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Interview with Hannah Wolf, Karin Hollweg Award Winner 2023

Making the future conceivable

Interview with the winner of the Karin Hollweg Prize: Hannah Wolf

Hannah Wolf (*1985) studies Fine Arts as a master student with Julika Rudelius, HfK Professor for Time-Based Media at the HfK and was awarded the Karin Hollweg Prize 2023, which is endowed with 18,000 euros. We spoke to her about studying at the HfK and the her video installation “Arbeit am Produkt” (Work on the Product) that she won the award for.


From left: Prize donor Karin Hollweg, winner Hannah Wolf and David Bartusch (Chairman of the Friends and Sponsors of the HfK Bremen). Photo: Kim Mayer

After graduating from here, how come you decided to add another year as a HfK master student?
The world after graduation is nasty enough, only a few of us will be able to make a living from their art. So it is appealing to spend another year in the sheltered freedom of the University after graduating – having the exhibit of the master class as the goal that you can work towards, all the while knowing that you can earn a lot of attention at a renowned Bremen institution such as the GAK. Therefore my work has to be really coherent. And having a year to complete it is just incredibly wonderful. At the same time you still have the support from the HfK and the help of the Professor. The best of both worlds: on the one hand I am completely free, I no longer have to go to the plenum, but I can. I no longer have to earn a theory credit, but I can always turn to Martin Schulz with any question, the Professor of Art History, Theory and History of Aesthetic Practice.

Why did you want to be a master student with Julika Rudelius?
I studied with her, and we developed a trusting relationship which I wanted to continue. She has a very discerning look and understands what I want, then she always annoys me and wants me to do something different. Then we argue. But it is precisely in having these arguments that one becomes more secure. It was also easy to become a master student. There is such a generosity at the HfK that feels familial. Julika asked, do you want to become a master student, then please do so. That was all. At other universities you have to carry the bag of the professor after the intermediate diploma for this.

How did you come up with the topic of your award winning work?
I work a lot in loops, I collect materials anytime and anywhere, then I like to return to places or to ideas and images from the past.

In this case to a place called Side on the Turkish Riviera that has been turned to some kind of posh backdrop and set without any style whatsoever for an unhinged mass tourism.
I had been there in 2016. I looked at the photos from that visit again and thought, hey, there is something in this constellation of massive hotel complexes and the Greek, Byzantine and Roman ruins there. So I flew there again in November 2022 and February 2023.

And you went on a package holiday?
Yes, you get up, go down to the breakfast buffet, then you walk 20 kilometers around the area and film during the day, which is leaving you completely exhausted, then you get your dinner and finally go to the sauna again. Everything is taken care of. I can only recommend it for working.

You have chosen the medium of video, which is ubiquitous on our phones and screens. Have you always worked in it?
I started out with textile design and applied to the HfK 2012 with a performance in which I sat on a chair for four hours and didn't do anything except take a photo with a self-timer every quarter of an hour.

A reference to the performance “The Artist is Present” (2010) by Marina Abramović, for which she remained motionless and mute on a chair for 75 days in the New York Museum of Modern Art, but made eye contact with the visitor?
… On the one hand. It was also about a gesture of refusal towards the exam, which on the other hand I had completely relocated into myself. That was pretty much the hardest thing I've ever done.

And then photography led you to video?
Exactly. But I don't think of video narratively as film, but approach the medium coming from photography. For me, video is extended photography.

Videos are no longer so popular in museums and galleries currently because these black boxes often have to be prepared for them and many visitors seem oversaturated by digital moving images due to all the self-presentation, manipulation of reality, the spread of power, crusading and advertising. And videos don't sell well either...
... true. But I don't serve Insta-Trends, I undermine Tiktok aesthetics with the way I montage. It is important to me that the technology enables me to interact very directly with reality, that I can show it as unmediated as possible. I don't intervene much into the pictures, I don't stage shots. That has something to do with my attitude as an artist. What I try to do with all my work is to look at what ideological inscriptions, what condensed political signs are in what I see. I am particularly interested in architecture in this respect. Why does it look the way it looks and what does that tell us? I try to identify and expose the principles realized or claimed in it. Architecture that is designed to express and manifest power. Architecture of negligence and thoughtlessness, that just that looks kinda cheap. Architecture of the hotel resorts, where you could think, hey, that is our reality, we are just about to get it built, but in it every bit of utopian content about society has disappeared, everything is just a product, surface …

Isn't that the utopia of the Instagram world?
Some would see it that way. But I would like to promote the thinking of a society that is developing into a future. In the ruins next to the hotels, which still radiate a certain grandeur, attempts were made to shape the future, albeit by exploiting slaves.

You comment on the pictures by overlaying text saying “The present has already left its future behind”. That reminded my of this aphorism: Where the future is obstructed, the present becomes hell. That's the effect you achieve when you confront the dreary images of these shrines of low end vacations with the beautiful images of archaeological sites and their rather shabby appropriation by the tourists ...
... in which the ruins themselves become the product. Our past, which had moments of greatness, is gutted and gets turned into a mere backdrop. It is interesting that all these excavations are being financed by the owners of the hotels in order to be able to market Side as an attractive historical place.

The way you question the images of reality, us viewers might think that Hannah Wolf wants to spoil our well-deserved vacation in Turkey.
My question is rather: How much openness to thinking does our society still hold on to, since we have commodified everything – if we choose the commodity that standardized package holidays in these resorts resemble, it reflects the lack of imagination in life. This type of vacation actually follows the same principles as everyday office life. But where does the desire for a reality that is cleansed of real experiences stem from? I criticize that. Although I understand why it gives security, which many find comforting. But my work goes beyond pure rejection.

You also love package holidays, as you just said, and you love shopping centers, which you dealt with in your diploma thesis in June 2022 at the Neustadtsbahnhof: “Daddy, may I cum?”
I shopped as much as I had never done before in my life while we were filming at Bremen's “Waterfront”. I love shopping centers, even if I find them totally awful. Or maybe: Because I find them so terrible. I used to drink Starbucks coffee there, that syrupy effluent is pretty disgusting, but also very cool.

So your pleasure grows from the meta perspective and your interest in ambivalence. You criticize that capitalism turns so many people into morons all the way down to the bottoms of their very hearts and only works through various forms of exploitation, but you can also enjoy the products of capitalism. But here is the question: Is the dream of a summery, easy life, for which the hotel complexes stand, beautiful too?
No. This has a lot to do with alienation, which is used there in a comforting way. Just like in the cinema, you go there to alienate yourself from yourself, which is great. But at the same time, our life is so alienated all the time. Our work, the surrogate of relationships on social media, communication via messaging services, etc. – all of that takes away a fair amount of complexity and flattens life, even if it is practical. But in that everyday experience it obviously makes sense to seek respite in such an alienated all-inclusive experience. I am concerned with the promises of happiness that are never fulfilled – for example when being a consumer in the shopping center or on vacation. I have the dream behind these experiences that it could be different. As I said, I wish that a future would be conceivable again.

Is that your political approach?
Yes. I try to shift the viewing and thinking habits what we are familiar with, to edit them differently in the video. This is my effort in political education.

How will you spend the prize money? 9000 euros will be paid out to you directly. The other half is reserved for the realization of a solo exhibition.
First I will buy a refrigerator, then a dishwasher and then I afford myself time to think. I want to establish some freedom in which I don't have to do as much wage labor to prepare for the solo exhibition. That will be expensive. Because research trips are necessary again. I am planning a multi-channel video work, and then the second 9,000 euros will soon be gone. My working title is “Freiheit als vulgärer Begriff” (Freedom as a vulgar term). I would like to make a contribution to the discussion on how the debates about freedom have changed as a result of Corona and how they are being changed by the climate crisis. There will probably again be a tension between image and text. Of course, freedom is a dialectic term, on the one hand it is incredibly important, on the other hand it can be insanely antisocial.


Current participation in an exhibit by Hannah Wolf
The photo series “Himmel/kein Himmel“ (Sky/no Sky) (2020) can be seen until October 22, 2023 in the largest survey of regional artists in Lower Saxony and Bremen, the 90th autumn exhibition of the Kunstverein Hannover, Sophienstraße 2. Wolf´s photographs are part of a group of works , which traces the political changes in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul under Erdoğan by using the architecture and small symbols in the cityscape – advertising tarpaulins, posters, flags.