I’m not a fan of overburdening art with too much messaging, but if it has to do something, if there’s any purpose, then it’s to rip people out of their daily thing and make them stop.
Following blockbuster showings to over half a million patrons worldwide since 2012, art group RANDOM INTERNATIONAL's Rain Room finally made its way to Melbourne in 2019/20. This interactive installation invited participants to walk through a downpour of continuous rain without getting wet. Motion sensors detected the movements of the human body as they navigated through the darkened underground space, becoming performers in this intersection of art, technology and nature.
ACMI invited Hannes Koch, co-founder of RANDOM INTERNATIONAL, to speak to Fenella Kernebone about his practice, the conception and intention of Rain Room, and the importance of healthier human relationships with technology that aren’t dependent on the use of smartphones or social media, but on consciousness, perception, and instinct.
About the speakers
Hannes Koch co-founded art group RANDOM INTERNATIONAL in 2005 with Florian Ortkrass. A collaborative studio for experimental practice within contemporary art, RANDOM INTERNATIONAL work with larger teams of diverse and complementary talent out of studios in London and Berlin. Questioning aspects of identity and autonomy in the post-digital age, the group’s work invites active participation. Hannes and team explore the human condition in an increasingly mechanised world through emotional yet physically intense experiences. The artists aim to prototype possible behavioural environments by experimenting with different notions of consciousness, perception, and instinct.
Fenella Kernebone is the Head of Curation for TEDxSydney responsible for leading the programming for one of the largest TEDx events in the world. A noted television and radio presenter and producer and has hosted radio and television shows on ABC TV, SBS TV, RN, Triple J, podcasts such as Trackwork, a season of It's a Long Story (Sydney Opera House podcast) and the TEDxSydney Livestream and Adventure Series.
Fiona Trigg: I’d to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land of which we meet, The Yalukut Weelam clan of the Boonwurrung people. And pay my respects to their Elders past and present and to any elders from other cultures who may be with us tonight.
ACMI is so proud to be partnering with Jackalope Art Collection for their presentation of their Rain Room here in St Kilda, and it’s so wonderful for Melbournians to have to opportunity to see this work which is so famous now and so well loved, and has been playing in so many different locations around the world since it was launched in London in 2012. It’s clearly a major undertaking to install and operate a work of this kind and so we really take our hats off to the Jackalope group for their ambition and the initiative they took to bring this remarkable work to Melbourne.
Tonight, we have the pleasure of hearing from one of the creators of the work, Hannes Koch, he will do a short presentation and then be joined by Fenella Kernebone to have a further conversation about the work. And I’m sure there will be an opportunity for questions if you have them.
So, Hannes is the co-founder with Florian Ortkrass of Random International and Random International are a collaborative studio for experimental practice within contemporary art. They were founded in 2005. And today they work with large teams of diverse and complimentary talent out of studio’s in London and in Berlin. Their work explores the human condition and they are increasingly recognised in digital world though the creation of emotional, and yet physically intense, participatory experiences.
Fenella is head of curation for TEDxSydney, responsible for leading the programming for one of the largest TEDx events in the world. And I’m sure many of you are familiar with Fenella from her extensive career as a producer, presenter and MC across a wide range of media including T.V., Radio and Podcast.
So please join me in welcoming Hannes to the stage.
Hannes Koch: Thank you. Ok, Hello. Good afternoon, morning, I don’t even know.
I’m Hannes. I had talk title confusion with what I’m going to I don’t have confusion with what I want I to talk about briefly or how I want to set the stage for our conversation later, but I was confused with how to name it. I think on our telephone conference, with Fenella, we thought about … I think I named it something like "sentient architecture" or something.
Basically, what we are concerned with or excited about, or both, me and Flo … at RANDOM [INTERNATIONAL]… is the, the impact of digital on our life and our human condition. Mostly the emotional impact… and I think with a work like Rain Room… once you go a step further from, the sort, of theatrics and the visual impact, what it also is, it is a sentient space, in some way. Or it pretends to be. It’s a space that reads your physical presence. And that is something which you can, pretty much, or … it’s interesting to translate that into architecture. That’s what buildings are already doing and are increasingly going to do.
And for us the question is how do we as humans relate to that? What does that do to us? And why do we react in a particular fashion? And how do we react to sentient spaces; to spaces that pretend to read us, that shows certain reactions.
But first of all, a quick introduction to the studio, this is our London space [points to screen]. We have twenty people from all sorts of different backgrounds and disciplines. Engineering, programming, art historians, accountants and so on.
This is our Berlin office. Thanks to the lunatics in the British government we were forced to open a second studio. This is in market if you like … and ... yeah. Be lucky that you’re not too closely associated with those people here anymore in Australia. Now me and Flo are both German and it’s frightening how difficult they make it to run a studio there. As if we had nothing better to do than opening a whole copy-paste version of our London studio in Berlin. That’s last year’s photo but that’s sort of the kind of group of people we have travelling around the world. We have a water specialist, we have a whole Rain Room team working on that. And our work, increasingly becomes architectural. Or shown in an architectural context, sculpture.
This is something we get very excited about ... Because there is a difference between putting something into a museum or into a collectors home to in a public space where people can’t avoid it. It’s terrifying and really exciting.
So, "plug-in human" is the title for this, sort of, brief overview that I chose in the end coming from the heroes at Archigram who did the plug-in-city. For us of course the human is the centre … that’s the centre of our attention, not the environment it lives in or how the machine functions. It’s the human that experiences a space that experiences a spatial reaction to its presence. And that has an impact and it’s an interesting impact.
This is a work we’ve done 12 years ago ... it’s our first kinetic work which isn’t entirely a spatial reaction. It’s objects that react to your presence. And they, in very, very simple ways, mimic human behaviour. So, they literally mirror you. And they do that in a very reduced manner but they try to do nothing that humans can’t do. So, they try not to be very robotic. And through that, immediately people almost need to feel related, or in relationship to them.
The previous one was this sort of exhibition shot. This is what actually happens [refers to screen] ... That people start performing for the installation. This was not staged. And we thought it was a really interesting thing, that, again this was neither staged nor planned, that reaction, but it taught us something in that there seems to be … I think it’s a bit … too negative ... almost like a desperate need for us to connect to our environment in some way and to feel seen. And this is basically a full role reversal and people start performing for the installation. And I think it’s a bit of a cognitive Stockholm syndrome and I explain a bit later what that is.
Because that relates, for me anyway, straight to phenomena that we’re currently experiencing and that are not so light-hearted or light weight. We really liked to engage our neuronal reward system with things that are pleasing or that make us feel better about ourselves, like this woman who tries to outsmart the tracking system from audience. She thinks she’s smarter. She feels very much in control of the situation and it elevates her, that she thinks she understood how the camera tracking works. And this is the same reaction, human reaction, that makes us click.
I don’t know if your familiar with this, but this is an offer for some really simplistic game that people hit three times "OK" on Facebook… by every "OK" they give away another layer of their private data on to party servers and that absolutely screws up democracy all over this planet at the moment.
And that sucks. And it’s really fun at the same time. And that’s what I meant with the cognitive Stockholm syndrome. We really fall in love with the shit that screws us up (I shouldn’t swear on stage). And this is something really interesting for us to explore.
This is a work present in Eurasia which we recently launched. We’ve worked a long time with the recognition of body in space but also with, sort of, temporary portraiture of what that does to people, to exploit and explore our built-in narcissism.
And this is a machine which scans the space, the whole time and then, randomly picks out portraits of people and blows them up and posterises and them prints them out in really large format form. They’re visible for about thirty, forty seconds then they fade out. You have absolutely no control about whether you’re chosen or not by this machine, but you're pleased when you are.
And that, again, corresponds one to ... I don’t know if you follow that discussion about this hoover app which sucks data from all sorts of social media platforms, 3.5 billion images I think, for face recognition … Any consent or permit they use in law enforcement now ... immediately locating data.
And it’s this involuntary, ubiquitous being filmed, being looked at, being seen by machines … it should make us worried but we feel very pleased by it. And that’s very simple processes in the human brain which are being exploited. And I think our point isn’t so much to ... I think it’s enough just to mention that, to highly that fact and to sort of amplify that a little bit.
Sentient architecture is something that we try to exploit and explore in our sculptural work. [Refers to screen] This is a work for the great Ormond Street Hospital for children where we tried to give the building an expression, to pretend the building has actual soul or has a heart, I don’t know. It wasn’t so literal but there is something alive in the building.
So, this a huge … it’s not that huge … it’s a very non-descript object which we tried to make relatable only through movement. We’d studied manatees and jellyfish and so on, so we wanted to give this the closest to biological motion that we can have. And it has three "eyes" if you like, it has three points where it sees people and then slowly comes to them. And you only need to do so much that people immediately read, and interpret something as being alive. So, they go like, "Oh, it’s curious", "it’s aggressive", "it’s shy" ... And you only need to start that conversation with a few simple gestures, and you immediately build a rapprt between the visitor and the sculpture. And that’s something, extremely enjoyable.
[Refers to screen] So here you have about 200,000 inpatients, or outpatients coming in, most of them children, um… and you have um… a bunch of staff coming into the building every day, and we really wanted to connect them… to the building in a… in a very emotional manner without being overly dramatic. And I think it’s something that changes over time and it’s a way to give a building a static or lifeless structure a way to express itself.
I’m almost done now but with Rain Room that’s where I wanted to go with this. It comes to this thing that I think that the first time that Barbican, in London, showed it, when it still existed on paper, they had this whole campaign on the tube that said "how would it fell to control the weather?". So, they give you this megalomaniac kind of "Ah, I’m here" and it reacts to me but I control it. And that’s generally this elevating feeling you actually and genuinely have. And it exists around me and it parts for me and so on. But that’s not at all what it is. It’s completely controlling the way you walk; it makes you utterly predictable. It's standardising the way you hold your head, the speed you walk with; it slows you down when you're too fast and so on.
It’s like a very, very subtle way of controlling how we are in space. And I think that you will find a lot in architecture in the future, already now, but increasingly so, choosing which way elevators go and so on. It’s this almost … nudging … which takes away a lot of this, how do you say, perceived free will. It just tells you… buildings tell you where to go, when to go there; how fast you get there and where to not go.
I think that’s interesting, just an interesting consideration and interesting thing to bear in mind when you move through life.
To that, with increasing monitoring, there is an increasing potential for control. And that’s where I think this gets very interesting. And this is where um... welcoming Fenella on stage.
Thank you very much.
Fenella Kernebone: As part of the performative aspect of Rain Room, let’s keep clapping for Hannes Koch shall we?
HK: Is this the right side? yeah.
FK: It a big chair for my big ego – both of ours. Ok hands up if you haven’t been into Rain Room yet? Ah… you’re in for a treat. You are going to know what it’s like to feel in control and also somewhat being controlled at the same time.
Hannes, amazing to hear about your work, thank you. This is your first time to Australia is that right?
FK: How is it? Are you OK?
HK: I love it. Yeah. Absolutely love it.
FK: You got here a couple of days ago.
HK: Very unexpected I would say.
FK: Why is that?
HK: I imagined it to be… um… can I be honest?
HK: No? ok. No but ...
FK: We’re, we’re not really thin skinned. Be careful.
HK: Where I come from you hear about Australia, you hear about Sydney a lot. And it’s a bit ... I don’t really want to offend anybody but it’s a bit flaky. But the way Sydney is portrayed, it’s you know, all beach and sun and body builders. And people don’t talk much about Melbourne and when I came here, it's extremely pleasant, I think. It’s properly solid. It’s a bit like New York or Chicago versus LA.
FK: You guys Ok with that? Because I’m actually from Sydney and I’m not a body builder.
FK: So just watch what you’re saying, alright.
HK: Yep. Ok. But I love it here. I think it’s amazing. I love the climate. Um…
FK: I mean, I sort of ask this because we’re here, we’re in this hotel, it’s in a hotel, or next door on a carpark. It’s fancy-pants, and when you go and check it out, you’ll see what I’m talking about. When you see it, positioned in this space, and this part of town, architecturally physically, what do you see and feel? Because obviously this is your artwork so how does it feel or present to you?
HK: It was hard to imagine, when Lewis and his team proposed this site. We were like, on a beach? Yeah, let’s go, that sounds awesome. But, you know, neither me or Flo had been here and I think the architecture makes a huge difference to how this…to have a work like this….to have somebody go to this… through the commitment to build a building for it ... that’s unbelievably humbling and amazing.
FK: Could you set us up and give a us a bit of an understanding about then the different way that it is represented around the world, from the original Barbican, you know, showing to what we have here, you know … it’s different. It’s different to say the least.
HK: Yeah. Yeah. Well I think the context and the experience itself, for that to be congruent in the way we wanted to be, everything else around it has to be different and site specific. But I think from the beginning we were quite interested in finding people … we knew that we had a limited amount of Rain Rooms that we were going to build and we knew that we would prefer, in the long term, permeant iterations of it. Without any knowledge of or real understanding of what that would actually mean.
HK: I think the Sharjah Foundation acquired one in 2013, and I think three weeks after acquiring it we went to Sharjah; we sat in the foundation and had a chat about the architecture, and we really liked the buildings that. By then they just had new architecture. And ten minutes later the architect of those buildings ... she was asked to the table and sat there and we literally sketched the, the building. And that was an amazing experience. And we were like, OK it’s basically downhill from here!
You know, with Marge doing this building, they kept the level. I think it really sets and amazing precedent to do that. And I think things slowly with the remaining Rain Rooms … We’re not in a massive hurry, but we’re looking for … for a similar experience.
It’s just a beautiful experience to come up there. It’s like this weird ... it’s a concrete, almost brutalist car park and then they’ve built this… it’s almost like a sculpture itself, the building, and I think that’s amazing.
FK: I want to talk about some of the big issues that you’ve touched on in your talk. And obviously about control, the body is being read by the architecture and vice versa, but when you walk through … now … this is your art work, what do you feel when you personally own this space? Moving through, with the rain not on you. Like I’m just kinda curious about your experience of it now after almost 10 years since it was first stage.
HK: The first thing is always to go "am I getting soaked" because that can happen if you wear the wrong black clothes or something.
HK: Or if it’s not well looked after
FK: I don’t actually have any other colour. I’m stuffed.
HK: It’s the wrong black clothes, not beautiful black clothes like you do.
FK: Oh, thank you.
HK: I mean really… the team here, it’s like brand new, you know, it’s … you come here after 6 months it’s out of the box. It’s amazing. Um, and then I personally I forget about it. I’m just enjoying it.
HK: And that’s, you know, I can’t say that about all of our work, I think. With Rain Room … because it’s a very physical, very … intense, emotional … or soothing experience, you know, I don’t have to think a lot about it.
FK: Hmm … it’s true. There’s something really meditative about it, when you walk through ... because all of a sudden, and you talked about this before, you have this moment when you realise that you actually being controlled by … the rain. If you don’t want to be rained on, you need to move through it in a particular way.
HK: But if ... the main thing is that happens; I don’t think about, I don’t think people think about that. It happens very instinctively. It’s like, it’s a very subcu… ta… how do you say that? Subcu…
FK: Subconscious thing, yeah …
HK: Subconscious and … it happens under the radar. It’s like "whoo!". It’s like this nudging, this subtlety.
FK: Was that always intentional, for you, the way we go through the space? I mean, obviously that happens in other works that you are doing. But you consciously wanted to make us question how we walk through the architecture, how we walk through our cities and spaces through this kind of physical representation of the rain.
HK: Not at all.
FK: No? Well what was it?
HK: I think that the original impetus was just this fantasy of how, of trying to understand, or trying to imagine how something feels ... I think we had this as a work on paper … on, in a computer, on silicon if you like, in a computer chip for four years before it was built. And you, you go through these things, you go like, ok that, literally the first thought that you … came back to all the time … while pursuing the actual practicalities of getting it realised … was this, this, fantasy of being cocooned by a space and having this heightened sense of self, of perception when you think you should be threatened or endangered by getting wet. It’s a sort of… not a dangerous thing but this sort of… almost dissonance between the expectation and what’s actually happening. We thought that would be really interesting experience and very … powerful. And I think that’s what we came back to.
But then of course you go through these, sort of, you know ... this is probably how people, in some parts of the world, will experience weather.
HK: And like, X days time…
FK: i.e. they won’t have rain, for example…
FK: …they’ll have to experience it in an artificial capacity.
HK: And not only rain but, you know, this is how, how we have to mediate our environment. You go into these sort of Matrix fantasies a little bit and I don’t … Unfortunately, I think that been … you know, look around you.
FK: Yeah, it’s not far from …what the future potential will be. I know, I was thinking as I was walking through, I went through last week when I was in Melbourne – I am in Melbourne. I’m still here in Melbourne, how about that – but when I was walking through I had this, sort of, sudden transportation back to being a kid, and reading the Bible and then like, Moses parting the water and here I am, and there’s all that power, if that makes sense, then all of a sudden I’m being told what I need to do in order to not get wet. And then I thought, wow, it’s such a privilege to be able to be in these type of … not, all of these kind of things emerge and it’s a work that has a capacity to help us question who we are and how we live, particularly in a city or a country that’s had so much devastation from rains to bush fires recently.
HK: Yeah, yeah.
HK: Yeah, I think that the … you know in, in Los Angeles we had the … And that, that’s also how … What’s interesting for us to do this for number of years and that ... and go through this logistic effort that something like in, in Los Angeles when we put it up at the LA county Museum in November, it hadn’t rained since I think April or May that same year. So, there literally was a family with a child and they shoved it [the child] out, they outperformed the tracking, they shoved they shoved it into the rain just to go … it’s for the baby to experience what it’s like. Because they hadn’t.
FK: And they had never experienced rain before.
HK: Yeah, yeah, they hadn’t.
FK: Tell me about the one in the UAE. United Arab Emirates. That’s, you know, a place that doesn’t experience a huge amount of rain. What, what is that like to… what, tell me a bit about that one.
HK: I think that was such a one liner, you know, to put the Rain Room in the desert; because when we opened it everyone was going, "Oh, it’s going to go to Dubai, it’s going to go to Dubai" and we were extremely happy that the Sharjah Art Foundation ... they have an excellent programme.It's one of, I think, it’s one of the best cultural institutions in, in the world. That they acquired it and they took their time building a whole building and I think that’s when we started, going through Dubai … I don’t know who’s been there but it’s mental. It’s absolutely insane when you come there, there’s like, five mile high buildings …
HK:: … and everything is automated and climatised. I mean in like… thirty years’ time, one doesn’t talk about it there too much….
FK: Because there …
HK: … but they won’t be able to be outside for … long parts of the … long stretches of the year. It’s all underground, climatised and so on. So, that's where we started thinking about this automated building. This architecture which reads you. All the elevator systems in the Burj Khalifa and so on that’s… and we, we explored all that and over the years when we were there, took them… five years I think to build the Rain Room building. And I think that has much more mileage for me in terms of engagement, a way of thinking about the work than this idea, ok it’s … you know …it’s a bit … because this isn’t really rain, you know it’s not really rain.
FK: It’s recycled … you know. It’s water. Yeah.
HK: Yeah … and it’s, like, it’s a very sort of minimalist sort of formalised version of it …
FK: But this is the future potentially, even though it’s an artwork and you’re going to experience it, but there’s potentially, as you’ve said, this could be how we interact with our environment, or our climate. That we are not able to, you know… it could be a history lesson for some kids in the future. That’s kinda… it touches on all of these ideas.
HK: Yeah, yeah. I mean … look at ... In Dubai of course, their next door neighbour to Sharjah, they go skiing in the desert.So, they literally take this to the extreme and make it entertainment and then ... But that in itself is quite interesting as well They probably go into Rain Room and go this is really boring. There’s not enough rain, it’s not big enough, or something like that I don’t know. It’s like … for us of course that’s, that’s quite almost like a complement.
FK: Just a sort of boring technical question but I mean obviously technology over the last ten years or so has transformed and changed. It’s still the same work though isn’t it…
FK: … the way that the senses work …
FK: Why, why have you chosen consciously chosen to leave it as it is and not find a new way to express it if that makes sense.
HK: Because it would be so tacky to make a wide room with red rain or something. No, we just can’t ...
FK: Think what that would be. Yeah. Weird.
HK: No, No, yeah because I think, it’s just, it was good as it is. And I think the back-end chain like ... I met Jason, and his team yesterday for the first time .... The Guardian .... and it’s like, "they’ve taken Rain Room to the next level". And they still do... I think, like… we really want to bring them together with the guys in Sharjah, just to compare notes. And probably curse me and my colleges for coming up with that. But… and there’s a lot of stuff which we permanently improve and, you know, this, what’s here in the pavilion has nothing to do with the sort of … teenage engineering in the … in the Barbican which was literally … sort of … home made plumbing … And that’s good. That it’s not like that. And we’re still… like we’re exploring… we’re ahead of the tech curve in that we would love to find a new way of tracking for technical reasons.
The permanent side of this is going to go to downtown Melbourne that we will have … we know already that we are maxing out spatial constraints in terms of room height and stuff and that stuff you can, where technology will save us, unlike environment ....
FK: Do you think that’s true? Technology will save us?
FK: You just said technology will save us is that something you firmly believe?
HK: No absolutely not! Ah No.
HK: But in this case, YES!
FK: Yes OK
HK: You know, they will allow us to make it as big as we can in a very constrained space. And that’s good. No, I don’t … No.
FK: No. Chuck your phones out everybody Don’t take … actually talking about phones. It’s funny ‘cause when I went through the other day my mate and I, we basically just took photos the entire time. And for a moment there I thought, I’m not experiencing this. So, we’re living constantly in this world where we’re sort of, we’re managing the real and then we’re shoving it on Instagram and on Facebook, and you’re going to do this too [to audience], trust me, don’t feel guilty about this. And I was kinda curious, and at the same you showed us the picture of the women who was trying to outsmart the sensors as well and that was being film.
Like we’re all, and then the other mediates space with the photographs on the wall, like, how we are interacting, the role that this art actually plays in helping us understand how we’re actually living in this digitised space. It’s pretty constant.
HK: It is! And I think the first iteration of the Rain Room in the Barbican and then MOMA a few month later was wild because it was the advent of Instagram, Twitter was just sort of on the way out and then it was all photo based and people, it was literally, it’s not real not real if it’s not on Facebook.
FK: Is Twitter out?
HK: No, No.
FK: Oh ok.
HK: It, sort of … yeah a little … but, sort of photographically ... I don’t know what these…I have… anyway.
FK: I’m just … Ok.
HK: But I … and I think it, it only dawned on us that it’s … it was almost offensive that people who spend years breaking [their] back to bring this into the world as a physical experience, it’s not projected, it’s not, you know, VR crap. It’s real! And people go like Hmph. They live in it through a phone, and it’s like… through a screen and it’s like … it is offensive. We made a work, in the same year it became so popular on Instagram which was completely unintentional, we were commissioned in Germany by the Ruhrtriennale to do a work with Walter and we made like this massive tower which was, like a downpour I think of like 40,000 litres per minute and you got absolutely soaked in it. There was no tracking what so ever. It was a very powerful, storm experience. And we really, at that point, we felt we need to make a point that people will literally break their stupid cameras ... when they go in it. Which of course they did. But now iPhones are waterproof so it’s like …
FK: That’s … [laughs]
HK: Doesn’t help does it.
FK: Doesn’t help anymore. Um… did you get anybody complaining?
FK: Say it’s your own fault guys.
HK: No. We didn’t listen.
FK: Yeah [laughs]
HK: We were like … it’s fine.
FK: But I mean it’s kinda part of it now that, now that this, this is the world that we’re living in. So, we’re interacting in architecture with our phones, with our, with, in a space that is digital at the same time as physical. So, these works, these artworks are a way for us to understand how we are living in the cities, in the spaces, in the future space we have that’s what you’re hoping to do.
HK: I think… to help me understand almost. It’s like, it’s sort of, self-serving exercise in a way because I think we’re live, in all things data and automation and digitisation … and algorithmi-fication.
I think we live in a time right now which is similar to, I don’t know, 1950s where you were … only a good, I don’t know, oncologist when you were smoking in your practice, or in a bank or something, when, you know, it was cool and fun to smoke. And I think it’s completely unregulated the way, and inconsiderate to a really lethal degree how we, how we treat… privacy, treat our own data and how we misread or simply neglect the potential for abuse of data. And I think it’s ... it is a bit like this addict … there is a lot of parallels in this addictive tendency, but that’s what all the big technology companies are actively and consciously exploiting. So I think all these movements of … you know … healthy and, and sane use of technology and so on is worthwhile. And I think art increasingly has a role to play here because these developments or the ... almost these conflicts are being … of commerce attacking our very emotional core.
They do that with the same means of, you know, cigarettes, alcohol, booze, any kind of addictive … substance – try to hit our brain. It’s literally the same process. And I think it’s, it’s a good idea to start thinking about how we can fight back, using the same means. And that translates for me one to one.
I don’t know if it’s apparent, but I think it translates one to one into all developments we’re currently experiencing with, you know, the Johnson, Trump democracy.
It’s the same sort of attention economy that is being played out in front of our … and, and in our emotional experience.
FK: Hmm… And we don’t have much time, I mean, you know, look, we don’t have enough time to stop and just think, you know, and to experience, there’s a lot of, like there’s this constant download of information.
HK: W don’t want to! It’s so exciting to go to the, hit the next episode. Hit the next episode. It’s like, like that’s exactly it.
FK: So, we need to be able to go into a space, and that’s, I mean this is kind of where what you’re saying, sort of, when I hear you, it’s like to be able to stop, to go into a Rain Room, to … like the work that you showed us in the hospital, the children’s hospital, where you actually are interacting with a thing that is potentially sentient, as your saying, let’s you question but it just the opportunity for you to stop and think, you know, we’re, we’re being watched, we are allowing ourselves to be watched the entire time, let’s let the art allow us to think what it means to us, I suppose.
HK: And the physicality, I think that’s a huge thing for us. I think we have one or two works which are projected without any reactive component but it, there needs to be some physical component to help, almost to, that will save us. You know, the being in the, that’s what makes us unique not our brain, but the way it’s embedded into feeling and audio-visual emotional system. Or chemical, biochemical system. And I think the physicality of … things… like that is, is paramount. If you compare it to sort of … virtual reality or something which just pretends, to your whole system, that you are somewhere where you’re not. Here you are really somewhere. You see something and you can touch it. And I think that at this point in time, I think that’s quite important. It might change.
FK: It’s an interesting point that you bring up. So mixed-reality, virtual reality, augmented reality all that….
HK: Mixed I’m not so sure about…
HK: … that almost scares me. Like I’ve got … I’ve got two small kids and it’s like… VR … Virtual Reality … you know I can see all the ... it’s like in Wall-E or whatever this film is, where they are all like zonked out fatsos sitting and living in a virtual … because their real lives were so depressing. And I … it’s…
FK: So, you’d feel some trepidation about the way that that form of technology is starting to enter our lives. Is that what…?
HK: If it becomes like, you know in ten years’ time, or whatever, you just have a pair of glasses and it, it, it compensates for the shittiness of the real world, I think that’s really dangerous.
FK: Ok, so this idea that we….
HK: Or scary! It’s not dangerous. I don’t know, but I think that’s really scary.
FK: Ok. So, the idea then for you at random is about having the physical space, we interact with the object in the physical space
FK: So, we can understand the space, the skin that we are in. That’s, that’s paramount.
HK: Yeah, yeah.
HK: And I think that really adds to, to the realness of your experi … to my experience anyway. And I think that’s really important, yeah.
FK: Hmmm. Tell, tell me a bit more about the work in the hospital, ‘cause that, that one’s interesting. Because I mean, you know you talk about that way that we insp… you know like even before when he said security and the, you know the three eyes that are part of it as well. It’s like it’s big brother watching you but it’s also not. We get to play with it. So, what, what are, what are you playing with here?
HK: Our desp… Again it’s not desperation but, this… It’s, our need to connect. I think. And again that translates one to one into … the cab driver, who on the way out here, told me that um … the coronavirus is a thing because the Chinese eat human beings! I’m like, "No that’s not a thing!!! You’re fuckin’ crazy!!" And he was fully… that was a thing ...
FK: I don’t, I don’t know where to go …
HK: That’s, that’s in terms of ... here.
FK: What’s for dinner tonight ladies.
HK: That, that, the way of … connecting …
HK: … of reading stuff, into other stuff; into our environment. And that’s what makes automation so… and this algorithmic-e-fication… Oh man…
FK: It’s a difficult word that one. Yeah.
HK: I’m not a native speaker. That makes that so powerful and something worth investigating. So, we’ve been working for long time with a different form of simulating nature. With swarm algorithms. Which is absolutely fascinating when you think of five hundred thousand birds flying in this most minimalist, beautiful formation and not a single crash. It’s like, you know they are just per… It’s perfection.A nd you, and we tried to simulate that. And we used glide to do so, and so on, for, for years. And it very pretty and beautiful. And at some point, we… it dawned on us that it's… that swarming behaviour is a form of collective behaviour. And that, that is scary AF. It’s really scary! Because it, it again then translates into voting behaviour and your just, swarms are just looking left and right. There’s no immed… like the collective has sentience. Or seems to have intention, or can have. Like, insects going for food or something. But can also be a form of cannibalism like in locusts. That, that their swarming behaviour is driven by a flight, like, they go away from each other because they eat…themselves. And so we’ve tried to translate that. If we could we would have five hundred thousand objects forming a choreography in space cause it’s amazing.
But we can’t so we came up with this idea of having seven, really large orbs, basically balloons not drones. But they’re motorised and we made them fly autonomously according to a swarm algorithm. So, they were avoiding each other.
They flew in formation. And then we had a full tracking system on the floor that… recognised human body in space and then the swarm came towards you. Really slowly. And there was a beautiful choreography by Wayne McGregor and so on. It was a really interesting experiment for us, to watch people, how much they read into really, really simple movement. The change of association is literally breaking loose. Go like… oh that… you know, he’s attacking me!
You know, you read a lot because that’s how we function. It’s really simple. That’s what the brain needs to make sense of the world around us. We read in. And that’s where this, the increasing automation of our environment becomes, you know, your phones make you, you know, they dictate how you behave. They make you sleep these days even with your… you know… And it, it’s it’s… you build these very emotional relationships because they… satisfy something in you. And I think, there is a… Again, that’s, that comes down to this level of control you can, you can… it’s, it can be very easily a tool… to, to control. I’m not saying somebody who intentionally does so. It’s probably more likely that some, really stupid machine controls what you do, without any intention. But that’s none the less something worth thinking about.
FK: Hmm… Tell me, tell me a little more about another, another work. And swarm was one of them. But is it called fifteen points? See, you sort of touched on it a bit before. But the, the idea, not only about control but about how we understand or perceive what movement actually is. Describe what this is and how that works for you?
HK: I think that, so fifteen points is basically based on, on fast, so after audience, these little mirrors we tried to understand um… why exposing people to biology… or what seemed to be biological movement is so powerful. It’s such a powerful marker for connecting somehow. Physically, emotionally and with your body language. Rather than you have like some robotic mirrors that wouldn’t have done much. We… we talk to um… neuroscientist, in London. Um… he gave a lecture at his studio. And he came up with this … with some research from the bio-motion lab which, where a guy filmed… I don’t know… thousand five hundred people with light markers to identify and boil down what is takes for human beings to recognise biological human motion as such.
So literally you need less than 15 points and it’s fascinating. You have literally 15 light points and you see her walking past. And you have a little slider where you develop gender male, female; body weight; Mood happy sad; minuscule changes and you immediately read that. It takes…
FK: And we can recognise that?
HK: …your brain a hundred and fifty milliseconds to understand that that’s biological motion verses robotic. And that’s like, you know, eighty million year old. It comes from pre-dinosaur.It’s our ability to read, is that a tiger eating me or is it just leaves in the wind? And we thought again, this is really fascinating if you read about robotics where, you know, when they, when they go beyond this silly Honda guy, If, you know, how quickly we relate. That will be in our time, when we’re old, robots will take care of us and we will emotionally relate to them because we are so desperate for that kind of connection. It’s really easy.
I meant they, they’ve, they’re doing these tests, or did these tests in MIT with giving elderly, lonely people some with like, almost like a Tamagotchi of some form and that didn’t even imitate the human being, and people cried their heart out. And then you can, you know, discuss is that a good thing? That, that there is no human reaction to that. There’s no actual feedback. It’s just pretence. And it’s… I think it’s a bit too arrogant, or too, too quick to jump to the conclusion that that’s necessarily a bad thing. But, and, and to try that, is that a good thing? If you relate to fifteen points and go like, hey that’s a guy, that’s a women, that’s a, you know, um, and then it’s, it’s really weird when it goes back into robo… you know…
FK: The robot.
HK: …we, we made that into a sculpture. So, we made a kinetic, really convoluted artwork with fifteen robot arms, which pretends to walk around in space. And then goes back into something completely abstract. And it’s, it’s actually that transition which is most interesting where you just, it freaks you out because suddenly you’re confronted with this. Oh, it’s actually… you cut this connection. Oh, that’s the bit which is I think, which I hope we will build into, sort of, almost by means of Government regulation, I’m a big fan. Um… To make it evident from time to time that, you know, there is no… that’s a machine and, you know, rely on it.
FK: So, we, we need to take the shine off it? Every now and then. Basically. So, when we walk through our lives, and everything is so smooth, and we’re in our automated cars in the future and, you know, the bus, the bus terminal does this etcetera. It all seems seamless and automated as you’re saying.
FK: But we need to, it needs to have a…
HK: From time to time.
FK: …A glitch basically
HK: I think from time to time that’s good. If you, if you think about deep fakes. It’s their kid’s need to learn how to read those. I don’t know if there are ways to do that but I think, that’s something that we are, like, seriously exploring. How to, how to debunk that simply, you know, with a… how can you read a video which is just being, you know, purposefully… altered, for political reasons or whatever, for propaganda or for commercial reasons, how can you read that? And it’ll, you know, when they … I think it’s just important because I, I think we’re absolutely screwed if we don’t tackle those things…
FK: Exactly. Because that’s the thing that’s going to shock us out of the, of the system. It’s like, like walking into Rain Room suddenly you start to think about the climate, you think about the downpours we’ve had recently. All of these things start to remind you of where we are in this space and, you know, in this city or elsewhere. So yeah it does, it gives you that opportunity. Control, connection, automation. Can I just go back a little bit? Where does it, where does it come from with you and Flo? Like how do you… where, what is the core of this for you guys? 'Cos you’ve been working together for, what is it, fifteen years now or so.
HK: Twenty yeah
FK: Twenty years!
HK: Yep. Yep.
FK: Barely any grey hairs what’s so ever.
HK: I think you really… I think, I think curiosity is, is a thing. It’s like… I…I’d… yeah, I think curiosity. It’s a fairly self… serving… exercise…
HK: …to begin with. To go, Ooo it would be cool to have a Rain Room. And then some nut job art collector goes like, yes you can build it. You go like…
FK: Or a really…
HK: I love them. Um… and… it’s… I really love the… pointlessness of the, of this activity. I’ve always loved it. Of sculpture; of painting; of drawing and stuff. Um… I… I didn’t have the balls to… to study sculpture, which I wanted to do. And then I went like, oh, you know, white middle class, I better do um… what is it?... design. And I absolutely hated the non-pointlessness of design. I couldn’t stand it.
The, the, this kind of… that it had a purpose and you had to do this and that and so on. As a revenge, almost to myself, I, I then choose to, actually, become a practicing artist. And put all the good, good functional knowledge that we’d acquired, me and Flo, um, to, to really… to really completely pointless use. And then it dawns on you… that… that there is almost like… that’s a thing that’s relevant. I think, you know, it’s relevant for other people. And that’s why our sort of, um… interest in public art comes from. Which is… it’s hard to bring this stuff into to the world because, you know, just on a really practical level, to install 3D sensors in a public space in broad daylight, you’re really pushing tech to where it doesn’t want to be.
It want to, wants to sit in your phone and be all sort of mediated environments. But of you put it out there that’s really hard. But I think it’s meaningful. It makes, makes sense. And it’s um… if… if it helps… I’m not a big fan of having, you know, over burdening art with too much… messaging… um, but…I think of it… if it’s, if it’s got this… If it has to have… or do something… If there is any purpose then it is to, to rip people out of it. Of their… of their daily thing and make them stop.
FK: Yeah. Like when you go to bed later in the night and you sit there and try to remember what you look at that day, you need to be able to say that moved me or that did something.
FK: I learnt something from that.
HK: Because you don’t have that after 20 hours on Instagram at all, yeah.
FK: Yeah, well you haven’t seen my feed… yet. Amazing! @fenellak. Just kidding. Um… So many questions. But, you know, this is meant to be a conversation so if you have a question for Hannes don’t be shy. He likes to have a chat. So, there’s a microphone running around ... while you’re thinking about you’re amazing questions and ideas
HK: No pressure.
FK: No pressure. You’ve um… you’ve left the UK and so have a few other people.
FK: Because they made people do it. Tell me about the team. There’s twenty of you that you sort of touched on, you showed us a photograph before. It obviously just started off with just you two, together, and you kind of expand and contract, I guess, when you need to. But, one of the team members you have, I thought was interesting, is a dramaturg. What, what does, what does the dramaturg do at Random International? It’s pretty random. No?
HK: I, we seem to have a, a thing, so that’s Héloïse Reynolds, she’s been with us for almost 10 years now. Um… and she… she’s an Art Historian, um from the Cortauld Institute and she was doing a lot of writing for our… galleries. So, text writing. We loved the way she wrote. Um… and it was a, sort of, permanent job for her after graduation. And then we… um… and we needed a studio manager and so she started in a more administrative role. But that’s her thing. Writing. And then we…. And she’s um … You know, we’re already two artistic leads, or directors, and it’s… I think we’ve developed this way of working together where it’s a distillation process of… um… of, of ideation. And she’s extremely… um… helpful in that process.
So, we have, you know we… I think the cre… The actual artistic or creative bit that happened at pretty random and happens a lot in conversation between me and Flo, or sketches or something. But then there, I think the refinement and often it’s, it’s, it’s sort of, it’s, it’s a, it’s another level of filtration which, you know, and purification that she brings to the table. And she… she… helps contextualising, like when we plan activ… or very curatorial role. Um… and I think that’s a, it’s a, it’s almost like a, in a… art group like ours, there need, there need, you need that, kind of, dramaturgical approach. To make sense of things. If you plan two years in, in advance, you know, that, that you can… and you have to some degree, you have the ability to move things around. She, sort of… helps us to… to keep that overview.
FK: Hmm, hmm. But I suppose it’s more, just… If anyone has a question by the way just… um… throw you hand up in the air. The, the… the way you guys interact, cos you talk a lot about the role of the collective, and not only in the art but also this, the collective of the people that you work with too. There’s, there’s you and Flo. You are the, the, the ideas of it but how does, how does it translate to, where, you know, cos you’re not all working together. There’s a how, a couple of people on different projects at different times so I was curious just how you manage that and the art job, of course, of being a creative at the same time?
HK: It’s…I think it’s differ…I think it’s very much ah… very different from… sort of, the last generation of these, sort of um, um…, you know, one big name at the front, um… usually the name of the artist and then you’ve got… armies of assistants who are…
FK: Like the Damien Hirst..
HK: Yeah, the Hirst, Koons and so on. I think we’re much more… while we also insist that it’s… but that’s almost by… not Meredith... but we, we so… Yes, me and Flo are leading that. That’s sort of by nature of having done this for twenty years and I um… if… um… we’re very supportive of people setting up their’ own practice after they work, work for us for a while. But I think we’re, um… we have a much more involved and we need a much more involved um… group of people or groups of people in, in what we want to realise. The abil… so it literally takes a village to raise a child, um… and we are… I think we are evolving in that. So, we’re starting to put on production credits for the individual team members. I think that comes with a certain confidence after a while. I think for five, ten years ago we wouldn’t have been… um… we, we were a bit more stuck up. Urgh I’ve got no… …you know, pretend it’s, that I’m coding this would be just ludicrous.
HK: Um… I have learnt how to program but I… um… that thing would have exploded long time ago and not even… you know. So, no! Um… and I think that’s, that’s a… it’s a, it’s a very… respectful… at least I can say that. I don’t know if they respect us. Probably not so much… …but I… I… I have tons of respect for them. And in, in return for making their talent available to us, um… and to the cause of, of, to the work. A, they get paid of course. We’ve, we’ve, we don’t have freelance we have a, a, um… only permanently employed… almost only permanently employed staff. Um… but they… also we, we… I think we offer something that isn’t… sort of, industry standard in that there is enormous amount of creative freedom with in your profession. I am not a software engineer. I am not a mechanical engineer. And therefore, they can have… they can literally… dictate how things pan out.
HK: And then that necessitates a lot of learning from me and Flo and adaptation but I think over the years we’ve learnt how to communicate and how to develop works so that we know… this is the closest we can get to it in, in terms of how something is realised because we have learnt how to speak to the group. That’s why it is important to us that we have consistency and, sort of, continuity in the people we work with.
FK: For sure. Thank you.
Audience member 1: Ah… I just wanted to ask if you could clarify something, I read a long time ago, that there’s is this… I haven’t experienced the work, but there is this painterly quality to your work, whereas, you go into it and it’s like going into a painting but not really getting splashed by the paint, but you’re naturally immersed in that.
And I was wondering of there are any roots to this in, the sort of, ideation of the Rain Room?
HK: Am I blushing? It’s very nice. Thank you. I think the… the, there is a deep… in our… need to connect to our… selves and then to oth… to, to the…to our audiences, I think we’re, we’re trying to keep things pretty raw. We’re not, all, all analogue. Like we’re not… we’re not into slick, sleek, slickness? sleekness? I don’t know, into this kind of polished thing. So, we… There’s a, a, a total fetishism for, for this, every surface is an A surface.
But there’s also, this… utter need to reduce in… in functionality to what we think is important. And I think that’s um… That’s also what sets it apart form you your regular entertainment kind of, I don’t know, Disney experience with which this is often put into one, you know, art cannot be popular. It becom… it’s a very, um… infuriating criticism but it’s too much like Disney or something. Um… and I think that’s, that’s where it… stands a… stands a… apart from that a little bit. But its this, I think, we’re trying to give it something… genuine and it doesn’t always work. If that works it’s very nice to hear.
FK: Um… When doesn’t it work? What is a… what is that moment for you? Or…if, if it’s easy to articulate at all.
HK: It’s often in the behaviour. Something not right in the behaviour… of an object and it just, it’s, it’s totally un… underwhelming.
HK: And I, I think too much slickness is, is killing it. Like if it looks… like there’s one light, which I can’t show but we’re working on a… on a really beautiful outdoor version of our… swarm studies. Really large, reactive and so on. As an idea, it totally works. But of you go into the actual design of it where you have to develop a vandalism proof bit of tech, the danger of going, for it to become not, really ninety’s street lighting is enormous. It’s like a minefield and it takes ages to prototype and build and, and, and you know, and throw away, and, and, and then it looks even worse than nineties street lighting and stuff. So, I think that’s…it’s, it’s behaviour and it’s surface treatment I think, if you, you really need to remind yourself to strip it down to the bare necessities of what it should… do to people or with people, with the presence of a human being and then, your sort of, trying to stay on that ball.
FK: And not be didactic if that makes sense. Allow us to interact and find the story.
HK: Yeah. And find, also find your interpretation of some, of how something behaves, you know, and how something feels. You want to be non-prescriptive in that, I think.
FK: For sure. Sorry. Thank you.
Audience member 2: Um… I guess…. The first time I experienced the Rain Room, probably what you were touching on earlier about the control thing. If the, kinda what I’ve, like, immediate reaction was to try and figure out what’s happening. Like what… how is it tracking me. What is, like, how can I move and what can I do. And you, kind of, move around the room and you do a bit wrong and you get, maybe, a little bit wet. Which I did. Um… So, I guess you were talking about the control and the restriction of your movement, of your speed of movement was… it, was that an intentional thing? Or was that…
HK: No, it’s gravity. It’s really simple. Like, like you, you, you know, it’s, it’s that. You can’t out-perform gravity. That’s all that it is. It takes a drop of water reaches terminal velocity after like, I don’t know, I think eleven metres of something. So, yes if you have a bit more pressure. But is makes minuscule differences. It’s largely… gravity um, so if you walk too fast than 9.X metres per second or whatever it is, then, you know, you’ll get soaked. And then the ... determined by the size of the… of the cocoon around you, which we can control, and it just, that’s a matter of… um… you wanted to be as close as… So, it’s arm’s length basically. You don’t want people to stretch out their hand when they stand still.
Audience member 2: That’s the first thing I did was I... I have quite long arms and I put out my arms to see how it worked. Whether it was tracking me or whether it was tracking everything.
HK: Both. Yes. Yeah, A little bit. Yes. We’ve heard but this was very too, too, too fast. You know, that, and so kids… There was one child, in the Barbican, who was like “Mum! I’ve got magic hands” you know. She’d related the, the… the… that, and kids are great for that. They, they do not go in. They look up and go, no, I’m getting soaked. I’m not going to go in there. Then there go, yeah, we can go… Then they go in like this and then go, Oh, I’m staying dry. And then they run. And get absolutely soaked. It’s hilarious. So good.
FK: That’s super cute. Again, you have questions. Hands up. Just one here.
Audience member 3: Just quickly. There, you… this has been to a few countries. Is there any… Is there any difference between us at all as humans…?
Audience member 3:…And how we react?
Audience member 3: I thought you’d say that.
HK: It’s a universal thing. I think, especially with rain, that’s safe to say, everybody has… a relationship with it. Due to absence or too much or something. You know… You have memories of rain or the lack of rain or something … and it’s a universal thing. And then, you have… at the same time a very personal relationship with it because of childhood memories or… even if you, if you don’t have rain in your home country, chances are that you’ve been somewhere where you’ve experienced it and stuff. And I think that’s what makes it very universal.
FK: Hmm. For sure. Thank you.
HK: It’s a, you can, there are personality differences for sure. If you see that. So, you have the, the sort of confident, ah ha! You know, I’m going to explore! It’s like this sort of… probably cave… cave people typology… of the guy who gets eaten first. And then the people are a bit more careful. And the sort of, introvert extrovert and stuff. There, there are about four different ways of people approaching it if it’s not mediated.
FK: Ok. So, we’re….
FK: …we’re archetypes basically.
HK: I think that, that, you can see. It’s this sort of behaviour separation machine. But… But that’s again, That’s the same everywhere.
FK: Hmm, for sure.
Audience member 4: Um, Yet to experience the Rain Room but I’m looking forward to it. Got absolutely soaked running this morning. So, I got, got wet. One thing I… obviously lots of visual parts to the installation that you do. Do you do other sensations, like sound or other things, to mess with people’s heads as well?
HK: No. Not, not, so much yeah. So, to be honest, yes! There’s one cheap but awesome trick… um… and it’s not a trick, it’s we’ve… done… You know when you’ve worked with body and space, at some we… fairly early on. I think that the audience work, that was commission by a choreographer. By Wayne McGregor. And we happened to have no idea about… dance or contemporary performance. That was in 2008. So, we were like, we should probably… you know, he gave us… He said, I want you to do a sculpture for… a kinetic sculpture for, for, for… a, a media arts festival he curated at the Royal Opera House. And we figured it was a good idea to work with body in space with a recognition thereof. Um… and developed this, this audience work with a view for him to… choreograph some dance work. That never happened because we… finished it literally before the opening so he didn’t have time to, to, to do anything. But we we’re, from then on, we were quite interested in… him as a curator but also as a creative partner because he left us the maximum amount of freedom, enormous amounts of trust and a decent budget to realise it.
And that, sort of, ticked all the important boxes for the next experimental art… artist, I think. And then a couple of years later we did… um… we did a sonography for him… and we we’re absolutely amazed by the impact that a score had on the… on experiencing the work and that actual live performance does. So, for the… um… we had this work called future self, where you, where you represent your body in light. Um… which was specifically developed or created with him in mind. That he would have two people, um… dancing… and… their body image being represented in light, merged in one cube. So, you have two people, or the virtual representation of two persons, two bodies, two human bodies in the same physical space through light. Um… and we got to commission Max Richter the composer. He’s very, sort of, theatrical composer and that was an unbelievable, it’s a, it’s a public work so, it’s there for everybody to experience, but we felt it made a huge difference to… um to expose it or have it performed with or by… these incredible dancers from Wayne’s studio and then to have um… an incredible score to it. It’s, it’s really… you know, it brings out another lev…, you know, we all know what a film music can, can do.
And we keep doing that. So, we keep, we keep commissioning, or trying to commission choreographers, mostly Wayne but also… um… to commission score to, to, to that. And that’s the, sort of, only… only bit. But I don’t think we are… We’ve tried one sound work, like, to do an audible swarm…thing… where, where you locate, it’s almost like echo location… Nah. It just wasn’t as… I imagined it to be very powerful because, you know, it’s our oldest or… like, sense in a way to hear, um… …but I’m more, you know, stick to your guns, you know. Leave, leave the audio bit to people who are actually… have a, the, the full professional understanding of it. Um… and I think we’ve just stick to that stuff.
FK: Hmm. Thank you.
Audience member 5: Um… Call me naïve but I’m actually excited to see this because I actually thought it was an illusion of rain. And when you talked about getting wet …
Audience member 5: … I’m really excited to hear that it is a physical thing.
HK: Wait until your phone breaks then!
Audience member 5: Yeah.
FK: I, I actually thought that too. I thought it was going to be just like a pretend but you’re right. Yeah cool.
Audience member 5: Yeah. And I um… yeah. I’m really excited.
Um… but… you know, I think I spoke to colleagues before and I said that, I feel like I’ve been there already because of what I’ve seen on… um… social media. Um… and… I guess… when you talk about sticking to your guns… Do you feel, like, when your trying to forecast experiences years ahead… um… in your planning…, do you feel, and I hope you say no, but do you feel pressure to create, rather than physical immersive experiences where you do get wet…um… do you feel the pressure to create immersive digital experiences somewhere in the future? Because you feel as though people are so… wrapped up in their phones or their digital environments. Like, you see thing, like… um… I think gaming is a, is a… um… experience that is… that thrives off of that immersive… um… environment. Do you feel the need…
Audience member 5:…to get into that in the future?
HK: Not…I, I think… the opposite. I feel very… I feel very confirmed in… in, in what we do somehow. Um… I can’t imagine a world where we go out of business, if you like. It’s not that… where… you know… where that hap… but people just don’t see the need. But it’s not the world I want to live in. Or my kids, so I’m going to do everything I can to make these, I mean…, I don’t mind. I actually, as in politics I think that the, that the, the whole… um… that the whole left if you like or centre left or normal people… um… currently confronted with Trump. All this kind of ‘Oooo… How could he do that’ I think it’s really the wrong reaction. I think you need to work with that… brutality almost to counter this bullshit. Um… in politics this, kind of, anti-truth campaign needs to be counter with the same resolve. Not with the same, you know, mal-intention. Um… And, and similar to, to, to… I, I feel like, like um… like, the, the intensity that… And, and this, almost this… how do you say, addictivity? Like the addictiveness, addictiveness of, of um…these immersive experiences. I don’t mind Rain Room being really loud and I … don’t actual mind…
I think it’s almost a compliment that, that they go like, this could be in Disney because I, personally I think, that, that there are things they do really well. In that this is playing your... your… your audio visual emotional system. Films do that amazingly well with like two hundred million dollar budgets. Um… and I think it’s… it’s a good thing to, to, you know, try to use these… tools if you like… umm…or similar, a similar approach to create an intense experience. I think Rain Room at it time was so successful because it countered the, the... It was loud enough! If you, there’s amazing…umm…there is of course amazing work by other people which gets overlooked because it’s just much more subtle. We have a whole… bodies of work which are completely, probably never see the world, ah… the light of a museum day or something because it’s… just too obscure. It’s not loud. It’s not very photogenic.
Oh, we think it, similarly interesting or… or important to us. Um… so I don’t mind the occasional… kind of, statement where you can do that. I think it’s… it shouldn’t be the purpose of you doing something. Um…so often the question is, do you have Instagram in mind when you make art. And it’s like, No. It would be really wrong. Um… And… but I, I think it’s a, it’s a… yeah. I don’t want to create for a virtual… environments. Unless there is a purpose to it somehow.
FK: Go for it.
Audience member 6: Oh. Thank you so much for what you’re sharing.
I think it’s given me a much deeper appreciation for, for Rain Room and, and the ideas behind your work. So, one thing I love is… what you share about the body in space and the exploration between how we see connection from… really lifeless objects in a way. Is that a theme you’ve always wanted to work with? Is it something that you’ve arrive at through experimentation? Was there a turning point where that came to you? Or… How did you…?
HK: There was, I think it was… I think the starting point was this… um… and I, you know I’m… I’m… pre, pre internet generation. I was born in 1975 so I didn’t have, I didn’t know what e-mail was until I was twenty. And I had my first mobile phone when I was twenty. And do know what? I’m proper! I grew up in the good ol’ days. Um… as opposed to my children as I keep telling them. Um… And I think there was, there was this real, strong fascination for this border, for this… yeah, the, the border between analogue and digital in that time when, you know, people stopped having photographs.
When I went on holiday as a seventeen eighteen year old I’d still make photos and brought them to the drug store and had them developed and picked them up and stuff. And then that stopped. And there was nothing in place. They, they, they were shit quality, the first digital cameras. They were absolutely awful. And then there was nothing. So that was a space we wanted to… somehow own or occupy somehow, with work.
Like these printing machine and stuff. So that, that was, like, the broader space which fascinated us. And then I think this body in space came through this, this audience work which I show with Wayne through, you know, oh there’s a really interesting guy, he’s a very scientifically minded, utterly creative person… um… who commissioned us there; who was, sort of, career wise, he was and still is, about ten years ahead of us. Or fifteen.
Um… and he… and, and that came in… like… he’s a dancer, whatever. They, it is their… you know, we’re not very sporty types. Ah… we weren’t, um, I’m going to the gym now, but, um… And… at that point we were literally just, you know, working the whole time and… um… And…and that became… like that there… that, guy in pink, or whatever, the videos called, that, that was the turning point. When you see, I think we have fifteen thousand visitors in like five days. And that was fascinating to see what impact you could achieve, in terms of building repour…, physical relationship, with a space, with an object. Through… sheer movement. And we, we, you know, we tested it. There was some, you know, we had all these ideas about this work and then we, um… on the first opening day, we’re sitting there. And all our assumptions went straight out of the window at… at our age because nothing happened! The work was still looking at people. And what do people do in front of mirrors? They look back. Nothing happened. It was a static thing. And then we started to, to you know, move them, you know, give them some relationship. And, and the software, then we taught the software to choose other people. So that mirrors were… switching attention. And, Oh man! That pissed people off. They were like… “Why’s it looking at her now?”
It’s like ah… and then, you know, you start these, these interaction. And that’s where, where that took off. And we, we… That was very instinctive I think and then we… um… we invited Phil Barnard a year later and, and asked him like, how… what’s happening then. And that’s where he starts to introduce this whole idea of, of our…. of the importance of reading biological motion to our survival. It’s an, it’s an evolutionary thing. That, like everything else, it’s now being exploit… or is in danger of being exploited.
FK: Hmm. Hmm. We’ve got time for one more question, I think. So, there was just one behind. Thank you.
Audience member 7: Hi. It’s a slightly uninformed question. But you talk about the public but here the Rain Room is a paid space. It’s ticketed. How do you feel about your work being between the public realm and this semi, kind of, private realm? If you have any thoughts about that?
HK: Yeah, I do have thoughts about it. I mean coming from Germany it’s, there’s an enormous pretence in, in… um… in Germany verses the Anglo Saxon world where, you know, private philanthropy is a thing. Ah, in Germany it’s frowned upon. That commerce is interfering with the purity of the, of the arts. And I love both. And I see… weakness with both. I can’t… I find it… ah… Really questionable if, ah… if Mr billionaire developer becomes a curator for public space. When it’s involuntary. As you see it a lot in the US. I don’t think that’s a good idea.
I don’t mind if they pay a professional curatorial agency to do… which is some… you know, field we, we… we work in a lot. Um… to do the, to do that. To have to install a bit of quality control. I don’t think they are any worse or better than… um… political greenium, like in Statens kulturråd in Sweden, or cultural um, min, provincial ministries in, in Germany. I think that’s a, sort of, hit and miss as with everything. Um… And I think, I think that doe… that’s more of a… I take issue with, um… unchecked curation of public space. I don’t… I don’t think that’s great. I do think… anything that allows people to experience… not anything but a lot of I… Um… I have… Knowing what it takes to run this space, I have full… um… appreciation of a ticketed system. Absolutely. I think it’s necessary. You know, you can’t make this available for free and as a narcissist myself, this wouldn’t live long. You know, it, it…this is how the world can, can continue to experience it. Um… and… and therefore I…
FK: It’s an opportunity
HK: It’s an, absolutely an opportunity. And I’d rather have it in… um… Of course I would love for this to be for free but then again… I don’t want, you know, a massive, you know, Coke sponsoring it and that therefore for them making Coke video…shoo, shoot in there. Which is the price you will pay if you give it to a brand. Um… and this is like having a, a like… Lew, Lewis did. He had a professional… ah… curatorial instance. And it’s an art collection. Um… I think it’s complete fine to charge for it. MOMA does. Thirty bucks. Twenty five bucks per, per pop.
FK: So, it’s the same, it’s the same thing regardless. Yeah.
HK: Yeah. Well, not no. And yet Barbican was for free and, you know, and then Sharjah, it’s a government owned thing. They charge like five, five or three euros or something per person, you know. But, I… I think that’s fairly irrelevant. I think it’s… it’s um… if it’s public public. If it’s involve… if your encounter with it is involuntary, I think that… I guess that’s my, sort of, compromise answer. I think there is a… a desperate, dire need for some kind of control or curation with some sort of strategy and meaning behind it. I don’t think it’s ok, what happens in public space in, in certain places when it’s just, you know, you get eye cancer when you look at it. And it’s like… …why is that a thing?
Because, the, the, the guy is buddying up with the… you know, it’s just not ok.
FK: So, you’ll all get to know and experience it in a second. If you could, I know I said the word didactic. If you could tell the people what they are going to experience in five words or less, in the most, biggest words you could possibly imagine… go for it.
HK: I think just feel for yourself. Yeah.
FK: Feel for yourself.
HK: So just go.
FK: Feel, for, your, self. Ha ha.
HK: I, I think that’s a… that’s a request maybe because we are in a sort of… safe space here, I would, I will ask the um… ah... I will… try to ask the team to not give an induction. Just go in. Just, no… in groups of I think…hmm… eighteen? And you can self-organise. I think we don’t need to manage. Go in in groups of twenty. Ah… eighteen to twenty. Um… try to make sure that you’re not more than seven eight people at a time. Inside the rain. You can stand around. And try to stand at the back. Don’t go. And then that’s… That’s that. I think the team will help to manage that people don’t stay there. At MOMA people would stay for forty minutes because they paid… thirty bucks and they… you couldn’t get them out. You had to… In China they proposed to cattle like, with cattle, they wanted to have a line and just move them through really quick to be efficient. So, ah… I think it’s, it’s… I know that the, that, that both the work and human beings have the or the ability to self-organise. We’ve experienced it in, in um… at the Barbican, sort of… three minutes is… is the sort of… was the average remain time then. It’s, it’s completely fine. You can stay longer. But I think that’s the… don’t walk too fast. Probably. If you don’t want to get soaked. But I think it’s, it’s fairly self-explanatory.
FK: Yeah. And don’t do what I did the other day. There was three of us. And we were all walking on our own and we decided to join forces and we all got wet. So… Yeah. You know. Choose your friends wisely. Ah so on that…
HK: High heels I think you need to watch out for.
If you have high heels like these, sort of, how do you call them?
HK: Like me. No. Be careful. Yeah.
FK: Take them off. Yeah.
FK: I’ll take mine off now ok? Ladies and gentlemen, Hannes Koch. Thank you very much from Random International. Thank you
HK: Thank you.
Arieh Offman (MC): And if you could also put your hands together please for our host this evening, Fenella Kernebone.
Thank you very much.