“Art is to look at something.”

Joëlle Bischof and Robin Lütolf are a duo and they make art. Together they tinker with concepts. Together they also exhibit. How they get from an idea to an installation and what that means to them, they revealed in an interview – via Zoom.

Image: Robin Lütolf and Joëlle Bischof in their studio in Winznau. Photo: Self-timer.

Robin Lütolf: I hope we can deliver something exciting.

Melissa Jetzer: I have very simple questions.

RL: Aren’t simple questions difficult to answer?

MJ: Let’s find out. First question: Where are you right now?

RL: My bed is my office and that’s why I’m in my bed.

Joëlle Bischof: Your bed is your life. (laughs) I sit next to my bed, by the way, leaning against my bed. I don’t like sitting at my desk anymore. The wall view restricts me. I sit on a sexy air cushion.

MJ: And where are you geographically?

JB: Both in Bern.

MJ: Do you still use your studio in Winznau?

JB: We use the studio mostly alone, but regularly. If there are two of us there, we usually work explicitly on one thing or both on our separate things.

RL: We’ve been traveling a lot as a couple lately. During such phases we are not together in the studio as much. It’s a special place – in a residential neighborhood. It’s sometimes fun and often inspiring there. Although I grew up there, the place is like a model for me. It has so little to do with my other life that I sometimes feel it’s all staged. But it’s probably more the other way around. Sometimes I like being there, and sometimes I just want to leave.

JB: I very often have a Desperate Housewives moment, because the neighbor’s house has a great and well-kept garden, with a sitting area and a rose arch overhanging it. It’s lovely to walk by. I also often wonder what’s behind such facades.

MJ: Is it a source of inspiration for you?

JB: Yes, it is. I don’t take as many photos anywhere as I do in Winznau. It definitely has an aesthetic. Just getting the hedge plants into an artistic shape is fascinating. You could make fun of it, but people put so much thought and time into it, I think it’s great.

RL: It’s entertaining more than anything else. Joëlle came up to me recently and said, “Can someone please take this pig out of the crocodile?” No one would ever say that if this place didn’t exist. For context, there’s a ceramic crocodile in the neighbor’s garden, and it had a ceramic pig in its mouth.

JB: And it just kept having something new in that crocodile’s mouth. Recently, for example, there was an empty to-go coffee cup in it. I always wonder who makes something like that.

Image: “Neon Tales” was the name of the interactive installation at the exhibition “Last Words from the Periphery” on the Werkerei site in Zurich. Photo: Joëlle Bischof and Robin Lütolf.

MJ: Do you work together more through online channels at the moment?

JB: We already meet in real, but at the moment mostly in Bern.

RL: I don’t think we can work together very well online. It needs the personal contact.

JB: I’m very bad with zoom.

MJ: How do you work together? Do you have a certain distribution of roles?

JB: It varies a lot. Often it works very well without having to coordinate much. In the last project, however, this led to problems. That said, sometimes it makes sense to clearly divide certain areas of work among each other, otherwise you block each other.

RL: The word “roles” sums it up quite well. Depending on the project, you really take on a certain role. There are things that I can’t do and Joëlle is really good at, and vice versa.

MJ: For example?

RL: Joëlle? (laughs)

JB: You’ve brought this on yourself now! (laughs)

RL: When it comes to technical stuff, I’m usually the one who knows how to make it happen. However, I have the feeling that Joëlle is the one who usually comes up with the idea, which sometimes doesn’t look so realistic at the beginning and then you have to get it into a form that is feasible. Also, Joëlle has a better handle on critical thinking than I do. We often disagree for a long time at the beginning of a project. So we both come up with ideas that are often rejected until we find something that is feasible.

JB: Exactly! We have noticed that brainstorming together is not successful for us. However, the ideas we come up with, which are usually negated, move us in a direction where we eventually agree.

MJ: What was your last project?

JB: That was a cooperation within our Artist Run project “Eisenbricht”. Namely at the exhibition “Last words from the periphery” at the Werkerei area in Zurich. We were invited there as a duo by the artists and curators Benjamin Massa and Rocco de Filippo, but then we were also allowed to show our Artist Run project, in which artists from various disciplines worked together on a space-related project. As a duo we installed the work “Neon Tales,” if I’m not mistaken.

RL: As a duo, we just did several works that all had something to do with each other. They are all interactive works that ask, if not force, the audience to observe themselves and others.

MJ: How many?

JB: “Neon Swarm” was the first work and was exhibited at JKON. “Late Night Tales” will now follow on from “Neon Tales”.

Image: “Neon Swarm” was exhibited at JKON 2020. Photo: Joëlle Bischof and Robin Lütolf.

MJ: Do you often work in series?

JB: So far we have and it will probably continue to be our style. It’s exciting to continue to think about works and see them work in different spaces.

RL: It kind of happens to me with everything. There are ideas and incidents in our duo works that have been on my mind before.

JB: Exactly! You also often only realize afterwards that you were already occupied with it in your degree course, for example.

MJ: What is art for you?

JB: Oh!

RL: Do you want us to argue?

JB: I’ve thought of a question like that. We were asked the same thing at the art break. I had figured out a point of disagreement at that time. Namely, that Robin denies art any functionality.

RL: Yes, I once claimed that. However, I don’t believe that anymore. We discuss all kinds of things, and often you take a stand that you don’t really take, but you need it for the discussion. This is then a role play. In the end, you agree, but you disagree so that you have to discuss. You create problems so that you have something to solve. It’s a game.

JB: That’s a basis for negotiating things that you then do together. That’s how you get to know each other and yourself over and over again. Because as soon as something is no longer in your head, but you find a way of expressing it, you can question yourself again, rethink, or realize that your own argumentation doesn’t actually make any sense. In this way, forms slowly take shape. Maybe this is already an answer to your question.

RL: I think so, if you rephrase it a little bit. For us, art is actually a bit about representing something, or playing with something that is quite everyday, or not, and trying to understand that. It’s not about authorship, but about the way you look at something. It’s not about creating something for me. Sometimes it’s really just about looking at something.

JB: And yet you’re always confronted with the fact that as an author you have to stand behind it. Especially with the Eisenbricht project, I realized again that you have to take on a role so that people can classify you. But you can have a say in how they see you.

RL: It’s actually like the tip of the iceberg. You only see the end product, but everything behind it remains hidden and is not shown. But that’s not important or productive either. It’s about stimulating others to think about something.

MJ: So art is a discourse?

RL: That would just be the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes I don’t find works of art all that interesting, there’s already so much to observe in “real” life that we don’t understand.

Image: Joëlle Bischof and Robin Lütolf. Taken by: Ana Brankovic.

MJ: How do you classify your work?

JB: Interactive installation.

RL: I would go in the direction of concept as well. I can also imagine that we don’t always stay in the installative. I can’t classify it that way.

JB: What is important is above all the interactive part, a discourse, to put it bluntly.

RL: The idea is important and then the result is there.

JB: The result is nothing final, but something that other people can react to.

RL: I have a hard time evaluating it. I quickly distance myself from it as soon as the result is there.

JB: I also find it difficult to classify it.

MJ: Then we’ll leave it at that. We had already addressed it earlier when it came to your studio. Now in general: How do you inspire yourselves?


RL: …sometimes like this: silently! (laughs) That also goes in the direction of: “Who can do what better”. We have our shared notes and copy links in there too. Joëlle’s are mostly academic, which I often don’t find so inspiring. I like to read them too, but I don’t bring them into my artistic practice as much.

JB: Still, I’m copying links in because you might just read a sentence and it will give you an idea again.

RL: Yes, I work differently depending on my mood and get inspired. I usually take information out of its original context and then start to “think it apart”. Recently, I overheard a conversation about a cell phone case. The question came up in which colors this cover would be available. The answer was: “There are all colors”. This answer, taken out of context, makes me think. Are there all colors?

MJ: What are your next projects?

RL: It continues with “Eisenbricht.” The focus for us right now is on collaborating with others. We think it’s exciting to get involved with projects that you don’t know how they’re going to come out yet.

Next exhibition:
La Voirie in Biel
August 7, 2021
With Lisa Mark, Jonas Frey, Jonas von Arb, Joëlle Bischof and Robin Lütolf.