In the hills of Santa Monica lies Villa Aurora, a "true castle by the sea" in the words of Thomas Mann who was often a guest there. The former exile residence of Marta and Lion Feuchtwanger, which was in the 1940s a meeting point for European intellectuals, today still holds the reputation of an inspiring art haven. On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, Villa Aurora is presenting its nine fellows in the upcoming exhibition “Checkpoint California” at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.
Eager to find out more about this artists' residence with an impressive historical background, we asked Christian Jankowski to share his experience as one of the former residents. The first thing we found out is that he is currently very busy with his work as an artist and as the chief curator of the next Manifesta, and "Checkpoint California" is just one of the many things he is involved in at the moment. Between shows and flights, he found time to host us at his Berlin home, and tell us how it really was to live in "the land of mik and honey". Going down this memory lane seemed so enjoyable and light, and evidently got him Califonia dreaming...
Tell us about your residency in Villa Aurora.
I had a great experience in Villa Aurora. It was even my first time in Los Angeles back then. It is a fantastic place, where Route 66 meets Highway 1. You can even walk to the ocean. I came from still quite cold Germany to nice LA weather. With its historical background, and the people who were in exile there, it was a very interesting place. Very inspirational. Hollywood, Silicon Valley and places like these immediately stimulate images and inspire. I used my time here to develop a project and to get some ideas. I think it is good to come there with an idea, and not just hang out, try to get inspired. Three months is not a long time to develop new artworks.
What period was it? How did your life look like then?
I came there in 2004 at the beginning of April. It was nice that the director did not live there. I used Villa Aurora very much as an instrument, and often invited people over to have barbecues, parties, cocktails, and there were no problems for me using it like this. Of course, I heard that people were not totally jumping for joy that I invite many people, but for somebody who is new in LA and who wants to do something with film business, or some galleries or artists over there, it was a fantastic plateau to meet people. It was almost like the German cultural embassy over there. You could have people there, and they were all amazed by the place and location. It was nice to meet on this kind of host level, to organise events and welcome people. It helped me to connect with many people. From young artists, to tennis teachers in Beverly Hills, to curators, collectors, gallerists… Actually, I started working with Shaun Regen from Regen Projects later in LA through this connection.
What were you working on? What exactly inspired you in LA?
I wanted to work in the film industry in LA. And thinking of the typical films or image production from LA, it is big Hollywood films that in most cases live from very strong visual effects, nowadays most of them digital effects. I was interested in digital effects, so I looked at some iconographic productions. I think that "Day After Tomorrow" and other special effect films were the genre I wanted to work with, or at least the people I wanted to work with. There was also this book that I bought, called "The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects". By thinking about art and special effects that you have in architecture and religious painting, that there is something like a miracle that happens in front of your eyes, I was reminded of a baroque painting I once saw, where people carry a canvas through the streets of Sevilla, and through the power of this image a house collapses. In other words, it is a painting about a miraculous painting. I thought why not do something similar, a film inside another film. So, I said to the special effect producers in Hollywood to make a film where I am acting in, and I walk around with my 16mm projector, and I put up the film projection. Through the presence of this film, something had to be transformed in the background. You never see the secret 16mm film in my movie, that is why it is called "16mm Mystery" – because nobody knows which film I was screening there. But in the 35mm film that was filming the scenery, you are looking at the back of the canvas, so you cannot see what is actually projected. What you see is that projector goes on and projects the light on the screen. Then you see in the background behind the screen, that there is a skyscraper collapsing in downtown LA. Now, something that many people do not immediately get when they see this project, is that there was a kind of collaboration with the Brothers Strause. The main thing about involving those special effect professionals from Hollywood was to get them into a new role. Normally these visual effects producers work after a script. Somebody tells them what has to happen, and then they illustrate this effect. I wanted to put them in a different situation and tell them – in my film you are free to create any effect you want. You do not have to have a collapsing building. You can also change the city into a forest, or you can have a dinosaur playing baskeball, or whatever you want. They had the freedom, and they chose to destroy one big skyscraper. That also speaks about the power of image, and what effect film can have on reality.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I am focused on the big exhibition. I am curating Manifesta 2016 in Zürich, and there is a lot of work for this. I see this biennale also as something that is my work and I want to do it good. It also deals with a lot my artistic interest.
The name of the next Manifesta is "What People Do For Money". It works on the idea of perspectives from different professions. I took many ideas that I use as an artist, and I am sticking with my fascination and obsession with collaborations. I think it is very important that people look into each others' worlds, so I am giving all of the invited artists a list of all professions practiced in Zürich. Then they choose one profession for themselves, and I look for a representative of that profession to be the host for the artist. Artists can then be inspired and develop a work out of the situation. Later they will also find the perfect spot to present the work; not necessarily the white cube. Videos will show the whole process of the work until it is exhibited for the first time.
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Unter den Linden 13–15, 10117 Berlin, U Französische Str.