So you may have heard that we’re throwing a party. On Thursday, July 16th we’re teaming up with Slush, the biggest tech conference in the Nordics to throw the Tech Open Air afterparty. We’re so excited about it, we’ve been shouting it from the rooftops (literally – our office has a roof terrace!). There’s an amazing lineup of performers scheduled – check it out here.
Collage, video and performance artist Katie Armstrong brings something really very special to the mix. Originally from New York, she now works in Berlin. Katie very kindly sat down with me at the Eigen+Art Lab to talk about performance, place, and the parallels between art and tech.
Can you tell me about the piece you’ll be performing at the party?
The piece, like all of my work is very, very personal and this one in particular is me working through a very, very difficult memory […] that has really shaped a lot of things for me in the present.
When I moved to Berlin I decided that it was time for me to deal with that memory and to work through it and be able to release it and learn from it and evolve. So this piece is really me working through this very, very traumatic experience and then coming to a place of peace and forgiving myself and forgiving the other individual that was involved in the situation and just letting it go.
So I’ll be projecting an animation that I’ve made and I’ll be singing the soundtrack live. So it’ll be very immediate and very intimate and very emotional.
Is it difficult performing something so personal in front of an audience?
What I’ve really come to understand in doing these performances and having these exhibitions and things is that the more personal the work is, the more universal it is. Because we all are carrying these secrets and these experiences and all sorts of baggage from our lives […] sometimes just talking about something isn’t enough. We need to re-experience certain feelings to reckon with them.
What I always try to remind myself when I feel ashamed or embarrassed about having these very public displays of these private things, is that when I go to an exhibition or when I go to see a band play that I love or when I go to a performance or something I am always so moved and so transported and so changed by the work and I’m so grateful that people are willing to be that open because I need that. And I think we all kind of need that because it’s just so hard being a person. And we really are in it together and when I’m performing I feel that so intensely.
The people that are there, the energy of the space, it’s so shared and everyone is a part of it. Everyone is making it happen because as a performer you can’t help but react to the way that people are reacting. And so it feels so collaborative and really, it just feels really powerful.
You danced competitively for several years. Does that discipline affect how you create your art?
I do think so. I’m very much a taskmaster for myself. I really, I push pretty hard and I’m very routined in my practice of working. I wake up at 9, I have my coffee, I’m in the studio at 10 with my coffee and I have to be touching a paintbrush or like you know writing or doing something until the sun goes down and then I’m free. It’s going to be what it needs to be.
How did you find yourself in Germany?
When I graduated from art school I was given a grant and accepted into this artist’s residency in Leipzig. I lived there for 5 months. When I was in Leipzig, that’s where I met the gallery Eigen+Art. They found me and the relationship started there. They put me in several group shows over the years so I would go to New York and back to Berlin but then, yeah at a certain point I was like, ‘if you guys know of any residencies here that could bring me back for a little while, that would be cool!!’.
So they hooked me up with the [Axel Springer] Plug ‘n’ Play [Accelerator] residency which was really an interesting experience. It was really different. I had never worked in a space like that before. It was an adventure.
Do you see any parallels between the art world and the tech world?
I do. We’re these tiny little organisations. I’m an organisation of one, but a startup is maybe two friends or three people that have this sometimes crazy idea that no-one on earth is actually asking for at the moment. But we have this sense that it’s something that needs to be brought into fruition and we’re all looking for our tribe. We’re looking for the people that are also looking for that thing and so need that thing.
And on a more practical level, startups are looking for investors to do believe in them and support them so they can keep working and suss this thing out and make it really good and artists need the generosity of collectors in order to keep going. What I’m learning about that is that the relationship between artist and collector is a really special and beautiful thing that transcends the whole money thing. It’s like this person sees your work and they really believe it deserves to be on this earth and they like really believe in you as a person that creates this stuff and they really want you to keep going. They really want to see the next thing. They really want to support you and I think I share that with startups.
Perhaps it’s not quite as personal because they’re not sharing their darkest secrets in the work that they make but it’s still the same. We’re all human and we’re all trying to work on something that we believe gives our time here on this earth meaning and purpose.
Tell me about your relationship with Eigen+Art.
I think we’re going to be best friends forever. He [‘Judy’ – Gerd Harry Lybke]’s been so fucking wonderful to me. I’ve known him now for 5 years or so and he’s really not only welcomed me into the Eigen+Art family as an artist, but just on a personal level he’s welcomed me into his actual family. This is a really special gallery. Everyone who works here is really sweet and kind and just genuine and so supportive.
Does place affect your work?
It’s always in the work. You can always tell. In New York I was making much shorter pieces both because to live in New York I had to work a full-time job and I was just hustling all the time.
Here in Berlin, I have so much more control over the pace of my life. Instead of the city pushing me forward and really dictating the shape of my life, Berlin is just a friend that’s like, ‘hey, you do you! I trust you!’. And so I have so much more time and space to think and to play and to you know to be able to make mistakes and not be afraid to try new things because maybe I will make mistakes but it’s okay. I can learn from that mistake and I can put that aside. I don’t have to include it in the finished piece. The pressure is different.
Do you think that technology is changing art?
For people who’re working with video and new media that can be easily played online or interacted with online, I think yeah, something is happening. I love the possibilities of people discovering my work online and being able to have a really intimate experience with it online.
I get emails from people all the time that have stumbled upon my work and really felt some feelings and felt it enough to want to tell me about it and that’s beautiful. And I feel the same way about so many artists that I love and I have that same kind of gratitude and it’s wonderful how accessible everyone is and it’s great to see someone’s process.
Is there anything that people should know about your work before they see you perform on Thursday?
I think expectations are silly, so I want people to just be open and to just be ready to feel some feelings with me.
Are you ready to feel feelings? The fragile strength of her work will break your heart and build it right back up again. Do not miss this performance.
If you haven’t already told us you’re coming to the shindig make sure to RSVP on our Facebook event page.
Images pilfered from Katie Armstrong with kind permission.