Q&A wirh Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg

Erotic allure and cruel violence meet again and again in your video works and installations. The work "The Experiment", created for the Venice Biennale 2009 and now on view at LOVECRAFT, a former department store in Munich, is a surreal garden with wondrous artificial plants in combination with three videos. How can we imagine the creation process of this extensive multimedia installation of that time?

Nathalie: We do no longer remember exactly how the idea entered. But when Daniel Birnbaum asked us [for the 2009 Venice Biennale], the idea was already there. However, it was the first time we had worked on a project in this way. It went from wanting to make a few sculptures and the video works into not being able to stop, every flower made another flower necessary and the failures of making it was so compelling and allowing. Our 70 square meter apartment that contained a small kitchen, bedroom/living room/and music studio and the studio became filled up with sculptures. It was an experiment in a kind of frenzied madness, and the joy and frustration of making it took up every physical emotional and psychological space in our lives. My mom stayed with us for a while, sleeping in the kitchen where she also cooked for us, my brothers sometimes came to help with the production, sleeping on the floor – it was the first project that we did that was so immersive, and where the making itself was an experiment.

How did you develop your special technique and what is your division of labor? As you know, you develop everything yourselves and thus embody several roles (i. e. you, Nathalie, are at the same time director, scriptwriter and set designer of the films and you, Hans, compose the soundtrack).

Nathalie: We both work in the same way and our backgrounds are the same. We are both self-taught in our medium and don’t really learn new techniques until the ideas push us to do so, so the ideas are always in the forefront and the technique is lagging behind. I started making a stop-motion animation, and the joy of having not just one image telling the story, but having unlimited images telling the story was revolutionary for me – how a situation or a story can be told or explored through a gesture or an interaction, how the role of one character is never fixed and the role of the victim/perpetrator can be switched in a second. Hans never animates and I never make music, but we have worked so closely together for more than 18 years that our mental and emotional processes are intertwined. He understands what I do even when I don’t understand myself, and the language we share in our work is one of few words and in riddles.

Hans: Yes, even though we still have our separate roles when it comes to hands-on, everything is very intertwined now and ideas often come up in that mutual space in between us.

What are especially the advantages of working with plasticine figures or puppets in your technique and what role does music play in it?

Hans: The music plays a very large role, because this is the only auditory information in the films, there is no dialogue, no sound effects or environmental sounds. The music fills this whole space, and drives the narration forward of the film, it affects the viewer emotionally before the brain registers what they are seeing, so it guides the viewer through the work. Sometimes it totally misguides you and you might feel joyous or excited while the imagery is gruesome – I like it when this cognitive dissonance occurs.

Nathalie: I can play all the roles: I don’t have to explain myself to an actor and I don’t have to give away the possibility of feeling the emotions and the turning of the characters. I am everyone in the animation, the observer, who watches what happens, the one who decides the events and actions, the perpetrator, the victim, the lover, the slayer and the slain.

The work "The Experiment" has already been exhibited in many exciting places: 2009 at the Venice Biennale, 2013 at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg, 2015 at Base 103 of the Sammlung Goetz in Munich, 2018 at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and 2019 at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt – these are all exhibition venues with different spatial conditions. What challenges do you now face with the current LOVECRAFT project, in a former Munich department store?

Hans: This space is significantly different as it is supposed to be a totally different place, the department store architecture and design is so far away from the classic gallery space. However, we really like this, it puts the work in a very different context, a pretty ugly, derelict and deserted place, which I think highlights the sense of decay and staleness in the sculptures. They seem to have grown up in this forgotten place where no one has been for quite a while; if we don’t look, strange things start to happen that we cannot control. Or at least that could be our fear, or our hope – depending on how you think.

"The Experiment" seems like a fairytale forest consisting of wild plants and flowers. In one of the films to be discovered there, the forest also plays a central role. What do you associate with this place - because the forest also appears in some of your other works? Do you have any pictorial or literary references to it?

Nathalie: The forest is so important, it's the secret land of our body, our windling mind, our emotions; it’s deep, dark, haunting, secretive and alluring; it hides treasures and dangers and is full of mysteries and promises; if I just go a little bit further into the dark, just a little bit further in.