Per Hüttner is a Swedish visual artist who lives and works in Paris, France and in Stockholm, Sweden. He graduated from Konsthögskolan in Stockholm 1993. He also studied at Hochschule der Künste in Berlin 1991-1992. He is mostly known for his photographic work and for his interactive, changing and travelling exhibition projects. A number of monographs about his practice has been published including Per Hüttner, 2003; I am a Curator, 2004; Repetitive Time 2006, Xiao Yao You 2006 and Democracy and Desire 2007
Hüttner was born in Oskarshamn, Småland on 11 February 1967. His father, Bengt, who was Jewish, died in a car accident in 1971 and he was brought up by his Protestant mother with his sister. He moved around Sweden until the age of 24 when he moved to Berlin to study. His life has since been marked by a restless nomadism, where travel and international projects are core to his life and practice. He lived in London, Los Angeles until he created his base in Paris in 2002. Hüttner was one of the founders of the non-profit galleries Konstakuten in Stockholm (1996–2001) and The Hood Gallery in Los Angeles (2001–2003), the former was one of the first in the country and lead to the creation of a great number of alternative spaces in Sweden. He is also the father of the experimental research group Vision Forum.
Hüttner’s work investigates impermanence as a global principle, especially how ideas of permanence and purity are used to perpetuate social, political and economical structures and how that influences human communication and interaction. The work often deals with transformation, change or various forms of transgressions of boundaries or borders. The artist is inspired by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and particularly interested in how the relationship between larger political, economical and social structures affect the individual and vice versa. His work dialogues with the history of performance and explores the genre in innovative ways by provoking the curiosity and imagination of the visitor as well as by reflecting on notions about time, knowledge and the human body.
In the late 1980s and 1990s much of Hüttner’s installations used computers, video and other new media. He was one the first artists to build installations around actual computers, using them as a sculptural elements and at the same time allowing them to present vast and complex information. The artist also used contemporary medical science to develop work based on research on the human brain at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England – looking at how the brain remains in a constant state of change and regeneration. He also created exhibitions, publications and lectures with biochemist Elias Arnér that dealt with the relationship between art, science and the human body in Stockholm. In Begrepp – En Samling (Concepts a Collection) they brought together artists and scientists to dialogue about metaphysical questions.
In the late 1990s Hüttner took the experience of dealing with art and science and implemented this knowledge into a series of exhibitions investigating the relationship between the art object and the exhibition. In 2001 he co-curated an exhibition at Nylon with Goshka Macuga and Gavin Wade. Other noteworthy exhibitions that dealt with these issues and that engaged the audience in continuously reshaping the exhibition was: I am a Curator at Chisenhale Gallery in London and Participate? at CEAC in Xiamen, China and at Basekamp in Philadelphia.
Parallel to this activity Hüttner created a photography project entitled “Jogging in Exotic Cities” where the artist went jogging for a week in far away cities that remain exotic to a western audience. In the photographs we see the artist dressed in white jogging clothes as he makes his way through bustling cities like Chennai, Mexico City and Lusaka. The project probably remains Hüttner’s most well-known. It has been shown in major museums in the USA, Spain Poland, Romania, Austria, China and Sweden.
In 2004 he developed the performative aspects in the above mentioned project and tied it back to a research about the limits of reality and documentary photography. He developed a series of photographs where he created shrines of commemoration in busy street corners of urban centres around the world. These impromptu sculptures suggested that an accident or act of violence had been committed in that specific place (while in fact they were fabricated by the artist). The work provoked complex discussions about differences and similarities between documentary traditions and the fictional. This investigation into the very fabric of reality has moved to the forefront in the artist’s mature work about impermanence and change. In the catalogue text to his 2006 exhibition Xiao Yao You that displayed a large body of the work at the Guangdong Museum of Art in Guangzhou the curator, Zhang Wei, writes:
Ceaseless movement is not a way of gaining ever more exotic knowledge of the world; it is rather a way of cleaning out and rediscovering the self. This is what I see in Per’s work. When I face his images, the reality presented in them seems less a true physical reality than an invisible psychological one. I see a negotiation and dialogue between the artist’s inner and outer worlds. In this psychological landscape, he describes his worries, his pursuit of human sentiment, and his insistent rejection of a stylized or superficial life. It makes me think of the Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zi’s idea of xiao yao you or “moving carelessly.” This philosophy does not only detail how to move freely across physical space, but is also a metaphor for how humans can transcend different kinds of obstacles and achieve a freedom of the spirit.
The journey into the human soul was further developed in another photographic series from 2006-07 entitled Democracy and Desire. The images were primarily shot at night with very long exposure times.The relationship between the individual and its search for personal liberty from social conventions again comes to the forefront in the dreamlike photography. In the catalogue text to the exhibition the work is discussed. In a typical style of the artist, it is hard to decipher who the author of the give text is and it even appears that the texts in different languages are written by different authors:
The uninhibited mental and/or physical space is very individual and extremely hard to define. But it is even more complicated, because this freedom can never be safe-guarded by consumerism, legislation or democracy anymore than the self-confidence that feeds it can be defended by a law. As artists it is our prime responsibility to fight for the right to retain and enjoy this liberty for ourselves and others. This means that we need to have an extremely grounded belief in ourselves and the work that we do. Humanity will always be engaged in a battle to safeguard this freedom and maybe that is also a good definition of what an artist is – a confident defender of the aspects of the soul that cannot be defended any other way. It has always been like that throughout history.
From 2007, Hüttner has returned both to a dialogue with science and to working with video. In a sequel to Begrepp – En samling from 1992, Hüttner and Arnér created a project entitled (In)Visible Dialogues which focused on a series of conversations between artists and scientists at Konstakademien in Stockholm, Sweden. He also returned to these issues in a less direct way in solo exhibitions in France,China, England and Sweden. Installations such as Do not Go Gentle and The Quantum Police” and Imminent all depict eccentric people engaged in obsessive research. The work compels the visitor to reflect on whether it is meaningful to draw a line between reality and fiction. In her long text about the latter exhibition, the curator Cecilia Canziani shows how both the problematic of the singular and the collective, as well as myth and its ability influence reality, is highlighted in the artist’s work:
In Plato’s Symposium, perhaps the best known of his dialogues, Aristofanes recounts that once upon a time, human beings had two heads, four arms, four legs, they were complete, a whole, a unity. Because of their arrogance they were punished by Zeus and divided in two halves: men and women. Since then, we look for completion in the other, and such- arguably – along as being a metaphor of love, also serves as a symbol of the dialectic between singularity and collectivity that informs the political organisation of society. In “Imminent” it is not just the narrative that is fragmented, but also the characters and their multiplied personae. Different actors are cast in the same role, sometime one character is transformed into another, reminding us of the quest for unity that Plato describes.
In the Quantum Police project, the above mentioned problematic is taken even further. Here, the artist mixes (stolen or found?) police evidence material with interviews and fictional texts that describe elaborate conspiracy theories involving the police both in Europe and China. Delving deeper into questions of authenticity, the artist has also staged events that cross the boundaries of academic presentations, guided tours, and performance art. These have taken place at institutions like MACRO in Rome, CAPC in Bordeaux, Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai, Tate Britain and Hayward Gallery in London and as part of experimental projects like The Invisible Generation and the international research group OuUnPo. Contrary to the video work, where the sound is subdued, Hüttner often uses music in the recent performances and installations in order to purposefully create paradoxical and misleading timelines. These investigations into time and temporality have also been developed in an ongoing collaborative research with the Turkish writer/curator Fatos Üstek that started like a creative writing exchange in the Anglo-Austrian magazine Nowiswere and that has led to interventions in museums like the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade and Tate Modern in London as well as in public spaces in New York, Philadelphia, Porto and Athens.