“For me the process is ultimately what constitutes the work.”


Maja Rieder in conversation with Ines Goldbach


The studio has long been too small. You could also say that Maja Rieder

no longer takes its four walls seriously. Across her broad oeuvre, in

which she works on large rolls and sheets of paper, sometimes with

graphite pigment, sometimes with brushes of different widths or sometimes

a printing block, she investigates not only two-dimensional image

space. She transforms walls and spaces with her drawing installations,

which seem to know no beginning or end. In her process-driven work,

which frequently leads to series, she often works these drawings up to

such a size that she herself can only have a partial view of the whole –

while she is creating it. Papers such as absorbent, tough Japanese paper,

plotter paper and drawing papers of various strengths are saturated

with bands of colour, folded and unfolded again, stretched over things

and then unpinned. Small-format drawings are taken apart to mine

their graphic or painterly gestures and movements, gestures that sometimes

are reminiscent of signs or letters too. On long bands of paper and

in new combinations the artist brings them together anew and thinks

forward to the place she will exhibit. You almost marvel at metre-long

formats that extend well beyond the artist’s own dimensions. Only

when the artist spreads them out on the exhibition wall they are destined

for can she survey the results of the entire process and the work

as a whole. The artist has herself made brackets and brushes of specific

breadths in the past, in order then to realise metres-long brushstrokes

and lines in extended, slow steps, with measured and precise hand and

arm movements. The whole energy of one great movement is saved on

a page.

The different brushes, which the artist usually dips in black ink and

moves across the sheet, sink into her image ground as colour traces of

various strengths, leaving colour sometimes as shape, sometimes overlapping

lines. Ultimately you have the impression that surfaces and

drawn and painted lines, tonal values and gestures are all dealt with

evenly, all attended to as seriously in Maja Rieder’s works. The working

process too can always be traced.

We move along tall strips of paper that hang from the walls, differently

coloured folds, as well as the great space-filling sculpture out of honey


cardboard, which all tell how Maja Rieder follows a logic, yet

she can also abandon any concept or any fixed approach. Her works

are drawn out along the walls of different exhibition locations like a

musical score, with a soft but clear rhythm, often too with little deliberate

‘mischiefs’ added that break the monotony and lead to something


Developing consistently over many years Maja Rieder’s work shows that

she is not interested in what is concluded. Staying in motion is central

for her. One drawing catalyses new drawings, one experience leads to

the next. For her, the space of drawing is a free space. For her, something

happens in this very space which cannot be preconceived. I met her in her

studio for a conversation prior to her exhibition.

Ines Goldbach: I’d like to talk to you about some of the artistic

decisions and the characteristics which have marked your work

for many years now, things which seem key to me. For a start,

there is actual space or a given architecture that you engage with

and react to in various different ways, with what are mostly

large-scale drawings. At the Kunsthaus Baselland you have decided

to remove all the walls of the large Shedhalle space on the

lower level and to involve the whole structure of the space in its

full size. What effect will this decision have on the works you

have developed for the space and those you are still developing?

Maja Rieder: By taking the walls away I wanted to see the space as a

whole, to see it how it is laid out as a basic structure. From this I hope

that the works form a connection with the space and that this is more

easily recognisable without the additional walls dividing the space. I have

been occupied by the character of a cross, an X, for some time, and I

have always understood that it has a spatial dimension, even when it’s

in two dimensions, so I wanted to deal with the real, physical space and

to realise a work that I’d long been thinking about. The ‘conceptual basis’

of this work is a cuboid which is split along the diagonals of each of its

six sides and thus divided into 24 parts. As these forms revealed themselves

in a model it was like a discovery for me: each of the triangular

forms has four surfaces, two of which are always identical, and each

form displays a right angle. There are in total six different triangular

forms, with four of each same shape. Of course the regularity of the

triangular shapes described and how it comes into being through the

splitting is all logical, it has a mathematical basis and the forms can be

calculated. But for me, as I stumbled upon this during the process without

expecting it, it was as if I were looking at a snowflake under a microscope.

Though to come back to your question: I like being able to have

an overview directly from the entrance of the whole, raw, space. Everything

is visible at once, which seemed to me to be right for my new work

Flipper. The space has something unpolished about it, comparable with

the division of my cuboid.

IG: Considering sculpture or installation, and today painting

too, it is self-evident that real space is incorporated. With drawing,

this is perhaps not always the case. Often enough the term

drawing makes you think in any case about the limitations of

the sheet of paper. With your work you seem to think from the

outset more about space than about the page, or you start with

space, even though you would describe yourself as an artist

who draws, if I understand it correctly.

MR: I’ve always viewed drawing as something spatial as well. Naturally

it is superficially a piece of paper, a surface and as a result something

flat. Yet this very surface is also a space, the space of the paper, which

develops back into itself so to speak. Then depth can be created in this

space. It happens in the best case in my drawings: the surface of a

drawing is, for example, appreciated at first glance as the foreground,

and in the next instant can be seen equally as a surface in the imagespace

beyond. This moment where it tips from one thing to another is

important for me, because it allows this space to emerge. I think this has

to do, above all, with the stark contrasts within my drawings. In some

drawings there is simply a black or grey and the space where the paper

is left uncovered appears white. This either / or, yes / no, is what creates

the tipping point. Also because it’s not obvious if that which is ‘marked’

denotes a wall or an opening. With the surfaces or lines I don’t intend to

depict anything, but the way of reading often goes in the direction of illustrated

space all the same. This is probably so for that very reason, that

the drawings create a connection with architecture.

IG: One series of your works and drawings is based on combinations

– sheets of paper that you draw over or paint over together

during the production process are then employed as single pages

once again in the presentation, without the fact of their belonging

together being lost. It can still be felt. How do you see it?

MR: Exactly, that’s how I feel it too, that their belonging together can

still be sensed. I think that the work of the creation process takes place

in a particular atmosphere. This depends on that specific moment: the

time of day, how I feel, the paper and the light, etc. On one hand these

conditions of creation are written into the works. And on the other hand

these multi-part works, of which all the parts were produced together,

and thus contemporaneously, emerge from the same opera or scenario.

So in presentation they reveal themselves as single elements of a whole.

In this it is important that every part, every page, differs from the others

and asserts its autonomy. Maybe you feel more how the parts of a whole

belong together when they are shown individually.

IG: Does the topic of seriality play a part for you? Or is your

work about testing combinations, or maintaining a logic that

can also be discovered by viewers?

MR: Yes, I just think that several of some pages are required. Only

through repetition might it become visible that it’s about repetition, insistence

and generating a certain rhythm. Also to make it clear that the

same thing is never really the same thing; the slight shifts and small differences

then become important. The more limited a field that I examine

is, the deeper it becomes, it seems to me.

IG: You fold, bend and unfold some works in order to work with

both the folded and the drawn line on the image space – the page.

Could you describe working with drawn and folded lines more


MR: I came to folding through the technique of masking, as I first used it.

For those works created through masking, I worked with several sheets,

laying them over and under each other in a particular manner according

to a principle of my own invention, and then worked further on them.

Folding, subsequently working and unfolding again offers similar possibilities

to overlaying, working on the paper, and then arranging again

singly. Folding also cancels out the back and front of the paper format,

or there are two fronts or two backs. There’s also the possibility of

working on the paper and only then folding it, in order, for example, to

allow the pages thus created to abut once again. It’s almost comparable

to a game.

And then too there are the works that consist of paper which I placed

over a cubic framework before I worked on it. By virtue of being put on

the frame, the paper itself becomes space and divides into six facets

which I can work on individually, almost in isolation from the other

facets. Mounting the paper therefore gave me the possibility of losing

an overview of the complete format. At the end, when I take the paper

off again, the drawing also has no above or below, no left or right.

On the whole, the process – be it overlaying or folding – serves as a

means to a result that I could not have thought out myself in this way.

There is something un-directed about it, at most something initiated,

and yet something independent. And ultimately I’m also simply interested

in carrying the creation process as far as possible into the work.

For me the process is ultimately what constitutes the work.

IG: So you allow yourself to be guided by logic and principles,

but ultimately a moment of the unforeseen and surprising brings

you forward? Is this true too for your artistic process of drawing

and painting? Here I’m thinking of works such as Au contraire

(14 Teile), 2015, which you showed at the Kunsthaus in 2015 in

the context of the group exhibition Überzeichnen, in which the

material and your experience surely guided you. At the same

time, the result and the combinations subsequently enabled surely

have an inherent ability to surprise.

MR: That’s true. Often when I’m trying to stick to my ‘rules of the game’

I stumble on other conceivable paths. Just when the rule is perhaps a bit

too intractable, rubbing up against the way ‘you should really do it’ a bit.

And then there are the so-called mistakes that happen to me. The results

of these are often unusable, but ultimately transpire as exactly what they

ought to be. And with the work Au contraire (14 Teile), which you just

mentioned, it was the case, for example, that I was surprised how good

the possibility of ‘holes’ felt within the whole scenario as I had planned

it. This experience led me further in this direction, to the point where I

could push still further in the variability of a work or installation, because

I had already done so with this work.

IG: Besides spatial bodies, what part does your own body and

do your own dimensions play in the development of your work?

In works like Au contraire (14 Teile), you also speak of the

span of your arms as a limitation …

MR: Exactly, the span of my arms is decisive, or how far I can lean over

the page, how long my steps can be in order not to have to circumnavigate

a roll of paper when it’s laid out. This is the frame, if you like. In

addition to this there’s also a need to connect my work to my body and

with the possibilities of how I can operate. And I like to see my works as

my counterparts – they stand opposite me and say something. I find that

this functions better when their dimensions have something to do with

my own body. Looking properly for me is ‘seeing with the body’. Maybe

I can quickly get a visual impression of a thing from an initial look, but

in order to really see I use my whole body, and if a work has the right

proportions it helps a lot.

IG: To finish, I’d like to ask another question: you develop many

works, including those that you just mentioned, on the floor of

your studio, mostly in parts, given their size. Only when installing

do you see the work as a whole, to understand it and also to be

able to react to the space and the given architecture. Maybe this

similar to working with the large folded works, which you can

only gain an overview of on a large stage; only then can you

experience them. What does this part of the process mean to

you, given that it could be so different, if you were only to work

on image and paper planes that you had an overview of from

the very start?

MR: In fact it’s an essential part within the whole procedure that many

of these multipart works can only be seen as a whole, really looked at,

during installation. It means that I have to assume responsibility for

what has been created, even though I could not appraise it previously –

or at least not as a whole; I don’t have complete control of what happens.

It is also the case that there are generally several possibilities for my work,

as to which form a page will assume in the end, for example.

IG: That means that showing your work in public is a key part

of your work, and accords with your approach as an artist?

MR: Yes, very much so. I want, after all, to give the work space to develop.

At this point it’s not important for me to have control of the


of the individual parts put together. Ultimately, when I work

I determine the process and the material, but not without having already

tested them for their fundamental suitability. I then like to view what

emerges as one of the work’s possible ‘solutions’. In my experience, at a

given point my works can stand up for themselves; they have become

something that I instigated but I could not influence every last detail of

them. I like this notion. It leaves some space for manoeuvre – both in the

making and the viewing. It’s important to me that the works come about

through a process. The works need to start speaking themselves, and for

me that means immense patience, persistence, making mistakes, rejecting,

repeating and letting loose, both while working and afterwards.