the beckettian experiment

vibeke tandberg on mumbles, her new exhibit at klosterfelde

I could talk to Vibeke Tandberg for hours. The eloquent artist has a knack for Samuel Beckett (a shared trait of ours that broke the ice) and has
scanned her head hundreds of times—in other words, we'd never run out of topics. In this interview, we talk about her new book/art exhibit Mumbles, a multifaceted body of work revolving around language, its use, abuse and exhaustion. The exhibit, as we learn deep into our conversation, is a by-product of a study the artist currently conducts in her life, expressing itself on any medium necessary—in this case video, scans and, of course, a book. Although seemingly haphazard, the work is the furthest thing from art road kill—it's literary, self-conscious and heady. Just like the artist herself.

Alonso Dominguez: I’m interested in the concept of Mumbles and how you went from depiction into language with this new strategy towards
work. Tell me a little bit about the transition between those two.

Vibeke Tandberg: Mumbles came about as a direct response to Beckett. I’m reading a lot of Beckett.

AD: Amazing. I’m a huge fan.

VT: I’m a total, total fan. It’s definitely been my main inspiration for the last two years. I’ve been reading nothing else. Mumbles came about just as a direct response to this universe of total invertedness, which is a space that just seems incredibly open and incredibly unlimited. So Mumbles is about just a voice trying to locate its body, its surroundings, its self, its origins—and language is not really working.

The text loops. It resolves itself in the end to be a search without purpose, because the original voice is the voice itself. So it’s very much into the Beckettian
landscape. The whole show circles around this notion of penetration of language. This is a way of saying that when you strip language or words of connections and
break up the syntaxes of the sentence—I use repetition a lot—you end up with something so minimal that it becomes a maximum statement with a maximum kind
of meaning.

The main goal of this exhibit has been to break things down completely and then see what comes out in the end. The show is the result of this process.

The exhibit also includes photographs—or prints rather, not photographs—and scans, because I wanted to also have a visual component to counter point the
semantic issue. I used a scanner, not a camera, to make self-portraits. Because all the texts are sort of based on self portraiture. It’s like trying to break down the
conception of myself into various parts. Including scans is just a very direct way of making an imprint of me, or the concept of me. I think the scanner is super
interesting to work with because I have no control over the outcome.

AD: In Beckett there seems to be a whole universe of language, and then a character in the background. The characters often speak in different languages that don’t mean anything. And then the meaning comes from whatever that language is representing. Within this universe, language doesn’t necessarily make sense without context. Are these scanned portraits a form of context? Are they providing a character for the story? Is it you?

VT: I am behind it all, but its not acting out a part or playing a part. It’s more the kind of language I’m using, the kind of work I’m using that constitutes “me.” A combination of imagery and language.

I’m really not in control of the process when I’m making both the scans and the text works. Language takes on its own logic, and that logic is different from the
paintings, from the text in the Mumbles book, and the films. And the scans each have their own visual language.

For me, it’s all about finding the inner logic of each work. And when it comes to the language-based works, the process determines what kind of personality or what
kind of a self is depicted. That’s why it’s interesting every time when I finish a piece to meet the public and see what has come out. Then, for the first time, I see
what I really have done.

AD: What was the progression of the exhibit? What did it spring from? Were the books first, the videos, the prints?

VT: Here, it was definitely the book first. But the films have been an ongoing project, so they have developed a lot. For this show, the book came first and then I worked around this subject.

AD: Was this a conscious decision? What seems interesting to me about this particular development is that you can actually tell that the book came first and then it evolved into different media. The work evolved organically, ending up with things like YouTube videos. No limits.

VT: Yeah. For me it’s a totally “rhizomatic” way of working. It’s like you start in one place, and instead of making it blow up, you just start with another place—it’s all very spread out.

The work in the exhibition is very different, visually. This comes from this spread-out way of working that is crucial to my way of thinking. There’s also a striving for
exhaustion. I try to exhaust the possibility within one medium or way of working.

Deleuze wrote an essay on Beckett titled “The Exhausted” in the book Critical and Clinical, which described the Beckettian world as one about exhaustion
exhausting possibilities, exhausting words themselves, and combinations thereof. Exhaustive treatment of language ends up somewhere outside of language. This
has been a core inspirational method for me in working with text, in the films and the paintings and definitely in Mumbles.

What happens with the films in this exhibition is that I definitely try to exhaust the way I’m making them. I started making these films and putting them on
YouTube a year ago, but started making them like three or four years before that. And then the development from then until now has been enormous. It’s been
about ripping it down to a very few works—a very pregnant meaning with very few works. It’s been about exhausting that play of dealing with words in the film
medium—poetry, in a way. I’m not sure if I have exhausted it completely. I will probably work a lot more within that medium, but in this exhibition they have
reached the point where I can’t see anymore about it. That’s a way of working that has been through all the parts of this exhibition. I have really tried to exhaust
the medium and the things that have merged with the medium, or used the medium for.

AD: Tell me about the technology that is used in the different sections of the exhibit. And by technology, I mean the facilitator for presentation. What is the difference between a book, a painting, a video, and, of course, a YouTube video? Which one captures your attention? What is the difference between them? Have you been able to accomplish different things with each one of them, or have they evolved from each other?

VT: This is something I think a lot about. I use film a lot. I use photography a lot. When I started dumping things on YouTube it was just to get rid of this fine art mark on stuff. I just wanted to see if it could work and how it could work in another context. I’m not sure if I reached an answer but it was interesting to do it. A book also has a completely different audience than a gallery audience, so that was also part of the deliberation process. But now this film installation, the paintings and the beautifully framed prints in the gallery definitely go into the traditional way of exhibiton making. The exhibit is also, in part, trying to make each medium incorporate self-reflection. I can’t use painting without thinking that this is a canvas, I’m putting something on it. It’s a very conscious process as with photography or film on a monitor. Painting has been the most problematic thing for me to use, because it’s so loaded.

AD: Well I think painting has this insular effect. Painting nowadays is not used for anything that’s not art, whereas the other mediums seem to be generally available to the rest of the world. So this medium of painting just feels so… self-important. It’s interesting to me because I think the most fascinating part of the exhibit is definitely the book. Even more so than the videos, it actually succeeds in taking a piece of art outside the context of art. Because a book is not necessarily art. Video is video art, but a book is just that, a book. How does this feel? Is it liberating? Is it interesting?

VT: Yes, it is liberating and extremely interesting. I had a reading of it to a literary audience, and that was really bizarre because it was completely different from an art audience. The reception is also different. I mean, you can’t tell because the art world is so closed in a way—they don’t really say anything, they won’t tell you. But the literary audience, they have a different approach. I think they question things much more all the time. It was a totally interesting experience. Even though, I have to say, when I make a book, I make it for me, first of all.

It’s also liberating because you aren’t in contact with your audience. They just buy it, go home and read it. Not standing at an opening, seeing all the faces and
seeing people’s reactions.

Deleuze has a critique of judgement that reads like this: “Judgement prevents the emergence of any new mode of existence” and when applied to art it makes so
much sense as art is definitely an investigation in “modes of existing,” and then in obvious defiance of being subjected to judgement. How can passing of judgement
on works of art make sense? It doesn’t mean that all works have equal artistic value but more like a turn of focus and perception of the work to ask, “How does it
work on me? What does it actually do?” What I want for my own work is to bring me somewhere, preferably to where I haven’t been before.

AD: Do you think that you went from producing to analyzing and studying?

VT: Yes, and that’s why things come up as texts in books.

AD: So basically the exhibit is the result, or almost haphazard by-product of your investigation. It isn’t about you sitting and thinking “I’m going to do this work,” but rather letting the investigation and study take its course—which results in artwork.

VT: Yes, exactly.

AD: This explains the varied media, all the outlets.

VT: Yeah. And the thing is that now that there is so much going on in my head, and it takes so much time for it all to come out, that the fastest way to do it is by writing. Translating into language is much faster than trying to convert my thoughts into a photograph or a painting. That’s why all my paintings and films are language. I do very little images anymore.

AD: And what have you taken from the new works? Where is your investigation at the moment?

VT: At the moment, I have to say that it is solely about getting language to produce itself. It’s about meeting a phase in a writing process where language takes on its own logic, and I’m sort of determined to make that process controllable. Right now I’m new to this, and I’m very much left to my own inspirational devices. I’m always trying to make the right process controllable and still be able to produce work that comes out as a complete result of its own logic. It’s as though I were inside a huge void where a voice comes to me. Very Beckettian. It’s a very accurate image of the process I have been in and would like to investigate more. That may come out in visual work, but definitely in language-based work.

by Alonso Dominguez

[Image: Eye eye, 2011, Oil on canvas; Hair scan #1, 2011, Digital pigment prints on ilford archival paper, both courtesy of Klosterfelde and the artist]