forth year: 2001/2002 series of lectures: lectures / conversations with lecturers / lecturers

course for curators of contemporary art: course participants / study excursions / program collaborators / exhibition / course participant's texts


Eda Čufer
A conversation with Mike Hentz

Your work is a complex system and it is hard to introduce it in a few words. I suggest that we start with a concrete project. For instance, what are we dealing with at the Stone project, which is a sort of work in progress and has been going on from the beginning of the 1980's onwards?

The Stone project is all about transporting a large, five and a half tonnes heavy stone on top of a lorry. We traveled through various countries and cultures and we have been to countries like Iran, India, Italy and so on. We work in a group called Minus Delta t, which always consists of a group of between three to five people.

How did you manage to cross all of these country boarders with such a large stone?

Each boarder was a performance in its own right. Sometimes it took us a few days to arrange for them to let us through.

Where did you get this stone?

We excavated it in Western England for we wanted it to have a symbolic meaning. If we excavated the stone in Italy, it would be connected to the Roman culture. Our stone has a sort of connection to the Celtic culture, which was the oldest in Europe. At the same time the stone presents unworked material, a free space, which can accept various meaning projections and various symbolisations. For instance, the Catholics project the concept of 'peace' into it. However, in Pakistan the situation is different and there are also other projections and symbolisations. That is what we were interested in. The stone was consecrated by the Pope of the Roman-Catholic church himself.

How did you manage to reach the Pope?

That was very difficult. We had to visit the Jesuits, have dinner with nuns, and in the end we were helped by a Polish journalist, who was connected to the inner circle of the Vatican. In Iran we wanted to meet Homeini. We were accompanied by the revolutionary guards for three weeks and we attended numerous meetings, but in the end we failed.

In India you left the stone in the Ganges river.

Yes, for a few years, then we took it out of the river and continued our journey with it.

And where is the stone now?

In New Delhi. We wanted to take it to China, but this was not possible at the time. However, I think we will manage to do this in the next two or three years.

Your projects differ to a great extent. On one side you operate on a very individual basis or within the frame of proliferated groups, and on the other hand you dedicate a lot of your time to projects dealing with organisational models and the logistics of networks upon which the cultural models of the new media are based. How do you perceive projects such as Van Gogh TV, Piazza Virtuale and others?

I am interested in processes through which ideas and concepts become real and cease to remain merely on a symbolic level. In order for things to become real you need a certain will, discipline and organisational effort to carry them out. On this level we can truly distinguish between individual or group projects and networks. The individual is the first unit. To be an individual means to know oneself and one's media and for many artists this is where it ends. They sign their works and that is it. The next level is the group which shares similar beliefs and taste. This is a sort of a narcissistic community, which provides a very important experience for the development of language. The third level are networks, which operate within the field of the 'other' and their metaphor is a man that meets a woman or vice versa. The 'other' and not the 'same' is the condition for the establishment of the network and a similar rule holds true also on a commercial level. Closed groups can not remain. They have to confront the 'other' i.e. the networks and these networks are based on the tradition of translating contents from one context to another. For me all of these levels are of the same value. It is my belief that an individual work of art is of no more importance than a group work of art or operation within the networks. There are more and more people who believe that individual artistic creation is anachronistic, but these are mainly people who operate within networks, because they do not have their own ideas and therefore they despise individual artists that have original ideas. For me all three levels are necessary. From here on we can develop new definitions and distinctions.

What sort of distinctions, for example?

I distinct between three different levels, which I have named 'school of observation', 'school of thought' and 'school of life'. The 'school of observation' is (on the level of visual art) connected with the technique. If I want to draw your portrait I have to learn how to translate your image into a drawing or painting which will reflect you, in which people will recognise you. If you want to reflect the society you must be precise in the translations of your observations into words or images. That is a thing of technique, craftsmanship. The 'school of thought' deals with the symbolic level. That is, when you, for instance choose various elements for an installation, put them together and see the symbolic context of things. A context which does not exist in reality, but only on the thought level. Modernism as well as post-modernism very clearly belong to the 'school of thought'. Everything is based on the reflection of other schools, visions, philosophies. In the 'school of life' one deals with trying to transfer certain experience from the 'school of observation' and the 'school of thought' into social or cultural practice. Most contemporary art operates merely on the journalistic level of commentating events in society. This is art that has ceased to invent, it ceased to be a vision or culture, for today's culture is created by MTV, CNN, the fashion industry. Contemporary artists do not create culture, for they are at least 40 years behind. These are three levels that for me hold the same importance as those we have mentioned at the beginning. I work on this basis. I constantly train in my 'school of observation', 'school of thought', but as my vision I want the 'school of life'. And this is not easy. The project Stone was an extremely difficult task on the 'school of life' level. Van Gogh TV maybe presented an even harder test. The entire artist and media scene accused us of selling poor quality video art.

This is interesting, for the projects that you have been working on within the frame of Documenta 8 and '9 in 87 and '92 are a sort of pioneer achievement and have introduced a model of thought and organisation upon which today's media scene is based and which became very fashionable in the 90's. It is surprising that you have not integrated yourself into this trend.

No, we have not, because the art system is interested only in the symbolic level, the 'school of thought'. It is not interested in practice. People who started dealing with this field after us did not want to hear about history. They wanted to be the first. Piazza Virtuale and Van Gogh TV were based on deep organisational meditation and preparation and included all elements; from television, internet, satellite communication to organised networks in Western and Eastern Europe.

I remember the 1992 report for Piazza Virtuale from Ljubljana. Here the project was lead by Marko Košnik. In my opinion this project is gaining on value with time. This is also confirmed by the development in the years that followed.

That is why I am not at all burdened by the issue of the historic share. The things are clear and sooner or later they will be sorted out. These projects involved too many people for them to be neglected.

You have been working already from the second half of the 70's onwards. Does any sort of a critical reflection from outside exist, which would try to categorise your work and include it into various critical segments, with which the history of contemporary art is written?

They have tried to use some of our things, but we mainly dealt only with production and not post-production, therefore it is harder to perform this, for we did not form our work for such type of perception and it is hard to grab hold of us and place us within the frame of a gallery, museum or a collective exhibition.

Have you ever exhibited your projects in the form of documentation, in the form of photographic documents, plans and so on?

Very rarely. We have our conditions under which this could be done and we are constantly arguing as regards these conditions. People usually want only photographs, images. If we wanted to exhibit documentation, we would only have to design a way to do this, but as you know post-production is just as demanding and even more expensive then production, that is why we prefer to invest the money we have available into new productions. The book on my work, which I have published, cost more than three other projects would. On the other hand, only about 10% of my production is connected to the art context. The art context is a constant battle, which allows you to realise merely 20% of what you wish to perform and all the rest is a compromise. Of course we always return to the artistic context, but most of our work is performed outside, in the music scene and other networks or completely independently in the narrower circle. Lately new generations of art historians and critics are emerging and they are constantly visiting us because they are seeking for references for their concepts. They are especially interested in the so-called 'contextual art'. I personally have a huge problem with this term. The advocates of 'contextual art' say that the artist is of no value if he does not know how to write down his concepts. However, regardless of this, our 'media mystic' concept is gaining a new connotation with this new generation, for we have been operating with the issue of context already for decades. In the 80's we used these contexts to fight against being placed into special contexts. In the 90's there was another attempt to overcome the specialised contexts, i.e. mixing disciplines, which is of course connected to these globalisation issues and the field is therefore open to a greater extent. New tools have emerged and people have started realising that they can use anything that is at their disposal. Today's generation has a great problem with references and memory. On the other side it is very interested in power. Power is a drug for young people and they would do anything to obtain it. Power has become a 'concept'. These are the children from the 60's and 70's generation who did a lot of different things, debated things to a great extent and who are now doing something completely else or even contrary to what they used to stand for. And the children understand that their parents stated one thing and acted otherwise, therefore they are confused.

What about your influences? At one stage you stated that Antonin Artaud or the Living Theatre are closer to you that the situationalists or Beuys.

This is true. I do not like Beuys and in my opinion he is completely overrated. Following modernism, the art system needed Beuys to return to some frames of more direct looking. There is nothing wrong with this, but Beuys never completed a project which would really talk about direct democracy, he merely dealt with his signature. That is why I have no respect for him, he never inspired me and I do not know why people are reminded of Beuys when they see my work. His going on about group work and direct democracy is completely made up, for in reality he never tried to realise anything like that. In the context of the spirit of time he was important, because he introduced some controversies on the level of a broader discussion. The Situationalists were a theoretical group and all that they have done was that they constantly argued amongst themselves. The excellent book The Society of the Spectacle does exist, but the movement fell apart in such a pitiful way that I can have no respect for the movement itself. The Situationalists exist through the romantic view of the others, through an interpretation which arose in the 80's and 90's. At the end of the 1980's some art historians tried to connect us with the Situationalists because they needed references and they did not know where to place us. On the other hand, Living Theatre was burdened with the context within which it occurred, i.e. the 1960's with its political climate. Three months ago I led a workshop on the theme 'vandalism, trance and ecstasy' and we encountered a similar problem, i.e. a boarder where the liberalisation of sexuality becomes a social and political affair. That, which was performed by the Vienna actionalists can be seen today in any backyard gallery and does not present a problem or danger anymore. Post-modernism undercut the context to these practices. Those things which were performed by the 'livings' represented an important research, but they were based on the opposition energy and on a political definition. Personally, I despise the left and the right wing and I am of the opinion that a political philosophy that I could adopt does not exist. The 'livings' were classified as left wing and this represents their historic limit. Collective rituals or collective synchronisation remained a field within which we also experimented for a number of years, but in the broader social plan what remains of this today is this 'new age' mania, in which the notion of spiritualism is connected to something completely unbearable. I can do something spiritual with a vacuum cleaner and I do not need Indian music or similar nonsense to perform this. Operating on this level was always a problem. For me Artaud was an inspiration, but he inspired me as an individual. Artaud could not synchronise himself with the society. He completed one or two works and finished in a psychiatric ward. I know a number of psychotics who write books that might be inspiring. But their mistake is that they mix the levels. Vision is not practice. You can write a vision down, but practical application demands additional effort, which belongs to a completely different level. Vision might not be anything else but a control system of what you do. To have control over oneself demands a certain type of discipline and violence. During meditation you are violent against yourself in order to control your body and lead your mind into some sort of a trance. You need to work hard on collective synchronisation. In the same way as a music group must have rehearsals. You can have an excellent violin player, however he can be of no use when placed in a group.
Synchronisation of a certain vision or knowledge with others within a group or society as a whole demands extreme efforts, personal investment and work. The quality of 'the holiness' or spirituality interest me as a synchronisation of the body and mind in real time, within the frame of a certain action. This is the first base. The second base is the question how to divide this within a group.

In order to define the procedures which you use in your work, you use very interesting labels, such as for instance the techniques 'climate', 'media mystic' and 'multilogue'. Can you explain them to us?

'Climate' represents the atmosphere and is a methodology of work with the atmosphere. I have been dealing with this already for a number of years. 'Climate' is a procedure which deals with mise-en-scenes of reality. I form these mise-en-scenes with various elements.

For instance?

The technique in itself is rather complex, and it is based on expectation, therefore it is context sensitive, it depends where am I and what sort of people surround me. It takes into account the smell, temperature, time, visual design, dramaturgy, the sequence technique. This technique deals with the issue how to create a certain sequence of events and in which sequence do you build the event. It is also dependent on the type of activity. Do you use the rules or do you create the event without the rules; what sort of frame do you use, how to define the boarders of the event? For instance, in the Macroland (1991 Zürich; 1993 Hamburg; 1997 Vienna) project the rule or the boarders were defined by how you go through the space. However, it could be something else. In Vienna in 1979 in the event Maximal Art and in a 72 h close up with participants, the room was full of mice and at first three of them were killed, because people did not watch where they were walking. Then they started walking more carefully. In this way the 'climate' changed. The frame influenced the people, in order for them to start walking more carefully. The 'climate' is a tool for the articulation of mise-en-scenes of reality. Maybe it is reminiscent of a performance or a play, however there are no roles or appearances which are typical for performances or plays. This is about giving people functions and responsibilities in a certain direct situation in which we are not dealing with a play, a simulation, but an event, which is real.

We are therefore dealing with a sort of manipulation in the context of reality?

In such cases it is normal to manipulate. Art is manipulation. Politics is manipulation. And all these debates about closing people into spaces, about using people in order to live out you fantasies are to no avail. We are all under constant pressure. I am under pressure when I am walking down the street. The cars put me under pressure. Other people manipulate with me, because I have to constantly adjust to them.

What about 'media mystic'?

'Media mystic' is a notion which we introduced twenty years ago and it talks about the following: if for example, I sing a song, and if I sing it for example in the Škuc gallery like I did yesterday and if I then sing the same song at a Christian meeting and then at a business conference or a rave party, this will not be the same song, even if I always sing the same song, because the frame is different on each occasion. In the beginning of the 1980's the groups in which I participated in had a problem that we were placed into various contexts, such as punk or new wave and we therefore had to deal with the techniques of demystifying the contexts. We formed projects such as for instance the Stone project, in which we purposely met with people from contexts which had very different but very clearly defined values. For instance the Pope. And even though nothing really happened in the meeting with him (he was a bit senile and we could not really talk to him) the photograph of the meeting with the Pope got a meaning, which worked all by itself. Then we met with the socialist minister Kreisky and thus we brought the same 'stone' into two such different contexts as Catholicism and Socialism. After that we also met the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger in Paris and Mick was completely furious because he understood the 'stone' as a provocation to the Rolling Stones. But then when you gather all these various contexts together a new, neutral context emerges. Usually people move around in some closed, narrow contexts or networks. You can, for instance, be a part of the project for Metelkova, or in the network of Soros Centers for Contemporary Arts in Eastern Europe, or in a museum network, or merely in a community which gets together in pubs or clubs and whatever you do or create within one circle or network, obtains a different meaning when placed into another circle or context.

What about 'multilogue'?

The most simple example of a 'multilogue' is, when you are in a dialogue with eight different people over the Internet at the same time. In life we are constantly in a multilogue. However, we do not discuss this. We do not discuss what influences us, from sounds, movements in space upon which we react and which effect our reactions and behaviour. If it were extremely cold in the space where I held my lecture yesterday, the situation would be completely different, and the new situation would change my lecture. And I call 'multilogue' these elements, these influences which people usually do not notice or do not take into account. A similar thing happens at 'media mystic'. The influences from the environment are of key importance and therefore I believe that 'multilogue' is something that we must learn to follow and operate within it, especially in the time of globalism, confrontation with various cultures and so on. We are in a situation of multilogue and not a dialogue. Even if you have a joint interest with somebody from a different cultural context, you have to practise in order to be able to completely realise it. This is like learning to play a musical instrument or learning a new language. 'Multilogue' must be learnt.

You master quite a few skills. You speak a number of languages, play the violin, you are a great rhetoric, you have great skills for music, technology and so on. You say that you have six professions. How did you manage to obtain all this knowledge?

For every new thing that you want to learn, from speech articulation, singing, painting, video, sound and electronic techniques and so on, you need a few years to really master them. As you have mentioned before I have four or five occupations, which in total took me 25 years of learning. And then you need another five years to connect them, in order for them to become multi-functional.

You define your work as poly-media. What is the difference in the relation to the more frequently used definitions such as multi-media or inter-media?

Multi-media was used in the 1960's. Since the computer appeared multi-media is used only in connection to electronics. I started using the term poly-media when I started to work with the 'climate' technique.

Does it talk about the connections between the various media in which you operate in?

That would be inter-media, but I would define this in another way. At yesterday's lecture I spoke, painted, I was a DJ and so on. In order to achieve this you must practise and this is poly-media. That is why I have studied 25 years and only during the past few years am I becoming a master. The poly-media concept is only now being understood also in science. Two months ago I was at a large scientific conference in Frankfurt, where they started discussing the fact that they will have to start intensively working on the connection between various disciplines and specialisations. It is interesting that the Internet lead them to these decisions. Poly-media is also the basis for the ODYSSEY project, which is my largest project alongside the Stone project. This project includes various professionals or people with special knowledge who meet in the same area and are learning to perform a joint project. This is what we are missing in contemporary society. We have one specialist alongside the other and all they can do is say 'let's have a drink together'. However, it is hard to prepare them to work together. Each of them operates at such a high level that he is incapable of translating his work onto other levels. As somebody who writes brilliant poetry in Chinese and is afraid that it will sound idiotic in the English translation. But people will have to lower themselves down to these lower levels in order to develop different and new contents.

The ODYSSEY project deals also with the issue of emigration, with the problem of 'home' (Heimat) and the identity of the individual in the modern world?

Odysseus is a project which deals with all of the above issues. Homer's Odysseus is on his way home for a period of 22 years. On his way home he finds himself in various situations which he must control and participate in. He is not like a contemporary artist who goes into a gallery, remains a king there for three weeks and then gets kicked out. Odysseus must control the situation, the 'multilogue' with reality. We do not have a white wall in the street. On the other hand it is not in our power to design streets or towns. If we were King Peter, we could have built the new St. Petersburg or Hong Kong which was also built in 9 years, or Shanghai. However, most people do not have this power. And Odysseus talks about people who are disoriented, lost, who are increasingly loosing their national identity, who are becoming increasingly trans-national. You can be a Slovene but the influences upon you are American, British, etc. Your passport can be Slovene but your cultural influences and interests are also from other places. How will you therefore materialise your identity? One possibility is to close the systems and take the road back, a route which was chosen by the Balkan nations. Today you are an orthodox Serb, but only a few years ago you were culturally also an American. Or Bosnians and Croats who can in their mentality once more become Ustašas or fundamentalists, because they are so disoriented that they prefer to take the route back. However, this road is not a road of evolution, this road is not the solution. The fear of globalism is wrong. This is a process we can not stop. It is like modernism, a movement that could not be stopped. It continues to roll on. However, you can decide whether you want to feed this beast, sit behind a computer and say 'let's surf, let's not seek problems, let's not dig too deep, let's have fun', or you can mount the beast, start influencing it, tame it and become focused on some contents which enable you to come down to earth, to materialise something. In this century we lost the family, nation and religion. During the last 30 years we have lived in a society of individualism, in a society of freedom, we were against authority and so on. Now we are returning to collective languages, to the need to get down to earth and ask ourselves where are the true qualities. Today, who still knows what quality really is? Look at the way we talk in the artistic world: 'Well, you can not really say that this is bad, because you do not understand the political context'. And so on. The Odyssey project deals with how to get the qualities back, how to return our pride.

How? In what way?

In this society the notion of work is becoming the last romantic notion of identity. We are moving towards a society without work. One fifth of the society is sufficient to feed all the rest and for all of us to live well. The industry is squeezing everything it can out of people and is holding them in a stranglehold through work. We are subordinating ourselves because we need work in order to survive. However people can only achieve new identities if somebody allows them to do what they are interested in, something they can be proud of. The number of such possibilities is on the decrease. Work is becoming a torment. There is a difference between work and a job. The job is performed for money and nobody thinks of singing a folk song while working for his company. The Japanese would do this, however, we would not. On the other side the fun culture is even more boring. Rave parties draw out more energy from people than any serious work. For example, let's say that we have 500 people that came to a rave and we offer them to renew a house or a street for fun, just for the sake of it. Each one of them could wok for an hour, drink in between, listen to music, dance, have fun and talk. The street would be renewed in one day and through work such a rave party would change something in society and therefore people would be proud. When I first did the project Schwarzarbeit (Werkleitzbienalle, Germany,2000; Forum Stadtpark Graz, 2001) i.e. a research project within Odyssey, this took place in a village Werkleitz where the unemployment rate was 40%. The only person who had the possibility to offer work was an owner of a metal foundry. He gave me the chance of organising a workshop in his factory. I worked with two workers who he had recently fired and a group of coloured people. What was it all about: Looked for example at the office in which we are sitting, the neon lights, the ugly tables, the masochism. When I work at home, I have pleasant lighting, a glass of wine, a computer and yet I manage to work. Why must this public, representation office be so masochistic? The first thing that I changed in the factory was the environment: lighting, music, drinks, food, and yet we worked and we worked well. Maybe we were not as efficient as the rationalised masochism of the everyday factory work, which must quickly produce cheap goods. We were at most 60% of that, but we were enjoying ourselves. And then, when the factory owner and the other workers saw us they said: 'We would also like to work like that.' And I told them 'this is your workshop, use it as it is now'. And I heard that they left it like that and that they now work in it. This means that a man can create work for himself and he can organise it in any way he desires. What is happening in the last period is that we are moving towards extreme neo-capitalism, which is destroying any kind of political ethics. And this pulls behind it also many other things. The knowledge of techniques, which are dealing with integrity and dignity is disappearing and I am trying to revive it through projects such as Odysseus and others. I think that we all need this knowledge in a new way, in the context of the contemporary global situation. We would have to learn to use the traditional or regional sources of knowledge and find translations for them in the frames of the global trends. Self-discipline is a very important thing and most people can operate in a disciplined way only if they are fighting against something. And I think that is the greatest problem of the generations today. They have no longer anybody or anything to fight against. They did not have the chance to learn how to adopt decisions and be disciplined. That is why they are desperately seeking for sources of pressure, prohibition and so on. That was also the insanity of the 1960's. To be against. I think it is much better to be for something. For what can we possibly fight against today? Today everything is basically allowed.