The press release reveals little of what to expect, providing only a quote from performer Grace Jones, “But still, built into me was this button – when pressed, the button would save me. I don’t know if I was in charge of this button, or if someone somewhere praying for me was in charge of it.”
Patrick Fabian Panetta is presenting solo exhibition A Journey Through Vibrant Space at Berlin’s Exile,opening November 25 and running to December 17.
The press release sites The Land of Nod, an English idiom taken from a place in the book of Genesis (from the Bible). Located ‘east of Eden’ it’s where Cain fled to after murdering his brother Abel, condemning himself to a life of wandering the land alone forever.
The exhibition places itself within this “imaginary realm of sleep and dreams” that the vast and vacant landscape denotes, exploring what it means to emerge from sleep, “a restless subconsciousness surrounded by a state of external quiescence, providing the mind with a protection for regeneration.”
The only image related to his forthcoming exhibition on the gallery’s website looks like another A4 printout with a small black and white photo on the top left corner of a ‘goth’ woman holding a box of Life cereal.
Of the aforementioned artists, Lippard, Kohout and Warwick have each taken part in an aqnb x Video in Common video editorial collaboration, with each artist extrapolating on their work across disciplines, including spoken word, publishing or even script-writing.
Artist and writerTravis Jeppesen is presenting his first solo show New Writing at Berlin’s Exile, opening May 5 and running to May 28.
The artist’s exhibition looks at text in relation to image, language, calligraphy, text and abstraction. The two-dimensional work explores how the eye decodes systems of communication, and how the medium of language functions in the context of the gallery space.
Jeppesen writes in the form of poetry, art criticism and his previous novels include Victims, Wolf at theDoor and The Suiciders. Known as the founder of object-oriented writing, his practice investigates the inner lives of objects and how they speak through a metaphysical form of art writing. His book 16 Sculptures featured as audio installation and was also shown in an exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art in London studying Critical Writing in Art and Design.
Steven Warwick‘s NEUTRAL solo exhibition is on at Berlin’s Exile gallery, opening January 30 and running to March 5.
The show announcement comes accompanied by a text called ‘Figuring ‘Space” by philosopher and editor Robin Mackay, a detailed examination of the notion of ‘space’ as part of the “architecture–retail–real-estate–contemporary art complex”, and its inherently parasitic nature of “artisanal violence”:
“There is nothing that Berlin really stands for, except being cheap and cool, and drunk and druggie…it’s the potential to shape something, says a tech pioneer of his proposed ‘startup campus’ in the city.”
Berlin-based artist and musician, Warwick (aka Heatsick) works largely with immersive multimedia installations and performances, releasing music on PAN, and more recently presenting a play called Neonliberalat Cafe OTO in London.
Expect, perhaps, the history and development of East Berlin’s squat culture in a neoliberal context to play a role in the NEUTRAL exhibition, described by Mackay as “scenes that became photopathological simulacra laminated onto their own re-re-re-representation”.
At first glance, the works on show in the Ausstellung 61 group exhibition, starting during Berlin Art Week on September 16 and running to October 10, don’t seem to have much in common. Rare photocopies of 80s feminist forebears, an old mattress from an early Exile project space in Mitte with a profile picture printed on it… The participating artists span a broad spectrum and it could be that the three week exhibition is more of an introduction to what will come, as well as what has been. It’s the first show in the gallery’s new space at Kurfürstenstrasse 19, and its press release comes with an ominous selection of images of deep sea creatures accompanied by the words: “AT THE NIGHT THE CREATURES COME UP FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR OCEANS”.
“Normally I don’t like hallway art but this one fitted in so well”, Exile organiser Christian Siekmeier says while standing in front of Patrick Fabian Panetta’s colour blocked painting hanging between the two exhibition rooms and titled ‘00:03 min. / Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (September 2014)’. The artist records himself browsing through online museum and gallery sites that are becoming more and more interactive and complex. After investigating his own mouse movements through these sites he then chooses a detail that he then paints. In this case the result is rather minimal, equal big black and green surfaces.
Most of the other works are also wall pieces, Erik Niedling’s Pyramid Paintings series were produced when the artist chose to live like it was his last year on earth. Burning his belongings and previous works, he then used their ashes as material for new ones. In ‘Untitled #2’ (2014) he spread the soot on the canvas, folded it repeatedly until he was happy with the outcome. In materialising the sort of brutal self-criticism that can happen in an artist studio, unsatisfactory works would be burned again and would in turn become material for the future.
‘ooooo’(2012) by TM Davy is a series of five square paintings containing a sphere in varied lighting, hung up with uneven space between them and creating tension between the repeated subject. ‘Escultura de Verano (Poéticas del Objeto)(2012)’ by Spanish collective Aggtelek is the only sculpture in the first room. The fragile yellow structure with a collage of travel-related images attached to it was originally a part of a larger showcase-like installation, with each object being inspirited with ideas about the present.
Nathalie Du Pasquier, one of the founders of the postmodern collective Memphis, is mostly known for her extravagant patterns that are still a source of inspiration in contemporary design. Since 1987, her focus has mostly been on oil painting and ‘Futures (Mazinger)’ (2007) is a colourful example of it, featuring an animated robot in a domestic situation. Meanwhile, a mixed media collage by Polish-German artist Katharina Marszewski, ‘She’, hangs with its title’s text written on a blue background beside it.
In another room, New York-based minimal artist Kazuko Miyamoto poses in front of an unfinished open-cube sculpture by Sol Lewitt as part of a performance. Miyamoto lived in the city during a time of growing critical awareness and political engagement among women artists and ‘Stunt (Performance at 181 Chrystie Street, 1981)’ is a unique photocopy documentation of a performance from that period. Gwenn Thomas’s ‘Documentation of Joan Jonas Performance Delay Delay’, (1972, printed 2012) shows a group of people in the act of drawing white circles on an industrial site in Manhattan. Thomas often documented Jonas and other performance artists and is probably best known for her portraits of experimental filmmaker Jack Smith on the set of his sexually ambiguous and “controversial featurette” Flaming Creatures (1963).
Jordan Nassar works with his background as an Arab-Polish-American, developing his own style of embroidery based on the cultural heritage of these countries, resulting in the subtle and fragile works of ‘Untitled’. Tote bags lie open on the floor, disposable gloves filled with colourful biodegradable materials are lit up inside of it. Martin Kohout’s ‘Skinsmooth Hover Hand NEG’ (2015) slowly melts, resulting in colour and form of the sculpture. The Czech-born, Berlin-based artist has exhibited similar works in Grunewald forest, where they eventually became part of the earth or were eaten by wild animals. It’s a fascination with the object that drives a lot of Kohout’s artistic concerns, something he explains in a two part video interview with aqnb and Video in Common taken earlier this year.
A dirty flower pattern mattress lies in the corner of the Exile space with two A4 photocopies carefully placed on top of it, two others are situated on the exhibition room’s heater. ‘Pansy Parker’s profile picture- at Ausstellung 61. Exile Gallery- 16.09.-10.10.2015 (A4 prints, window, mattress, neon lights)’ (2015) is a site- and time-specific installation. The prints show the same photo in different sizes and similar to the title display the materials in the work and floor plan. Christophe De Rohan Chabot became interested in Parker Tilghman’s identities; the drag persona as well as their self-portrayal on social media. It could have something to do with the latter artist’s involvement in the public backlash to Dries Verhoeven’s Grindr performance, ‘Wanna Play?’, where the Dutch artist projected private conversations from the networking app on an LED panel from a container outside HAU in Berlin. The motive for Chabot’s paper print remediation of the Pansy Parker profile photo is unclear but, like the rest of the images in Austellung 61, it makes a strong claim to the idea that there’s more to a pic than its pixels. **
Exile gallery is hosting the second part of Florin Maxa‘s solo exhibition, Fractures of Neglect, running at their 128 Rivington St. location in New York from November 23 to December 20.
The nomadic gallery currently operates, interchangably and at times simultaneously, out of both New York and Berlin, and the Rivington St. show comes on the heels of the exhibition’s debut in Berlin on November 8 (which is also running until December 20).
The Romanian-born artist holds a Ph.D. from Cluj-Napoca’s University of Art & Design and has been showing in solo exhibitions since the late 60s. Fractures ofneglect brings together his work spanning from 1973 to 1981, many of which are often coloured with winter-y landscapes and glass works reminiscent of abstracted snowflakes.
Exile and Gallery Onetwentyeight are pairing up this fall to re-install a piece two decades after its original appearance with Redrawing Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 731, running at the NYC space from September 6 to October 12.
Exile, having recently packed up in Berlin and set up camp at Gallery Onetwentyweight’s Rivington St. space, is collaborating with the gallery to re-exhibit the work in its original space, 21 years after its first and only installation.
The tripartite piece, intentional to this original Rivington St. site, extends itself over three walls of the space, creating a visual dialogue of opposing colours and parallel shapes in the empty space between. With everything, including the setting, identical to its 1993 exhibition, Redrawing Sol LeWitt becomes as much a meditation on time as it is a sensory experience – a way of asking, can you ever really step into the same river twice?
Artist Martin Kohout is celebrating the one-year anniversary of Gotthard, a project for which he ran the distance of Switzerland’s Gotthard Road Tunnel at Berlin’s Exile, June 13.
The almost 17-kilometre tunnel is the third longest in the world, weaving through the Lepontine Alps and connecting to the Italian and German-speaking regions of the country. Taking advantage of the tunnel’s temporary closing for maintenance, Kohout ran the distance of this architectural masterpiece.
Kohout will also be using the opportunity to launch the latest of his TLTRPreß publications Sleep Cures Sleepiness, also responsible for 2012’s brilliant Linear Manual.
I wondered at first whether it wasn’t one giant art world joke. The final show of Exile’s Berlin manifestation required that guests RSVP by email, print their confirmation, and face the bouncer at the gates. The idea of a printed RSVP was the first thing that irked me. In these hyper-digital times it seems impertinent to require a hardcopy of anything.
In the courtyard of the unknown Kreuzberg apartment building where we gathered, there were people milling about outside of the pop-up bar. It occurred to me – and not just for a second – that maybe we’d been duped. Maybe the so-called “imaginary” collection of Mr. Kempinski was just that: imaginary. I was already skeptical of a show with 60 participating artists and it all seemed to make perfect sense that they would give such a mysterious aura to the event, only to enhance the spectacle when we all showed up for nothing.
Happily, my suspicion was wrong. An elevator took us up to the top floor of the apartment complex where we were ushered into the main ‘gallery’ space. It was something like a showroom for luxurious condo living – a kitchen, bed, couch, and coffee table were all in place but in an eerily artificial way. More like the set design of what an apartment should look like.
In the entrance hallway, on the balcony, on pretty much every surface, there were works of art. With the exception of a handful of videos, the show was remarkably paper and canvas-heavy.
Not being able to fully absorb all the works was invigorating. It made it easier to take in the whole atmosphere. After feverishly trying to match names with pieces I settled down in a corner and looked at the room as a whole. Paintings, sculptures, and photographs were leaning against walls, some propped on the floor or on windows. The accompanying exhibition write-up, divided the space into 14 sections – kitchen, balcony, living area, south wall, etc. – but the titles of works were omitted. Whether it was an intentional commentary on the cult of the Artist or not, this unease at identifying pieces was a welcome change from the usual format.
Further blurring the easy reception of the works, some of the artists who were well-known to me, like Hanne Lippard and Martin Kohout, presented uncharacteristic pieces in the show (alongside some of their more well-known works). Kohout showed ‘hot glue drawings on mesh’ and Lippard a small watercolour drawing of birds. The show also featured one of Lippard’s characteristic voice-driven videos and will later present a one year anniversary celebration by Kohout on the evening of June 13, to commemorate his Gotthard Tunnel Runin Switzerland during LISTE Basel last year. Polish artist Katharina Marszewski exhibited one of her collages under plexi glass, which tied seamlessly with the aesthetic of the show as a whole. Marszewski’s minimalist works reflect the kind of subdued yet dexterous pieces that would make up a private collection (whether fictional or not) on view in a home setting.
There were few loud works in the show, pieces that took all the attention. But the playful sculpture by Aggtelek was eye-catching in this cluttered context. It stood on the floor across the room from a detailed costume by Nadja Abt, the two seeming to respond to each other in their performative stillness.
The ‘collection’ presented in this show is defined as fluctuant and the curators – Exile Berlin’s Christian Siekmeier and New York-based curator Billy Miller – ask viewers to reflect upon the relationship between art and collecting. Though the exhibition was far-reaching in terms of content, the curators managed to ground the show with a central display table presenting books of published works by many of the artists. The ‘library’ provided a space amidst the works to make sense of their authorship. But ultimately, I found the relative anonymity of the exhibition refreshing. **
Keeping true to its name Exile gallery in Berlin is closing its doors to Kreuzberg and moving after February 15.
Announcing they’ll be re-opening in New York in early September this year, people in the German city will have one last chance to see the space and view Martin Kohout‘s 5006 years of daylight and silent adaptation in the meantime.
American Psycho: Bret Easton Ellis’ bleak portrait of modern capitalism is a world populated by high-powered male ‘hardbodies’ who, essentially, do nothing. It’s the performative affect of their jobs that features, the accoutrements and status symbols thatdrive them as they navigate their own corporate malaise with a psychotic twist.
That’s an idea and an aesthetic that seems to come through in Berlin-based Czech artist Martin Kohout’s work, especially prevalent in his current exhibition at Exile, 5006 years of daylight and silent adaptation. Among other pieces, the show includes a series of “Daylight” lamps –used as a remedy for the depressive symptoms of Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) –displayed in the main room of the Kreuzberg gallery. This kind of light therapy is supposed to enter through the retina, so the lamps are usually constructed to sit on a desk. Ideally, you would absorb such light from directly above, in the morning and at a close range for the best effects. Kohout’s presentation of them seems to counteract this intended use; they’re placed on the floor and covered with clear plastic. Additionally, the windows of the space are pasted with a modified version of the “Daylight” instructional manual –since published through his own TLTRPreß –which blocks out the real, natural sunlight that would otherwise flood in from the courtyard.
Kohout tells us that the first edition of this project, ‘Boosted MCK24.OG’, was designed for the Frankfurt offices of corporate consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Invited to create a piece for their workplace, he used the opportunity as a testing ground for the show at Exile. “At first”, he says at a café near the gallery, “I wasn’t sure if I should do it, if I wanted to be associated with these people. But I had been reading about it a lot, sociologically, and I realized this is the only chance I can get so close to them, and not just read about it.”
The McKinsey contingent of this so-called Boosted series (not open to the general public) will stay in the office for a year. The lamps are timed to go on for two hours in the morning, but Kohout says the office employees usually unplug the timer and sit in front of it on their coffee breaks to absorb the euphoric rays: “I do appreciate this little hack they perform to the piece,” he adds later via email, “breaking the distance between an artwork and a functional contribution to the space, potential advice to the advisers.”
The show at Exile investigates these absurd consumer items that seek to make life under capitalism easier, that help you not only to survive but also to produce at a higher rate.The Boosted lamps and Kohout’s Survival Guides –a series of ‘self-help’ book covers masked in “privacy foil” and also exhibited there –share a common thread with his wider aesthetic interests. The lamps are devices imbued with the optimism of its bright light but often referred to as SAD lamps, while the automatic, gestural pencil drawings of the Survival Guides are presented among the black walls and distanced cold perfection of the Exile space. It’s that contrast of personal spontaneity and industrial precision that underpins 5006 years of daylight and silent adaptation –the human face behind hardline productivity.
Not surprisingly then, an interview with Kohout is as conceptually loaded as his work and creative interests. From here, correspondence extends well beyond an initial chat in person on a typically dark January afternoon in Berlin, to an email back-and-forth of ideological expansion and factual clarification on his ideas of hibernation, productivity and the absurdity of corporate branding.
What’s the thinking behind the Boosted series in your Exile show?
Martin Kohout: When I got the lamps for the first version, the booklet said “Daylight Manual” on the cover. Then I noticed that the manufacturer is called “Zero Plus Limited”, the street address is New Territories, and the article number 123. I thought: “Is this a joke?” It was all too good.
The show is super seasonal in a way. The lamps are used mainly in winter, when there is a lack of daylight exposure. And it was also weirdly fitting for the last Exile show at its current location. I was really interested in the lamps because what you get from them is what we all already know. Because people use them to substitute going out into the fresh air.
Humans still do hibernate to a certain extent. If you look back centuries, in the winter there was a big scarcity of food and sources of energy. If you’re a bit depressed, you eat less and sleep more in order to survive it better.
The late-night culture in Berlin means you have such a small window of daylight hours, waking up so late…
MK: What fascinates me about the lamps is the broader idea of how you can calibrate your body. A part of the ideological background is ‘productivity’. People don’t want to be depressed or sleepy, called lazy. They want to be productive.
Most of us in the western world are working at a desk facing a computer, physically performing very much the same activities, mentally doing various sorts of managerial jobs, connected to others randomly around the world and around the clock. Which radically blurs time zones, distances etc. So let’s bring the daylight to yourself!
The lamps should be used in the morning, to simulate natural cycles and affect your circadian rhythm, because your body listens to outside signals called Zeitgeber —from German: literally, the ‘time givers.’ Those can be for example the rhythm of your day activities, or, more importantly, the times you get in contact with natural light, from when, and for how long. So the trick is to simulate early sunrise and make your body assume it’s Spring or Summertime.
Yes, it is natural to feel this depression that’s since been identified as a ‘disorder’ that we have to cure, in order to maintain productivity levels.
MK: It’s a little unacceptable to even complain about these kinds of things, when you have devices and drinks to help you with it. The most effective of these lamps is the one that literally wakes you up.
We should just have the SAD lamps built into our computer screens directly.
MK: Have you heard of these things like f.lux or EasyEyez? They’re an application that change the colour temperature of your screen throughout the day. There is a lot of artificial light surrounding us constantly that can function as this background noise influencing your circadian rhythm, that prevents you from calming down because our body is a kind of a clock as well, so this helps you to ease into sleep at night.
This is an interesting trend in your work, dealing with the absurdities of corporate branding aesthetics, as well the hand modeling in your piece ‘Skinsmooth’. They are so disturbing in a way…
MK: I don’t want my work to function as an extension of corporate branding. The ‘Skinsmooth’ piece came from my interest in the topic of hygiene, which later connected with interest in the conditions of work, in Western capitalism in particular. There is not much time schedule in the workplace now, in this kind of precarious and mainly cognitive labour. There is an expectation to always be available, via email, phone. You don’t request emails to be sent to you but yet you are required to respond in time. It’s a forced dialogue with a pretty fixed expectation.
Everyone is assumed to be attached to their devices and non-response is near impossible.
MK: Yes. At McKinsey I talked to people who experience these conditions in an extreme form – working up to 70hrs a week and often being abroad 4 days a week, Monday to Thursday. You’d need a handbook on how to deal with jetlag. The lamps aid the process of putting you in this structure, as part of a machine, because your metabolic clock is usually out of sync with your local environment. Well-oiled bodies…
I saw your performance at Exile. Is this performance or music element something you do regularly?
MK: It was the first time I performed as TOLE live. The music helps me to approach my work differently, in a more intuitive way. There’s also a recent series of videos called ‘Cocoa’ that are kind of abstract animations developed from videos on my smartphone camera. I started approaching them in a similar way to making my music.
You work with a lot of different media… lots of text as well.
MK: I have a short-fiction text, which is in the Exile show, about these 24/7 work conditions that is excerpted on the window covering.I studied cinematography before I came to Berlin in 2008. I think a lot of things I do I understand as scripts or instructions. Sometimes I just give instructions to be executed, or just show the scripts of things that have been realized without my presence, but the logic of these instructions you can repeat informs most of my work.
For example the piece called ‘The Script Involving a Language Teacher’ has been realized three times in different cities but I have not seen it actually happen, there is no record. It’s up to the teacher, whether or how he or she deals with the script.
Also my Youtube channel Watching Martin Kohout was developed from an instruction that I decided to perform myself.
It’s a project I like for the fact that I could not foresee how it would evolve and even though I stopped taking more videos, it’s still sort of growing. I recently read about these Samsung Smart TVs with a camera in them, that there was a security hole in the code, where people could actually hack in and watch others watching TV.
And what about these ‘Sticks’ that you do? I saw one at the V4ULT show last year. They seem beautifully made for a purpose but also simultaneously bizarrely anti-functional…
MK: There are two series of the sticks, Class A and Class B. They are made of aluminum tubes, various bike or sport grip tapes, leather lines for wristbands and painted at a professional paint shop. Each is unique as if made for a specific person as if ordered from a stick-maker.
The Class B are made of tubes I just found in a scrap yard, and spray painted them in the studio. Class B is for those who cannot afford to go to the workshop and so they make the sticks themselves in some garage. So there is a status related to these versions. The stick has a long history with a reference to power. **
Hanne Lippard’s artistic medium is her voice, so naturally I’m thrilled to meet up with her for a conversation. Over the past weeks I’ve been listening to her work –online and in galleries –and as a result her soothing, hypnotic tone has become quite familiar. When we meet at a small café in Kreuzberg, I feel like I’m having coffee with an old friend.
The first thing I think to associate her work with is Vanessa Redgrave’s mesmerizing narration of the latest Patrick Keiller film, Robinson in Ruins. I mention it but Lippard hasn’t seen it, so my reference falls a bit flat. The similarities are nevertheless there. It’s a subdued and pensive discussion of British landscape, architecture and spatial memory, where Redgrave, like Lippard, reflects the subject matter seamlessly with the use of her unwavering vocal register.
Lippard trained professionally as a graphic designer at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. At first it seems like a leap from that to her present, more esoteric art form but the connections are there. She explains how graphic design helped her to visualise pure text, as “word decoration or rearrangement.” Printed matter began to feel less meaningful to her and she took to reading her texts aloud. One of her early recorded works, ‘Beige,’ evokes the monotony, while reflecting on what statistically is the most ubiquitous colour in the universe. Her voice mirroring the mundanity of the hue, she tells the social history of beige and its relation to menial part-time work from the perspective of someone who has suddenly come to the equally banal realisation that they have a “strong liking” for beige.
Typical to Lippard’s work is an event-title like Speaking Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chairlaunching her Nuances of No book, published by Berlin independent press Broken Dimanche, in Venice this past spring. Because it is more often the case that Lippard’s texts speak uncomfortable truths with a voice dripping with comfort: composed, considered, articulate and calming. This disjuncture between her words and their vocal adornment is what makes her work so alluring. No matter what medium she works in –whether graphic design, writing, video or audio –Lippard seems fascinated by different linguistic structural possibilities and arrangements.
As a result, many of her texts have multiple lives, appearing in visual and aural manifestations at different times. Lippard’s audio piece ‘Locus’ was recently presented in the two-person show Hanne Lippard <> Gwenn Thomas at Exile in Berlin. The exhibition inaugurated the gallery’s series of shows pairing artists from different artistic backgrounds and generations. The idea was to create a “phenomenological dialogue” between works that had been made separately, at different time periods. Lippard’s piece in this show had a particularly coercive quality, forcing the listener to contemplate the nature of otherness and being together.
aqnb: Your work has been described as an ‘aesthetic of the word’ – is this how you see it?
Hanne Lippard: I did a writing course when I was very young, living in Stockholm. It was the sort of course where you’re supposed to write a novel. Everyone in the class wanted to write a novel about their life. Have you seen this film Public Speaking about Fran Lebowitz, directed by Martin Scorcese? It’s a portrait of her, she’s jabbering on the whole time. She says that the problem today is that everyone has the space to say something but nothing to say. This writing course was a bit like that. About six women wanted to write about their pregnancies, as though pregnancy was a totally unique experience.
I am not leaving the possibility of writing a novel out of my life but at some point I just started speaking what I’d written. People are not aware of their own voices, it’s more that everyone is afraid of their own voice- they hate the recording of it. Why is that? Being more focused on the voice, you get more analytical about the way people speak to you, how you speak in different situations. The recording is a reverberation of yourself, and writing for the voice is manifest in that reverberation somehow.
aqnb: You must be very comfortable hearing your own voice by now. I’ll probably listen to this interview later and cringe at the sound of myself.
HL: Not really, though. As a conscious speaker, I’m fine with it when I am reading or performing a text. But I have a big problem hearing myself speak in different languages, like in Swedish, for example. As a Norwegian, I feel really phony when I hear myself speak Swedish. It’s like if you would speak Australian English or something. Same language but you have to perform the dialect.
aqnb: Do you consciously tailor your voice depending on the text you perform?
HL: There’s not a huge vocal range but I guess it’s the rhythm that changes more than anything. What makes it different from normal speech is just timing and intonation. It becomes like a song. ‘Beige’ was a work I did when I was really young, still in school. At that time I was not so aware of the use of my own voice, but still it remains the most referenced of my work. The repetition of the word beige really comes quite naturally in it though. It’s the mantra of the piece.
aqnb: The narration of your audio pieces are often in the first person. Are they always personal texts?
HL: Yes, they are rather personal.
aqnb: Did you work at Starbucks, is what I’m really asking…
HL: No not actually. I used Starbucks as a universal reference point. There’s one on every high street and it’s slowly beiging people in. That is the problematic of the work though, keeping the personal delivery. The voice requires that you are always present, whereas I feel many contemporary artists are very distanced from their works. They tend to emphasize the huge distance between the artist and the object.
aqnb: When I listen to your work sometimes, it washes over me and I start to lose track of the content. But your ‘Locus’ piece at Exile really forces people to listen. When you start to read the text backwards, it brings the listener out of their complacency.
HL: It was quite a nice text to combine with the exhibited photography by Gwenn Thomas. It’s hard to negotiate playing sound art with other works. For instance, I had a piece in the Berlin Art Prize exhibition this year and the sound work gets quite lost in the mix when you have 20 artists exhibiting.
But at Exile it was quite nice because you could demand something more from the listener. They hear the words once in a normal narrative and then the exact same words start to be read backwards. You can make sense of it, and I like that. That language can be re-arranged and you understand it to some extent but there is still something obscure. Like when you use certain words together, they bring out different associations. You can’t just say, “I’m lovin’ it” without further connotation.
aqnb: Yes, like in your collaboration with Heatsick. You have all these different catchphrases…
HL: It was actually Steve [Warwick]’s text but we have a lot of overlap in our work. He has a funny way of using words, this inner dialogue about things being branded by words. And with lyrics you have to condense language quite a lot.
aqnb: The way the Exile exhibition was structured seemed really interesting to me. You had no contact with Gwenn Thomas before the opening?
HL: The gallerist had the idea of working with me next year and suddenly it was like, ‘could we do it next month? I have another artist I’d like to show you with’. It’s interesting when you are put together with someone from a different generation, and not in a group show. You know, you will be put against this person: young vs. old or this generation vs. contemporary but it completely recontextualises her work to have mine almost soundtracking it. It worked very well in that space. She is a great photographer and it’s nice that someone who has been working for so long is open to bring her work so close to another artist less known to her, in the intimacy of a rather small gallery space.
aqnb: The way it was described, it sounded more like an anti-collaboration. Yet it seemed to have worked…
HL: It was actually quite hard to work with her pieces in the sense of them being so visually strong, especially in terms of the topic; Ellis Island. The aesthetic was very 80s. I tried to write something new but in the end I decided not to, as ‘Locus’ is from 2009. I found this pre-existing text and instead gave importance to the installation. We had two channels, speakers on either end of the space, that divided the narrative of the text, depending which side was playing.
The text had never been recorded before. Now that I am working more and more with the voice, I have these texts that are unspoken and when I speak them at some point, it brings out a new life for them. That’s why it’s nice to work with people like Steve. You think you have to write a lot of new material, but really you don’t have to. You can already work with smaller texts and bring out new contexts through the use of the voice.
aqnb: In your new book, were the texts ones that you had already performed or recorded?
HL: Only a few. It was a bit out of nowhere for me to make a book at that point, but in the end it almost became like a script for my future readings and performances.
aqnb: Did you do the graphic design?
HL: Yes, I wanted to. It was a collection of many different texts but then somehow, strangely, they had quite a coherent topic.
aqnb: The book is called Nuances of No…
HL: Yes, the topic is negation in speech, communication, the Web. How we communicate through social media. There were many screenshots included in the process of writing the book, as well as within the book. I’m quite intrigued by these dead ends of the Internet. Like when you end up somewhere and you can’t go any further, this ‘Help’ that is of no help. I don’t know if it’s just since I’ve moved to Germany but there’s something about a mix between normal everyday bureaucracy and online help. It’s very often complicated. Even these small spam things where you are supposed to find lost love, or your life and plans being compiled in six short ads on the sidebar: Trips to Istanbul!
aqnb: One time I was breaking up with my ex and we kept having lengthy email conversations, and all my ads on Gmail would be stuff like, ‘How to deal with autistic children’. ‘Seemed eerily fitting…
HL: Yes, it’s almost like a side tracking of the mind. There’s a lot of paranoia and self-diagnosis or self-help that comes with supposed Internet “solutions”. Everything is becoming very self, and at the same time very helpless.So my book is not directly political but it’s a lot about social habits, a kind of current anthropology. You can sometimes see the whole current state of the world in one webpage if you have some extra sidebars. You can really capture, in a screenshot, our current state.
aqnb: Your voice in particular seems like a good conduit for these reflections.
HL: Sometimes people mention a robotic quality to my voice but I am trying still to maintain the human factor. It’s very popular to have the Siri voice as a narrator in artworks. In my work she would have to be a backing vocal or something, a lot of the message falls away without the human intonation. **