Interview by Meritxell Rosell
Foul-up: [noun] an occasion when something is spoiled by a stupid mistake
-English Oxford Dictionary
Mistakes often significantly influence the origin of artistic (and scientific) works and can ultimately change their direction. Foul-Up is a new record label based in Berlin that explores different aspects of digital and human error in the (dis)information era and its relation to art genesis: Foul-Up acknowledges the importance of unintentional and intentional foul-ups for the creation of art. The uncertainty of the foul-up might be a foundation of the art creation, or it might be sought to be experienced through the work of art.
Nicolai Vesterkær Krog is the mind behind this exciting newcomer. And he is particularly interested in finding visual aesthetics that match the productions he puts out in Foul-Up. When asked how he approaches this, he is clear: I choose the visual artists and the music artists whose work compliments the music, either with an aesthetic link or as a contrast. Because the label is about supporting the artists’ visions, I typically emphasise personal ties with the people involved. Sometimes the links between the music and the visuals are rooted in friendships between the artists so that the relationship is the reason for working together, with thematic connections being less outspoken. But of course, the visual work as a match for the music is debated each time between the artists, the designer – Tilmann Steffen Wendelstein from The Simple Society – and myself.
One of Foul-Up’s interesting multidisciplinary collaborations comes from Copenhagen’s Beastie Respond (Tobias Hjørnet Pedersen) and Eva Papamargariti and their work for Information City (2017), Beastie’s new album. Information City is the second album from Beastie Respond, a production that attempts to reflect this world straightforwardly. Information City is the simulacrum in which we live and exist, where our cultural identities exist primarily as representations of a real without origin, he explains. Considering the amount of data we upload and consume every year , it’s becoming more apparent that this exponential growth is unlikely to stop. At the same time, as this is expanding data pool grows, making sense of it becomes concurrently more difficult; the distinctions between dream and reality, fact and fiction, and truth and lie fade into obscurity.
Nicolai expands: Regarding “Information City”, the artwork approach slightly differed from the label’s three previous releases, partly because certain topics were informing the work more clearly. As Tobias’ work for the album was getting refocused a few times along the way, its thematic side got gradually more defined, and we both felt it was quite important that the artwork reflected some of the same spirits as the music. It was Tilmann who introduced Tobias and me to Eva’s work. Eva and I have not met in real life, unlike how I’ve worked with the artists for other covers, yet entirely appropriate for “Information City”. Eva sent us to work based on her perception of the music and its mood and thematics, and from that selection, we chose the image.
Eva is a Greek visual artist based in London with an architecture and visual communication background. Her work approaches digital and physical environments exploring themes related to simultaneity, the merging and dissolving of our surroundings with the virtual. Eva and Tobias (via Foul-Up) have also recently co-presented an event together at Berlin’s art film shop Image Movement (a subsidiary of the Sprüth Magers galleries), with some of Eva’s animated works and musical accompaniment by Beastie Respond.
How would you describe the symbiotic collaboration behind the artwork and album for Information City?
Tobias: From my perspective, there is a clear nexus between my music and the visual work of Eva Papamargariti. Eva’s work has depth, colour and complexity in many of the same ways as my music. The only difference is that her art is visual, and mine is sonic. When I look at the artwork Eva did for my album, I see the Information City.
It’s an artistic expression of the digital public space of the Internet. You see the various interconnected networks and different currents of information oozing in between. It’s almost like a psycho-geographic city map of the Internet. It could be a map of your own favourite parts of the Internet or the interest bubbles you move within that define what the world looks like when you look at it through your socio-political contact lens. I find it interesting to study how the representation and the de- and reconstruction of socio-political events fluctuate depending on the current information we tap into. These dynamics are exceptionally strong within the digital public space of the Internet.
Information City is my sonic informational pathology, and Eva Papamargaritis’s artwork is the histology. My outset for adding this extra layer of pondering to my music comes from my years at university, where I did Planning- and Urban Studies. My core interest throughout my studies was the political and systemic dominance that permeates the layout and architecture of public space and how this dominance affects human behaviour within said space. In public spaces, we aren’t free to express ourselves however we want. There is a public order that is upheld by authorities and by the social control of “normal behaviour” we exercise over each other.
When you go online, people behave quite differently. Here you find platforms for all types of (self) expression, and you can join communities matching your interest and sexual-, political- and religious beliefs. The immediate freedom seems bigger online. Seemingly, no authority will ensure that “outrageous” behaviour is kept to a minimum like in “the real world”. Here information and opinions float free, communities flourish, and political agendas are formed. There is no apparent order as there is in public space. There is constant chaos out of which both good and bad things emerge.
I liked the definition, “Information City is my sonic informational pathology, and Eva Papamargariti’s artwork is the histology.” Could you elaborate a bit more about it? (Particularly on the sonic informational pathology)
Tobias: I think borrowing concepts from medicine provides a good metaphor for what I am trying to express with the album. The purpose the album serves, from my perspective, is a sonic representation of the reality that I live in myself as well as other young people such as myself. Of course, it’s a subjective representation but MY representation nonetheless. There are two trajectories in this “pathology”.
One is about political agenda setting on social media conduits, and one is about social control and the stress that many young people undergo while observing their peers’ endlessly more interesting social lives on social media with low self-esteem and self-doubt as a result. I am mainly concerned with how extreme right-wing politics are formed and popularised via social media. How it’s made accessible to a broad audience by using what on the surface seems to be harmless irony and sarcasm – but it isn’t.
This type of agenda-setting wouldn’t have been possible to the same extent 15 years ago. It’s mainly possible because of the information technology available today. On the other hand, it’s a positive thing that political influence has been democratised. You do not need millions of dollars of sponsorships and corporations backing your campaign – all you need is a video camera and the dankest memes. Then you’re ready to spread hate and news stories backed with dodgy pseudo-scientific sources.
The other trajectory mentioned above is about getting a glimpse into our friends, co-workers and idols’ perfect lives. On Instagram, everyone is having a perfect day all the time. Their perfect meals, perfect trips to the woods collecting fresh mushrooms, the best grades in school, going to museums, having wonderful holidays, staying at the best hotels, and playing the best gigs in front of the biggest crowds.
The amount of social control we exercise over each puts each of us under tremendous amounts of stress. No one shows the toil and trouble that makes these indulgences possible, and the downside of the medal is something we rarely see. I’m not trying to shame those who have worked hard to achieve great things. Still, I fear that the effect of the way success, to a great extent, is being represented on social media is a generation of youth who will mirror their own lives with what they see on social media.
These two themes are what I am trying to digest and represent. I might seem conservative and backwards-looking. But I am just concerned and unsure of what to make of it all. It’s hectic, and it’s difficult to navigate all this information and mania, sorting the inputs and tying and disentangling them in a way that doesn’t make your life seem shit. So the sonic informational pathology is my study of the symptoms of a society in distress where the blame is put on refugees, people with non-binary genders, and anyone or anything that “threatens” the apparently very feeble Western “culture”.
For Information City, you set no limits on your sample sources; instead of taking fragments from a vast array of media, could you explain what were these sources and why they were interesting for you to use them?
Tobias: I wanted to impose what I tried to describe above directly in the music, and therefore sampling from memes on Youtube and the likes thereof seemed like a suitable instrument to achieve that. While I paint a bleak picture with my “pathology”, I also wanted to project the challenges of navigating the stream of information with a sense of humour. I can’t count how many hours I have wasted laughing at meaningless rubbish on Youtube while I intended to do something meaningful with my time. It’s easy to get sidetracked and to numb yourself looking at checking cute doggies.
It could also be tiny bits of riffs of songs that I like or fragments of speeches and poems. Not necessarily sampling but more coupling of disparate sources of inspiration. For this album, inspiration wasn’t something that “came” to me, but rather something I chose to amplify the idea of fleeting attention and incomprehensible information. A significant portion of the inspiration that I chose was in literature from authors like Baudrillard and Guy Debord.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during the development of the collaboration?
Tobias: I think the biggest challenge was to streamline the narratives that are present in both Eva’s and my work. As Eva said, she is occupied with the blurred lines between biology and technology. And I am occupied with the task of navigating information sorting true from false. I think we found a common interest in how advanced technology influences life and how humans work to organise the tension between artificial and “real” life. Our focuses, for now, are on slightly different levels of this matter. This challenge has inspired me to research the field where technology and human life intertwine more thoroughly.
Eva: As Tobias mentioned, a strong challenge was to find the intercept point between our narratives and somehow let them interact without forcing anything, which was also essential for us. Thankfully, this happened naturally because we might use different mediums and approaches in our practice. Still, we both create work that merges themes and tries to balance between personal perspectives and social, political or scientific narratives that feel quite prominent in the present context.
Eva, In Always a Body, Always a Thing, you mix the biological and the digital. You have an architecture background. Where does the inspiration and interest in biological systems come from?
Eva: My intention in Always a Body, Always a Thing was to blur the line between organic and synthetic, real and constructed, facts and myth. Achieving that through the process of overlapping animated material, news sources, found videos, text and sound – all surrounding the idea of plasticization, xenoscience, soft bodies, mutation and material circulation.
My interest in biological systems has always fascinated me in the science fiction context, but the last years have become an important part of my artistic research and practice. Biological systems can become guides and set examples of how other systems develop and act. Observing them from macroscale to microscale, they embed sets of characteristics (in form and function) that are extremely intriguing and relate to notions of adaptation, metamorphosis, resilience, and entropy (among others) that feed my practice and interest me extensively.
Many of those systems seem to construct a resistance towards the state of permanence; they are in a constant condition of change. Lyotard wrote in 1977 ‘What is important is no longer the object, a concretion inherited from the codes, but metamorphosis, fluidity” and if we create an analogy, this shift from the object or the body towards a series of infinite transformative states is something I find fascinating. Apart from that, I am also very intrigued by the fact that these systems contain various apparatuses that, in the present times, become integral parts of the inevitable entanglement between technological and natural structures.
What is your chief enemy of creativity?
Eva: I think sometimes I deliberately sabotage the creative process by giving in to this great desire to delay important decisions at the beginning of each project and let things happen at the last minute. I always manage to complete my projects on time, but I guess I don’t always use my time resources in the bests of the way.
For example, I might spend many days repeatedly analysing the conceptual part of a project and then get extremely stressed when it’s time for the realisation; I guess its part of a self-doubt process that relates to decision-making and the many possibilities for action that occur and exist at the beginning of each project.