Interview: Hans Schabus


What inspires you as an artist?

I’m interested in what you might call the backside or flipside of things, of a space, of a situation or of a landscape. I try to question materials and their connection, the hierarchical distinctions between spaces and places and how the physical world is formed.

My studio is the place that is the realm of experience. Within this space, the realm of reality is filtered into the realm of possibility; it provides both ratio and scale, and is therefore the outset of every project.

Basically, I’m interested in the situation of transition. Take a door for example – this would be the space between the inside and the outside, the threshold, so to speak. Neither here nor there, [but] somewhere in-between. The psychological moment when one leaves one room without knowing what to expect in the next.

Have you always enjoyed making work in different mediums? What challenges does it present?

Through my practice, I feel forced to put myself in a kind of insecure, fragile situation with the goal of gaining stability from it. There are the simple questions that are constantly provoking to be answered: Who am I? What am I doing here? And what the hell is going on? I would say my challenge is to understand my situation. And therefore I need to change perspectives, materials, mediums.

How did you come up with the forlorn series, which will hopefully culminate in Eastbourne with funding from Art Happens?

In the beginning of 2000, I had been invited to a gallery show in New York and started contemplating how to get there and what I was supposed to do there. The thought of travelling to the United States soon evoked the topic of immigration, Ellis Island, the skyline, and all that. [I thought:] I’ll build a boat and sail there.

It was supposed to be an 'Optimist', the most widely produced sailboat in the world. It was designed in the States in the 1950s and already suggests a signal for change in its name. For my project, the Optimist had to be converted into a 'Pessimist'. Therefore, the boat is foldable, has wheels, lights and several other security measures. I wanted to escape the city without being seen, leaving the historical burden behind me, out of the sewer heading for the New World. In the opposite direction an American man (Joseph Cotton) had to move in Carol Reed´s movie The Third Man from 1949 to attend the funeral of his best friend (Orson Welles) in post-war Vienna. This movie was a strong reference for this project.

How do you feel about the culmination of the series?

When I was invited for an exhibition with Towner, I was immediately attracted by the historical beach culture which is highly visible through the classical pier. I thought that this situation here screams for bringing forlorn to rest, especially as it is the only vacation-like environment in the whole series.

There is also the coincidence that Carol Reed´s The Third Man was an English-American production that took place in Vienna. After all that journey´s starting in Vienna and New York, the triangle with the UK is now completed.

How did you pick the cities involved, and how does Eastbourne fit in with them? What’s special about Eastbourne and its pier?

I didn’t pick the cities, it’s the [other] way round: the cities picked forlorn and me.

In the beginning it wasn´t intended to be a travelling piece. Right after New York City, I was invited to take part at Manifesta in Frankfurt. As there is also a river, it was somehow obvious to continue the travels and from that moment on, it became a travelling piece. Now there are six cities involved, and Eastbourne will be the 17th in 13 years. All these cities are linked to each other through the landscape of water, the circumstance of waterways and my biographical progress.

The whole project is somehow about the in-between, as I mentioned before. Although we do have the photographs of all these cities that somehow work like anchorages, it is the space in between these photographs that is being questioned. Isn't it a mystery that we continually have to leave and arrive?

Finally, why should people donate?

To make it happen.

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