Interview by Francesca Brooks in London; Monday, Aug. 20, 2012
French Riviera is closed over August, but disappointed visitors should feel free to call and leave a message. Sebastiaan Schlicher’s answerphone project is a sign that all is not dead at the other end of the line. The second installment in an ongoing sound art series, Schlicher’s piece will function as the interim performance piece while the gallery is empty.
I imagine dealers and hopeful visitors calling up in ignorance only to find the distant crackle of a secret gallery party, the vague rhythm of carnival parade, followed by the break of psychotic laughter. The phonic occupation of a London gallery by the Berlin-based artist feels like the anxious prelude to a psychological thriller, the result of a collision between two disparate art scenes. The title, “Please Wait While We Contact Your Bank,” seems only to confirm the paranoia of our instincts.
I spoke to Sebastiaan to get behind the dark anonymity of his answerphone message.
Francesca Brooks: How did you get involved with French Riviera and the answerphone project?
Sebastiaan Schlicher: I first met Jennifer Lewandowski at a gallery opening in Berlin in 2010 and was intrigued by the work she and creative partner, Sam Levack, had made for the show: photographs of dancing people that appeared like ghosts or spirits. When I looked at their website a little later, I found out that they also performed music and organized social/artistic gatherings which they called “happenings”.
When Sam and Jennifer were part of a show myself and art historian, Lotte Møller, had curated called “Backstage Riders”, I found out about French Riviera for the first time. On a visit to London, I dropped by to see the space on Bethnal Green Road and we talked about music, sound and cults and they invited me to contribute to the answerphone project.
What kind of effect did you want to achieve with your answerphone message?
I wanted people to feel like they are listening in on something they were not really supposed to hear. The actual track is an excerpt of a brief music session that happened spontaneously during the recording of an Amerikan Teenager video in our studio in 2007. I could never find a purpose for it and it sat on my computer desktop for about 4 years. It’s not very long but I always found it intriguing—its primitive rhythm, the animated shouts and chaotic chants, and especially the weird, faked laughter. When I was thinking about what to do for French Riviera, I listened to this track again.
The gallery’s name also reminded me of this Villa called Nell Cote in the actual French Riviera, which was owned by German Nazis in the 1940’s and made famous by the Rolling Stones, who recorded their album Exile on Main Street there during a notoriously debauched and heroin-heavy couple of months in the early 70’s.
Your work is very multidisciplinary—how would you describe your practice as an artist?
My practice consists of drawings, and I make videos and audio recordings where I often collaborate with other artists and musicians. I have also made installations, and directed music and noise performances.
Does your work have any underlying social or political concerns?
The narrative in my drawings and videos is occasionally influenced by political and cultural reality but I avoid any straight representation of current affairs or explicit commentary. Instead, I try to suggest a darker existential reality. I am interested in antagonistic emotional and psychological states such as melancholia, rage and fear. Whether it’s ecstatic stage performers, cult members, religious types, occultists, survivalists or politicians, my characters are in bathetic battle mode—struggling to get through life, trying to find heroic, symbolic ways to overcome their own mortality and insignificance.
Is being an artist partly about being persona for you?
I think everyone is working on their own heroic project, not just artists, everyone. The larger-than-life personality is my favourite metaphor.
I think of projects and invite musicians and friends to contribute to them and the result is always attributed to this fictional group, Amerikan Teenager. The line-ups are always different and sometimes it is just me; in fact, increasingly so. But I am about to start work on a new Amerikan Teenager video in autumn, which will involve a larger group of people than I have worked with thus far.
Sebastiaan’s work can be seen at the group show, APES presents, @ Volker Diehl, Berlin (curated by philip Grözinger and Steve Schepens).
“Please wait while we contact your bank” – SEBASTIAAN SCLICHER
To listen to Sebastiaan’s answerphone message Call +44(0)20 7729 8000
Francesca Brooks is a freelance art writer living and working in London. She contributes to a number of online and print publications including roves and roams, Jotta, the Hackney Citizen and Garageland magazine. Francesca is also Press Officer for the WW Gallery, a contemporary art gallery based in Hatton Garden’s jewellery district, where she also edits and writes gallery publications. She has previously worked with the New Hall Art Collection (the second largest collection of contemporary women’s art work in the world), Kettle’s Yard, the Saatchi Gallery and the Barbican.