Cristina Hoffmann, visual artist, researcher, performer, and public speaker discloses her transition from engineer to designer, to multimedia interdisciplinary artist! She discusses leadership and empowerment in her art, the value of uncertainty and change, and even shares a few of her favourite artists. Advice for the upcoming candidates of our 5th Women Talent Pool (WTP) Program is also given! Read below to find out more.
You trained as an engineer, within a decade you became a successful designer and innovator, and then left your corporate career to set up your own art studio. What motivated these transitions?
These evolutions stemmed from a personal process of maturing and self-discovery; in my case each phase was motivated by new burning questions that emerged as I outgrew a specific role.
Engineering taught me how to learn anything by myself, and how to solve very difficult problems; though we were never invited to question the very issues that we were exploring. Hence my move towards design, which goes beyond what is technically feasible, to also address what is meaningful for people, valuable for society, and viable for the company itself. It was a much more holistic approach to creating, and I was lucky to be able to explore it both in academia and the tech industry.
I first moved towards design because it goes beyond what is technically feasible, to also address what is meaningful for people, valuable for society, and viable for the company itself.
Creating things had always been one of my major drives, and at some point, a very strong need manifested. I was yearning for freedom to ask my own questions, to explore larger issues, and to be able to go back to working with all kinds of materials. I wanted to be in contact with the feeling of the works and the transformation, the new creations coming to life. It is one of the biggest thrills for me, and one I will never ever tire of!
It comes as no surprise that your art focuses on human interaction with technology. Can you tell us a bit more about your work? What specific message do you want to convey?
My background has allowed me to work combining very different mediums and depending on the project I experiment with traditional media and new technologies. My artwork tries to blur the boundaries of our definitions of how the world works. For example, in my performance “Cosa Mentale” I connect another artist’s brain to my arm so that his brain controls part of my movements, and thus we explore drawing with two minds and one hand. We do this using brain interfaces, electro-stimulation, drawing and performance (View video here).
So, I like to misuse things in a way that is productive, interesting, and opens up new possibilities. When you alter things that people take for granted, you bring about surprise, stimulate thinking, and encourage others to revisit things they had never questioned before. Though I am not trying to convince anyone of a specific message. I seek to render things visible and to raise questions, but it is important for me that the artwork leaves enough space for everyone to make up their own minds, start conversations, and relish on the work or challenge it as they wish.
You were in the very first WIL Europe Talent Pool Program (WTP), a leadership program for female talents. Do you explore leadership and empowerment in your art as well? What is your vision of female leadership?
I believe you do not ask for permission to lead, but you decide to do so through your actions. It has a dimension of power, but not controlling or coercive power; rather the power of embodying a new way of being and inspiring others to be intrinsically motivated to act, to contribute, and to change things. Leaders are concrete examples of what can be strived for, who someone can be, how life can be lived, how things can be done, what could have value, and what success can mean.
Leaders are concrete examples of what can be strived for, who someone can be, how life can be lived, how things can be done, what could have value, and what success can mean.
I think one of the worst things that we can do to society is to cultivate normative and universal truths, and to put people in a place where they feel they do not belong, that they do not have choices or are not free to act. And so anyone, woman or other, who is not part of the established group that detains the power to impose a single vision of reality, has enormous potential to become a leader.
Leadership also requires generosity and acceptance to be visible and exposed. And I think it emerges from a process where you go deep inside yourself, you look for your own questions, and are brave enough to explore the answers that ring true to you.
In this way it has a lot in common with how I approach making art. For me it is about unveiling that which could remain otherwise invisible, it is about shaping new possibilities. And doing so by cultivating a new and specific attitude towards how you work, how you look at the world and others, and how you interact with both.
Apart from working with the world of art, galleries and museums, you also collaborate with companies and public institutions. Why develop this connection? What can art bring to them?
My interventions touch upon things like empowerment, digital transformation, or technological augmentation, but the main issue I address is dealing with change and uncertainty.
Everyone can relate to the fact that as we become adults, we are supposed to always have answers, though we are constantly faced with not knowing what to do, and not being able to control what will happen next. It is a very difficult feeling, and one that artists constantly provoke in order to make new work, so we become quite good at dealing with it.
Also, in the past it was quite common to have those who knew and decided what should be done, and then those who did the work. But we are increasingly involving citizens and employees in decision-making processes, and we know that jobs based on execution will be replaced by AI, robotics, and automation. In the future, we will be constantly confronted with ever changing situations and environments, and we will be asked to take initiative, to be creative, and to be self-starters, all of which are essential traits for making art.
In the future, we will be constantly confronted with ever changing situations and environments, and we will be asked to take initiative, to be creative, and to be self-starters, all of which are also essential traits for making art.
And so, through performances and collaborative work sessions, I explore these issues with groups of people. Most importantly, we explore how uncertainty is a normal thing to experience, and that difficulty and resistance are not symptoms of failure, but rather essential indicators of good work, which mean that change and transformation are under way.
I go about this in a very practical way. I believe in the power of using art and participation to allow people to live through completely new experiences, rather than just telling them about ideas. As with my other artworks, through these projects (that I like to call “Work-In-Public”) I hope to touch others, to intrigue them, to compel them to stop and engage with the work, to feel, to think… to stir something inside of them. I strive to help them connect with themselves, their imagination, and their own desires.
I wish these experiences would allow participants to realize that they are capable of many things they did not dream they could do, and that even within a specific system, they have much more freedom (and responsibility) than they thought to have impact and transform things.
What is the biggest career lesson you have learnt? What advice would you give to the candidates of the upcoming 5th Edition of our WTP program?
Everything you need you can find inside yourself, learn how to really listen, do not let anybody tell you how life works and what is going to be possible or not for you. You get to define that for yourself.
Be very attentive to who you surround yourself with; they will make up the fabric of your reality. Be connected to the world and to others, look at what inspires you and makes you feel something (good or bad), this is a good starting point to discover your inner voice.
Remember that we all have dead angles, and every situation can be experienced and interpreted in a myriad of ways, which means that if you are stuck you can always look at things completely anew.
Direction and intention are good, but do not over-plan or ever feel trapped. You always have many more possibilities than you thought, and life is always much more creative than anything you could have planned in your head, so stay open and curious.
Lastly, we like to conclude from a question from Proust questionnaire: Who is your favorite artist?
I am not one for single favorites, so I will go for a small sample of the many female artists I admire, who share the trait of never conforming to what others, or their disciplines, dictate they should be or do: Choreographer Pina Bausch, Poet and Writer Maya Angelou, Conceptual and Performance artist Esther Ferrer, Visual artist Rebecca Horn, Painters Marlène Dumas and Maria Lassnig, Musician and Poet Patty Smith.
Since last interviewing Christina, she has taken a research residence at The Centre des Arts, in Ehgien-Les-Bains, France, for the 2019-2020 season. Her engaging series, Spotlight, draws on themes including memory, perception, written word and time, taking the viewer on a magical exploration into a virtual world brimming with light, text and colour. Cristina’s research stems from her career and training as a designer and engineer, with her public projects combining performances and participatory experiences and a fascinating mix of traditional and new media. Find out more about Cristina's residency and Spotlight series here!