Lotte Andersen and the forces that lead us through history

Samantha Ozer

Lotte Andersen questions cultural symbols that normalise past narratives of identity, power, oppression and privilege

Working across sculpture, video, works on paper, installation, and sound, Lotte Andersen’s practice is a process of collaging. She stitches various media together, sutures private archives with popular culture, layers geographies, and dissects and reforms world histories. On one level, she operates as an archivist, cataloging aspects of British culture through the lens of family history, often pulling references or taking objects from her grandparents’ antique store in West London or her father’s extensive record collection. However, she also moves as a crate digger. As one would search for vinyl records, usually in second-hand shops, she hunts for images, sounds, and rhythms to track a personal journey between Britain, her birthplace, and Latin America, which she now calls home. Her exhibition, Crowds and Crate Diggers, now on view at Helena Anrather Gallery in New York, is her first solo show in the United States and offers the fullest picture of the nuanced manner in which she operates between mediums, often tracing a symbolic thread between sound and image.

Installation view, Lotte Andersen, Crowds and Crate Diggers, Helena Anrather Gallery, New York, 2023. Courtsey of the artist and Helena Anrather Gallery.

Consider how the large-scale wall works from this new exhibition are layered. Each work is built upon Chicha posters that Lotte Andersen collected while driving around Lima with her partner. Chicha, a form of Peruvian cumbia, is the result of the rhythms of traditional Andean music mixing with the electric guitar sounds of psychedelic rock of the 1970s. Similarly to the music style itself, the posters are manipulated to varying degrees of visibility, with the word “corazón” (heart) cut off as it extends across the plane in Tiny Dancer (2023) to the brilliant blues emerging from the landscape of Fools Rush In (2023), and the poster nearly entirely covered in Dancing Froglet (2023). Pasted atop the posters are newspaper clippings, stickers, xerox copies of family photos, and tissue and tortilla paper cutouts of stars and music notes that burst across the picture and create junctures between different samples of source material, much in the same way that older music genres influenced Chicha. Within the surf rock-spirited sounds of Chicha, you can trace histories of migration and cultural hybridization across Latin America as it interconnects with Africa and Europe through legacies of colonialism.

Lotte Anderson, Dancing Froglet, 2023, found posters, tissue paper, white paper, tape, and glue, 78 x 56.6 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Helena Anrather Gallery.

Cumbia first emerged in Colombia, developing from the confrontation between American Indigenous, African, and European cultures. It began spreading throughout the region and, by the 1960s, was popular in Peru, especially amongst Andean communities who migrated to Lima en masse in the 1950s and Amazonian migrants. Here, the percussive beats of cumbia mixed with the guitar and flute sounds of huayno, traditional Andean folk music, reflecting the metamorphosis of how styles shift as they intersect in an urban landscape and the prominent role immigrant communities have in shaping urban culture. Around this time, Lotte Andersen’s maternal line was moving from Dominica to Britain as part of the Windrush Generation. Similarly to the influx of rural Peruvians into Lima in response to work opportunities, a wave of immigrants from the Caribbean settled in Britain and subsequently influenced local culture, particularly infusing new styles into the music and fashion scenes. In Midnight (2023), xeroxed copies of Andersen’s family, of three black babies dressed up and posing for a photo, fill the bubble of a music note that explodes into a wider scene littered with other notes bursting with fragmented historical newspaper headlines and images.

Lotte Andersen, Midnight, 2023, found posters, tissue paper, tortilla paper, luster poster, pva, fabric, tape, newspaper cuttings, and xerox copies, 163.5 x 152.3 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Helena Anrather Gallery.

These collages are both personal and historical archiving, tracking a lineage of an artistic journey through generations and across oceans. Chicha music and its accompanying dance and visual culture is another manifestation of collage of several cultures that morphed and even broke down and reconfigured to birth new creative processes and forms of expression. Alongside Chicha, Tropicália in Brazil, the punk scene in the United Kingdom, and the organic music of Don and Moki Cherry in Sweden was the emergence of youthquakes in the 1960s, of revolutions in music and fashion launched by younger generations. Andersen positions herself within this lineage of artists, musicians, and designers who work across mediums and beyond geographies or, as she explains, “live their work.” It should come as no surprise that one of her first forays into the creative community was apprenticing the legendary London tailor John Pearse, who collaborated closely with Britain’s punk rock scene.

Rather than a formal art school education, Lotte Andersen learned from figures like Pearse and created her own network of collaborators. From 2011-2016, she ran MAXILLA, a series of parties hosted in West London, partially in response to the oversaturation of the swell of East London nights and also as a way to honor the West London creative scene of her parent’s generation. The party was at first contained to invitations through a Facebook event, more akin to a birthday party than a professionalized club night. The invitations, in hindsight, can be seen as Andersen’s first foray into collage and experiments with text and composition.

Lotte Andersen, Typical Girls, 2023, newsprint, acrylic nails, and wrapping paper, 24.1 x 21.6 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Helena Anrather Gallery.

In one flyer to promote the closing party on May 27, 2016, there is a cut-out photo of a couple kissing with the phrases “Born to Celebrate” ripped from newspapers pasted with tape above and below. In another, a text message chain reads–“you’re so banging / your body is unreal / you’re great fun” with a lips emoji response–is layered atop screen grabs of paintings and other found internet images. Some entirely text posters, scribbled in marker, read “At Maxilla We’re Really Into Attitude / You Can’t Buy Style / Boycott Shop the Look” and “somethings changing in West London / and No it’s Not a Fukin’ new shop on Westbourne Grove.” In these exchanges between friends and lovers, used to promote a music event, Andersen chronicles anxieties and realities around London’s changing landscape through the lens of her community and uses music as an impetus to gather. In her recent work, Typical Girls (2023), you can see the trace of these posters. Atop a page cut from a Spanish book that includes a drawing of a dancing couple, Lotte Andersen has placed acrylic nails with symbols and colors of the tropics, a red music note, and the text “A party will be such a treat.”

Parties require participation. On the most basic level, people need to show up. But for a party to be great, guests need to be active–they need to dance or at least serve a look or attitude. Andersen’s installations operate similarly. By working with a web of collaborators, she curates a guest list and brings people into the artwork, often through their direct participation in creating it. Subsequently, friends of friends feel connected to the project by identifying people they know, and the piece transcends as a place for gathering, resistance, and joy. Dance Therapy (2017-) might be the most emblematic of this spirit. First initiated upon an invitation by curator Cairo Clarke to participate in her residency at Guest Projects in London, Andersen set up a film studio and invited friends to come and dance in front of the camera. She would go on to host more of these “capture parties” and subsequently edit the footage into multi-channel video installations. Both forms of performance have been presented at venues such as the Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Hyundai Card Storage Foundation in Seoul. 

Installation view, Lotte Anderson, Dance Therapy, The Koppel Project, London, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Through this multi-media project, Lotte Andersen asks viewers to confront the politics of taking up space, simultaneously requiring them to be part of it. As in the Chicha series, there are moments of obfuscation and visibility that urge viewers to consider the forms in which different characters are prioritized versus others and how group dynamics operate and shift. Through processes of curation and editing, she breaks down visual and sonic material and offers her audience a guideline by which they can actively experiment. In her ongoing series of puzzles, first created for the group show All Opposing Players (2022) at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles that I co-curated and later adapted into new pieces at Helena Anrather, Andersen invites the audience to play with her work. Cut into shapes, such as triangles, stars, music notes, fists, and chess pieces, the wooden puzzles carry a range of symbolic references from allusions to violence throughout world history to personal emblems. Affixed to the pieces are photographs from family albums that track the distinct journeys of each family line to Britain–from the Caribbean on one side and India and South Africa on the other–as well as news clippings from British publications, maps, and notes.

Lotte Andersen, Fortuna, 2023, wood, acrylic, paper, polyurethane, and plaster, 46 x 30 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Helena Anrather Gallery.

As I wrote in the exhibition text at David Kordansky Gallery, “For Andersen, a puzzle serves as a device to reflect on the pressures of her mixed-race heritage and feelings of fragmentation as well as the power inherent in many pieces composing a nuanced whole.” In a work such as Fortuna (2023), the viewer has the ability to dissect and recompose a portrait of one of Lotte Andersen’s family members, in the process controlling the means by which her image is made legible. In playing with the puzzles, the audience takes up the role of external political forces that shape lives and dictate to what extent individuals or communities hold power and are afforded a public presence. In providing the audience with the agency to collaborate on the breaking down, processing, and even reforming of these pieces Andersen suggests that history is malleable and multiplicitous and urges us to reflect on the effects of lasting cultural icons. Her work asks how history informs our present moment; specifically, the cultural symbols that normalize past narratives of identity, power, oppression, and privilege. How have these symbols shifted over time, and what is their role today?

Lotte Andersen questions cultural symbols that normalise past narratives of identity, power, oppression and privilege
Lotte Andersen, Chaos has no morality II; Lullaby for expansion, 10 Ideologies, 2022, speakers, amp, media player, sound, 5 minutes 55 seconds, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Helena Anather Gallery.

To best address this question Lotte Andersen takes on the role of the DJ, a figure who works as both crate digger and archivist, scavenging through history to share and even remix older material to reinterpret it for a contemporary context while simultaneously cataloging it into historical memory. In Chaos has no morality II; Lullaby for expansion, 10 Ideologies (2022-), Andersen presents a multi-channel sound work that has developed from a three-channel audio installation first created for the exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery. Conceived as an experiment to create a deconstructed anthem, the work has references to the racist counting rhyme “Ten Little Injuns,” formerly “Ten Little Indians” as well as various national athems to consider the violence and racism embedded in most children’s nursery rhymes, the history of national anthems, and the hypnotic quality of a musical hook.

Like her approach to MAXILLA, in which she pulled together a web of collaborators, this sonic journey is the result of a close collaboration between other artists, friends, and family, including her partner, the artist Alonso Leon-Velarde; her sister, the singer Nancy Andersen; her father, the music producer Toby Andersen; and the musician Ian Duclos. In Synthetic Opus (2023), a live performance I commissioned Andersen and Leon-Velarde to make for TONO Festival in Mexico City, they similarly expanded their network to collaborate with Naima Karlsson, the granddaughter of Don and Moki Cherry, as well as Max Manzano, a Mexican musician and composer to continue this research into collaging sonic traces of music history across Mexico and Peru. For Lotte Andersen, “sound is an object in space,” a physical presence and equal collaborator. It is the lead player that threads throughout her work to burst through the paper collages and emerge into collaged soundscapes and the force guides viewers through history.

October 10, 2023