Eliisa Suvanto interviewed the Anna Breu artist collective by e-mail in December 2016. The interviewer was not aware of any details of the upcoming Anna Breu exhibition at the HAM Gallery and the group had forbidden any questions about the work in the exhibition.
Eliisa Suvanto: Identity is a very important factor in both the actual composition of Anna Breu and in the works. How much freedom does a constructed identity offer in making art and what kinds of questions do you want to raise about the individual, for instance, through your work?
ANNA BREU: Anna Breu consists of four artists, that is true. It is difficult to conceive a common or shared identity, however. Perhaps an outsider could see it, not viewing the works as a product of four artists, but of an imaginary Anna Breu figure. Working behind the name provides us with certain liberties. With shared responsibility, we can express even the wildest of ideas, because we have the backing of the entire collective. Individuals are stronger and bolder in a healthy group than alone.
ES: Humour has also played a strong role in your previous work. You’ve had a farting fireplace, a whipped-cream ejaculation, and men’s over-sized bulges, for example. What kind of humour is important for Anna Breu?
AB: In one way or another, humour is at the centre of what we do. We’ve also noticed that because of this, people sometimes question our motives. It is important that people know that we take art and making it seriously. We are not a bunch of clowns, even if our works may sometimes make you laugh. We are more like clowns crying in a corner. We don’t have a conscious method or use a particular type of humour. We have often been inspired by misunderstandings and playing with bodily functions. It is also interesting to repeat something absurd until only the gesture remains, a vessel of some sort that has been emptied. This repetition often separates good ideas from great ones.
ES: Can delicate or, say, politically-charged material be approached credibly through humour? How much do you problematise this relationship in your working?
AB: You can and you should. Humour is clearly a great way to approach difficult subjects or to show the absurd side of normal and acceptable behaviour. What we laugh at reveals a lot about us. In fact, it’s a little surprising that humour is used so little in art. It is often considered an easy or less credible approach. Humour conceals immense power. Good and bad. It feels like artists are accustomed to criticizing the problems in society or structures of the art world even though, in a certain light, it is the work that artists do that’s part of the very core of this insanity. Anna Breu might not directly aim its criticism at a particular issue or even feel a need to be critical. We aim to be excited and to draw ideas from sources that are unknown to us.
ES: Anna Breu seems to put a lot of trust in the viewer and you rarely provide easy-to-understand (or any) texts to explain your works. How do you see your responsibility as the authors of an artwork in relation to the person experiencing it?
AB: We don’t want to teach our viewers how to understand our works or what they are about. Our approach is based on mutual respect. A text explaining an artwork solidifies a particular point of view in the viewer’s mind. We feel it’s important that the piece and the text offer interpretations rather than ready paths. We believe in surprises and magic.
ES: If we had discussed your future exhibition, what would you have wanted to say?
AB: We would’ve been sad because it should not be discussed. :’(