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Please meet Boutique Vizique! Boutique Vizique is Hendrik Leper and Stijn Schiffeleers, plus a bunch of other artists or experts they invite to collaborate with them once in a while.

Stijn and Hendrik come from Ghent. If you're into new media art, creativity and design you might have heard of that small-ish Belgian city. They trained as photographer, started working mostly with video, collaborated with sound artists and are now developing interactive installations. The kind we like: playful, witty and beautifully executed.

Portrait of Boutique Vizique by Koen Broos.

You both studied photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium. How did you end up working on interaction design, reactive installations, performances using real time live generated images and sounds?

Boutique Vizique was originally intended to be a short-term venture. A few years after we had left the Academy, we decided to collaborate on a small video project which was supposed to last for two weeks. But two weeks became three, and this summer we are celebrating our seventh year as a collective. It has been a gradual growth and looking back reveals an organic development of our practice. Originally doing mainly video work for musicians, DJ's, opera singers, actors and dancers, we slowly made the transition to a more three-dimensional approach. We both look back at those early experiments with a blush on our face, but nevertheless we were able to let things sprout out of these early, naive try-outs.

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A Dustbunny

So from the beginning, it has been like hopping from one stone to another, leaving a zigzag trail of encounters, realizations and reactions. One project lead into another and we tried to remain open to all of it. Boutique Vizique is rooted in curiosity and its exploring nature also reflects our previous wanderings. It is clear that we both like to wander and, as a result, quite often find ourselves "off-track". Last October at Matchmaking, an annual festival for electronic arts and new technology in Trondheim, we structured our lecture around the thought of 'being lost'. Supported by a quote from Rebecca Solnit's essay 'A Field Guide to Getting Lost' we discussed the role of the unknown and open doors in the line of our work. We like to believe that, as artists and human beings, every time we feel lost, it gives us an opportunity to stumble upon something new. Slowly, step by step, we have mastered different tools which are not necessarily related, but always find an integration under the Boutique Vizique umbrella.

You often develop your piece with the collaboration of other people. How does the creation start? You get an idea and look for someone who has the skills that you need? Or you meet someone you'd like to work with and decide on a project together?

Throughout the years we have collaborated in various ways on a wide range of distinct projects. Some of these collaborations were pure technical and some emerged because other artists shared similar interests. Boutique Vizique germinated from a project with two DJ's and this collaborative aspect became a natural ingredient in our practice in those first years. A handful of music bands with complete different styles asked us to provide video projections for their concerts and we also worked closely with AIM Records, a small Ghent based independent label that gave us a lot of freedom in our creations.

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Os Gauchos do pelatao

To a certain level we were fine with just delivering a visually interesting backdrop, but simultaneously felt the urge to look for a more direct cross-pollination. 'Super Setup', 'Starbot Ensemble', 'Early Electronics' and 'Os Gauchos do pelatão' are four projects that grew out of the desire to come to a true collaboration where sound and video got completely interwoven. Around that time we also started working closely with other forms of performing arts and theater. We had to learn about the dynamic relation between story, performer and video; and various new ways of interaction were applied to finally come to a complete integration of all components.

A turnaround occurred at the moment we took time to convey our personal ideas independently and looked for a format that would fit our personal needs. After 3 years working in collaboration with performers we began to develop interactive installations autonomously, without any specific assignment and far away from any stage or other limitations. Following collaborations mainly arose mostly out of technical needs or the lack of certain skills. We involved other artists and engineers to create specific sections like a sound file, a printed circuit board or a piece of code.

Since then, people have been coming and going and it makes sense we will continue to work this way in the near future. After seven years we often run on autopilot mode when dealing with each other during certain stages of the development process. Having completed so many projects we understand, through a minimum of communication, where the other one wants to go and it all feels very natural that way.

You worked several times on installations for kids. What are the challenges and advantages of developing projects that are aimed to be enjoyed by children?

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Babble

Our older video and performance oriented work had been embedded with a decent amount of playfulness long before we made our first reactive sculpture. It seems that having this playful facet deeply rooted in our work made it almost inevitable not to develop projects specifically for children at some point. We never had an outspoken intention to do so, but also did not doubt a second at the moment we were asked to make a real time video choir for a children's music festival. Later on, we evaluated the pros and contras and from a brief look at the body of work following Babble, you can tell we enjoyed it. Seeing all those young faces light up every time we present our work is highly rewarding and it is this kind of appreciation that keeps us going I guess.

Challenges related to child and adult specific projects are often very similar. In fact we consciously endeavor to create installations that are intended to be enjoyed by both young and old. It is obvious that part of our plan is to awake the child in each one of us. And since play, poetry and simplicity are a constant in our work those challenges seem to overlap quite often. Any major difference probably revolves around the threshold of your interfaces. With children as a target group you cannot afford to make extreme subtle changes in your output. Everything needs to be more straightforward and responses from sensors must immediately cause an impact on the environment. Simultaneously the interface needs to induce an intuitive interaction and encourage participation without any instructions. Kids luckily do not need much of an explanation and often copy others to come to an understanding of what is going on.

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When working with children, you also might consider building everything a little stronger. The first version of our Dustbunnies, for example, got smashed under the weight of some kid, exactly two days after the opening. Five months of work only needed a 10 year old foot to flatten and short circuit every component inside of it. Funny thing is that Dustbunnies was never intended for a young audience, because otherwise we would not have created a shape that does resemble a soccer ball to such extend. We learned a lot from that experience and it is actually wonderful to have these limitations push your creativity to another level. How do you make a large swinging object that won't chop off some kids head? Try it, it's a great exercise!

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Dustbunny "fried"

Finding a satisfying balance between the experience for the child and our personal creative impulses is probably the most intriguing challenge every time we come up with a new installation. How do you create a situation that expresses your vision and simultaneously intrigues the children? You can hang big spheres in a space and project warped faces around them, but what reference does a child have to the elements you use? In order to keep the experience for everyone as open as possible, we intentionally never create a narrative. The circumstances we set up always require a certain level of communication, verbally or not, and multiple senses get stimulated at once. Every installation needs to be explored creatively and can be approached both as an individual or within a group. By steering these conditions we aspire to find a right balance for every child or at least something enjoyable for each one to be found.

The main advantage of developing installations for children is that in general they have less social boundaries. They are allowed to play and seem to connect easier with someone they don't know. It is also beautiful to see them sink into in the environment we set up and make them forget about the world around them. The greatest advantage of course is that we ourselves are still allowed to be kids. We can play as much as we want this way!

'Kontakt' and 'Stopkontakt' invite the audience to use their body as a conductor between electrical circuits. How did you get the idea to work on that piece? How did the public react to it? Did you observe any unexpected behavior?

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Image by Lies Declerck

Kontakt was conceived during workshop, called Media Knitting, at DEAF 2003, the Dutch Electronic Art Festival in Rotterdam. This is where we met Karmen Franinovic, who at that point was getting her Master's degree at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy. The workshop was set up so people with different tool sets could possibly connect and collaborate. Karmen was working on a custom-made pressure sensor using conductive foam and we had just received our first Teleo module. We combined both components and a bit later we were all holding hands to test how conductive our bodies actually were. Kontakt was born and we constructed a prototype version in the stairwell within the three-story building of V2. Bright orange metal plates, with hands painted on them, encouraged visitors to use their bodies and form a human chain between them. Several of these active touch points where spread throughout the space and connecting caused a set of sound and video sequences to be played. The interface required people to collectively explore the space, as it was impossible for a single visitor to make connection between the various points. Holding hands, kissing and using differently conductive objects to modulate the output all became part of the interaction. The human skin and body, mobile and unpredictable, became the sensor and the actuator of this active space.

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A few months later we were commissioned to create an installation for the Happy New Ears Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium. The location was a formerly blocked off part of the directors house in an old textile factory. The space was submerged in a gloomy atmosphere as it had been collecting dust for more then a decade. The setting itself was too impressive to ignore and we had the Kontakt concept ready to unfold. Inspired by the space, we developed Stopkontakt, meaning wall outlet in Dutch, in a very site specific format.

Four rooms and the grand central stairway got wired up, filled with touch points, speaker and data cable. As an output we picked various analogue objects, like a kitschy pendulum clock, some plastic bird flutes, a water dripping valve, an old record player and more junk.

Although the system is very simple, it remains surprising to most visitors that you can start a coffee grinder with a handshake. Questions from parents about possibly getting shocked or failing pacemakers pop up regularly. While the grown-ups look and try to figure out how it all work, the kids do not seem to bother and just go wild holding hands, feet and knees with friends, family and complete strangers.

What are you trying to achieve with Tortuga? Do you plan to develop the project further?

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Tortuga is another good example of how Boutique Vizique functions as a learning place. The technical part of it originates from a class on PCB design and microchip programming I took last year. Its circuit board is drafted to contain an ultrasonic transceiver and a Zigbee module in order to measure the distance between two objects without any other external hardware involved. From this pure technical starting point it has grown out to a personal research project and Tortuga is actually an extended prototype for a larger installation that has been put on hold for various reasons. Its concept is formed around creating several large mobile structures and the ability to move these objects throughout a space, dependent on their acceleration and their physical location. It is one of those projects that could have stayed half finished in a closet for the rest of our life, but when curator Virgil Pollit asked us to be part of a group show called 'Fertile Grounds', we decided to continue and build some iceberg structures around the already functioning mechanical basis.

000acicbeorg.jpgWhen I fantasize about the full-scale version I see some undefined objects being moved around by a group of people in a free-flowing way. The motion is smooth and will only be interrupted if a sudden push occurs or in case the objects come within a minimal distance to each other or a wall. All visitors have to collaborate to generate a fluent movement and I am into the idea of using a loud sound or earplugs to prevent the audience from communicating verbally. I guess with Tortuga I am looking for new forms of interaction and ways to provoke pleasures similar to the one I get from moving rocks in a river. The 'useless' act of relocating random objects within a limited space, knowing they will move again once you have left, fascinates me. Still, while moving river rocks might result in a sculpture or a structure, Tortuga consciously tries to avoid any logic result or outcome. Although never choreographed, it will probably end up looking more like a dance than a sculpture at certain moments. The installation becomes an engine for a performance.

Showing the first version of Tortuga in a gallery environment has taught me a few lessons. Although the exhibition resulted in some fruitful conversations and animated interactions, it certainly was too early to present this work to a larger audience. As an artist you can not expect visitors to jump right into your fantasy world. They need a grip, something that guides them through your brain. Leaving them clueless just resulted in an uncomfortable situation and my hopes for now, Tortuga is buried in our closet again. Maybe its dream will be picked up again some day.

Can you explain us what Beat Blocks is about? And what makes it particularly exciting for you?

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Beat Blocks is the result of a series of encounters with Jeff Hoefs. After I moved to San Francisco, Jeff became one of the new people in my life with whom I like to share my thoughts and dreams about physical computing. One day we decided to challenge ourselves with the design of a tangible interface that could function as a sequencer and would cost less than 300 dollars. After some initial tinkering the idea of using wooden blocks on a grid popped up and the next meeting we spend brainstorming about all possible ways to read out the different values using a relatively cheap technology. Our thoughts grew out to a project and at this point we have a functioning prototype and are in the midst of developing a second and extended version. So the way this project originated, without any request or budget from the outside world, is already pretty exciting to me.

Most fascinating about the interface is its simplicity. A wooden grid and a series of blocks form an uncomplicated interface that is completely self-explanatory. As a user you can create and manipulate a small sound loop by physically re-arranging the wooden blocks within the grid. Doing so will turn the matrix into a rhythm sequencer that operates at a 1/16 note resolution. Each block has a pattern of colored stripes representing 1/4 measures, directly indicating what kind of sequence the underlying system will play. The sequence runs in a continuous loop and a LED indicates the speed of the loop that can be changed by means of a simple slider. The direct relation between these minimal visual aspects and the instantaneously generated sound makes 'Beat Blocks' very accessible to anyone, even with little or no musical background. Since the whole system generates a MIDI output, it can be hooked up to a lot of other hardware devices.

Another exciting feature is that its unsophisticated first design can be further developed in numerous directions. The layout of the PCB allows us to connect multiple grids simultaneously and the magnetic connectors could be build into any other shape. Its flexibility enables Beat Blocks to be used for very different purposes and various situations. It could be part of an interactive museum display and so far we have plans for constructing 'Beat Blocks' both as a performance tool and as an installation. The possibilities that our basic structure offers have also seem to inspire other people. A while ago, for example, we read on a blog a comment by a visually impaired person who was wondering if the striped pattern actually could be perceived by touch. A wonderful thought and the question actually motivated us to include this facet in our next version. It also got us both excited about creating a 'Beat Blocks' blog to share our ideas and be open to suggestions for potential variations.

You are both from Belgium right? How does the country or your region support your work? Do some of your pieces get financed? Do you receive many opportunities to teach and show your work?

Continue reading the interview with Boutique Vizique.

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This month the second edition of urban interface, a research project exploring the interspaces between public and private, will be kicking off in Oslo.

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The exhibition will pervade the districts of Grünerløkka, Tøyen and Grønland from September 14th to October 7th. The conference, titled The Porous City: Art claiming the urban void, will be held on 14th and 15th of September at Fabrikken.

The first episode of the project took place in Spring in Berlin (report part 1 and 2). Urban Interface was initiated and directed by Susanne Jaschko and produced by Atelier Nord, a project base with the objective of supporting unstable art forms, such as electronic and new media art.

0aaltle.jpgWhich provides me with a great excuse to publish an interview with Atle Barcley, the director of Atelier Nord. Atle is also moderator of E-kunst mailing list and member of the board of Oslo Open. He was educated as an artist at Trondheim Academy of Fine Arts. He is former chairman of the board Production Network for Electronic Arts in Norway, net art editor at Kunstnett Norge, initiator of 110 mailing list and co-admin of Syndicate mailing list.

What is the story of Atelier Nord? When did it start and how has it evolved over time? How big is the structure?

Atelier Nord was established in 1965 as a workshop for metal print. In the '80s computers were introduced into the printmaking process. At the same time artists at Atelier Nord started to use the computers for animation work. It soon became evident that the printmakers, at least at Atelier Nord, were not into computer print. In the '90s the workshop developed into a center for electronic arts and eventually the printmaking equipment was abandoned.

From the '90s all resources were tied up in technical infrastructure and people. There were over 10 people employed at the most. In the '90s artists did not have their own computers and the know how. Our aim was to help artist to use computers in their artistic process. In the beginning of our century the situation had changed dramatically and there were no longer need for a center for electronic arts that provided computers and technical know how.

In 2002 we redefined ourselves as a projectbase for unstable arts. The projectbase is a skeleton organization that can be the platform for a wide range of projects of different nature and size. It's paramount of course that such and organization has some base funding for projects. When this change was initiated the staff was reduced to two people, a director and an office manager, most of the equipment was defined obsolete and we moved to a smaller and more efficient space. This way we managed to release most of our budget and time to projects.

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The strategy plan I wrote for Atelier Nord when I took over as director was called De-insitutionalising and aiming. I was using some energy to attack the center for electronic arts, which I think has proven to develop into just another rigid art institution more than once. I argued for a strategy that internalized the unstable nature of the arts in general and new technology in special.

"One can observe that centers for electronic arts are so tied up to special techniques and specialized conceptions of technology that they are becoming obsolete when new technology are introduced. To try to stay on top they ask for more money to invest in even more equipment when the problem is that the whole structure is in fact obsolete. We need networks and nodes, not centers."
Growing is for cowards. To let things go is courageous.

How does Atelier Nord manage to finance its projects?

We receive about € 270 000 from the state annually. After the change to projectbase we have resources within our own budget to do projects, but for larger productions like Generator.x, Interface and
Society
or Urban Interface we are depending on external funding in addition to this. The fact that we already have half of the budget covered when we start to apply for additional funding makes it easier to get more money - it seems like the funds are more likely to support projects that already have some money.

Most of our external project funding is also public - form Arts Council Norway, Public Arts Norway, etc. There are very few private funds in Norway, only one significant - the Freedom of Expression Foundation.

DSCN0744.jpgLet's say that i'm an artist working with unstable art forms, such as electronic and new media art. Which kind of support can i expect to find at Atelier Nord?

Your suggestion is as good is mine. What do you need? The idea about the projectbase is that we provide what is needed for each individual project. We do all types of consulting on project development; infrastructure like space for test installations and project groups, office space including phone expenses; technical equipment; we do accounting and provide other types of administration services for projects and some projects we co-found. It can be anything. One artist used industrial components in his installation. He had a complicated situation when he was trying to order those components because the producers had systems suitable for other bigger companies - not for individual artists. The solution we found was simply that he bought his stuff through Atelier Nord. Then the ordering was running smooth.

Have you noticed over the years an improvement of the conditions of and the reflection related to unstable art forms? Is there still much work to do before these art forms get the recognition they deserve? What do you think is their relationship with more traditional art forms in Norway?

Unstable art forms, as we define it, is arts that have a specially challenging production, that has a partially developed distribution system at best and that are not fully contextualized - the role of these art forms in the present and in a historical context are still debated.

So the nature of unstable art forms is that they are not fully recognized. Our job is to try to stimulate the production of new art forms, help distribution and bring this praxis into a broader historical and contemporary context.

New media art used to be an unstable art form, but is developing into a stable system. There are always some special challenges when producing works with new technical equipment. There is a distribution system within the media art scene, but the distribution of media art on the contemporary art scene could be better. Media art is well contextualized within the scene, but the full complexity of media art is not recognized withing the contemporary art scene.

Atelier Nord's strategy for new media art is to bridge the gap of understanding between the new media art scene and the contemporary art scene. Atelier Nord is not a media art institution however, we will stop working with new media art as soon as this art form is stabilized withing a broader context.

In the '90s the major part of our resources were used on video art. In the beginning of our century we changed our priorities dramatically, we are no finishing our engagement in video art by working politically to establish a national online video archive. (The potential of distribution of video is bigger than what a traditional museum and gallery structure can provide.)

These changes in priorities sometimes makes Atelier Nord unpopular with artists that works with stuff that we abandon, but this is the only way to go if we want to develop. The last ten years three other institutions outside of Oslo and the PNEK network was established. PNEK was initiated by Atelier Nord and the three other organizations all received our support. Contrary to most other organizations Atelier Nord is not into unlimited growth. We would rather like to see more players on the scene.

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Part of Urban Interface Oslo: Michelle Teran's new work Friluftskino

A few years ago, Atelier Nord organized Reality Check, a series of events presenting art projects gone completely wrong. Why was it important to discuss projects that failed? What were the highlights of the events?

Per Platou that directed the Reality Check was fed up by art discourse being pretentious. He also observed that a lot of those projects that received support from the Arts Councils "Art and new technology" funding was nowhere to be seen on the scene. The question was "What happened?" He realized some of them failed - badly. Of course it's the failed projects that we can really learn form, but it's always the successes that are brought forward.

At the Reality Checks the responsible persons (usually the artists) were invited up on stage to lighten their heart, admit failure and help us to learn from their mistakes. There was only one rule: they could not blame anyone else. It was really funny and sometimes heart breaking. The group form one project that failed so badly it is almost unbelievable that they gathered on the Reality Check stage - the tension between them was lethal.

The project was a huge success, the bar it was held in was packed every night. The prime serious TV show on art wanted to air it and when Per Platou politely explained to them that sending it on TV was not compatible with the basic concept they were really insisting. And that is when we stopped doing it. We had the time and the money to continue, we had an audience, we had a huge number of people now wanting to be a failure. It became a success, which was not compatible with the basic concept of Reality Check.

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You invited people to the Maxwell city workshops, an artistic investigation into the electromagnetic urban environment. How did the workshops go? What happened there exactly?

Well, we discussed strategies and techniques for using electromagnetism in art. We had Armin Medosch as a guest lecturer adding a context for this in addition to Erich Berger and Martin Howse who directed the workshop.

The most fun part I think was the actual investigation in urban space. We had a range of electromagnetic sniffers, some commercial products some of Martin Howse design. These sniffers transformed electromagnetism into sound. We were basically listening to the city. We also bought a megaphone, connected that to a sniffer and had a live show going. This workshop happened simultaneously with a city wide music festival in Oslo - I don't feel our contribution was fully recognized.

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How active is the electronic and new media art in Norway? Can you tell us about organizations and artists who make it happen?

The new media art scene in Norway are well organized. We have 4 other sister organizations that collaborates through Production network for electronic arts (PNEK). BEK in Bergen, at the west coast of Norway, was established by a composer and a new media artist and are well known for the Piksel festival. TEKS in Trondheim, mid-Norway, are working with art and new technology from a fine arts perspective and are doing the annual Trondheim Matchmaking festival. IoLab in Stavanger, at the southwest coast started a biannual on unstable arts in public space last year. (And no, not all institutions in Norway are into the term "unstable arts". I did some serious development work on that biannual.) Notam in Oslo is in a an contemporary and electronic music tradition.

Of course there's a lot of artists who use new media in their production, very few however are into critique of technology. This is one of the reasons that Atelier Nord do what we do these days and I think it is also the background for the Pixel festival at BEK. Stahl Stenslie, that is now withdrawn for his own art practice while being Dean at the Art Academy in Oslo, is probably the new media artist most people abroad would recognize. HC Gilje, that was part of 242.pilots is participating in our Urban Interface show this year. I would also recommend you to take a closer look at Motherboard and Thomas Kvam.

Any upcoming project at Atelier Nord that you could already share with us?

This autumn we are producing a project initiated by Susanne Jaschko.
Urban Interface looks at the changes in the private and the public. It started in Berlin in April and will be an exhibition in public space and a conference in Oslo opening on September 13th. Michelle Teran, HC Gilje, Vibeke Jensen, Jørgen Larsson and Bjørnar Habbestad, Laura Beloff and Sancho Silva and John Hawke are exhibiting. Lev Manovich, Florian Rötzer, Drew Hemment and Martin Rieser are among the speakers. Visitors will get the opportunity to see Oslo in a special perspective.

Thanks Atle!

Images courtesy of Atle Barcley.

ajessicafin.jpgAugust is ending and everyone is coming back from the beach. Including the interviews!

Jessica Findley lives in Brooklyn where she works as a "freelance designer, illustrator and animator." That brief description hardly encompasses all Jessica's many activities and talents: she makes animated movies, crafts reversable dolls, she draws, she is also a web designer but what brought my attention to her work are the performances and interactive installations she developed and shows around the world., crafts reversable dolls, she draws, she is also a web designer but what brought my attention to her work are the performances and interactive installations she developed and shows around the world.

Oh! And just for the info, Jessica received her BA at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA with her studies focusing on Film, Video and Animation. She then completed her MA in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.

On your website there is a section called "Work" and another is "art". what's your art for if it is not work? is it just a question of what pays the rent? Are you happy with that equilibrium or would you rather focus only on the art?

This is always a difficult challenge. In a dream world it would be great to focus on the art all the time, but a girl needs to eat. It is also nice not to have to think of the monetary value of my art when I make it. I would love to have less work and do more art. Or at least more interesting work and do more art. I have been very happy doing illustrations and work for museums and educational programs. It would be great to take a break to just focus on the art for a while, then go work, then do art. For now both art and work seem to need to be constantly in process.

Can you explain us the project "millefiore effect"? And in particular the Front inflatable garments? How do they work?

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The Millefiore Effect was the name that Margot Jacobs, Ralph Borland and myself gave our team when we made "Front". Millefiori means 1000 flowers in italian, it is also a technique used in crafting many colors of glass or clay together to create patterns. We liked this symbolism for the collective efforts of our group. Margot came from an industrial design education, Ralph from sculpture, and I from film video and animation and had experience sewing my own clothes.

The project "Front" consists of 2 symbiotic, voice-activated, inflatable conflict suits. Front is a sort of an endless game of vocal battle between two people who wear suits equipped with fans which inflate when they yell. Each suit has two types of inflation sacks - aggressive and defensive - which inflate depending on who is making sound. The suits are to be worn by the public.

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How do people behave when they wear it? Does it trigger any particular/unexpected behaviour?

It's interesting, some people are quite shy and then others get really into it and get really silly or serious about it. It can have a explosive emotional release or instill stage fright. We have had people sing opera, burst into contagious laughter, bark like dogs, talk like knights in armor, and make up comedy routines. Some places we go people are too shy to even put them on, and usually Margot and I will just get in and go for it, after that we end up with at least a couple people who sign up to get ridiculous.

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Aeolian Ride in Melbourne, photo by Clayton Harper

What was the impetus for your project Aeolian Ride?

I wanted to do something that would transform the everyday public landscape and make people giddy or baffled.

One day I was riding my bike in Brooklyn with white nylon jacket on that was unzipped. I felt it fluttering behind me and thought that it would be great to make costumes for a big bike ride. I forgot about it until one day my friend Ryan O'connor was trying to think of ideas for an art project at burning man. I told him my idea and he thought it was great but he ended up making a giant octopus instead. A year later he called me. He said he had been thinking about my project and I needed to do it. This was not too long after 9/11 and my life seemed to lack any luster. A switch flipped in my brain and I suddenly was up to my elbows in rip-stop nylon designing inflatable costumes. 0aaeloinaridessss.jpg

You brought the project to different cities, was the experience extremely different from one place to the other? Any plan of organizing another Aeolian Ride any time soon? I'd love it if you could bring that to Europe.

I find that riding a bike in a city is such a wonderful way to get to know its landscape. The people are what make the place for me. Its interesting who comes to the ride. It often depends on the connection who brought me to the city. It's usually a combination of different cycling cultures, every day cyclists, commuters, advocates, artists, messengers... anyone with a bike is welcome! I am always looking for people willing to organize and find funding to bring the ride to their city. I call these people champions. Each ride has had great champions who made it happen.

The responses vary from city to city. New York was the first ride, it was rainy so I wasn't sure if it was going to happen and I didn't have a permit so I was nervous when the cops showed up. Funny my dad was there and he is such a charmer he gave the cops a couple of Aeolian buttons and told them about how excited he was for his daughters art project and they left.

San Francisco happened in conjunction with the Bicycle Film Festival and was sponsored by a grant from the Black Rock Arts Organization. The people there had seen it all and loved it. They shouted out Angels! Sperm!

Capetown was gorgeous. My good friend Ralph Borland was the Champion of this ride. The Discovery Chanel was doing a program on local artists and tried to show a collaboration between myself and artist Matthew Hindley. They purchased a couple suits for Matthew to work with. Unfortunately the Discovery Channel dropped the ball and gave me no images or video for that event.

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Aeolian Ride in Cape Town, photo by Sean Wilson

I worked with Bike Summer's Dave Benoff to bring the Aeolian Ride to LA. The riders out there were used to lots of fun. Before the ride I joined the Midnight Ridaz for a fun ride in Heavy Metal Costume to a bowling alley where they had Metal Karaoke and giant paper mache musical instruments.

LA was our first night ride with lights in the suits and we had a magical moment where mostly just the riders got to see the effect of the lights. During our ride through the bright city most of us didn't notice or remember we were wearing lights inside the suits. When we arrived at the dark park all the riders softly gasped and oohed at the forgotten surprise that they were glowing.

My connection in Melbourne, Chris Star, is very deep into the politics of cycling and its community. We had a bit of competition in that the naked ride was happening at a similar time. The city and its people are super charming and laid back.

Halifax was wonderful, my connection, a great photographer Francesca Tallone is embedded into the arts there. It was great fun and there was tons of enthusiasm for the ride. The Aeolian Poster was on the cover of their local weekly happenings paper all around town! The waterfront there is magical.

The next Aeolian Ride will be Saturday September 8th 2007 from Brooklyn New York to the Dietch Art Parade in SOHO. Sign up already available!

I would love to bring the ride to Europe. Who wants to be the champion?

Grow is a serenade for plants. Are you sure that the plants appreciate all that musical effort? How did you compose the music? Does it depend on the plant?

Haha. I am not sure if the plants really react to the sounds or not. It seems at least one vintner believes it.I did read that it is a common grade school experiment to play music for plants.

I found it difficult to write love songs for the plants. Half of them are for the plants and half are actually love songs for my friends. I wrote and recorded each song myself in an abandoned studio in a building I used to live in.

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Design, animation, illustration, interactive installation, etc. You seem to jump effortlessly and with talent from one medium to the other, is there anything you are bad at?

My strength is definitely my weakness. I love learning new skills and working in different mediums, but sometimes this can be fragmenting. I really envy people who know exactly what they want and have a path to get there. I chose this path, to explore, and it can be really challenging not to lose sight of what I really want. I try to follow my heart, eat my dessert first.

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And more seriously, what do you find rewarding about each of these mediums?

I am most interested in the idea first, then the materials and medium second but they definitely inform each other. Every medium provides me with a way to explore my ideas in different ways.

Are there any designer and/or artist whom you think should get more attention from the public?

Two of my favorite artists are Gelatin and Theo Jensen. I love the possible positive and the ingenious imaginative.

Any upcoming project you could share with us?

I am working on a graphic novel about the adventures of a girl who gets transported to the twin planet of earth.

Thanks Jessica!

More on her websites: Work + Art, Illustrations and Inspirational Blogging.

misssalazar.jpgLast month i was in Colombia for (and thanks to) the Pixelazo festival.

I then asked Alejandro Tamayo if he could point me to any artist worth meeting in Bogota. Several names came to his mind but when i had a look at the images of Adriana Salazar's machines, i just said "Stop! Stop! no more names, how can i get to meet her?" How could i not want to know more about a girl who creates delicate and elegant (but slightly ludicrous) machines that smoke, tie shoes, pull thread through the hole of a needle, relentlessly measure walls, switch the light on and off, on and off, on and off, dust walls, cry while another one dries its tears, etc.

What is your background? How did you start creating machines? Is "machine" the correct word to describe them by the way?

I studied fine arts at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University, here in Bogota. At the very end of my career, just when I was starting to develop my last academic project, I came to the encounter of moving devices, by chance, or maybe because I just couldn’t stand stillness. After that I decided to work with a more specific kind of movement: human actions that are performed repeatedly and without any awareness of what happens to the body meanwhile. I started thus with smoking, as an action with a very complex body movement involved. The idea of isolating this action, from its context, resulted in a sort of “machine-like object?, but with the exact opposite functions a machine would usually perform: it just had no purpose, no practical value. Besides, the object that resulted was rather clumsy, simple and almost hand-made, so there is no fancy technological operations involved, and no industrial mass-produced object as a result of the process. The word machine seems then incorrect, in that sense.

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Mademoiselle, Máquina fumadora (Smoking machine)

What fascinates you in the absurd and the useless?

The fact that it is precisely through the absurd and the useless that we can really get to understand what us humans are like: we can perform coherent and beautiful actions that still have no purpose. The purpose of our actions, or even better, their ends, somehow always escapes our comprehension, and yet we keep moving and doing things. It is fascinating then to see, as in a distorted mirror in front of us, what we do, but without our presence: just the action repeating itself over and over.

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Porristas

What is your relationship with the machines you create? Do you see them as mere objects for galleries or do you develop a more personal relationship with them?

There is something I really like about them: Their design is always the result of very simple mechanical or physical processes, and it is conceived by the mind of an amateur: There is no engineering or high-tech involved. The result is therefore a very personal interpretation of a movement, so it turns to be more an expressive device than a robot or an automatic appliance.

On the other hand there are a couple of pieces that work very well with galleries, but not because they look good in them or because they are commercial. Both the smoking machine (Mademoiselle) and the careless machines (the ones that start making a toast, and end up drunk and unsynchronized) invert the social roles of the actors in an exhibition opening: When the guests drink and smoke while looking at the art pieces, these two art pieces drink and smoke while looking back at their beholders.

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Máquina desempolvadora and La desaparición de las necesidades

How do you develop them? On your own? or do you collaborate with someone else to build up the technical elements?

The whole process of designing and building these objects is rather interesting. I am becoming first of all very comfortable with the fact that they are created in sort of a naïve way. I need to understand what is going on in there, and I need the viewer to do so too, so I tend to avoid complex operations or technological novelties that could leave you just amazed and overwhelmed. Nevertheless, I have always had the support of people that obviously know how to do certain things better than me, especially concerning working with metal or other industrial materials that require special instruments. The rest is just small disco ball motors working!

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Máquina que intenta amarrar un zapato (Machine that tries to tie shoes)

Are your works a comment on technology, human beings or their relationship to technology? Maybe all of those?

Certainly all of those. I am not a moralist towards technology, but I love to show its ironic side, I love to laugh at the fact that we truly believe technology is progress, and that it is eventually going to save our lives: in my pieces there is always something that remains incomplete, some sort of imperfection that becomes an effective part of the work. It is as if our actions as well as our machines were always failing to succeed their task. Maybe what humanizes our technological world isn’t its tendency to boost human form or function, but its constant failure, its fragility.

There is in fact one of my pieces that is actually a “trying machine?, a machine that makes an effort and always fails (machine that tries to thread a needle): it is small, modest, and stubborn as a man.

Is there any artists that has influenced you or that you particularly appreciate the work of?

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I know I should probably be bringing influential figures here, such as Rebecca Horn or Jean Tinguely, or even Stelarc or Wim Delvoye. I discovered that the artists I love the most are those who are completely alien to my processes and those whose work is most disturbing and uncomprehensible. In the research process for my last piece “llorona? (crying woman), for example, I rediscovered some fascinating Man Ray pictures, and I fell in love with Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube. I also truly related to this last piece in the sense that it is very complex, theatrically complex almost, and at the same time it is the simplest thing of all!!!

What is the reaction of the public when they see your art pieces?

I’ve seen all kinds of reactions. I like the fact that this kind of things tend to escape the discursive, enclosed, and elitist approach to contemporary art. I like, for example, when people laugh at them or when they become interested in how they work or in how they relate to certain human experiences. I had once a group of industrial design students that came with a very unexpected and interesting approach, from the designer’s point of view. I had never thought of my work as design, but I understood that definitely design played a very strong role in it: The human being is able to redesign its body and modify it to perform a certain function, and artists are mostly perception and body designers. I owe this discovery to the input from the public.

Thanks Adriana!

All images courtesy of Adriana Salazar.

1.-PaddyHartley.jpgBack in 2004, i stumbled upon a project called The Face Corset. Designed by Paddy Hartley to simulate the effects of cosmetic surgery, they were one of his first comments on and explorations of cosmetic surgery and our culture's obsession with beauty. Furthermore, the artist collaborated with Biomaterials Scientist Dr Ian Thompson to adapt the corsets into facial dressings that could protect and support the face during the recovery period after surgery or skin grafting.

With Project Facade, the second step into this research, the artist is looking into the personal and surgical stories of soldiers who, disfigured in battle during the First World War, had to undergo pioneering surgical reconstruction. "The very nature of trench warfare, moreover, proved diabolically conducive to facial injuries: "[T]he...soldiers failed to understand the menace of the machine gun," recalled Dr. Fred Albee, an American surgeon working in France. "They seemed to think they could pop their heads up over a trench and move quickly enough to dodge the hail of bullets." (via)

Working from original patient and surgical notes along with personal family archive material of the men, Hartley designs, modifies and embroids uniforms similar to those the servicemen fought in. Each garment tells the fragmented personal history of a man who had to go back to his families with a seamed and shattered face.

Working in partnership with Gillies Archive Curator Dr Andrew Bamji at Queen Mary's Hospital Sidcup and Dr Ian Thompson at in the Oral Maxillofacial Dept, Guys Hospital London, the project allows Hartley to examine and respond artistically to the origins of surgical facial reconstruction, compare current techniques in facial surgery and the development and implementation of bioactive materials for the repair of facial bone injuries.

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Victor T.

What prompted your interest in the origins of surgical facial reconstruction techniques?

Even though I trained in ceramics and sculpture, I've always been more interested in human biology, technology, and engineering, that sort of thing than in art. I see the Artistic/creative process as a vehicle for the examination and combination of ‘anything with everything’. So much of the work I produced at University and in my early career was about anything other than ‘Art or the Artist’. Examining the use/abuse of Steroid in bodybuilding, religious organizations shifting attitudes towards medical technologies and recently the origins of facial reconstruction.

Having seen some of my previous work using medical equipment, I was invited by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2002 to exhibit work for an evening-long event called ‘Short Cuts to Beauty’ which consisted of a series of public demonstrations, presentations and debates on ‘beauty industries’ and their impact on society today. Not having anything appropriate for the event in my back catalogue, I proposed I make new work for the event and considering one of the topics up for discussion was extreme cosmetic surgery and the use of facial implants, it seemed appropriate to make work based around a hypothetical of facial surgery as taboo. What if it was considered taboo in today’s society to alter the structure of the face surgically for cosmetics alone? How could an individual radically alter the structure of the face without the use of surgery? Corsetry immediately sprang to mind (particularly as I left the V&A after my meeting I left via the Dress Gallery and saw the collection of corsets on display). If it was possible to alter and ‘train’ the structure of the body with a garment, could I do the same with a ‘facial corset’ to shift the soft tissue of the face?

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Paddy Hartley's studio

So having never even sat at a sewing machine, I set about making patterns based on my own face (the only one readily available!) and getting to know the basics of garment construction. The original idea was to make ‘neutral’ looking garments from white fabric incorporating external ‘adornments’ using commercially available facial implants. This was how I came to meet Biomaterials Scientist Dr Ian Thompson at Imperial College London via recommendations from the Science Museum, London. I originally approached Ian to try and obtain some commercially available facial implants but when I saw the work he was doing making Bioactive glass facial implants for the repair of bone facial injuries, I thought I just had to incorporate these into the ‘Face Corsets’, which as it turns out, we did. As far as the Corsets themselves were concerned, an unexpected (yet with hindsight totally foreseeable outcome) was that the tighter the garment was fixed to the head, the more the wearer was able to reposition the exposed skin.

The presentation of the work at the V&A event really was the start of a long working relationship between Dr Thompson and myself. My skills in developing the casting of the implants with Ian coupled with his vision of the ‘Face Corsets’ as potential pressure dressings cemented our working relationship and the logical next step was to seek funding to pursue our collaboration. Obtaining our first grant from The Wellcome Trust allowed us to develop the work full-time for a year but if the truth be known, quite early in the project my interest turned to the origins of facial reconstruction.

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First Face Corset and Paisley

How has the public reacted to the Face Corset when you exhibited the work?

Very mixed, sometimes with a raised eyebrow, sometimes with a knowing look, sometimes with a chuckle. Everyone brings their own interpretation which, to a certain degree is great because I didn’t intend to load the work with meaning. They are physical devices built around a ‘functional’ brief. What I have found though is that the majority of people see a facial garment as a device to hide the face, often referring to the Face Corsets as Face ‘Masks’. As I see it a mask is intended to hide the identity of the wearer whereas the Face Corsets are intended to alter the appearance of the wearer by manipulating the skin of the wearer. The intention is do ‘display the wearer in a different way’.

Many people seem to assume that a facial garment has some kind of sexual connotation. I tell you, the amount of enquiries I've had from PVC clad ‘exotics’ looking for a bespoke PVC Face Corset. That’s not my scene and not why I made the work, which is why I've never sold or given a piece away. I don’t want to be responsible for making something that could cause physical harm to a wearer/user. There did come a point where I decided to make the Face Corsets out of fabric as far removed from the S&M scene as I could imagine. I used old suit material, my old shirts, that kind of thing but regardless, the facial locating of the Face Corsets was still read by viewers and having aesthetics which alluded to a sexual/menacing/disguising. This is why I ‘buried’ the Face Corsets.

What exactly are the Bioactive© glass facial implants you mentioned earlier?3.-Bioglass-implants.jpg

The implants are made from a special glass that contains a combination of other components that make the glass less prone to rejection by the body. Bioactive glass was invented by Prof Larry Hench as a material to repair massive bone injuries of US servicemen injured in the Vietnam War. Even though the Bioglass© in a powdered/paste form did bond bone fragments, the material was not load bearing. Dr Thompson (Ian) has recently been casting the glass into small monolithic forms to repair non-load bearing bone injuries, particularly of the face. When I came on the scene, Ian was by his own admission using fairly primitive casting and carving methods. The skills I acquired in mold making and casting I picked up at University and at a later post in bronze casting foundry enabled me to work with Ian to try out new lost-wax casting techniques for the production of patient specific implants. Since then, the production methods of the implants have advanced and this element of the collaboration has run its natural course.

For ‘Project Façade’ you collaborated with Dr Andrew Bamji, Consultant Rheumatologist and Curator of The Gillies Archives, and Dr Ian Thompson from the Department of Oral Maxillofacial surgery at King's College. How did you get to work with scientists?

It’s always the ideas for the work I make that lead me to meet the people I work with whether they be Dress Historians at the V&A, Scientists at University Hospitals, Family Historians based at the National Archives at Kew or Army Surplus suppliers in Portsmouth. I don’t have a specific desire to work with scientists, that’s just the direction the work has taken me.

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Top V: Sketch proposing grafting skin to replace scarred cheek and Skin from tubed pedicle 1. in place on chin and nose.

How difficult has it been to trace the records of men injured and disfigured during the First World War? Can you tell us the story of one of those injured Servicemen that you found particularly touching/interesting/meaningful?

In so far as tracing the medical records, this was pretty straightforward. When I first became interested in finding out more about the origins of facial reconstruction, I recalled seeing a very short clip of an interview on a TV documentary which mentioned the pioneering surgery developed by Sir Harold Gillies during the First World War to repair horrific facial injuries. A web search brought the Gillies Archive to my attention so I booked an appointment to meet the Curator Dr Andrew Bamji (who was the chap on the TV documentary) and see some of the records. On first sight I was overwhelmed by the amount of material Andrew had collated. The Archive holds somewhere in the region of 2500 documents recording with photographs, pre-op sketches, plaster casts and handwritten notes, the surgeries the patients underwent under Gillies.

I was originally drawn to the Archive because of an interest in the surgery yet I found myself becoming incredibly curious to find out more about the post-surgery stories of the men treated by Gillies. However, only a handful of the records Andrew has collated tell the pre-injury and post-surgical stories of the men and this is largely due to Gillies patients sending him photographs and letters to let him know how they were getting along in life.

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The Plastic Theatre, Queen Mary's Hospital, 1917. Harold Gillies is seated on the right (image reproduced from the Gillies Archive)

I was keen that the work I was embarking on making didn’t just tell the surgical stories of individual men but the personal stories also. I didn’t want the men to be defined by their injury and subsequent surgery. So once I had selected a small group of men whose stories I would like to tell, I employed Genealogist Elizabeth Evans to take the information we had and on the 10 men I had selected and search the archives at the National Records Office at Kew to see what additional information we could find. Some of the men had very little information other than census records and Regimental war diary entries by their Commanding Officers. Others however had details on the men’s trade before joining the Armed Forces, details of family members and in one case in particular, personal letters from nursing staff pleading with higher ranking officials for patients to be admitted to the plastic surgery unit at Sidcup for their facial injuries to be treated.

There are so many stories that have emerged over the past two years its hard to say which has touched me the most. Willie Vicarage the Welsh watchmaker who was so badly burned in the Battle of Jutland he lost most of the skin from his face, his nose, parts of his ears and almost all of his fingers. Alfred Russell who received skin grafts from his buttocks to his cheeks. Alfred’s wife Florence would joke that when kissing him on the cheek she was actually kissing him somewhere else! It’s the story of 2nd Lieut Henry Ralph Lumley that really got to me.

Henry, son of Robert and Florence and elder brother of Molly was a well-educated young man working for the Eastern Telegraph Company. Having not being a member of the Officer Training Corps Henry went out of his way to train as a pilot sought special permission to do so for which he was granted and attended Central Flying School, Upavon from 15th April 1916. The first tragedy to strike was on the very day Henry graduated from flying school when his plane crashed and he suffered horrific facial burns. A letter from Central Flying School to his mother stated on the same page that her son had graduated and that his aircraft ‘met with an accident’.

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Lumley

Roughly a year after his crash, Henry was transferred to Sidcup for reconstructive surgery under Gillies who proposed removing Henry’s badly scarred face entirely and replacing it with a single, huge skin graft taken from Henry’s chest. A similar less extensive procedure had proved highly successful for the aforementioned Willie Vicarage a month earlier. Henry’s surgery was more ambitious and partially due to Henry’s weakened condition the graft rejected and Henry died a few days after his surgery.

Gillies continued to encounter similar injuries to pilots and sailors and as a result of the failure of Henry’s surgery; Gillies began repairing full facial burns in stages, thus giving the patient chance to recover between surgeries. Henry’s death brought about an entire reassessment as to how to treat such injuries and hundreds of patients benefited from what was learned from Henry’s tragic surgery and paved the way for the highly successful skin grafting surgery performed on the self styled World War 2 pilots ‘The Guinea Pig Club’ over 25 years later.

As a result of the record search, I discovered Henry was buried close to my home so I took it upon myself to visit his grave. Something I never envisaged doing at the beginning of the project. Tucked away in Hampstead Cemetery is a small family headstone naming his mother, father and sister along with Henry. Sitting by Henry’s headstone for a couple of hours and being physically that close to him made me realize this was more than just ‘a project’ to me. Here were stories about incredible people that needed to be told.

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William Spreckley

For Project Facade you are creating a series of garments. What are you trying to achieve or communicate with these pieces? How do they complete or respond to your previous work, The Face Corsets?

The main aim of the work initially was to communicate an understanding of the pioneering surgery Gillies performed on his servicemen patients. Now though it is more about telling the stories of the people who underwent this surgery, who they were, how they came to be injured, illustrate the surgery they underwent and how they dealt with the physical and psychological consequences of receiving this surgery. I’m very much a believer that ‘you wear your history on your face’, particularly with these men. The military uniform, itself a record of the wearers military service, seemed a perfect vehicle to tell these fragmented ‘patchwork’ stories. Gillies patients ended up ‘wearing’ their military history on their faces for the rest of their lives. The uniform sculptures and accompanying face garments pool all the information I have from a variety of sources to present a collage of experience of that individual. The facial garments made from identical fabric as that of the uniforms represent the military history being worn on the face and act as an anchor point for the illustration of movement of skin by Gillies from other parts of the body to the face. I was keen that the work did not replicate injury. That in my opinion would be crass.

As far as I’m concerned, if the work I make merely provokes viewers to want to find out more about these amazing heroic people and acknowledge their sacrifice, it has been successful.

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Walter F.

Did the fact that you have spent several years working on this project changed the view you have on your own appearance, the fact that cosmetic surgery is getting mainstream and (if you have any) beauty ideals?

Actually yes. In my youth I was something of a ‘peacock’. Because of the last couple of years work, I don’t worry about putting on a little weight, the dark circles under my eyes, my slightly less elastic skin. This is just how I am. I’m more concerned that my back doesn’t work quite as well as it used to. I must say though, the plethora of cosmetic surgery TV shows really makes my blood boil I just wish a fraction of airtime was given over to tell the stories of the servicemen Gillies treated to restore function to their faces as is given over to people having the fat sucked out of their backsides.
Speaking personally, my beauty ideals tend to be personality based but if we are going to get superficial, I do like ladies with gaps between their front teeth that speak with a lisp and a top lip that looks like its been smeared flat! I find difference attractive.

What can members of the scientific community learn from your own artistic research?

Speaking very generally, to be open to collaborate across disciplines, but that goes for anyone in any profession, but not to ‘force’ the collaboration. Let it take you where it will. Fellow artists have asked me on a number of occasions as to how they can have their work taken on board as part of clinical practice in health care and my answer never changes. ‘I don’t know!’ That has never been an aim of the work I set out to do. If it contributes towards clinical practice by proxy, that’s great because its evolved naturally rather than by design. As far as I’m concerned the main audience I want to connect with is the general public. Essentially that’s who the work is about.

Any upcoming project’s that you could share with us?

Project Façade Phase 2
. I’m trying to trace as many descendants of Gillies patients to record their memories of their ‘Gillies repaired’ relatives to find out and preserve their later life experience. This has becoming a life long undertaking for me.

Thanks Paddy!

All work produced by Paddy Hartley and associated Gillies Archive documents and objects can be seen at the first Project Façade exhibition ‘Faces of Battle’ produced with and opening on November 10, 2007 at The National Army Museum, London.

For further details contact Paddy directly on paddyhartley at projectfaçade dot com or visit the project website to find out more about the stories of the men and Paddy’s responses.

Meet one of my favourite Berliners! Christine Hill invited me last year to give a talk at the Bauhaus University in Weimar where she heads the Department Media, Trend and Public Appearance. That's how i got to know her, i then googled her name and immediately realized the extent of my ignorance when i discovered that she has been exhibiting all over the world with a very unconventional and intriguing project (or should i label it "production label"?) called Volksboutique.

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Volksboutique began as a thrift store/sculptural installation in Berlin back in the '90s when she left New York and landed in Germany. Visitors would open the door to her underground shop, tea was served, clothes were cheap and people congregated to discuss topics ranging from identity and self presentation, to weather and the effect of tourism on the neighborhood (via).

Volksboutique projects kept on evolving, surprising and questioning the audience and the art world. She franchised the boutique for Documenta X in Kassel in 1997, then abandoned her role as a salesgirl and mutated into a late-night talk-show host, a tour guide, a masseuse, a handbags and retro-looking stamp kits designer, etc. Turning everyday job into an artistic activity that could either be presented inside galleries or taken on the road inside carefully crafted trunks.

She is currently showing one of Volksboutique manifestations, Minutes, at the Venice Biennale of Art. This interview was made before the Venice art exhibition.

A book about your work "Inventory : The Work of Christine Hill and Volksboutique" has been published recently. How did it feel? Like a chapter of your professional life that had been turned?

0ainventoooooo.jpgNot to invoke a too-female metaphor here, but that book was as much birthed as it was published. The compilation process was pretty strenuous and I almost fell over when my editor mentioned that "the next book will be much easier" for inability to ever comprehend ANOTHER book. But indeed, there will be another book, as soon as this month! So, I survived the first Volksboutique Inventory. But of course, having an opportunity like that one was incredible, and making the book into a project became my primary task that entire year. I like to keep order, and surveying the projects made since I really began working professionally (depending upon when that actually was) was incredibly satisfying.

Initially, I thought of this book as a sort of end of year Annual Report, and was thinking of course about summing up.
I also was glad to have the opportunity to formally define what makes up Volksboutique for me, as it has often been (mis)understood as solely a second-hand shop. The book was the opportunity to show breadth, and to also underscore the aesthetic and "philosophical" stance I take. I also write a fair amount, and the book was the perfect showcase for that activity.

It was an incredibly tidy feeling to draw the line somewhere and say to myself "All this has been accomplished", but then a sort of enormous void was staring at me, as in "what now?" This is rather familiar to me after large projects.

And as I've gotten increasingly interested in libraries and other archiving systems, I am happy to be working on books that can show that interest.

Why these deliberate confusions between art and commerce?

Well, I'm quite interested in properly defining which things are assigned value. And I'm very preoccupied with what counts as labor.

This began quite practically following my move to Berlin in 1991 — with my larger project of assimilating. It is noteworthy that I had no real permission to work here, and so I devised series of service pieces in the early 90s, where I, for example, worked as a masseuse, largely for tips. Also, that I was included in (and working for) numerous group shows all over Europe at this time, and realized that, rewarding as that is, it doesn't pay money.

This idea of merging income and art occupations culminated with opening the Volksboutique-as-shop in 1996. It was a way of claiming autonomy. It both freed me from being anyone's employee, and launched me straight into Proprietor-status, and it absolved me from having to rely on the art system to provide me with an audience. It allowed me to build a base of operations, and work from it, which is a device I've held onto over years.

"I've always held the belief that art is labor that deserves proper compensation. It is often difficult to assert this, in all levels of the art system. I'm sure that all involved would agree that art has "value", but where the work lies, and who is paying for it becomes a very clouded issue. I have issues with the premise that art is its own reward."

My work path over years has continued to punctuate my thoughts on this, in the form of anecdote or in specific exhibition or project experience. A museum I did a project with revoked a small production fee when they discovered that the piece I had made — a vending machine — was turning a small profit within the exhibition itself. Hundreds of visitors to my installation at documenta X (a franchise of the Volksboutique shop, installed in the exhibition) complained loudly that this "wasn't a commercial exhibition!", missing the irony that, for example, a Jeff Wall was hanging directly opposite my store. Numerous visitors (including a reporter from The Wall Street Journal) found my $12 tour fee as part of my Tourguide? piece in New York city excessive, although that is exactly the sum charged by all tour guide agencies in the city. A museum director in Italy refused to refund my travel and production costs for the installation, barking at me that I was "lucky to be in Italy".

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Volksboutique Franchise, 1997

On the one hand, we have art fairs and Sotheby's auctions reminding us all the time about the financial inequalities or excesses of the art system, but then, on the other, we have puritan calls for the work to be freed of economics so that it can exist in some reality-free bubble. And I disagree with both of these extremes.

Of course, I am isolating these experiences to underscore this particular point. It should not be misinterpreted that my entire work path has been a litany of complaint or abuse. To the contrary. Most artists I know find themselves being pushed forward by "mistakes" or such experiences, and I am no different. Hitting a point of adversity, whether within one's own process or from the outside, pushes things forward.

Basically, I identify with being a working artist - I work hard in order to live from this and live AS this. And it's important to me to feature that in projects. And it is important that that include financial aspects.

Of course, when I am involved is larger scale projects — which I call "Organizational Ventures" – that contain large amounts of administration, preparation, and on-site labor, I am often asking myself what I am trying to prove to myself by creating these insanely confounding schemes. It IS the addition of chaos, of overwhelming-ness, of over-stressing productivity that ends up defining many of these projects.

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Pilot, 2000

Do you perform or role-play with Volksboutique? How do you differentiate one from the other?

It is good that the the word "performative" has entered the general art vocabulary, because it rescues work like mine from being labeled as Performance Art. I am extremely averse to theater, because I don't want to see a simulation of life. I want life. I want things real and in real time. And there is always going to be that unfortunate leap the mind makes when hearing the phrase "performance art" that conjures the stage whisper, or someone setting themself on fire. So I don't consider myself to be performing in the sense that we understand "acting" or staging. But I DO find that the entire thing is about performance, in terms of what in German is the word Leistung. And I do have a certain public persona that is in the work (and probably in my teaching as well). It is a part of my own personality, not something that is assumed, but it is also specific to certain projects that contain an extroverted element. Initially, my labors in the Volksboutique were specifically about pointing directly to the fact that this was an occupation. Something all-consuming, that required a sweat to be broken. And about clarifying that my own person/a was the guide through this set of ideas. This is also a way of addressing accountability and responsibility. Projects of mine require participation of various levels by viewers. How much they can access has in part to do with how they approach me as the representative of any given work. I feel this is a fair exchange, similar to any in a shop transaction.

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Tourguide?, 1999

Which criteria guide the choice of the identities you adopt in the Volksboutique performances?

I spent one year at a university before switching to an art school, and while I was there, I remember being astonished at the number of extremely focussed majors some people had. I had no idea that these occupations existed. In high school, I was told by those in the position of advising me that I would be a good artist or a good lawyer. (I will assume because I was generally considered a "creative type" but I was also extremely loud and opinionated.) My step-mother thought I should become a dental hygienist. Upon graduating from art school, though my occupation as artist was never really something I questioned, I realized I missed many aspects from other occupations. I remain infinitely curious, for example, about office culture, although I've never worked in a true cubicle-zone ever. My initial incarnation as shopkeeper at the Volksboutique was mostly informed by my taking German service culture to task, not to mention wanting to define publicly what I felt was the role of the artist in the society, and that this was a service providing role. Thereafter, I began investigating which jobs would best illustrate my preoccupations. I am particularly interested in librarians now, for example.

I suppose it is redundant to mention these works also point out my femaleness to an extent. Either I have chosen to take on some stereotyped female roles (shopgirl, librarian) or I am intentionally trying out things that fewer women end up in (late night talk show host).

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Volksboutique, 1996-1997

One of the more reproduced photographs from the Volksboutique store shows me holding up an actual debutante's ball gown in a wall-sized mirror. There was a fair bit of sniping regarding that image, that it was self-serving or narcissistic, etc. But what it was was my trying something out that interested me. Sizing it up, putting it on.

The aesthetic of the Volksboutique object is very peculiar. What inspired it?

0afashonme.jpgThe name Volksboutique stems from the VEB, or VolksEigenen Betrieb, which was the socialist term for collective ownership and industry in the GDR. I moved to Berlin Mitte in 1991, and it was a profoundly different aesthetic experience than today, not to mention from that which I was accustomed having grown up in the States. The remnants of the GDR were everywhere, literally cast out on the street in piles day by day. I wandered the streets daily hauling in everything I could physically transport home. A store called "Dumping Kuhle" sold off stockpiled VEB products that were suddenly rendered valueless. That was the environment I lived in, and so it naturally entered my work.

However, this is not exclusively a GDR nor Ostalgic thing. My residence in Brooklyn had me obsessed with visual elements I found locally, for example, my studio there is housed in a former pencil factory. Many elements invoke a hand-made aesthetic, and I have a predilection for cast-off objects. I collect 50s office furniture, vernacular signage, manual typewriters, and have a mini-museum of vintage stationery products.

Volksboutique is to a large extent about examining concepts of “value? in our culture and re-investing discarded appurtenances with meaning and use. I’m trying to point viewers’ attention to specific objects and events in life that risk being overlooked as being too quotidian or too common.

One of the mottos of Volksboutique is "Make the most of what you've got." Are there examples in your life when you had no choice but "make the most of what you had"?

I think I could answer this many ways. In my family, there is a particular tic to be constantly striving for a point of "readiness" or "departure" that is pretty unattainable, and can be frustrating. What I mean here is, that "work" can only get done once every little other thing is done — dishes washed, clothes straightened, recycling out, checkbook balanced — rendering a clean slate so that this WORK can begin. But this is a state that will never really be attained! I realized pretty early that rather than waiting for this ultimate constellation or alignment of graces, or whatever, that I simply had to jump in and work with whatever was at hand. This could easily be seen in financial terms, that when XXX stage of financial security is arrived at, THEN XXX can be achieved. Rather than waiting for an impossible or utopian situation to suddenly arise, better to get to work and create a better situation. I mean, I moved to Berlin with no permission to be here, not speaking the language, and with really no obvious skill set that differentiated me from anyone else...and so working within these limitations became my project.

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Volksboutique Accounting Archive, 2002

With regard to being a practicing artist, especially since entering the teaching community, there is this misunderstanding to dispel that one entered an art career with other cards than anyone else. What I mean here is that I went through the same channels that anyone would: art school, move to urban environment, work, dialogue within the art system. People are not born with cards optioning them to art careers, (or any careers). There is no mystical thing that suddenly bestows an artist with a career. An artist works and finds him/herself in the midst of it.

I also understand art making to be less about the invention or construction of new things, but more about the close paying attention to and realignment of existing things.

What is Christine Hill doing when she's not keeping the shop? I'm particularly curious about the work of your students.

Well, I make a lot of lists. And I am a master procrastinator. It is sort of a job in itself. But yes, one of the larger re-structurings of my work life since 2004 is that I teach full time at the Bauhaus University. I chair the department "Media, Trend and Public Appearance" within the media faculty. This is something that sort of serendipitously presented itself to me, and turns out to have been fairly revolutionary for me. I am lucky that teaching is less a diversion from what I normally would be doing, rather it is a pretty natural extension of what I do. And though it has taken some getting used to in terms of the organization of my working time, I find myself impressed and inspired by my students to an amazing degree. The math for embarking on a career as an artist is not necessarily in one's favor, and the culture — even if we happen to be in some art market boom right now – doesn't necessarily jump over itself in appreciation for the artistic occupation. So these people are incredibly brave, and I appreciate them following their instincts, and their being uncompromising about what they demand from their lives. And it is there that I can offer the most guidance. I am not necessarily sitting with them teaching them software or how to patina something to a particular finish. More so, it's training them for the long fight. To instill in them a rigor, so that they can go out with that in their toolkit. I'm not trying to scare them, but I am trying to explain to them what will be required of them in terms of discipline and focus. Furthermore, I am myself a huge fan of good work, and when my students come up with good projects, I'm just completely invigorated by that.

0amolekkkkk.jpgCan you tell us something about the work you're preparing for the upcoming Biennale of Art in Venice?

Well, that aforementioned Second Book is the main contribution for Venice. It is entitled Minutes (as is the entire piece for Venice) — referring to detail, minutae; the passing and accruing of time; and of course, taking meeting minutes, the tallying of progress.

The book as an object is patterned after a calendar/datebook. In considering what one could/should put in an exhibition like Venice, there seemed to be pressure for Big Project, and I sort of dislike the notion of the masterpiece or opus. I like the continuum, that the machine is humming, that things are ebbing and flowing insofar as industry is concerned, and that many factors contribute to the so-called Process. This is most easily evidenced by a glimpse into my own datebook. So, the piece for Venice speaks to that...how my (or the mind) is organized, and what things are in there, and they can be very small things, and that it is something about growth via accumulation. And organization. I like that haircut appointments reside in the same space as big deadlines, and so-called Events of Note.

"Minutes" features work since the Inventory book, and texts I've written on them. There is a marvelous essay at the beginning by the author and musician (and my friend) Rick Moody. The publication was designed by the Leipzig-based Markus Dreßen (as was Inventory) and he is simply a masterful talent. Our collaboration is one that I am incredibly proud of.

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Minutes, installation view at the Venice Biennale, 2007

In addition to the publication, which is displayed in a sort of reading room environment, there is an installation of my Trunk Show in the Arsenale. These are a pretty spot-on manifestation of how my work and thought process organize themselves. The idea for this trunk system came from a conversation with my sister a number of years ago. She had visited a 60s submarine-turned-museum in Hawaii, and was extolling the wonders of how the interior worked...the attention to detail, how every little thing had its place in order to economize space, etc. She exclaimed "It was SO Volksboutique!". I realized that at that time, it wasn't particularly that any Volksboutique pieces were like this, but that my sister has such a good understanding of how my mind works, that she knew I would identify with this sort of organizational system. And so, the trunks were about making a physical representation of that. They isolate a five day work week into 5 governing tasks (Accounting, Management, PR, Production and Reception) and there are the complete accouterments for each of these occupations in each trunk. They are about economizing space and also rendering these tasks mobile.

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Accounting Portable Office

My Brooklyn studio is right alongside the workspace of Booklyn — a bookmaking artist alliance that I've worked closely with since having been in New York. Particularly my friendship and collaboration with Mark Wagner — who manufactured these trunks as over-dimensional, exploded "books" – is important to me, and the show pays homage to that.

Name us 3 to 5 artists whom you think should get more attention from the public.

Well, I will preface this by saying that these are artists I admire and am inspired by, and am lucky enough to be friends with.
But I am not inferring that they are necessarily under-respected or underexposed in any way. But it is certainly excellent if even more people learn about them, because they all do amazing work. I notice that they are all mostly based in New York, which certainly means I need to get out in Berlin more!

Allison Smith (The Muster and Notion Nanny.)
Nina Katchadourian
J. Morgan Puett
Pablo Helguera
Michael Rakowitz.

Thanks Christine!

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