Heartland Festival: A Beating Heart for Art

Interview with Rasmus Quistgaard, Program Director at Heartland Festival

In the days between June 2 – June 4, Heartland Festival took place for the second time in the stunning surroundings of Egeskov Castle at Funen, Denmark. Running for the first time in 2016, the festival offered a weekend of music, food, talks, and not least art, which was incorporated into virtually every aspect of the festival. From elaborately decorated trees to Brian Eno’s latest work, ‘The Ship’, and an epic talk between the beacon of performance art, Marina Abramovic, and Danish artist Tal R. This year, art was an even greater driving force with the introduction of a new art section, Heartland Temporary, in addition to the main section Heartland Contemporary. Names such as Tony Oursler, Olafur Eliasson, Sophie Dupont, and Søren Behncke made the festival vibrate with creativity both day and night. Surely, Heartland makes any art lover’s heart beat a little harder…   

We sat down with Rasmus Quistgaard, Programme Director at Heartland Festival, to talk about the festival’s art profile, art’s role as a navigational tool in a complex world, and its potential to foster new ideas, interactions, and contemplation at a remote spot in a little country in the North.

The Influence Machine, Tony Oursler. Photo: Morten Rygaard

Heartland Festival had its debut last year, introducing an entirely new festival approach, which does not resemble any of the other festivals that we know in Denmark. Being one of the festival’s four major pillars, art is a crucial part of Heartland’s DNA. How did the audience respond to the program and the art section specifically?
We have received plenty of positive feedback, it has almost been overwhelming. The festival as a whole has been welcomed far more wholeheartedly than we imaged. In terms of the art program, despite the broad popularity of Brian Eno, it was especially Marina Abramovic who drew attention. Her presence created mass hysteria; we even experienced some guests crying when we had to deny their entrance due to a lack of space. We had not expected such a hype surrounding her, but it really was a ‘rock star meets fans’ scenario. Retrospectively, I experienced her performance as the most intense moment of the festival and the fact that we featured her already on the first year of the festival was a dream come true.

This year, Heartland’s international art program Heartland Contemporary presented the Danish premiere of the American artist Tony Oursler’s work series The Influence Machine, which has previously been exhibited at Tate Modern. What was your motivation to focus on one single artist?
Personally, I am drawn towards works presented with a lot of space around them. The spatiality strengthens our focus and our experience with the work becomes more powerful. In my opinion, many exhibitions drown because too many impressions are stacked on top of one another. One example would be the contemporary museum MAXXI in Rome, which is designed as a supermarket for art where you browse through one work after the other, just as you do on the internet. It is a shame and a threat to the core of contemporary art – the ability to create a space for reflexion. The festival’s focus on Tony Oursler is a way of creating some conditions for contemporary art to unfold and expand into space and mind. The Influence Machine is a series of works, which takes up an enormous amount of space, and the idea is to concentrate each individual’s use of time by creating a room where you can pause by and dwell on a work and return to it to re-experience it at a different time and with a new frame of mind.

We Always Carry Our Body (2016), Sophie Dupont. Photo: Peter Kirkegaard

The Influence Machine is a large-scale multimedia installation, comprised of projections of large faces onto smoke, trees and for this particular location – Egeskov Castle. The installation brings the space alive with corresponding narratives and it is literally a field of interaction, in which the viewer directly affects the forms of the projections themselves when moving through the exhibition space. Was the role of the audience a significant factor in your choice of the artist and his medium?
Very much so. The festival audience is experiencing the works under different circumstances than e.g. in a museum. It has been a key concern to present works of the highest possible relevance and complexity and at the same time make the art program accessible to not only aficionados of contemporary art but to the concert audiences that attend Heartland Festival as well. I think it is important to dare to present contemporary art to 12.000 people and to make sure that it is actually interesting to most of them. The Influence Machine has an element of surprise and the experience has a synaesthetic value that you can approach regardless of whether you have written a dissertation in art history or are a 10-year-old kid. You can approach the work on a deeper level by entering Oursler’s universe of metareflexions on the development of media and its influence on our behaviour. At the same time, the work appeals to a state of being in the present moment and perceiving with the senses without any requirements. In that context, it is worth noticing that the piece can only be experienced by night, in the darkness. It requires that the work can be experienced without any outside context. There is no accompanying text – the work has to be able to work by itself!

Soft (2015), Magnus Pettersen

For the first time, you introduce the new art section Heartland Temporary, which focuses on contemporary Danish artists. What was your motivation to add this new section to Heartland’s art profile?
In contrast to Heartland ContemporaryHeartland Temporary presents a compilation of works from different artists and placed as carefully selected stations of experience. Each work is presented in daylight and in relative competition with the thousands of stimuli of the festival – not as immersive landscapes in the dark. The curation of these works is more “competitive”, more relative to a surrounding cultural landscape. The introduction of Heartland Temporary – which is created by curator Henriette Noermark – takes as its point of departure a desire to let the art program be on par with a temporal situation which seems to define our world. Both our societies, our experience of our personal lives and the situation of the festival as a temporary location are profoundly marked by the rapid transformation of the world. The experience that our own lives can become extinct in front of our eyes, that we will be left as custodians of lives, which seemed authentic until progress or transformation made it less relevant, is a dramatic consequence of the way we have designed our world. Think of financial instruments, technology, new sciences etc.. Egeskov Castle offered an almost perfect backdrop for such a curatorial concept. Where else could we so easily accomplish a constrast between a cultural self-confident illusion of order (which is so readily available in the overdesigned gardens of Egeskov) – and the instability of our present-day world?

Those Who Intend To Leave Have Already Gone (2017), Dagmar Radmacher

In which way did you take the historical surroundings of Egeskov Castle into consideration in the planning?
Last year we properly established the strategy of the festival and we made some key choices that have been defining for how we have thought out the art program this year. One of the things we wanted to succeed in doing is to use the space in a significant way. Instead of showing one type of art that rotates from one exhibition site to another, we wanted to actively encapsulate the history of the space and the possibilities of benefitting the contemporary art. Egeskov Castle has since the Renaissance been submitted to a domestication where architectural surgeons have worked their way into the landscape, and this contrast between the historical framework and the contemporary works is particularly interesting to examine. This is not a contrast between ‘nature and culture’, more a contrast between ‘culture and culture’ so to speak. The castle is a work on its own, a piece of “plastic-geography”. It stands as a manifestation of the Renaissance-spirit with the human being at its centre as the strong conqueror of the surrounding world. Today, the civilizing self-confidence is crackling and the confidence in man’s abilities to maintain our self-appointed supremacy is failing. The fact that we live in ‘The Anthropocentric Age’, where human civilisation is emphasized as the driving force behind the development of the world is a paradox that we need to acknowledge. In this collision between the several hundred year old history of the castle and our age of speed, art provides us with a chance to look at the world we have designed and to invest our curiosity in “the now” of our society, as well as in the future.

Invasion (2017), Tina Maria Nielsen

In which way would you like the art program to influence the audience?
I hope the works can help the audience to “actively feel” their situation. We have become so intercommunicating and globally oriented due to which a need to navigate the economical, political and cultural field of tension has emerged. Art is perhaps the most sensitive and complex instrument of orientation ever to be developed in the history of mankind. It offers an important alternative to the political, scientific and economic ways in which we orient ourselves in the world because of what we could perhaps call its “systematic openness” and its engaging nature. I honestly do not think the world has ever needed contemporary art as much as now. Being able to offer this to our guests – also those who attend the festival just to have a nice meal – is in my opinion extremely meaningful.

Heartland will take place from May 31 – June 2, 2018.
Read more here: heartlandfestival.dk

Heartland Festival 2017