Coined by sociologist Ulrich Beck in the late 80s, the term Risk Society refers to a mode of living marked by intense individualism. His theory claims that in a society where social classes are no longer static, where the narrative of “finding oneself” is ever-present and where inner fulfillment is associated with quantitatively measurable success, individual freedom is at an all-time high. But so is the risk of personal failure. Add the threat of modern warfare and the anthropogenic certainty that humanity is very well capable of complete self-elimination, and you are left with an ever-present sense of uncertainty. Lukas Hofmann aka. Saliva is part of a generation that was born in these very conditions. As an artist who grew up in Prague during the 90s and who is now staging performances across the countries of an increasingly unstable European Union, contingency and informality are reoccurring elements in the narrative of his life. He spends his time moving from place to place, leaving behind drops of lavender oil on the bedsheets he sleeps in. A nature child living within urban surroundings, he uses performance as a means to create archipelagos of increased presence that block out the feelings of desensation and dissociation awaiting outside the gallery door.
Hofmann’s works involve a carefully curated group of actants chosen from his immediate social surroundings. While he does take a leading role during the preparation of the pieces, he blends in with the crowd as soon as the performance starts. Along with his peers, he slides down museum handrails, deforms his face by pressing it against panes of glass and forms a red line between his body and theirs using thread and a sewing needle. At some point, the group stands still in formation as if posing for a fashion editorial, pretty and unbothered faces clad in deconstructed garments. For a moment, their attire takes centre stage. Whether he uses pieces stolen out of Ikea wardrobes or clothing provided by designers such as Ottolinger, Stefanie Biggel, Louise Lyngh Bjerregaard and Anne Sofie Madsen, Hofmann manages to add a cohesive personal touch to the styling of his performances. After an extensive instant of stillness, there is a sudden and simultaneous outburst of gasp, cough and sharp exhalation- the group has been holding its breath for the entire time. “An incredible amount of tension”, Hofmann says, “is required to keep a neutral pose.”
“This culture, which is often considered as low, might one day be seen as the mythology of our times” – Lukas Hofmann
Upon entering the exhibition space, spectators become part of an artificially constructed ecosystem, making their way through wet pieces of cloth and soaking in the scent of sage and propolis balm. “Retrospective” was developed in collaboration with Nils Lange for the closing of Manifesta 11 at Cabaret Voltaire and performed at the at the Prague National Gallery, and “L’Eau des Algues”. In it shimmering cabbage leaves and dry ice mixed with urine cracked open sterile surroundings and filled the air with an unexpectedly organic mist. At “Dry Me a River” in Ostrava, a former mining city in the Czech Republic, caged canary birds were spread around the 5000m2 Bauhaus hobby-market-turned-performance-venue. Elements from contemporary culture make their way into this world as ghosts – the distinct beat of Hips Don’t Lie briefly appears in the far distance of a soundtrack, songs from the Disney Pocahontas movie are chanted with a head stuck underwater and the imagery of action movies is referenced when performers try to lift each other up with visible force. “I don’t like the word pop culture – pop art is not what I do”, Hofmann says. “I rather see contemporary widespread mainstream as a sort of mythology-making. This culture, which is often considered as low, might one day be seen as the mythology of our times. It is shaped by what is happening in the world, and it equally influences what is going on.”
Suddenly, the entire room was soaked in sweat, out of breath and moved to tears.
It evoked a rare sense of earnest unity – no uncertainty, no isolation, only a collective presence.
As they grow accustomed to their surroundings, the onlookers become increasingly involved in the ritualistic play evolving in front of their eyes. Slowly and carefully demolishing their comfort zone, the performers start to enclose their bodies with their fingers and arms without directly touching them. From there on, they physically trigger the spectator’s emotions using a wide range of methods. At “Enzyme”, which recently took place at Galerie Frangulyan in Paris, the actors alternately blew cold and breathed hot air into the guest’s ears as the sounds of thunder unfolded in the background. Later, Hofmann pressed his mouth against mine and screamed until his breath had filled my lungs and my ears were ringing. People around me were beginning to tear up as menthol balm was being applied right beneath their eyes. Suddenly, the entire room was soaked in sweat, out of breath and moved to tears. Although the lines between artificially constructed and psychosomatic phenomena were blurred, this evoked a rare sense of earnest unity – no uncertainty, no isolation, only a collective presence.