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21.03.2014 INTERVIEW

Stijn Verhoeff & Jasper Coppes: Installation view, 2014. Foto: Coppes, Verhoeff and Benjocki.

The beauty of being lost

The bright post-industrial space at New Shelter Plan is currently unrecognizable. It is dark and messy and frankly, as a visitor you doubt whether there is a show - or if the room is in use for something else. The two Dutch artists Jasper Coppes and Stijn Verhoeff, have thwarted the ”clean line” of the exhibition venue and created an ambiguous space where confusion and intention come together in a remarkable and whimsical acceptance of not quite understanding. Meeting the two artists for a chat, I found my structured approach to interviewing quickly interrupted by Stijn, who began asking me questions instead. Here is what they have to say about the beauty of being lost, beginner's luck and the possibilities of collaboration

AF Maria Bordorff

Stijn: What did you think of the exhibition? Was it very different from what you were expecting?

Maria: I was quite surprised, yes, when I entered the room. It was darker and more ”chaotic” than I expected it to be, but I was not surprised in a negative sense though. You just happen to get used to exhibitions being more, so to say, rounded off. My first thought was ”did they actually finish? Is it supposed to look like this?” or, as someone else expressed it ”are these the remnants from a performance (that I missed out on)?” You feel like you are thrown directly into something, like when a novel starts in medias res.

Jasper: I think it is interesting when people ask themselves ”what am I doing here?”, instead of sliding into predefined patterns of movement and attitude towards an exhibition. In a more conventional setup your role as a viewer is clearer. Here things are obscured and ambiguous.

Maria: The distance between viewer and work certainly is confounded and you find yourself in tension between the ”rules” of an exhibition space and the apparent lack of rules in the room that you made.

Stijn: We were quite focused on not making it a proper white cube show and the easiest and clearest way to do so, was to turn off the light – and by the simple gesture of turning off the light, you also turn off certain ”rules” belonging to the lit white cube.

Jasper: We do not have problems with the white cube mode per se. We just like the idea of not taking the space for granted and to keep on reconsidering its possibilities. Challenging the common use of the space also challenges the common habits of the viewer.

Maria: So ambiguity, not-knowing and being confused are positive elements in your work?

Jasper: It is great to be lost, but a certain confirmation is also needed. If you keep on being lost, it is a very difficult state of mind to sustain and in that way it becomes rather unproductive.

Stijn: How can you tell your audience, Jasper, that it is okay to be lost here?

Jasper: I think we give clues in the narrative progression of the space. You walk into it in medias res, as you say Maria, you bump into a bunch of materials of which the nature and use is uncertain, but then your attention is drawn towards a focal point in the midst of it, like the lamp on the table full of cards, or the film, and you start sensing order and intention in what is seemingly chaotic.

Maria: The exhibition arises from a novel that you wrote, 'It is a roller', would you tell a bit about the process of writing it together?

Stijn: It started with long letters that we were writing to each other via E-mail, during a period when I was in Berlin and Jasper was in the countryside. Basically, I wrote my imaginations about life in the countryside and Jasper, on the other hand, imagined life in a city. At some point these letters were getting too personal and we thought it would be a good idea to fictionalize them and make a work out of it.

Jasper: We needed to lift the dialogue out from our personal inboxes, because the possibility of making a textual work was limited there. So we created a more neutral space for the text to evolve and what started out as letters turned into a fictive text, still maintaining the exchange as a guiding principle for the process of writing.

Stijn: We had this InDesign document that we could both write on. One day I would write something that Jasper by the end of the day would read, and then add his writing to it. And so it continued; the text developed by being constantly triggered by the additions of the other.

Maria: Does this approach characterize your broader collaboration as artists?

Jasper: Yes, I would say so. One important aspect of collaboration is that it is based on trust. So one often has to let go and trust the ideas of the other. It is not like when you work on your own, individual project, where you are fully in control of the process and the outcome of it.

Stijn: Those projects, which are strictly individual, happen to get somewhat more rigid and conceptual, I think. At least speaking for myself.

Jasper: Coming back to the novel and the process of writing it; many books throughout history were written by more people in similar ways.

Stijn: Like the Bible..

Jasper: Well yes, that is certainly one example. But the collaborative writing as such creates a space for something to arrive, something which is not limited by the individual, which comes up regardless of who is involved.

Stijn: Beside the book, the film has also been a rgeat collaboration, not only between the two of us, but between everyone involved in the work.; camera man, sounddesigner, actors. Film, as a medium, plays a role in the novel and as we thought of making a sequel of the book, the idea of doing it in a different medium came up. Working with analogue film has been new to us and it is has become an essential part of our collaboration to work with things that we have not been working with before. There is something called ”beginner's luck”; when you do something for the first time, you do not know the rules of the medium yet and you are exploring it freely. Some interesting and also quite raw results can come out of that.

Jasper: But working with new media and in new ways is not necessarily our aim. Collaboration just happens to trigger an enthusiasm for exploration.

The show 'All the way Back" will be running until March 29, daily opening hours 13-17.
March 29 reading by Jasper Coppes and Stijn Verhoeff, moderated by Rikke Kühn Riegels, at 4pm.
New Shelter Plan, Malttorvet 2 1st floor, 1799 Copenhagen.

Stijn Verhoeff & Jasper Coppes: Installation view, 2014. Foto: Coppes, Verhoeff and Benjocki.

Stijn Verhoeff & Jasper Coppes: Installation view, detail, 2014. Foto: Coppes, Verhoeff and Benjocki.

Stijn Verhoeff & Jasper Coppes: Installation view, 2014. Foto: Coppes, Verhoeff and Benjocki.

Stijn Verhoeff & Jasper Coppes: Installation view, 2014. Foto: Coppes, Verhoeff and Benjocki.

Stijn Verhoeff & Jasper Coppes: Installation view, detail, 2014. Foto: Coppes, Verhoeff and Benjocki.

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