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The Slant on Awst & Walther
by Ana Finel Honigman

Berlin, Nov. 2010 - From December 2-19, 2010, the artist duo Awst & Walther will exhibit “The Hole” at Berlin’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien. Visitors during the exhibition’s daylight hours will encounter two large mirrored steel plates facing each other. The plates are pierced with holes interrupting their mutual reflection.

This arresting minimalist sculptural installation is the remaining set from a performance that the Berlin-based couple directed at the exhibition’s opening. For the performance component of “The Hole,” Awst & Walther presented two statuesque nude figures, a female and a male, both wearing classic Grecian metal helmets and poised at opposites ends of a grey industrial curtain which they held between them. The models’ bodies were entirely exposed but their faces were reduced to the thin slits in the metal masks. The figures remained rigid and still outside a series of orchestrated changes of pose. Each alteration in their movements repositioned the cloth that they jointly held, miming the shifts and compromises inherent to functional relationships.

Manon Awst and Benjamin Walther are themselves the quintessential collaborative couple. Here, they even email answers to interview questions as one.

Awst & Walther portrait; Photo: Trevor Good/ Courtesy of the artists

Ana Finel Honigman: Why are you using models instead of performing yourselves?

Awst & Walther: Because we don’t have the ideal, tall, and graceful bodies we imagined for the performance. Also we wanted the figures to be anonymous.

AFH: Are you conceiving these figures as people, deities or representatives of some ideal?

A&W: They are representatives of an ideal, fulfilling a certain idea of beauty. They become like sculptures in the space - their towering, slender bodies are part of a larger installation.

AFH: Germans, like you Benjamin, are famously comfortable with nudity. Manon, you’re Welsh. How different were your upbringings regarding body issues and comfort levels with nudity?

A&W: It was difficult to find the right characters for the performance, who were also open to being naked. Considering our generation’s obsession with images of nudity, it’s surprising how physically shy we are - this is probably what makes these images so appealing. But nudity wasn’t a big theme when we were growing up, and actually this performance is less about nudity than about showing the body in its purest state.

















Awst & Walther, The Hole [performance and installtion views], 2010,Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin; Photo: Trevor Good/ Courtesy of the artists

AFH: What do you think made some of the people who declined to participate uncomfortable? Can you speculate about why we are so “shy” despite our ironic comfort looking at naked bodies?

A&W: Perhaps it’s the context - nudity is accepted in certain public situations but is still a taboo in others. Also we think that people fear being judged, because we can never reach the perfection of the image. The naked body, live, in the flesh cannot be edited and cut, but of course this is what makes it supreme.

AFH: What is the significance of the Grecian helmets?

A&W: We always loved the form and impact of these helmets – how they mask the face with this solid expression and identity, so that the wearer becomes anonymous and somehow inhumane. For us they represent the foundations of our western culture, a haunting reminder of a distant glory that is strongly embedded in our collective memory. They bring to mind theatre and war simultaneously. What is also interesting is that the face is reduced to holes and planes, which relates strongly to the pierced mirror-pieces that we also made for the exhibition.

AFH: How will the viewers own reflections impact the experience of looking into the mirrors? Are you interested in the viewers comparing themselves to the models or feeling included in their environment?

A&W: It’s not our intention to compare the audience to the models, although the models could be regarded as generic beings. It’s more to do with the broken reflection – the image of the self that is chaotic and incomplete. The space created between both mirrors is complex and many layered: fragments of the body merge with fragments of the environment, which is in turn mirrored infinitely. Is the intact reflection we see in front of us every morning in the bathroom mirror any more real than this? We’re interested in the shift of focus.

















Awst & Walther, The Hole [performance and installtion views], 2010,Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin; Photo: Trevor Good/ Courtesy of the artists

AFH: Are you looking for a fashion model aesthetic or a more sexualized look to your models?

A&W: We decided to work with models because of their ideal body proportions and strong posture. Both our models are also trained actors, which means that they are very aware of their presence in front of an audience. It has little to do with fashion or sex.

AFH: But it does relate to beauty. How are you separating beauty from sexuality?

A&W: Of course the beautiful naked body cannot be separated from sex, but we’re not sexualizing the body specially – for us it is not a theme in the piece. It has a lot to do with how it’s directed – what kind of light hits their bodies, how they hold themselves, the interaction between both of them, and their connection with the audience and their surroundings. But ultimately it depends on the viewer’s own reading and projection.

AFH: Are these models doubles for you two?

A&W: They are doubles for all of us. They represent the male and the female.

AFH: How do you react to outsiders' curiosity about your particularly collaborative relationship and its role in your work?

A&W: People are curious about how the collaboration works. They ask us how pieces are made – who did what, if we each have a particular role within the working relationship. Of course we do, but it’s not defined. We were chatting to a curator recently who told us that listening to us talk is like ping-pong - we react to and bounce off each other, and this is how the work develops.

AFH: That is really lovely. Are you concerned that the narrative of your relationship can be distracting to the other issues you address in your work?

A&W: No. This has never been an issue so far.

Awst & Walther, The Hole; Photo: Trevor Good/ Courtesy of the artists

AFH: What will remain in the gallery after the performance?

A&W: The mirror-pieces in the first room and the material remains of the performance. There will also be a performance photograph as a document of what took place.

AFH: How does this work relate to your previous performances?

A&W: We’re interested in exploring the daily mechanisms that reaffirm and express society’s common identity. If we begin to challenge what we know, what we think we know, and what we take for granted, things start to become exciting. Boundaries, thresholds, and holes - all found within our daily rituals.

In this piece, the spatial experience is constantly shifting. Views and passages are created and destroyed. The visitor is always somewhere new - temporary rooms, a wall, then emptiness. The format of the performance is also disorientating: Is this theatre? Sculpture? A protest? It stirs the visitor out of routine comfort.


Artslant would like to thank Manon Awst and Benjamin Walther for their assistance in making this interview possible.

--Ana Finel Honigman

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