After the Whitehot Mag interview, posted here two weeks ago, I had a second conversation with Ana about Saccharine, her current exhibition project in Berlin. Published at Dazed, it looks fabulous, however rather a lot of ruthless editing was required to meet the word count. I suggested that we publish the full version of the interview here, as the whole thing is really worth a read and gets across Ana’s unbridled enthusiasm and curiosity with some revealing stories and personal insights.
BH: In terms of the exhibition’s polyvalent concept, what does Saccharine mean to you?
AFH: The title functions on multiple levels. By referring to an artificial sweetener, it symbolizes the form of faux-intimacy that “Nadja’s” clients need. It is also a potentially toxic and nutritionally empty add-on, which references the risks of “Nadja’s” job for her and the clients that become emotionally invested in her. It is alludes to a dismissive view of romance and offers a counter-point to the genuine love embodied in relationships that four of the artists present in their work for the show.
BH: The show was initially intended to be split into two parts: work by your friends and work by people you don’t know. Do you have more affinity with work made by close friends?
AFH: I hope that I am meritocratic when critiquing work. But conversation can definitely corrupt viewing. I love discussing and debating people’s intentions. And I know that I can be seduced by an interesting idea. Friendships usually have a real foundation and I try to only befriend people I intellectually respect. I am really impatient with fluffies. So, I guess that I can grow to like something by someone I like and respect. It isn’t clean. But I definitely don’t punish enemies. I have written positively about bad exes, because their work deserved praise and attention. I had a boss once who was a real ogre. I got angry and said to him, “Criticism isnt about who fucked you or dissed you in the seventies.” He responded, “It is kiddo, you just haven’t been around long enough.” I hope that I never will be. But real intellectually invested friendship is something different.
BH: Can you describe the difference in dynamic between working with friends as opposed to working with people you don’t know?
AFH: Working with friends can be more fun but its a lot less easy than working with strangers. Boundaries bleed. People tend to take the piss when they know you know their context. Boyfriend issues or insecurities appear like legitimate excuses. And one’s own guilt can be a great distraction. I blame myself for not knowing better than to work with some people. However, when it works, it feels like family. And nothing is nicer than being proud of someone you love or being able to ask for real help and support.
BH: Your muse for the project is “Nadja Velben”, a feminist scholar and female escort. What does her name mean and how does it relate to the show?
AFH: Nadja Veblen’s given name evokes Andre Breton’s surrealist novel about an elusive muse. Her surname refers to the economic theory of “Veblen Goods” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veblen_good – the notion that a luxury commodity’s value increases as a result of its price, as opposed to the principle that the price is a reflection of its inherent, or even perceived value. She selected her name after being sexually rejected by a few close friends. She was already selling her intimate services then but the intimacy she has with these friends was genuine. She was more baffled than hurt that the same thing she that was sincerely offering for free was considered worthless whereas other people were pricing it at three months of her rent. The discrepancy was jarring, on both ego and intellectual levels. We decided to slightly misspell her surname, to lessen the possibility that her clients might learn about the show and feel exploited, hurt or offended. But even with the switched letters, her name is also an analogy for the seemingly arbitrary attribution of value to art.
BH: According to the Grimmuseum’s premise for the show, “Nadja” is supposed to be your curatorial doppelganger. Are you envious of your muse’s alter-ego?
AFH: I am not especially envious of her because her job is actually quite grueling. She has never experienced real danger or unpleasantness. It sounds lovely to be paid to be adored. And “Nadja” is hyper-sexual. She genuinely loves sex and is most comfortable with casual sexual relationships predicated on mutual respect and fondness instead of conventional romance. She genuinely cares about and respects a few of her clients. But the reality of what she does is often a real drag.
She had a client in his sixties from the Middle East fly her to various cities whenever he was in Europe. He would pay for her travel expenses, a lovely meal wherever she selected and €1,000 for the night. The sex was brief and bland but fine enough. However, they had zero bases for conversation. This man was excruciatingly unsophisticated, thick and tedious. He also insisted on constant contact during the months between dates. He would sent a few texts a day saying he “couldn’t wait to be in her arms” and calling her his “angel,” “sensual goddess” and “heart.” He needed her to refer to him as her “boyfriend” and her “love.” They had six dates around Europe, but Nadja finally cracked when they were in Paris together. She had to drink to be able to talk about this man’s bad teeth, but she overshot her mark and got sloshed. She ended up flirting with the waiter and passing out before performing. Her date tried to arrange a second evening for her and tried to pay her half for the two nights. But she couldn’t bring herself to be “professional” anymore. She demanded that they stick to the original pricing arrangement or there was no deal. She broke the romantic myth and the “relationship” couldn’t be redeemed. Being paid to go to Paris sounds great but being in Paris with someone sucking the pleasure away from the experience is hard work.
BH: Are you conscious of your own image as projected in photographs, projects, bios?
AFH: I don’t think that I am even capable of thinking about that. I am transparent almost to my detriment. Friends always tease me for having no secrets with anyone. I couldn’t have a secret life for three seconds. However I appear is just how I am.
BH: You’ve been photographed alongside the works in the exhibition. Why was that process important to you?
AFH: Curating can be a critical confession. You are making a public announcement about which works and artists you want to be associated with your name and thinking. As a writer, I was aware that publications might want a portrait of me to accompany an interview and I wanted to embody the theme of intimacy by presenting myself surrounded by the work from the show, since I love the art and artists involved very dearly. One photo by Maxime Balleteros shows me at my breakfast table, where I eat beside a print by Zhivago Duncan. The other portrait was taken by Heiko Laschitzki at my best friend David’s flat in Berlin, where I stay when someone needs mine. David has no furniture or WiFi, so I usually work at a cafe and come back to read until falling asleep. I miss chirping at him if he’s gone, so I talk to Jana, the stunning red haired fetish model whose portrait he is painting. She looms over me in Heiko’s image. She isn’t in the show, but you can’t become more intimate than by presenting me with my imaginary friend.
BH: Saccharine is a physical exhibition and an online project. Why should we log onto the show’s web component? Will it be developing further over time?
AFH: That is definitely the plan. I have invited more contributors to participate over time. My interview with Martin Kemp will run first and the rest will be uploaded gradually. I want to generate a careful digestion process and I hope that people will want to return to the site. It would be wonderful to have it evolve into an on-line journal about the subject. We’re not going to run out of interesting things to say about intimacy….
To find out more about the exhibition, take a look at the new Saccharine website.