Eliisa Suvanto interviewed the Anna Breu artist collective by e-mail in December 2016. The interviewer was not aware of any details of the upcoming Anna Breu exhibition at the HAM Gallery and the group had forbidden any questions about the work in the exhibition.
Eliisa Suvanto: Identity is a very important factor in both the actual composition of Anna Breu and in the works. How much freedom does a constructed identity offer in making art and what kinds of questions do you want to raise about the individual, for instance, through your work?
Anna Breu: Anna Breu consists of four artists, that is true. It is difficult to conceive a common or shared identity, however. Perhaps an outsider could see it, not viewing the works as a product of four artists, but of an imaginary Anna Breu figure. Working behind the name provides us with certain liberties. With shared responsibility, we can express even the wildest of ideas, because we have the backing of the entire collective. Individuals are stronger and bolder in a healthy group than alone.
ES: Humour has also played a strong role in your previous work. You’ve had a farting fireplace, a whipped-cream ejaculation, and men’s over-sized bulges, for example. What kind of humour is important for Anna Breu?
AB: In one way or another, humour is at the centre of what we do. We’ve also noticed that because of this, people sometimes question our motives. It is important that people know that we take art and making it seriously. We are not a bunch of clowns, even if our works may sometimes make you laugh. We are more like clowns crying in a corner. We don’t have a conscious method or use a particular type of humour. We have often been inspired by misunderstandings and playing with bodily functions. It is also interesting to repeat something absurd until only the gesture remains, a vessel of some sort that has been emptied. This repetition often separates good ideas from great ones.
ES: Can delicate or, say, politically-charged material be approached credibly through humour? How much do you problematise this relationship in your working?
AB: You can and you should. Humour is clearly a great way to approach difficult subjects or to show the absurd side of normal and acceptable behaviour. What we laugh at reveals a lot about us. In fact, it’s a little surprising that humour is used so little in art. It is often considered an easy or less credible approach. Humour conceals immense power. Good and bad. It feels like artists are accustomed to criticizing the problems in society or structures of the art world even though, in a certain light, it is the work that artists do that’s part of the very core of this insanity. Anna Breu might not directly aim its criticism at a particular issue or even feel a need to be critical. We aim to be excited and to draw ideas from sources that are unknown to us.
ES: Anna Breu seems to put a lot of trust in the viewer and you rarely provide easy-to-understand (or any) texts to explain your works. How do you see your responsibility as the authors of an artwork in relation to the person experiencing it?
AB: We don’t want to teach our viewers how to understand our works or what they are about. Our approach is based on mutual respect. A text explaining an artwork solidifies a particular point of view in the viewer’s mind. We feel it’s important that the piece and the text offer interpretations rather than ready paths. We believe in surprises and magic.
ES: If we had discussed your future exhibition, what would you have wanted to say?
AB: We would’ve been sad because it should not be discussed. :’(
ANNA BREU : DEEP END
(A STREET MUSICAL)
Horizontal stage with limited depth
POTATO CHEESE BALLS
As audience gets in, Bret Arel and Panther are already on the move
Panther is facing the floor and crawling (no whispering)
Bret Arel is moving next to Panther
Bret Arel is alluring Panther
Bret Arel rubs his hands (knees bend) and his body is twisting (similar to dance)
At the same time Oriental Omanticism tries to mask as curtain
Burl takes it easy on the right corner
Panther is still crawling as Bret Arel whispers:
POTATO CHEESE BALLS
FRIED CHEESE BALLS
CHEESE BALLS CRISPS
Bret Arel and Panther pass the stage from left to right
Burl observes the situation
Oriental Omanticism has his eyes closed
The act ends when Bret Arel pulls Panther lying on the floor few meters backwards and runs hunched to the right corner of the stage
Quick transition to the next act.
WHERE’S MY IPHONE?
Oriental Omanticism is the first one to run to his spot. Then Bret Arel, Panther and last Burl.
Oriental Omanticism and Burl are in the front row, facing the audience
Bret Arel and Panther are by the wall facing the wall
Rubbing the pockets, rhythm 1,2,3,4, right down, left up
When the rubbing has synchronized, Burl stars:
Where’s my iPhone? (walking)
Is it here? (leaning in, almost touching the floor with his face, then bouncing up and throwing his head back)
Tone varitations: eager, desperate, manic etc.
1. Round: Burl, Oriental Omanticism, Bret Arel, Panther
2. Round: Oriental Omanticism, Bret Arel, Panther, Burl (3. round starts when Burl is leaning in.)
3. Round: free rhythm. Randomly movement, speech and rubbing
Panther approaches the light desk and puts Hand of Doom on and runs the lights
HAND OF DOOM
Few “ball-boy” runs across the stage, if necessary
IT WAS A HUNTING ACCIDENT
Fade: all lights on
Oriental Omanticism walks to the stage and starts to swagger
Burl, Bret Arel and Panther run hunched and bring one by one: an easel, a canvas, a chair, a palette and a brush
Panther claps to mark that everything is in place. Oriental Omanticism sits down
Oriental Omanticism does The Thinker, Burl and Bret Arel take their places
Panther taps with his foot as a mark and Oriental Omanticism starts to paint The Fox Painting
Dialogue (operatic voice):
Panther: What are you doing?
Oriental Omanticism: I’m painting a watercolor.
Oriental Omanticism: Who are you?
Panther: I’m just a flat metallic door.
Drying of the hands from top to bottom. Everyone except Oriental Omanticism buzzes, because the lizard hand seduces
Painting is finished.
Oriental Omanticism takes it to his hands.
Panther: Your father is dead.
Oriental Omanticism turns slowly to face the audience
Oriental Omanticism: What happened?
And turns back.
Panther: It was a hunting accident.
Burl and Panther start a chain dance around sitting Oriental Omanticism.
Bret Arel sings:
From which coffee pot or crystal vase you have read this from?
Bret Arel joins the dance and when the hands are in place starts the song
IT WAS A HUNTING ACCIDENT (march rhythm)
There’s a distant thunderstorm, lightning strikes.
Singing fades to a mumble, lights go dimmer and dimmer until it gets dark.
You still hear the movement, clothes and heavy breathing.
HAM Gallery, Helsinki, Finland
Pori Biennaali 2016 - Saatanan kesänäyttely, Pori, Finland
Valtio+, The former Turku county prison, Finland
Esitystaiteen markkinat, Zodiak, Helsinki, Finland
Turku Biennial, Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova museum, Turku, Finland
H2Ö Festival, Turku, Finland
XS. Vol 6 Festival, Kutomo, Turku, Finland
Tonight, Mad House -festival, Helsinki, Finland
Manifesta 10 On board, Helsinki/St. Petersburg
De la charge, Brussels, Belgium
k.i. Beyonce, Amsterdam, Netherlands
1646, The Hague, Netherlands
SIC Gallery, Helsinki, Finland
OOBEE/OOBFEE, private function, Helsinki, Finland
Titanik Project Space, Turku, Finland