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Conglomerate

In conversation with
Nathalie Hartjes

As part of the exhibition: Oedipusmas Special
This took place before the opening on 09/12/2016

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.

DECEMBER 2: Nathalie Hartjes [NH] to CONGLOMERATE [C]

Dear CONGLOMERATE, Christopher, Dafna, Derek, Ethan and Sol,

First off … ‘Pizza Snake’.. Sheesh, I am afraid that word will

haunt me forever!

I am really pleased that our mutual friends at 1646 connected us,

although I know some of your individual practices, I was not yet

aware of the project CONGLOMERATE and it is a real pleasure to be

launched into your midst like this.

I am going to start off with offering you some background on my

own personal history, because viewing Block 1 & 2 just made me

feel like taking a tumble through my childhood. A haunted confused childhood then, but still.

I was born in 1981 and through my dad’s work we spent 1984 – 1988

in Miami and the icons of my youth are Star Wars, GI Joe, JAM (truly outrageous!), PeeWee Herman, Wuzzles (I was a proud owner of

Hoppopotamus – image added below),Fraggle Rock and the Muppet

Show. Looking back it does to an extent feel the 80s were the

golden age of television. Shows presented fantastic microcosmoses of somewhat familiar yet outer/otherworldly communities.

It strikes me, that aside from certain aesthetic affinities

with these TV productions in your practices , the blueprint for

CONGLOMERATE is encapsulated in shows like Mr Rogers, Pee Wee

Herman and the Muppets. These shows are not simply their own

narrational devices, their sites and premise function as anchor

to gather and disclose larger communities, whether actual people

such our beloved guests in the Muppets and Sesame street, or fictional mainstays like Mr McFeely* from Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood of

Make Believe (*my god, can you imagine such a name nowadays … ).

In any case – the sense of community is an emphatic feature – and

I wonder how this relates to our current day viewing and leisure

habits, pretty much entrenched in the internet. I think over such

a brief time as the past 5 years our media consumption has become

increasingly solitary. So much so that I am actually after 8 snobby years of not owning a television feel driven to get one again.

Partly for collective viewing experiences in my own room, but I

think even finding solace in knowing I am watching a show exactly

simultaneously with other humans.

How do you experience community and the ways this is shaped via

old and new media?

Warmest

Nathalie

DEC 4: C – NH

Hi Nathalie!

Nice to meet you as well, we’re in the midst of putting the

finishing touches on our sets, we start our first day of

shooting here at 1646 tomorrow morning.

Most of us in CONGLOMERATE haven’t had a TV in 10-15 years,

so when we think about TV, we’re more orbiting around

what it was and how it affected us than today’s kind of

programming. In terms of viewing, we know we can’t make

people watch the same thing at the same time (aside from

during our theatre screenings), but we do use this ‘block’

format to program what channel is on and when it changes, guiding the viewing experience rather than allowing

viewers to self-direct.

We’re all from different places, so the community element

for us is centered largely on the shared experience, especially in how we use a physical base to create our projects. We like having this concrete way of connecting,

building up a network of people with various skills who

may mostly work independently but have a need or desire

to come together into an affect-based community of ‘doing’. The model of a ‘TV Station’ initially appealed to

us because of this physicality – a geographical meeting

point – and also in how there’s an accredited way of dividing the creative work on a project. It’s easy to lose

track of this feeling in art which comes from working together in various constellations and to varying degrees,

allowing your ego and identity to get washed up in a different kind of tide that’s generated.

So, for us, it’s not (so much) a nostalgia for old TV and

community that drives us, but to take what’s useful for

us from those existing models and utilize it to push out

into new areas, challenging ourselves at the very least.

– CONGLOMERATE

DEC 5: NH – C

So, if I understand it correctly, you just had your first

day of shooting at 1646 yesterday? We just opened a show

at MAMA yesterday, which leads me to think about the exhibition as stage, regardless whether the artworks, the

artists or the audience are the actors that bring the

set to life. The parallels with the TV-format simply just

seems to make explicit that which for a part is already

there. That there are always different planes of action

that trigger one another.

With you directing ‘the zapping’ experience you take on

this role of the invisible hand, taking away both agency

and responsibility of the viewer to control the TV experience. However, how does this work in your physical

installations? How do you feel about letting these new

actors, the audience, find there own route – are there

attempts to subtly or unconsciously guide them?

Then a whole different matter. I notice you sign off

with CONGLOMERATE, consciously doing away with your

personal signatures – yet I think in the work the explicit visual language of each of your practices are

strongly recognizable (as well as made clear through

the end titles) and function because of their interplay. Obviously the notion CONGLOMERATE, in and of itself invites for fluctuating participation, hence your

guest contributors, but do you see yourselves as a necessary core group, or are you organizing a structure

that is not necessarily personal and can/should shift

over time?

And lastly, can you tell me a bit about the scenes you

just shot, and perhaps also if and how the geographical meeting point of 1646 has influenced these? Will

you find ways to insert personal (whether of yourselves

or the audience) X-mas drama’s into the new show, because after all, at least to my experience, not one Xmas

is safe from some drama ! (but we laugh about it later, right?)

DEC 6: NH – C

I imagine you are really pressed for time. I just happened to see some images pass by on social media of the

shots and see one of my questions below, partially, answered. Still, it would be great to hear you elaborate.

So first of all I noticed some familiar faces in the images, and can piece together your way of working with

the local context for that a bit, involving local artists/actors to take part. I am curious about the pro-

cess of engaging these people (like Laura Stamps, Rob

Knijn, Katinka van Gorkum) – did you place an open call,

do you rely on 1646 to act as matchmaker, where they

people you were already interested in?

Earlier this year MAMA co-produced the pilot episode of

a new anime Sci-Fi series titled Culturesport, brainchild

of John Michael Boling. JM has his own team of (mostly

self-taught) 3D artists and writers who he works with,

but to develop the narrative of the episode, MAMA provided the research that offered the shape for JM’s own

crazy scientist storyline to run through. Culturesport

will develop itself over various times and places, landing in a particular geography each time and taking

from the artistic environment, history and resources

that that place has to offer. In Rotterdam the Gabber

subculture from the nineties offered the context to

connect the Culturesport team to fashion designer Nada

van Dalen, hardcore legends Rotterdam Terror Corps, but

also young writer Tommy Ventevogel and (voice)actors

from collective Urland.

This created this fantastic byproduct of the episode

+ exhibition itself in the form of a platform to connect generations and practices. And these relationships actually become recurring and sustainable – they

really raise the level of contributing to an artistic

infrastructure, which then is not only of use in the relationship between us and the (primary) artist, but a

larger network.

For a space like MAMA we are not only happy to contribute this way, it also validates us within a context of

public funding. Simultaneously I also think – in a context of ever minimizing funding resources – it makes us,

the artistic scene, stronger and more capable of challenging these conditions

So now my questions following from this observation:

How strong are your concerns/ambitions to provide a

catalyzing context for others beyond yourselves (as the

primary artists involved)?

And secondly, more technical, how much do practical, financial contexts present you with urgency or agency to

develop CONGLOMERATE?

All best – good luck there!

C – NH

Hi Nathalie!

Ok here’s a bunch of answersssssss!!

The sets within the physical space (in this case the gallery, which acts as a sound stage) are arranged in both

a practical manner (i.e. reacting to the available architecture), as well as one that sensibly brings the audience

through the story in an apparently linear way. Visitors

to the space can experience the individual sets at their

own pace; to enter into them, be absorbed and draw their

own conclusions about what has taken place within them,

as well as view them from afar, and to view the extents of

the sets- where the carpet stops and the wallpaper runs

out. Their hunches about the scenes that have taken place

inside them are to be confirmed by the resulting video, once post-production is finished. The actors are, of

course, directed throughout the space as is traditional.

To answer your second question, CONGLOMERATE has become

a sort of collectively made artwork in itself, but also a

producing body which the five of us operate. Within the

project there are stratifications of collaboration and

authorship. It’s all still evolving so we try to leave room

for ourselves and other guest contributors to have autonomy, while also letting some kind of sense of identity wash into a greater body of water. At the moment you could

say that the five us are the nucleus of a growing mass.

The main reason that our blocks don’t have title cards or

credits after each small segment within them is mostly

to allow it all to flow together and get rid of divisions

that might allow the viewer too much of a breath (or to

turn off their ‘TV’), but also function as an editorial process which allows us to tightly adjoin the work of

divergent and complementary personalities, almost like

many machines arranged along the same electrical current.

Our way of working for Oedipusmas Special is one of the

few instances within the videos where the five of us have

had equal input into one show (Telethon being the other).

Co-writing a script with five people will always end with a

result that no one could’ve or would’ve come up with alone,

so there’s this element of letting go of some control

which can be both freeing and challenging for any artist.

Ok, for the third question we’ll start by describing a

few scenes. The opening scene is a wide shot of the living room; the mother of the family, Paule, scrambles in

all frazzled-looking for her guarana pills, keys and whatnot. She’s getting ready to run off to the weather station to report all night. She has a brief interaction with

her husband, Penn, who surfaces from the basement and

whom she seems to be more than happy to leave behind;

her line: ‘have fun at the family dinner, wish I could be

there’ is purely sarcastic. This initial scene is set up

to reference a typical family sitcom like Roxanne or the

Cosby Show, however pretty much from here on after, each

scene gets darker and darker in terms of mood and content. Additionally the whole story is set to the backdrop

of an ever growing insomnia affecting the members of the

entire household.

To recount some of the more intense scenes, yesterday for

example, we shot a whole day of the siblings, Evver and

Oscar, reuniting in their childhood bedroom, where their

insomnia and sexual tension slowly builds up. They go from

reminiscing about the furniture, and cracks in the walls,

to an innocent massage supposed to ‘help sis sleep’ to

Oscar pretend-sleeping while Evver smells his palms to

finally the pair revisiting their childhood game of playing ‘operation’. The latter action leading them into an

intense moment of stares and touches we never quite find

out how far the siblings will take. In the younger kids

room a more innocent version is taking place between the

two teenagers playing dentist.

On Monday we also shot some great scenes with grandma

Penelopee. She’s like the family rebel: solitary, mischievous and does what she wants, which includes framing her

teenage great grandson Odie as a ‘bedwetter’ by sneaking into his bedroom and peeing on his bed while he’s sup-

posed to be sleeping. A little later in the film though,

she is confronted by her grandkids upon which she bursts

into an eerie emotional confession explaining her actions, exclaiming: ‘do you really know your grandma, do

you really want to know your grandma?’. The confession

however is interrupted by sleep deprived dad Penn, who

urgently needs the whole family to gather in mama’s bed

because of some form of emergency. Well that’s a taste

for now re: scenes!

The shooting has been really fun so far, although exhausting (starting at 8.30 every morning and usually not

done before midnight, at least not for the crew). We have

a pretty varied cast in terms of ages, and experience, I

think they influence the script for sure, more than the

geographical meeting point. And the 1646 gang, of course

influences by helping, and facilitating and making for

good ears to talk things through.

Some of the actors have interesting physical contrasts

too; like the siblings Evver and Oscar who are just very

different in size, which translates really well on camera, and works well for building tension between them.

It’s also been fun and rewarding because here and there

the script is still malleable, so at times we improvise a

new ending for a scene on the spot, or come up with new

lines or actions as we go. This type of working is exciting and dynamic, especially when it works in a group, it’s

a super gratifying experience, and feels much like a well

oiled machine.

In terms of adding our own dramas for sure, it’s always

there somehow. Nothing is one-to-one, but even the way

we initially started was through the five of us going on

a three-day retreat where we shared old awkward family stories and pictures as well as references from shows

we used to watch or family scenes we liked from existing

films et cetera. From there we started building an new

story, which we of course exaggerated and made more absurd and dark. Slowly, the ideas started to come together and then the writing became smoother as we started

understanding the internal world of the thing we had created, choices then become logical, to the point we naturally stop veering off to unneeded side plots. We were all

surprised we got there pretty fast. And for sure there

are small details, picked form each of our memories and

families, like someone always forgetting a cup of chamomile tea in the microwave, having prepared it but then

never remembering to nuke it. The Oedipusmas family has

three microwaves, and are often nuking chamomile teas

to fight their sleep-dep. Further, the idea of the family with its tensions was also an exciting topic to dive

into, as its a kind of a parallel to the collective, which

we of course are. We were also thinking of the family as a

relational structure that’s very exclusive, and insular,

something that felt timely in relation to recent political power structures we are worried about. But now this

is veering off, so … beep beep full stop.

More soon!

– CONGLOMERATE

C – NH

Just got your follow up, somehow it’s partly already answered in our previous mail. We’re still in the mids of setting up for tomorrow, last day of shoot, so we’ll try

to sneak you a more precise answer at some point. But for

now briefly, re: How strong are your concerns/ambitions

to provide a catalyzing context for others beyond yourselves (as the primary artists involved)?

In the case of the Oedipusmas Special, we were really happy to work with 1646, some of us know them since longer,

and we all really like their program and way of working.

Further 1646 did place an open call for us, but of course

also searched through their own contacts to find the

right matches for us. We didn’t know any of the actors

before apart from Oscar Peters, an artist from Amsterdam

whom we wanted to work with. The others we did inter-

view over skype the weeks before arriving. Our main concern was to find good amateur actors/performers and good

people to work with, that means people who are excited

and up for it. We work with a large community of artists

around us in Berlin, and involve them in many ways, in our

shoots, next to of course featuring them in the blocks and

organizing events, curating shows etc. Community always

plays a part as we are always doing ambitious things with

groups of people, where no one’s main concern is payment,

but rather the experience, and having meaningful experiences together. However doing a show at 1646 was also an

exciting opportunity for us too as a collective, get to

be ‘the artist’ the maker, and this time not the curator.

It’s our first solo show as a collective.

Ok bis später

– CONGLOMERATE

DEC 8: NH – C

Dear CONGLOMERATE,

Not even counting on that you can see this message before things kick off tonight. Just wanted to wish you to

break a few legs – I am planning to make it.

Maybe sneaking in one last question. What’s your

thoughts on ‘Technicolor’?

DEC 9: C – NH

uh busy busy, but uh what? Why Technicolor?”

Info

About

CONGLOMERATE acts as a producer of original programs, also inviting additional Berlin based and international artists to realize their own segments, sets, commercials and specials for the network. Mixing diverse content ranging from melodrama, documentary, comedy, interview, music, and art into a unified body, new 30 minute Blocks composed of recurring shows and one_off segments are broadcast on the web, with new Blocks and Specials released throughout the year. All content is exclusively found on www.conglomerate.tv

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