Six questions for
Johann Arens

Tique asks six questions to an artist about their work and inspiration.
This week: Johann Arens.

Artist Johann Arens
Lives in London, Amsterdam

How do you describe your own art practice?

I use sculpture and video to work out how physical and digital infrastructures impact our communal life and shape our civil behavior. These site-related installations take place in the shared public domain of schools, community centers, hospitals, digital learning centers, internet cafes, neighborhood shops, social food venues, local markets as well as art spaces.

Which question or theme is central in your work?

Each of my works is an inquiry into the multiple ways in which the inadequacy of public policy shapes our common spaces and their inherent social textures. I am curious how the qualities and strategies of public art can help to facilitate education, empathy, touch and a sense of ownership.

What was your first experience with art?

From what I recall it is seeing Duane Hansons’ ‘Supermarket Lady’ in the local museum of my birthplace, Aachen. I still hold this work in high regard. The three-dimensional female figure is made of glass fiber reinforced polyester resin. Her sur- faces are painted with oils. She wears off-the-rack clothing of various textiles and a range of accessories made of plastic. The shopping trolley she is pushing contains 79 objects, a copious selection of food packages, for example of oats, sweets, baking mixtures, biscuits, margarine, cheese spread, salt, tea bags and dog food. In addition, there are also egg cartons, packets for frozen meals, tinned vegetables, canned drinks and milk cartons. Then there are the non-food articles like aluminum foil and cling film, detergent, toilet paper, deodorant and bath oil. It is social realism at its best.

What is your greatest source of inspiration?

The people I see when I walk down the street, their intense craving for joy, the sadnesses engraved on their faces, their extreme and complex body language and their profound differences. I want to know their names and particularities. It is not one specific interrelation that will make my neurons fire, I thrive on the complex synergy of human coexistence and am driven by upset about inadequate public infrastructures and the chronically disappointing decisions made by local and national legislators.

And watching the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman.

What do you need in order to create your work?

Trust in others, trust of others

What work or artist has most recently surprised you?

It was the work of the National Food Service in London, a food activist network with the aim of eliminating food insecurity and tackling the interconnected issues of social isolation and food justice.

I was struck by how the NFS transcends the mere functionality of a food bank by facilitating critical discourse and enabling former patrons to cook big-batch meals for their own communities. I share their deep interest in communal food infrastructures and the implementation of ethical and low-waste food chains, as part of a political vision of Universal Public Services, free to all at the point of access. Together with my collaborator Dr. Hanna Baumann from the Institute of Global Prosperity we recently co-organized a series of workshop events with the NFS at the food/art space Shamiyaana of Rasheed Araeen, whose work I also treasure.

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