Lukas Hofmann at Moderna Museet Malmö

Artist: Lukas Hofmann

Performers: Mirabella Paidamwoyo Dziruni, Dourane Fall, Lukas Hofmann, Scott Hopper, Nicole Walker, Marat Zakirov

Title: Into the Unknown

Venue: Moderna Museet, Malmö

Photo: Iryna Drahun

Playing with rites of passage that are wrapped in brands and ideas of the 21st century, Lukas Hofmann acts as a kind of a modern sorcerer. His performative acts draw inspiration from a wide variety of subjects – religious rites and symbols, art history, social media, fashion design, and video games all interweave to create syncretic experiences that are thinly filtered by the artist’s personal life.

Hofmann’s performances tend to create a space of intense presence, intimacy and take us on journeys of mythical proportions, aptly dosing the spectacularity en masse as well as providing unique moments of energy to singular members of the audience. Following the contemporary societal script of hyper-individuation, actants often operate as a group of individuals rather than a uniform collective, following unstable and opaque rules.

Into the Unknown takes place in two sanitary white cube spaces in the museum which the artist decided to inhabit with sharp, minimalist objects serving as both fetishes to contain and support the various actions, but also building a self-contained space that may give the impression of a minimalist exhibition. A semi-transparent plastic foil shapes a tubular container of both movement and memory. A horizontal shower made of perforated metal awaits water. A platform lift is used to elevate one of the performers for various actions, for example, to hammer three large nails into the wall – two high up and the third on a lower level, just in the middle between the two upper ones. The connotations are perhaps not clear, but by adding everything up could point to the process of creating a martyr. 

A deep black colour rectangle on the wall, and the timer on a godly, fatalistic tumble dryer unforgivingly counts down from 1 hour and 40 minutes to zero. These pose as references to time, as Hofmann puts it – Cronus or Saturn. For some this may resurrect the vision of the painting Saturn Devouring His Son (c. 1819-1823) by Francisco Goya. This work – represented here just in the negative space of black paint on the wall – provides a universal depiction of the human condition and the corruption of power and is but one of the art historical sources in which the artist finds inspiration. “Into the Unknown” is constructed of several scenes that involve repetition, which clearly also refers to the cycle of time and how life resembles a constant loop of self-fulfilling prophecies. The arrangement and the choreography of objects and people become a ritual, or perhaps a membrane, in the border between the static and the living, the fluid and the firm.

Hofmann’s works often result in emotional abstract situations similar to a ritual game, where the non-spectacular is transformed into something spectacular and intriguing, and identities and collectives both dissolve and interlace. Amongst everything, a ubiquitous brand appears as material the performance’s stairs are made out of. The brand is so loaded with various connotations it might be seen so utterly universal as to become almost atomic, or not even mean anything whatsoever in our present times.

In the opening scene, the performers gradually appear on the other side of a glass door which has been covered with sour milk, often used during installation work at the institution to create a semi-transparent skin. By slowly licking off the sour milk, the performers use their tongues to literally produce slits of transparency spelling out the performance’s title on the window.

Performers’ interactions with each other and with the audience throughout the event vary from very intimate and gentle to more aggressive and rough. Shortly after the opening scene, three performers take turns with an invisible sword, only to “kill” a single performer 27 times in a gamified act of cat and mouse. The killed person always reboots, as if in a video game – allowed to have many zombie lives. In another scene, halfway through the performance, a performer is aggressively assaulted by the others, and dragged, against his heavy resistance, to another room and then thrown and pressed against a large glass window, certainly activating one of the museum’s many sensitive alarm systems. 

Directly afterwards, fruits, such as figs, pears and kiwi, are thrown and smashed hard against the same window, leaving stains, marks and the smell of their essential oils in the air. Pomegranates and a watermelon are also dropped from the platform lift from a height of about 6 meters. The performer on the platform fixates eye contact with an audience member. Once someone blinks, he drops a piece of fruit on the floor. The smashed fruit is then served to the audience, who happily eats.

In another scene, a performer slowly and concentratedly points a laser on selected audience’s hearts, which depending on the very personal reaction, could be taken as a gentle, as well as an aggressive act.

On a few occasions during the performance, music and singing takes place. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a mobile alarm clock goes off. Two performers start singing the pop song “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen in an unprofessional way, attempting to stop the rhythms when the ringtone loops. Later, four performers start mirroring the members of the K pop girl group BLACKPINK, watching a youtube video of the song “Kill this Love” at a painfully slowed down speed, reminiscent of witch house. The performers fail to synchronise, which results in a both humorous and frustrating scene.

A highly present element in the performance is water, used as a tool of cleansing, as well as an element of transformation. In an intimate scene at the end, performers move into a room with a lower ceiling. Everybody sits down, the light barely on, while an actant undresses to lay down underneath the horizontal shower. A bucketful of water is brought and the washing ceremony follows – this is both forceful and pragmatic, but can’t help being caring at the same time. Another time, a performer soaks in parts of the wet wall from a tissue and then applies this to various parts of her body, in a way alluding to the performative qualities of pilgrimage sites.

The end is nearing. Back to the large room, the lights are now off. Performers’ phones are used, their flashlights shine through fingers, ears, mouths, both of performers and audience members. People are gathered in front of the tumble dryer in a pitch black room. The performers themselves have already left the space. Finally, the timer on the dryer reaches zero. The dryer beeps.

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