Q&A with Andreas Hoffmann (Barents Spetakel 2015)

In this 2 part of 2, art director of Barents Spektakel 2015 Andreas Hoffmann talks about how climate changes can influence culture, his curatorial practice and other inspirations.

What does it take to be a good curator?
– To be honest, I am afraid that the art world in the 21st century starts to become “over-curated”. Maybe because some curators can’t stand the fact that the artist is more important than the curator himself. In my opinion a good curator doesn’t need to hide behind complicated, but often empty phrases, even though it is expected from us, maybe thanks to the academic titles we are decorated with. Of much more importance is the intermediation of art, to show the interrelationship between art works, artistic concepts and practices that can help with seeing the cultural development liberated from chronological school-alike-thinking.

Pikene på Broen. Foto: Lene Stavå

Pikene på Broen. From left (back): Kjetil Nicolaisen, Lene Ødegård Olsen, Franziska Kraiczy, Ingrid Valan. From left (front): Andreas Hoffmann, Ekaterina Sharova, Inger Blix Kvammen. Foto: Lene Stavå

There are a lot of questions that I am carrying in my curator’s mind. I am resisting being a single discipline specialist. One cannot understand contemporary art while seeing it separated from other cultural expressions, like dance, music, poetry etc. There’s a centuries old connection of artistic expression tools that are still alive in experimental contemporary opera or other crossover expressions. I’m always sceptic if someone claims her/himself a specialist. This kind of self-assessment is the result of technocratic thinking, but even there a specialist has to understand the whole system to implement her/his knowledge in the most efficient way. To be a specialist means to close yourself up in a comfort zone. Comfort is quite boring

Can you give a brief description of your curatorial practice?
– Behind each curatorial project is a set of perceptions, assumptions, concepts and associations that constitutes a way of presenting art. The biggest challenge is to intermediate this paradigm in a way which makes people curious about new inputs. As soon as people feel that they have to learn a lot to understand “the idea behind” and the curatorial concept appears so much cleverer than the beholder a gap between art and beholder appears which is irreparable. Imagine a doctor explaining in a very subject specific way what is wrong with your health… While teaching at different universities for more than 20 years I learned that we always have to use the language our counterpart understands. We need to talk about art with politicians in a different way than with students, artists or colleagues.

When looking at history of culture, we tend to look at cultural development in periods and epochs. New cultural forms are usually explained in a way where a new style appeared, while the former one was criticised as old fashioned. This way of explaining and thinking about styles forces us to see the history of culture in blocks, which is a result of the educational view of the Haute Bourgeoisie, the Bildungsbürgertum of the 19th and 20th century. Thereby we know how difficult it is to follow cultural movements in different parts of Europe during a short time period. Even worse: as soon as we look out for non-European culture history the whole system becomes even more porous. Yet, this way of thinking is strong and deeply grounded in our education model, a closer look at emerging forms of nowadays cultural expression (e.g. street art, breakdance, clothing codes, pop art) prove that those expressions might not necessarily be a result of a new way of thinking, but an immediate reaction to things happening around us. But we ought to ask: which phenomena are really comprehensible for artists and which reactions on phenomena are provoking cultural changes? How strong is the cultural reflection on social, political and environmental changes that we seem not to be able to influence directly? How do e.g. climatic changes or even climatic short-term extraordinariness influence geopolitical changes and how do this changes influence cultural development? Can an understanding of interaction between those factors help to come to a new understanding of cultural trends, development, expression and styles?

In what way can the climate changes influence culture?
Let me point out the hot and dry summer 2010 that resulted in Egyptian Graffiti art. 2011 generated new artistic approaches, which haven’t existed before: Rap in Tunisia, new wave of Libyan poetry and literature (which was stopped after 1969 when Gadaffi came to power), Morocco Experimental Theater and the Graffiti Movement in Egypt. These new cultural expressions have been an immediate result of the Arab Spring, which, finally, was a result of the exploding wheat (and thereby flour-) prices. They have been a consequence of the hot summer 2010 which destroyed a huge part of Russians wheat production. Egypt is Russian’s biggest wheat importer… This means, started by a climatic extraordinariness, new cultural phenomena appeared or has been speeded up. Together with the global expert Parag Khanna I am working on a project called “Dedication to a moment – the vulnerability of culture” which deals with appearing and disappearing cultural forms as a result of global and climate changes.

What are your main concerns when creating an exhibition?
– One of my main concerns is objectivity, since the role of objectivity in the presentation of art should be a key moment of all galleries and exhibition space worker’s code of ethics. Curatorial decisions are based on knowledge and are enriched by intuitional decisions. Where is the line between personal preferences and the obsession to discover a star and to make her/him (and thereby the curator himself) raise higher in esteem? Is it important to present artists because they recently won some prices? Are curators trendsetters? And how does this inform or influence artistic decisions?

Another concern of mine is that an exhibition might be too silent – acoustically dead. Quite a big amount of art works has no sound and I feel that they’ve lost their life, if they ever had one… I am not talking about reproduced sounds, but about sound as an incorporated part of an art work, a kind of a fourth dimension which gives an aura to an art work. Maybe this fact was neglected during the creative process, but often I see art works that are placed close to each other in an exhibition, but cannot correspond with each other. These art works can become very lifeless.

To make it three: Since I lived and worked for more than 30 years in different border areas in Middle- and Eastern Europe I became sensitive of borders, especially for those which are not visible: mental, language based, physical, national. Like the orchestra pit in opera houses, which as a fact separates the audience from the stage, the outer look of an exhibition space can become a moat that visitors reject to cross. This might be a heavy door, covered windows, a mysterious or esoteric atmosphere. Therefore, for the Arctic Take Away, I decided to place many art works in town at different spots. Some photographs are exhibited exactly at the spot where they have been taken, which automatically will make people double checking the reality. Curiosity is one of the main impetus to find out and discover more. If you have to climb outdoor stairs to see an art work in the second floor of a building, you also have to perform a certain amount of energy to experience a new impression. If the stair case is an aircraft stair placed in middle of a town, you might be even more willing to climb it …

Is there a curator, curatorial team or exhibition that has inspired your own practice?
–Peter Beyer’s The sound of paintings in Stuttgart 1985, was a crucial experience for my perception of art, even though I grew up in the environment of the quite impressive contemporary art collection of my parents. We lived in the southern part of Germany, close to the border of France and Switzerland, therefore we visited many exhibitions, artist’s presentations and galleries in that wider area, where Herald Szeemann was an important curator and thinker. Yet, I think artist groups rather than curators influenced my own practices, e.g. the Slovenian IRWIN group.

Can you name a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your curatorial practice?
– José Saramago’s Kain is questioning the traditional viewpoint on an elementary topic of European culture in a humoristic and serious way. Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery shows how easily cultural heritage can be falsified, which is also one of the main subjects in Günther Grass’ Die Rättin – culture becomes a symbol for those who conquest the world. You see, instead of reading guidelines or tutorials how to curate an exhibition I prefer books that are questioning the traditional way of viewing cultural history. On the other hand, there is a number of curatorial practices which showed me what doesn’t work, but it wouldn’t be nice of me to mention them.

What other exhibitions and/or projects are you currently working on?
– I just finished The Layer Project which was shown at gallery Juste in Stockholm, a project I had been working on since 2012 with Julia Heurling. One of my forthcoming projects are based on substances and micro-particles that the human body contains. This exhibition is thought as a dialog between Ivan Galuzin and Eric Calderon, made for Härjedalens Kulturcentrum (S). Another project is called Grense Jakobslev-Malecon and is produced by Pikene på Broen for Havana Biennial 2015. Currently I am working on an exhibition about dance in visual arts for the City Exhibition Hall in Chur (Switzerland) and a cross-over project between folkmusic and sound-installation with Ingrid Enarsson for the international festival Härjedalspipan revisited.

Why is art important?
– Who says so?

Installation view of Videopshop at Barents Spetakel 2015

Installation view of Videopshop at Barents Spetakel 2015

Barents Spektakel 2015 – Artic Take Away features the biggest visual art exhibition in its history with 13 artists from Russia, Norway, Italy, Finland, China and France. As a part of the North-Norwegian Cultural Agreement Pikene på Broen wants to focus on the internationalisation and intermediation of art while presenting different disciplines and approaches. It takes place in Kirkenes February 4th – 8th.

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