Kaia Hugin is a Norwegian visual artist – here is her website: www.kaiahugin.com – whose “Motholic Mobble” (2008-2013), a series of eight surreal, magical and utterly surprising short videos, has undoubtedly revealed her genuine talent between the contemporary trend of intersections among performance, art, and what one may define as modern – or postmodern – filmmaking grammar. In Norway and abroad.
Hitherto her research has resulted in an attempt at reframing certain connections between physical performance and audiovisual image into original shapes. The title is a neologism she coined, and it is reminiscent of an impression – or sensation – of a movement, that is vague as well as polymorphic.
In each video we watch her, the artist (therefore author-actress on the scene) in situations which put her under a certain estrangement effect or through disruptive actions (due to different reasons), situations and actions able to indicate – every time – a challenge within the limits of corporeality, between nature and culture, in terms of tension and transformation towards postures, figures or even other habitus.
Kaia has kindly replied to some questions I posed about her background and work...
Who is Kaia Hugin? Tell us something about your education.
Also, it would be intriguing to know what and who have influenced you the most in your ongoing artistic career. I wonder whether there is cinema amongst these possible influences. In an online conversation – it is an excerpt available on Vimeo (http://vimeo.com/13058077) recorded during your stay for an artist-in-residence program at Oudeis, Le Vigan (France) – you're questioned about your cinematic tastes and you mention Hitchcock’s cinema and science-fiction movies as two of your passions. So I wonder whether and how they fit with your research and therefore your videos, whether there are some conscious or unconscious links somewhere.
For instance, looking at your remarkable “Motholic Mobble part 7 (Shadows, Twists and Endings)”, one hears the sound of the saw and to me it seems possible to detect some traces of a quite weird Hitchcock-like suspense – but progressive, like a musical crescendo. Is that true? Speaking of science-fiction, well… it is obviously an impression of mine but many of your soundscapes in “Motholic Mobble” remind me of post-human atmospheres, science-fiction environments. Is this just my impression or was this intentional?
I thought I was going to be a dancer, or more precisely a choreographer. After the high school I had some intense years doing dance, and I actually danced in two full-length performances on stage. It was in Oslo. They were not very good technically, but a great experience in any case. After my wish to become a choreographer faded, I started doing sport climbing. Not competitions or anything like that, just climbing for fun – on indoor walls when the weather was too cold, and outdoors, trying to climb different routes. I had a night job at a newspaper factory, and I used all my money on climbing trips. During this period I started studies in Art History, and finally in 2006, I applied for the Art School. And then I graduated with an MA in Fine Art spring 2011. I still do some dance and climbing in my spare time, and I believe my interest in bodily movement and the gravity is quite visual in many of my pieces.
Regarding other influences I vividly remember the first time I watched “Der Lauf der Dinge” (The Way Things Go) by the Swiss artist duo, Fischli and Weiss. This amazing film of chain reactions of objects crashing, flying and exploding opened up my way of thinking about art and film, and it triggered my wish to work in this field. In general I am very fond of art where the idea is the strongest element. I don't make conceptual art explicitly, but the idea remains the basic element. It doesn't help to pimp up a bad idea with gorgeous formal or media attributes. It would still be a bad idea... As you mention, cinema is another important influence on my work, and I really enjoy the Hitchcockian suspense. The suspense relates to our daily life – it contains fear and hope, two very important emotions which force us to act. As a dramaturgical tool I also find it humorous, or more precisely, I find it humorous that it works out so well, at least on me. Even when I watch a mediocre film I get thrilled by simple tricks like a shadow of a person suddenly appearing on a corner accompanied by a creepy violin track... The soundtrack related to the suspense is extremely important and such an effective tool, almost too seductive.
In “Motholic Mobble part 7 (Shadows, Twists and Endings)” I play with this effect, and the audio-track is overloaded with references to classical horror movie soundscapes. The sound-designer and I shamelessly used every trick in the book to create a suspense related to the inner life of the character. Regarding several of the other soundscapes in “Motholic Mobble”, you are right – they do have elements of some post-human/science-fiction sound. I appreciate science-fiction, the genre has been a possible tool for social criticism since Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” in 1818. The novel “Die Wand” (The Wall) written by the Austrian writer Marlen Haushofer in 1963 has been a great inspiration as well. I do relate to this dystopian fiction story, and I believe some of the Mobbles connote a related feeling of both dystopia and a strong will and desire to continue, something almost animalistic.
We mentioned your “Motholic Mobble”. When did you have the idea of making such a series? What were the circumstances behind this achievement? Do you have any anecdotes like, for instance, those told to Margarida Paiva regarding “Motholic Mobble – part 5” (see here: http://www.kaiahugin.com/performingvideoa.html)? I am asking that because it would be interesting to have an account of its genesis.
I made the first “Motholic Mobble” in 2008, while I was an exchange student at Escuela Massana in Barcelona. I worked mostly at home, in a very small apartment that my partner (who is also my photographer) and I rented, it was in the center of the city. I had my workspace, a tiny desk with a computer on it and a chair on the second floor, where the ceiling was so low that it was impossible to stand up straight. One day I looked at my workspace from a distance, and I got this picture in my head. I saw myself sitting on the chair next to a completely empty desk and a water heater, staring into the white wall. It often happens like that: when I get a new idea, it starts with a picture inside my head. The picture can arise from a concrete situation, something I look at, from a text or it can just pop up from I don't know where. If this picture doesn't go away, or even starts to haunt me in a way, it might be an idea worth considering. I started to play with the idea of what could possibly happen in this picture with the person staring into the wall, an suddenly the chair got swept away for unknown reasons, and the figure fell down on the floor and started to slide backwards. What can I say? I think in pictures, perhaps it's a visualization of a feeling. Of course, there's a great freedom and space in this game, but I kind of look at an inner picture from different angles and distances.
I play with different possibilities of what might happen, and when I start to look at it as a possible idea for something, I always keep in mind the possibilities of the film medium and my own body. My body and the media are my limits, and I also enjoy pushing those limits. At least this is how I worked with the ideas for the Mobbles universe. “Motholic Mobble part 1” was actually filmed in this tiny apartment we rented in Barcelona, and the desk in the film was my actual workspace. We didn't have proper lights for filming, so we only used those practical lights that were available in the apartment. I remember we pulled a bedside lamp around trying to light up the different scenes. I enjoy very much this low key approach, to use what you have on hand and make the most out of it. It causes you to twist your brain and triggers the creative power. Nowadays, although we possess proper film lights though, but I still try to keep the equipment to a minimum, or at least to make the film look like if we had a much more professional and expensive equipment than we actually have. I guess I avoided using after effects in the editing of “Motholic Mobbles” for the same reason. It gives me a bizarre joy to manage to do the different elements “live” through the use of only bodily means, handcraft, physical tools like rope and spade, and of course camera-angles and framing.
Looking back on what you did with “Motholic Mobble”, do you think to have achieved your original purpose? Any regrets, or is it exactly the result you expected? I wonder whether you can give us your impressions as spectator of your own work. It would be extremely interesting and useful.
It's difficult to judge your own work, in one way I am never satisfied, I guess I am my own harshest critic. There are always so many things that could have been done in a better way. That being said, I don't get directly embarrassed while watching “Motholic Mobble”, and that's a good sign. As I see it, most of these films incorporate several layers. They explore filmic and bodily possibilities, and questions related to existentialism are raised in this surrealistic and personal universe. For me they have an obvious element of humor as well, but I know not everyone perceives the films like that, and that's totally okay. Also, I enjoy when the viewers make up their own stories regarding this or that part, inasmuch as there is no right or wrong way in perceiving films. One thing I regret is that I don't have proper pictures from most of the sets, only from “Five Parts – a Motholic Mobble (part 5)” I have nice “behind the scenes” pictures. The reason for this is that we usually are a very small team – only the film-photographer and me, which logically means there is no one available to take the “behind the scenes” pictures. It's a pity because the sets are often quite interesting with homemade and quirky solutions. Next time...
According to your particular and privileged viewpoint – as both performer and filmmaker – what is a video performance? I think it is obvious that is not a simple technological version of a traditional performance anymore – this is also due to the fact that, today, technology has eventually become part of the so-called “traditions”, at least those within our contemporary Western cultures.
Can you explain us your ideas about the dialogue between media and performance nowadays? Also, do you think you have explored all the possibilities related to the theme, or is there anything yet to be investigated?
To me, a video performance is a meeting point between filmic and bodily possibilities. At least this is how I worked in “Motholic Mobbles”. I have never done a performance live in front of an audience. I guess I could have performed elements from the Mobbles live, but it would have been very simplified, and I don't think it's a good idea. A live performance is very different. You usually relate to an audience or a physical space. In the Mobbles I primarily relate to the camera, and the process contains a lot of framing and editing. Those two elements, the body and the film-media, adjust to each other and kind of push each others limits. It's a very interesting cooperation, and it enables me to play with the logic of dreams and abstract experiences. So I believe I have lots of possibilities related to the theme to explore. The Mobbles have their own structure, in one way quite narrative, with a beginning and an end. Maybe I would like to test out working in other ways, maybe more abstract. The body's relation to the camera contains lots of possibilities.
What now? Have you been working to continue your video series or – to put it more simply – have you been developing other projects? If so, is it possible to know more? Are they anything different from ‘Motholic Mobble’, or more or less conceived with the same guidelines?
Right now I am taking a break from the Mobbles. I have made eight pieces in this series, and I believe the number nine is a dangerous one... No, seriously, I don't know. If I have a nice “mobble-idea” I might realize it, but I am not rushing on making more pieces in this series. At the moment I am working on a solo exhibition that will open next February at the Vigeland Museum in Oslo (http://www.vigeland.museum.no). Gustav Vigeland was a Norwegian sculptor who worked on a large scale with major themes like the life-cycle, human feelings and the relationship between man and woman. The Vigeland Museum is very different from a regular white cube, the building was Vigeland's studio until his death in 1943, and at some level I think I should relate to the building and Vigeland. Also, here, I have the possibility of working on a quite large scale, and I think I would like to develop customized installation solutions for the video. Both to emphasize the physical aspect of the films, as well as for making their perception a more three-dimensional experience.
Frankly, I am still on a stage playing with ideas, and I do not know what to do. But I know I am going to do it.