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Interview: Multi-media artist Herman Kolgen talks to Alpha-ville ahead of his London appearance

Internationally renowned, multifaceted artist, Herman Kolgen, has been creating emotionally intense multimedia performances for over twenty years. Constantly exploring, the Montréal-based artist works at the junctures of different media, as well as elaborating a new technical language and distinctive aesthetic. He has performed at prestigious international events such as Berlin’s Transmediale, the Venice Biennale, Ars Electronica and Elektra and Mutek festivals in Montreal. We caught up with him ahead of this appearance at Alpha-ville LIVE on 18th May 2014 in London, to talk about his creative process, current projects and other interesting things.

Alpha-ville: Hi Herman, How is everything with you?

HK: I am very well, thanks. Still getting used to this time zone, as I have been travelling a lot for the past two months.

Alpha-ville: You must be really busy working on EOTONE, your new kinetic sound and generative urban installation which is going to be premiered at the upcoming International Digital Arts Biennial in Montreal. Can you tell us more about it and your experience working with artist David Letelier?

HK: David Letelier and I have collaborated for the past two years on EOTONE. I feel particularly attached to this project because it picks up on several aspects of our creations and interests. The world of architecture has never stopped inspiring our career paths and projects. Our relationship with space is particularly important. In my case, I have spent the last 20-years in the middle of the dynamic tension between image and sound, and I have concentrated the past 5-years in the notion of territory. In particular, on the impact that natural forces can have on us.

DUST explores a microscopic and energetic relationship: flesh+ wood + metal, the urban topology. EOTONE in the same line as my other project URBAN WIND, explores wind as a raw material.

We customised a wind data caption system where multiple wind sensors were installed in different cities around the world, allowing us to analyse the wind flow. The data was then transmitted real time to immense rotating diffusers especially made for the public space. Each diffuser device was assigned to a specific city or place. The overall system rotates depending on the wind direction, discharging at the same time frequencies and harmonies specific to the city pulse.

The idea is to create and hear a dynamic dialogue between cities. One can then easily imagine Tokyo harmonising with Paris or London by simply combining their breaths.

Working with D. Letelier is interesting in many ways. Our creative dynamic plays both spontaneous exchanges and awakens brainstorms, all serving the concept and the project to be realised. We are happy to see that our egos take a second place in this approach. In fact, beyond our joint forces (specifically techniques) we have made use of our differences in order to enrich the project.

Alpha-ville: We’re looking forward to premiering INJECT and DUST in London next month. What is the creative process behind these performances and where did you get the ideas and inspiration from?

HK: The two projects are very different.

The creation of INJECT came alongside the end of the Skotlz _Kolgen partnership and also my mother’s death. INJECT in a way, represents the intensity of this period. During that time, everything started with an image, a single image in my head: a naked body infected inside a water tank with formalin. The next steps - and the ending - were articulated around an immense water tank where I submerged Yso, a Cambodian from Montreal. During the course of 6-days, underwater cameras tracked the different physical and physiological reactions that gradually evolved from a meditative stage to extreme anxiety.

In the case of DUST, my purpose was to apply different fields of microscopic material both real and virtual. The approach is different to INJECT but it is also related, since Yso’s body is considered as a malleable material, surrendered to the invisible forces of water, isolation, ethereality and silence.

DUST is based on a 4 to 5 year personal photographic project during which I envisaged pictures of floors and dusty surfaces. The point of view, the frame and the graphic composition of the subject in close-up, and out of context reveal a beauty rarely attributed to this type of material that our aseptic and allergic society completely eliminates. During all that time, I accumulated over 4000 images without knowing that they were going to feed DUST. Sometime later, by chance I came across the famous photography “Dust Breeding” by Man Ray. This captivating image was a turning point during my adolescence. With this reference I started the project and the study of dust on all its states and all its forms.

The work was developed in 2 stages:
- First, through the development of a vast area of dust moved by fans and hydraulic pistons. The system is controlled simultaneously digitally and by sound frequencies.
- Second, the digital analysis of the camera movements to which I superimpose a layer of virtual dust. Just like in the real world, this method allows more control over every microelement by using a 3D space, where fields of forces act over the virtual particles.

This combinatorial and symbiotic recipe gave birth to a single image in which the real and the virtual homonym are inseparable.

HERMAN KOLGEN - DUST-02 from Herman Kolgen on Vimeo.

Alpha-ville: Your work takes the form of installations, video, live performance and sound sculptures. What’s your background and how did you come about bringing together different disciplines and tools to create your work?

HK: When I was a child, I was constantly drawing and playing drums on my Mum's pots and pans. My dream was to become a musician, a percussionist. During the seventies, I integrated a synthesiser to my drum kit, and then an oscillator or a vibraphone. All of these have marked my style.

Born to a family of four children, I enjoyed a great freedom at the time. The home became my experimental territory and my imaginary laboratory that hosted the small chemist, the electrician and the secret agent I became to my friends.

I am primarily an autodidact who also holds a degree in architecture. At the heart of my learning, I realised pretty quickly that the practice of this profession wouldn’t meet my expectations or my need for freedom. My life is dictated by my interests and creative passions. Around the age of 18, in parallel to my training as an architect and percussionist, I produced many paintings, abused the trendy air brush, exhibited in galleries and seeked above all my style. My career continued between music, percussion, synthesisers and visual arts for many years.

Later on, when digital arrived, it dramatically changed my life and way of thinking. I merged my two favorite mediums in one: audio and video. All that without putting aside my penchant of tactile percussionist and crafty architect for the hand-made and physical approach.

I have many interests from the pictorial field to architecture, from music to chemistry, and from biology to physics. They nourish by extension my creation as my artistic projects explore both the strengths and tensions that surround us. And these at different scales: microscopic, human, territorial or even...endless.

Alpha-ville: What does your artist work day look like ?

HK: When I am at my studio in Montreal, most of my day is devoted to research and projects. I alternate development and creation phases with international tours. With my schedule, I often have to work overtime with up to 15 or 20 hours of non-stop work. This is a good way to maximise my time during the never ending winter in Quebec and hibernate in my own creations. And upon the return of the summer, my programme alleviates and my routine goes back to normal.

My home is also a world of its own. 7-years ago, I bought an old warehouse in Montreal that I have totally rethought from an architectural perspective. The space allowed me to create different areas for life and work that today are dedicated to different mediums. We have wood and metal workshops, a small shooting studio, a picture studio, a studio dedicated to digital imaging and sound, and not to mention my little electronic lab… like a little boy!

At the heart of my long days of work, I often pass from one pole to the other and as a result I get re-energised. I also find many creative answers through the dialogue of the different mediums.

In addition, my days are not just filled with work but also with breaks and time for meals. I love to cook and I pay attention to my diet, so I prepare myself good healthy dinners. And there I find the finest fuel and the best reward! A hymn to life that I enjoy while keeping an eye and an attentive ear to the world.

Alpha-ville: You live and work in Montreal, a city that is well known for supporting electronic and digital arts, and where great initiatives like BIAN, Elektra and Mutek festivals are creating an international hub for these disciplines. Do you find similar infrastructure/supporting environment outside Montreal? What’s your perspective of London and the UK?

HK: This question is hard for me to answer as I am not well informed. I have only performed twice in the UK and I’ve never stayed long enough to learn more. On the contrary, I know that in France this type of initiatives exist although they are not very developed.

Alpha-ville: What are your plans for the future ?

HK: At the moment, I’m working on two new performances and some installations.
1 - SEISMIK is inspired by the geological tensions of the Earth and conceived from seismic data. The performance will include several direct connections to reading magnitudes recorded in different parts of the globe.
2 - I am also working on a visual work for a music piece by Philip Glass.

Alpha-ville: Thank you Herman, see you at Alpha-ville LIVE very soon!

Alpha-ville Live: A special evening with Herman Kolgen
at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9AG. 7pm, Sunday 18 May 2014.
More info / tickets:

Herman Kolgen:

About Alpha-ville | | @alphavillefest
Alpha-ville is a creative initiative established in 2009 by Estela Oliva and Carmen Salas. They curate and produce events and other creative projects across the fields of art, technology and design - always combining a passion for forward thinking ideas and an exquisite taste for innovative experiences.

Alpha-ville works with a handful selection of artists, designers and creative technologists focusing on those who push the boundaries of their disciplines.


INJECT EXTRACT 02 from Herman Kolgen on Vimeo.

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