by Antje Wewer
© Image Bastian Achard
The studio of Jeppe Hein is located in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, in Berlin, where the artist works with a 15-person team. Food, in addition to art, has long played a major role for Jeppe. Together with star chefs, he recently created an interactive menu, developed his own espresso called SMIL KAFFE, and his first cookbook is in the works.
Antje Wewer: Has cooking in the studio been a daily ritual now for a long time?
Jeppe Hein: I first experienced this with Ólafur Eliasson when I was his assistant in the 1990s, when his team was still small. I would bake rolls or prepare lunches when he had guests. And in Copenhagen in 2000, I had a pretty crazy restaurant for a while with some other artists; Elmgreen & Dragset were a part of it, as well as Rirkrit Tiravanija. I find that kind of creative exchange just as important as eating together with the team. It’s not about talking about upcoming projects, but how you’re feeling right now. When you eat, you open up and get to know each other differently. For the past seven years, we’ve had Denny Brüning in the studio cooking for us every day, and he’s a professional chef.
AW: Have you come to expect that your food should surprise you?
JH: Not necessarily. We often discuss what we’re going to eat beforehand. Mostly vegetarian, and once a week we have fish. We have a small herb garden and bees on the roof. I chose the vegetable roll we’re eating today because you eat it with your fingers and everyone can make their own individually.
AW: Your upcoming solo exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which opens in May, is also designed to be interactive, right?
JH: It’s called “Who are you really?” I came up with a parcours that gives the audience emotional challenges.I really care about inspiring others as an artist, and I believe we only thrive when we step out of our comfort zone every now and then.
© Image Bastian Achard
AW: And how is it supposed to work?
JH: There will be a large, interactive water installation in front of the museum. Something similar to that will be out in front of the Rockefeller Center in NYC this year, a water pavilion that I designed in which four rooms overlap. It’s a great spot because so many people pass by there every day. I’m a surfer and I love water. It’s a load-bearing, sensual element: kids rush right in, adults hesitate at first, then they’ll take a step and dare to go in after all. In Stockholm, various workshops will take place every half hour in different rooms, sometimes with me, sometimes with the guides, who are briefed by me. We ask the audience questions and expect answers. It’s not about what you own or what kind of work you do, but who you are emotionally. Sometimes it’s easier to be honest with people you don’t know. At the end of the course, you have a kind of guide to yourself.
AW: You specify that in the best case scenario the others should join in?
JH: Each in his own way. I like requirements because they force you to get particularly creative. The Moderna Museet, to take an example, had asked me to do an exhibition that didn’t require any shipping. I thought what a great challenge. I dealt with it in the spirit of Rauschenberg or Warhol, and for the Reflecting Room I asked people from Stockholm if I could borrow their own personal mirrors from home, in exchange for a painted watercolor of mine. I find that interesting: how do you perceive yourself in someone else’s mirror?
AW: The champagne brand Ruinart named you Artist of the Year and gave you a carte blanche. What did you end up doing?
JH: First, I traveled to the Champagne region with my family of six and saw everything on site. The process is not unlike that of the artist: the people there also work with a great dedication and attention to detail. I was fascinated by the different materials, especially the chalk. I collaborated with star chefs to develop varying dinners that will take place in Paris, Venice and Tokyo. There will be an accompanying participatory installation based on the four elements – earth, fire, air, water – and the five senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch.
AW: You don’t need the surprise in food, but you do in art?
JH: My first exhibition, in 2017 at KÖNIG in the former St. Agnes Church, was called: "Don’t expect anything be open to everything." I had designed a large curtain composed of different colors and did various daily exercises with the visitors: balancing, painting watercolors, yoga. Sometimes guests came, like futurologists Oona and Matthias Horx, or artists like Tomás Saraceno, who did a short performance. There were homemade juices in rainbow colors. More important than the surprise for me is to work with all senses. In my artistic work, I am interested in the viewer’s dialogue with the artwork, the space, with other viewers and with himself. I ask myself with each new project: how do I manage to move people and bring them into an exchange with their surroundings, especially with other people? Here, the artwork is the tool, the impulse generator, to get in touch with the world and with others.
© Image Bastian Achard
AW: And how do such epic ideas come about?
JH: The trigger often comes from meditating or doing yoga. It's about creating an awareness so that the idea can knock on the door at all. I’m also alone a lot in my studio in the forest; I need contact with nature because my senses unfold differently there. And then I develop the ideas further with my team, like in a ping-pong game.
AW: Does the daily lunch at the studio take place when you're not there?
JH: Absolutely. Everything goes on without me anyway.