Based in Sweden, Stefanie Hessler is an independent curator and writer from Germany. She is the founding director of the art space Andquestionmark in Stockholm (with Carsten Höller). Hessler is currently curating the exhibition “Speed” at the Mamam in Recife. Recent curated projects include “Outside” at Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation with a film screening at Moderna Museet in Stockholm; “Klara Lidén: The Myth of Progress (Moonwalk)” at Lugar a Dudas in Cali; “The Return of the Object” at Invaliden1 in Berlin; “Marjetica Potrč. Caracas: Dry Toilet” at Die Ecke Arte Contemporáneo in Santiago de Chile and the festival “Performing Recalcitrance” at the Royal Institute of Art Stockholm. Hessler regularly contributes to publications, for instance for the Museum of Contemporary Art Santiago de Chile, Moderna Museet, Capacete and ArtReview.
In the second interview with a curator of Momentum 8, Stefanie Hessler talks about attention and compressed consciousness as tunnel vision, and explains what role drugs play in relation to this perspective.
The notion of tunnel vision is a multi-layered theme. Which aspect of the idea interests you the most?
When you’re in a tunnel, your peripheral view is limited by definition. You are forced to look ahead. You have to concentrate! In the age of the Internet, when people take Adderall and other drugs to be able to focus, tunnel vision is an interesting state of mind. I am curious about compressed consciousness. What possible systems of thinking can we create in this state? Can we find different forms of logic, and do they make sense outside of the tunnel?
Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem states that theories asserting their own consistency are inconsistent, and theories that are consistent cannot demonstrate their own consistency. Applied to art, this means that new types of logic can evolve, even though they may only make sense in this context and nowhere else. Or if they do, there is no way to prove it! I am interested in going down this path all the way to see what happens. Tunnel vision is also a narrow-minded attitude. I think it can even be alarming – socially, politically and culturally. If your own worldview is constantly reaffirmed, without other ideas being able to enter, this can become highly problematic. On the other hand, when we try to accomplish complicated tasks, or when we employ specialized knowledge, an attentive state of mind is pivotal.
I like William James’ definition of attention: “Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.” (William James, The Principles of Psychology, 1890)
Besides the theme of tunnel vision: How are the different works and venues at Momentum 8 being tied together?
Momentum 8 will be a sensory experience. When you’re in a tunnel, you are deprived of vision. Instead, other senses become amplified, for example hearing or smelling. Speleologist Michel Siffre spent two months in a completely dark cavern, derived of all outside stimuli, as part of an experiment. After a while, his perception of time and physical sensations such as hunger changed completely. Synaesthesia is another fascinating phenomenon, a crossing of stimuli and responses between different senses. Neurologist Oliver Sacks describes overlaps between his patients’ hallucinations and lucidity as merging into intriguing new experiences. Different types of logic can arise through very real sensory perceptions.
Momentum 8 is concerned with the Internet and the tunnel visions it generates. I don’t think the Internet creates disembodied experiences. Our brains and bodies are the interfaces of perceptions, be they cognitive or olfactory. Experiences just change along with changing technology. My dream is to build a device that completely intersects virtual and actual worlds, without requiring any perceptible technological devices at all. This may not work for Momentum 8 yet, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.
As a sensory experience, Momentum 8 is not about something. It creates itself by doing, in a performative mode. For example, we are commissioning a soundtrack and a scent, which will permeate the entire show and connect it through time and space. You will be catapulted into different, altered states of perception through physical sensory experiences. Hopefully, these stimuli will engulf and haunt you even after leaving the exhibition!
Which role do drugs play when it comes to the creation of tunnel visions in our lives?
Drugs play a larger role today than you might think! They are not sub- or counterculture any longer, but widely spread technologies of the self. We apply them to become more productive or endure the world we live in. University students take Adderall to study. Office workers take Ritalin to concentrate. And parents give it to their kids so they sit still and do their homework. 81 per cent of US college students don’t think Adderall is dangerous. I am sure the art world is on it, too. The pressure to perform creates pressure to concentrate. Drugs like Adderall can create synthetic, temporary tunnel vision. But there are different ways of entering such a state of mind, natural or synthetic, consciously or unconsciously, temporarily or permanently. I think what can be achieved by drugs can mostly also be done differently. Psychoactive substances may just be an efficient way.
Rimbaud was a notorious drug user. He wanted to become a seer through “a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses” (Arthur Rimbaud, Lettre du Voyant, 1871). Today it seems we are aiming at a rational ordering of the senses. I am not sure we are succeeding. I think we may be in a state of tunnel vision, neglecting that we are actually creating more chaos. Perhaps our anthropocentric “Western” view of the world is a state of tunnel vision. Ethnobiologist Christian Rätsch says in an interview with Der Spiegel that “reason” suggests that we act independently and sensibly. But we are highly uncontrolled and irrational. Just think of the decisions we make! Our choices are often influenced by information too complex for us to analyze on the spot, or we are maybe just too lazy to do so. We act under the delusion of rationality! Maybe, Rätsch suggests, when under the influence of another logic, we are actually more controlled, or at least differently navigated.
What excites you the most about this year’s edition?
I am very excited about the artists in Momentum 8. It is too early to mention names, but the great (!) list will be announced on the 22nd of April. There will be fewer projects than in the past editions. The show will be very focused. You could say that we apply tunnel vision in the methodology of the biennial. It is a question of attention. I am also excited about the leakages of works from Momentum 8 into the space and time before, during and after the biennial. For instance, the scent will not only be in the exhibition, but also distributed in the catalogue. If you like, you can smell like “tunnel vision” even in 10 years from now!
Interview: Victoria Trunova