Interview: Army of Love

by Iarlaith Ni Fheorais | 24th February 2020

Army of Love is a set of moving image and performance works by Alexa Karolinski and Ingo Niermann in collaboration with a diverse cast of practitioners in Germany and Cuba. This army of lovers varying in ages, abilities, genders, ethnicities and appearance explores love as a voluntary act, questioning the value and ethics of “free love”.

Can you speak to the journey from the novel Solution 257: Complete Love to the film, Army of Love, and what was the impetus for that move?

Ingo: The novel describes a group of activists who explore the possibilities of a more just, demand-oriented redistribution of sensual love. They have occupied Berlin’s central square Alexanderplatz as a “Love Garden”, organise talks and discussions, and try to get intimate with people who they don’t feel attracted to in the first place. When finishing the novel I was wondering if such a redistribution of sensual love could be implemented in a more persistent, reliable way. To be able to perform love that way, I imagined rigorous drills and codes of behaviour as in an army.

Alexa: Ingo approached me in 2016 to think about how to bring the Story “alive” for the Berlin Biennale. We spoke many times for hours about how the actual Army of Love would work, before thinking of the concept for the video. For me, it was important to really understand not only how Ingo envisioned something he had been thinking about 10 years prior to that point, but also that he – as a collaborator – was open to my questions, concerns and ideas. I love that the Army of Love invites participants, soldiers, onlookers and critics to voice their thoughts, that way we can ever evolve what it means. Our first video Army of Love is advertising that organisation.

It is ambiguous whether the film features real people or fictionalised characters, gesturing towards a documentary style. What was the intention behind this blurring of fiction and reality?

The only fictitious element that we introduced to the participants in our two films is a fully-implemented Army of Love. We are constantly exploring and testing it in workshops and recruitments but it still doesn’t exist as a solid entity. The participants talk about their own lives and ideas about love. Their physical routines evolve from their own improvisations.

Alexa: We see the Army of Love as a hypothetical solution to real problems. And by us inviting real people to take part in real intimacy, does it then remain hypothetical? In film, hybrid formats are often entirely formalistic. They are often made this way for the filmmaker to explore fiction through the documentary format. And it works, because documentaries have been boxed into a very slim definition for years now. For us, it’s the opposite reason. It’s only this format that allows us to invite people to be intimate with each other in a safe environment that asks the questions we want people to think about.

How did you approach casting for the film?

Ingo & Alexa:
For both our films we made an open call in which we described the mission of the Army of Love and asked for people who would like to act as its hypothetical members. We spread the open call through friends and different communities to reach a diverse crowd in terms of gender, age, abilities, race, and class.

Love, intimacy and touch are contested acts for disAbled people, which is why it was so vital to hear Matthias Vernaldi speak to his experience. Where does disability sit in the Army of Love?

Ingo: Both on the side of the people who might be in particular need of love as on the side of those who are particularly qualified to give love as they actually are differently-abled. A blind person might be more present in a conversation, a man like Mathias who can‘t move might be perceived as relaxingly harmless.

Alexa: Matthias was a huge influence on the way we constructed the first film. And more importantly, the way we evolved the Army of Love as a whole. He asked us the toughest questions and raised points early on that could become a challenge within the Army of Love. It is vital for us that the Army of Love doesn’t only accommodate disabled people physically but includes everyone’s ideas into the larger structure of the organisation and its films.

Have we lost appreciation of love as a radical, politically transformative act, as an act of justice perhaps, in the current cultural moment?

Ingo & Alexa:
Generally speaking, the “coldness” of the public sphere is the foundation of justice. It’s a great cultural achievement that everybody can buy a product at a given price – no matter if the seller finds that person lovable or not. For good reasons, Karl Marx has been very sceptical about founding a communist society on love. Love tends to be unsteady, judgmental, and exclusive. Love can easily turn into a dangerous, destructive force. Before introducing love on a political level, you have to be very careful and learn to love in a controlled and committed way.

Can we choose to love?

Ingo & Alexa:
Of course. Falling in love is not an instinctive act. We have learned whom to find attractive and whom to find reachable. We tend to first hit for people who are a bit above our market value to then adjust and be okay with whoever is willing to love us back accordingly. We have learned to treat unilateral love as childish (think of the unilateral adoration of fans) or pathologic (states of ongoing limerence). Then again, we have learned that unilateral love is a good thing, as long as its platonic and universal. The Army of Love doesn’t contest these concepts but completes and balances them with the training of a love that is unilateral, but in a sensual and consensual way.

With thanks to Auto Italia, who exhibited Army of Love in Winter 2019, for arranging this interview.

Army of Love was commissioned and co-produced by the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art.

Liquid explores expressions of intimacy in the private and public realms, in our digital and offline lives.