Mindfulness and Fellow Human Beings

South Korea is a source of inspiration for Swiss artist Anna Anderegg. There she encounters a society that identifies with the digital representation of the body and the theme of beauty.

15 mins read

She is a choreographer. Studied dance in Bern, Montpellier, and Berlin. Anna Anderegg’s work is presented at festivals in Europe, Asia, Russia, and the USA. Her work focuses on the dialogue between the human body and its urban/digital habitat. Formerly under the label ASPHALT PILOTEN, now under her own name, the Swiss choreographer brings art into everyday life and public space.

Anna, you are a dancer, performance artist, choreographer, and also an actress?

I have worked in films before but I wouldn’t define myself as an actress. These film projects are more experimental projects, like “Designed by another Architect”, a project directed by Sara Kim, which won first prize at the Seoul Dance Film Festival.

Then “modern, audiovisual philosopher” describes you better? Why exactly did you choose this “dance-performance” style of expression?

Absolutely. I am fascinated by telling stories, and touching people without having to speak their “language”. Dance is a universal language through which I can reach people. It’s also a language that doesn’t tell everyone the same story. And to connect people from different cultures without having cross-linguistic or cultural barriers. That’s what I find very fascinating about dance.

Alone Together, Gwangju Biennale, South Korea. | Photo © by Photographer JooYoung Kim
Alone Together, Kunsthaus Pasquart, Switzerland. | Photo © by Photographer Swan Park
Alone Together, Kunsthaus Pasquart, Switzerland. | Photo © by Photographer Swan Park
Alone Together (Gwangju Biennale / South Korea)

What influence do other cultures and spaces have on your artistic work?

For “Alone Together”, I worked with a team of artists from Europe and South Korea. We used male poses from different cultures, in the sense of the sometimes absurd ideal ideas or images of the beauty of men [here in Korea from places such as pop culture, K-pop, or hip-hop]. In the performance, together with five dancers, I tried to mirror this artificiality, this ideal idea of reality, onto women’s bodies. It’s about transferring the digital, exaggerated, into reality. The result was multi-layered work, which we also captured on film.

The coexistence of physical and digital space spills over into each other in a particularly obvious way here.

Anna Anderegg

What makes a performance for you?

In a performance, different elements and levels are mixed. It’s the moments that you experience together that count.

Do you come from a family of artists?

My mother was a nurse and my father is an opera singer, so I experienced two very different sides. I knew very early on that I wanted to do something in the artistic field. It took some time until I found my style and my form of expression.

You are once again in South Korea. I met you in 2021 at a performance of “Alone Together” at the Swiss Embassy in Seoul. Shortly before that, you premiered this piece at the Gwangju Biennale. You’ve been coming to South Korea quite often lately. How did that come about?

I came to Seoul for the first time in 2016. Actually, it was only planned as a stop-over. However, I stayed for two weeks. The city fascinated me so much. During this time, I met organizers who already knew my projects – mainly from the field of public art. They later invited me back to Korea.

What is the fascination of South Korea for you?

Initially, I found the attraction in the contradiction between the commercial and the traditional. Or rather, that there is no such thing or that it simply exists side by side. This oscillation between commercialism and tradition, seems to me further away, different from what I know from Europe. I also found the aesthetics exciting.

I quickly came into contact with interesting artists. Among them was the architect Sara Kim from Diagonal Thoughts. She also designed the set for “Alone Together”. I worked on her projects and was the only non-Korean. These were very experimental projects around architecture, through which I met other exciting people, such as the filmmaker Swan Park. These collaborations were great sources of inspiration for me.

Anna, in your young career you have already conceived several projects that question society. Where do you get your ideas from?

I find my inspiration in spaces. Be it a public, urban, or exhibition space. But rarely on a stage. I always see movement in the context of space. The space and we as a society shape it together.

A critical look at society is something hopeful in my eyes.

Anna Anderegg

How does the creative process develop? What are the triggers?

Density, digitally, a futuristic cityscape, especially here in Seoul, South Korea. The coexistence of physical and digital space spills over into each other in a particularly obvious way here. I wrote the concept for “Alone Together” after a visit to Korea. There were many key elements, for example, the theme of density: On the underground, crowded together, most people were staring at their smartphones. It was a revelation that the digital space is very big compared to the get-togethers with my Korean friends, which mostly take place in public spaces due to the very cramped living conditions.

Let’s go back to South Korean society; what surprised you the most, and what irritated you?

I very much appreciate how the individual tries to look at the bigger picture and doesn’t put himself so much in the center. Not to take oneself as an individual so seriously, i.e. to see oneself as part of society. I miss the sense of community in Europe, we need more of that in Europe.

Wrapping everything and consequently, the packing dilemma has already shocked me a lot. And again every time I come to South Korea. It’s probably a bit difficult when I bring it up like this; my observations on a society that has only come into prosperity in the recent past and now wants to live out this newly gained material abundance.

Are you a positive person or rather critical of society?

I am a very positive person by nature. I try to combine inspiration from advertising and Instagram with my sense of humor for reality. My works are partly minimalistic. Sometimes, they also have a somewhat dystopian impression on the viewer. A critical look at society is something hopeful in my eyes. It’s part of my work and gives me hope because everything is in flux.

How have these projects changed you as a person?

Because I draw a lot of inspiration from “everyday life”, I am very mindful of what is happening around me. These little everyday choreographies are context specific. For example, I pay attention to who pushes the lift button first or something like that. In Korea, there are different movements in the lift than in Europe. These codes in the cultures interest me a lot. Or things that I encounter everywhere, like the question of absence “why are so many people absent?” That interests me because, in spaces and the here and now, we meet and encounter our fellow human beings.

How do you choose the settings for your projects?

It varies a lot from project to project. Sometimes, it is a commissioned work for a museum. In that case, the realization takes place once. Then, there are other works that can be adapted to a different spatial concept. In the “Silver Boom” project, I work in an urban space with the experienced women who live there. I chose the square, the more intimate setting, or as in “Tape Riot” which is about breaking open, the places in the sense of parkour.

Silver Boom, ØIT/NO. | Photo © by Photographer Anna Anderegg
TAPE RIOT, Stadttheater Biel, Switzerland. | Photo © by Photographer Anna Anderegg

You have been in this profession for a good 13 years and can make a living from it?

I think I could make a living from it relatively quickly, nevertheless, it is a “Büetz” – a challenge. My work is not easy to categorize. This has advantages and disadvantages. It falls between the typical genres, like dance or visual art. On the other hand, there are also a lot of points of contact and thus opportunities for entry. Currently, I have a network, but in the beginning, I had to keep my head above water with part-time jobs.

Where do you find the energy to recharge your batteries?

I have very few opportunities to switch off. This is not a 9-to-5 job, but a nonstop at least 6 days a week. That leaves little time for family. Fortunately, my husband has a similar job and is very understanding when I am on the road 200 days a year and “live out of a suitcase”. What gives me energy are the moments when I can show my work to the public in a place like this. Then I also get to take away new inspirations.

Your projects often break up a supposed harmony – aren’t you a harmony-loving person?

The “breaking up of space” is a recurring theme in my work. In the beginning, it was about breaking up “urban space”. Later on, it was about creating new space, which in turn I can break up. When I work with people, I am very much in need of harmony. As a choreographer, when working with dancers, it is important for me to create a positive environment. An artist is often staggering between more and less successful phases. There is probably never a so-called harmony, the pendulum swings between mega and less stress – I work on how I can endure these extremes in the long run.

The connection to beauty with a hope for a better life and thus success, takes on distorted forms in South Korea.

Anna Anderegg
Recherche-Foto, Hope/Me. | Photo © by Photographer Milica Slacanin

Since 2023 you have been working on your solo with the working title “Hope/Me”, in which you deal with the digital representation of the body and the theme of beauty. The topicality and connection to society in Korea, where posing on social media are of immense importance, could not be more obvious. Is that so?

Although the topic is also omnipresent in Switzerland or Germany, here in Korea, beauty – K-Beauty – is on another level. The connection to beauty with a hope for a better life and thus success takes on distorted forms in South Korea. Especially in the case of the female body, there are many demands on how it should be and look. In earlier works, I was already fascinated by the juxtaposition of the digital ideal of bodies and real physical bodies. It is exciting to question this and to see what becomes of it. Behind these themes lie several years of research. On the way, I discover new aspects, find fascinating sub-themes, and meet exciting people. For the solo “Hope/Me”, I am again working with the Korean filmmaker Swan Park, the footage will be shot here on location. The stage set consists of several screens, which can be transformed and fragmented. The solo will be created in collaboration with various cultural practitioners.

We are curious about your latest project “Hope/Me” – thank you for the interview.

Anna Anderegg | Photo © by Photographer Julija Goyd

Anna Anderegg (38) is a Swiss choreographer who studied dance in Bern (Switzerland), Montpellier (France), and Berlin (Germany). Her practice is based on the dialogue between the human body and its environment. Her works are shown in the most important metropolises in Europe, Asia, and America

The solo project “Hope/Me” will be premiered at TOBS (THEATER ORCHESTER BIEL SOLOTHURN) in the summer of 2023. In September 2023, Anna Anderegg will also present “Hope/Me“ during FRIEZE at the SongEun Museum in Seoul, among other venues.
“Alone Together” is a performative piece and a film. It premiered at the Gwangju Biennale, South Korea in April 2021. The work was created by a team of artists from Europe and South Korea. Awarded Nomination by Ars Electronica S+T+ARTS’22.

Claudia Toenz

SEOUL | Korea

Claudia, an entrepreneur, passionate and intrepid traveler. Has worked as a consultant for many years. She avoids standstill, in change she finds the constant, in nature the tranquility, in art and culture the inspiration. South Korea, is her current home where she has made many friends and built her second startup.

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