World Artists and their Story, 28 - Hans Kalliwoda

I meet Hans Kalliwoda in the First Class Restaurant of Amsterdam Central Station. It’s quite full. Talks all around. Kalliwoda likes this, he says. In a way it fits with his ideas about energy exchange.

Kalliwoda already has a long career in the arts, for 35 years. Originally from the south of Germany he had projects all around the world. He lives and works for a long time in Amsterdam in a former school in the harbor area.

World in a Shell

The common thread in his art practice is letting people immerse completely in his work.  Already in 1992, an Italian art critic compared his work of participatory paintings with the Quartz Stones Project of Marina Abramovic at the Stedelijk Museum. His focus was and still is  essentialy about energy transmitting, exchange of energy. Openness is a precondition for this. He has done scientific research on the subject for four years, along with the Technical University Delft.

It resulted in a tentlike structure, the World in a Shell (WiaS), which he is planning to set up at visits tot he Inuit and San peoples in Greenland and Southern Africa. The WiaS was also to be seen in the Netherlands, in the Netherlands Architecture Institute and recently at Europe by People/FabCity Campus event at the Java Island on the occasion of the Dutch presidency of the EU in the first half of 2016.

Ostrich eggs

“If you are searching and researching you have to be open” he says. “And openness has to do with empathy. The aspect on which Home Sapiens stands out from the Homo Erectus is this: empathy.” When in Africa, in Western Botswana, in the Bushmen / San area Kalliwoda came across an interesting example of this empathic behavior.

“They used hollowed-out ostrich eggs as storage place for drinking water. They buried ostrich eggs in the shade under atree and closed the hole off with a specific kind of grass, with the ends sticking out of the ground. This grass was a code for another San-persons: ‘there can be water here’. Kalliwoda extends this find to a long-term perspective for all humans: ‘We have to help each other out. We are different from Homo Erectus, but we very radically lost this quality.”

The pygmies used a mask to bring them in a different frame of mind. When he was cycling in the eighties through the African continent he realized that art functions in the same way. He notes that a lot of artists are stuck in an economic framework and that they are not able to go outside of that framework. “Important artists are working on upgrading the social situation within society. Art isn’t a Disney-like experience, made for leisure. A lot of creativity is lost because it is absorbed by the advertising industry. Many artists are embedded in a commercial environment.”

Social engineer

An artist is a social engineer, according to Kalliwoda. “This has previously already been the case. Artists stimulate transcendence; they let people look further, ‘out of the box’. In this way he/she can show the societal condition. Once painting had this function. The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault (1818, Louvre, Paris), is an example. The painting was then the medium. It brought about a transfer of thought and imagination. A lot of people couldn’t read at the time, but they could look at images and paintings. Painting was a universally understood language.”  

Old media have undergone a complete change in the course of time. New media have also joined. “There has been a big change. At this time everybody is constantly bombarded with images. The image as in paintings is no longer an effective tool for transmission of ideas. If one wants to be effective as an artist for the collective one shouldn’be in the ‘white cube’ anymore, but in the public space.”

Junk DNA

In 1994 Kalliwoda turned his back on his commercial work. He started a foundation, the Blind Painters Foundation. One of the projects was an art train riding through Europe, and making halts at train stations where the public could come to see the artists’work. “I needed a transition. I involved other people who wanted change too, ‘art as change agents’ I call it. It’s about creating a network, combining different knowledge and starting to create together. There are rules and laws which are sometimes in the way, obsolete, as copyright. Copyleft is more of a healthy concept for human development than copyright.”

Still intuition plays a role. It helps with the energy transfer. At this moment Kalliwoda is doing a promotion research at the PhDArts program, a joint initiative of Leiden University and the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. He had talks with several academic specialists who could contribute to his research, one of which was a professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. This professor was knowledgeable on ‘junk DNA’.

Kalliwoda:” In our DNA there is a lot of information, history and knowledge. Researchers can encrypt only a tiny fraction of this DNA.  They can figure out why we have blue eyes for example. All the knowledge is in us. I was curious to what extent they were able to sequence algorithms for decoding DNA, and on the DNA, the 90% where they couldn’t work with so far. This lady remarked that at the time the researchers weren’t smart enough, so they put most of the DNA information aside as junk. But now this material can for small parts already be decoded and entails complex information. The non-decodable part is getting less and less. I found it interesting to hear. To a certain extent It confirmed that much of our knowledge is imprinted in our DNA. This has far-reaching consequences. All your ancestors live further in you. You make constantly DNA, every second you change your DNA structure. We as human species can obviously tell a very old story. ”

Romanticism and utopia

Kalliwoda’s promotion research has the provisional title ‘The polliniferous project’. It’s about investigating the building blocks for a sustainable lifestyle in the twenty-first century. The idea is to put in artistic interventions in the discourse on the global, ecological and systemic crisis. The World in a Shell (WiaS) can be seen as a first example of such an intervention.

“The WiaS can be described as a dream-box where visitors start to fantasize and discover the treasures he creates and collects. It brings romanticism and utopia into the reality of the here and now. The WiaS as a tent-like structure started a new concept of ‘home’.  The climate crisis produces climate refugees. Humanity needs to become more mobile. Leonardo DiCaprio has made a powerful film about climate change. He discusses how this crisis will change our behavior. I’m also searching for solutions. You could call me a solutionist, however not in the sense of the ‘quick technological fixes’, but in a wider sense as puzzles. Unfortunately this term solutionist is mainly used in a neoliberal context. My solutions are tob e understood as personal contribution in a social context. It’s a challenging task, but really exciting. Especially if you succeed it is very rewarding. Maybe not financially, but mentally and spiritually.”

Hans Kalliwoda found a new collaborator for his projects: Rijkswaterstaat, which is the executive department for the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. “They are very busy with sustainability issues. They are struggling with the process and philophical aspect of sustainabilty in a wider and in more holistic context. During the FabCity event I hosted and provided inspiration talks for ten meetings and workshops, exclusively for Rijkwaterstaat.” 

Beecare Project

At FabCity visitors could experience the WiaS as ‘Future Pollination Lab’ that was set up to create a vision on how future urban situations can look like. See also  The term polliniferous derives from the biological sciences, meaning bearing or yielding of pollen and adapted for carrying pollen. It is here that we find a metaphor for the artist as an agent for dissemination of ideas between separate cultural and specialist foci. Another project, on which it is applicable is the Beecare Project, ‘The Inner City as nature Reserve’. How can an urban neighbourhood, in a participatory context that includes the local citizens, function as a biotope for pollinators?

On rooftops in the Staatslieden neighborhood in Amsterdam several hives were placed, however the focus of the project goes towards solitary bees and flora on ‘red lists’. In 2014 he held a Symposium ‘The Inner City as nature Reserve’, about the possibilities and feasibility of a biotope for pollinators in the inner city. “I had 17 students from different university studies and disciplines to evaluate on its contemporary state and come up with their own ideas to advance. It really was interdisciplinary. It was an intervention in public space, a communal effort to tackle socio-ecological issues. We did it in the right sequence: first develop the project, find the people in the neighbourhood and use the internet’s social platforms to keep them connected. Because of the location specificity in this project, it intrinsically asks for a direct personal approach.”

Swarm intelligence

There are pitfalls In the process of creating ‘sustainable’environments, he notes. “It easily gets misinterpreted and put in terms of creative industries with commercial constrain at its core that are based on short-term interests. If you are going to work in this way, you may miss the point all together and you will take away the experimental and daring factor. Only if you really conduct the experiment you will find out what is different than you expect. In this way I came to realize that social sustainability is a precondition for environmental sustainability.”

The WiaS is the first most powerful mini-grid system for its size, he says. “Stil lto this day, it symbolizes a state of the art and technology project, in the making processes as well as an overwhelming immersive work of installation fort he spectator. However, I particularly want to emphasize on the social construction and information exchange. It is essentially about societal developments towards ‘swarm intelligence’. This is what we need as a species to go on with the planet. We need better communication skills and find methods to work together, and not being competitive and hostile to each other, otherwise there is a big chance that we will regress, ending up as Homo Erectus.”

Images: 1) Open Haven Museum, Amsterdam, May 1992. Spectator immerses in a participatory painting at the 'Sunnyside up' exhibition. Photography: Tom Ras, 2) NY, January 1989. Posing for a NY Magazine article on the exhibition at LaMama Galleria Gallery. Photography: Shonna Valeska, 3) Open Haven Museum, Amsterdam, May 1992. Performative opening metaphor: after the painting is cut open, visitors need to climb through it to reach the installation. Photography: Hanneke Pereboom, 4)Europe by People, Javaeiland, Amsterdam, April 2016. Contemplating at the FabCity Campus with the Future Pollination Lab hosted by the world in a Shell. Photography: Ernst van Deursen, 5) Art-Architecture-Science Collaboration in Sustainability, V2 and NAi, Rotterdam 2010. V2 Symposium on the synergy of Art, Architecture and Science in relation to Sustainability, left to right: Hans Kalliwoda, Ute Meta-Bauer (Director of the visual arts program at the MIT), Prof. Dr. Ir. Han Brezet (Head of the Industrial Design Sustainability Department at the Delft University for Technology) en Rob Zwijnenberg (Professor of Art History in relation to the Development of Science and Technology at the University of Leiden), 6)Opening Europartrain, South-Station, Vienna, May 1998. intervention on train-station, 'bahnbrechend' - pioneering and trendsetting. Photography: Rodney Sinclair, 7) Europartrain, Amsterdam, November 1998. At the control tower, close to Amsterdam Central Station. Photography: Aleksandar Andic, 8) World in a Shell, Westerpark, Amsterdam, September 2010. Actors and spectators. Photography: Michi Meier, 9)Refubee, Staatsliedenbuurt, Amsterdam, June 2016. Intervention in public space, result of HKU students on Future Pollination Lab, Photography: Bob Jonk, 10) Future Pollination Lab, Javaeiland, Amsterdam, April 2016. Student workshop for BeeCare Amsterdam, Photography: Koen Wonders,11) Future Pollination Lab, Javaeiland, Amsterdam, May 2016. Inspiration session on 'swarm intelligence' for executives of the Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure and Environment. Photography: Cato Fluitsma, 12)Electric Soul Circus, Javaeiland, Amsterdam, June 2016. Interactive audio/visual installation at the Future Pollination Lab. Photography: David Haberkamp, 13) Spaceship landing, Westerpark, Amsterdam, September 2010. World in a Shell in public space at the Westerpark. Photography: Michi Meier, 14)Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, April 2011. Ceremony masters are getting ready for an all-night-long celebration. Photographs and image manipulation: Hans Kalliwoda 


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