Although Hofmann works mainly in the field of performance, his artistic practice reaches out to various other fields and media: he relates to the artistic milieu as well as the world of fashion, where he is occasionally active as a stylist and model, and he is also busy as a music producer and curator. He finds it unimportant to distinguish between art and non-art and he considers all levels of his work to be equally substantial. Klára Peloušková (KP) and Anna Remešová (AR) talked with Lukáš Hofmann (LH) about his attitudes and creative strategies, the ambivalences and dynamics of his collaborative practice, about authenticity and artificiality, affect and apathy, and about the precariousness of work and the eclectic accumulation of diverse activities.
KP: You have just walked us through an exhibition that you curated for the spaces of the Futura gallery in Prague. You say that it is an eclectic collection of things and themes that interest you and that at the same time you consider the exhibition to be part of your own creative work. In which sense?
LH: In a way, curating has always been present in my artistic practice. When I am organising a group performance, I take on a number of roles – at that moment I am simultaneously a director, production manager, creative director, stylist, psychologist and artist. I don’t see much difference between this and curating an exhibition. After all, exhibitions have a performative component of their own. In general, I put great emphasis on the ambiance; the mood of the moment, spirituality, the way in which a particular thing can speak coherently. In my artistic and curatorial practice I try to form people through a work of art, exhibition or performance.
KP: You are bound to have experience with curators who specialise in this work. Do you feel that your approach to the artists was different in some way? How did you collaborate with the artists?
LH: I indulge in the fetish of the world of art, interns, gallery owners and “research-based artists” – I approach these things in a post-ironic way. Sometimes I enjoy the submissiveness that exists in this relationship, at other times I relish the dominance – having somebody who does the research for me is pleasant. Also, I may differ from the curators by stronger artistic feeling – by this I want to say that my specific trait is not overly distinguishing between myself and my art. I should be able to speak on behalf of my art just as my art speaks on behalf of me. In the same way, I choose the individual participants in my performances based on personal charisma.
KP: Do you intend to further pursue the themes that you opened up within this exhibition in your individual work?
LH: This thread of ideas will be extended by a catalogue which we are working on with Nat Marcus, who provided the text structure of the whole project. But the catalogue should also be an independent work of art, not just an accompanying publication. It should be a metaphorical narrative combined with theory and some phenomena of the present day. This project has a deep meaning for myself – in the amount of work and the individuals who together create its world. And this world should be present forever in the book, in the text which is the bearer of the whole of its meaning.
AR: You often emphasise that your exhibition is simultaneously a work of art. Does the gallery space and the idiom of a work of art enable you to adopt a particular self-critical attitude? When you organize a fashion show in a gallery (as in the case of your Ikea Made Fashion performance at the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts), does it mean that you are trying to find out what a fashion show is actually about? Is a performance like that a platform for you within which you can examine the subject of fashion as such?
LH: When I staged a fashion show as a performance in a gallery, it was built on a conceptual basis. I explored the hyper-realistic environment of Ikea, where I stole clothing from the wardrobes on display. The pieces of clothing that I picked up in this way were pre-designed – some did not have a sleeve or were incomplete in another way – and I just styled them for performers later. Given the conceptual aspect of such an event I call it a performance, rather than a fashion show. But I conceptualised the fashion environment itself, basically in this performance only. Elsewhere the actants may move in the space where the performance is taking place in a “catwalk runway” manner but that is in order for them to preserve some physical and expressive neutrality as female and male models do. But I do want them to walk in this way for a solid twenty minutes – it’s just as strenuous as if I wanted you to laugh uproariously for a minute or so. Neutrality is a construct which is difficult to preserve. Even facial neutrality can be painful. And in the end you can thematise even fashion in this way.
KP: What is the difference for you in the selection of artists for an exhibition and participants in a performance? What role do the individual performers play in your performances? Do you have a strict scenario by which you define their means of expression or do you open up room for their individuality and personal involvement?
LH: Performances in general – and mine in particular – abound in tension. Tension between individuality and community, between inclusiveness and exclusiveness. On the one hand, I try to create a situation of far-reaching freedom, but that is, however, always curated. It’s like when you go to a festival and you feel absolutely free among those people – but in reality it is not a neutral sample of society, quite the contrary, it is a community formed by the filter of affiliation. That’s one thing. The other thing is the ambivalence consisting in an effort towards a community experience, but which is simultaneously obviously filtered through my person. This is related to the width of the spectrum between authenticity, spontaneity, and staged-ness. As I said, for me the most important criterion in the selection of the participants is their character: they are often people that are close to me and do not come from a dancing or acting background. They are people who have charm and charisma and together make a very strong community. In my opinion that’s what makes my performances spontaneous. At the same time, we spend the days before an event ‘rehearsing’, although this preparation mainly consists in the materialisation of the feelings that manifest itself in the given performance in some way. We discuss things together, I show or propose feelings and movements and explain where I think they stem from … Then it’s time for feedback and we solve how each one of us relates to that. Naturally, we do practice the individual movements and actions so as to be able to feel and analyse how they affect us. This is also important for the actual execution of the performance – its analytical component is quite strong.
AR: The props and the scenario for movements arise based on these discussions?
LH: Preparations play a certain role, but the scenario is loose. Something like an order list may exist as sometimes it is beneficial to work with a narrative. Often it’s me who watches over the timing, as in the end I myself know best what I want to say. At the same time, it is also important for me not to act as the leading personality. I think that I am successful in that and I don’t give the air of having everybody under control.
KP: You spoke about the contrast between preparedness and authenticity of a given situation. Nevertheless, some artificiality, even mannerism, does emerge in your performances at the level of visage or clothing … Can you explain how you work with this ambivalence?
LH: In a broad sense the word artificiality could be paired up with analysis, which I have touched upon before. For me it is important to undermine the poetic streak of the thing. When, for example, we are raising one another from the ground, I tell the actors not to pretend they are dead so as not to make the situation look fatal, but to engage their own curiosity, piqued by what they are doing at that moment: I am not trying to make them create an illusion of dealing with the dead, just to make an attempt to see whether they are able to lift somebody who is dead. In doing that they provide their body as an object which has the same weight as any other body. This is the epistemological difference comparing to the pietà. It has innate poetics and cruelty at the same time. When the actors are giving each other the kiss of life I don’t want them to look grieved as if somebody is dying, I don’t want the expression on their face to be too falsified – I want it to be neutral, surgery-theatre like. These are all things which are easy to relate to. In the same way as when we are physically embracing others, without touching them, it has a power which need not be verbalised. Sometimes we embrace people and sometimes sculptures, which makes a great difference. When I come to a gallery, from time to time I do embrace a sculpture without touching it. I want to contain it but I do respect the fact that I can’t touch it. And then, all of a sudden, we (performers) do the same with people. By merely embracing someone, although without a touch, you create a relationship, making the person into an object in that embrace.
Next, we might talk about the visual aspect, which in my case is often considered to be too prominent. Partly, this is so in-your-face in order to undermine the poetic power, to erode the pathos of the situation. I am not afraid of pathos but it’s not what I am looking for. It’s easier to examine the external features… I enjoy tension, and I also feel affiliated to that world. Just now I was a casting director for the fashion week in Prague. I move often and easily in the modelling environment … The world of fashion has its pluses and minuses – the pluses are the energy, the playfulness and the myth of youthfulness. Naturally, it reproduces various inequalities – that’s clear to all of us – but then it’s an exceptionally socially diversified area. I am not saying that it is manifested on the catwalk, but it is evident backstage – the people working on the projects are from all nationalities and ethnicities. What I was interested in when I was working on the Ikea Made Fashion project was the essence of a fashion show: a brand works for half a year on a single show, in a large team, only for it to be over and done with in five minutes. It is a concentrated explosion of energy, which is something that I also draw on. I perceive clothing as a structure which reaches into our private zone – thinking about clothing for a performance makes sense. It’s the thing that you wear on the skin, that you let touch you the whole day.
AR: You mentioned an important subject – intimacy. How do you work with intimacy within a performance? Is it a counterpoint to the public life or public image which to a certain extent is socially determined? How do you work with the intimacy of a collective, such as in a relationship with the viewer?
LH: For me, intimacy is something of a yardstick. I try to work conceptually with a great number of scales within a single event or situation. However, we sometimes operate as a group and I find it increasingly important to make the participants in a performance (in the sense of “viewers”) become involved with others. On my part, a number of intentional steps lead towards this. For example, the participants enter the place where the action happens through an initiation ritual which makes it clear that something is going on – such as in the case of a more spiritual, solemn situation. At other times the actants approach the individual participants and intimately relate to them, not by doing something predetermined, but they respond in a synchronised manner to the momentary situation – they blow warm and cold air into the people’s ears, they embrace them without a touch, they apply a balsam from propolis and sage on their temples and from mint below the eyes, bringing tears to the participants’ eyes …
KP: You talked about pathos. Your performances are full of affect or strong emotions. Maybe the emotionality is manifested by the physical expressions and maybe it is also connected with the hairdo and makeup of the individual performers. How do you work with this emotional component? Do you think about how the viewer will respond, do you intentionally trigger disgust or another strong physical response?
LH: It depends. Sometimes I intend to arouse disgust, sometimes weeping, which is not triggered by an inner feeling but by external circumstances – when I apply mint below the eyes. It is something more complex, it’s not just emotional activation. To a great extent it is about the essential ability to be present. A performance is a unique expression of the present time in which I perceive a combination of apathy and the potential of affect. I have no preset fixed boundaries between what is real and what is virtual – in this respect my position is in accord with post-modern thinking, I no longer put these questions to myself. “Virtual” and “real” life are both legitimate to me. I concentrate on the aspects of reality which blur the boundary between virtual and real, just as the boundaries between body and machine. If a device is separated from the body and it is not a chip embedded in the arm, there is not much difference whether I have it in the arm 24 hours a day or I have it fixed to it. I do not criticise, I do not say it’s wrong. That’s why I say that my position is profoundly post-modern. I don’t say “people don’t talk to each other, only stare in their mobiles and have their heads in the virtual world” – no, in my opinion that virtual world is equally real.
AR: Experiencing a performance is related to a different aspect of time compared to perceiving works at a static exhibition. How do you work with time in your works – whether it’s an exhibition or a performance?
LH: When I speak about apathy I also speak about the feeling of being not present which is probably the most essential feeling that generally fills my life. And a performance may sometimes culminate in a situation of the present and its materialisation. In this, the action has extraordinary importance for me. The present that I am describing and which is running during the performance is timeless. An exhibition like the one by me, which relates to various axiomatic structures that our society is based on, can relate to time from the point of view of sociology – it may, for example, approach a working week as a social construct in contrast to the astronomical units of the day, month and year. When the calendar was more adapted to the natural cycle, people had to think differently.
AR: How do you treat your documentation?
LH: I realise that documentation is not objective – particularly when my world has no fixed points or rigid identities, given facts and absolute truths. I do not do a performance to document it – the things are not adapted to it. On the other hand, aesthetic perception is important to me and that becomes evident whether I want it or not. Documentation of my performances is always created as a subjective, non-objective record which should again function as an independent work. The tension between when you experience an action directly and when you watch its documentation interests me. For somebody documentation of a performance may be a source of a more intimate or intense experience than when they would participate in it in real time, and I absolutely don’t mind. Actually, I find it quite natural.
KP: By using video images you create another level of visuality, which is given by your subjective aesthetic perception. Video documentation of your performances feels a little like video clips – it emanates an affinity with pop cultural visuality. How do you work with that? Is it important to you?
LH: I am strongly influenced by what you call “pop culture” or mainstream culture. Lifting one another during the performance was originally inspired by the Terminator, who is a mythical figure carrying another figure. “Mythology” is an important notion for me as I take mainstream culture to be the mythology of the present day. Mainstream culture tells us about the present, just as Homer told stories about the Ancient Greeks. It is also interesting by the fact that it is hyperproduced: its aim is commodification, profit, acceleration and fragmentation of feelings. But we often fill these cultural artefacts with our own content – our own feelings and sentiment. And my performances are based on this – for example, when I and Scott Hopper sing My Immortal by Evanescence, we are quite serious about it, after all, people from my generation could have been strongly influenced by this song in their teens. I don’t approach mainstream culture purely critically – when you make a statement about something you have to stand with one foot in that mud.
AR: You are also active in the subculture of contemporary electronica, among other things. How do you switch between these positions?
LH: I would not call it a position. In general, I am not sure whether I have any positions at all. Today it might be a disadvantage not to be specialised and have broad eclectic interests, but it’s the way I have it. Sometimes I talk with nerds about philosophy, at other times I work on pieces of cloth, go to a show, do a performance or DJ. But I do not feel myself to be part of any subculture.
AR: Do you think that this eclecticism and accumulation of activities is a symptom of the present day and results in a way from the precariousness of work?
LH: These days companies are said to prefer free migration of people based on projects rather than to employ someone for thirty years and let them gradually improve at the same position. Precariousness definitely has something to do with it, it is a sub-textual aspect of society. I am aware of my privileged position with regard to gender and ethnicity and the situation to which I was born. Yet I feel precarious in a way. Precariousness is something that has entered the lives of young people. But I don’t consider project-oriented work and its vague separation from free time to be something strictly negative – it also has its pleasant aspects. I feel that people’s thinking is generally behind the times – we keep talking about working from nine to five, five days a week, we continue to take it as a standard, although it does not correspond with the reality we live in. Today’s hyperindividualised society lives in many different present days. The present day of my parents is so vastly different from my present that we might even speak of another time horizon which runs in parallel.
AR: Our last question is also related to this. How do you manage to finance your performances?
LH: This is exactly connected with precariousness. It is not random that a performance is my principal means of expression – I find it natural to continually migrate. Performance is suitable for a being without a home as it is easily portable. It is also not random that I often use textile – it creates an ambiance and is easy to fold. It sounds awfully banal, yet it is bitter in some aspects. We incessantly struggle with precariousness, although I may be better off than many others. As far as financial conditions are concerned, given that there is no norm, you never know what to expect. It’s different every time.
Translation: Miloš Bartoň
This interview was first published by Artalk.cz in Czech and was translated with the financial support from the Arts and Theatre Institute in Prague.
Lukáš Hofmann (*1993) was born in Prague. His means of expression and artistic strategies are difficult to pin down, like a sandpit – the words that come to mind are “flowing”, “association” and “textures” just like his nickname “Saliva”. In his practice, Hofmann moves between sculpting, performance and styling. He is an occasional DJ and model, where he playfully uses the internet and does not differentiate too much between “virtual” and “real” reality. His identity is performative and rules out the possibility of rigid truth or an invariable attitude. Hofmann’s truth is fluid, existing in a community (regardless of how it is curated), aura (regardless which commodity it has become) and documentation (regardless of how separated it is from the “real”). He has staged his performances in many institutions in the Czech Republic and abroad, including the Danish National Gallery in Copenhagen, the Gallery Frangulyan in Paris, the PLATO gallery in Ostrava, the National Gallery in Prague and Manifesta 11 in Zurich. In his work, he freely collaborates with many other artists and people who are personally close to him.
Cover image: Lukáš Hofmann. Photo: courtesy of the artist / Coeval magazine / www.coeval-magazine.com/coeval/lukas-hofmann