From April to the end of June the Czech American artist Klara Hobza has been in a DIVA residency at the National Workshops for Arts And Crafts preparing an exhibition for the Danish gallery Koh-i-noor.
The story behind Klara Hobza’s current project began in1890. In that year the Acclimation Society of North America decided on bringing all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to USA from Britain, and among these were 60 European Starlings. The birds were released in Central Park in New York, and today there are more than 200 millions in North America. They are regarded as pests and considered noisy and aggressive, an invasive species in other words. Klara Hobzas plan is to capture 60 starlings in the US and bring them back to their origin in London. Her project began in 2005 and since then she has been doing performances, video works and now drawing, paintings and objects all centred on the starling topic.
Klara Hobza has now finished her exhibition at Koh-i-noor and is going back to New York by the 1st of September, but for the next two months she will be staying in Europe. In July, she is going to Hamburg to participate in bird ringing with ornithologists at the “Forschungsstation Die Reit”. In Hamburg, she will also visit the Galerie für Landschaftskunst, where she is going to have a solo exhibition coming November.
Before leaving Copenhagen, we spoke about her body of work and her experience with being on a residency in Denmark.
You continue working with the starling topic, what kind of progress did you experience during your residency?
“The theme was related to what I had originally proposed, but I ended up doing something different, something that was more tailored to the context of Koh-i-noor. It was good to be here in person, so that I could get a feeling for the space and for the artists who are running it and what the philosophy behind the space is. I still worked within the same theme related to the European Starling, but I pushed it in a different direction and it ended up being way more about drawing and painting than I had expected.”
Usually your work is primarily focused on using video and performance. How come it changed in a different direction?
“I took on the challenge to make drawings and paintings, because Koh-I-Noor allows for experimentation, and I have never made a drawing or painting show. Though I love to draw, last time I touched a brush was in high school. Here, I was able to take the risk that it might not work out and being on shaky ground. In the end, I think it is going to be quite fruitful to have explored more of this type of visual language in order to expand the repertoire of the project.”
What are your experiences with those new ways of artistic expression?
“You can get more and different kind of associative links with drawing and painting than with the work, I have done so far. I have been doing performance and video work quite a while, so I have like a routine. It was good to break that. It is also related to being here at this residency. Denmark is a new context for me, and I think that in New York I have mostly been invited for projects based on my performative work. A new place, I guess, gives you more freedom to reinvent yourself.”
During the exhibition at Koh-i-noor you continued to paint a bird fresco in the ceiling. Why these kinds of flowing work process?
“My idea was to use the space for further learning rather than showing what you can call ‘having the last word’ – like here is where it ends and it is finished now. Besides the ceiling fresco, there were two wall drawings, a painting, an object, a window piece and a booklet at the exhibition. Even though those were finished and could technically stand for themselves, I hope that by working on the last piece (the ceiling fresco, which was tying all other works together) during the duration of the show, I communicated the function that Koh-i-noor has in the process of this body of work. Which is to try out something new, challenge the visual approaches, continue learning about them and continue discussing them.”
You also left a message in the fresco and then painted it over, how come?
“I wanted it to be like something old being recovered or something new being created and that ties in with the idea of transforming references from the past – and then they will hopefully exist in the future through this transformation. Which is why I will put that message for the after world into the fresco – and maybe, or maybe not, somebody in the future will then recover it, so the present become the past in that trace. In each piece of this show, as well as in the overall concept, you can find a kind of strangely mirrored symmetry and the play with reversing history is the main theme.”
You have been working on the starling project for several years while doing lots of different things. What ties it together?
“The theme is held together by this quest of bringing back the European starling to its origin. It is a difficult task because of wildlife regulations and protection, but nevertheless I think there is a chance that I can realize it. Along the way more pragmatic things happen, like I get invited to a residency and an exhibition or I get invited to contribute to a book or other different kind of things. In that sense I have already got a whole bunch of work that satellite around the theme. I hope that they can also stand on their own, but still they are held together by this quest. Once I have accomplished this, the body of work is over, but it doesn’t matter that it takes a few years. I think that each work takes how long it needs to take. Each work has a nature of its own rules.”
You had your art education in Germany, England and the United States. What are you influenced by in your work and do you see any particular differences between being an artist in Europe and in New York?
“I think that I’m probably very much influenced by Western European art history. New York is pretty Eurocentric, so it is not that different – but it is relative. The market has been very dominant, so within the gallery scene it has been very market driven. But I think that if you look at the content of the work, or the themes that the artists are concerned with, the concepts are not that different from Europe. The thing with New York is that there are so many different art scenes; I don’t think that I could really say something that’s representing the whole city. There are so many parallel worlds of being an artist there.”
Where did you find your inspiration in Copenhagen?
“I have been looking at old stuff. I really like the Royal Danish Cast Collection, Rosenborg, the Danish Postal Museum and the Danish Museum of Hunting and Forestry. I also went to the Zoological Museum where they have the Danish Bird Ringing Centre. When I asked at the reception they immediately buzzed one of the PhD students for me and I got some really fun ‘behind the scenes look’. I saw all the vast archives of stuffed birds – I felt like meeting Charles Darwin or something. They even invited me to come down to Gedser where they have their bird ringing place. So in exchange for a drawing I was allowed to stay there and learn about birds and how they are catching and ringing them. It was quite an adventure.
What do you think about your residency at the National Workshops? Does it have any particular consequence concerning your current project?
“The stay here has been a total treat. I used one of the rooms in the apartment as a studio for research, reading, drawing and that kind of more introverted work. It was really nice to have a room dedicated to that. I think that this kind of ‘free flow mind work’ is something that will have consequences for the future work. I used the wood workshop as well and Ingvar (the workshop consultant) was extremely helpful, fast and efficient. So was the it consultant Walter, who helped me with computer related issues.”