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Interview with Olivia Bee. Bernal Espacio, Madrid

Author: Fabrizzio Morales-Angulo

  Olivia Bee 

Olivia Bee: Enveloped in a dream. Bernal Espacio Gallery, Madrid.

 

We all have memories, all adults have suffered through adolescence, and almost everyone has pictures from that age.  Images that take us back to past times of solitude or in the company of those who were special during those years. Images that make us remember friendships already forgotten and sensations that were unique and marvelous in that moment.

 

Olivia Bee has made all of these moments of her life stay frozen in the images that she has captured, and after being developed, they became something else. Olivia made it so that somehow we can live these moments with her through her photos. During a few seconds we are there with her, we are young again and we run through the snow with her. We accompany her while she looks through the window, or even while she photographs herself in an old printed armchair. Her photographs make us relive our own memories while, at the same time, we want to be part of her own.  

 

 

 Olivia Bee. Home 2009 

 

 

A diary in snapshots, composed by micro-stories of one photograph that stimulates our imagination, makes us  think of, in a nostalgic way, our lost youth,  one that could be,  one that really was, and the one we wanted.

Her recent past become oneiric in our retinas. This photographer is like the tiger cub who hunts by instinct, roughness and without any over-thinking. Her way is like a need: it is fed from the innocent moments  of her life and the lives of her friends.

 

 

 Olivia Bee. Lillie 2010 

 

 

Olivia is insultingly young and belongs to a new generation that has been raised, educated, fed, and well-informed with images and videos. Their experiences are immediate, the information is global, the distances are virtual, and the whole world can be reached with a single click. In a new era where social media dominates our lives, where the hurry to catch the moment is more important than to live it,  there exists an even bigger hurry to share it. It is a pleasure to stop, not think, rest, and look back, even if we've done it through images of someone else´s life, this time Olivia Bee's.

  

 

  Olvia Bee. 11 11 2008 

 

 

Fabrizzio Morales: You started to photograph very young, you knew what you loved. Did your parents supported your talent and your passion?

Olivia Bee: My parents have always been incredibly supportive. They always gave me everything that they possibly could. They kind of just let me do my thing but told me when I screwed up. I'm very lucky. My family is amazing.

FM: How important is people's support for you and your work?

OB: I am pretty faithful to myself in terms of art (most of the time). I know how to push myself and am pretty level-headed, but at the same time know that I am capable and that I can and will achieve my dreams (at least I hope!!). I think I would be fine without support because I definitely support myself and am very stubborn, but support definitely helps me a lot. I'm very lucky to have friends and family that love and believe in me and a boyfriend who is the same. I am very blessed. 

FM: In your own photographs, you capture beautiful and very intimate moments of you and your friends' life, how do you know when to stop and change from protagonist to an external watcher of your own experiences and photograph them?

OB: This is something I am working on, internally. Knowing when to snap and when to put it down. I don't want to use the camera as protection.

FM: Analog or digital; developing or computer editing; dark room or photoshop - what are your  preferences?

OB: I love both. Each comes with its own advantages.


FM: This is the first exhibition in which your pictures will be on sale, and some have already been sold before its opening - how are you finding this new experience?

OB: It's not my first! I had an exhibition in New York this summer called "Kids In Love" that I sold a lot of pieces at too! But it is amazing. But it's also weird to sell pieces that are so close to my heart -- but at the same time I want to be able to share them with other people. 

 

 

 Olivia Bee. Untitled Ponytail 2010 

 

 

Enlaces de interés: 

 

www.bernalespacio.com

 

www.oliviabee.com

 

- Olivia Bee: "Enveloped in a Dream", Bernal Espacio -      - Alejandra de Argos -

 

 

Interview with Ai Weiwei.

Autor: Marta Gnyp 

 

 ai weiwei  

 

Ai Weiwei is a phenomenon: artist, architect, curator and political activist, someone who can adopt Western artistic ideas without forgetting his Chinese cultural heritage. His formal language is as clear and touching as his political ideals. His belief in the universality of human rights and the translation of this belief in action has inspired many in China and abroad. Here, Ai Weiwei shares his ideas about his art and art in general, his thoughts on society and politics, his vision for China and his role in creating a new form of social participation.

 

Marta Gnyp: I would like to start by talking to you about art and your visual language and personal iconography. You work often with antique chairs, chandeliers and furniture. For example, in one of your works, you used 1001 doors and windows from destroyed Ming and Qing dynasty houses. Is it a kind of provocation to use objects of national pride as cheap material?

Ai Weiwei: No, it is not a provocation; using old materials is a way of dealing with our past. We are giving our judgment about the past when we are referring to our tradition.

MG: But I understood from your earlier interviews that you are not happy with nationalism and nationalistic symbols.

AW: I don’t care about nationalistic symbols. I have been working in China for years so I’m using these objects as a part of my own tradition. Our history has been always related to our present; our history has always been reinterpreted, and using it in my art is a kind of evidence of the past. 

MG: Are you using personal symbols in your art? 

AW: Yes, but I don’t even know them. They just happen in my art. They all can be destroyed; it is for me not a matter of importance.

MG: As from the 17th century, there seems to be a dialogue between Western art and Chinese art. A few Western artists came to China and their influence was—at least according to Western art history—visible in Chinese art. For example, the use of shadow in painting came through Western artists…

 AW: We have never used a shadow in our art, even not today.

 

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MG: Why is that? Do you not care about the illusion of space?

AW: I think that for the Chinese, the art has never been representational. We use art as a method of analyzing and describing what reality is. But our artistic interpretation of the real world has never been done through scientific methods. We don’t want to make the artwork look like an object in reality, which has been the Western tradition until very late. China has never had this kind of problem. I think that as from the very beginning, we have been much more profound in understanding what art is and that art doesn’t have to copy nature.

MG: Art is much more about the intrinsic values of the thing as such than about its representation.

AW: Yes.

MG: Do you think that this approach could influence Western art?

AW: I think that the contemporary movement in the Western art of the last century was quite influenced by the Oriental way of thinking. The accent on the concept and not on the realization is similar to our understanding of art.

MG: I would like to talk with you now about your project, Fairytale, in Kassel in 2008. You brought 1000 Chinese who had never been abroad to Kassel because, as you described your project, there is a potential for change in a new place which is related to the strength of a personal experience. Did you consider this project as a socialcultural experiment or as an art project?

AW: I don’t think there is a conflict between the two approaches. Anything can be art if we are conscious about it. This project was a new way of expression and a charming way of communication. I couldn’t think of political or social involvement, which is not art.

 

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MG: Were you happy about the result of the project?

AW: I’m very, very satisfied about the result because it brought to me new consciousness of what art should be and because it really extended the territory of art for me.

MG: It is very interesting because, for you, art seems to mean how you experience the world and it doesn’t limit itself to one territory.

AW: I think art is like water; it can flow and can get into action in any kind of shape. Art is not a territory but magic. We cope with our lives so we should not be away from our consciousness and our passions. Art gives us access to it.

MG: Do you think that you changed the life of the people you brought to Kassel?

AW: Many of them said this experience changed their life. For some of them, it was a dream; some started really a new life. They faced a different culture and were able to learn how to make different judgments. I think this is a very important part of us: to help people to see new possibilities in terms of thinking. To make people be more conscious about their own life.

MG: It is a very beautiful goal indeed. I would like to put another question about the Chinese and Western cultural relationship. In 2007, an important exhibition was held in Brussels about 500 years of Chinese and European painting called Forbidden Empire. It referred to a book with the same title from 1932, whose message was that the physical distance between China and Europe became smaller in our time, but the psychological distance perhaps bigger than ever. What is your opinion about it?

AW: I think that art is a communication means and can overcome physical distance. Art can make us realize that we are so much the same. Besides, through art we can become appreciated because it makes us realize how much we are missing or how much we have got by chance.

 

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MG: And what do you think of the hype over Chinese art in Europe in the last couple of years?

AW: China is without any doubt a new society with new cultural products. The country was closed up for such a long period that its culture and intellectual concepts became inaccessible and surrounded by mystery. China, as each society, has always had some special cultural approaches that are based on their peculiar philosophical points of view. That triggered the curiosity of the West. Part of the hype came from that; of course, the other part came from the marketing, so these two aspects combined made Chinese art a very interesting phenomenon.

MG: Have you seen the exhibition of Chinese art at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2008?

AW: No, I didn’t give it a lot of attention.

MG: Viewing this exhibition, I had a strong feeling that the Chinese artists were trying to copy European art, using European symbols and European philosophers. It was a bit disturbing because there was a lack of own message but rather a competition of forms and effects.

AW: Many Chinese artists are learning the contemporary art by copying the theory and forms. But besides this, there are good artists in China who have got a lot of appreciation.

MG: Is there a strong artistic community in China?

AW: I don’t think there is a strong one, but there is a big structure of artists. Unfortunately, China today is not a country of artistic theoretical exchange; it is still at a stage where no open discussion about ideas and ideology can take place.

MG: In 1997, you founded the China Arts Archives & Warehouse, which offer a platform for young and experimental artists. Is there a special kind of art or artists you want to support?

AW: Yes. It is art that is somehow related to thinking on concepts of our current situation in China.

 

 aiweiwei06-w500 

 

MG: Are Chinese artists reflecting on art of the 20th century or, more specifically, art produced during the Cultural Revolution?

AW: So far I haven’t seen any art which you could call a form of reflection on the Cultural Revolution because the Cultural Revolution in general is not a topic that can be discussed. Art from that time was a part of a bigger system. We still don’t know what had really happened at that time.

MG: You used to live in New York between 1981 and 1993. Did you try to develop a universal language of art during your stay in America? Do you think we can communicate at all?

AW: Yes, any good art is a form of communication. My experiences from New York are very important for me today. It gave me a basis for my contemporary thinking and thanks to this basis, I can function well today in China.

MG: You once said that you consider Chinese art history as very important and rich. Do you think Chinese contemporary artists will go back to their own roots or will they seek to connect with the international trends of the art world?

AW: I don’t think that Chinese artists will go back to the traditional roots; it is a language of too long ago. We know where we come from, we know where we are today, but we cannot capture the past any longer.

MG: It could create, however, another issue. China underwent enormous changes in the last two decades. Many ideologies have been deconstructed. Does it create a problem for artists versus the more traditional public? 

AW: Exactly. It is a very difficult, very shattered and broken relationship but we have to deal with it. We haven’t developed a common language yet.

MG: Do you think that you can convince the public to start to appreciate a different kind of art and different kind of ideology?

AW: I don’t really know. We have to see. I have no expectations.

 

 aiweiwei07-w500 

 

MG: Do you get more appreciation for your art in the West or in China?

AW: In the West. I have never had any exhibition in China yet; the most discussions about my art are taking place in the West.

MG: Would you like to change it?

AW: Of course, this is why I’m working on my blog every day. I want my work to be really meaningful for this society—this society, which hasn’t experienced the freedom of speech yet and is a subject of a strong ideology control every day. Maybe one day they will understand my endeavors.

MG: You said once that you don’t like your own art works. Why not?

AW: To work on one object is a part of a totality. How to deal with communication, how to really be hopeful for the whole situation needs a lot of skills. I’m trying to achieve this but so far I’m not really proud if it. I’m always looking for a better expression of what I want to say in totality.

MG: You said in a previous interview that you don’t like people—you were referring to well-known artists—who don’t make moral judgments. Are you making moral judgments with your art? Do you think that art is intended to make moral judgments at all?

AW: I think art is a part of our society; art is a part of the product of us as human beings. I don’t think any aesthetics can be treated separately from the moral judgments. Art is a part of our total responsibility for the world. Otherwise I don’t see why we should make art.

MG: But don’t you think that art is also a place where you can experiment outside morality?

AW: I don’t think so. Any aesthetic judgment is a part of morality. I don’t think you can avoid it. People who pretend to avoid it make simply a different political statement.

 

 aiweiwei08-w500 

 

MG: In relation to making political and moral statements, I would like to ask you about your contribution to Bird Nest Stadium in Beijing. Your contribution to this project is very controversial, seemingly also for yourself. A public sculpture with no sense of center but freedom became a piece with heavy different moral connotations for you. What made you change your mind about your contribution?

AW: When I realized it would be an object of a political propaganda. Initially we wanted to design something for society, which would be a symbol for democracy and freedom. But when we realized it goes to the opposite, the propaganda of the party, I decided not to be a part of it because it became a contradiction to my intentions.

MG: But before you started to work on this project, did you really believe that you could work freely and that there would be no involvement from the party?

AW: No, not like this. I really believed that it was a project which could help China to become more open because it would force China to accept the same values as in the other parts of the world. But of course, later I realized that it didn’t work as I thought it would, so I had to make my own judgment and take the consequences.

MG: Speaking about China and its openness to the other, you once said that Chinese are no longer Chinese but a unity connected with the world. Do you believe that the belonging to the world took over belonging to a national or social group?

AW: China underwent many significant transformations in the last decades. After a few years full of enthusiasm, a real struggle for the society has begun. You can see that China today is still struggling towards a different moral culture, but of course, our own tradition and historical models have an influence on what we are doing. But we can see a big change towards Western contemporary thinking.

 

 aiweiwei09-w500 

 

MG: Do you think people are ready for this change?

AW: I think people are ready for it because our society became the second biggest economy in the world. It implies a challenge in communication with the world. 

MG: Could you think of form of democracy which embraces nationalism in a light way?

AW: Each country has a different character. But the basis of each system should be rooted in fundamental social values and human rights.

MG: Is respect for these fundamental human rights what you want to achieve through your political activism?

AW: It is about the individual versus the state power. I cannot avoid speaking if the state ideology doesn’t respect the fundamental rights of the individual.

MG: You see a change towards contemporary Western thinking. Is there not a fundamental discrepancy in approach between Western and Chinese concepts because the concept of individuality is different? Is the concept of a collective in China not more important than that of the individual?

AW: You can have individualism in collective thinking. You have to find a new balance and a new lawful, judicial practice. I’m sure that there is an alternative and there are possibilities. But you need to trigger the consciousness and ideology to achieve that.

 

 aiweiwei10-w500  

 

MG: This would be enormous work. What about consciousness and ideology in the art system?

AW: It is an old, dying system that is not related to contemporary art or contemporary thinking. This approach is very problematic because it is about skills, which, of course, could be important as a kind of private language but it is not the essential value of art.

MG: Is there censorship with regard to arts?

AW: If you don’t do anything against the current conditions than there is no censorship. But if you begin to question political and social issues, then you could have a problem.

MG: Would you like to have more support from other colleague artists in China in your fight for human rights?

AW: There is almost no support from the others, which is fine. Everybody should do what he or she considers as necessary. For me, this fight is an absolute necessity. I don’t mind if there is no support. For me, it is what I have to do.

MG: In an interview you gave in 2008, you said that you didn’t feel any danger. After what happened last year, do you still have the same feeling that you don’t feel threatened?

AW: No. I feel very much threatened. There are several people I know who have been sentenced to jail for five or ten years. You have to spend your life in jail only because you believe in an ideology that differs from the one of the party. It is terrible, but what can we do? If we don’t speak hard for others, things will never change and the next generation will still think the same. Somebody has to speak hard. I can speak hard so I have to do it.

 

 aiweiwei11-w500 

 

MG: Would you consider leaving China because of personal danger and to continue your activities from abroad?

AW: No, I think it is more efficient if I stay in China. It is a good example for the young generation and it would be a completely different statement if I were to work from outside. We need free thinking.

MG: I can imagine that your personal example is very powerful. Do you expect that the young generation will take over your fight and that they will understand you better than the older generation?

AW: I think so. The new generation understands more and we have great communication.

MG: I assume you can communicate with them also thanks to your activity as a blogger?

AW: I’m active as a teacher. Every day, I spend four to eight hours on teaching and discussing current issues on a Chinese site. With 140 words in Chinese, you can write a novel. The Chinese are very efficient.

MG: So every day you are talking at least four to eight hours with young people through the Internet. What are the subjects you are discussing?

AW: Anything. Culture, art, politics, social issues, anything. My life means teaching, learning, communicating and making art.

MG: This means that free access to the Internet is extremely important for you.

AW: I think that the Internet is the best source of information in China.

MG: I read your article in the Wall Street Journal about Google’s position in China. Do you think that other companies will react like Google? That they will try to stop censorship or even the abuse of Internet by the Chinese government?

AW: It would be great if other companies would take a similar position, but it would be very difficult. Most companies are looking for a good business relationship with China so it is almost impossible that they will take any steps against the system.

MG: What do you expect from Google?

AW: I don’t really know. It could be any kind of result. What is very important is that they made a choice. They made it loud and everybody heard it.

MG: So you believe that making a statement, only making statements, makes people conscious about what is going on?

AW: That is very important. Everybody has to make statement. Art is about making statements.

MG: What would you do if China became a democratic country?

AW: Still, we would have a lot of problems, even in a democratic country. We will always have plenty of work.

MG: At this moment, you are active as an artist, curator, architect and political activist. Which one would be the most important job for you in the coming years?

AW: To live like an honest person, to live in a reality and act according to all my passions and will.

 

- Interview with Ai Weiwei -                 - Home: Alejandra de Argos -

Interview with Thomas Schütte.

Autor: Marta Gnyp 

 

German artist Thomas Schütte has long been one of the most interesting and unpredictable European artists. During the last 30 years, he has built up an impressive oeuvre of visually and intellectually provoking works. This interview is a combination of two conversations which we had, the first one in 2010 and the second one only recently in 2013.

 

 tschutte01-w500 

 

Thomas Schüette

 

Marta Gnyp: I read somewhere that when you visited Documenta V in 1972, where you saw the works of Sol Lewitt, Blinky Palermo, Daniel Buren you decided to become an artist.

Thomas Schütte: I also saw photorealism, which is completely forgotten now and which was at that time the main public attraction, art brute, landscapes, objects and so on. I was old enough to understand that even at that time, everything was possible. Every thinkable position was simply in this show – actually I went two times in the summer of 1972.

MG: You were interested in art before you went to Documenta?

TS: Yes, but I have never seen any exhibition. I knew paintings and sculpture only from books. In Kassel, I saw for the first time all the variety of possibilities in the art world.

MG: I assume that you used to make art yourself at that time, that you knew that you had a talent?

TS: Talent? I don’t know, but I was interested.
I had a film camera and I made an 8mm film, which by the way I still have. I went to the city library once per week and read everything they had about art.

MG: During the Documenta you discovered that art offers so many possibilities that you decided to be a part of it?

TS: Yes. The other reason was more practical. At that time, there was a boom of students at universities. For all faculties except art and religion, you needed an entrance exam, which I didn’t want to do. So I decided on art. Firstly I applied to the two famous film schools in Berlin and Munich where the important German filmmakers like Wenders and Herzog were working. I discovered that, unfortunately, I would need three years pre-education to enter the film academy, which I was not prepared to do, and they told me, that film is an industry, not for outsiders, who want to do things by themselves.

MG: So fine art was the only option you had?

TS: Actually I had no option; options came later. The word “option” always surprises me. It is a part of the computer language, which hasn’t existed before. 15 years ago, I was discussing with students about art and I remember them talking about options: there is no will, there is no need, but there is an option. Nobody had the energy to do something against all odds. This attitude was so shocking to me that I tried to find out where this “optional” thinking came from and I discovered that the computer is the source of it, since you can work there on many things at the same time.

MG: Could you see an option as a possibility of a conscious choice?

TS: Of course. Our generation was probably the last one without the options; we knew only good and bad, up and down, right and left. 200 kilometers from the place you lived, the world stopped at the Iron Curtain, right next to Kassel actually. There was no option, there was a finish. At the end of the 80s, the unification process and the introduction of computers changed the whole world.

MG: The 70s were for you the formative years. Was it easier?

TS: I think so. If you speak to young students today, they seem pretty confused, but on the other hand my own kids seem to be very structured. 

 

 tschutte02-w500 

Innocenti, 1994, b/w photo, ed. of 3, 75 × 50 cm, photo: Thomas Schütte

 

MG: Are you teaching?

TS: No, I don’t want to be responsible for young people. I change my mind too often.

MG: Do you consider working with your hands and materials more honest than the omnipresent quasi-conceptual approach?

TS: I have to know my limits. Some time ago we started a four-meter high figure. I cut the head out of styrofoam, which was one meter high. Someone who helped me went away and I was all alone with the head. It was very hot. After one hour working, my body said, ‘it is enough. I had to sit down and smoke a cigarette. ‘ You have straight limits – either of the material and tools or of your own body, your ideas and concepts. When working with physical materials you always have an enemy.

MG: Are you fighting with the object you are making?

TS: Sometimes I am. The basic idea is, however, that you don’t see the fight at the end. It has to look easy and natural.

MG: Do you have assistants?

TS: I have my own assistants only for the computer work. Everything I’m not interested in I try to keep outside. In the workshop they prepare a sketch or a dummy and then I’m doing the rest. But basically, you need help, especially if a piece is larger than yourself. My workshop is extremely efficient. I do ask a lot of people when the work is half finished what do they think, and I like to work with good craftsmen and try to follow their ideas.

MG: Who are these people? Your gallerists? Your friends?

TS: Critics or people who are doing art, but mainly the fabricators. It is not that I’m completely alone in my studio at 2 in the morning breaking my head about a work. No, I close my shop at 6 or 5 p.m. I stop during the rest of the day; I try to relax because the ideas don’t come when you are stressed.

MG: Since the 80s you have been sporadically involved in the architectural projects. Why did you get interested in the architecture?

TS: There have been 10 or 11 projects so far; I do it like every two years. It is fascinating because the concept is completely different. I like to have a work that is situated in reality, since museums are fictions for a short moment. You cannot take this permanent work to Christie’s either. Besides, if it is for a permanent use it requires a different way of thinking. The buildings address a difference audience in comparison to the thousands of the museum visitors who come and go. It is also different because of its functionality aspect: it has to bear harsh weather conditions, the door has to close, and the window must go open. It has to function but at the same time all these buildings are very surprising.

MG: You are also responsible for the production of the work?

TS: Sometime I build like 3 or 4 models, to find the proportions and so on. I follow production closely, I interfere when it goes wrong, but I’m not the architect, neither I’m responsible for the costs and details of the construction. The architect has all the troubles, and I have all the fun, but sometime I have to compromise, too.

MG: Is it difficult to convince you to make a proposal for a house?

TS: I charge a cup of coffee, a good steak and the taxi to the airport.

MG: So you design it only for people whom you know well?

TS: Good acquaintances. It makes me fun. I make mostly pavilions or teahouses. The translation of the word „pavilion“ means a house of pleasure, a house for fun.

MG: Do you try to escape the pressure coming from art institutions and your galleries?

TS: Nowadays, galleries are working with deadlines. In the 80s, there were workshops in the galleries; you could come whenever you wished, they had equipment and a working space. The moment the computers moved in, suddenly galleries got glass tables, computers, the personnel that consists of mostly perfectly dressed women who don’t even say hello. You cannot make noise or dirt. Today’s galleries look like a shoe shop – not like a workshop. There is only one gallery I have seen during the last 10 years where things were different: when the owner began to paint a wall himself because I found it not gray enough. I was painting my artwork, while he was painting the wall. It was a small gallery in Burgundy called Pietro Sparta, which is in the middle of nowhere, but people know it because the region is famous for its great food and fantastic wine. The Italian owner has been working with artists like Luciano Fabro, Mario Merz, Jannis Kounnelis for 20 years without any art education. For me he even built a 20- meter long house, as a full scale model, just for fun.

MG: Is this an ideal gallery for you?

TS: When I started to work with some gallerists like Philip Nelson, Ruediger Schoettle or Konrad Fischer, we were like a family. They had time for you. It was completely normal to spend evenings with Mario Merz or Gerhard Richter. No money, no pressure, no sales, perhaps one or two works during one show. The gallery consisted of the owner, one secretary and one craftsman, while today’s gallery relies on one boss who is sitting in a plane with two telephones and 20 employees. In the 80s, art became business. The business people came into the art world. You never see them for they buy and sell on the telephone. Since the 90s, art became an industry – they started to produce art works like cars. They can destroy artists by bad press and the merciless pressure to sell. The industry even can produce their own artists. Konrad Fischer used to complain, when the show was sold out: what have we done wrong?

 

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Amuseument, 2002, wood, perspex, elecric light, 194 × 170 × 230 cm, photo: Nic Tenwiggenhorn

 

MG: Are you are suggesting that in the current art world everything could be constructed?

TS: Yes, this is the reason that sometimes I’m losing my interest in being on art fairs or even big group shows.

MG: Don’t you think that there is still great art being produced?

TS: Once in a year I see a show by a living artist that really touches me. Other works are good but not touching. It is different regarding dead artists. The older you get the more you are interested in old and classical positions.

MG: Your show in the Serpentine Gallery in London referring to the classical subject of the portrait was a great success. Even the English press was very positive.

TS: The London press was pretty enthusiast, which is indeed unusual.

MG: What was the reason that the public was so excited?

TS: I found out after the show has opened that without knowing it we pushed up three right buttons. The first one is the figurative monument. England is one of the few civilized countries in the world – except dictator countries -, which has still a tradition of installing monuments of politicians like Ronald Reagan or other famous people or war heroes, throughout the city. They have a system of commissions of monuments. I also found out that they have a tradition of portraits. They have the National Portrait Gallery with photos of Mick Jagger, sculptures of the Queen, or paintings by Lucien Freud, whereby upstairs in the building there are historical portraits of the last four hundreds years. They have a national prize, the British Petroleum Prize on portraits that generates a lot of attention, there you can see how not to do things. And as the third thing, they have the tradition of watercolors. They have the National Watercolor Society and the Prince is doing watercolors, like many other people. 
I touched all the three soft spots of this country without knowing it. I just did it by instinct. That’s why it was so positive reaction.

MG: You showed plenty of works from different periods, mostly from your own storage. How come that your work doesn’t lose on actuality or at least that people see it as actual?

TS: This was the job of the curator Hans Ulrich Obricht who came with the idea of portraits. This was not my idea but I quickly said yes, made a list of works and we could install it in two and half days. Luckily I left the space open, followed the line of the building and I didn’t exhibit too many works. The interest of the public was huge; every day 1500 visitors came to visit the show. I’m happy to see that it is possible to work in England and to have success without the usual scandals.

MG: Are you not amazed yourself that everything you make turns out to be a success in the reception of the public.

TS: I don’t believe it. I don’t read the articles. I look at the headlines, I look at the photos and I read the first and the last sentence, the text between them I don’t. If you start to believe in it you are lost.

MG: Still, why is it now the time for Thomas Schütte? Why does the public want to see you as a great artist?

TS: I don’t know. Possibly because I make less stupid mistakes than the others. I am out of this art fashion industry. I am always trying to do something new, there is no repetition of one product, and I’m not a brand. I want to be an artist and not to be a brand. The brand artists are on the other end of the rainbow.

MG: Are your artworks also surprising for you?

TS: This is exactly why I’m doing it, to entertain myself.

 

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Große Geister, 1996-1998, exhibited at De Pont Foundation for Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands, 1998, height approx. 250 cm, photo credit: Nic Tenwiggenhorn

 

MG: Do you see any coherence in art that has been produced in the last 20 to 30 years?

TS: This is a job of the critic to see and explain these processes but during the last 20 years, the critic missed the train. The art industry uses the word of the critic to sell but they never pay them. There is no money for the critics, there is no audience for them, they have no big platform. There was a certain time that the artists wanted to please the critics or the museum directors. This is one of the reasons that you could find the secondhand conceptual art everywhere. I have no idea what survives and what not. It feels very much pornographic – use and abuse.

MG: What became clear to me looking at your works and reading your statements is that freedom and equilibrium are the main concepts of your work: to have as many possibilities as possible and to reach a kind of balance. You don’t like to repeat an idea; you are using elements from architecture and theater, you are using different media. Are you permanently searching for something new or you don’t want to commit yourself to one territory?

TS: It is not always searching for new. There was a moment that I took old objects and transformed them. There was a strange feeling that the vision was suddenly out. For many years, I had a coffee with a cigarette and I immediately had an idea. I wrote it down and I made it. But suddenly everything became a black hole.

MG: When did it happen?

TS: Some years ago. I still have sometimes the problem to get myself motivated so I can start with existing things and work from there.

MG: Why did you lose it?

TS: A breakdown. I made sometimes 15 gallery shows per year. The result was that I had three times a complete burn out, the last 30 years, so serious that I had to go to hospital. So I protect myself now and concentrate on nice things.

MG: I would like to speak with you about a very special work – Grab (1981) – in which you depicted your own grave with the date of your death. Why did you make it?

TS: This is a model for a gravestone. I think everybody in the age between 20 and 30 gets the idea about mortality. I got it out of the blue walking through a graveyard. I went home, I made a drawing, cut out the shape of a family house, I put my name, the date of birth and I couldn’t leave the end empty, so I decided to put the date over 15 years: 25.03.1996. I gave myself 15 years because I thought by then I will be dead anyway. Firstly, because I was smoking, heavily drinking and working much too hard. Many people die at the age of 42, naturally or by suicide. It is a very critical year for a man. Secondly, in the 80s there was no idea to survive the millennium change; anyway the end of the century was the end of the world, very apocalyptic.

MG: Were you not afraid that you were provoking the fate?

TS: When this date came it felt strange. I was surprised how strong this piece is. I keep it for myself like many other old pieces. It is interesting to project the end of all, but nowadays I forget this day.

MG: Also scary?

TS: No, what is scary about the death? At a certain age it can come every day. Death is the idea that keeps you away from all the nonsense. What is really interesting is the shock of mortality when it comes.

MG: Do you experience the shock of mortality sometimes?

TS: Every morning, to get myself motivated, to get dressed and step out of the home.

MG: You chose Seneca’s writings as a part of your catalogue several years ago. According to Seneca, the happy man enjoys personal freedom and autonomy and he can be defined as one who thought the gift of reason has neither desires nor fears. Is this your ideal of a happy life?

TS: If you are lucky.

 

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Mann im Matsch – Der Suchende, 2009,
Composing bronze components at the foundry, photo: Luise Heuter

 

MG: Would you like to live a life without desires?

TS: I’m not a priest. By the way, they have hard time at this moment. We faced the crisis of communism, capitalism, then banking system, the state system and now the religious system. Only the art system survived and is still getting stronger. It is so strange: the museums are full whatever you show. Works are being sold no matter how deep the crisis seems to be. The art didn’t collapse.

MG: What do you think is the reason?

TS: I don’t know. Maybe because the art has incorporated a self-critical aspect, which other institutions are missing, they forgot how to rethink the subjects. The contemporary or modern art system that has existed since 150 years has a critical system, like a permanent revolution. We learned, even successfully artists don’t believe in what is said, they try to continue.

MG: The demand for your shows must be big.

TS: The best way for not doing shows with the galleries is to ask them to give me an idea. There is no idea, this people have no idea, and they want products. They have a huge system and huge spaces, especially in London. They have only one idea, get the works in and get them out, and to collect huge prizes. So the polite way to say ‚no’ is, if you have an idea I will do it.

 

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Stahlfrau Nr.2 / Steel Woman Nr.2, 2000, steel, 137 × 125 × 250 cm, photo: Nic Tenwiggenhorn

MG: Do the collectors also approach you directly?

 

TS: Yes, now the collectors hire museum people, build big buildings for their collections and sometimes come to me. I’m not pushing it but if it is interesting to me I do cooperate.

MG: Do you sell your old works?

TS: I basically don’t sell what is in my storage; it is for my 3 kids and myself.

MG: What do you think about the huge sums of money being paid for your works?

TS: 20 years ago I made this model puppets for United Enemies, each evening. Nobody wanted it in the beginning; they were too small, like 40 cm. We showed them, but I had to stop in a certain moment because we couldn’t get the glass tops anymore. The production was stopped in Czechoslovakia. Now the puppets are at auction for 1 million $. To double the price is ok, 10 times the prices is ok, the poor collectors have to earn as well, but to increase the price 100 times? I better keep it for myself. The collectors now are all dealers, somehow. They are buying and selling, only the buying is public and the selling is not publically announced. 
So I try not to do more than one gallery show per year.

MG: How does it feel? It must be also very exciting to know that your works achieve such horrendous prices?

TS: When I feel very bad I go to my storage and see 30 steel women on top of each other, in the shelves. It is my life insurance. Even in a bad year I can make good shows. A museum cannot effort to lend 50 sculptures, 50 drawings or 50 photos etc. Every collector asks a fee, the costs of transportations are so huge that only big museums can do complete shows and only the rich artists because you have to bring a lot of money by yourself.

MG: Did you co-finance the Reina Sofia show in 2009-2010 for example?

TS: No, for this exhibition I was completely out. I found it too big for me, especially because the social crisis was already visible 3 years ago. I felt guilty. I was not involved in the installation of the exhibition; my assistant was there. I was completely out of this project. 

But for each show, for each book as an artist you have to bring an edition. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes not, but this is the way to collect the money for the many books.

 

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Kardinal, 2005, silicone, steel, blankets, height: 250 cm, photo: Nic Tenwiggenhorn

 

MG: Do you consider this money-related development of the art world as positive?

TS: It is a big mistake. 1 % of the artists are visible and 99% are considered as losers.

MG: Do you follow what is happening in the art world?

TS: I don’t read art papers. I get a package every three months but I leave in the plastic. I have things to do. Silence is interesting.

MG: You are not afraid that you are doing something exactly the same as someone else?

TS: In my field there are not so many people. I don’t know anybody who put flowers on the table and draw it. Nobody is doing this. It is a very interesting game to make. 
I really like to do the things nobody is into. Like flowers, faces, portraits, houses, neglected things, coming from the tradition.

MG: The tradition is for you a part in making art?

TS: You cannot make art, you only can make art happen. This is the only thing you can do, prepare yourself and things will happen. Art happens. For example drawings: you can bring yourself in the mood to make a drawing but you cannot force yourself to create.

MG: How do you prepare yourself for this?

TS: By sleeping, by doing nothing or listening to the music, waiting. Many days nothing happens and than all of the sudden it is there.

 

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Frauen, installation view from De Pont Foundation for Contemporary Art,
Tilburg, Netherlands, 2006, photo: Peter Cox)

 

- Interview with Thomas Schütte -                        - Home: Alejandra de Argos -

1913: The Year Before the Storm (Florian Illies)

 Contributor: Maira Herrero, 
MA in Philosophy.

Maira

 

 

 

 

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German historian and journalist Florian Illies’ 300-page book is a humorous, fleeting look at the main cultural events in Europe just before the Great War.

Illies’ book is neither novel nor essay — it is simply an account of the key creative and cultural happenings in those twelve months of the year and their effects on society and culture, moments before the advent of the bloody massacre that would subsequently rock the very foundations of Western thought.

 0155-0103 der traum    GERTRUDE-STEIN- 

 

It’s an attractive read for anyone interested in the artistic avant-garde, the influence of psychoanalysis on later thinking — particularly at the Frankfurt School —, the great literary works and cultural milestones of the time and the shift in perspective that was spreading across Europe, coinciding with the gradual disappearance of the existing lifestyle. Western culture found itself launched to heady new heights thanks to technological, industrial and artistic progress, only to collapse tragically not long after.

 

 

 AEG-400x224    Unknown 

 

The book follows two parallel threads, on the one hand the epistolary relationship between Kafka and his beloved Felice Bauer, and on the other the turbulent relationship between Alma, Mahler’s widow, and Oskar Kokoshka, as told through his well-known painting Bride of the Wind (1913-4).

 

 

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During the twelve months of 1913 we see the 20th century’s greatest creators come and go: Arnold Schönberg and Igor Stravinsky and radical new musical forms; Freud and C.G. Jung’s civil struggles; the break-up of the Der Blaue Reiter (Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Albert Bloch, Robert Delaunay) and the Die Brücke groups (E. Ludwing Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, etc.); the rawness of George Grosz’s paintings, an example of art as weapon against authority; the innovative architectural styles of Peter Behrens (who just a few years earlier was responible for the turbine hall at the AEG factory), Walter Gropius, Adolf Loos and many others who placed light and symmetry at the centre of their work.

 

 

Marcel-Duchamp-Nude-Descending-a-Staircase-No.2

 

 

“It was as if the current art exhibition coming from Europe had fallen on us like a bomb”, reported the publication Camera Work on the exhibition running at New York’s Armory Show at the beginning of 1913. American visitors found themselves completely stunned by Marcel Duchamp’s Woman Descending Staircase (1912). In Berlin, a few months later, the legendary art gallery Sturm would host Germany’s First Autumn Salon, a collection of avant-garde works (with the notable exception of the Die Brücke painters). Gertrud Stein was the epicentre of Parisian art, her home a meeting place for established artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Braque. The collector Eduard Arnhold regularly would host regular meetings with Emil Nolde, the great Berlinese patron together with James Simon. Writers, thinkers, editors, merchants were everywhere to be seen.

 

Paris, Berlin, Zurich, Venice, Vienna, Munich were some of the regular haunts of the progressive class of the time. Cities were gradually transforming into large metropolises; fashion was becoming an integral part of a new kind of lifestyle.

 

  

The book thankfully includes numerous comical anecdotes and stories which, although they don’t strictly belong to the year the book focuses on, appropriately adorn the tale. One could almost call 1913: The Year Before the Storm a guide to the fascinating world of exuberant creativity, finally ending with the Suprematist manifiesto and Malevich’s Black Square (1915).

 

 

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Florian Illies. 1913: The Year Before the Storm. Salamandra, 2013.

 

Chekhov: Painter of words

Author: Marina Valcárcel.
Art Historian
Marina 

 

 

 

 

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Chekhov and his wife, actress Olga Knípper.

 

"Give me a wife who, like the moon, will not appear every day in my sky." (Chekhov)

Throughout 2013, after Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, it was impossible not to hear someone saying that Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) is "the father of modern literature". So a few weeks ago I decided to sit down and re-read "The Steppe", and I found myself once again with a strange, uneasy feeling inside me, as if something had remained there, deep down, undigested.

 

The 150-page novel is about the journey of a child over the Ukrainian steppe set around 1880. For Chekhov, the Russian soul was something dependent on the unparalleled solitude of the steppe landscape, something he wanted to describe slowly, gradually, as if through canvases, page by page, revealing themselves - a creative process one could describe as written painting.

 

How many painters, illustrators or film directors have been able to convey a storm as convincingly as Chekhov?

 

The true protagonists in the book are not people but the vivid descriptions and the landscape. Apart from these standout elements, though, it's a generally slow read with very little action.

 

So if nothing much happens, how do we explain the impact it has on the contemporary reader?

 

It's a pertinent question, particularly in an age of immediacy, information overload and expectations of complex, highly elaborate content. In the midst of recent Oscar-winning films about relationships between a man and an operating system, or the full-on anxiety of a space mission gone wrong, what can we hope to get out of a book whose opening lines describe the flight of a bustard? Why are we so impressed by the description of time passing one morning in the countryside, as if it "stretched endlessly, as if it had stopped altogether"? The author makes us excited to see how he unravels the decline of Russian society at the end of the 19th century through the actions of an old priest. "Father Jristofor had never experienced a concern so strong as to tighten his soul like a boa."

 

Further answers to these questions can be found by making parallels with the world of painting.

 

When we study Jan Van Eyck's "Man with Red Turban", for instance, we start looking at each and every strand of mink hair on the neck, we study the eye closely, and we even discover a tiny drop of blood in it - it's a similar mental slap to the one we experience when scrutinizing Freud's "Portrait of the Young Painter".

 

 

 

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Looking more broadly, it's also similar to the "tornado effect" caused by, say, Chekhov's (or even Thoreau's) letters, or David Forster Wallace's novels.

 

Perhaps it's merely the fact that all these works of art come from a place of genius. They have all left us with some sort of sting in a corner of our hypothalamus, an intense, uneasy feeling that's difficult to shake off. We're predators of emotions and we recognize our catch.

 

 

Music, Nothing But Music

Contributor: Dr. Diego Sánchez Meca,
Lecturer in the History of Contemporary Philosophy,
University of Madrid (UNED), Spain

Diego Sanchez Meca small 

 

 

 

 

Diego Sánchez Meca, Música

 

 

Art is a pleasing, entertaining, educational trick of the imagination. In and of itself, a piece of art, a creation, is nothing more than the physical outcome of life’s primal creative energy. Ultimately, creating art and living life are one and the same activity, life being the continuous creation of a world of appearances being continually produced and destroyed, playfully, exhilaratingly. Hence, for art to exist, there must be an abundance of force, a personal vital intensity that spreads out into the world creating and destroying forms and objects. That is the essence of art: the drive behind it is nothing but the same creative and destructive energy underlying all action in the world.

 

 

  

So how exactly does this great energy work? By taming a large number of impulses to form a harmonious, beautiful whole. This process happens in the natural world, for instance: every living creature moves according to a certain rhythm, and every living creature naturally generates its own rhythm as part of its life, so much so that we can actually define life as a spontaneous, rhythmic mechanism. This is clear from our own personal experience: we would rather engage in rhythmic than disorderly effort. In sporting practice and other physical activity, by repeating the same movements in equal time intervals we use our muscles efficiently thus saving a great deal of energy and avoiding unnecessary fatigue.

 

 

 Música en la cabeza   

 

The idea of rhythm underlies life and movement within both the organic world and the inorganic world. There is rhythm wherever there are forces that are not in balance with each other: cold and heat, humidity and dryness, density and expansion, light and darkness. Everything that exists has a natural tendency to fight, and thus rhythm is generated from the counteraction of opposites: the rhythm of the seasons, the cycle of day and night, rainfall and drought, hunger and satiety. As Heraclitus said, all occurrences are in some way connected to rhythm. From this we can conclude that life, existence and evolution are all about creating balance to counteract an underlying unbalance, controlling disorder through regularity and organization, creating a world, an order, from chaos.

 

 

Similarly, art is not the boundless unfolding of sentimental longings or wild fantasies, but the successful pairing of content and form, inspiration and technique. And the more the creative force behind the artwork is contained and controlled within the limits of an artistic form, of a rhythm, the more sublime the results will be. So where does this theory take us?

 

When we listen to good music, we experience this very human desire for depth, infinity and essence; when we look for sublime thoughts in times of calm reflection, we risk upsetting the correct balance between form and content. The best kind of music should content itself with the ways of our world and our lives, and should love them just as they are, as simple appearances, without trying to surpass them by looking for some transcendental meaning. Music, as an interplay of melodies and rhythms, is in some sense a privileged way of thinking about the truth behind appearance, since its very artistic form allows us to understand the world — not in a profound way, but as a tragic-Dionysiacal creation-destruction way. The artist’s rhythms, songs and harmonies, those which inform his work, refer to the Earth and to life, which is nothing more than a swing alternating between birth and death.

 

 

  Partitura música 

 

What’s interesting is that music doesn’t have to originate from pessimism or asceticism, as Schopenhauer thought. In fact, it could even become the true countermovement of pessimism: “I would only ever believe in a god that could dance”, said Nietzsche. Which is something like asking music to be the art of lightness, of versatility, of subtlety and of pure joie de vivre. What music teaches every human being is to live every moment fully by controlling the chaos, giving life a meaning and imposing a certain order, a rhythm, a shape to its unpredictability and its temporality, giving it a universal shape and directing it towards specific goals. If this process is not followed through, then one will be overcome by chaos, by a multitude of impulses, by the unpredictable, ever-changing determinations that are all around us.

 

In conclusion, the music that manages to overcome chaos is the type of music which can be said to be life-affirming, that which is in synchrony with human well-being and which is capable of ordering time, rather than passively and nihilistically succumbing to a seductive aural chaos which, while superficially appealing, is harmonically and melodically disorganized.  This is how Nietzsche envisioned Dionysical music — on stage, the music should be playing on it own, with no distractions, free to inspire a sense of vitality. The best form of music, therefore, should be absolute music, a representation of both the beauty seen as the form of that which has been overcome, but also as the sublime which continually breaks any form induced by an impulse of a new and profound fullness.

 

 

Diego Sánchez Meca

Paula, Plensa and Poetry

Author: Marina Valcárcel.
Art Historian
Marina 

 

 

 

 

artwork images 424196454 849955 jaume-plensa

Paula, with her closed eyes, her low undone plait and her trunk-sized proportions, could only have come from a lime tree… She seems timeless and without origin: she might come from the Mediterranean, or perhaps she’s the sister of one of the figures constructed by the Polinesian tribe.

 

At the 33rd edition of the ARCO fair, this sculpture by 59-year-old Barcelona artist Jaume Plensa has powerfully stood out from the rest of the works on display. The art event has found itself this year in the middle of a war of numbers: according to the latest report published by Artprice, art sales in Spain have dropped by over 60%, leading to the Government’s decision to bring forward the planned decrease in art-related VAT just ahead of the ARCO fair, giving it some much-needed breathing space.

 

In the midst of all this controversy is Paula, seemingly asleep and somewhat alone and distant in her Lelong Gallery stand. She seemed to attract peace, introspection, spirituality and above all authenticity in a sea of noise, business, fluctuations, cameras and, dare I say it, a certain emptiness.

 

Paula is one of Plensa’s representations of girls based on real models. She is nine years old and her eyes, fully closed, are a symbol of the inner energy that she holds within and with which, in a way, she illuminates us. She seems to be thinking both about the past and the future — she is a timeless piece, giving off a feeling of fragility and power and inviting us into her inner world.

 

Paula’s features are both latino and oriental — ultimately, she is an idealization of human race and beauty, that is to say, a totem. Observing her, one is immediately reminded of the Easter Island statues, which became ancestral representations when eyes of coral or red volcanic rock were added to them.

 

The human body is the central axis of Plensa’s work, perhaps because the body, particularly the head, is where the brain and the soul reside. “We must not confuse the brain with the cerebral. The brain is the wildest place in our body. Let’s give it freedom to act”, says the artist.

 

His faces represent a search for spirituality, bringing us straight back to El Greco. “They are like the flame that is born from the earth”, says Plensa, as if it were the famous Renaissance painter speaking.

 

Paula is a tremendously beautiful, precise and poetic work. The artist’s work is often full of austerity and specificity: “I look for austerity in the message. One must create the purest possible bottle so that it may protect the message on its journey, but without overshadowing the importance of the message itself.”

 

In his search for austerity, or better still, purity, Plensa works with materials that we associate directly with light, with whiteness, with silence and calm. Alabaster, marble, light-attracting molten iron painted white.

 

Having said that, Paula is unusual among his works as she is made of wood, a warmer, more organic material. Lime, in fact.

 

Lime wood has a clear, relaxed colour, a sort of pale yellow, reminding us of this elegant tree with its soothing leaves. We ran our fingers across its knots, the surface of this hundred-year-old lime being extraordinarily smooth and fine. We remembered Plensa’s reflection: “... I am Mediterranean and I have eyes in my fingers. I need to touch things, feel things physically — I have attempted to represent abstract concepts such as light, poetry, sound, the inner world, in a tangible, physical form that you can touch. I enjoy interacting with my own work, which is always directed towards the human being.”

 

 

Estatua-de-una-cabeza-en-playa-de-Brasil

 

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