MAGAZINE

Interview with Michael Jordan

Winner of the open call 'Radical Empathy'

Michael Jordan x Kotryna Tribusinaite

Michael Jordan was born in 1972 in Erlangen, Germany. He is an illustration artist and graphic printer and his works have been exhibited in Stockholm, Shenzhen, Vienna, and Berlin, among other places. You can read about the artist here. Michael explores personalities and feelings of something that initially is not considered to have them. Let’s tap into it.

Michael, can you tell us what your background is and how you decided to become an artist in the first place?

I studied illustration and then continued my studies in Vienna. I studied printmaking and applied arts there. And I think that was when I started to see myself as an artist and not so much as a craftsman, which I initially thought I would become in the first place.

I’ve seen that you currently draw, illustrate, create stories. Is there an ideology behind your art? What inspires you? Your artwork seems quite Kafkaesque in a way. Do you have other artists who have inspired you, or is it that it comes completely out of you?

My surroundings inspire me. I felt the lack of inspiration a lot during the pandemic crisis because that’s what everyday life has become. But in general, I’m also inspired by the people around me, as well as the media. Of course, I have many artists that always inspire me, and honestly, I have to say that it always changes a little bit. There isn’t one artist that is my idol, there are several of them. I love discovering new artists and going to exhibitions. My first exhibition I actually went to after the lockdown was by Neo Rauch in Berlin last week. That was very inspiring.

From your work, you seem to be quite connected to nature. Am I wrong or is that true? How did you get this inspiration, what was the process towards it?

Yes, nature is all around us, but also in the news – for example, the climate crisis. I would say it’s a pressing issue that’s urgent. For me, it was something that kind of just came up or developed, the continuation of my comic narration “Why we are tired” (Warum wir müde sind). I had this discussion with my comic group, Tonto. I think two years ago we were talking about Beuys and just discussing whether he was appealing to right-wing collectors or nationalist collectors. During that discussion, I started doing sketches of him in my sketchbook. I ordered this book about “Beuys talks about trees” (Gespräche über Bäume) and, you know, his tree project in Kassel. And I had the idea to do this comic.

So “Der Fall Birke” (Engl. “The Case of Birch”) is the artwork with which you participated in the open call “Radical Empathy”. Can you tell us a bit more about the thought process: Where did you initially find the connection?

I thought radical empathy is not only focused on humans, but also on nature, and in this case – on the birch [tree]. The Birch is like a young woman and the story is about a case where she was molested. Moravec, the main character of the comic, is accused of molesting the Birch. So I tried to evoke empathy for nature by writing the characters metaphorically.

 

Detail from Michael Jordan artwork "Der Fall Birke" (Eng. The Case of Birch)

And then who is the molester, metaphorically speaking?

I would leave that question open; I can’t really answer it.

Have you created other artworks that you associate with empathy, or is that not really a subject you usually create about?

Empathy is part of, I would say, a lot of my work, but usually, it’s not so much related to nature. It’s more about people and the misunderstandings between them where the lack of empathy is a factor.

What other artistic projects are you working on at the moment if any?

Right now I’m working on a project called “Erlangen Noir” which has to do with the feeling of uncanny. There were some uncanny stories that happened in the town I lived in after World War II. When you look at the old photos or other footage about West Germany it’s always very uncanny, but I am also very drawn to those images. I also read a book about it “BRD Noir” from Frank Witzel to Philipp Felsch. So I contacted two authors and they wrote stories about uncanny happenings while I drew the illustrations for these stories. Now we have ten episodes.

Foto © Harald Sippel from https://www.ansichten-des-jordan.de/

The term “Radical Empathy’ notion was created based on the novel written in 1999 by the founder of Konjugate and wendy.network – Michael Mastrototaro. I was wondering if it evokes any kind of other thoughts about radical empathy for you (besides those expressed in your work)? What does radical empathy mean to you or your society today? What does radical mean in this context?

Empathy is a challenge to imagine the feelings of others. Radical may lie in total understanding or even obsession with the feelings of others. Fortunately, I don’t have that ability, because it could lead to insanity. Besides, it means understanding yourself and connecting with other people. Maybe that’s why I thought I could interpret this question in the context of nature: We don’t know anything about the feelings of trees. So then I can imagine something and make up a story; that’s easier for me than trying to grasp another person’s feelings.

Fresh perspective. A lot of people don’t think about empathizing with something that doesn’t speak or show emotion. Thank you so much for your time.

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