Klara Hobza

by Isabelle Moffat

Electrical Wiring, Diving Lessons and Bird Catching

2-Hobza_KH06.gif

Morse Code Communication, 2011, Standbild (Fotografie: Tim Hyde)

Morse Code Communication, 2011, video still (Photograph: Tim Hyde)

‘Werner Herzog is my orientation point,’ says Klara Hobza. The Berlin-based artist intends to make the director the centrepiece of her solo show next August at the Kunstverein Springhornhof in Neuenkirchen. In addition to attending a seminar at Herzog’s Rogue Film School in Los Angeles, she obtained his permission to screen Die große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner (1974; The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, 1976), his film about an eccentric sky-flying champion who used low-tech means to push the physical limits of the sport. After touching on Herzog, my conversation with Hobza ranged from the complexity of an artist’s materials to the excellence of her diving teacher, a retired military diver from Turkey who had also become something of a mentor by preparing her for her ongoing project ‘Diving Through Europe’ (2010–35, projected).

Unlike the male protagonists in some of Herzog’s films, Hobza brings a great self-awareness to her projects. She too wants to test the boundaries of the possible, also perhaps of her own physical capacity, but the personas she creates for herself are neither self-destructive nor deluded. Her projects often involve a grandiose ambition, comparable to dragging a steamship across a hill, as occurs in Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982). If ‘Diving Through Europe’ avoids the crazed ambition of the film’s eponymous hero – Hobza speaks of the project in a matter-of-fact way that can be deceptive – it does entail diving all the way from Rotterdam harbour to the Black Sea through various water channels over a period of twenty or thirty years. Here is where the Turkish diving teacher comes in. For the last two years, she has documented her progress in various formats: mapping the course, detailing her training regime, filming diving exercises. Now a certified diver, the artist made Jedi Master (2011), a short film about her teacher.

Approaching Hobza’s work in terms of the media she uses to plan, document or execute her projects misses the point of her greater ambition, which seems to be not only to engage with the world but also to ask the spectator to engage with her. Although she shares Herzog’s contempt for psychoanalysis and psychological interpretations, her projects do have strong autobiographical references – which may explain the combination of grandiosity and whimsy she brings to them. For example, her series ‘Morse Code Communication (An Improved Attempt)’ (2005) began with a sense of isolation and twelve light bulbs used to send signals from her studio. This project, she says, was initially a reaction to moving from Munich to New York in 2003 and evolved into a massive display of wattage which still kept her low-tech approach: 1,200 light bulbs precariously connected
and plugged into large power strips – all operated by hand-made sliding mechanisms and with the idea of sending a message from her studio into the New York night. Her documentation of the piece – including pictures of herself in tinted goggles, looking out into the night while operating the unwieldy, self-made light-switch contraption – has a poetic charm. On the video footage, the huge wattage can make the light bleed for the viewer, who may experience retinal blurs similar to those produced by staring into the sun. At the same time, considering the relative insignificance of her flashing signals among the countless lights in the city, one becomes acutely aware of the quixotic nature of her project.

KH_22_still1.gif

Quixotic Obstacle Course, 2010, Standbild

Quixotic Obstacle Course, 2010, video still

Departing America (2009) – a title that hints at another biographical subtext – documents a shipment of crates from a container terminal in Newark to Hamburg harbour, where Hobza picked them up, loaded them onto a makeshift raft and paddled them to the Galerie für Landschaftskunst (which happens to be situated on one of Hamburg’s many canals). There she pulled up the boxes through the window and used the crates to construct her exhibition. Yet any attempt at a comprehensive biographical reading of this work or others is undercut by the different and at times somewhat contrived personas she creates for each piece as she whole-heartedly immerses herself in the acquisition of often arcane skills: from electrical wiring techniques for ‘Morse Code Communication’ to the intensive diving training, or bird catching practices for Nay, I’ll have a Starling (2005–ongoing). This latter piece draws on the release of 60 English starlings in New York’s Central Park in 1890 by Eugene Schieffelin, a member of The American Acclimatization Society who hoped to bring all the bird species mentioned in William Shakespeare’s plays to North America. Hobza’s project involves an ongoing drive to repatriate 60 starlings from New York to London. Her ambition, her creation of artefacts employing specialized knowledge but relying on the self-made – her insistence on art’s prerogative to refuse efficiency – make her a ‘conquistador of the useless’, in the best sense of Herzog’s phrase.

Isabelle Moffat

frieze d/e

Spring 2012
Issue 4

First published in Issue 4

Spring 2012

Most Read

Review

Kunsthalle Wien, Austria

Feature

To celebrate frieze’s quarter century, the editors choose 25 key artworks: one for each year of the magazine...

Interview

An interview with Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quinlan about their project, UK Gaybar Directory 
‘Bagism’, 2016, installation view K11 Art Space, Shanghai. Courtesy: © chi K11 art museum, Shanghai, 2016

Critic's Guide

The highlights of the city’s summer shows 

News

An East London arts community rallies against gentrification; Executive Director of New York's El Museo...

Influences

A Neolithic mask and Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives: the artist duo share a selection of important...

Feature

The second in our new five part series: the frieze editors select the most significant shows from the past 25 years

Culture Digest

Frozen margaritas and other investments in foolishness
Danny Lyon, Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia, 1966. Cibachrome, printed 2008, 26 x 26 cm. Courtesy: Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York © Danny Lyon

Review

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
Frédéric Nauczyciel, Red Shoes, 2015
, HD video. From the ‘House of HMU’ series, with Kendall Miyake Mugler, shot at the Chapelle du Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Saint-Denis, France. Courtesy: the artist 

City Report

On the city’s increasingly fluid fields of contemporary dance and art
Maud Alpi, Gorge Couer Ventre (Still Life), 2016

Critic's Guide

Jonas Mekas to Maud Alpi to Lina Rodriguez to Júlio Bressane – highlights from the Swiss film festival
The Wonder Wheel, Coney Island, New York

Culture Digest

Coney Island and Silicon Valley
Alina Szapocznikow, Petit Dessert I (Small Dessert I), 1970-71, coloured polyester resin and glass, 8 x 11 x 13 cm. Courtesy: Broadway 1602, New York, and Galerie Gisela Capitain GmbH, Cologne © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanisławski/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016; photograph: Thomas Mueller

Influences

From Shahmaran, Queen of Snakes, to Star Trek: First Contact: the London-based artist explains her favourite images

Feature

The first in a new five part series: the frieze editors select the most significant shows from the past 25 years

Culture Digest

From the Spiritualist origins of Ghostbusters to an interview with Luc Sante: what to read this weekend

Interview

To accompany frieze.com hosting his latest film for a limited period, London-based artist Steve Bishop gives an insight...
Stills from Gianfranco Rosi, Fuocoammare, 2016. 

Culture Digest

Gianfranco Rosi’s brilliant, difficult documentary addressing the migrant crisis
Manabu Miyazaki, Jay, Nagano (Japan), 2015, colour photograph © Manabu Miyazaki

Profile

A new exhibition at Fondation Cartier in Paris is dedicated to the work and ideas of legendary composer Bernie Krause

Review

Xippas, Paris, France

Influences

A cancelled seminar, a misprinted newspaper, and Invasion Day graffiti: the Australian artist shares her selection...
Hiroshi Sugimoto, from the ‘Theaters’ series, 1976–ongoing. Courtesy: © the artist

Critic's Guide

Highlights of the museum shows on now in the Spanish capital

On View

Latest Magazines

Frieze Week, New York, issue 2, 2016

Frieze Week

New York, 2016

frieze d/e

Summer 2016

frieze magazine

September 2016