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Abandon Normal Devices: Kurt Hentschläger

The Austrian artist tells us about creating strange and mellow art for his latest installation and being inspired by techno clubs

Abandon Normal Devices in Liverpool stayed true to its name, showcasing an inspired selection films and visual art, amongst all the usual vices. With an emphasis on immersive experiences, events included a fantastical trip to the centre of the earth courtesy of by local legends Kazimier. Video artist Rachel Mayeri’s premiered her film made for and starring chimps, which screened alongside footage of chimps at Edinburgh zoo reacting to the film. Kurt Hentschläger’s installation ZEE threw unsuspecting viewers a death-like experience within a sublime fortress of colourful trauma.

Immersed in fog so thick you can’t see your outstretched hand, as patterns of light are hurled through the room implanting a series of abstract images in your mind’s eye as dull drones completely close off the world. If you subside your natural instinct to panic, the experience can be visionary, otherwise you’re stuck in a nightmare. Slightly shaken, Dazed Digital sat down with Austrian artist Kurt Hentschläger to talk about punk, hallucinations and visions.

Dazed Digital: What was the inspiration behind this piece?
Kurt Hentschlager‏: I’m so freakin’ old now, I come from the original punk days. It was always about creating this enormous intensity for like a weekend, that informed my entire career as an artist. Now I have so extremely mellowed out, this piece is from the mellow me. Now I’m more drawn to loop based drone music that build up layers of sonic masses that you could just bathe in. One of the inspirations was in the basement of this huge techno club in Brussels, literally one strobe going on and the place packed with fog so you couldn’t see anything, it was so great.

DD: What does the excessive fog bring to the experience?
Kurt Hentschlager‏:
Fog is a means of cutting you off from your normal ways of sensing and orientating yourself. We live be clear visual and sonic cues of how we situate ourselves in conjunction with the world and with other people. So the fog takes all this away, you can’t judge distance anymore, not just visually but it muffles everything. So all of a sudden the world collapses onto yourself.

DD: Have you been working on similar installations for a while?
Kurt Hentschlager‏:
We did a lot of audio-visual performances in a time where there wasn’t much of it around. We had a sequence of screens and surround sound, et cetera. It was very brutal, like pounding the audience into submission. It was monstrous bass. We had 15 thousand watts of sub bass, some parts had 20. I still keep meeting people sometimes who say they remember my hair standing up and my whole body pounding.

DD: Do you get people coming out claiming to have had strange visions?
Kurt Hentschlager‏: Yes absolutely, people talk about things they’ve seen that obviously weren’t there. I’ve had people come out and think they’ve been talking to a friend, but their friend had left long before. In some people it really instils a minor hallucination, it kind of animates the brain. I think it does set in an emotional process. First of all you don’t understand what you’re seeing, but because we are hard wired to survive, you have to somehow manoeuvre and navigate. On a rational basis you understand that it’s a benign thing; that Vikings won’t start slaughtering you once you get to the front or something, but still something in our brain kicks in and tells you this is unsafe.

DD: How did you see the relationship between the sound and visuals?
Kurt Hentschlager‏: It is a composed, willed sound. In the old days my problem was sound is 3D and video is flat. With this piece the visual experience is hyper 3D surround and starts from within you, there’s no distinction between the inside and the outside and the sound is 2D, it’s very interesting.

DD: Is this a new way of gaining an hallucinogenic experience?
Kurt Hentschlager‏: I hope not, that would be so sad. What I used to like about psychedelic drugs is that you could not switch them off, you had to go there, there’s no escape. So of course, if it’s not a good time it’s horrible, you’re out of control. We use technology as a major means of our civilisation to assert control of the environment, to help us shield form nature, from all the things we’re not in control of, so it’s a desperate means of getting a sense of stability, and we succeeded to a certain extent to do that.

DD: Have you had any strange experiences in the installation yourself?
Kurt Hentschlager‏: I’ve had two very spooky experiences. I was in Sao Paulo before the opening. I was in there tuning the room by myself and all of a sudden I started shivering, it was so eerie, it felt like some presence was there. I’m sure there was no presence whatsoever, I’m not a mystic.

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