Per Huttner at the European Film Colleage
Vision Forum’s artistic director Per Huttner at the European Film Colleage in Ebeltoft, 9am, August 25. Below is a transcript of his talk:
My name is Per Huttner. I am a Swedish artist based in Paris. I have been making interdisciplinary art for 35 years and I have shown my work pretty much around the whole globe.
I am happy to be here and I will talk about art. I have been teaching art for almost 30 years and the some of the most fundamental questions are very similar in all artistic fields. I will focus on these questions that relate to all different art forms. So when I talk about “art” and “the artists” today I talk about “the arts” (all artistic expressions) and all creators. I will say “visual art” when I refer to painting, performance, installation etc. There are of course also very specific questions that relate to each art form. So for instance the cut in cinema, the lack of time in still images, the logic of language in poetry etc. , but I will mostly leave those aside.
So, one the thing that will probably define our future lives more than anything, is how we relate to curiosity. Art is about curiosity and it is tool that helps us (or even forces us?) to keep an open mind. It is beautiful that the artist and the audience are both curious, but in different ways. The artist starts out with a hunch, a feeling, an image, a smell, a phrase and gradually arrive at a final outcome. (But it is essential that the journey is one of discovery and re-discovery). This will enable the audience to find their own curiosity by following your lead.
One way of describing what art does is to talk about “de-familiarisation.” Art helps us to see the surrounding world that we are used to with new eyes. There is an important parallel with love and fear here. Both make us see the whole world with new eyes.
Just think about how the world appears when you are gripped by abysmal fear…
Just think about what the world appears like when your heart is filled with love…
Where science, politics, commercialism tries to tell you how the world functions, predict how you will act and in other ways control you, art invites you to re-discover the world around you by tickling your curiosity. Therefore art allows freedom of interpretation. The person who experience the artwork is free to experience what it likes. No interpretation, especially not that of the artist, can be said to be superior to that of any person experiencing the artwork.
In other words, the artwork is first activated when it is experienced by an audience member. The only thing that matters is what happens in him/her/it.
In a public piece in Melbourne, I technically engaged in vandalism by sticking vinyl texts on existing public sculptures. (So there is a subtext here, that if I had used a spray can it would clearly had been vandalism, but by using proper looking texts, the act of vandalism became muddled.)
It is easy to understand the texts. It is clear that they are not part of an official agenda and still they use the language of authority. But they are full of paradox, which renders it hard to interpret them in a single way.
A few years ago I created a performance called “Start in the Middle” with the Swedish choreographer Carima Neusser. In it we used music, story telling, meditation and relaxation exercises in a darkened room to trigger the audience’s imagination. The audience members were lying on the floor under semi transparent fabrics (we often asked them to close their eyes). After some relaxing exercises we told them stories about people from history who have related to their bodies in unusual ways. During the musical interludes, we massaged their feet and heads. The performance climaxed came when each one travelled, in their imagination, to another world where they “became” an imaginary animal in an imaginary landscape.
The performance uses the senses to experience our bodies in new ways. By activating the body we could trigger the audience’s individual imagination. By lying on their back with their eyes closed they created inner images that they had no control over. Many became horses or more-like animals, but there were an infinite of different animals that came into play.
So, what we are working with is how the human brain works. When I say boat, most of you get an image of a boat in your inner. But it is not the same boat. You all get your individual and differentiated boats in you mind. In the piece we, so to speak, piggybacked on literature to provoke the audience to activate their imagination.
But nowhere in the process do we expect the person to think an act in a special way. We create a setting where each person is creating his/her own universe.
Still the actual art piece happens inside each visitor. It cannot be shared with the outside world. The music which is generated is not influenced by the audience. In order to understand more about how the human mind (or rather brain) functions we have developed a tool whereby brain activity can be used to influence lights, images and sounds. (Virtually any digital platform or gadget.)
We use electroencephalogram or EEG which is a non invasive technology. We put electrodes on the scalp of a person an measure the tiny electrical signals in the brain this way. The data from this medical application is hen fed into software that is used to create digital music.
Here is some documentation from an event in Helsinki. I invited the audience to come into a room one by one. I connected them to the EEG and asked them to close their eyes and relax. They could then modulate some carefully selected sounds using their brain waves.
What is interesting is of course that they can hear how their brain’s activity affect the music. That in itself changes the sound which affects them creating infinite feedback loops. And since the signal is improved by relaxation it is a tool whereby one can explore different forms of introspection.
For instance if you try to relax and you can hear the music responding to the relaxation. If you then become happy and excited, you will lower your relaxation. So how to “reach your goal” without becoming excited is an interesting exercise.
Art rests on curiosity towards life. The work of artists is not about propagating a world view, but allowing the audience to re-discover him/herself and his/her life. This cannot be underlined enough: Your role as an artist is to awaken the curiosity of your audience, visitor, guest – whatever we choose for the people whom you work for.
Maybe you can see what arouses my curiosity? But how to find the right context where you can arouse your own?