Metamodern Art Series Pt.1: What Makes An Artwork Metamodern? A Conversation With Halea Isabelle Kala

This is Pt.1 of a series of conversations with the artists behind the organising of the Metamodern Arts Festival Kyiv.

This year Emerge is partnering with the Metamodern Art Festival Kyiv for a networking event with an exciting cultural program. 

This conversation with the Berlin-based artist, director and cultural producer Halea Isabelle Kala is Pt.1 of a series of conversations with some of the metamodern artists behind the organising of the festival. 

Halea Isabelle Kala is the co-director of Transmodernity, a documentary about changemakers seeking to challenge and transform the current system by exploring alternative social, economic and cultural models.

Halea Isabelle Kala

Tarn: So what is transmodernity and why did you decide to make a film about it?

Halea: Transmodernity is a synthesis of modernity and postmodernity and a framework for looking at our current historical moment. I first came across it in 2012 through the mother of a close friend of mine, she is a professor in Human Geography and she was writing an essay about it. I was intrigued because as a concept it was speaking to all these movements which I had been aware of in some way, but had not seen as part of a wider movement. I realised that it only existed in academia and there was no cultural work or art work around it, so I did an interview with Irena and shot it with 8mm film and added other footage and music to make it more accessible. I always dreamed of making a longer film and a few years later I was at a dinner with some friends and we just decided to do it, even though we had no production company behind us and no funding, we hadn’t even studied film! Three months later we started filming.

Tarn: Why did you think that it was important to express transmodernity using art?

Halea: I studied Media and Communications at Goldsmiths in London and whilst living there began to get involved in the art world. It was so inspiring and beautiful, but at the same time there was a lot of overly conceptual and superficial stuff being produced and I felt that really pressing issues were not being addressed, it was not political enough, not radical enough, not social enough. When I moved back to my hometown of Berlin in 2013 I decided that I wanted to weave these things together and founded the label and platform MUSÉ to showcase and producer meaningful artistic and cultural content. As part of this I realised different art projects around the refugee crisis. Art has this unique ability to create access to someone's story in a way which news reports can't.

Tarn: Do you think art has a value if it’s not connected to some sort of social or political statement?

Halea: Deep down in my heart I believe that art and social change have to go hand in hand. Art is a form of storytelling and through art we can tell stories that are radical and daring, but at the same time personal and accessible. In my personal opinion art has to use this beautiful potential, especially today.
Transmodernity is the transition period, where everything is crumbling and something new is being born. Metamodernity is much more clear and mature in it’s values.
Tarn: Yes, art is such an important tool for reimagining the world, and right now the world desperately needs reimagining! So what is the difference between transmodernism and metamodernism?

Halea: What I perceive this relationship to be is that transmodernity is the transition period, where everything is crumbling and something new is being born, it’s chaotic and exhausting. What comes after is metamodernity, which is much more clear and mature in its values. It acknowledges that there are universal truths, but also that every person has their own truth. In terms of mood it’s both sincere and ironic. It’s admitting that the more we know, the less we understand, and being very humble about it, and playing with it. Playfulness is key.

Tarn: What is metamodern art, or what makes a piece of art metamodern?

Halea: For me it’s that you experience it rather than looking at it, consuming it.

Tarn: So it’s collaborative?

Halea: Yes, like an interactive immersive performance. The roles of the audience and the performer or the artist are becoming fluid and interchangeable. The boundaries are blurred, so you might need a second to check in and ask yourself, what is happening? We all become artists and creators... active agents.

Tarn: Do you have an example of how this works in practise?

Halea: One work by artist Marina Abramović, where she gave challenges to her audience so that they had to act out different roles and challenge themselves physically as well as intellectually. This type of art really connects different levels of understanding and perceiving.

Tarn: And Shia Labeouf, when he did that installation where he sat in a room with a bag on his head and let people do what they wanted to him? It’s when you’re putting someone in a position where you are confronting them and forcing them to make a choice?

Marina Abramović ‘The Artist is Present'

Halea: Yes, it’s a social experiment. That’s a really big part of it, prototyping new ways of being and acting. It can bring out the darker sides of people and also light, through play, through art.

Tarn: we’ve probably all had the experience where you’ve had to make a decision about something or respond to something and been like wow, I behaved in a way that I would not have expected, and bringing out those shadows can help you to confront them.

Halea: I also think metamodern art can help us tap into to our light and shadow sides by helping us to re-connect to different indigenous cultures and indigenous wisdoms. Today you have a lot of the practises and language of South American shamanism being brought into modern Western Culture and so metamodern art creates this synergy between contemporary and old practices. I think the combination of these different levels is what metamodern art is.
I find Kyiv such an exciting city. So different, yet so similar. For me that was super trippy.
Tarn: So the arts festival has a few different themes and one is ‘healing collectively’. I interpret this as the idea that we have so much collective trauma, on a cultural, national level or familial level, so collective healing in the metamodern sense is where you recognise that there are different sources of trauma but also that we all have it to varying extents.

Halea: I think there’s three levels to think about trauma and collective healing beyond the trauma we personally experience in this life. Firstly trauma is stored in our genes from centuries back so there’s so much pain from our ancestors that we literally carry in our physical body. Secondly, I believe in past lives and the idea that you can carry remnants of trauma in your soul. Thirdly, there’s spaces. For example there is so much pain in Berlin because so many horrible things happened here. Some people perceive it more consciously and for others it’s more subconscious, but we all feel this pain in spaces where people have been hurt or killed. It goes through every tissue. I think that it’s powerful and necessary to address this. We are hosting this festival in the Ukraine, in Kyiv, which has its own history and so we were sensitive to this idea of coming in and talking about collective healing with this ‘west knows best’ attitude. But I hope that it will be seen as a gesture of deep respect and solidarity that we host this festival in Kyiv. We want to try and understand, support, learn about and from each other... and share stories. We have so much to learn.

Shia Labeouf #IAMSORRY Performance Art

Tarn: What I find interesting is that something like PTSD is experienced the same by a soldier who has been in a war zone and a person that has experienced sexual assault. It’s a very different set of experiences, but the same psychological response. So I think there’s something important about recognising and acknowledging different experiences but also coming back to this idea that we are all human and of the same animal species and to a greater or lesser extent there are some experiences that are universal no matter what context they arise.

Halea: Yes.

Tarn: So what has your experience been in Kyiv so far?

Halea: I find Kyiv such an exciting city. So different, yet so similar. For me that was super trippy.

Tarn: Different how?

Halea: Different to anything I’ve experienced so far in my life, although I have travelled quite a lot. The architecture, typography, advertising, colours, language… everything is so raw and not yet hyper-globalised. It’s really cool and disorientating and therefore truly awe-inspiring because the world is becoming progressively homogenised - but in Kyiv I feel like there is still so much room for discovering and being inspired. 
We feel that it’s important to create new myths and be playful in how we tell stories about how we interact with ourselves, people around us and our Mother Earth.
Tarn: I was talking to an architect friend about this homogenisation recently. These days a lot of spaces have a ‘hipster’ aesthetic which is so depersonalised, for example many bars and restaurants and cultural spaces in East London could be in Brooklyn and you can’t even really tell the difference. I can imagine it’s interesting to be in a city where the design and everything interacts with the local culture and history and isn’t based on some kind of Instagram hipster aesthetic. On the Metamodern Art Festival meme it says ‘cooler than Berlin’ which is very compelling. Another theme is ‘creating a new myth’. What does that mean?

Halea: We need new myths, new narratives. As individuals but also as a society we need stories which give deeper meaning to our existence, so that we can make sense of the world and the part we play in it. We feel that it’s important to create new myths and be playful in how we tell stories about how we interact with ourselves, people around us and our Mother Earth.

Tarn: On the website it says “we stand in the midst of a meaning crisis. Old utopias have not served us. Dystopias still choke us. Yet we still dream of eutopia, the good place.” So eutopia is this realistic utopia, because utopia is de facto not achievable?

Halea: Exactly, we can’t get there. Eutopia is more tangible, we have the power to co-create it and it’s important that we all play a part. That’s what we want to achieve with this festival, in a way, and also the Emerge gathering. The point is to get a group of people together and then collectively look at who are these people, what are their desires, their fears, their dreams? Once we understand that, we can connect over these deep desires and support each other in creating our eutopia.

Tarn: What is your idea of eutopia?

Halea: What I long for is a world where we really deeply respect each other, and where we love ourselves and our Mother Earth. It sounds cheesy but it is the biggest gift to be here on this planet and it’s so important that everyday you see it as a miracle and treasure it for what it is. I think if everyone was more humble and respectful towards oneself, the other and our planet then everything else around it does not really matter. That’s my dream!

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Words by Tarn Rodgers Johns
Tarn is the Lead Editor of Emerge. Raised in the UK and based in Berlin, she is driven by curiosity and an incessant but largely unsatisfied desire to get to the bottom of everything. She is interested in psychology, human creativity and the changing world around us.