Interview / Radius Magazine, july 2012
From the 3rd to the 30th of June, visitors were invited to stay at HOTEL PARAVENT a project hotel located in the exhibition space Tête in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district. The space and the artworks within it catered for the essential needs of the visitors, who over the course of their stay entered into a direct dialogue with the pieces as they took care of their most basic requirements. Now the exhibition has finished we spoke with the three artists behind the project MANON BELLET, ANTONIA LOW and TATIANA ECHEVERRI FERNANDEZ about how the space came to function, both as a hotel and as an exhibtion space, over the course of the month.
HOW DID YOU COME UPON THE IDEA FOR HOTEL PARAVENT?
The main idea with our project, HOTEL PARAVENT was to transform the context of an art space; to request the value and the function of art in a hotel context. Our hotel can be seen as an “espace d’utopie” where the visitor is forced to react, and take a stand with the art work, but where they are also able to invent a new function and value for the work.
THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A STRONG RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ARTISTS AND HOTELS.
DO YOU FEEL THE PROJECT REFERENCES THIS?
No, this wasn’t a conscious part of the idea behind the project.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CURRENT TREND OF ESTABLISHING HOTELS WITH A LOT OF ART IN THEM PURELY AS A STATUS SYMBOL, TO MAKE THEM APPEAR EXPENSIVE AND MORE EXCLUSIVE? DID YOU CONSCIOUSLY TRY TO COUNTERACT THIS MOVEMENT?
Such hotels are a disgrace for the art. In those kinds of hotels, the artworks are not only put up for decoration purposes, but the purpose of the art actually becomes an attempt to re-value a cheaply furnished hotel décor and to give a standard room a sort of individual touch. That said, the Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schiller claims an autonomy for art (“Autonomie des Kunstwerks”). He argues that there is a purposeless harmony and beauty within all objects. L’art pour l’art.
AS A CURATOR AND AN ARTIST, HOW DO YOU RELATE TO THE ONGOING DISCUSSION ABOUT GENTRIFICATION, ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE CONNECTION TO THE ART WORLD. THAT IS TO SAY THE WAY IN WHICH ARTISTS OFTEN ACT AS CATALYSISTS TO INITIATE THE PROCESS OF GENTRIFICATION IN CERTAIN AREAS?
Yes, we do initiate gentrification and it is indeed one of the negative side effects of art. It’s the same problem with tourism – you visit a hidden site and then you realise that wherever you go, you inevitably leave the first traces of tourism, simply by presenting yourself to another culture, and then ten years later you find the place filled with back-packers and cafés. Does that mean we should we all stop traveling? Maybe. The same goes with making art. I couldn’t imagine myself making any good art in Mitte, anymore, because this area of Berlin has become a fashionable and totally artificial place. If you go to a shop to buy a normal pencil, even that pencil has been wittily designed. So why start using a pencil like that to put down your own ideas?
SO DID YOU SEE HOTEL PARAVENT AS A CRITIQUE OF THIS PROCESS?
The project is definitely an attempt to criticize gentrification and to give the visitors the chance to think about the process. HOTEL PARAVENT was located in the exhibition space Tête, in Prenzlauer Berg, so the location of the hotel is in the most gentrified part of berlin – all around you can find fancy fashion and design shop, as well as more and more hotels, but no galleries or art spaces at all. The view of the hotel from the street was through a big window with a golden paper curtain, which means someone’s initial evaluation of the place could possibly be that it’s indeed, a new fashion shop. But when you entered inside the space, you discovered a bed, a curtain and a shower. Than you might ask yourself questions like; is it a pure sculpture, set up for a show? Or, what kind of space is this exactly? The function was never clear, so the visitor was immediately curious, and various dialogues and discussions emerged out of this.
DO YOU SEE THE PROJECT MORE AS A HOTEL OR AN ARTSPACE? WHERE DO YOU SEE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE TWO?
The guest represents the implementation of the whole idea, we feel that the connection between the hotel and the art space is made through the visitors, and how they use the the space over the course of their stay. The connection can be made and seen only through them. We saw project site as a kind of laboratory. We were intrigued by ideas like; how do you sleep in an exhibition space, how does life fit together with art? The perfect environment for art works is not good for human beings – the humidity, the lighting, the temperature of a museum, for example is artificial and totally unhealthy for the museum staff. So, how do you combine life and art? This was the fascinating problem we were examining with our hotel, or exhibition space – however you want to see it.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SPACE WHICH YOU CREATED WITH THE HOTEL PARAVENT AND A NORMAL GALLERY OR MUSEUM SPACE?
Visitors are not invited to stay overnight in a normal gallery or museum. They have restrictions of their own, mostly to do with safety. The museum staff even have to leave at a certain hours, because the alarm systems start protecting the art works. If a museum director was not dependent on visitor polls, I could imagine often that he or she would quite happily not open the house to the public, for the sake of the art. This is quite a fascinating idea, isn’t it?
WHAT SORT OF FEEDBACK DID YOU GET FROM THE GUESTS?
We invited visitors to look at this differently by getting them involved, rather than serving his wish for comfort. The bed for example, you had to work for it. You were able sleep on the piece entitled “Tired Stone”, but there was no rest before doing some work. You had to use your skills to touch the rough rope and untie the stone…freeing the stone got you your rest.
HOW DID THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE OUTSIDE WORLD AND THE SPACE OF THE HOTEL FUNCTION?
The curtain “Jalousie d’hier” protected you only symbolically from the outside but through the wind-machine hidden inside, the outside was brought inside. You could still be on the street with your eyes and lie in the bed about to fall asleep, watching the passersby and the beautiful green of the lit trees coming trough the shapes of the paravent. At the same time you also experienced your private space being exposed to the outside world. When you wanted to shower you had to go and get the water in a cast of the head of Princess of Naples.
YES, HOW EXACTLY DID THE SHOWER AT THE HOTEL WORK?
Well, the title of the shower is “Prinzessin von Neapel gereicht zum Bade”. This references a time when one would get a jug of water to wash oneself, yet this time, it was a plinth, originally used in the Berlinerische Galerie to hold up works of institutional importance. The sculpture head which was filled with water is a replica – the original head is on display in the Bode Museum, Berlin. The plinth was cut in two and the top part could be used as a shower basin; the sculpture head serving as a jug for pouring water over your head – referring to the old way of washing yourself . A series of drawings gave instructions about how the objects on display could be used to shower.
SO, DO YOU FEEL THAT THE PEOPLE WHO STAYED IN THE SPACE DEVELOPED A DIFFERENT PERCEPTION OF THE ART HAVING SLEPT THERE?
Yes, absolutely! The visitors had to interact with the art work in order to be able to sleep and wash themselves, so the visitor’s perception of the art work was constantly shifting and at the same time they were forced to reevaluate the role and the value of art work in general.
WHAT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN VISITOR AND ARTWORK DO YOU FEEL EVOLVED FROM THIS INTERACTION?
This work especially, deals with the idea of transforming the function of exhibition objects to meet the essential needs of the visitor. In doing so, you attempt to inhabit the work – or to be more precise – you use the structure of representation. This idea of using an art work turns the exhibition visitor or hotel guest into the performing subject of the show.
THE ART OF SLEEPING
Claire van den Berg, june 2012
What it Is:
For almost the entire month (of June ’12) exhibition space Tête, situated in the heart of Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg, was habituated as a so-called ‘art project hotel’, going by the name of Hotel Paravent.
As in a sleep laboratory, numerous objects for the guests’ regeneration were met on display here, e.g concealments ‘screens’ (fabricated by the use of gold silk paper), an inflatable bed, as well as a museum plinth that could be converted into a shower. Accordingly, by use of this art installation an absolute elemental way of staying overnight was offered. During daytime then, the hotel beds were suspended into art objects again. As such, each guests’ use of the minimalist accommodations turned into a performance in itself. In result, their stay would become an indispensable part of the installation’s conceptual aim.
Why it is Cool:
Approximately a third of our lives is spent sleeping. In view of this, where we sleep is so much more than merely a place where we go horizontal and shut our eyes for a significant period of time (if you’re lucky). It’s the lieu par excellence where we lie down in a near naked, unguarded state and let go of all the protective armour that got us through the day. It’s the domicile where we surrender ourselves to our most subliminal ether of dreams and nightmares.
More so, resting in art installation with austere sleeping requirements is a rather unconventional, if not memorable way of experiencing the infamous Berlin art scene. In line with this, this initiative fits in neatly with one of the prime mentality trends of today’s times: the hunger for ‘Involving Wow Experiences’.
Furthermore, there was relatively few promotion carried out for this project, which only amplifies the suggestion of exclusivity and secrecy and thus of having discovered a ‘hidden gem’, particularly in an ‘underground’ city as Berlin.