Artist of the Week: Annika Eriksson

Annika Eriksson's Hannah Arendt Band at Basso, 2010.

Wir bleiben (We Are Staying) / The Last Tenants, 2011

Annika Eriksson is a pioneer of the early 1990s artistic tendency to put real situations and social interaction into the center of project-oriented and performative art. Eriksson is known for initiating everyday situations, collective actions, and presentations that are manifest in video or film installations and as photographs in the exhibition space. The participants, or rather those who are portrayed, act within an artificial and playful frame provided by the artist, in which the ‘free speech’ of each action takes possession of the exhibition space in a largely autonomous manner. With minimal technical efforts, long-lasting takes and a fixed camera the filmic works mark out a transparent line of separation between documentation and staging, between reality and fiction, simultaneously playing with the idea of the group portrait, from August Sander to today’s obligatory I.D. photos of company employees. For a long time Eriksson has concerned herself with the notion of work and ‘working-worlds.’ Be it staff interviews with the workforce of various international museums, an insurance firm in Munich, or a research and development department of VW in Wolfsburg, she let’s each worker have their own say and thereby reveals relationships between the individual and the corporation and the social interaction of the workers – often also with a view into each company’s architecture. At the same time, Eriksson’s sociological evidence points out certain social upheavals and increasingly depleted social contexts.


Future Audience Feuilleton: I would like to start with talking about the research process behind "Wir sind wieder da" and "Wir bleiben/The Last Tenants"? How can you relate these two pieces to each other in terms of their references to Berlin based communities?


Annika Eriksson: The works are based on completely different research processes, even the films are in many ways still connected. “Wir Bleiben/The Last Tenants” focuses on the building in Berlin, Mitte where I used to live for many years. It was built in 1755, and has survived through centuries, decades, and the two world wars however now it's waiting for a total transformation, I mean, not much of the building will remain in the end. The video portrays the last four tenants of the building, and is based on their decision to claim their rights to stay… At the moment, the building is now almost empty. They have all lived there before the wall came down, and the oldest tenant is born in 1933, also in the house. They have witnessed the transformation of the location of the building, and claimed that they have their roots in another country, the DDR. It's also a portrait of a certain time in transition as well as the building as an architectural reality. In the film, they hang out a banner with the text on it “Wir Bleiben” (We are Staying), which used to be a common statement of the squatting movement in the 90s. There is something futile, and even pathetic in the statement nowadays, and yet it remains urgent. The last tenants appear like ghosts as they are trapped in the house, forever without any wish to leave; so the statement of “Wir Bleiben” becomes truly real. This piece is also a personal statement such as my farewell to a building that I got attached in time. The other piece, “Wir sind wieder da” (We're back) is a film, in which a group of Berlin punks hang out on an empty lot.  The punks are used to be very present, and part of the Berliner identity, when I was visiting the city a lot in the 80s and 90s; I can say that they were all over the places. In the New Berlin, they are sitting on Alexanderplatz, and doing nothing. The group I worked with claim "Failure as Success" as a kind of manifesto. Non-participation is a choice in the society that they are not related, and cannot relate with. When I was working on this work, I was interested in the aesthetics from 1980’s science fiction, especially the dystopian films like “Mad Max”, “Blade Runner" and "The Escape from New York". I was drawn to how these films speak of a very distinctive time; they belong to the 80s. They appear like ghosts, but are still able to describe future scenarios...


FAF: What is striking in your work is the potentiality of surprise for the audience. You play with our expectations. How can you elaborate on your recent works around this point of view?


AE: By replacing, and displacing things I am also playing with expectations. For an example, last year I collaborated with the curator, Katharina Krawczyk for the Krome gallery in Berlin. The piece entitled “Shop Front Coherence” relates itself to this time of transition that we can clearly identify some of its aspects in Berlin.  At the moment, the area around Potsdammer Strasse can be best described as an “in-between situation” where you find a few market galleries but they still they look rather displaced among the shops and bars that have been there for years. The shop in front of the gallery reaches out on the pavement, looks almost separated from the gallery, and the “Shop Front Coherence” was in coherence with the street. As part of the project, I hired a professional shop window decorator, who created a frontal shop window for the gallery that has a similar aesthetics in relation to similar displays on the same street. The pieces that deal with expectations are mostly related to the expectations within the art world. I can say that they are displacements in many ways, just because they are replaced from where the do not belong to. Yes, they change, but they also refer to the context that they are placed at that moment... In this case, the displacement comes out in a slightly different way, and the gallery itself becomes the object of display, or the object of what is displaced. As an art audience, that kind of display is not what we expect from a contemporary art gallery. So, the piece operates as an artwork whereas the installation as the frontal shop window is the gallery… In a few years, of course that will change. Another example could be the performance piece, “Hannah Arendt Band” that I produced for the event at Basso in Berlin during the launch of the multi venue exhibition “Correct Me if I’m Critical”. It played with the idea of expectations; and what the audience would expect from me as a woman -in the art world- who forms a band with that title. It's also a hommage to Hannah Arendt as a conceptual precedent, and influence… The band also impersonated her as the brave, polemic, and energetic.


FAF: What is on your agenda as the coming program for 2012?


AE: It will be an interesting year… I am in the middle of developing several new works; some of them will be shown during my upcoming solo show at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart in April. During the spring, I will also develop some new works for the Krome Gallery in Berlin as well as the Biennale in Kiev -curated by David Elliot. I am looking forward to a site visit to SALT in Istanbul, and I am also commissioned for a new piece by Jens Hoffman for the exhibition in fall 2012; “When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes” at Watts Institute in San Francisco. During this spring, I am teaching at the Art Academy in Bergen in Norway. I always enjoy teaching jobs very much, and especially there, the students are great… I am also working on the web site that brings my works and some texts together.