On May 4 in Flux Factory, Long Island City, there will be an opening event for the video installation “AutoBiography”, in which two Danish artists, Anders Bojen (1976) and Kristoffer Ørum (1975), rewrite their biographies according to a mathematical system that continuously generates new and unstable interpretations of their identities and explores the autobiography as a phenomenon in itself. The exhibition is supported by the Danish Arts Council.
Over the last couple of years, Bojen and Ørum, who are based in Copenhagen, have worked on rewriting the history of specific places in order to rethink their meaning. In this project they combine mathematics with popular psychology in order to rewrite their own biographies and reinvent themselves in ways that they could not have scripted. Through images, narration and custom-designed software, their biographies merge into a new and unstable hybrid identity.
A video projection shows an endless number of alternative biographies for Bojen and Ørum based on family photographs from their suburban, middle-class backgrounds. Images of school, parents, friends, pets, and more are all mixed together. Following the model for the development of personality created by Erik H. Erikson (1902–1994), a voice-over narration continuously chronicles the formative experiences and phases in the artists' lives. The algorithmic video accounts for all of the things which, according to popular psychology, define our personalities.
The ways in which artist stage themselves autobiographically, from the reverence for artistic genius to the focus on identity politics in contemporary theoretical discourse, is central to the reception of art today. AutoBiography creates a field of tension between the causalities of a mathematical system and the search for identity through past experiences. An impersonal system determines the description of the self – a simultaneous undermining and enactment of the role and persona of the artist.
Arterritory.com contacted one of the artists – Kristoffer Ørum, to tell us more about the idea behind the project.
What is one of the main messages of this video work? Does it somehow reflect on the idea that each of us connects our fragmented memories in our own subjective story, calling it autobiography?
Yes, exactly – You could say we are interested in challenging both the way in which we perceive ourselves personally, and the way in which autobiographical narratives are circulated on a more general level, both in society and the art world. But we wanted to engage with the fictional qualities of autobiographies rather than distance ourselves from them, and create an infinite number (several million different ones) of believable alternative biographies. Our system is based on the eight stages of psychosocial development as articulated by Erik H. Erikson: to us, a game – like the structure of different levels through which a healthily developing human should pass from infancy to late adulthood. In each stage, the person confronts, and hopefully masters, new challenges, or looses and is traumatized for life.
Today Eriksson's developmental psychology and derivatives hereof are taught both at film and drama schools – to build fictional characters, and are used by professionals – such as social workers and psychologist. So you could say that his ideas on psychology have become an integral way of how many people perceive psychology, both ours, that of others, and not in the least how society views the psychology of individuals.
Isn't that a bit scary to see a lot of possible autobiographies of you? And doesn't it steal the unique feeling of your “real” biography?
Yes. It's quite scary to fictionalize yourself. But I think our families members were especially affected, who though it was weird because not all of the stories are that nice – and some of our respective family members are mentioned by name, or even featured in the images. As the system continually generates more or less believable biographies by mixing our biographies – it's possible to leave after seeing just one biography, not realizing that it is semi-fictional or systematic, and thinking that you know the “truth” about us. Or, you can stay for a while and begin to feel the computer game-like, systematic character of the multitude of possible re-tellings of who we are.
Previously, we have worked a lot with alternate narratives of cities and historical “facts”, but always far removed from ourselves. Besides, when you have worked collaboratively for many years, as we have done, it is often hard to tell which one of us thought of what, who did what or where the idea came from. We often feel ourselves rubbing up against the myth of the artist as a singular, divinely inspired subject. So in a way, our autobiographies are already fading into a weird hybrid identity.
Besides, we thought that the understanding of ourselves was as much in need of a destabilization, and to be rethought, as the world around us; and that we had to be ready to put ourselves through the same critical process of fictionalization as we've done to other places and people.
How did you start your collaboration with Flux Factory?
I was in residency for three months during 2011, and we've been waiting for a chance to come back.