This fall, The Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art will debut work by the artist Joachim Koester in collaboration with Stefan A. Pederson. The Department of Abandoned Futures is an audio hypnosis that takes visitors on a journey to the final resting place for society’s squashed ideas and unrealized projects.
I met with Joachim at Café Dyrehaven in Copenhagen to learn more about his new piece.
Lily Benson: What was the starting point for creating The Department of Abandoned Futures?
Joachim Koester: The script was inspired by an out-of-body experience I had, which took place in a city that resembled Kaliningrad, a place in the Baltic I once visited to take photographs. I listen to a lot of meditation tracks and they’re also part of the inspiration, but these tracks can be quite predictable. You are lead to a beautiful waterfall and it’s supposed to inspire hope. I thought it would be interesting to take the form of binaural beats and pink noise, but then put something completely different on top.
LB: The piece begins by guiding the listener through their body and relaxing each section. Was this included to mimic meditation tracks, or is it necessary for the piece to function?
JK: An extensive relaxation of the body is key- you need relaxation to have any sense of what’s going on in your mind or in your body. In an altered state, some parts of the brain shut down. There’s a researcher, I can’t remember his name, but he says that the frontal cortex is like the sun. So for example, if there’s a sunny day and a blue sky, the moon is there, but we don’t see it because the sun drowns out the light of the moon. But when the sun goes away, we see the moon. So our altered states or our dreaming are just like that. So as we’re sitting here, we’re actually quite close to dreaming, but we don’t notice it because we are so active. Our R.E.M. cycles go on during the day, meaning that we have a way of making dreams all the time, but we can’t perceive them because of the frontal cortex. So when the cortex shuts down, parts of your brain become more accessible.
LB: Were there any specific meditation recordings that you referenced for the background noises and flow of the work?
JK: The Monroe Institute conducted a lot of research on this type of sound, so they were a big influence. The institute is located in Virginia and was founded by Robert Monroe. He was fascinated by out-of-body experiences, so he used his skills as a former radio producer to construct soundtracks that related to altered consciousness. He used scientific processes and a lot of method was involved. His lab and institute still exist today- I’ve actually visited and taken a course there. I would love to conduct proper testing on my work like they do.
LB: So if your work can be tested, is there an ideal experience for the audience to have?
JK: An ideal experience for me is a lot of hypnagogic activity occurring. It’s rare, but can be absolutely fantastic- all kinds of images firing and patterns- a semi psychedelic experience. Otherwise, it can just be coming out of the meditation and feeling good, inspired, or rested. Or feeling that you visited the important territory of abandoned futures. In a way, that territory is not defined, but created by all of the people who have experiences there. I think it would be wrong to dismiss this as less than anything real, think about how much of our society is structured around imaginary spaces that people project into and build by projecting. So in a way, everyone who listens to the track helps build the territory. You’re making it.
LB: And how does this imaginary space relate to the past?
JK: The Department of Abandoned Futures is parallel to the retromania that’s been going on in music and art. All of this digging down, which is related to the Internet, because all of the sudden lots of information has become available and people dig down to find points in history where things turned and could have happened differently. If things would have happened differently, our present future might have gone for the better or the worse- who knows? These points are very interesting because it’s basically chance that determines how things go, and afterwards so much is built on it
The Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose, is on view from September 12th to November 17th. The Department of Abandoned Futures is included in the House of Words selection.
Lily Benson is an American artist and writer, currently based in Scandinavia. She has exhibited her work internationally, at places including The Brooklyn Museum, Nicolai Wallner Gallery in Copenhagen, The Malmö Art Museum, and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes Argentina.
Photography by Anders Sune Berg