Nora Sternfeld is Professor for Curating and Mediating Art at the Aalto University Helsinki and part of the platform schnittpunkt. Exhibition theory & practice in Vienna.
The film “Feld-Herren Revisited” discusses the historical roots of participatory and propagandist art. The video exposes the connections between artistic research and political engagement and of their related aesthetics. “Feld-Herren Revisited” is a slide show montage that consists exclusively of film stills from Sergei Eisenstein’s “The General Line” and text quotations from Sergei Tretyakov’s novel Feld-Herren as well as Walter Benjamin’s essay ” The author as a producer.” Although originally without context, the iconic movie images of the rural areas of the USSR convincingly integrate themselves in the text extracts of Tretyakov’s novel and Benjamin’s essay. The video gradually decodes the relationships between the sources used and their potentials, but it also exposes the inherent dangers found in them. (Martin Krenn)
In the skype conversation I had with Nora Sternfeld we discussed the lecture performance “Feld-Herren Revisited” by artist Martin Krenn. This, indeed, is the work she has selected for the curatorial project “Virtual vs Real” taking place in this online platform. What follows is the transcription of the conversation and the Italian translation. (TC)
Curator Nora Sternfeld introduces the artist Martin Krenn
Conversation transcription below
Tiziana Casapietra: I would like you to tell us why you have selected Martin Krenn and his lecture performance “Feld-Herren revisited” for this project.
Nora Sternfeld: Martin Krenn is an artist that I’ve known for a long time and that I’ve been working with in several projects. He is an artist that I appreciate very much; he is someone who has always been examining and discussing social political topics in his work and investigating issues that he is not afraid to take on, as difficult as they might be. There are also a lot of things that makes it really worthwhile working with him: one is that in his practice he never only thinks about the political situation, but also about the possible means of collaboration and participation. This means that whenever we work together it would really be about an open outcome and always, whenever I’ve worked with him, I’ve learnt a lot – after I would know much more than before. For this reason, I really wanted to use the opportunity of being invited by you for this project, to ask him to collaborate again. And then he suggested contributing with a lecture-performance, and I thought this may be a good idea because it was relevant to the project medium, which is an internet medium, based on conversations as we are having right now. When we will see Martin in his work, talking and giving a lecture, we will see him bringing himself into the project. I think it is quite logical: we can see the artist, we can see him talking, and we can see him presenting one of his investigations. So I thought it is a very good idea. And now let me tell you what he suggested to talk about, what he wants to present in this project. In order to do that, he finds resources and he looks at things that maybe we have not discussed so much in the last years, and he also looks at the problems that are within his artistic practice. I think, again, this was a very brave suggestion and I liked it very much. I really think that it’s worth much more to see the lecture performance than to see the interview that we are doing now, so whoever looks, please go and see it, maybe again!
TC: Since we don’t have the possibility to know him in person maybe you can tell us something more about the artist.
NS: Maybe I can also do something like a relation between these two because in the lecture performance Martin presents Sergei Tretyakov as a very progressive person and this might be the reason why also Walter Benjamin in his text “The Author as Producer” refers to Tretyakov. Martin also brings in some quotations of Benjamin’s text and he presents Tretyakov as someone who is involving himself by not giving himself a very specific higher position in society, but he considers himself just as a part of society and this is why he goes to the Kolkhoz (editor’s note: form of collective farms in the Soviet Union) where he just wrote, where he says it’s not enough to be a writer to investigate on the Kolkhoz, you have to involve yourself within. I think there is a reason why Martin brings up this topic, because he has also involved himself in all the artistic practices he has ever done, and his practices are diverse. He has been working with practices coming from photography, or from installation, or from performance or from films, but I think that what he does is intervening in concrete situations, very often in public spaces, but sometimes also in exhibitions and universities. Because Martin Krenn is also a teacher (he has always been a teacher) he has also done some projects in which he used his amazing abilities as an organic intellectual and teacher. These abilities are also reflected in his practice, so this means that participation is a very important part of his work, compared to other artists that would not think to exploit the people that participate with them by using their topics. These are artists that use their work and their practice just for their own value as artists.Martin Krenn would intervene in situations that others would also be needed and he would name them, he would work together with them on a long term basis, if necessary. So the relationship of his collaborators and himself is always reflected in this practice. I can give you an examples: during the city festival in Zagreb he did a project called “Monument for a Just City” and it was based on a three day workshop. He also called it “social-plastic” because in this workshop he was working together with people, gathering together plastic bottles. It was a huge monument of plastic bottles called “Monument for a Just City.” The monument was not important, what was important was the discussion that took place around (the monument) with the whole group of people talking about the inhabitants of Zagreb who live in poverty and who have to collect bottles as a way to earn their income. The idea was to use the plastic in order to talk about the social situation in Zagreb, which was a question he did not bring in, but that came out of this collaborative process. This is only one example of several.
TC: Your music is gone, I don’t hear it anymore!
NS: I can put it louder! What we hear is also related to Martin’s work and it’s the music from the silent movie “The General Line” by Sergei Eisenstein (and Krenn is referring to Eisenstein in his lecture-performance). I thought that it would be interesting to hear it while we talk, you and me, a possible piece of music from Eisenstein’s silent movie. When Krenn talks about Eisenstein, when he talks about Tretyakov, I think he is also thinking about his own position as an artist in society. In his work he involves himself, but he also takes a position. But it is too easy to see it like that, because it is very important for him to think and to talk and to work on the contradictions that come together with the investigation of the Russian Avant-garde. For him, it is only possible to actualize these politically involved events when one goes through, works through the contradictions. And one contradiction that he is also clearly talking about in the lecture is the reality of the gulags in this political situation and how there is a clear discrimination. Then someone, like Molotov for example (editor’s note: Vjačeslav Michajlovič Molotov, 1890-1986, was a Russian politician and diplomat), has been talking in a very, very violent way (about deporting and shooting kulaks which was a negative term for the peasants who owned a farm and a allotment of land) and it was a very violent situation at the same time. For Martin it is important to relate to it and to put himself in a position to it, but not without clearly saying and working on the violence of contradictions. Because, for him, this offers the only possibility to actualize it. So I think he would say that his perspective as an artist is to take a position, but not to be afraid to reflect this position at the same time.