Interview by Jeroen van der Hulst
photography by Pedro Jardim
Jeroen van der Hulst: Thank you for letting me interview you!
Hannah Edward: Well, thank you for having us.
JH: You are both halfway into your month-long residency here at Agora in Berlin. Your artistic practices are very different to one another. Could you explain where you overlap and how you utilize this in regards to your upcoming show?
HE: I think the space in which we overlap is our use of images. I don’t think I would ever describe myself as a photographer necessarily. I play with photographs and then utilize them. This project at Agora is an opportunity to work outside of my comfort zone of working with depictions of nature. I mean, the abstraction of nature into shape and form. You look at an image of a mountain and this mountain can be any mountain anywhere in the world. This creates a distance, or a kind of safety to work with. This month, Riccardo and I seem to direct our attention more towards people that are far outside of nature and these people somehow belong to a much more specific depiction. There’s so much more recognition and identification. And so that’s where new ideas and ways of working present themselves to me.
Riccardo Banfi: For me, what I can say is that working with people is important. I like to focus on creating a relationship between the people that I’m photographing and the ones looking at them. But I think that between Hannah and I, I will start to modify the way I display images by how she influences me with her background. For me, it’s a challenge to take my images off the wall and let them exist as sculptures that interact more with the space, ok? So I think that this is the key part of our relationship here and what will happen at the exhibition.
JH: So your show will be called DIS PLAY. This is a play on words to the notion of a kind of mask that people wear when they are socializing or in general life. Could you please explain where this idea came from?
RB: Ok, so I first thought about this when Hannah and I met. We started talking about modification of images with Photoshop and how that opposes an unedited photograph. Her work is mostly about display, so how you can display and image and how you can modify it through something that is not digital. In her case by often using the space. My interest is in photographing more social scenes. And in a way, you know, there is the idea that we all wear a mask, that we perform our own theatre play. We focus on clubbing here. So there is the word “person”, which in Italian is the word “persona”. This comes from Latin and means “mask”. When you meet someone instead of saying ” I met this person”, what you basically say is” I met this mask”. I think the two of us deal with ways of looking and in this case Hannah interests me because she can find out a way to break down these images so, in the exhibition, there is a new kind of way of looking at them.
JH: So, you mean that a shift emerges between seen and being seen? Meaning, to wear different masks on different occasions.
RB: Yes and that being said I think the title Dis Play is, obviously, a play on words with “display”. But by opening up the word there is, you know, “play” which can be game. But it is also related to the theater. And “dis”, in a way, is basically a negation. Or in rap it is something where there are just two rappers and do a battle, and dissing is like an answer to the other rapper. Or “dis”, can also be read out as, something like “this”, you know this thing. So also in the poster we divided the two words, so that they can be read separately and together also.
JH: What kind of theatrical aspects do you use for your research into seeing and being seen in clubs?
HE: I think we are interested in the way lighting works. There are softly lit places or certain colour lighting. These have a certain atmosphere but they also emphasize “the mask”, because it makes everyone look the same, you know. As opposed to sort of harsh lighting that immediately shows everyone’s faces how they actually are.
RB: When I started to think about clubbing as a subject, I was in Milan in a club called Plastic. I had a roll of film and all the pictures, in a way, were about vanity. All these people dress up in a certain way, they dance in a certain way. And act in a sort of vanity play. Yeah, it was a play about vanity. But then I was at a festival in Spain somewhere in the desert. And this was so much more about space and having room to move freely. And so people bring these things that catch attention, you know the big party props. I did this too; I would bring funny glasses or water pistols. These all function as props that emphasize the club as something to step back from and look at, like a play.
JH:What then are your thoughts in regards to the viewers of this upcoming show?
HE: What we are thinking, as we discussed earlier, is about creating a specific environment, the viewer would be as much responsible for this as the artist. So the opening as an event definitely plays with our idea of what we are trying to create in a specific space.
JH:So does this mean that the viewer becomes a prop?
HE: Well, more like an active component. It’s a bit like looking around but at the same time being watched yourself.
RB: Yes, It would be interesting to also shoot a video during the exhibition. Because I think the portraits from my archive that we will use are all frozen masks. And at on the opening we will look at all of the viewers that look at these masks. I did this once in an installation where I just filled the walls with similar portraits and had a strobe light to light the room. Viewers experienced the music itself even without actually being at the clubs in the pictures.
HE: Yes, I would like to explore the possibilities of placing these images in a certain way and then looking for a narrative within them. This narrative is obviously composed by me. It’s all just conjecture on my part, because I don’t know these people or this scene. The viewer doesn’t either.
JH: Do you think the viewers will feel like they are looking at themselves? For example, it appears to be like looking in a mirror while you are in a club.
HE: Well, I’m not sure about the viewer but I think you are instantly aware of the “Self” though actually seeing yourself in that mirror in a club. You behaviour will immediately change also when you’re being filmed or photographed. I think not having those factors keeps the mask more alive. Or it just unanimously denies the mask. Everyone partakes in this.
RB: I must say I think having the mirror or camera there makes you even wilder. We are obsessed with recording things. So being able to look back at yourself gives you the permission to be crazy intentionally.
I think in terms of clubbing, it is more about taking part in a ritual. I mean, first there was all, you know, everybody in the tribe danced around the fire, painting faces and certain kind of dress. And now people are dancing in the club, maybe sometimes for ten hours. Not really talking. And this is in a way the same ritual but with a different aspect of acting. I am into these contemporary rituals that translate back to much older rituals. Like the DJ almost moves the way a shaman would. You know it’s really simple. Look at Faithless’ “God is a DJ” I think there is some truth in that. If you look on YouTube for Baptazia, you know the Drum ‘n Bass church people. There is this video of these churchgoers that completely let their bodies go to show their religious experience. It is something called “praise break”. The people just let go of their bodies and it is then edited with Drum ‘n Bass music playing over it. It seems crazy, you know, but it looks exactly like people in a Drum ‘n Bass club. It lets you understand how the two are different in terms of place or setting, but the ritual aspect is really there.
JH: You have come here to do this month long residency; do you feel like you are subject to wearing a mask during this period too?
HE: For me it’s an opportunity to explore my work in a different way. I don’t have to rely on the opinions or views of people I usually surround myself with. It’s a chance to sort of embellish on my character or my role as an artist. Not in a conceited, nasty way, of course.
RB: For me, when I arrived here I took a more passive role. I needed to look around and see how to interact in this place. In this way I could start to open up more by looking to how other people communicate. I wear the mask that I normally wear; only I painted it a bit differently.
Riccardo Banfi (IT) received a MA in Visual Arts from IUAV in Venice in 2012. He works on projects that deal with youth, music culture and particularly with electronic music and clubbing. In his research he often relies on other actors’ contribution, such as that of musicians and djs, to experiment mediation and new ways to carry out cross-disciplinary works.
Hannah Edward (UK) is a multi-disciplinary artist and received her BFA Hons. from Edinburgh College of Art in 2013. Her work deals with the physical manifestation of images within the gallery space, and the depiction of nature in contemporary artwork. She has become increasingly interested in the interaction that takes place between viewer and artwork and how the artist may go about changing that relationship.