Q+A with Gfeller+Hellsgård​

Christian Gfeller, born in Alsace in 1973.
Anna Hellsgård, born in Stockholm in 1980.
The duo lives and works together in Berlin since 2001.

On Language.

The language faculty is the ability to create to the infinite, phrases and thoughts from of a small number of elements. More generally, the language is a communication system.

Gfeller+Hellsgård‘s language founds it’s semantic basis in the silkscreen printing process. The duo commits to rethink, deconstruct and reconstruct the medium through experimentations. Its syntax is slowly changing, it branches out and becomes more complex by incorporating other languages such as painting, obviously, but also binding, DIY or poetry. Like any language, it is inherently arbitrary and to survive must go beyond its own borders. This graphic and plastic cryptolect that practices Gfeller+Hellsgård plants it’s roots in a trans-national environment of highly urban density, Berlin in this case. It is a contemporary living language, that feeds on minimalism, abstractionism and underground culture.

Gfeller+Hellsgård will lecture and present work as Re:Surgo! at UT Austin as the Guest Artists in Print Program in the Department of Art and Art History.

Wednesday, October 26
3:30pm, Art Building, 1.120
The lecture will be followed by a reception and exhibition of their work in the Visual Arts Center


Thao Votang: When you were approached with a residency at The University of Texas at Austin, did you already have your project Die Wand/Die Mauer in mind?

Gfeller+Hellsgård: We actually had the desire to work on larger, more site specific and conceptual installation for quite some time now. The formal part of the work is something we have been developing for the last three years, so we feel quite confident with that aspect of our work. We are just working in a way bigger scale for this project, which of course, comes with its challenges, but the conceptual approach of it is newer to us. We had to work on and developed a set of ideas, some kind of an abstract language that would operate on the same level as our formal content. Something not too didactic, that leaves enough room for discoveries and interpretation.

TV: What was compelling about coming to UT Austin? How does working with undergraduate and graduate students inform your process?

GH: We had to give up on the sacrosanct privacy of our studio. Work in progress is never displayed in public and usually, no one is looking over our shoulder or asking us questions while we are working on most pieces. So there is a certain pressure working live in front of students like this, but in another hand, the students were a great help, especially since we had to produce on such a tight schedule. We also had to adapt to a new studio set up and deal with the jet lag. It was definitely a super interesting and challenging performance and we learned a lot from of it.


TV: You’re based in Berlin and it’s also an election year there. What is it like there in comparison to the election in the states?

GH: On a general note, western countries’ political landscape are going through a period of populistic, fear driven, post factual time, and Europe is not spared from it. German politics are probably less a caricature of itself and the debates tend to be less passionate, but because of this, it is also waaaay less entertaining. Now, regarding our project, this election frenzy almost inevitably invited itself in our work. The wood panels in our installation are based on the political ad panels that flourishes in the streets of Berlin during election time. These huge structures are temporary displayed everywhere and literally cutting the public space and obstructing passage through the city, in a very similar way the Berlin Wall used to. So we thought erecting identical structures in Texas during election time would be a pretty appropriated gesture.

TV: Die wand and die mauer are two German words for “the wall.” Why was it important to produce an installation with that title now? What is the difference, if any, between the two words?

GH: The difference is subtle. “Mauer” is a structure built for separating an area and “wand” a permanent division in a building. Germans care very much for precision and exactness.


TV: This residency is quite fast. Does it function as a “test run” for Die Wand/Die Mauer? Do you plan to expand the project or install it again in the future? What is next for you after Austin?

GH: For the moment we have no plans to re-do Die Wand / Die Mauer in the future. We don’t see it as a “test run”, but as a project standing for itself. Of course, it has some experimental sides, but a lot of our work does. We plan to release a booklet documenting the whole project, including research, process pictures, exhibition view, and maybe this interview.

Images courtesy of Jason Urban.

Thao Votang is co-editor of Conflict of Interest, a writer, and co-founder of Tiny Park.

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