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Future Watch: Hannes Ferm

After having been bowled over by Hannes Ferm’s BFA-degree project BLOOM at Konstfack last fall, we were curious to hear him reflect on his interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to art, as well as the recurring theme of subculture in his work. “Performance is a good way for me to address and reflect on the conditions of counterculture and subculture as it offers a form of distance; an outside-looking-in kind of perspective.”, he says.

Hannes Ferm, Bloom. Photo: Isak Berglund Mattsson-Mårn

C-P: Some people may know you as a musician. As far as has been seen, music is incorporated into your artistic practice as well. Do you see these practices, being a musician and an artist, as separate or intertwined? What role does music play in your work as an artist, and vice versa?

H. F: On a personal level, I find it hard making a clear distinction between the two. I think the separation often takes place externally, the art scene having a certain culture and language and the scene of pop-music another. With that said the different practices do, for me, certainly influence each other, and result in knowledge that it is transcendent in the sense that it’s applicable to both fields. The approach I use for producing or making music doesn’t initially differentiate that much from the way I approach making a performance piece.

Hannes Ferm, Bloom. Photo: Isak Berglund Mattsson-Mårn

C-P: Do you primarily see yourself as a performance-based artist? How does performance, as an artistic method and expression, appeal to you?

H.F: I used to want to separate my musical practice from my artistic practice, so I used to work strictly visually, with sculptural installations in mixed techniques. But I think performance made me realize that I can utilize the experience I have from my musical background. Like the technical aspects of knowing how to actually make music, how to work with the acoustics of a room, and just knowing what it’s like to stand in front of an audience. But also the impressions and memories I have of being a part of a “scene” in a time where various scenes and counterculture, in my view, started to dissolve. Performance is a good way for me to address and reflect on the conditions of counterculture and subculture as it offers a form of distance; an outside-looking-in kind of perspective. It enables me to juxtapose certain signifiers and aspects from different scenes in an unconventional way; a process that works really well for me personally, as it kind of combines intuition and reflection in a way that feels very free.

Hannes Ferm. Photo: Lars Brønseth

C-P: Would you elaborate a bit on these ideas in light of your BFA-degree exhibition at Konstfack, namely Bloom? How were your reflections on subculture and counterculture expressed in this particular performance piece?

H.F: So, what kind of became the wide framework early in the process was an observation made by Mark Fisher in his book Capitalist Realism. He notes that capitalism is accelerating, and culture is stagnating, resulting in an incapability of visualizing “the new”. Pop music is especially symptomatic to this development. Movements such as the early techno scene in Chicago and the role it played for queer and transgender people of colour, the hippie movement and it’s questioning of conservative core values and technocracy, or the socialist hardcore scene in the 90’s – all have in common that they were political movements with an aesthetic representation of some kind of ideal. They knew not only what they were against but what they would like to see instead. What they also have in common is retrospectively being succumbed to a kind of fetishization, as the aesthetic expression was stripped from its cultural and political context. With Bloom, I wanted to address the kind of depoliticized and individual position where pop-music, in a broader perspective, has positioned itself, working with a sort of frustration over the growing impossibility of visualizing the ”new”. This thought came to manifest itself in the three characters that constituted the performance. Each character performs songs from different musical genres, but exchanging the traditional utopian thematic connected to those genres, with themes addressing the increasingly complex reality of today and the impossibility of escaping it.

Hannes Ferm, Bloom. Photo: Isak Berglund Mattsson-Mårn

C-P: The stagnation of culture and the inability to visualize the future indicates an alarming development of society. Where do you find the source of inspiration and drive to continue working with art, despite all this?

H.F: Yeah, I mean it is a way to look at things that comes across as very cynical. But rather than just affirming that that is the way things are and resigning to cynicism, I try to use that perspective in itself as an inspiration. Exploring the poetics and aesthetics of a harsh reality is in part also a way of turning a negative force into a positive one. Being a doomer nowadays is just too easy.

C-P: You have done several projects in collaboration with artist Annie Hägg, such as the creation of the curatorial concept Fantasy. What made you come up with the idea to create a curatorial platform, and how has this collaboration been beneficial for you?

H.F: Having a collaborative practice alongside a more private one is the ideal working situation for me, I think. The Fantasy project spawned from the lack of collaborative processes within the institutional context, and from the desire to actually organize something using the network we share between us. It’s not only about what materially is being produced, but also what kind of conversations it enables, the connections that are made, etcetera. Annie and I always have some kind of exchange going on in each other’s practices as well, probably for a similar reason. I think it’s healthy for one’s own process to have someone near, who shares your references but has another skillset and another entry into your work. It opens things up in a way.

Hannes Ferm, Bloom. Photo: Isak Berglund Mattsson-Mårn

C-P: In Bloom, you let others play the characters in the performance, as such refraining from performing yourself. What are your thoughts on these different positions, that is, of performing versus acting more the director?

H.F: I think what mainly attracts me to work in that way is being aware from very early in the process that it’s not about a literal self-portrayal. I don’t have to think about how my own appearance will be perceived, so even if one’s own ego is inescapable within the field, I’m at least kind of disconnected from that part of it. It also opens for a more choreographic role later in the process. During the rehearsals, the performers are given the space to interpret my directions, and we have a conversation from there about what works and what doesn’t. That exchange was eye-opening to me in seeing what processes and tools are available in the performance field, both in terms of what can be done, but even more so in what can be learnt from them.

Hannes Ferm, Bloom. Photo: Isak Berglund Mattsson-Mårn

C-P: How about the interaction with the audience; how do you reflect on the meeting between work and beholder?

H.F: The audience is for me somehow always present in every step of a process. I think more about what something communicates rather than what it is or does – trying to look through the eyes of some kind of beholder is a helpful tool when making decisions. You can step back and ask yourself how accessible things are, and what is communicated. Even though a work like Bloom was completely dependent on an audience, I don’t think a lot of everyone’s individual interpretation, but focus more on signifiers that are shared collectively in a certain cultural and political context.

C-P: Before wrapping up our interview, I’d like to know something about your plans ahead. What are you working on right now, and what might be in the pipeline for in 2021?

H.F: Right now, I’m working on editing the video documentation from Bloom as well as doing the finishing touches on the songs that were used in the performance, to get them ready to be released, one way or another. I’m also preparing for Konstfack’s spring exhibition, in which I’ll be exhibiting with my class at Konstnärshuset at the end of May.

This feature was originally produced for C-print's The Future Watch Issue in print, a close collaboration with the BA3 Class in Graphic Design and Illustration at Konstfack, and released (May 2021) and sold at Index Foundation in Stockholm (our main distributor).

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