Christopher Kline (1982, Kinderhook NY) is a syncretic artist who prefers to be called maker and whose projects range over a wide variety of artistic fields and media. In collective and solo projects such as Snakebraid, Wooden Veil, Night Music and Gemeine Gesteine Kline has dealt with research in the field of ritual music, sacred culture, and primitivism focusing on their abstraction and re-contextualization in happenings and exhibitions. Outside of his interest in experimental music, in 2010 he started with the alias Hush Hush a pop music project placed outside of the art world to become an actual commercial product.
Fabrics, costumes, tapestries, masks and quilts represent the main part of his handcraft-based artworks production. Often created in collaboration with Sol Calero (1982, Caracas), these rich patterned textiles echo an ancient and long tradition and find their significance also in the precision of its time-based manufacture. This approach recalls to some extent some of the earlier Kline’s projects devoted to writing as the massive collection of Letters or the easy-going archive of Official Documents.
Christopher Kline is currently based in Berlin where together with Sol Calero he runs the project space Kinderhook & Caracas since 2011, and the publishing project Feather Throat. He has exhibited and performed in various public and private spaces in US and all over Europe. Since 2010 he is constantly on tour with his music project Hush Hush. In 2011 he took part in the Based-in-Berlin exhibition; lately he had a solo exhibition with Sol Calero at TEA Tenerife and participated in the 2012 Preview Berlin art fair.
Mario Margani: Christopher, primitivism and alchemical aesthetics seem to play a key-role in many of your projects such as Feather Throat, Wooden Weil, Snakebraid, and Gemeine Gesteine. Where do these interests date back?
Christopher Kline: Ever since I was young I was just kind of collecting little things and in a way displaying some of them on the shelves of my bedroom. I was collecting stones and sticks and other stuff and even when I travelled I had a collection of my small things arranged on my nightstand. I guess it comes from this pleasure in building a collection of objects and having a sort of intuition that they could have some other kind of properties and qualities. On some occasions a thought crosses my mind or I get the feeling that I want a certain found objects to be in my life and then I take these objects out of their situation and bring them to another place. I guess it’s a sort of metaphysical sense for matter. Alchemy is interesting to me like a kind of topical research. I do not really go in deep with alchemy and I’m not into spells or recipes. It’s a reference point for me, but basically I have a similar reference point to religion or any sort of ritual things that people do. Christianity around the world has just so many strange traditions, probably more actually then other religions. Even in countries like Spain, which is so Catholic, they always have a mix of local traditions and religious holidays. They make no sense really… hitting drums for 24 hours or climbing up in human pyramids and towers, running around the streets in costumes of fur and bells. But all these things have very old pre-Christian origins. When you see certain objects or hear certain songs, when you hear people harmonizing, it’s something that brings humans pretty naturally gravitate towards. Everyone has their own little attachment to these old feelings.
Mario Margani: Do you expectyour audience to be physically and emotionally involved in a sort of reenactment of a ritual or rather to approach the performance in a more conceptual way?
Christopher Kline: I think it’s a little more intuitive. There aren’t any specific or intentional references to other rituals. It’s more about the abstraction of a ritual, so the audience is not going to a sort of church; they aren’t going to have any required role in a ceremony, nor are they supposed to believe in something. Wooden Veil was formed by Hanayo, Marcel Türkowsky, Dominik Noé, Jan Pfeiffer, and me. We all came from different backgrounds and had different views of the world and religion. As we developed our performances and the rituals within them, we followed an intuitive process and each of us had a very abstract understanding of objects, movements and sounds. Also the costumes help the viewer again to separate that moment from the reality, because the audience faces something that’s really not part of its daily life. You are not seeing guys on stage chewing gum and playing guitar, they are not going to talk each other. It creates an environment for the sound and it’s essential in order to reach another level of concentration. Masks are also important for the players themselves. When you are wearing a mask you have a feeling of detachment from your personality and you can go deeper into the music and the action, rather than thinking about your expression and its effect on the audience, or their gaze on you. I think it’s very important for playing music because it lets your mind go out to another place.
Mario Margani: For many of your costumes, tapestries and quilts, you are working with fabrics and patterns, often produced in collaboration with Sol Calero. How did it start?
Christopher Kline: I think it’s a sort of intuitive relationship with the materials that we both have with fabrics, which is one of the materials we are working with and which has a long beautiful history. I would say I’m interested in about 25% of art and I like maybe 5% of what I see, but I probably like 90% of the quilts I see. There’s always something interesting in them, although they can be totally different works. I always appreciate these carefully handcrafted things. I still do appreciate some hard work and care in a piece. Even if it has other aesthetic or conceptual qualities you can tell that someone put a lot of time, pure hours of their life, into this work. The way that you think about the piece as you are performing hours and hours of sewing or whatever you’re doing, the way your ideas evolve through labor, has another value for me… It’s probably this relationship with old things – maybe some sort of primitive things – mixed with sort of hopefully new concepts or new ways of positioning them, recontextualizing them, and that requires time and manual technique.
Mario Margani: In relation to your project Hush Hush, you quote Lewis Hyde, who referring to Mircea Eliade states: “The historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, once suggested that when evil days are upon us, the sacred survives by camouflaging itself within the profane. To recover it we must develop the eyes-some sort of night vision or hunter’s attentiveness-that can discover the shapes of the sacred despite its camouflage.” How important is camouflaging in your different projects and practices? Is it also a way of detaching yourself from your many “characters”?
Christopher Kline: I used that quote from Lewis Hyde also because I didn’t want to directly quote Eliade, who was in tight relation with some fascist ideologists. So I suppose that there’s some kind of camouflaging going on in my use of the quote itself. I guess camouflaging is overall a good way of leaving your personality open in a way for new ideas to come in. If you get really attached to your own ego, then you can get really locked into one type of creating. I think that whatever you are making is always a result of a lot of situations from your life and influences. There could have been a million different combinations so I try not to get to locked into one identity as a person but at the same time you need to have some consistency and to be a trust-worthy person that people can hang out with, just as a friend or a family member. I can be very focused and close-minded at times so I try to at least keep some platform for me to open my mind and try totally unrelated things. On some elements I need total control and then, in other things like Hush Hush, I’m in control of the room but there are a lot of other factors that can happen during the performance that I have to be ok with, losing that control. It depends so much on the audience, whereas in an exhibition everything is planned and you hang up the works or choose how to use space during a performance, and you do it just as you want it.
Mario Margani: When you are working on your performances and exhibitions, apart from Hush Hush, you need more control of the space and the audience, but then during the performance you need to lose yourself in the action.
Christopher Kline: It’s also a way of drifting away from old social attitudes and habits. Hush Hush has to deal more with social elements. I’m singing, people are dancing and clapping. In other genres of performances I don’t really have any idea of what people are doing. Hopefully they are just sitting down concentrating because we go really deep into it. It’s nice to have this contrast in the different ways of playing music. I have never made pop music before. It’s a challenge to come from an experimental background and then trying to move into pop music. Some people do really well focusing on one thing and go deep into it for their whole life or for many years. For me it’s interesting to experiment with the whole format and not only with the content.
Mario Margani: For Hush Hush you are producing for the first time digitally most part of the music. Is it affecting also other projects or do you try to keep them separated?
Christopher Kline: Yes, it’s the first time. I had drum-machines for Wooden Veil and other projects, but not on the computer. I haven’t been making that much other music lately, other than Hush Hush. Originally after Wooden Veil came Snakebraid, which was much more stripped down and I took out the most of the music. There were no really songs; there were the bells, the performances and the costumes. Hush Hush, on the other hand, is just pure music and energy, basically. Now I think Hush Hush will start to get a little more sonically interesting, taking elements from other sounds. It was originally designed to be a live project and the recordings were just quick tools to remember what happened. I haven’t made an album yet to be listened to. When I do make a proper album I want to do something people can really listen to at home. Right now, maybe it isn’t amazing for a home listening. It’s going to change form a few times, probably less funny and more weird, because you never know what’s going on with the seriousness and it will probably use different levels of communication with the audience.
Mario Margani: About the many projects you have carried on together with other artists, some of them – such as Wooden Veil – seems to be closed or in stand-by. Do you usually archive a project for some years and then reopen it with a new approach?
Christopher Kline: I guess it’s a way for me to focus my brain. For example Wooden Veil was around for three years and kind of ended two years ago also because the people who were working on that project now live in different places or have different goals. You never know, but it probably won’t happen again. All current projects are those in which I see a future, a development. The others go into the archive.
Mario Margani: Does Hush Hush – and all its “obscene” language made out of sexual references both in texts and videos – represent a way of releasing, liberation or do you want to criticize or mock some music genre and habits?
Christopher Kline: Hush Hush is not that critical and I’m not trying to make a point about sexuality and hip-hop, but at the same time I don’t use a lot of words like an hip-hop singer use, I don’t swear too much, I don’t have derogatory terms for people at all. Maybe the new songs are not so sex-oriented, but I think the reason is that sexuality fits the format of pop-music so, when I was trying to learn how to make pop-music, I noticed it’s also easier to have fun, which can be a problem in art. Comedy can be very challenging and risky, going in front of a room of people and just talking and making them laugh. This is difficult. But it can also be a very safe way of making art. I see a lot of younger people making things that are kind of ugly, kind of half of a joke, kind of ironic, a lot of “kind of’s”… Inside half-jokes that aren’t actually very funny. Whereas to make a sincere gesture, even if it’s a sincere punch in the face, takes a little more risk. When people criticize your half-assed joke sculpture, you can always say it was just a stupid thing, not take it to heart, but if you are criticized for something you are putting up sincerely, it’s a harder deal to face. I think Hush Hush suffers from that a bit at the moment… it’s a little too hard to criticize, people don’t know if the joke is on them or me. And while I like this ambiguity, it’s a little too safe somehow. For everyone.
Mario Margani: Do you consider Hush Hush more like and artistic project or like a real music project?
Christopher Kline: I decided to do it in a music context, because I’m bored with these projects in an art gallery that are like a fake band, which shows fake documentation. I put up a real band and operate in the music business. It happens for real, with real people, a real interaction with the audience, real fans and real autographs. It is far more interesting than just showing that in a neutral art gallery like a constructed thing. I decided to actually make it happen.
Mario Margani: How did you ended up performing with a Mixed Martials Arts fight team in Galerie Conradi, Hamburg?
Christopher Kline: That was a double solo show and the other artist exhibiting was Anneli Schütz. We had two different rooms and two performances for the opening. She had the idea of getting these guys because she works with abstract, weird, concrete sport elements. The MMA guys were definitely her planning and organization and then I had an idea for the transition between their exercises and my space and performance. I made a battering ram and, at the end of their performance, the guys smashed it through the wall to get into the room with my work. There starts the next part with my performance. Those guys were amazing. They were real dudes, and I was so impressed how serious and into the performance they got. They found the zone. The entrance to the room and my performance was blocked with a painting so no one really knew what was inside and if you didn’t know the space you wouldn’t even know there was a room. It was kind of strange because, for the first two hours of the opening, the people couldn’t see my work and Sol Calero and I were already inside, waiting to perform. Then, suddenly, we just saw the hole in the wall the guys smashed through. I think it was a nice, hard and weird combination and I’d like to develop more performances in combination with other artists.
Mario Margani: In some of your past exhibitions you showed your collection of Letters and in your website your collect and show an archive of Official Documents. Which role does writing play in your art practice? How do you deal with this sort of duality between, on the one side, collecting all these papers and handwritings or working on ritual music and, on the other side, using digital means and technologies in some of your projects and for communication in general?
Christopher Kline: I used to be a really letter-writer. I wrote maybe three letters a week and I also received a lot of them, but a few years ago it slowed down a lot and now I barely write any letters anymore, but I still have all of them. Actually, I think that my main art production for a bunch of years was writing letters. It was a kind of main project, although I didn’t think it as an art project exactly. But most of my free time was spent making stuff for people. I got pretty good at writing letters at least, putting in again a lot of time and hard work. This is something important for writing. I think people sometimes think: “I’ll wait till I retire and then when I’m sixty I’ll try to write a book.” But if you don’t practice writing for sixty years your book is going to be horrible. For me letter writing was about communicating with people I like, and then it had also to do with the elaboration of packages, envelops, collages, drawings and weird objects, all things you put in. That was nice because when you send a letter to someone they are not really judging like when you’re having an exhibition. You could play and you are never really showing it to other people, just to this one person who gets it. It gives you a lot of freedom to try out stuff. And you also fell like you published it almost, because you posted it and, when the letter is away from you, it’s over. So I have hundreds and hundreds of letters, I’ve sent photos and drawings and I don’t even remember what they are at this point. When somebody shows me a letter I sent them some years ago – like a joke or a drawing – I often have no recollection of it at all, as if I just flushed everything out. Since I have been doing more exhibitions, I haven’t had the time to keep writing letters.
Mario Margani: Does the archive of Official Documents represent a sort of statement or is it, again, a way of training and experimenting with the writing?
Christopher Kline: That is just going to happen randomly. Looking back, I think it’s really influenced by my friend Ethan Hayes-Chute. He did a newsletter called Good News Folks and we also started writing a lot of silly stuff back and forth on postcards we’d send across Berlin with a free postage code we learned. We were kind of testing the limits of what we could mail. Someone mailed me a cracker, no envelope or anything, just a cracker. The postman was not happy with me already and that was the final straw. With Official Documents, I was just riffing through a bunch of funny ideas I had and, after a while, I just posted the scans of them on the website. Basically they are just a kind of fake official documents. There’s nothing official about them, but it’s also a way to make comments and, mostly, a way of exercising writing. Now I’m often writing the texts for the Kinderhook & Caracas with Sol Calero and I think, for the next year, I will have more published writings.
Mario Margani: Which is the relation between your curating projects and the space Sol Calero and you are running, Kinderhook & Caracas? Do you see the artists and works you show in your space also as part of your curating projects? Is also curating a kind of camouflaging for you as in other of your projects?
Christopher Kline: I don’t think I’m really a curator, or at least not a very good curator. But Kinderhook & Caracas, for me, is not so different from my art or practice, which is also made up of many different activities. With some artists I end up sharing a vision, which sometimes might lead to collaboration. Sometimes you see someone else’s potential, you see what it could be with just them alone and then you try to make it public and bring it out to more people; share it or just help realize it. So I think, with the exhibition space, I have the same attitude of when you see what a project could be and you try to make it happen. We mostly do solo exhibitions, so you can get pretty deep into one certain vision of a certain person. With group shows you can kind of lose the thread and I have seen so many bad group shows in Berlin that have some interesting people or maybe cool people but often nothing more. Because it’s a group show I know the artists often don’t bring their best works. They don’t give their best concepts either because they don’t know how it’s going to be used in the space… No one fully cares because of the social event. I really enjoy working with an artist or a pair of artists at the time on one focused project: then you can really understand what the work should be. There is a development of the work in the space like an installation and so it always feels more special than a drawing or a painting in a group show. The curators I really like have clear visions and they are also approaching the curation almost like a research project or a thesis. They develop the idea and they want to give life to these ideas through other people’s ideas too or combining things. I think a really good curator is hard to find and I think that, with the space, I’m rather facilitating other artists’ projects.
Mario Margani: This approach relates also to your project and works. In the exhibitions you have curated, apart from the Kinderhook & Caracas, for example Feather Throat, could your position be assimilated to other projects where you are directly acting like an artist and performer? Is it another camouflage or another job?
Christopher Kline: I don’t know if it’s about camouflaging as much as just the option of bringing out all different types of visions. Camouflaging is about hiding something, about divided identities and visions, but here there’s nothing to hide. Here there’s not necessarily a kind of core, between the projects I do there’s not really something more real or sincere then any other particular thing. When you take a sculpture and you put it in a room in a certain way or a certain arrangement like we are basically doing in Kinderhook and Caracas, there’s somehow something related to what we are doing in our own work. People have different aesthetics and ideas than us, but somehow it’s going to form a context for each other and we make the exhibition look different here, so that there’s like a train of thought but it’s showing various approaches. I always say I’m not a musician, because, although I make a lot of music, I’m not very talented in one instrument or something, I follow more an idea and try to make it happen. I cannot sing that well, I cannot dance that well, I just do everything ok and in order to make the thing happen. Also, I’m definitely not a curator, and I would say I’m probably not an artist, because I find it an easier way to categorize a person and his actions. Maybe we need some new terminologies. I think I rather match the category of the “maker”, someone who mixes things, makes things happen. I’m really not attached to the art world, also because only a very small representative of the art I see strikes me. I hear so many amazing songs, I see so many amazing movies, I can see an amazing dancer, can hear amazing voices and read amazing books, but vary rarely do I see an artwork and think “That was amazing.” Probably it isn’t even possible to make a really amazing artwork, because it becomes so rhetorical and interconnected that you have to know, to research and to read. Normally you find the amazingness out of this process.
Mario Margani: Before, we were talking about a possible commercial development of Hush Hush. Which is your relation with commercial art in general and with the galleries you are working with? Are your also exhibiting video and photo documentation of your performances?
Christopher Kline: I’m not conceptually interested in the art world and art market. I’m not really consciously making things to sell. I think there’s not really a way to commercialize the performances and the documentation is never so interesting. It maybe gives just an idea to the people of what happened. I had the idea of using Hush Hush in a real commercial way, so to have more funds to use for other projects – like a day job – because in Hush Hush it would make sense since it’s designed to operate in a commercial sphere and to be popular. Then, in general, if some of my work are sellable it’s fine. If they aren’t, it’s great too as long as the project keeps improving and leads to express some kind of vision. That’s the main thing.
Mario Margani: How are you developing your publishing project?
Christopher Kline: We founded the small press Feather Throat in 2010. We started it before opening the project space, but now it works in conjunction with it. The original idea was to put up a publication or edition for every exhibition we have. So far we put out actually two proper things: the book Master of None for Brent Wadden and the cassette tape Volta di Lame di Lune for Francesco Cavaliere. A couple of other things didn’t really get finished. Sol and I are working now on a publication about the last four exhibitions we have done together collecting all ideas, found materials, references, research, writings and documentation of the pieces.
Mario Margani: Which are your upcoming main projects, exhibitions and performances?
Christopher Kline: Till the end of October I have the exhibition Regalos Ancestrales together with Sol Calero in TEA – Tenerife Espacio de las Artes. We have pretty much every month something coming at Kinderhook & Caracas, currently we host a solo show by Ethan Hayes-Chute and, in November, we will open a show by Elise Florenty and Marcel Türkowksy. I’ve just taken part and performed in the Berlin Art Fair Preview with Grimmuseum. During the next months, I have a bunch of Hush Hush shows, mostly out-of-town. I actually wish I were laying a little lower, incubating a few new projects and ideas.