Astrid S. Klein “Never-ending Resistance”
“Never-ending Resistance”, 6/6 Interview with Astrid S. Klein Conducted in September 2009 by François Taillade
Translated from the French by Simon Pleasance
(Rue Gutenberg Poster)
Voir en ligne : version française
Astrid S Klein is a Stuttgart-based German artist who approaches her work in many different ways. She has come to notice in France as the result of making a significant number of videos, paying particular attention to any manner of sound, be it questioning imagery or otherwise. In 2005, she had a show at the Paris art centre Le Plateau, and since that stay in Paris she has been developing long-term projects, notably on issues involving the flux of identity, exchanges between urban cultures, and the way these cultures mutually influence each other with their colonial past and their globalized present.
François Taillade : I’d like to start by asking you a technical question, which has particularly intrigued me in your artistic work with video. It has to do with the relation to sound that you have with film, and the close attention with which you treat the sound track.
ASK : The sound track is often the springboard for the work, the sound is very often worked out before the image. The image may be found later in the rushes. Needless to say, the editing process is not linear, it’s a to-and-fro between image and sound, but the sound is an important rhythmic and narrative base for developing the choice and sequence of images.
FT : You’re saying that it’s sound, which conditions the films you make ?
ASK : In a way. You could say that I’m suspicious of the image, perhaps “suspicious” is too strong a word, let’s say I “question” the image and it’s hard to find unformatted and non-stereotypical visuals. There are so many media images all around us… Sound is a much more open terrain, in a way, to start my work and my line of thinking, and it’s more connected to the body, too.
FT : Your way of filming, especially in your latest films—I’m thinking of Rue Gutenberg, as well as Violente Question, shifts the image. The shots may come across a bit off-kilter, in relation to classical framing, and at times you create abstract compositions like “movements of shadows on the ground” and “lines standing out against a blue background”, “clothes lines” and “Hertzian aerials beneath the sky”, or even black and white screens which have their place and time. Are these diversions and this abstract quest also due to that suspicion you have of the image ?
ASK : Yes, especially the illustrative image. The image, which asserts an existing reality through a unity of image and sound, doesn’t interest me. Through this experimental hijacking of the image in Rue Gutenberg, the effect being sought is to refocus the interest on the sound track and a space between image and sound. Because the image is not that spectacular or, let’s say, dynamic, so I try to describe the acoustic world of the film, in its sonority as such. In this film, Soro Solo’s voice is the leading character and one of the themes is oral culture. At one point the sound narrative sweeps you away, and you find yourself in front of forms, abstract images, which can be read like a gesture refusing to illustrate the Other’s memory. Because a static image of a black or white background, a “non-image”, a pause as in silent movies, will disturb you, if you’re not used to it. Your consciousness, your perception of the film alters, you are forced to look at it differently from the way you look at a documentary on TV.
FT : Can you tell me how the Rue Gutenberg project came about, and what follow-up you intend to give it, or perhaps you already have… ?
ASK : It has to be seen as part of a whole huge research process. In 2005 I embarked on a new phase on my general work. I was in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, and during that period I was invited to Congo-Kinshasa by some artist friends to run some workshops. The work involved street kids and demobilized children at the Espace Masolo, a local cultural centre, in a poor neighbourhood of Kinshasa. That stay in Kinshasa had a profound effect on me. That invitation was probably the only appropriate possible way of going to Congo-Kinshasa as a mundele, a white woman, and a German one to boot. Back in Paris, I stopped my initial work and started Briller et s’envoler (literally Shining and Flying Away), a project inspired by my experiences in Kinshasa. I sought out personalities like the writer Achille Ngoye, the journalist Soulimane Coulibaly, aka Soro Solo, and the storyteller Binda Ngazolo, who could give me information about the lives of the African diasporas, about music, codes, styles and movements, such as the Congolese SAPE, the “Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People” and the Coupé Décalé of the Côte d’Ivoire diaspora. Shining and Flying Away looks for self-reinvention processes in the urban and above all “metropolic” context. The metropolis in the colonial sense - mother city of the colonies. That art project started in Kinshasa and Paris included me, of course. It’s not a way of looking at communities I wasn’t acquainted with, it’s an attempt to change perspectives, and learn another history. It’s based on myself, my experience in an urban culture, in the space of another language, and my own attempt to construct myself in a globalized present. Back in Stuttgart in 2006, I carried on my research with artists invited from Kinshasa and Paris, for an interdisciplinary project at the Künstlerhaus, involving art and fashion, called “Les histoires communes” (“Shared Histories”). With Elke aus dem Moore, artistic director at the time of the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, I initiated a symposium dealing with urban and musical styles, fluctuating between Kinshasa, Abidjan, Brussels and Paris. Then, during an art production residency in 2006 at Art3 in Valence, I proposed to Soro Solo a film project titled Rue Gutenberg, so as to further deepen the dialogue we had started. “Vieux père” Solo, a famous journalist and radio producer in Côte d’Ivoire, is well-known for his radio programme “Afrique enchantée” with Vladimir Cagnolari on RFI (Radio France Internationale). In Valence, I prepared the shoot with a small crew, I chose an architectural situation on a terrace, an outdoor roof on a building from the 1940s, looking like a village square, above a city. We spent three days filming an improvised dialogue where I asked Soro Solo questions about his personal experiences, his knowledge about African cultures and music. That film project, based on that conversation, is a sort of dialogue portrait. Based on aspects of Solo’s rich biography, which might illustrate the feeling of inner rupture experienced by a whole generation, he tells his own story. Rue Gutenberg is part of a body of research made up of different media : films, writings, interviews, performances, installations—which I’ve recently followed up with We Bow in Empty LIBERTÉ, which is a work about the place of the imaginary in contemporary society in relation to economic changes. In it, the link with my earlier works, and my interest in the cinematic as archive reflecting a common imaginary, possibly becomes more visible. This recent work is based on interventions in converted cinemas in Dakar (Liberté, Al Akbar, El Mansour) and also on an interview with the Senegalese musician and producer Didier Awadi. All this was done as part of an international workshop called “Prêt à partager/Ready to Share” in Dakar, organized by the ifa1, which subsequently gave rise to a travelling group show in different African countries2 until 2011.
FT : This body of work is emerging in the wake of your video installation Individuality is a Monster. These new projects you’re developing involve several people, they summon and call for the participation of a journalist like Soro Solo, performers and musicians… You experiment with dialogue, and the quest for the other. What lies behind these new angles in your work ?
ASK : I’ve probably become less shy, and sharing, and working in dialogue interests me even more nowadays. I can go through very solitary phases, like when I’m writing texts, and at moments when I’m editing films, but it’s inspired and enriched by the stories and narratives of those “other” people. We mustn’t forget that these are chosen encounters as part of my art research, which I also see as moments of passages where knowledge passes outside of an academic, and above all western framework, a kind of knowledge, which is transmitted and developed in a process of dialogue. As an artist, I’m interested in finding moving and poetic forms and formats, where information passes all at the same time.
FT : I have to put the inevitable question to you, the one that each of the artists involved in the “Never-Ending Resistance” cycle is asked : Do you regard yourself as a resistance artist ?
ASK : Off the cuff I’d really like to say yes, but as far as the terms “resistance” and “resistant” are concerned, I can see a little problem there ; it’s important to specify whom and what we’re resisting. This is one of the possibilities of art, trying to talk within a critical and poetic complexity, talking in subtle ways about what’s around us. Seeking to transcribe and deconstruct standards, and what we think is accepted. Resisting these days might be working consciously with complexity and with respect for the other. This way of going about things, trying not to simplify and fix, but taking time, and opening up a space for imagination and experience—that might also be the praxis of a resistant.
1 Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen or Institute for Foreign Relations, the German equivalent of “Cultures France”. 2 Cf. HYPERLINK "http://www.ifa.de/en/exhibitions/exhibitions-abroad/bk/pret-a-partager" www.ifa.de/en/exhibitions/exhibitions-abroad/bk/pret-a-partager
HYPERLINK "http://www.lacritique.org/article-infinies-resistances-6-entretien-avec-astrid-s-klein" http://www.lacritique.org/article-infinies-resistances-6-entretien-avec-astrid-s-klein