"Mess is a source for us. And it is nothing to define us in any way." - Svalbard
Tim Who inspired you lately?
Ben The thing is, I am quite an uncultured artist. I like to watch things and I like to see things. I like to stumble upon things. So it’s more like events and moments, actually I’m really inspired by Covid 19 right now for example. This situation is generating a lot of patience to myself, which I normally don’t apply to my work. When I’m making music, I feel I should be doing it all by now, but now I’ve had so much time. I’m tapping into this collective consciousness where everybody is in the same thing, in this group calm.
Alexis I seek for inspiration all the time as I feed so much from it. I’m always like, “Ok, what’s going on around me?” I tend to collect from a variety of areas. There are times when I’m inspired from people that I met in the toilet, in some trashy night clubs or some parties. I’m inspired by people and by their existence, so I let it come in. I’m not aiming to collect, but I try to be alert in terms of what influences me from out there, and what gives me drops of juices to be able to take them. and transform them to reflect them out.
I’m inspired by all this cats all over around, by all this trashy cats, all this cats who come out of nowhere.
Katharina There are many things I’d love to get back to, but first: What is an uncultured artist?
Ben It’s this:
When I’m making my work, I don’t want to paint it with someone elses brush.
Because most of the time I’m making art, not consuming art, that is kind of my role in the machine, I’m a generator. I had some moments in the last couple of years where I was trying to start a Jazz Band. I wanted to understand the speech of it, the virtuosity of it, but I was coming from a perspective where I’ve never visited a music school. But over the time, I got to know a lot of Jazz people and I realized there is a form that already exists, so I try and culture myself on this. I listened to a lot of music and it was the best education. But personally, for my own creations, it was actually kind of detrimental. It didn’t help me to create a pure voice. It inhibited me from expressing my voice, because I was so concerned about how a voice should sound, how a piece of work should be. As I have to make so much art, I kind of prefer to look at things from different fields than my fields. I like to take a more general curiosity to different things that I observe in my life.
I prefer to think in stories rather then thinking in forms.
Thinking in forms doesn’t help me, it blocks me from saying what I wanna say, because then I’m inside a box all of a sudden. So, I think it’s a choice to be an uncultured artist. It’s an ego-choice, about believing in your voice.
Tim What is your connection to mess?
Alexis We are the mess itself! We are the mess, and I think we found a way to pick through this mess, to identify, to proceed, to analyse it and to go through it somehow, and then seeing what we expose from it. Our work comes from a messy aesthetic.
Ben Yes, with Svalbard, it is such a clash of many things, and in the end you just try to make sense of it. And finding a form from that is a nice experiment. And in the end, you have to clean it, to make it a clean house.
Alexis The mess is the risk you take. We are working together, the four of us, and our work looks like a mess we create. But we trust each other so much, we accept each other, and we listen to each other. So, we all are more or less improvisers. And inside this chaos, we are able to give every single one of us the space he might need. We are developing individual forms in our head and we understand things differently. So in the end, we try to find the point where we can hear each one of us the most, where we can facilitate all of this mess together to juice it out. Because that’s what we’re here to do: We are there to juice out, out there.
Katharina What did you think about it when you heard our festival slogan “I love you stranger”, and what do you think about it today?
Alexis When I heard about I thought, this is basically the story of my life. I find myself in this position all the time. All I do is approaching strangers from out there. And I can relate to this, this “Hey Stranger, come the f… in!”. I think it’s a great idea to reach out there and to be like:
“Hey, come in, here is some glitter, here is some life going on.”
Get yourself rolling, get yourself popping, relate to things. I can identify very much and it’s quite inviting.
Ben Yes, and when I think about it now: I live in this neighbourhood of old warehouses, and I have all these neighbours I’ve never met before. Normally, you never get close with your intimate surroundings, you don’t give a stranger this love or this patience.
But now, I know all of my neighbours, and that is so nice! I hung out with them, I’ve had chats with them, I have a cigarette in the courtyard with them – all it needs is a little patience and to hold a little space for others.
I feel like many festivals have been trying to attract audiences more than to invite them.
Tim What do you mean by that?
Alexis Festivals are different art forms, different mind sets, so this can go to pure business, so that it is all based on making money. We have also bumped into festivals that have been inviting, for real inviting. They tried to bring contents into schools, to educate people in taking some piece of art there.
For me, it is about reaching out to the communities and understanding what is needed there.
I think it's like there are two places of giving: You can have an event or a festival that gives to the artists. Or you can have an event that gives to the people. Or, you can have an event that gives to both.
Alexis For example, we toured in Argentina, and there was one city where they didn’t even have a theatre. We played in a train station for 60 people, but this is what it is about: To reach out further.
Tim Yes, I know, you are touring a lot, and we as Overhead Project do as well. So, I thought a lot about these questions as an artist becoming a festival director, in this new role for me.
Alexis Yes, it’s a strong responsibility you guys have. If you have a house for 1000 people, you have to think about the 100 who are supposed to be in this house too, but they are not able to get there, because they are not able to buy the ticket. Selling the art is much different from making the art.
Ben I also really think that it’s like we are in a moment where marketing became something that it wasn’t before. There was a moment in time where adverts had to care for selling a car, because it is a good car and they sold it with a sexy girl or with a cigarette. Now marketing has come to a place where actually it becomes an art form as well. It still serves the purpose of what it is, but how do you subvertise, how do you store the message of media, how do you use the fact that you can reach out with your message, instead of using it for purely capitalistic purpose? You have to use it for something that still invites people without manipulating them.
Katharina Our next question is: Where is the gap between being idiot or being genius for you?
Ben I think it’s about the polarity that comes out, the balance of forces, the sun and the moon, fire and water, the four elements. When you put yourself in the middle, you realize that every conflict is generating force. Every conflict needs this two sides that dance with each other. Sometimes they dance, sometimes they collide, but it still creates energy. The energy of this polarity is something that I find really fascinating.
I’m a libra, I like to hold balance on things, in general. I like to search for the balance, between people, in relationships, in places .I like to show that the forces are not in an opposition with each other in the first place. That is how the concept has developed over the years in my mind.
Alexis I’m absolutely covered.
Katharina What does it mean to you to be an artist in our time?
Ben It means to work! And it means to invest oneself. And it means to demand the recognition that one deserves. If you truly believe in your work and in your purity, you gotta demand and you gotta bang on doors to find your place. It’s a shame that we have to, but we have to.
Art is an imagination of future. Art is an imagination of revolution. That is what we need to be doing, we need to be futurists and pioneers as artists. We need to deliver something that has value, because this is our role as artists!
The four performers from Svalbard, all of them exceptional talents, are united by the search for answers to the big questions of art and of our time. In “All Genius All Idiot”, they are trying to give these answers without taking themselves too seriously.