Didem Yazıcı Let’s start with talking about your artistic methodology. You have a theoretical and practical background: art history and theatre studies in Munich and media art in Karlsruhe. One can see this multi-disciplinary base clearly in your work. For example, you are not only interested in the relationship between form and content, but in its display. You are producing the sound of your video works and collaborating in performance and theatre pieces. What does it mean to you to work cross-disciplinary and how does it influence your practice?
Lukas Rehm I’m driven by the search for conditions of resonance. The multiplicity of mediums I address in my work might have a somewhat eclectic appeal, yet there is a bedrock interest in abrasions and concurrence. I try to find patterns of argumentation, referential nodes, musical or spatial arrangements that intersect and simultaneously cause friction: similitudes without congruence. I believe this liminal asymmetry – causing a resonance – is what draws me to art in diverse forms and modes. It’s a fundamental drive for artistic collaboration in theatre or opera for example, but any artistic experience is produced in a multitude with projected and active viewers. I guess this aspect of an involved audience also informs the installative character of the works I come up with – an inclusive, yet not innocent stage.
DY You recently won the Emerging Artist Prize 2019 of Rainer Wild Art Foundation and had a solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Baden-Baden’s one-room exhibition space, ‘45cbm’ (until 12 January 2020). On the occasion of this exhibition, you made a new video installation Kill Screens: A Much More Elaborate and Attractive New Set of Toys (2019). This multi-layered work deals with questions around new technologies, psychology, game design and politics. How do these different disciplines unfold in this work?
LR Kill Screens consists of nine damaged TVs and computer monitors from the end of the decade. Some of the displays are only partly broken and show a fragmentary image; all their speakers still work. Most of them are results of “rage quits”. That means they were destroyed in a brief moment of frustration triggered by a video game or perhaps a TV sports broadcast. I’ve become interested in working with these technological artefacts as they condense issues that appear quite exemplary to this decade: frustration, agitation, ecological and economical (auto-)aggressive behaviour, fatalism. Trump, Bolzonaro, Johnson, Duderte, Höcke, Strache. New communication mediums are again being successfully exploited by political instigators: on the one hand they are speaking to people frustrated by complexity, that includes finding arrangements with otherness, inequality and social acknowledgement. On the other hand, they frustrate and paralyze their political opponents by the mere scope of politically incorrect actions, demanding reactions.
DY Can you elaborate on that?
LR Political incorrectness and frustration are also at the core of an online economy of transgression culminating for example in what can now be labelled as the gamification of terror: Shortly after I started working on the piece, a 28 year old German attacked a synagogue in Halle, Germany, on Jom Kippur. He aimed to join the online ranks of white supremacist spree killers and published a “manifesto” which reads like a gaming instruction, including achievements with titles derogatory to minorities in the West. He killed two Germans who posed no threat to him and uttered statements of self-hate and weariness of life. This indicates misanthropy where murderous racism (again) serves as an all too convenient environment and solution against solitude.
There have been studies linking frustration-tolerance with socialization, and of course frustration and aggression. In Kill Screens I also address the so-called Iowa Study which linked frustration and regression, arguing that in stress situations we fall back into earlier states of social development and act “childlike”. Destructive behaviour generates a temporary superiority, disregarding consequential social sanctions, personal material loss or ecological aftermath. Organized hate speech or hate crimes on the one hand, the destruction of interfaces – the screen – on the other. Brief satisfactory acts of regaining sovereignty. In the best case followed by regret and learning.
DY How did you get interested in the Iowa-Study (1941) experiment?
LR The experiment worked with toys as objects of desire and different room configurations. Children were observed in different phases: first they played with common toys like crayons, dolls and teddy bears, then a “much more elaborate and attractive new set of toys” – quoting the study – was introduced like a doll house or a water filled pond with a remote-controlled boat. In the third phase, a barrier divided the room and the child was only left with the crayons in one part while it could see all other toys through the fence. This resulted in verbal attacks against the present experimenters as well as physical attacks against the barrier. There was also a post-frustration period where the kid was allowed to play with all toys again. The interesting aspect of the experiment, however, was of course the hypothesis that frustration triggers regression and can result in fatalistic behaviour. The spatial and dramaturgical structure of the experiment became the basis for the work. The layout of the screens and the position of a physical barrier in the exhibition space derive from the experiment’s blueprints. I also rebuilt the experiment in a game engine with a mix of originally described toys and actualized objects of desire that are shown on the screens in form of a captured walkthrough the scene with interactions.
DY This is exactly what I find so striking about this installation. Its ability to refer to racist attacks, an urgent socio-political issue, and to draw a conceptual line between a historic psychological experiment, which explores the nature of human behaviour. In this framework, can you tell us more about the aesthetic decisions, for example painting the walls, working with damaged screens or any other aspect?
LR There is perhaps also a critical note on the role of the screen itself. Niklas Luhman was describing a religious perfervour emitting the screen. Indeed, this active light and content source has an inescapable attraction and its promise of satisfaction through a stream of novelties and recognition has been a constant that product manufacturers, advertisers and artists make use of alike. Consequently, the destroyed screen carries the fatality of an (involuntary) iconoclasm. Each of the screens in the exhibition has a story I was told while picking them up from the families and couples that offered them online. During the process of testing the arrangement in my studio I decided to accentuate this relationship between emitter and the spectator by darkening the room and even killing the floor reflections in the inaccessible part of the room with a black carpet.
DY What interests me further about this work is its soundtrack. In our previous conversations, you mentioned that you composed the music yourself. How was this research and production process?
LR I’ve been fascinated by video game soundtracks for a long time. They’re not only structurally interesting since they often have to adapt to the mechanisms of the game play, but they are also hotbeds for referential interplay and experimental aesthetics in a huge market. Growing up I’ve reencountered the music by Amon Tobin with whom I’ve been subconsciously familiar through playing the Splinter Cell series and whose tracks were later used in choreographies by Pina Bausch. For the installation, I’ve addressed this interest by listening to different soundtracks e.g. to Dark Souls 3 which is infamous for its difficulty, hence prompting many rages quits. I’ve composed a polyphonic vocal lamento resembling Early Music but with a libretto based on the earlier mentioned references of the work. They were beautifully interpreted by tenor Han Sol Choi and formed the first part of the work’s soundtrack. The second half then transitions via a digitally designed and cinematic segment towards a climax including a heavy guitar recording comparable to the DOOM soundtrack. At the end, all previous elements re-enter and disassemble. I’ve structured the arch similar to the psychological curve of a rage quit with frustration build-up, a fatal discharge and a period of realization or forced repose.
DY Beyond your dedication to work between disciplines, your works often refer to current politics. In 2016 you went to Athens to document the crisis finance and migration crisis. In Kill Screens there is a direct reference to the far-right terrorist attack in Halle, Germany. Is this merely coming from a desire to contextualize the work or do you see it as a necessity to act politically as the world is going through heavy times?
LR There is definitely always an urgency my artistic practice relies on. That includes the curiosity in the complex agencies and psychologies at play in politics that are seemingly inevitably condensed in public debate. In reaction to anti-Semitic threats on his life, the pianist Igor Levit recently published an impressive and chilling statement about his fear – not for him-self but for the moral state of Germany. Over the impossibility to cancel shows he quoted Nina Simone’s “an artist’s duty is to reflect the times”. You’re eerily confronted with the continuity of racism and anti-Semitism in Austria and Germany in Hito Steyerl’s Normalität 1 – X (1999–2001) series – twenty years after the videos were made. We should be sensitive to the interdependent world we live in and avoid falling for the central European apathy.
DY Let’s wrap up by talking about your current and future projects. What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the Jan Van Eyck Academy, where you recently got accepted as artist in residence?
LR Currently I’m working with my friend Vincent Stefan on the realization of an extensive video-concept for a production at the Staatsoper Stuttgart, that focuses on the historicity of Russia – both in medieval times and from a retrospect point of view after the Perestroika. In parallel, I’m preparing the release of some intense music developed with the wonderful musicians Afonso Arrepia, Pedro Menezes and Tilman Porschütz in sessions at an abandoned Portuguese monastery organized by SVS Records. Then I’m really looking forward to starting a new chapter in Maastricht with a project I’ve been carrying along for quite some time, addressing aspects of observation and accountability and conceptions of morality. The work is aimed to span different time periods and includes cross-cultural narratives on the relationship between civil liberties and the regulatory or intrusive power structures of law. This will address the 12 Articles formulated in my small hometown of Memmingen during the Peasant-Wars in 1525 – the birthdate of the European Civil rights. But the scope is extended towards Chinese narratives and human’s curiosity for crime.
Lukas Rehm – Kill Screens. A Much More Elaborate and Attractive New Set of Toys
23 November 2019 – 12 January 2020
Curated by Benedikt Seerieder
Kunsthalle Baden-Baden / 45 cbm
Lichtentaler Allee 8a
Lukas Rehm is an artist and musician working in the field of new media, installation art, documentary and experimental fiction. His artistic works examine conditions and the theatrics of social structures, the impact of (new) technological artefacts and the role of affect. His work has been recently presented at Heidelberger Frühling (2019), the Princeton Weimar Summer School (2019), Future Space New York (2018), GAMMA Festival St. Petersburg (2018) and Currents Athens (2018). He received the Federal Prize for Art Students including an exhibition at Bundeskunsthalle Bonn (2018). 'Kill-Screens: A much more Elaborate and Attractive New Set of Toys' is his first institutional solo show.