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Printed Matters

Interview with By Fred Currant

It was late winter or early spring of 2006 when I went to visit Stephan in his attic studio near Salzburg. Stephan was ferociously at work hovering over big stacks of newspapers and magazines and looking around at the many cutouts lying all over his tables and floor. He was arranging these, gluing them onto small boards - all the size of about a foot by a foot - and then painting over them.

Q: What are you up to with all these newspapers and magazines?

Stephan: It is about the power of the print media, about the visual impact of the headlines, texts and pictures they use, about the change of perception that comes with mass distribution and of course of their imminent decline.

Stephan explained to me that he had collected thousands of pages of the leading newspapers and magazines from New York and London on his travels. And now he was going through them, transforming them into an illustrated story - a story without a story line.

Q: Doesn’t everybody already know of the power of the press?

Stephan: The limelight and glare of major media coverage combined with its high distribution distorts everything. It takes away all nuances, eliminates shades and shadows. It is like a proud eagle going through a car wash. What is left is a giant grey plucked chicken like animal with a big beak and oversized claws.

Q: You seem in a hurry to do this body of work - why is that?

Stephan: Some work develops slowly but other work - especially if it is like a story - needs continuity und focus. Plus the print media has reached its culmination and will soon be replaced by online journalism, which is far faster and more open to dramatisation, just like television. But, whereas television is a closed-off industry the internet is not; everybody is, or at least can be, their own publisher and distributor. The decline of print is just a matter of time.

Q: Isn’t the influence of print media in 2006 at an all time high?

Stephan: "Well so was the great IBM-typewriter, which could remember the last hundreds of input strokes and even reverse and erase them, right before the computer came to take over. And where are these typewriters, with all their ingenuity, now?"

Of the different subjects I could see lying around there were sports or fashion related items just as something on politics, economics, theatre, comics and even celebrity gossip. More or less everything you would find in newspapers and magazines.

Q: Why 99?

Stephan: 99 can give you 11 sections where 9 pictures are put in a three by three matrix. 3x3 is an ideal focus point for a story or a juxtaposition.

Q: Does that mean you are going to have a sports section, a real estate section, a travel part, a gossip corner and the like?

Stephan: That would be one way to order the pictures but I prefer to leave them without a given order. Everybody can choose their own order of consumption.

Q: So, with no order, how do you choose the subjects?

Stephan: Honestly, they choose me. Some of the texts and images just jump out and I try to make them work for my format. Some are so trivial that they become ideal placeholders for the total irrelevance of the reporting. Others might have a long lasting appeal because they touch on fundamental truths we all are coping with in our daily lives.

Q: Does that mean one could see this series as an extension of Goya's "Los Caprichos" for today's world?

Stephan: Of course it would be a great honour if somebody thought that but at the same time it might be a grave mistake. I wouldn't want people who think favourably of me to be on the wrong side of history!

Q: Do you have a favourite already?

Stephan: If I did, I wouldn't tell. Not because it is a secret but because favourites change through time and age. They always have and they always will."

I didn't see the whole series until later in the year at which point I immediately sensed the complexity of the tableaus. Stephan was happy he had finished the work by the summer of 2006 and mentioned with a grin: "I was able to throw away almost all of the leftover newspapers and magazines. If I wouldn't have done that I might still be making more. It seemed like a never-ending story and was quite addictive."


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