September 2008, Interview with Jeppe Hein
Giovanni Aloi: Over the years you have developed a reputation built on works that almost literally reach out and grab you, in order to challenge the traditional idea that the visitor is a passive figure, silently contemplating the work of art.
What are you preparing for Frieze Projects?
Jeppe Hein: My idea for Frieze Projects 2008 is to place six trees at the main entrance area among the existing trees of the park. Each of the six trees turns around its own axis subtly, all of them in opposite directions. Thus, the illusion of a rotating small forest is created with moving, twisting and almost dancing trees. Visitors passing the runway and lively entrance area will be irritated by the constantly changing look of the installation that emphasizes the steady movement and continuous activity at the art fair. At the same time, the slow motion of the rotating trees seem to allude to slow down and enjoy the art fair unhurriedly. The trees not only refer to the location of Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park, but also seem to be an existing part of the park, somehow bringing the surrounding nature into the art world, although in an artificial way as the trees are moving unnaturally.
GA: A number of your most recent works involve the use of mirrors. Can you tell us why you got involved with this medium and if your work with mirrors is directly informed by that of other artists?
JH: Mirror is a medium with a long history and tradition in art, and it has always been popular with artists and architects. Its ability to create various visual, often illusionary effects, to open up, broaden or close a room thus establishing a dialogue between spatiality and people entering the space, interests me most. Furthermore, artworks with mirrors provide viewers the opportunity for playful interaction and extraordinary reception of the surrounding space.
Dan Graham, Robert Morris and Robert Smithson influenced my work with mirrors a lot.
GA: Do you stick around to look at the audience’s reactions to your works?
JH: Yes, quite often. One advantage of being an artist is that only a few people know how I look like so that I can watch visitors experiencing my works without being identified. For me, it is a learning process to see how people react to my installations. It helps me to develop, enhance and improve my works since interaction is a distinctive element of my artwork and the viewer plays a vital role.
GA: Appearing Rooms’ has been the centre-piece of London’s Southbank for two summers in a row. How did the idea for the piece come about? Did the exhibit encounter any difficulties because of London’s obsessive concern with health and safety?
JH: My initial idea was to develop and create private rooms in public space. Furthermore, I tried to establish a structure of association between artwork, architecture and audience. I discovered that a natural element such as water is an interesting material to create architectural constellations, and the “liquid architecture” can considered to be a social sculpture inserted playfully in everyday life situations. My different experiences with the realisation of water sculptures in public spaces – at the Venice Biennale 2003, at Villa Manin 2004 or at The Hayward Gallery 2006-2008 for example – were marked by a very positive resonance of people. Appearing Rooms are appreciated for the physical experience and the active participation of the public they offer. Independent from background, gender or age, no matter if it is a child or an art critic, people can interact and communicate with the work, the surrounding and other people. This can stimulate multiple reactions: from amusement to fear, curiosity to doubt, wonder to surprise.
Of course, one has to bear in mind potential dangers and risks when placing an artwork in public spaces that invites people to participate in it. People often forget where they are when they are captivated by an installation. We always take this into account, for example by using anti-slip for the platform to prevent people from falling when they run around the water pavilion. But we did not have any difficulties with local authorities in London as we had a very good team at The Hayward Gallery and at my studio working on the realisation of the project.
GA: Are today’s audiences more prone to engage with public art or has public art changed to engage more audiences?
JH: In my opinion, artists are more attentive to the fact that it is necessary to create a link between an artwork and its surroundings. They more and more recognize which features artworks should have when exhibited in a public space. Instead of placing an artwork without reference or connection to architecture and audience, many artists now deal with social aspects, trying to create or enhance a dialogue between object, space and observers. Thus, it gets easier for people to engage with public art.
GA: Which artist’s work or philosophies inform your practice?
JH: Asger Jorn and Robert Smith (The Cure).
GA: ‘Distance’, has become somewhat a trademark of your artistic production. How did the idea for the piece come about?
JH: As a child I played a lot with small marble runs and roller coasters. The idea to transfer these child games into an artistic environment came about when I did research on how people walk and behave in exhibition spaces. I was looking for a medium to trace the movement of visitors in a gallery or indicate and change their passage and the idea crossed my mind to create a large rollercoaster with white balls that visitors follow on their route through the space.
GA: In your home city, Copenhagen, you have just opened a bar named ‘Karriere’, which means ‘career’: a tavern decorated by 33 fellow artists. How is this project progressing?
JH: Karriere is a cafe/bar/restaurant with artworks defining the functions and design of the place. The ambition has been to establish a social meeting place, with artworks as an integral part of the everyday situation. It is progressing really well. Attracting a broad crowd, it has established a way to relate to art that is playful and relaxed. People talk about art and share the experience of the artworks in a great way. Dancing in Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Elephant Juice, lounging in Ernesto Neto’s Aaaaaaaa!!!! and getting lost in AVPD’s Passage on their way to the bathrooms. It is simple way to introduce complex issues based on experience. To give perspective to this we issue a quarterly newspaper on art, also called Karriere, and host artist talks and stage performances.
GA: What’s after Frieze?
JH: After Frieze, my Invisible Labyrinth will be shown in the group show Platform Seoul 2008 at Artsonje Center in Seoul (October 24th to November 23rd 2008). Moreover, I am about to prepare my solo shows at Contemporary Art Gallery Vancouver (January 29th to March 29th 2009), at ARoS - Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark (April 27th to November 27th 2009 / opening in the museum on August 27th) and at IMA – Indianapolis Museum of Modern Art (opening August 2009).
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief