Eight Artists on Embracing Fun and Failure

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Courtesy Erik Kessels

A new photography exhibition asks us to reconsider the inevitable (and often fruitful) reality of messing about and making mistakes

When photographer Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek was doing the groundwork for his debut group exhibition, he noticed that all of his chosen artists shared a certain wry sense of humour – as is captured in photographs from a shot of a stoic deer lying in a bed, to that of a fully clothed swimmer smiling up at the sky. “I prefer humour when it’s not in your face,” he explains. “It’s a kind you find especially in Austria and the Netherlands; maybe it’s something specific to these countries.”

The result of his investigation is Why So Serious?, a collection of images by artists from Erik Kessels and Paul Kranzler to Max Siedentopf and Eylül Aslan, which is currently showing at Vienna’s Fotografie am Brillantengrund. Seen altogether, it calls for living life with a heavy pinch of salt – failure, fun and playfulness, these artists seem collectively to exclaim, are part and parcel of the creative process. In the name of self-improvement and going with the flow, we asked Gebhart de Koekkoek and the seven participating artists for their two cents on failure – and advice on how to get comfortable with it.

Erik Kessels on accidents... 

“Fred and Valerie are a couple from Clearwater, Florida – their hobby is being photographed fully clothed in water. For them, it’s the ultimate form of freedom; they think wearing swimwear under your clothes is cheating. I found them after stumbling across an image of Valerie in the water online. It turned out they had a photo stream on Flickr with many more ‘water’ pictures. I got in contact, asked if I could make a book with their ‘water adventure’ images and since then we’ve stayed in touch.

“Perfection is not really a good starting point for creating new ideas, yet most of the tools we use are close to perfection. Our computers, phones, applications and navigation systems make no mistakes – so to sometimes deliberately go towards a mistake, and find a new direction from there, can be good. Society teaches us to avoid mistakes, but for creative people and innovators they are essential.”

Volkmar Weiss on fine lines...

“When you completely understand a picture, it’s boring. It’s better when the observer just sees the picture as it is, with no agenda and no intentions. I’m an art director and conceptor and we were shooting a TV commercial in a famous Budapest hotel when the director came up with this stupid idea of putting a deer in the hotel room bed. It would be shown in the commercial just for a second, and just as a joke.

“We had arranged the deer sitting in this beautiful old-fashioned hotel room, in perfect morning light, when I recognised that it wasn’t just a joke, it was actually a strange but serious and beautiful picture. So I took my camera and made this photo. Playing around means letting things just happen. I think that coincidence is a better artist than I am. It has the better ideas.”

Peter Jaunig on chance...

“It’s important to not take things seriously – mostly because it’s just great fun! When I take pictures nine out of ten shots turn out to be boring. But of course, sometimes things work out for the best while fooling around on camera.”

David Avazzadeh on waiting to see what happens...

“I checked into a fancy hotel with two friends and a volleyball to play a game called Loser. One person sets a task, like ‘Kick the ball from one end of the corridor to the other without touching the walls or any appearing guests’ and the person who fails gets the letter ‘L’. The game continues until one person spells out ‘L O S E R’.

“I fail at something on a daily basis. I can’t afford to take things too seriously – if I did, and with a failure rate like mine, my life would be a drag. This portrait was a result of playing around with volleyballs.”

Paul Kranzler on finding the real subject ...

“I think the importance of failing is overrated and slightly euphemistic, but not taking things or oneself too seriously, and preserving one’s own sense of humour helps a lot. My modus operandi is very much unbiased as to the result, which provides space for the unexpected. Like the time I photographed my great uncle. After taking his portrait I walked around his house and got to see his bedroom which was very conservative 1970s, and totally surreal. The marital bed was divided in half by a thin wall.”

Eylül Aslan on opening up...

“I think when we’re worried about failing we’re too scared to really show what’s inside of us. It’s better to be relaxed and try things out.”

Max Siedentopf on taking liberties...

“We live in a time when individuality, self-expression and status are at an all-time peak. However, for some reason the personalisation of cars has seen a decline. Because of this, I went out in the early hours of the morning and created a few low-cost supercars for unaware drivers.

“A time when playing yielded great results for me? I once played volleyball with my friends and lost 320 calories.”

Why So Serious? runs at Fotografie am Brillantengrund, Vienna until February 28, 2018.