Conversation with Florentine Pahl: Art as Reality

Based in Hamburg and Bremen, Florentine Pahl creates work that tackle reality. With each piece, she challenges her audience to think, giving her work the power to connect. Pahl’s work demands to be heard and we decided to uncover the voice of the artist behind it.

Do you have a favorite photograph that you’ve taken?

My favorite photograph is from my Bachelor degree 2013 in Bielefeld. It is a picture of me in a pretty hard situation in my life; it shows strength and weakness at the same time. In one exhibition where it was featured, there was a little girl standing in front of it. She said to her mother “Look mom, the girl in the picture is flying in the sky with the stars“. At that moment it became my favorite photograph; I loved the perception of a young naive person had about it–void of all the hardness and craziness of what is happening in our world in her mind.

What are you trying to accomplish with your work? Do you have specific topics or issues that you’re actively trying to explore?

My themes are always about reality in general. What is reality? Does reality even exist? What is our personal reality? I am interested in absurdity, perception, and the way we look at things. I love to analyze things. The human body and the body itself, isolation, and relationships are also big topics within my work. I’m trying to make people think and to touch them somehow.

Currently, I am touched by contemporary topics: the Generation Y and our everyday life, our constant use of the internet and the addiction to it, being born into the web, and the internet age. I’m also interested in topics like selfishness, the whole fitness that is going on in our world, people becoming robots and not allowing themselves anything anymore, privatization, the rising rents everywhere in the world, alternative living, etc.; but also I’m constantly working on very personal themes. I think that everyone who is “doing art“ is subconsciously working on his own mind and his own past all the time–it is happening automatically.

What has been the greatest challenge for you in your work?

Simply to work again. There were times in my life where I wanted to get rid of art and the superficial art market. There was a year or so in my work where I wanted to do something completely different. But now, I recognize that it was important for me to have that break in order to develop my work/myself again. Sometimes you need to quit and release something in order to discover and love it again.

What was the last song you listened to?

John Frusciante- The Past Recedes

Do you have a creative routine? What do you do to get your creative juices flowing?

I’m trying to structure myself all the time. I need my focus and organization, especially when things start to get stressful. But I also try to embrace the chaos sometimes, the confusion itself. I like when my week is half structured and half free. I need a lot of freedom, but I also need pressure. Otherwise, my engines run on low. I listen to music. I try to have time just to think, sit at a window, watch the people go by, walk around the city. I analyze stuff and that brings me energy. But, it does depend on which medium I want to use. Drawing, for example, for me is about releasing something: anger or happiness. It’s a release of a feeling. Doing a collage is a lot calmer, even a little meditation to me. Photographs are something completely different. I  will walk around and take pictures of moments that attract me, exploring my themes. If I’m taking a shot and I’m not totally happy with it, I develop it into a staged moment: I reproduce that same moment in a constructed way. The moment between snapshot and staged photography is fascinating me.

What are you working on right now?

At the moment I am working on new ideas and new projects, using different mediums, and making an installation in the end out of everything. I am experimenting with different mediums like collage, drawing, photography, and I even want to use sound and audio again. Sounds and words are really touching to me. Sometimes taking photographs isn’t enough for me–there is a layer that is missing. I need a moment when my work is becoming a part of me and that I feel something about it in the end- even after years. Sometimes I think that I am only doing art to capture my feelings and to “write down my memories”. I am afraid of losing my memory, which I’ve already experienced in my life. Maybe it is somehow like writing a diary for me, but with a visual language. It is about the desire and longing to capture and collect my notes/memories.

Sometimes I think that I am only doing art to capture my feelings and to write down my memories. I am afraid of losing my memory, which I've already experienced in my life. Maybe it is somehow like writing a diary for me, but with a visual language. It is about the desire and longing to capture and collect my notes/memories.

What inspires you? Do you have any photographers, artists, creators that you look up to?

Pina Bausch is the most inspiring woman for me. I find her really amazing: her story, even her way of doing things/thinking. I am very inspired by literature, texts, painters, poems, and philosophy; and, also, everything that is happening to me personally and in my surroundings. Some of the artists whose works I really admire are Erwin Wurm, Viviane Sassen, Martin Parr, Marina Abramovic, Sophie Calle, Basquiat, Woody Allen, Silvia Plath, Frida Kahlo, Ulrich Seidl and Gerhard Richter. Lately I was very touched by the story of Hanne Darboven.

You’ve done some video work, along with still photography. How are these two mediums different for you? What does one offer that the other does not? Do you think it’s important for artists to experiment across mediums?

Yes, I think it can be very important for some artists. Each medium is offering a different feeling. You can express something different inside/outside of you or ask different questions to the observer by using different mediums. Video, film, and photography are at some points the same, but, on the other hand, completely different. Photography is capturing a moment, while video offers the audio layer and a moving image. So, with video, different feelings will be felt by the observer across a timeline. For some people it is important to use different mediums because in my case at the moment I am realizing the fact that I am not only a photographer. I’ve been doing photography for ages now and it’s been with me my entire life. Now I’m at the point where I want to experiment with other mediums again. This brings me further in understanding what medium I really need to use to express myself and what I want to say. Everything is a process, but I am happy to be in this work period right now. I love the moment when the circle is closing and suddenly everything makes sense–and I’m understanding things/people/myself a bit better.

If you could photograph any person or any place, who (or what) would you chose and why?

Pina Bausch and/ in Japan. She was a really calm and introverted person and Tokyo is one of the loudest and overwhelming cities in the world. I like that clash between both personalities.

Is there a piece of art or music from the past that had a resonating impact on you?

Yes, a lot. Mostly music, but some paintings really impressed me as well. Also just some sentences by loved ones or just words or phrases from some books/ texts/ lyrics that I still remember. The song Johnny and Mary by Robert Palmer reminds me of an important relationship in my life. Another song is Sum by John Frusciante; it will probably follow me as well my entire life. Songs are very important to me because they are the amazing and sad memories of people that I never want to forget.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

A Big Mac.


For more of Florentine’s work, visit her website.