warehouse warehouse

TIDEN GÅR / TIME PASSES

by Ane Hjort Guttu,  interview by Shama Khanna,  available 1.8.17 - 15.8.17
Ane Hjort Guttu, HD video, 2015, 46'53''

TIME PASSES follows the course of an art student as she begins to question the authenticity and usefulness of her art practice after befriending a Roma beggar and gaining insight into her life. Gradually, the situation develops into a ethical and political crisis for the student, who struggles to justify how she can continue her project facing the social inequality outside art school.
Here, artist Ane Hjort Guttu speaks to Shama Khanna about her recent moving image works and current research. [read on]

Ane Hjort Guttu is an artist based in Oslo, Norway. Recent solo exhibitions include the Speicher Düsseldorf, South London Gallery Le Quartier, Centre d ́Art Contemporain de Quimper, France, and Tensta konsthall, Stockholm, among others.

Ane Hjort Guttu, Time Passes, 2015, film still. Courtesy: The artist

SK: Do you think the political situation changed since you made TIME PASSES?

AHG: In the local context it has a bit. Artistically speaking, it seems to me that it’s getting harder to engage in relational projects in that direct sense. I work as a professor at the Art Academy in Oslo and I’ve noticed students are unsure as to how to engage politically. Also, to do with begging, there have been news reports lately claiming beggars are part of criminal networks; so it’s become easier to pass by or kick them out entirely. During the social democratic era in Scandinavia, we used to have a social system which secured people so you wouldn’t need to live on the streets. I think Romanian beggars weren’t really visible in Scandinavian streets before 2009, so at that time it was something shocking, something you reacted to and discussed openly.
In your emails to me you mentioned the tower?

SK: Yes, the fire at Grenfell Tower in London in June and the planned neglect of neoliberal politicians in the UK which gives rise to such terrible disasters. At the moment we’re literally living in the shadow of a charred and physically precarious monument to this dire situation.

AHG: Yes, but within neoliberal politics this is almost a planned disaster, right? Any right wing politician actually wants the difference between rich and poor to be bigger. And actually when you’re in Britain you get the feeling that infrastructure and public service is so willfully vulnerable – you stand at Victoria station and just know that if something happens, you’re doomed.

Ane Hjort Guttu, THIS PLACE IS EVERY PLACE, 2014, film still. Courtesy: The artist

SK: I was particularly thinking about Grenfell in relation to your work THIS PLACE IS EVERY PLACE (2014) which was made three years after the Arab Spring and shortly after sudden rioting in the outskirts of Stockholm 2013. The work similarly frames the local situation of two sisters and their personal desires and sense of responsibility towards wider socio-political struggles. One sister seems to have faith in the political system to revive the economic prospects of the suburbs, while the other seems exasperated, at the point of losing her faith.

AHG: I was interested in precisely this contradiction, or opposition, between a revolutionary orientation and the more “Scandinavian”, social democratic model, and I wanted to portray two people who could embody these different positions. The work was made within a project called “The New Model”, which was inspired by Danish architect Palle Nielsen´s seminal work “Model for a Qualitative Society” – a huge playground which he installed in Moderna Museet in 1968. “The New Model” was an invitation to five different artists to work along the lines of Nielsen’s work. I started to think about hope and the conditions of hope, and wrote this dialogue which sought to express thoughts around losing hope, in the concrete environment of Tensta as well as in a broader political perspective. I also thought about how local and global concerns meet and merge in the cosmopolitan suburbs of the modern European cities – how the inhabitants are in immediate contact with war through friends and relatives in their countries of origin. During interviews for the film, we talked to informants who spent all their spare time in anguish on Skype and Facebook.
In the end, the protagonist´s sister says “What do I dream about? Really just to live here in Tensta. That this place was the same as now, just that everything would be – a little brighter.” I guess this is also a very personal impulse – I often think about how I want everything to be the way it is, but at the same time everything should just be better, easier, different.

SK: Yes, I thought that here she was affirming the possibility of social democracy. The idea behind Nielsen’s “Model for a Qualitative Society” was to introduce a more democratic experience of art through play, and to reveal how groups of people got on within this interactive situation. Your works TIME PASSES and THIS PLACE IS EVERY PLACE both relate to moments of crisis where a new position or energy might become available.

AHG: Many of my works are about the point at which the personal becomes political and how people try to break free, either through direct action or escaping, turning inwards. It deals with personal, moral and subjective questions – is it ok if someone sits here on the street and I walk by despite feeling it’s not right? It’s very familiar to have both these impulses.

SK: Yes, inaction can be interpreted as normalizing the situation, or accepting it.

AHG: Right, I’m very interested in people who actually act on such impulses as it’s not something I would do.

SK: I thought the position the painter in TIME PASSES articulated was quite crucial to the point of the work.

AHG: It’s an alternative political stance which is still common amongst students but is also quite outdated. It is actually the heritage from an autonomy aesthetical position – the idea that the most radical action is to insist on your own language. Unfortunately, a lot of viewers seem to think that his character is somehow parodic, which was actually not my intention. Afterall, Damla’s project is just as problematic.

SK: I enjoyed the scene where Damla and Bianca are sitting together by the bridge and there’s a bright pink Acne bag between them!

AHG: Haha, yes, she brought it with her and I thought it was good to have it there.

SK: There have since been further disruptions in the Stockholm suburbs, most recently in February this year, and the liberal values which made post-war European welfare (not to mention international peace initiatives and climate change accords) possible, are fatally at stake. The UK government’s negligence exposed by the Grenfell fire seriously undermines the possibility of change through political means.

AHG: The social activists who I have been interviewing for my next project are distanced from Marxism and that sort of radical change. They’re critical of what they call ‘the White Left’ and rather reference Malcolm X as a precursor to their particular activism which prioritises action over theory. I’m struck by how small and concrete their goals are – for example, simply to build a youth centre. It’s hard to be a Leftist in the conventional sense now.