsewhere. It’s because I didn’t stand out any longer – in a positive sense; how I dressed, how I am, what I do and how I love. There were quite a few like-minded people, and lots of inspiration. I came right along with the fall of the wall, and that was definitely a pretty amazing time, crazy and intense. People bought some kilos of clothes at flea markets or in second hand shops and expensive was not fashionable in these places. It was all about combining the cheap perfectly – and hitting a new location every night wearing a different outfit. There used to be inexpensive lofts for working and living on almost every corner. 

I was always and above all attracted by the intensity, the restlessness, and the energy level of the city, and as I said, it was affordable. Well, in any way. Now that’s over. I, too, was given the notice to leave my studio apartment after thirty years to rent it out for multiple. Needless to say, I’m thinking about staying on here after all. Well, a lot of things are definitely changing. But there’s always a way out, and it’s no coincidence I’m working on “Revelation” right now. 

In my opinion, the essence of art is not morality but form and poetry.

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E.M: In recent years, your career as a filmmaker has intensified. How did that come about, Brigitte?

BMM: I suddenly got tired of taking photographs. I felt that I had reached the ultimate point with the staging in my studio. As far as topics were concerned, I was at the terminus here in Germany as well as in Europe. Well, it was about ten years ago, about the same time my daughter was desperate to go to boarding school. Then I thought I had to travel. And then I thought I needed work to travel. By chance I happened to be in Würzburg, in the “Residenz”, and there was this ceiling fresco by Tiepolo with the four continents, completely idealized, graceful, no poverty to be seen, all grouped around Christian Europe, all prior to the collapse of colonization. 

So I thought I would describe the case, the flip side of modernism – and there still needed to be a modern text to describe the case, these great empires – and that was just Anna’s father’s text “Anatomy Titus. Fall of Rome”. The Shakespeare adaption. That’s the one I rode off with.  

Brigitte, tell me your thoughts about…

the most important of all:

BMM:  Love


Your favourite word:

BMM: The name of the woman I love.    


The future:

BMM: You have to keep fighting.


Beauty and fashion:

BMM: Nothing works without beauty. Style and form are of great importance to me. 


The greatest fear:

BMM:  fear of loss


Your favourite object in the world:




Violence and politics:

BMM:  flight and home


The hardest part:

BMM: The most difficult part of any work is always the last three percent. With the initial energy anything can be easily mastered towards perfection… so at the end perfection will always be the most difficult part. 


Work and obsession:

BMM:  Can’t do without.



BMM: Europe gained importance for me when I was away from the continent for almost seven years. That’s when I first started to fall in love with Europe. Although maybe with an old Europe, I admit. 



BMM: Are important, you dream away fear, you dream a lot of the things you can’t handle during the day.



BMM: Often. Recurring. Recurring nightmares of being buried alive. Fear of inadvertently doing violence to people. Guilt, actually.

Your greatest adventure:

BMM: Giving birth to my daughter.


Your favourite costume:

BMM: The Donald Duck costume, the suit where no one misses the pants. 


The best day:

BMM: The day I left Regensburg. 



BMM: I have come to believe that emancipation can only be realized when patriarchy is completely abolished. 



BMM: I am the freest person I know. 



BMM:  Shameless and free



BMM: God is space.


What’s missing in the world?

BMM: Justice and empathy.


What’s too much?

BMM: Coldness.



BMM:  Makes me think of women in Bangkok who have spent 30 years sewing shoulder seams of T-shirts and we buy them for 3 Euros a piece from H & M.  


Where will Brigitte Maria Mayer be in the next few years?

BMM: In a new living space.


For aspiring artists:

BMM: Confidently follow your instincts.


Brigitte Maria Mayer’s statement, does that exist?

BMM: Mottoes, that’s really something for the tax office.

Interview by Paul Glavinski
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