Interview by Olya Karlovich
Alice Hoffmann-Fuller is an iconic figure in London’s cultural scene. Many people know her because of the famous club Corsica Studios, where she has held various roles since opening, and today takes care of operations and art direction and co-curates the Schemata digital gallery and live art programme. Alice herself is also engaged in artistic practices, although she talks much more modestly about her successes along this path. She is not your average contemporary artist, eschewing moments of public recognition, believing art – not the artist – should be at the fore.
Alice works with different media and disciplines — from digital AV to music, performance, and poetry, sometimes creating personal visual projects and installations under an anonymous alter ego, signing a non-disclosure agreement with shows organizers in order to express different facets of her practice and avoid being defined. The latest work Alice presented under her own name was the new Auto.Corp™ exhibition running on the New Art City virtual platform.
Auto.Corp™ examines the current state of human choice and the illusion of control over our own lives in the digital capitalism era. By bringing together the three virtual worlds of Auto-Culturo-Quota, Auto-Boutique and A[i]utopia, Alice created an imaginary future corporation that delivers aesthetic experiences. The role of such a bizarre factory is to offer convenience by forming a limited palette of recommendations, the sinister downside of which is the loss of autonomy as we surrender the control panel to corporate hands. Thus, the artist questions the morpheme ‘Auto’ in the modern life context. Alice invites us to take a deeper look at our relationship with voluntary and involuntary actions and explore how they affect the evolution of humans and society. What would it be if we relied entirely on automated systems?
A response to actual challenges and issues, as well as a keen desire to support those who would be “shut down”, is the backbone of Alice Hoffmann-Fuller’s work. Creative expression for her is a ‘platform for activism, to expose injustice, discrimination and capitalist exploitation’. She believes in art based not on rules and protocols but on experimentation/transformation, social expression, co-creation and openness to all creative directions. Working at Corsica Studios/Schemata with both newcomers and established artists, Alice and her teammates promote the idea that art can ‘sit alongside with clubbing’, not just be displayed in the sterile spaces of galleries and museums.
Interaction between different art communities, as well as interdisciplinary practices, is what sparks Alice’s interest as a curator. And the recent Schemata exhibition, Exquisite World, is a successful example of how several curators and artists with contrasting visions, styles, and approaches create and connect within a given theme while not limiting themself.
Alice Hoffmann-Fuller delves into new projects and research at the juncture of concepts. She is not averse to risk-taking and provocative actions that resonate with contemporary narratives. Presenting even serious topics, such as human relations with the digital and future capitalist world, in a seemingly irreverent manner, luring the viewer in to question their own and society’s motives and come to their own conclusions.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and inspirations for our audience unfamiliar with your work?
Shit…where to start… Activism expressed creatively, in whatever form that takes, is beauty to me.
I’m at a point in life where a lot of my work is informed by my current feelings about my heritage, and although I have a need to acknowledge the reasoning behind my work, I also don’t want to use this as some kind of proof of authenticity or validity, or to forward my own end, but I do feel the absolute need to redress the balance.
This is where I’m coming from and what drives me personally. My concepts orbit around the need to hide my work whilst being aware that it needs to be seen to achieve its purpose, questioning themes around “does art exist without a viewer”. It’s a constant personal dichotomy.
I have a deep interest in identity and ownership brought about by a history of family and personal discrimination and persecution. My great grandfather Eugen Hoffmann was one of the Degenerate artists “exhibited” (humiliated) in the Entartete Kunst shows “curated” by the Nazis prior to WW2. His work was held up and ridiculed, and many pieces were confiscated, hidden and destroyed, not solely for their content but because of his political, artistic and religious identity.
He was an active communist, and spoke politically through his work with a Jewish background (having a Jewish name and a Jewish wife). We originate from the Black Forest area, known then as Bohemia, then to Dresden, then as political refugees to the UK. With a further 2 generations of artists before me, including a creative mother and father, I’m the sum of all of this plus my own personal journey, which I’m very private about.
I am a polymath. (It’s not a boast, I literally can’t settle on my best method of expression.) I’m a bassist in a long-term project, currently in a media blackout while awaiting a new release, and bassist in a new project, “Klank Monster”. I am a writer of poetry and theory and a performance poet when I can. I work in digital AV (video and soundscapes), digital architecture for virtual environments and sensitive, hands-off curation of others’ works. I have an anonymous alter-ego that is also a visual artist whose work is exhibited aside from me, and those who work with this alternate personality are required to sign an NDA in order to protect the artist identity.
It’s inspired by this almost genetic reaction to persecution for identity and political association. It is a contrived artistic conceptual statement, but then also a personal hang-up and detachment from the discomfort associated with gained acknowledgement and respect. In other words, I don’t handle praise well. However, I have no fear of public admittance of struggle, funnily, and an almost fatal abhorrence of systemic hierarchy and the language of perceived status, and I have a great need to support and nurture those that would be ignored or shut down.
This is what inspires me. It’s not your conventional artistic journey, and I’m proud of that. I’m not likely to self-promote, reference, or be defined, I’m afraid. I like the audience to be unfamiliar with my work! It gives me the freedom to change at will. I’m aware that I’m obfuscating here… I much prefer to write about others.
Corsica Studios was founded in the late 90s before finding a permanent home in SE17 (London) in 2002. How has your journey been with it? What were the main ideas and aims behind its inception? Have these kept the same throughout the years, or is it something that has been evolving?
Corsica Studios’ inception was as an arts club. It was started by close friends Adrian Jones and Amanda Moss (sadly, Amanda died in 2017). Amanda was a superb artist and great friend, and both had a creative idea to make unused spaces available to artists to rehearse, refine, perform and exhibit their works. Initially in Corsica St, Islington (hence the name). Then Midland Rd, Kings Cross, before moving to other spaces south of the river. Eventually, settling in Elephant and Castle.
At this time, my partner and I were working in the illegal party scene and warehouse events all over London, and there became a convergence of this party/project scene with Corsica’s new available space and their adventurous foresight. Then the regularity of events at Corsica became a sustainable, though not-for-profit, business. The core beliefs at the venue have always remained, and although there are more staff to pay and more overheads, the basic belief still pervades; that the regular events cover day-to-day running costs to allow room for risk-taking in cultural and creative experimentation… and it’s successful! Look at the 0 nights from Hyperdub; these were such a breath of fresh air in the clubbing scene, and a real signal to the sector that we should be diversifying our approach to include promoting/programming creative events, too – that art can sit alongside clubbing, and this will raise the cultural bar of what is ostensibly a hedonistic endeavour.
I’ve worked on and off in various roles at Corsica pretty much since the start and really appreciate the support given while exploring my own personal artistic practice from under its secure umbrella. I will forever acknowledge Adrian (founder) for giving me the chance and support to get things off the ground. This is a very “Corsica Family” approach.
In 2021 Schemata was born as a response from Corsica Studios to the Covid-19 pandemic. What would you say makes Schemata different from other online galleries and cultural institutions? How do you position it in the experimental London scene? And how do you see the London experimental scene doing these days?
Ahhh, yes. Those lockdowns. That Isolation. That “disaster capitalism” that we could advantage ourselves of. For the first time, we accessed public funding. We got a foot in the door. (I will, at this point, bring in Charlie Clark, my co-conspirator and co-curator within Schemata, and just say that without her belief, Schemata wouldn’t have happened.) A year or two before the pandemic, we conspired to create an arts platform; we wrestled over and with ideas and possibilities and the reasons for doing it and were at a point of realising it when the shit hit the fan and all shut down. Schemata pre-existed as the blueprint (the Schematic), but in reality, was given its lifeblood by disaster and crisis.
We always intended to do events with performance and exhibition[ism] that would use all areas and possibilities within whatever space we inhabited. Through successful funding bids, we received enough budget to create an online, virtual version of Corsica and approached New Art City with a proposal. They were in beta mode and hadn’t had a venue approach them yet… We received a reply from them verging on “Black Mirror” drama and intrigue, which simply said, “We’ve been waiting for you…..” How could we resist? They helped us to render architecture based on 3d scans we had of the venue (looking back, I laugh at what we thought we could achieve with those scans, but NAC were supportive and gentle with us in our unrealistic expectations!).
We wanted to create a group show that supported artists who were at the thin end of the wedge of the crisis, welcoming artists that were diverse, underrepresented, probably in financial need and who also produced outstanding work relevant to the theme we’d decided on: – An unflinching acceptance of the void, the black hole that we’d found ourselves in, as a venue and as people and artists, giving birth to the Vortex exhibition. We live-streamed excellent music into the space for the launch, and it was actually like a real clubbing/art experience only on a screen, with great attendance and party vibes, in the top 3 most attended shows at NAC ever.
These online party launches have become our signature M.O. We gave space and funds to some artists who hadn’t exhibited before, too, taking risks and enjoying this safe environment to experiment in; we learned a shitload of software and digital skills along the way.
We’re not just an online gallery; we’ve also supported and funded through Corsica multiple IRL shows and events (with more to come), from Kode9’s Astro-Darien to Most Dismal Swamp’s live event. We’re positioned at the intersection of ALL strands of the creative arts and expression, and this is how we want it. We will not be swayed or pigeon-holed. Our main focus is, and always will be, to give voice to those gagged by circumstance or lack of support. We are interested in those not educated in knowing “the rules”, and intentional ignorance of the correct protocols.
This is where fresh, exciting art lies and broadens the gene pool and makes being an artist more accessible and the art itself more accessible to a wider audience. We curate with this in mind, and to me, this is what sets us apart. We just want to create space for intense, beautiful and thought-provoking, rule-breaking work to happen.
We have core values sent to every prospective artist that outline our ethical stance but also forewarn those artists involved who are more established that they have a duty to support those on their first trip…. A kind of mentoring. We also offer support with funding applications, letters of recommendation and general after-show connections. Community art has such a dull and municipal reputation, but in reality, it should be exactly like this.
Why would we get a foot in the door and then close it for others? We want, actually need, to connect. There’s a niche, exclusionary side to the (high-art) artistic communities that drastically needs to change. It’s naturally borne out of a need to defend one’s position, understandably so, but now is the time for the alternative to coalesce. We love the idea of collaboration and sharing and joining all those independent worlds and making a bigger and more expanded voice that can’t be ignored.
What have been the most significant challenges?
There are those very real challenges of FUNDING (yes, please, more please, potential benefactors, reading this!) And funding applications. OMG! Dense, sterile, text-speak representations of your life’s work in a character-limited text box, drowning in an administrative quagmire of the application portal to hell…hahaha… (Grantium users, you know this!)
Then the cliff-face learning curve of new technology and how to use it and literally the time spent- sleepless nights learning how to make and edit digital worlds, the remote meetings, the back and forth across emails… The isolation. The practical aspects of helping artists who work physically convert work to digital. Then the pushing, promoting, all the time fighting to prove the projects’ validity and convince people of the need for something like this. It’s an adrenal nightmare. Nurturing, unfortunately, isn’t all pleasant hand-holding of artists; it’s also the reality of persuading people to invest time, funds and effort. This and endeavouring to find a safe median between multiple different artists and their individual needs (and creative egos, including ours!) It’s exhausting.
Schemata is a contemporary experimental art platform showcasing works from emerging and established artists pushing the boundaries in sound and vision. So how is roughly the process when you envisage all these different formats articulating and balancing? Is it something planned or that happens naturally? And why does it make sense from your point of view to integrate all this?
This is a very natural and organic process, even in a digital environment, because we’re unhindered by referencing and defining ourselves according to other curators and projects, it makes this part so satisfying. We are very considerate in our approach to curating. It is not about some contrivance of our own personal aesthetic vision that we use artists and their work as tools to achieve. So this makes it not only feel better to us in a wholesome way but also makes for improvisation and serendipity that can mould and sculpt the shows, helping them to gain further meaning and depth along the way.
We’ll have a basic idea and try not to complicate it, then invite artists to interact, have meetings, discuss their needs and throw everything up in the air…then start to gently organise it into its natural position as it falls to the ground… if that makes sense. That’s not to say it’s happenstance, but more that it’s allowed the space and freedom to find its place naturally within each show through gentle experimentation.
We find that the [in]experience of an artist bears zero relation to how their piece might fit curatorially and also that extreme themes can sit in a show alongside pieces that have humour and frivolity if curated well with the context and narrative made clear. In our previous show IDENT there was a film by Wet Mess, that she brought unfinished. The piece developed a different, more sensitive, intense meaning as she completed it. Tackling themes of abortion. We all felt it should be brave and direct, as the subject needs exposure and normalising, so we didn’t want to lock it away in a private space, like some shameful secret… but keep it in a group/room setting and be open about difficulty and discomfort.
Our latest show ~ Exquisite World, was inspired by current ideas around World-Building, and as Schemata’s shows have a natural trajectory (formed from the “vortex” gaining “ident”-ity, then trying to connect our creative (exquisite) worlds), it seemed a natural next step. Taking inspiration from the surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse, we invited curators to further invite artists to inhabit a piece of our virtual space and build a mini-world representative of their ideas around what world-building means to them. It turned out to be a very successful way to connect differing artistic communities, within the same show, with significantly contrasting styles and approaches, yet somehow not jumbled chaos.
We definitely have ideas way above our station and see ourselves as a miniature representation of huge cultural concerns. So we work with this model. Imagine the bigger organisations that have the space to house everything from performance events to sculpture and visual art, film, sound etc., everything under one roof, sometimes together in the same room… I don’t believe in being self-limiting, why bother having to explain why you now have dance as part of your programme when you said you wouldn’t? Seems pretty illogical. We see many pies and want fingers in them all. We don’t gate-keep. We’re not the arbiters of what is or isn’t art; in fact, we don’t even have to like all of the art we curate. Why should we? Does it work, is it relevant, and will it benefit the artists, the audience, and the show?… Does it push boundaries? Either for that particular artist or the world in general? These are the things that matter. Balancing this is easy, in my opinion, both physically and conceptually.
What are the exciting things coming in the upcoming months? What’s in the making, and could you tell us a bit more about the residency you have been doing with NAC? What are the main takes or reflections (it can be at the creative or more personal level) after completing it?
I’m currently on a creative sabbatical from Corsica while I complete some really exciting projects and get some ready for public consumption with a return to Corsica in a more creative role after summer, I’m looking forward to expanding Corsica’s arts programme.
The music project Klank Monster is very nearly gig-ready, so watch this space for live performances from Autumn; it’s an expressionist, minimal, extremely heavy, angular, experimental three-piece, which has been hanging around as an idea for years, finally brought to reality by meeting an insanely enthusiastic drummer who literally forced it into being! (Thanks, Arturo!)
My anonymous alter-ego has various visual installations in the pipeline…following recent works appearance, both in AR at Miami Art Basel and IRL projected onto a building in Nuremberg, their work in visuals/3d design is gaining traction and making appearances at upcoming art and music events…which I can’t be more detailed about for obvious reasons! Yes! I’ve just launched my virtual residency show with New Art City, which has been a real labour of love and has been forming as an idea for many months.
Based around the prefix Auto – The show Auto.Corp™ focuses on an imaginary fantasy future Big Corp, that provides experiential packages. It’s a 3 part show (with a preview space “Auto.Vend” that launched at the NAC festival in March) It starts with Auto.Culturo.Quota, which is an artwork delivery system, takes the viewer on a restricted journey through a future gallery, fulfilling a designated cultural quota, then onto Auto.Boutique, which is a parody of current commercial lifestyle platforms, offering convenient identity choices, but in reality no choice at all… and the finale- A[i]utopia which is a human (me) conceiving what I believe infant-AI would create given prompts to generate Utopia (it’s meta-meta!).
The prompts being Nature, Science and Death/Afterlife. It was a challenge, both time/work-wise, as it’s probably the biggest individual show made for NAC (I really like to make hard work for myself…haha!), but also, the ideas I had around more user interactivity meant I had to work closely with NAC enabling new JS code to activate image choices etc., in an identity mini-game and also some updates to the audio UI, so audio editing could be more effective.
This means there’s now more ability for the viewer to spatially mix the audio by proximity and movement, and this feature has been widely used, particularly in A[i]ut0piA (enhanced by some sound contributions from sound artist Ruaridh Law) with audio user-interactivity featuring as a main theme within the piece 1+1=3. The whole show really is hung up on the idea that peopleonly have a little control in life (illustrated by this user-interactivity) yet we give it up daily to automation and “recommends”. So it was vital to have this level of interactivity. NAC were amazing at helping to achieve this.
In times of societal crisis, complicated relationships with technology and political strain, what role do you think art plays today in describing contemporary society?
All forms of expression are going to be informed by contemporary issues, good or bad. This point in time is a fulcrum, as things could go either way. It’s a point where some of the everyday inhibition has been overturned as people stopped caring so much about what others think during the pandemic.
Crisis is a great leveller and a blank canvas and had the potential to give rise to thinking beyond; however, we’ll see how long that lasts, as we’re in a dire era, verging on poverty and isolation in the UK. Brexit has brought with it a defensive, insular loneliness and individualism, affecting the cost of living and widening the Poverty Gap Index to virtually irreparable. Then with the top 10% owning more than all the others put together, we’re bound to question this and how we can express dissatisfaction with it, and art/creativity is the route-one way of doing this. In fact, with the right to protest now being made illegal, creative expression is actually the last remaining platform for activism, to expose injustice, discrimination and capitalist exploitation.
I see some great creative projects emerging and voicing opinions on it in a really thought-provoking way. Like Most Dismal Swamp… I love the way the project exposes the banality of tech/human/commercial saturation and the impenetrable language used to describe our relationship with the digital and future capitalist world. It’s ultimately serious but intelligently playful in its delivery, unmasking the “high-art” trope. Gossamer Fog and Arebyte also give a platform to experimentation and risk-taking – supporting extreme expression and enabling art to explain its context publicly. It’s really exciting in South London right now. I see us and these other projects at a very pivotal point in artistic endeavour, less multi and inter and more cross-disciplinary and at the juncture of concept, societal expression, transformation and communion.
How do you envision the gallery of the so-called “new normal” after the global distancing restrictions are lifted? Do you think the online exhibitions and events we are experiencing these days will continue?
Is there a “New Normal”? I’m not sure there can or ever will be anything that will stay still enough to be defined as that. There’s no “new”, I’m afraid, and never a “normal”. We just find new combinations and ever more ludicrous ways to normalise and market output. It’s time we grew up and realised the most radical and innovative ideas never get the exposure they deserve, and this needs to evolve…
Galleries have a duty to inspire and draw audiences in any era (including post-pandemic) with what they have at hand to use. They/we now have more options to support artists to inspire and create; it should always be about the art/ists, not the mode of delivery.
I know that there is anxiety in the world of online and virtual projects without its captive lockdown audience, but most of this anxiety is drip-fed to creative organisations by naysayers who have to bring doom to situations…. We were already heading in a direction of hybrid exhibition and performance and also hybrid marketing techniques. We will soon visit virtual shops etc., instead of scrolling vapid, ugly pages on a website. This technology is here to stay and will remain to augment what we produce IRL/Flesh-side. To me, it’s just a given- another medium. It’s like saying home drinking/drug-taking won’t happen now people can do it in public again… pfft.
What would be your chief enemy of creativity?
Buzz-kill…. Organic bodies being inefficient and letting you down. Kill-joys with lack of belief. I’m not reactionary to the point of finding fun or “drive” in constantly fighting against naysayers. I find it tedious. Nothing dampens my ardour more than someone with an “it can’t happen” attitude, or y’ know… thinking about the finances. Ugh!
You couldn’t live without…
My support network- Charli, my life partner. The other Charlie, my Schemata partner in crime. Those that believe in what we’re trying to achieve. Those friends that you can message late at night and get to test my virtual spaces! (you know who you are!) My computer. My allotment. Caffeine and other friends… Long nights in deep, inspiring conversation, hatching plans of world domination and days spent trying to realise those plans…. Humour. You’ve got to laugh, yes.