Andy Kassier is a German artist leaning into social media culture, using Instagram as a platform to post but also subverting its functions as a tool for storytelling and personal branding by creating a fabricated persona. On his personal social media pages, Kassier publishes self-portraits presenting his alter-ego to the world. The character created by the artist has been evolving over the years. At first, in 2013 Andy Kassier’s Instagram account presented a successful businessman who used to add motivational quotes beneath his self-portraits filled with status symbols such as banknotes, suits, cars, and even horses. After burn-out, a wide spread disease in developed countries, the businessman started to become more and more spiritual inspiring others to love themselves more, and soon, he shifted into a different career path.
You started as a businessman who burnt out later and then the businessman started to become more and more spiritual and eventually became an artist. Despite such a striking change of character, affirmations remained a constant to your posts. Affirmations are often connected with anxiety, and mostly they are used by people who have irrational fears to get the motivation to do something. Have you ever experienced burnout and where did you find references to be able to recreate this experience on Instagram?
I can just generally feel what is going on with all the people around me, and of course, at times I feel the same. At some point, you may realize that work is nice, but it is probably not the thing that makes you happy and then it may be helpful to think about what your life could be like if you just worked less, for example. And to try not to see work as a priority anymore.
I have a feeling there are not a lot of people that are lying on their deathbed thinking, “Oh my God, the only thing I regret about my life is that I haven’t worked enough”.
While scrolling through your Instagram account the follower can get motivated and also enjoy irony and parody. Do you take this spiritual part seriously?
There is a grain of truth in every joke. I am not defining what it is. I am just putting it out there hoping people will see something in it.
Also, art is about having fun. Why not make it in a fun way?
You have amazing hashtags. What’s your favourite hashtag?
For a few weeks my favorite hashtag might be #5Dconsciousness. I’ve just come up with it and it’s very funny.
Do you write motivational quotes by yourself or do you take inspiration from somewhere else?
In regards to spirituality or self-love, I consume content from that field on a conscious level and unconsciously it will come out of me, but transformed.
It takes courage to always show your face. Do you feel comfortable being objectified?
I feel very privileged to be in a male body and therefore I am less objectified than most women on this planet. There are things that you can change and there are things you only can accept or work against. It’s hard to say that I don’t care, but it’s just my body, I’m not my body, I’m way more than my body, my body is just what you see. But if I can make people happy when they just look at me, isn’t it great?
I remember you had a performance in which you were coaching visitors. Do you have your own coach?
I had a few coaches, yes. But all of them came after I did that performance. Now I am at a point where I can see that every person you meet and every interaction you have can teach you something. It gets really interesting when you are open enough to stop judging people and see that your reaction to what they are doing is showing you something inside yourself that you can work on.
But the performance was very nice. I was trying to play the role of someone who I am definitely not. I was sitting in the 80s sports car in front of the museum and everyone could pop by and get 15 minutes of coaching. But my idea was to be as little of a coach as possible in terms of preparation. My whole preparation was reading about 20 coaching questions half an hour before the session. The interesting question about this performance was how easy it is to play a role and to make people believe that you are someone that you are actually not, just by giving them a superficial impression. Because as soon as you put on a suit you become a business guy. And you adopt this identity of a business guy.
How successful was it? Did they truly believe in themselves afterwards?
Yeah, I have a feeling that people, in general, are very desperate for help. People really appreciate and need and want help with their self-development. Everyone, in the end, just wants to be happy and peaceful. They just don’t yet know how to reach this goal.
Do you try to create something in particular to please the public?
There are definitely specific things, ideas, objects or attributes that look well on Instagram and bring you more likes. I know that I probably can get more likes when I post a close-up of a face or a naked photo. It works well in general. On the other hand, this is not a concept of my work. I use Instagram as a medium, so even if I need to post a picture that is very important for the narrative I will post it no matter if it is going to get a lot of likes or not. It still belongs to the concept and hence it is important to post it. My goal is not to reach a big number of followers or become an influencer but to keep to my concept. And therefore everything I do is good the way I do it.
It is also very interesting to interact with my followers and even ask them what they would like to see or what they found particularly interesting in seeing what I did. As an artist, I have a feeling that other people can tell you way more about your work than you can tell yourself. You set one perspective on your artwork but other people have different perspectives, therefore it gets very interesting what they can see in it.
Did you get any discounts or free items as an influencer?
Sometimes people ask me if they can send me something or if they can advertise something. I am not completely against it. Usually, an influencer has a specific role that he or she plays, so it’s very easy to recognise an influencer’s account. I have a feeling that it’s hard to understand what I am actually doing if you don’t know the concept. People think: “What the fuck is going on? What’s this guy doing with his life?” The results is that not so many brands want to work with me, which is fine.
Sometimes I just hang very big images of myself somewhere on a billboard and then people just don’t know what it is supposed to mean.
Do you have haters?
Sometimes there are haters and I love it. I really love my haters, because they give me absolute proof that my work is genius. They show me that it triggers something in them. The best thing that I can do is enable a feeling in you without you needing to understand the artwork.
Have you ever participated in a public scandal?
I don’t hate scandals, I’ve had a few ideas about using them. It actually would be fun to do something of that sort. I wouldn’t say no to this idea, because I enjoy watching how the media and public relations work. But the PR that I use is just normal press in a sense of doing interviews or people writing about my work. No big scandals. Sometimes I just hang very big images of myself somewhere on a billboard and then people just don’t know what it is supposed to mean.
Instagram reach is decreasing and they are thinking about getting rid of likes. Have you thought about moving to another platform?
I work very slowly. Even though I have a goal to put my work in the context of the “zeitgeist”, I have a feeling that it will come when it comes. There is no stress or rush and as long as I see Instagram working I will continue using it. Even though it probably won’t be a complete transfer of platforms, it’s more like an extension. Like photography didn’t kill painting — things will just be added to existing ways. The funny thing is that last year I started doing more sculptural pieces and paintings, which is actually the opposite of using another digital platform. I moved into the physical realm, the real world. But it’s also always a combination of things and also doing room installations when I do exhibitions, for example.
Your persona is male. What are your ideas about gender?
Generally, there are subconscious ideas of gender roles that come from advertising and television. There you get an idea of how male or female should look and behave. You adapt to this, but it happens on a subconscious level, without you even knowing. And then it’s interesting to see how roles are represented on Instagram. I did this work “How to take a selfie” where I impersonated about 60 different male roles. It is also very interesting to see how males represent themselves. And now the narrative gets a bit more spiritual and it feels like the planet is going through thе spiritual awakening. Therefore it’s very interesting for me what kinds of roles spiritual people are using. Being an artist also means playing being an artist. But to break it down, in the end, everything you do is a role. Even visiting your grandmother is playing a role for your grandmother.
Are you connected with your true self?
The question is always with whom in your surroundings you feel free to be yourself completely, and then it gets interesting because you realize these are the people you want to spend more time with and you don’t have to play a role when you are together. Or less of a role. And of course, if you’re alone you can be your true self. You don’t have to be afraid to be judged, because there is no one to judge you, except yourself. I guess meditation can really help you in finding your true self.
Are you afraid of anything?
Of course, there are always things you are afraid of, because you live in this real world, so you have things to be scared of. But getting less fear in life and acting with less fear is definitely a good step in the right direction.
Talking about spirituality, do you consider yourself a religious person? Do you have a “god-figure”? Maybe not a particular name but just something?
I would say that there is definitely more in this world or planet than the things we can see and name. But for me, religion is just a construct that goes in that direction. I think religion is great as a first step, but it’s not the end. It can help a lot of people by giving them a little bit of structure, which is good. But a lot of institutionalised religions have done not such good things. For example, the Catholic Church in the last 1500 years probably could have done better. If they could acknowledge that it would be OK.
Who are your favourite artists among new contemporary or emerging artists if you have any?
I like a Canadian artist Rodney Graham. He is a very nice guy who also did photography and then fully switched into playing the role of a conventional artist. I always like people who break the system, thus I like Damien Hirst because at some point he also started playing with the whole art world. I like Maurizio Cattelan. But I also like Jurgen Klauke, a German artist who was intensely working on gender and body in the ’70-’80s.
I like a lot of people that are not artists. There are also a lot of tech people who I think have a very interesting way of seeing the world: indie startupers, people who build businesses on their own just on the internet and are doing that without funding. Business people are also creative people. In general, my biggest interest is people who destroy structures in a constructive way or use structures and then break out of them, because it is also my approach to life.
Maybe you also get inspiration or just love a particular period of art history?
No, not at all. I like working with either the concept of myself or feelings, but I’m not great at art history. Sometimes I produce something and then someone says, “Hey look, another artist did that 20 years ago!” And then I’m like “Cool, must be a good guy or girl or whatever.” So I create what comes to my mind and if people have done it before it is great because then I can use it as a reference. It is very interesting to see how things always are interconnected.
In general, I definitely feel more connected to all the people with and on social media because we are doing similar things. Take Andy Picci, an Italian-Swiss digital artist, for example. Our artworks were quite similar: we both were making self-portraits, but he got more into 3D and I am still making the same self-portraits as I did before. My technique hasn’t changed, except that I’m also painting and sculpting now. Without talking to each other we got into the same things but using different mediums. I did a series this year about self-love and he also did an artwork about self-love, it’s very interesting how connected everything is.
Andy Kassier. The Secret To My Success, 2016.
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
”Work smart, not hard,” would definitely be the one, or ”Have less fear.” People always tell you: “Oh, you can’t do this,” because they are scared of doing it. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. It’s just their way, they are just sharing their experiences and their life. It doesn’t mean that older people are not smart, they are, it’s just their perspective.
Here’s a good example: I founded a gallery with two of my friends and I did a solo exhibition there last year. Some people were telling me that I am not allowed to open my own gallery because I am an artist. And I can’t have a show in a little-known gallery because of the status of other spaces where I usually exhibit. But eventually, it doesn’t matter because it’s about sharing the art with people that are interested in it. And in the end, from the perspective of this year, this was one of the best things I’ve done.
Also, it is important to think about the intentions of those who tell you that you can’t do something. Where does it come from? Is it because they are supporting you and they want to protect you from going through pain or is it because they are jealous? Also, be clear about your intention in whatever you do. If you’re doing an exhibition, but you are actually only doing it for money is it necessary? Do you believe that you need this money to survive? It’s just stripping life down. If you have less noise in life you can see way clearer what comes up.
Be alone with yourself. If you can’t be alone then you have to learn to be. The Corona crisis pushed a lot of people to this. It was hard for many because then you can’t distract yourself anymore and have to face your inner shadows which are coming up. It’s your decision how to deal with them.
That’s true, quite often critics are just projections and are not about you, but about others.
You basically want to get to a point where everything you do and eat and use around yourself is lifting you up and not putting you down. If you have a feeling that people are putting you down, if you eat food that makes you feel bad and if you have thoughts that make you feel sad — life won’t be that easy.
What’s your main motivation?
I think the highest goal you can reach on this planet is to be of service to others. In the sense of giving something to other people without pushing your own ego, which means that you help people and you’ll be happy to help them even if they are not grateful for it. I think this is the highest goal.
Well, that’s a bit of a Christian idea.
Is it Christian? I didn’t know, I had no fucking idea. For me it’s just love, it’s like sharing love. It’s not easy, but if you can give something without wanting something back I think it’s the best thing I can do. Because from my perspective one of the biggest problems on this planet is that people always want something back for whatever they do. Except maybe your grandmother. She just gives and gives and gives and never asks for anything in return.
Wow, I gained so much wisdom today.
Yes, that was my ‘teacher’ part.
A version of this interview was also published on Artslooker.