——Regarding your artist name, since when and why did you start working as the collective artist, Mwangi Hutter?

The process of setting out to make a collective oeuvre has been a very organic one that has come into being through practice and not through a theoretical idea. We had been working side by side, for and with each other for over a decade. Officially, we then became the artist collective Mwangi Hutter in 2005. This is when we made the decision to combine our positions and sign our previous work with the collective name. We merged our biographies into one, creating a combined artistic personality that we declare was born 1975 in Nairobi Ludwigshafen.

—— What is the significant benefit of working collectively?

The benefit is sharing ideas and talents to create a common, multi-faceted and therefore more complex vision that is better fitting to the complicated world humanity is faced with.

—— How do you share the process of making your new work?

A great deal of respect, flexibility and generosity is needed to approach and incorporate the ideas of the other person. Through discussion and experimentation, interests and inspirations are demonstrated, and paths of action are agreed upon.

—— Do you sometime work as individual artist or do you work as a collective all the time?

All personal experiences are considered part of the collective process. They are absorbed into the collective work. This is necessary in order to fully develop the potential in our decision for a shared vision.

—— Regarding your new work being presented at Yokohama, what is the theme of the new work titled Performance of Doubt?

The theme of Performance of Doubt is the human condition; the intrinsic fragility of human existence. We are reflecting on the body as being an extremely vulnerable life support, subject to injury, change and death. Obviously, suffering constitutes a large part of life. There are those sufferings that can be categorized as unavoidable, such as sickness, aging and death. There are others that can be considered to be avoidable, such as war and poverty. Accompanying this fragile condition is the enormous amount of effort that humans put forth to shape and understand life.

—— What do they mean for you; birth, adulthood, aging and death of human being? It seems to be that the recent direction in your work is the representation of the theme of the human life cycle.  Do you think your philosophy of life changed recently? If so, do you think it is because the circumstances of your life changed?

Birth, adulthood, aging and death are and will be experienced by every person. That is reality.  But human perception of these phenomena is confused. There is tension between the irrevocable truths of the changes leading up to death and the abstract theories around the sense and purpose of these processes. In addition, it is unclear as to why the added sufferings that humans generate throughout history are proving extremely difficult to resolve.  In our art, we have worked extensively regarding problems that arise out of conflicting interests; violence, injustice, racism, historical traumas etc. However, for many concrete problems there seems to be no solution in sight. On the basis of our previous work, we are developing the idea that general discussion about the causes of these problems is superficial. It is like scraping a surface. The deeper reasons for humans’ inability to shape societies to fulfill the wishes of most people for personal happiness and peace remain obscure. Therefore, we deem it necessary to approach even concrete issues such as racism or economic imbalance from a different angle, one that investigates human nature on a basic level.

—— What is the symbolic meaning of the "electric fence" in the second video?

We chose to present facets of what we perceive to be the human condition by staging performance-based actions in combination with suggestive materials (such as an electrified razor coil fence, meat, blood or sugar). These elements appear within the videos or physically in the installation. The relationship between images, actions and materials remains to a certain extent enigmatic and coded. Of course, an electric fence has something to do with forcibly setting borders and limits. The smoking piece of meat impaled on it might give rise to impressions of torture and violent suppression. But the fence appears in the context of further imagery, juxtaposed for example with a video of a small baby laid naked on a sterile-looking, white-tiled floor. And again, this latter image is projected on white sugar cubes covering the floor of the exhibition space. So the symbolic meaning of the fence, the baby, the sugar and of the other elements of the installation is shifting, depending on the point of view from which the combined aspects are considered.

—— Where did you shoot these three videos?

The videos were shot in and around our studio in Ludwigshafen. The venues are chosen so that they are not limited to refering to a certain place, but could be here or there.

—— In both of your previous works, we see many performance-based works. I guess there will be some difference in your ideas about symbolic meanings of human body. How do you share your ideas about your performance?

We combine various types and qualities of performance, e.g. experimental vocal expression and body movement. Another method is to use actions drawn from daily life, which take on symbolic meaning within the context of art, e.g. undressing or changing clothes. Then there are actions that border on the extreme such as using a tattoo instrument to inscribe words of blood on the skin. Such work creates a sense of urgency that can push viewers into an emotionally charged realm that intensifies intellectual understanding. In all cases, performance-based work uses the fundamental tendency of people to relate to and identify with the actions of another person. Therefore, it is a highly efficient way of engaging the audience. In working together, we do not force total consensus of the methods we are each interested in. Instead, we agree that the work benefits from our differing ideas and we work on combining these in an enhancing manner.

—— While you present your works in many countries, do you feel any regional difference in the reaction of the audience, say in Europe, Africa and Japan?

While we might perceive differences in how people relate to our work in various cultural contexts, on fundamental levels the general approach to trying to understand an artist’s imagery seems to be the same or similar. You will find the viewer watching the images while comparing them to the inner images that arise. Referring to own experiences in life and with art, he or she will try to judge the intentions of the artist and the meaning of the artwork. Usually, the person will react emotionally as well as intellectually to the work, balancing feelings with cognitive understanding. 

—— Is there anything you wish the Japanese audience to feel or think about your work?

We do not have expectations of how the viewers should specifically interpret the work. It is important that the work causes people to  actually feel and think, so that it may become a basis for reflection and discussion. In fact, our way of working admits to a kind of not-knowing, of painstakingly trying to find out. Our artistic strategy involves putting ourselves at risk, with the hope that this show of endeavor will inspire others to question themselves.

October 13, 2007.  Interviewed by Eriko Kimura

performance of doubt was commissioned by the Yokohama Museum of Art  for the exhibition GOTH. Reality of the Departed World,

curated by Eriko Kimura


Interview with Eriko Kimura