Constantin Hartenstein (*1982 Herzberg) lives and works in New York. His artistic practice is characterized by a profound analysis of society’s dominating power structures. Hartenstein often examines corporate architecture and its manifestation in the proliferation of screen-based environments, banners and media facades. Blurring the line between documentation and fiction, the artist questions one-dimensional constructions of commercial space, leaving the viewer’s perception to oscillate between illusion and reality.
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Indechs: Can you tell us a little about your practice?
Constantin Hartenstein: I live and work in Berlin and New York. My medium of choice is video and installation; and I feel a strong connection to conceptual art and artistic strategies that open up a discussion around concepts of space, phenomenology and abstract representations of realities.
How are you seeing and/or approaching the medium of the moving image?
Moving images contain a fantastic way to express my art intwenty-five images per second . I never understood how one image per second, per month or even per year could be enough. When it comes to a visual experience, a moving image medium gives me a multiplicity of emergent properties with which to play. I feel confident when I know that the rhythm, the cuts, the camera movements and the in-between images culminate into a multi-layed composition.
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Looking at your work, could one say, that your video works have shifted from a reorganization and reinterpretation of found material towards self-recorded narratives?
Using found and self-filmed material is my way to negotiate the technological shifts of our time. It is also a way for my work to represent the passage of time as it relates to the viewer’s perspective. For example, in the beginning of any creative endeavor, I initially explore what is already “there” and re-organize it in ways which are new and different.
How has this change come about?
Like a natural development of interest. I partly abandoned the Duchampian thought to embrace a practice that could be more open to an extended understanding of ‚material‘; relating different materials to one particular expression and consequently establishing different realities at the same time.
In some other text you are stating your interest for architecture, could you elaborate on this relation?
My professor in art school, Heinz Emigholz, makes these amazing films about contemporary architects and their buildings. To him, a built environment is an expression of human life that resembles very much the process of projecting a film: through diverse appliances, we are projecting our visions, like a lens, into space. To me, architecture has always been a very personal experience, juxtaposing projections of creation with accomplished physical construction. Since untouchable and two-dimensional film projected onto a screen is always flattened, I am interested in ways to present space that steps out of its technical determinations. Phenomenologically spoken, we explore film with our senses but it remains a non-physical experience. Film is only an illusion that takes me to another place which might be physical, virtually constructed or has never existed. I like the idea of triggering phantastic spaces in the mind of the viewer to underline their possibility of becoming real and consequently shaking up our experience of reality.
Yet watching your art works, architecture is not immediately identifiable, rather means of governance, separation, structuring or even destruction – thus all these aspects relate close to architecture. Are you operating on a broader line condition to these thresholds?
Mainly borders are responsible for the individual experience of architecture. When I draw a border, I am making myself visible as ’somebody‘ (the Warholian thought). Experiencing architecture as border establishes not only the insider and outsider, but also produces stages. We put ourselves on stages every day. Architecture understood as ‚Bühnenbild‘ is a fascinating context to me in which we become the other, the alien. Those stages can only be temporary, held together with cheap screws, glued wood, furnished with Ikea. We are re-activating, destroying and caring for historic architecture as cultural heritage, but the acceleration of newly built construction seems unstoppable. It also drives home the idea that construction is not a one-time process: borders must be constantly negotiated, governed, watched-over, if not, they run the risk of disappearing. Architecture as borders strongly reminds me of this ever-so-vulnerable aspect of construction. Structures come and go. Cursory structures also mean the downfall of society’s values. That is why I like destruction the most. It represents change and transformation; in my opinion the highest goals for artists.
One could say that Video Art is fully recognized as a contemporary medium for art production, yet the difficulty of displaying or even more collection keeps reappearing. It this a problem for you?
Video Art is the medium of our time. For example consider the case of the Mohammed video. When a video affects the whole world, that fast, in such an extreme way, what more direct means of expression is out there? Presenting video art will become easier and cheaper in the future, it already is. And the ways of distribution are extremely fast. Since we are surrounded by screens, look at our computer screen every day and watch clips on our iPhones, it makes total sense to me to be artistically influential in that context and using video technology to have an artistic impact on visual culture. Activating what is surrounding us, infecting it with artistic concepts, reacting to current political and cultural occurances, all of those strategies should be an incentive for museums, collectors and institutions to find ways to make video art accessable, enjoyable for the audience and for future generations. It is a challenge since formats and technology are shifting rapidly, but that has always been the case for creative production throughout history and I am sure this process will create new and exciting jobs.
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Talking on an institutional level – the museum – is right at a challenge of maneuvering among the place of a „treasure“, in architectural terms, the layout of a shrine, leading to the exhibits, its collection, through a complex negotiation of spaces aligned versus the needed temporary exhibitions, mainly reffered as „blogbuster shows“, being larger and always bigger, clustering around an architectural layout of the traditional basilica. How important is this difference for the artist?
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The bigger my work is shown the better.
The long answer is: Working site-specifically, I always get into a conversation with the space, its materiality, odd corners, screws, pipes, floor and ceiling. If the exhibition space has a layout that resembles a church, the artist needs to be aware that the shown work might be viewed as commentary in close relation to the actual significance of the space. That is my most relevant concern in my practice: how can my works relate to the given architecture of the space in a compelling and fresh way? Some works might have completely different ways of reception in different locations. Consequently, the context of your work is as important as the work itself, I would claim. It makes a huge difference if I show a video piece on an small advertising flatscreen in the subway or as a ten meter projection at the Tate Modern. This aspect leads to a second layer of the ‚blogbuster show‘ -phenomenon: size. I do believe that size matters in that respect.
The history of a museum has been a complex space of governance and a constant mixture of various categories with the art and its productive archive. Yet one could say, that today the museums have lost their energy and are possibly at last only serving a cultural purposes as such. Do you believe the museum and thus art could revisit another governmental importance (and we are not talking about manifestos alla Jonathan Meese here)?
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The museum as a cultural institution fits within the context of 18th and 19th century Europe, and their ideas of culture, art, society and progress. As art is becoming more and more a global phenomenon, it is worth asking how such assumptions are being contested in places where the history of museums is not the same. For example in India, museums built by the British as symbols of their graps, culturally speaking, of the locals and their customs, serve a different governance role than museums in Europe.
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Within the moves towards globalization, I am witnessing that museums can serve the particular governance role of serving as spaces of contestation and spaces of difference. I mean that the museum and its art can come to embody a space without the hegemony of global state-capitalism and its cultural influence. I don’t know how this would be done in practice, but it seems to me like a worthy role for the museum.
Your latest art work KEYSTONE is resolving around a similar topic of governance through the symbolism of one nation and its immigration politics. You are portraying various people in a voyeuristic manner in front of the Statue Of Liberty in New York, where you have also shot the video. How does this message or does it at all relate to your last residence in the states?
KEYSTONE presents two realities at the same time; a concept that I quite often use in my works. Through changing the ‚real experience‘ just slightly, I wanted to establish a new view on symbolized and embodied monuments that project ideas of societal models into space. One could interpret it as a projection gaze into another dimension, even the future. My main interest here is the relationship between the touristic performance and the pose known as the ‚liberty pose‘. At that very moment when someone takes a photograph, you also confirm that your body is actually present at this very same place, you flatten the three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional representation of space. Since my presence in New York was only a temporary one, I became very interested in the fluctuation of the term ‚liberty‘; reflecting on residency and permanence. Mimicing the pose could mean embracing the thought of liberty for oneself, but in terms of having control over my own actions outside coercion, I strongly felt a shift between the proclaimed liberty as a concept and the lived one. The illusion of this ‚liberty‘ is reconstructed, one can see cranes and a construction truck driving through the video image. I loved this expression of the constant rebuilding of the term ‚liberty‘, questioning and re-considering its value, meaning and task for contemporary society. It is important to not just adopt ideas that others proclaim and to strive for a constant transformation.
Having lived abroad, how are you evaluating the difference in the museum landscape there and in your country of origin Germany?
Museums in America have more pop.
How important are you seeing the location of a museum?
Museums need to preserve the means of expression of our times and collect them. They are time capsules. Traditionally, many have aimed to transcend their locality, with the idea that art is universal and serves the interests of all humanity. However, we need to reconsider the role of locality in relation to globality, and the associated politics of space.
Talking about the governmental side of such a space, would an institution not be necessary in every urban context? Or are you seeing the only relevance for a museum in a conglomeration and clustering like the Museum Island in a capital such as Berlin?
It seems that there are museums in every format; everywhere. I believe museums have a task also to communicate knowledge, ideas and artistic approach to the audience. And this is essential for any audience, no matter how small. How this is done might not be the most important fact, but institutions already think about ways to expand their programs in many interesting ways at the intersection between online and offline realities.
How are you approaching new works at the beginning? Are they relating and building up from previous? Is it a strike of genious? Extensive research? etc..?
I am working on the idea that I found the most interesting for myself at this very moment. I am not interested in one-line-art, repeating the same idea over and over again with slight variations. So I don’t consciously analyze what my works have in common. I will leave this for the critics and curators to figure out.
Sometimes it happens very fast that an idea manifests itself and then it NEEDS to be done and I cannot stop thinking about its realization. I draw my inspiration from very personal experiences. There is also this ten per cent of unexplainable occurances that I have no words for, but almost every time, those ten per cent create an outstanding piece of art. I love to take risks in my practice and mostly it pays off. Basically there is not one single day when I don’t make art. I cast my net wide and try to be very active with an open mind to new tasks and adventures.
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What are your next projects?
A series of extreme slow-motion videos and a large-scaled and supershiny sculpture.
all images © Constantin Hartenstein