The artists invited to realize a project at 1646 are asked to engage in conversation with a correspondent via email or DM, be it someone previously unknown to them or whom they’re already familiar with.
This conversation spans the period before an exhibition is completed. 1646 invites the correspondent at the other end of this exchange to ask questions so they may be guided through the artist’s decision-making process and how their initial ideas develop toward completion. It provides insight into the artist’s body of work and is intended to paint a picture of the otherwise untraceable choices that constitute the artist’s practice.
AUGUST 19, Rune Peitersen [RP] – Christian Falsnaes [CF]:
The nice people at 1646 asked me to engage in an email conversation with you, regarding your upcoming exhibition there. At first,
I hoped we’d be able to do it in Danish, but unfortunately, they
prefer that we do it in English. Hardly surprising, of course, it
would just have been nice to write some Danish :-)
I decided not to google you beforehand, so I must admit that all
I know about you is from the announcement on the 1646-website.
According to the information there you’re a performance artist
(or an artist who makes performances?), so perhaps I am wrong in
talking about ‘an exhibition’ at 1646?
Looking forward to hearing from you and seeing where this conver-sation leads us!
CF – RP
Yes, so they told me. It would have been fun, though a bit unusual, for me to write in Danish, but it seems like English is fine for
both of us as well :)
To answer your question, I do not see myself as a “performance artist”. I work across different media and do not limit myself to any
specific production- or presentation format. As I do mostly work
with the art context and the exhibition format though, it is safe
to say that I will indeed be doing an exhibition at 1646.
I look forward to seeing where the conversation leads us as well!
AUG 21, RP – CF
Sounds good, let’s get started!
I was wondering if you could tell me some more about how you work
with ‘the exhibition format’ and how that will play a part in the
exhibition at 1646? Also, is the exhibition already planned out or
are you still developing it? And – I’m curious – have you already
been to 1646, do you know the space?
AUG 27, RP – CF
I finally got round to looking at your site and reading
about your work – sorry it took so long.
Initially, I had been hoping that I could get you to
clue me in on your practice and work by asking you some
simple questions, which would lead to a common base
from which we could go deeper. I thought that kind of
conversation might serve as the best introduction for
the eventual readers as well. Nevertheless, having now
looked at your work, I realize my initial questions were
probably too simple and generic and your possible answers would probably have had to be either too comprehensive or too bland – neither being conducive for a
good discussion. My bad.
So, having now seen the documentation of some of your
work, I must admit I have become quite a fan and am really looking forward to seeing what you have planned for
1646. I’m not sure I have the full command of the theoretical terms and discourse needed to analyse it properly, so I’ll just start out by talking about some of
my observations and associations regarding the works.
Perhaps you can then expand on some of the issues.
First, on an almost personal note, I was intrigued to
read about your early encounters with ‘art’ in the form
of graffiti, and how you describe that as ‘..a back-door
into art’ (‘proper’ or ‘real’ art?) I followed the same
route, 10 years earlier, but with a completely different
result. Your utilization of the performative and bodily aspects of painting trains is extremely compelling
and energizing. To some extent, I imagine the rage and
desire to question authority are motivational factors
which you have brought with you from ‘the yard’ – and
your approach seems to be so much truer to the emotional payload of the graffiti-writer, than the silly graffiti-on-frames-in-fancy-galleries, which became trendy
in the mid-80ies. (Btw: is that a guy in a MOA t-shirt in
‘Syntax Error’? – nice touch!)
Having said that, you clearly have also taken the initial motivation or frustration of the writer much further. The overarching themes of your works seem to
deal with questioning authority; sometimes by embracing it, sometimes by confronting it -and perhaps ridiculing it? One of the first things that came to my mind
were the Stanford and Milgram experiments. They too use
a certain amount of performativity and try to question
or establish certain patterns of authority. I couldn’t
help but wonder if the issues raised then by the social sciences are now being raised in the arts, and,
if so, whether that’s because the reflective capabilities of the art-world provides a refuge for issues not
discussed in the increasingly privatized and monetized
world of scientific research, or because we are experiencing similar problems today with authority which we
need to find new ways to address. Here I’m thinking of
the increasing move towards right-wing rhetoric about
the need for a strong state and leader, but also the evermore emotionally driven behaviour of ‘the people’. You
mention it yourself in an interview, that there’s more
emotion present at a football match or a Beyonce concert, than at an opening at an art gallery. I wonder if
emotion in itself is something to strive for; there’s
also a lot of emotion at a Donald Trump rally or a Jerry
Springer show – both of which came to mind when watching ‘Front’. Emotion also opens up to mass manipulation
and behavior, the hallmarks of fascism – and also very
present in ‘Front’.
There are many more themes to pick from your work; I’m
also interested in your notion of the prosumer and the
issues regarding authorship and responsibility of an
artist, but for now I’d be interested in hearing your
response to the opening remarks above.
AUG 30, CF -RP
I thought your question was fine, but indeed very open.
I just didn’t get to answer before now because of my current intensive travel schedule. That seems to be quite
good though, since you’ve had the chance to have a more
extensive look at my work.
I am not surprised to hear that you also have a background in graffiti. It is quite amazing how many people
from the scene that I now meet at art fairs and biennials etc. It definitely seems like the graffiti scene have
provided a formative environment for a lot of artists. I
agree with your opinion on “graffiti-on-canvas” as an approach to turn graffiti into art. In my opinion graffiti on canvas focuses on the most uninteresting aspects
of both: The recognizable aesthetics or “style” of each
context. I have never been a big fan of art that tries to
look like art. The same goes for graffiti that tries to
look like art.
For me, the core values that I brought from graffiti into
art (btw. I do not define art as something more “proper” or “real” than graffiti, I merely use the term “art” as referring to a presentation context) are related to
the potential of self-definition and anti-establishment.
The idea that you do not have to accept whatever social
frame you are placed within, but rather that you have a
certain freedom to form and change your context yourself, is very appealing to me. That is something I feel is present in graffiti.
You are right that a big part of my work revolves around
questions of authority. To say that I ridicule or question authority though, might be a bit too simple. I do not necessarily see authority as something negative. Power
relations are a part of the way human interaction functions. I believe that we do need authoritative structures
in some form, in order to organize society, but at the
same time I also believe that it is important to be aware
of these structures in order to deal with them consciously. The relation to social sciences is interesting, even
though I see my work as something fundamentally different. In the Stanford and Milgram experiments, partici-
pants were subjected to a constructed situation in order to achieve something different (a scientific result).
In my work, the situation itself is the result. It is not
pointing to or aspiring to be anything else than art and
the reactions, emotions and behaviour of the participants
within the work is itself the purpose. I believe that experiencing as opposed to reading or hearing about provides a different kind of reflection. My works allow you
to consciously experience participation in a constructed situation that is it’s own purpose.
The context of art provides a space in which highly problematic topics can be dealt with and looked at. In my works
(As opposed to the Milgram experiment for instance) you
know exactly what you participate in and what your role
is. I always try to make the constrtruction as visible as
possible. As a spectator of art, as an exhibition visitor,
you’re accustomed to a reflected and analytical distance
to what you see. The exhibition format facilitates that
mode of viewing. You question whether or not emotion in
itself is something to strive for, but I see a critical
potential in the ability to enable strong emotions in a
setting where you are conscious about how and why those
emotions are triggered. The element of manipulation is
certainly present, but at the same time I don’t think one
should underestimate the exhibition visitors and their
level of reflection. I find the idea that you allow yourself to be manipulated in order to enable a specific experience – the experience of being a part of an art work – quite interesting.
You mention at the end of your mail the concept of the
prosumer. I think the exhibition format provides an excellent context for investigating and discussing the development from a society of consumers to prosumers, as
the exhibition – contrary to the church, the theatre and
the cinema – is reflecting the individualized and democratized society that we currently live in. Each exhibition visitor enter the exhibition as an individual and
decide for themselves when to come, where to look, how
long to stay etc. Therefore the decisions of each individual is an integrated part of experiencing the exhibition. I try to make these decisions an integrated part of
my works. I try to address the viewers directly by making them an integrated part of the exhibited work itself. That of course opens up the discussion about authorship
that you hint at as well.
AUG 31, RP – CF
Thank you for your extensive reply! It made it very
clear to me how you see yourself and your work and what
your intentions are. There are a few lines of thought I
would like to hear more about and I also have a few questions regarding the relation between the art scene and
public, and the ‘outside’ world.
You talk about the possibility of ‘self-definition and
anti-establishment’ as being an important drive. This
certainly seems to play a very big role in your works,
not only as a motivating factor but also in what you
want the visitor to take away from the experience of
your work. I think this is very clear, and as I mentioned earlier, I think it is one of the strong aspects
of your works. And, I agree, authority is not inherently
negative and also an intrinsic part of human relations.
This makes it very important to choose whom or what you
lend authority to, wisely. In order to do this, you must
of course be (made) aware of the dynamics, power-structures etc.
This seems to work very well within the confines of the
art world, with its informed, reflective and well-educated public, but I wonder how it translates beyond the
art world. And whether the art world really is, as you
say: “…a space in which highly problematic topics can
be dealt with and looked at.”? I certainly agree with
this as an ideal situation (and have actively argued for
this in the Dutch debate on the role of art in society
over the last 5 years), but when observing an average
art fair, it seems it’s all about monetary transactions
and shady investments – capitalism at its most authoritarian. Is the idealistic (utopian?) narrative of arts critical potential really more than a story we tell ourselves in order to soothe our consciences? Or does it
really have the potential to break out of its own establishment and spill into the world of political and economical authority?
This brings me to the prosumer. I agree that the exhibition format (and the growing emphasis on career and
artist ‘superstars’) can be said to reflect the development towards a hyper-individualistic society. But it
seems to me that it then also becomes an extension or
part of a capitalist paradigm in which the individual
has been transformed from a citizen to a consumer and
now into a prosumer (and in this transformation has lost
both agency and an idea of the collective). Is the prosumer more than the next-generation consumer? Does a
prosumer really produce anything outside of the predetermined boundaries of consumption?
And while the idea of the prosumer – through a process
of ‘hyper-democratization’ – may help to actively break
down certain notions of authority (traditional political parties, scientific fact etc.), it seems that the underlying power structures (capitalism, production, consumption) remain intact, and in some cases are reinforced by the uninformed, but loudmouthed prosumer
(rightwing politics and values, climate change denial
etc.) In your own works you may not know the exact outcome of the work (in both a physical sense as in the individual experiences of the participants), but you’re
still very much the celebrated author even when you relinquish the lead role – that too can be seen as reinforcing a certain narrative: the white male selflessly
lending his genius to another.
So basically, while I recognize and share your ideas
about self-determination and anti-establishment, I wonder if we (as in all of us in the art world) aren’t simply
complicit in upholding the very structures we criticize.
Can true self-determination and anti-establishment really find a place within our present societal structures, and would we really applaud (or recognize) it if
it manifested itself (e.g. by claiming a piece of disputed land and chopping off peoples heads)? As you may have guessed the above also deals with questions I’ve been asking myself for a while (sorry, to dump it all on you, but I guess your work brought it out :-)).
I fully accept that I may be misinterpreting or exaggerating your statements and works completely – I just realized today that this is my first time as the guy doing the interview…
Good luck with the preparations, and I look very much
forward to meeting you on Friday!
SEP 2, CF – RP
Thanks again for your thoughtful response and great
questions. I would have loved to have more time to go in
depth with the discussion, but since the opening is tonight and I’m already pretty late, I will have to answer
You ask me how well my work translates beyond the art world
and I’m afraid that is something I cannot answer. It may
seem like an easy cop out, but I leave it to the participants to carry the experiences they make into their lives.
It is not only because I feel unable to change societal
structures outside the realm of the art world, but also
because I do not see that as my role. I agree completely
on the vast majority of the art I see being all about investment and career hierarchy (especially, but not only
at fairs), but I don’t think you can blame the context of
art in itself for that. Rather, I think that the artists
have a big responsibility regarding the exhibitions they
make. A lot of artists don’t care about the public, but
that does not mean that there is no critical potential in
the exhibition format. I maintain the position that the
art exhibition has potential as a frame for relevant social rituals. For me, that potential lies more in a kind of heightened awareness than in the presentation of concrete (political) agendas. Whether or not the rise of the prosumer brings about a
democratization of power or simply a more sophisticated form of consumption within the existing structures
of capitalism, you have to accept it as fact. I think art
needs to reflect the development society (in good or bad),
but also to point at the potentials of that development.
The individualization provides a conscious form of agency
that has critical potential, but I believe that the challenge is to provide a social aspect. That is why meeting, exchanging, touching as well as the formation of group
rituals are such important parts of my practice. I think
society needs spaces that facilitates such experiences
and the museum is a space where individuals enter with a
raised awareness of themselves and what is presented to
them. To use that space to form social interactions and
reflect on those seems relevant to me, but I am of course
aware that I might just provide another product. I am also
a part of the market.
Regarding my own role as the author of the work, the white
male in the lead role, I do not try to hide or delete that
position. Rather, I want to highlight it’s mechanics and
make it as visible as possible. That is one of the reasons
why I do not like the focus on charisma and “presence”
in performance art, because I feel that a lot of performances (and performance artists) utilize the mechanics
of the mythical leader, celebrity status and so on, in-stead of investigating and showing how these mechanics
are constituted. By delegating the role of the leader or
the performer to the exhibition visitor, I don’t expect
to break down the authority of my own position. I rather
attempt to share the experience of being either submitted to or taking a position of power in order to be able
to reflect on its influence.
I hope I have been able to answer at least parts of your
very well thought out and sincere questions and I hope
we will get a chance to discuss further in the future.
Thanks a lot and see you later!