Former Commodity #4 - Tobias Kirstein

Musician and artist Alexander Holm curates another exhibition in his 'Former Commodity' series with guest artist Tobias Kirstein, and we exchanged some words with Kirsten about the process.

Published: October 28, 2017Words: J.Scott Stratton & Tobias Kirstein

Tell me about how you met Alexander and got involved in the Former Commodity series? I can’t remember. But he has done shows at mayhem. And I have attended the earlier versions of Former Commodity.

Did Alexander require you to tie your conceptual to his larger concept behind Former Commodity?

Alexander gave me a historic view of the earlier versions to provide me with a sense of the mechanics and logic. The perspective that dead things, objects, are activated – that he expressed in an earlier interview in this very magazine – is very much in line with how I think.

This exhibition ‘Two-way Mirror’ which, I guess, consist of ready-made and modified objects, a peculiar pair of glasses, that a trusted optician created for me.

Did you both work out a concept for the album and the exhibition together, or were you following the direction of Alexander?

We haven’t collaborated as such. Alexander defined a context for me – the space and the project. The rest was for me to decide. Sound and exhibition are different perspectives or reflective blocks to build something with.

Tell me about the concept that you have developed for this fourth and final incarnation of Former Commodity? Take me through the process of how you produced the work?

I got these objects that mystified me. The quality and identity of objects change so drastically by combining them with knowledge, specific values or perspectives. This gives objects their own life, own secrets.

I am interested in these kinds of beautiful experiences that you can’t share, but we continually try to get access to via various means. Death, the experience of dying and giving yourself over to this great and golden unknown, is one of them or could be. But this exhibition is not about loss or even personal loss.

The idea of ‘you,’ the inner self, the psyche, nature, individuality or whatever you can call this historical phenomenon is another. It is rather a humble way to present or grasp this field of knowledge that is not shared and the knowledge that wants to colonize (i.e., coaching/mindfulness, etc.), understand (psychology/psychiatry, Scientology, etc.), share (‘the culture of express yourself’) the former. Which I guess is a way of talking about the mystery without trying to make it evaporate and disappear.

This exhibition tries to give access to a complex of sensations and philosophical, mystical conundrums.

I have been reading ‘The Inner Experience’ by George Bataille for a long while, where he, as a very peculiar philosopher, tries to give access to, or comprehend, something that is private, i.e., not shareable without destroying or making it into a dogma, school, or an economy. It’s a wonderful book that both in its’ method and subject area supported this notion of mine.

When I look at some of the earlier artworks I have done, I find traits of these themes all along. If we take Imperia, a sound work I made with Jacob Kirkegaard based on recordings we made at the nuclear powerplant Barsebäck, it has a quote from William S. Burroughs on the inlay sheet: ‘Anyone holding a frying pan owns death.’ By this, we meant to break down the economic and political death star, the death monopoly, that Barsebäck became in the 70’s. A collection of political/semi-religious scare tactics that most certainly worked on me as a kid. Imperia is, in a way, a method to disassemble this construction. We meant to say: Nobody owns death.

Last year I made the exhibition Tulpa with Ursula Nistrup and Miriam Nielsen. We tried, via sound, photography, and sculpture, to give access to a new landscape where no known living beings had been. It was based on the timid notion: ‘how can we talk about the bashful without making it blush.’ How can we invent methods to do exactly this.

With the exhibition ‘Sværmen’/ The Swarm’ created in collaboration with curator Jacob Lillemose, I tried to create a situation where a new non-verbal language could arise consisting of live flies, sound, hand signs and fiction. Claus Haxholm and I have tried to make a sort of mystical activism, which I maybe even shouldn’t talk about.

It’s a sort of reverse method of everything I have just described but might have the same agenda. We have tried to invent a term called aggressive listening – where you can fight back, create change, territorialize your surroundings via your listening. So there’s an inner, not visible, movement going on there. We are working on a book on this bizarre and challenging subject.

In my understanding, these exhibitions – although they are made in collaboration with other good people – have some recurring traits. I am sure my collaborators have an entirely different understanding of what we did together. Maybe it was me who did not know what was going on.

How was the experience of creating a series of works based on a concept that needed to be both in sound and visual?

That is what I usually do. Well, objects are a relatively new addition. Earlier works have been either pure sound/text installations or very physically challenging performances – like digging 4 tons of chalk or filling a room with earth and then emptying it again the day after.

My art is not experimental. It is instead: doing something to make things happen. This can happen in so many ways – open-ended or very finite. But overall everything I do is very strict and straightforward.

What can people expect to see and experience during this exhibition?

Not much to see. Ordinary objects. But the objects all have either a history or a certain allure connected to the material they are made of or color they have. I made a vinyl record that will transform the room where it’s played – if played at all. The sound of this will not be performed at the exhibition; it’s meant to be played elsewhere. But it bears an aspect of the exhibition in its title Furnace. Intense heat. I have a dream of making an exhibition consisting only of giant sheets of metal. But somehow we couldn’t make that work in the tiny green room. I will maybe do that later if the possibility arises.