A conversation between Dina Friemuth, Moa Alskog and Cecilie Skov. The 23th of October at the Ping-pong in the lead-up to the third exhibition of the series 'Sig mig, at tingene taler'.
Dina Friemuth is currently doing her MFA at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art.
Moa: In the text you sent to us describing what your plans were, you quote a joke from Mladen Dolars book 'A voice and nothing more'. In short it's about a company of Italian soldiers, in the middle of a battle. An Italian commander issues an attack "Soldiers, attack!" But nothing happens and he screams again, nothing happens. The third time he screams "attack" a tiny voice rises from the trenches, saying appreciatively "Che bella voce!" "What a beautiful voice". As I understand the joke, the soldiers don't hear what his voice is saying, but just the voice in itself, what the voice sounds like.
Dina: Yeah, it is loaded with meaning, the word 'Attack'. But the voice, the beauty, the media is bigger. What I like about it and the reason I thought about it in connection to materiality, is the idea of being able to hear what the things say themselves. I believe there's a lot of value in that way of thinking, but I think it is difficult to understand what Mikkel Bogh means when he says that all medias are material. Yeah, we live in a material world. But what is that, and what does it mean? Walter Benjamin also wrote about it; what does the lamp say to the stool?
Cecilie: About the language of the objects?
D: I think it is interesting, to think about it that way, that they have a language. When I work with text I think about it as being a material equal to objects. I think not just about it's semantic meaning but also about it's sound and physical form. It's often assumed that a subject categorises the object, viewing the text as a concept and the material as object. I try to remind myself of not thinking about it in that way, to try and be more "anti-hierarchical", and I try to ask myself: Why should the subject always define the object, why not do it the other way around?
M: So in a way, you think about objects as being subjects?
D: I think that there's a hierarchy between subjects and objects that should be broken.
M: I guess that happens if you say that things have subjectivity; the objects are lifted up or the other way around, we humans are taken down from our pedestal, becoming a thing among other things.
D: Yes, "A thing like you and me" as Hito Steyerl says. I have nothing against being a stone; I'm down with breaking that hierarchy.
C: How do you try to realise these thoughts in your work with materials? At one point you told me, that it was important that the material wasn't holy. You wanted it to be easy to produce, cheap and possible to reproduce.
D: Yes, I can't really think value into the material in that way, but I think it's super exciting to think about. For example, we had a studio crit the other day, where one in the group said that she was very interested in paper. I had to ask her: Why are you so interested in paper? She was interested in a material, exclusively the material. I think that's pretty amazing. It sounds very poetic and very artistic. I have a hard time doing it, I think much more about functionality.
M: I think I do that too. I don't think such a thing as an autonomous object can exist, I mean that it's possible to erase an objects cultural references and history.
D: Personally, when I work with a material, I use my own personal references. I don't want to think; ok I take a piece of cloth that means I talk about feminism, because textile refers to woman. I think those kind of references are really a downer. I think it's a shame and very narrow to think about materials and references like that, in 1:1.
C: How do you collect your references? When reading your text, it seems to me that you have collected material from a lot of different places, with different statuses - but that you treat them all equally - famous philosophers stand side by side with students from the school.
D: I really like the thought of not having to have this hierarchy. There's also some kind of irony in it. I think it's fun to quote Benjamin in an art context because it gives it a kind of status. It's pretty ridiculous that we have these five or six philosophers that we all know 3 or 4 quotes from - like that's the art education we get. It's funny to do it just because you can. But then I also think it's important that Amalie Smith has told me something exciting, or someone I met in Cairo and it's irrelevant who said what.
When working with materials I also use these kinds of rules or dogmas, as a working method.
I decide things I don't want to work with, like I don't want to work with anything electronic; speakers, lights or beamers. And I don't want to make anything that's not possible to reproduce.
M: You don't want to make unique objects?
D: I don't want the material to become a monument, which "stiffens" in this one position and can't be remade. That's why I like to work with plaster; it's cheap and really easy to work with.
C: and plaster has it's own time, the time until it coagulates.
D: Yes. The art you make is also dependent on the life you live, the circumstances. I mean, there wouldn't have been this movement of Americans painting gigantic paintings, if it hadn't been possible to get big and cheap studios in New York at that time. I haven't got a storage room where I can store all my things. It has to be possible to destroy and construct them again. And every time I do it I learn something through the process, in that way it has a great value. It's not because I can't be bothered to keep the things.
M: You also say that you're inspired by the Fluxus-movement, which is a movement quite different from the "New-Materialism" where the focus is on objects, the material world, rather than on anti-commercial aesthetics. Could you say something about that? How does Fluxus inspire your work?
D: It's like the reappearance of modernist forms that David Geers talks about. It's a formalistic language, an aesthetic that you can use. I can't think about one genre alone, one idea.
For me it only makes sense to think about ideas and movements non-chronological. Fluxus is present for me today, as well as Pop and opera. It's not as if I'm thinking: Oh opera it's 500 years old, so I can't listen to that. I still hear it on the radio, it is still real. I don't think one thing erases the other. To think in modernist forms and materiality doesn't mean you can't think Fluxus, Pop and Opera. Everything works simultaneously.
M: I agree, but I also think you should be aware as an artist of how and why you use a certain aesthetic, and understand that there's a history you connect to when you use it. Basically because I think you have to understand the context of what you are doing to be able to do interesting work. Like you said things exists simultaneously and they're also connected.
D: At least I can't believe in one thing alone. And I won't believe in just 'New-Materialism'.
C: Can't you as an artist search for something you don't know what is yet, without an underlying ideology that is then understood or misunderstood?
M: I think so. I guess some subjects are more loaded than others. I mean a rock…
C: How will you choose your rock?
D: I would like a rock that looks like a rock.
M: What does a rock look like?
D: To find the "real" rock is kind of like looking for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is of course made of wood and not of gold. I would like to have a boring rock, not one with holes in it, just a normal rock.
M: and your rap?
D: Yes it is the rock that is rapping. And it's a text that my voice has come up with.