Who are the heroin kids?
Heroin Kids is a metaphor for being young, being self-destructive, and having no future, for a naïve, child-like stumbling into a young world that’s gone to pieces.
It isn’t about the standardised young person as known from television – someone who is young, fit, self-conscious, and determined. The typical team-worker, the rational one, the one that says stuff like, “I know exactly what I want to do in life, but I’m also a bit rebellious, just a little crazy and freaky, and I’m definitely no bourgeois.” That is something we aren’t interested in. We like people who are still searching, who hurl themselves into something they cannot really fathom. So, in a way, people who are bound to fail. We like things that are unreasonable. We like wasted things, weak things, colours that have faded. That is something that inspires us, and it comes very close to Heroin Kids. Heidegger once wrote, “Failure in this world is loyalty to a life where the sole certainty is death.” We love sex, drugs, prostitution, and violence.
What do we need to know about heroin?
Nothing really. The kids in question don’t know much about it either, they just take it. Of course it is a drug that breaks you and makes an addict of you, but hey – that’s something you just have to try, it’s cool being young and wasted.
What are the borders of self-destruction?
Borders are there to be transgressed. Self-destruction is a way of life. Nietzsche said, “I love those who do not know how to live for today.” We don’t wish to determine the extent of self-destruction that is still okay or where it starts to become ‘too destructive.’ We don’t want to tell people, “Hey, you’ve gone too far, you are sick, go to rehab.” There is self-destruction, that’s just the way of the world. That’s life. However, we are only presenting an excerpt; we reflect the time of youth and the transition from childhood to adolescence. A naïve self-destruction that is able to transcend borders and does so as well – this naïveté of being able to assess these borders is full of a yearning that is sick but at the same time fascinating and beautiful. In our pictures, you won’t find the self-destruction of people who have been on the needle for twenty years. And it isn’t only about heroin, but about drugs in general as well as diseases such as anorexia and bulimia.
When did the idea to start a concept like this enter your mind?
Once we were in Amsterdam where we met a girl who took us around the city; we photographed and filmed her. She was young, and she was on heroin. Normally, that seems like a cry for help, but there was something else as well – the pictures were full of grace, fragility, and beauty. That was when we first thought about a larger project on this issue, but we cannot say that we neatly planned everything out back then, it just grew with the time, and of course, the subject of drugs has been with us for some time.
How did you choose to explore youth demons?
Youth in particular is a much-ruptured period where people often rebel without any reason – just because you want to feel life. Young people trying out drugs without being able to estimate their effects, having too much of them, ripping their clothes off to post a topless picture on Facebook.
Our models start from age 13. We do include some children’s photos in order to show the development. This is where something demonic becomes apparent as well. The kids are going through changes that are hard to grasp for their loved ones and that are impossible to control. They break up bounds that have been set. We are living in a world where 13-year-olds have coined the term ‘Komasaufen’ (something along the lines of ‘binge drinking’) and where kids send crass porn clips of themselves, made on their mobiles, around the Internet; where 14-year-olds get their girlfriends sloshed in order to rape her and film it on video. A world where very young girls smile at us from Gucci posters, sticking their tongues between their lips as if to say, “Come on, fuck me.” Every 20-year-old girl is frustrated because she wants to look like that as well. Youth is the age where beauty comes to you. This is part of what makes our pictures so ambiguous. The interplay between aesthetics, neglect, and decline. This feeling of: I can have everything, but I can also just throw it all away. Not wanting to live. Growing up with this feeling of not belonging, not being wanted, not being loved. Being constantly bugged. Like snakes, drugs whisper promises of eternal love, sex, and all-nighters in your ear. It is all about this feeling that there is no tomorrow, no more waking up. That’s something that is very strong in youth. Today, sex, drugs, and youth are more linked to each other than many youth protectors care to acknowledge.
How much time you need to finish dvd & book?
Roughly three years.
Who did collaborate with you?
There were, and are, several people who supported us in this project. To acknowledge them all here would probably go beyond the scope of this interview. In addition, some of them can’t be named, or else they would have to be afraid of reprisals, either from their employers, their social environment, or institutions of the state.
Nonetheless, we would like to mention Index Verlag who made the photo book possible and left us artistic freedom. We would like to thank the portrayed girls, without whom this project wouldn’t exist, and Tris Katone from the USA, who contributed his music to our video. Of course, we thank all the others who gave us their support as well!
Where did you find the models to make these touching sets?
That differs. Some of them are friends of us, others were spontaneous meetings at parties or out on the street … Generally, we travelled a lot during that time and photographed girls in cities such as Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam. Other girls had heard about the project and wished to join in. But there were also photo shootings that were completely staged with models.
What do you mean with “beauty is not a static thing”?
Beauty is something that may come to someone for a certain period of time. There’s not a lot you can do about it, it is just there, and it can always vanish. This is exactly what is so fascinating about beauty – the fact that it just comes to somebody, that it isn’t something that is bound to our normal experience of making and creating, but something with its very own dynamics. Beauty is something that undergoes changes. It is exactly in this change where we sense just what makes beauty so appealing, where we sense what beauty is. Youth is a period where beauty undergoes strong developments, on the inside and the outside. This is closely connected to time which just passes and which is very hard to grasp.
Beauty changes. It comes to you for a moment, and then it changes. In the life that we reflect, the life of these young girls who start taking drugs, you can sense a very aesthetic grace for a short period of time, a grace that is rather remote from life, very rare and strange. A beauty that you don’t even sense even when you possess it. Not a simple beauty, but a tragic beauty, a sickly, nearly hostile beauty, young and naïve, childlike and awkward, wild and free, feral and untended. As with wild flowers – the most beautiful flowers do not grow in gardens or avenues. It is this wild, free, and dangerous kind of beauty that we’d like to capture.
What ’s the real message behind your images?
If you’re looking for a message in our work, you’re at the wrong place. We aren’t making definite statements, and we are no anti-drugs project. Art has no educational task, art isn’t moralistic and doesn’t want to discipline. Art is a mirror of the world and the viewer. The excerpt of the world we are reflecting is one of being young. The generation of binge drinking, the generation of general apathy and boredom, having no perspectives, no future – so let’s just party and take as many drugs as possible until we don’t feel anything anymore and drop strung-out off the dance-floor. The youth our pictures tell about is a superficial, cynical generation. Just one big disappointment – getting pregnant at 14, the parents take care of the baby while the young mother undergoes a detox programme. Girls cutting their arms and starting to take heroin, all the while the parents and the media are appalled at this affluent generation who couldn’t care less. But of course there is also this intense side to it, a lot of beauty, even if it is this sick kind of beauty of being young, wasted, and burnt-out. Of course, taking drugs is awesome … and we reflect all of that in this project.
How did you become two of the most controversial German photographs?
You cannot tackle issues such as youth, drugs, nakedness, and prostitution without people feeling offended, that just goes with the territory. Add to this the fact that our pictures cannot easily be categorised in common patterns of thinking and viewing. We show beauty and yearning, but it’s not a run-of-the-mill beauty and not a ‘nice’ kind of yearning, but a beauty where most people don’t want to see it and a yearning that is sick, but also full of life, beauty, and grace. Our first Heroin Kids exhibition in Berlin was dubbed “the most unscrupulous exhibition of the year” by the yellow press, while ‘Bild Zeitung’ (Germany’s biggest tabloid) headlined: “Shocking exhibition in Berlin.” Germany’s ‘Focus’ magazine called Heroin Kids “forbidden art.” Many youth protectors and institutions of the state were aghast at the pictures, and there have been repeated attempts to ban them. In addition, there were efforts to brand our work as a cheap kind of youth pornography in order not to have to take a closer look. Once, we were even attacked physically by a ‘hater.’ On the other hand, there were people from the start who were enthusiastic about the pictures, speaking out in favour of the project and supporting us. There were girls who absolutely wanted to be on camera for this project. There are discussions and arguments about Heroin Kids, and you can see that quite a lot of people feel touched by it in some way and hence feel the need to take positions. And this shows that the pictures reflect back to the people. Art needs a viewer within whom the pictures come alive. Art needs to be controversial. It wasn’t our intention to create a particularly shocking art project. Rather, it’s the world as such that is controversial, sick, and sometimes shocking, but also full of beauty. A world that challenges us to reflect just that in our art. Art has to transgress borders. The question is: what kind of art and what kind of artists are these who do not reflect and not perceive this?
When a project garners so much attention, it only speaks for the project.
Can you spill details about your equipment?
To be honest, we aren’t that interested in the technical aspect; technology and equipment are a minor matter to us. But in case you’re interested: our main camera is a Canon 5D Mark II, and we also have a smaller single-lens reflex camera that we always have with us. It’s been through a lot, and it shows. Occasionally, we like doing analogue photos. The video was filmed with a Sony FX1e.
We’re an alternative music web source. What are your musical tastes?
We listen to loads of different music, according to our mood and condition. It starts with German Hip Hop acts such as Sido or Ratt Pack, but it also includes music from Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, Mazzy Star, Kid Rock, Britney Spears, or Velvet Underground. We can’t really be committal in that regard.
How much has Germany changed since ‘Christiane F.’ in terms of drugs?
We don’t really know how it was in the times of Christiane F. Today, there is a trend towards opiates such as codeine; tilidine is widespread in Germany, as are methadone and morphine which young people like to consume as recreational drugs. Drugs such as cocaine, diazepam, LSD, MDMA, MDPV, and speed are also common. Let’s not forget alcohol where people drink themselves into a stupor, mix that with drugs until they puke, and then start drinking again. On the whole, the people mix more, poly drug use is cool – but it also makes for a more aggressive mood and is more unpredictable. A classic example for poly drug use would be: MDMA with speed, along with alcohol and Marijuana, and then some diazepam to come down. In Germany, youngsters often start early with drug use. 13 or 14 isn’t so rare with children who grow up in affluent families. The teenagers are growing up in a world where pornography is very easy to obtain. Pornography is ubiquitous in the life of young people, and that reflects in their lives as well. Everything is more sexual. Gang-bang parties aren’t a rare occurrence in the seventh grade. On the other hand, there are numerous youth-protection projects. There are more drug campaigns than ever before. Especially in the bigger cities, drug counselling projects are very present. Almost every teenager knows about these anti-drug flyers saying that heroin is instantly addictive, and that you’ll be on the needle at once. Yet still, more drugs are being consumed than ever before. Young girls who are addicts increasingly prostitute themselves in their wider circle of acquaintances, mostly in exchange for drugs such as cocaine, but also for money. Open child prostitution on the street has become rarer. All these, however, are just our subjective estimates according to our experiences.
How many problems are you having with censorship?
There has been trouble ever since we released our first picture. Hate mails. Discussions. Threats – not only towards us, but also towards our models. Models were pressurised, there were physical attacks against us. We are accused of the pornographic depiction of teenagers. Institutions for youth protection consider our project “socio-ethically disorientating.” It was approved as to whether human dignity had been violated. We were supposed to pay a fine of 5000 Euros because we presented pictures and videos of theHeroin Kids project on our website. A complete ban of our website is being suggested. We are accused of aestheticizing drug use and reducing women to weak-willed sexual objects. What speaks against this is the fact that we have many female fans.
Several printers refused to print the photo book. A television interview with us wasn’t broadcast because the authorities prohibited it.
This general uncertainty when confronted with our pictures is something we witness in many places, but especially on the part of German youth protection. Are the pictures glorifying drugs, or are they shocking? Are they both, maybe? In any case, they need to be put away.
As our lawyer Dr. Kötz wrote so aptly, “When the Third Reich decried ‘Degenerate Art,’ both the art and the artist were under attack. Today, we see a more perfidious procedure at work: youth protection is called upon in a politically correct way, and the effect of the art on minors is deemed ‘socio-ethically disorientating.’ In this manner, censorship is being justified – and who would want to disagree there.”
Is ‘Heroin Kids’ a pessimistic art project? Can we find a kind of hope somewhere?
No, Heroin Kids is not a pessimistic art project. It is an art project about yearnings and dreams. It is full of hope and confidence. Heroin Kids is very close to life. But life can also mean to fail, and with that we mean a really fatal kind of failing. Life also means yearning for the wrong things. Yearning is something that is as sick as life itself, but at the same time it is very intense and uncontrollable.
There are many ways and means to look at the world, and each one of these ways and means offers chances. Chances to perceive beauty and grace and to reward yourself. This is one of these chances, as it mirrors the world and reflects back on the viewer. It is neither pessimistic nor does it foster hopes of this kind: “And then she went to rehab, and soon she’ll be a school teacher, and she left all of that nasty drug stuff behind her.” It is filled, however, with the hope that life is wild and free and untamed and full of beauty. Full of life you hurl yourself into.
What are your next plans?
Actually, we aren’t really planning ahead. In any case, we would like to release another photo book, and we are currently writing a book for adolescents. The subject of being young, sex, drugs, and violence will surely be with us for a long time. Oh, and we would love to move to Berlin – at least for some time. Let’s just see where life leads us then. And we are searching for further exhibition options. We like to present the photos in a life-size format, as this has quite another effect on you when you see them in an exhibition.
(Interview with an Italian Magazine 2012)