Jan Peter Hammer
Lives and works in Berlin, Germany.
When I started my artistic career I had a strong interest in film theory and literature, namely Nouveau Roman, and my first films and installations focused on atmospheres and objects endowed with a spellbinding character. For The Boy Scout Project (2000-04), I followed the path of a 30 year old punchy-red boy-scout jacket, which I had found in a thrift shop in Hamburg and traced it back to its original owner in Staten Island. After the financial crisis in 2008, however, I felt a greater urgency to engage with political discourse.
In a serendipitous moment, I came across a novel by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, called The Anarchist Banker, which described the thoughts and motivations of a proto-liberal character. I was struck by the timeliness of the argument and decided to adapt it into a short-film format. The concept of the piece was to insert the writings of contemporary opinion leaders –like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times– into the original text, in order to shine a light on the ideological distortions and arresting callousness of the theories which masquerade as economical common-sense and pragmatic policy. In my view the strength of the piece is derived from its narrative thread, that is, the way it makes visible how theoretical abstractions have concrete consequences and how terms like “the economy”, “free-market”, or “neoliberalism” are not mere concepts, plucked from the ideas tool-box, but a dynamic of exploitation and submission governing relations between people. In other words, I have a strong conviction that narrative practices provide a vantage point for critique because they allow one to address the materialities of neo-liberalism –i.e. the manifold way people are compelled to reproduce its ideological determinations– instead of the mere concept of neo-liberalism.
This is also the reason I find the interrelation with literature and cinema fundamental to the development of contemporary art practices and the reason why, after adapting The Anarchist Banker to the screen I proceed to realize a series of other works which fleshed-out and made concrete notions that often only appear as remote generalities. To give but two examples, one of my recent works was a performance piece, in which a hired security guard sits idly by a lump of cash, during the gallery’s opening hours for the whole length of the show. That is, whereas the guard’s function is to watch over the money, the money’s function is to pay the guard for watching it. Reminiscent of Beckett’s literary compactness, guard and money are locked together in an absurd play, which turns the invisible abstraction of the business cycle in a painfully concrete performance, making manifest that though money has no price, securing its value always carries a high social cost. My latest film, which was commissioned by the Bergen Assembly 2013, follows the tragic story of a captive orca Tilikum, in order to address the ideological underpinnings and idiosyncratic oddities of behaviourism, neuroscience and management philosophies. Here too, I found it essential to focus on the experience of an individual –albeit in this case an animal– as a means to make sense of the vast social puzzle around him.