THE INTERVIEW IN|DEEDS: Ursula Sax

Prologue | Personal

Frau Sax, suppose the pandemic wasn’t dominating our lives at the moment and we could meet in your home or in your studio. Where would we talk, and where would we meet you? I live at Bundesallee, in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, on the 4th floor, which is good for watching the birds. The pigeons and crows. Pre-war flat. Would we sit in your favourite place? We’d sit in my living room, at an octagonal table. The flat is very large, 200 square metres, and in this room is the balcony door. The balcony is huge. My flat is pretty tidy. There are two rooms that merge into one another and the second one is my workshop, so to speak. It has a very large desk and a work bench with a handsome vice.

DEEDS WORLD - UrsulaSax 2017 - Foto Mathias Bothor

Ursula Sax 2017 – Photo: Mathias Bothor

Where do you come from, and where and when were you born? Which events and people were you influenced by?

I am a sculptor and have been doing hard physical work for many years, with wood and stone and iron. Later also with fabric and also a lot with paper. I am now 85 years old and not as strong as I used to be. I was born near Stuttgart in 1935 and from the age of 15 studied sculpture at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart for five years. After that I spent three months in Paris – to get to know it as a possible future location. It was very interesting and I visited a number of famous artists, but I had no intention of staying there. Until then, I had led a very sheltered life at my parents’ house, travelling daily to Stuttgart by bus, train and tram to the art academy and back in the evening. And I didn’t have any money either or any prospects of earning any. And Paris is not my city. After a very short while, I went to Berlin. I immediately saw Berlin as “my city”. Since I didn’t know anyone there, I enrolled once again at the art academy there, under the wonderful sculptor Hans Uhlmann, in whose class you could work with iron – as he himself did. I had my first studio in Kreuzberg, in a cellar at the back of the building. At that time I lived in a basement flat at the front of the building. I worked initially with iron. Gradually I became known a little and received this and that sponsorship. First prize in an invited competition for art in public places and a travel scholarship to Greece. In 1960 my father died and the monthly support from my parents came to end. By then I was able to make a living, albeit a modest one, from my art. The first person to influence me was certainly my father. He was a highly educated elementary school teacher who was banned from working during the Hitler era. He had a stiff leg from the First World War and then studied for years. First architecture in Stuttgart at the Technical University, and then art history and German language and literature in Tübingen. After the end of the war, he became an elementary school teacher again in our village. He had a broad intellectual outlook, wrote poetry all his life and gave us children a good grounding in the arts. I am the youngest of three daughters. The eldest studied piano and Uta, the middle one, became a well-known actress.

DEEDS WORLD - Ursula Sax - 2019-06_Hellerau_ZDF_Luftkleider-mitUrsulaSax_4_IMG_1498_photoybySemjon

Ursula Sax, The Geometric Ballet, Filming of the Aerial Dresses by ZDF with Ursula Sax (seated) in front of the Festspielhaus Hellerau near Dresden, June 2019, Photo: Semjon H.N. Semjon

Which books have had a lasting effect on you? At home with my parents, the Bible was a book that we – the family – read together every day. And we had all the classics. The two books that meant most to me were Joseph and his Brothers by Thomas Mann and Henri Quatre by Heinrich Mann. And many others. Ortega y Gasset was also important. If you were to cook something for us, what would it be? And which cuisine do you like most? I certainly wouldn’t cook for you, but there is a French place around the corner from me, “Patrice”, where I often eat and I would certainly take you there. What are your views on breakfast? For many years, breakfast was the most important meal of the day for me – I preferred to get up earlier than necessary just to have breakfast in peace.

DEEDS WORLD - Ursula Sax 2019-06_Hellerau_ZDF_Körpermasken_5_IMG_1352_photoybySemjon

Ursula Sax, The Geometric Ballet, filming of the body masks by ZDF.
in front of the Festspielhaus Hellerau near Dresden, June 2019, Photo: Semjon H.N. Semjon

Interview | Artist + Position

To begin with, please give us a rundown of your career as an artist in a few sentences.

In 1960 I left my Kreuzberg basement and rented a shop in Friedenau. From 1963 to -64 I was in Florence, Villa Romana Prize. In 1965 I married a graphic designer who from then on did my catalogues. In 1970 we bought a house together with friends in Berlin-Zehlendorf. In 1978 I ended the marriage and left the house we shared. I started to focus on art in public places and working with the municipality and architects. I had won several competitions in the meantime and executed some of the projects as well. In 1980 I had a 3-month scholarship in the State of New York. I taught at three German-speaking art colleges: Berlin, Braunschweig and Dresden. In 1982 and 1990 I had guest professorships, one for a sculpture class, the second for a class for stage costume, at Berlin University of Fine Arts. From 1990 to -92 I held a professorship at Braunschweig University of Art and from 1992 to 2000 at Dresden University of Fine Arts. I have been interested in religion(s). I’ve look at other, non-Christian religions. I was in India about 15 times, always briefly. I practised yoga for years and similar techniques like Feldenkrais. My passion is my profession, art. For many years, however, I had a parallel passion: psychotherapy. I myself had many therapists because, as I see it today, I always needed stimuli for my continuing development. One day, when I got to know psychodrama, I discovered that I had a real talent for it, and I did several courses and started working with people.  One can have several talents; to appreciate this and to develop them is what makes a person whole. It is possible to develop mastery in several areas. For a long time I felt guilty about art, but psychotherapy would have gone well with it.   For example, visual art is a lonely business: being alone in the studio all day is tough. I have often envied people, like architect friends, who work together in their offices. I could have easily invited therapy clients to my studio. I would only have needed to wash my hands and would have got started. Art, especially old-school sculpture, is an elaborate process and requires preparation and materials. Unfortunately, I didn’t allow myself company, togetherness. My life would have been much easier and more enjoyable. I see that now in my old age. The programming we learn and internalise: what a pity! The therapist side of me has since taken a back seat.

DEEDS WORLD - Ursula Sax 2011 Raummesser - Foto-Eberhard Bosslet

Ursula Sax, Raummesser, 2011, aluminium, styrofoam, theatrical nettle, binder paint.
5.5 m (height) x 21.5 m x 5 cm, Photo: Eberhard Bosslet

Briefly explain your current project and the upcoming exhibition.

I currently have an exhibition “aus und auf Papier” at Semjon Contemporary. It is illustrated excerpts from the 520-page book on my works of and on paper that Semjon has just published. Semjon deserves my respect for summarising my 71 years of creative work during the past COVID year. Much of what is in the book I have already forgotten – out of sight, out of mind. But one thing stands out: despite the versatility of my work, it’s me who’s the continuous thread.

DEEDS WORLD - Ursula Sax - Semjon Contemporary 2021 - Foto-Juergen Baumann -2

Ursula Sax, Exhibition aus und auf Papier (from and on paper), 2021, Photo: Jürgen Baumann

How did you come to art? Why art?  

Zur Kunst kam ich durch meinen Vater – durch das Leben. Warum hatte ich diesen Vater ….?

What it is that currently makes you happy?

What currently makes me happy is what’s going on around me.
A competition is being judged on 31 May – let’s see what comes of it.

What are you currently frightened of?

I’m not frightened by anything at the moment.

DEEDS WORLD - Ursula Sax 2019-06_Hellerau_ZDF_Walfisch_2_IMG_1615_photoybySemjon

Ursula Sax, The Geometric Ballet, filming of the “Walfisch” by ZDF
in front of the Festspielhaus Hellerau near Dresden, June 2019, Photo: Semjon H.N. Semjon

Do you believe that art has a social responsibility? And what do you think it can do?

Each of us has a social responsibility, and it is up to each of us to make a unique contribution. Those who are born to be artists should do what they are called upon to do. Everyone feels this for themselves. Everything taken together is the wealth of humanity.

What makes your art special? What is it about – what are the central themes of your work?

It has turned out that art in the urban space, in public spaces is the focus of my interest and my talent. I’m fascinated to be able to contribute something to a given urban space situation that did not previously exist. Something that is NEW in this setting and adds something to it that gives it a new meaning.

Read Ursula Sax’s answer further in THE DEED | DAS WERK

DEEDS WORLD - Ursula Sax 1974-2015 digitales Modell begehbare Plastik-1974 - Sax_Muendner_Semjon

Ursula Sax, 1974-2015, Digital visualisation of model for a walk-in sculpture, 1974
© Sax, Mündner, Semjon

How do you shield yourself from too much inspiration these days?

You should never have to shield yourself from too much inspiration.

How much in your works is planned in advance – how much comes intuitively?

Sometimes the intuition comes naturally, while at other times I have struggled to come up with an idea until it finally materialises. When it comes to designs for a public commission, I start with the planning – the intuitive idea doesn’t always arrive. If it doesn’t come, I call the outcome “design”; if it does, I call it “creation”.

What are your (next) goals?

Next week I have to hand in the required documents for a public-space competition that’s very important to me. That’s my next goal.

What is your opinion about faith? Do you have principles of faith or is there a motto?

Principles hamper unpremeditated responses to what is at hand. But I haven’t known that for very long. Faith in life and its infinite possibilities – most of which we have been told from an early age are not possibilities – is crucial. The courage to attempt the impossible is imperative.

DEEDS WORLD - Ursula Sax 2019 Regensburg Foto-Frank Zimmer

Ursula Sax, Regensburg, 2019, wrapping paper, binder paint, each 5 m (height) x 4 m x 0.5 m
Photo: Frank Zimmer

Which project would you still like to realise if it weren’t hampered by lack of time, courage or financial resources?

The one that comes up next.

What do you consider to be attributes of good art?

Authenticity, what comes and reveals itself from within.

Is one born as an artist? Or is studying art essential in your view?

“Everyone is an artist”: this is something many people never realise. And one is born as such. I recommend studying art, as it shortens the path. It provides orientation and professionalism. You can look around at what is being done around you. One third is the class, the fellow students. One third is the teacher and what he/she does and says. And one third is the general art situation and the discourse about it.

DEEDS WORLD - Ursula Sax - Semjon Contemporary 2021 - Foto-Juergen Baumann -1

Ursula Sax, Exhibition aus und auf Papier (from and on paper), 2021, Photo: Jürgen Baumann

To whom do you show a new work first?

Whoever happens to be there..

What does the first hour of your day look like?

Over the many years of my life so far, it’s always been changing. Almost all my life I used to get up at 6:30. Now I go to bed very late and get up very late.

In times of the Internet of Things, are galleries still necessary? If so, why and what for?

For decades I didn’t have a gallery and didn’t want one. Now, in my old age, I have had a gallery owner for 5 years who does a lot for my work. I am grateful to him for that.

Social media – in your view a blessing or a curse?

Neither a blessing nor a curse. It’s like everything else: you can choose to use it or not. The world is constantly changing, and it makes no sense to resist it. New opportunities constantly arise and old ones fall away.

Translation: Tim Chafer

Epilogue | Current

The solo exhibition Ursula Sax – aus und auf Papier (from and on paper) with works from 1948 to 2021 is on show from 24th April to 14th August 2021 at the Galerie Semjon Contemporary, Schröderstraße 1, 10115 Berlin-Mitte.

www.werksax.de


In times of Corona, when travel, studio visits and personal contacts are inappropriate or even impossible, the written interview remains an important medium to introduce artist personalities, to spread their messages and to stay in touch with art lovers. The interviews are not edited or shortened by the editors and are always reproduced in original sound. Therefore, we do not translate the interview into English or German, unless this is submitted by the interviewee.

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