Video artist’s exploration

In Art, Arts & Entertainment, Top Stories
Photo by William Camargo

Sitting cross-legged on the floor in the middle of his latest exhibit, “Event Horizon,” Constantin Hartenstein, 29, gazes on at his work.

Men and women in matching jumpsuits are shown struggling to construct a sort of vessel or habitat. They share candid opinions of what the future holds. They reminisce about their past, of a time long gone. They’re going to be crossing a border, a threshold, soon. They have no idea what will meet them on the other side.

This is the backdrop of Hartenstein’s “Event Horizon,” his latest video currently on display at the Cal State Fullerton Grand Central Arts Center in Santa Ana till Oct. 14.

Hartenstein is a native of Herzberg, Germany, in the former socialist state of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). He was inspired to create his latest video while walking around Santa Ana during his recent stay as the artist in residence at the center.

“I would walk around and have this feeling of being a total stranger. I looked differently than everyone else. The people who lived here would look at me like I was an alien,” said Hartenstein, who sports a distinctly European fashion style and thick accent.

When asked where he calls home, Hartenstein remarked: “I don’t really have a home. Is that sad?”

Indeed, Hartenstein has not stayed in one place for very long since he graduated in 2010 with his M.F.A. from the Braunschweig University of Art.

After spending two months in Santa Ana, he is now in New York City for another residency. Bouncing around to different places isn’t necessarily new to Hartenstein.

Hartenstein grew up in the GDR in 1982. He said it was a different time during a socialist system. His parents raised him and his sister in the system.

“My dad was an artist as well. The government forbid him to be an artist in the system because they wanted workers, not artists, because they didn’t make any money and weren’t efficient enough,” Hartenstein said.

His father, fed up with the system, took the Hartenstein family across the border to the west.

John Spiak, Grand Central Art Center director and chief curator, noted that originally Hartenstein didn’t want his past to be a part of the exhibit.

“When I first talked to him, he said that he didn’t want to mention that his dad was from East Germany,” Spiak said. “As time went on, I think he started realizing that telling his story wasn’t too personal.”

Hartenstein soon realized the city he was living in, Santa Ana, was home to a large Hispanic population; all of whom shared his experience of crossing a border to a strange new place.

Thus, the stage for “Event Horizon” was set.

The exhibit made Hartenstein think about what being home means. Wondering where our homes are is universal, he said, as people lose their attachment to the place they belong.

“Maybe it’s getting harder and harder for us to find out what that place is,” Hartenstein said. “My idea was to have a group of people build around the idea of crossing a border, but not an actual border. It was more like the idea of crossing a border to another place.”

From there, Hartenstein assembled his eight-person “space crew.” Each crew member had a different occupation that would match those found in a spaceship.

“We walked in there with these jumpsuits on and he gave us some building materials,” said Stephen Tyler Howell, a CSUF theatre graduate student. “As a group of eight people we had to build this habitat to live in for an extended period of time.”

The process was filmed by Hartenstein, while he gave the eight participants lines of dialogue to read and asked them questions about what they thought the future held.

“The people in this video talk about their past memories, but they’re in the present building something. That something is being built for the future, so there are three layers of time,” Hartenstein said.

So what is on the other side of the void that the crew members cross? Determine that for yourself at the Grand Central Art Center where “Event Horizon” will be on display in the Don Cribbs Project Space.

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