- Written by Elena Cué
The work of Italian artist Tatiana Trouvé (1968), resident in Paris, is grounded firmly on drawing, sculpture and installations, through an inquisitive examination of concepts such as time, space and memory. Her creations and locations are like tracks left by the soul that reveal an inward-looking universe. Her work has been exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the MAMCO in Geneva, and in galleries such as Emmanuel Perrotin and Gagosian. Trouvé has won the Marcel Duchamp Prize (2007) and has twice participated in the Venice and São Paulo biennials. Her latest work is a sculpture for a public area in the city of New York. The starting point for this work is an observation I made when studying the park and its history, but also, above all, I tapped into my own experience of this place. Central Park is a natural and cultural object, a nerve centre of trends and mobility in the very heart of a city, combining a web of heterogeneous landscapes.
Tatiana Trouvé in her studio whit Lula. Photo credit: Alastair Miller.
The work of Italian artist Tatiana Trouvé (1968), resident in Paris, is grounded firmly on drawing, sculpture and installations, through an inquisitive examination of concepts such as time, space and memory. Her creations and locations are like tracks left by the soul that reveal an inward-looking universe.
Her work has been exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the MAMCO in Geneva, and in galleries such as Emmanuel Perrotin and Gagosian. Trouvé has won the Marcel Duchamp Prize (2007) and has twice participated in the Venice and São Paulo biennials. Her latest work is a sculpture for a public area in the city of New York.
Tatiana TROUVÉ. Desire Lines 2015. Metal, epoxy paint, wood, ink, oil, rope. 350 x 760 x 950 cm. Photo credit: Emma Cole
Elena Cué: In your public commission "Desire Lines", for Central Park in New York, you created a very poetic work, envisaging a symbiosis between culture and the act of walking. The lengths of the 212 different paths around the park, like living arteries, are portrayed in huge spools of brightly coloured threads. Can you tell us about the cultural and political meaning of this work?
Tatiana Trouvé: The starting point for this work is an observation I made when studying the park and its history, but also, above all, I tapped into my own experience of this place. Central Park is a natural and cultural object, a nerve centre of trends and mobility in the very heart of a city, combining a web of heterogeneous landscapes. In this connection, it is an emblematic project of modernity. That’s why I didn’t want to create a work that was simply one more of the numerous sculptures that have been created in this context. As the artist Robert Smithson said, Central Park is, in itself, a sculpture. That’s why I decided to establish a dialogue with the park. I created a series of routes from all the roads and paths that cross the park and are open for walking. I measured these routes and then transferred their lengths to huge spools of thread, so that adding the lengths of all 212 spools on the three large frames of which "Desire Lines" is comprised gives us the total length of all the roads and routes a person can walk along.
After that, firstly, I identified each spool with the description of the route they contained and the title of a historic march, the work of an artist, a writer or a song about walking to be associated with that particular route: Selma to Montgomery March (21 March 1965), Woman Suffrage Parade (3 March 1913), projects by “walking artists” like Richard Long or Hamish Fulton, poems by Baudelaire or André Breton, essays by Guy Debord or Henry D. Thoreau, songs by Johnny Cash or Robert Johnson… In other words, a set of 212 references linking each of these paths with another path –historical, imaginary, political, cultural– and providing passers-by with a proposal that would enable them to walk again, to walk differently, around the park. And this formula sums it up: “Follow in someone else’s steps”. The act of walking has its own, singular beauty; it is an everyday, banal action, but at the same time it is a privileged manner of protest, of awakening the senses and the spirit, which is the origin of belonging to the world in a subjective way...
Drawing is the key to most of your work. This artistic discipline extends into other works such as sculpture and installations. How important is drawing for you?
It’s true that drawing occupies a fundamental place in my work. As you say, drawing is present throughout my artistic production. I draw spaces, whether in two dimensions or in three. To put it another way, my two-dimensional drawings are images of spaces and, at the same time, my three-dimensional installations build spaces that work like images.
Untitled, from the series Remanence 2008. Pencil on paper, pencil lead, tin, plastic. 82,5 x 119,5 cm
Your drawings of spatial creations are very unsettling, like “The unremembered”. The metaphorical representations of places of thought take us into a dream world, a world of the unconscious. They must be a source of self-knowledge...
I complete these two elements, space and image, present in my work, with a third: remembrance. For me, drawing means making my memory work and this is unquestionably why the terms “mental image” or “unconscious” are so often used to describe my work. However, there is something about the unconscious that interests me in particular, and that is that it is timeless. In the sphere of dreams, all times coexist and are superimposed. This is a dimension I am interested in and I effectively try to give it shape in my drawings.
Why are your spatial interventions always uninhabited?
I am very fond of a quote by the Italian architect Ugo La Pietra, who says “To live is to be at home everywhere”, meaning that to live is, first and foremost, a question of approach. I produced a work called The Guardian. Its title refers to a person assigned to a place on a chair. But this guardian only exists on the device where it is located: a copper rod is placed over the chair (guarding the guardian’s place), and the rod pierces a concrete wall from which, on either side, small bronze and plastic bags are hung. Inside this wall there are embedded works, whose “ghosts” can be seen in the material pasted on its surface. It is an absent sentinel guarding an invisible exhibition, but it is also a device that must be inhabited by contemplation, just as the images intend.
Tatiana TROUVÉ. Untitled 2014. Patinated bronze, copper, paint, concrete, leather, plastic. 180 x 454 x 250 cm. Photo crdeit: Roman März
Your work in “Bureau” is like a kind of “Remembrance of Things Past” since you created a work of art from all the time you had to waste looking for work or doing daily chores that took you away from your artistic activity. How important is the concept of time in your work?
I don’t think of time in its abstract dimensions, on a scale, for example, of cosmic time and its infinite duration. I have seen time as a material of my work since I created Bureau d’Activités Implicites (Office of Implicit Activities), the first module of which I made in 1997. It’s time on a human scale, a time we experience. Hence, its not so much a concept as a reality we experience in its various manifestations: time for waiting, time for searching, time for wandering. But what interests me even more is the coexistence of times. I see time as dual. The present is dual, it has two coexisting facets: the present is the past passing. I have made a series of works called I Tempi Doppi [Double Time]. Each of the works in this series comprises a lit light bulb linked by a copper wire to an unlit light bulb. The past and present feed each other, maintaining a singular relationship whereby one seeks to switch off the other, because the past is also made of present that passes. Time is dual, because it works in a dual way.
What is the most important thing art has given you?
Art has given me what I have taken from it.
“Double Bind” is the name of your first major exhibition in Paris’s Palais de Tokyo, whose title alludes to the irresolvable situation that emerges when we are faced with an intrinsically paradoxical message. What is your interest in opposites and the tension they emanate?
This title, Double Bind, responded to the spatial proposal I had devised for this exhibition at Palais de Tokyo. The tension was in the space itself –there was no psychological component, unlike the standard usage of that expression. And it was not embodied by a contradiction, but by an echoing structure that perturbs our potential understanding of it, causing a feeling of floating between one and the other. Incidentally, what interests me is not the tension itself, but what it opens up: this interstitial space-time or these inter-worlds and the floating attention they generate when we install ourselves in them.
Your work is full of meanings, and there is an interesting underlying discourse. Is the spectator’s immediate aesthetic experience of your work enough, or do you think some prior knowledge is required?
We must trust those who are looking, because aesthetic experience is on their side. There are many ways to activate the potential of the works, but first and foremost you need to be constantly involved. Involvement: “perception requires involvement” is the title of a work by Antoni Muntadas, who asserts that the senses must be emphasised in order to understand a work, but also that anyone can do it using their own means. But, without that commitment, aesthetic experience is not possible. It all begins with this increase in involvement, and this is also what can lead you to research a process or a particular work. Of course, the works offer different approaches to this experience. If I take the example of Desire Lines, a small explanatory text is outlined at the start of the reproduction of the lengths of the paths in the park represented in the spools of thread. Afterwards, it is up to each person to carry on. The simplest way is by reading the titles of the spools and evoking the walks they recall, to which one may add one’s own memories, considering the various complete references of the titles given to the various routes, which make the historical, cultural and political references appear more explicitly, allowing one to submerge oneself in the history of the march. But it is also possible to take a walk around the park, interpreting the present cultural and historical elements, either by reading a poem or a book, listening to a piece of music, or through the documentation on a historical march or artist’s representation.
By activating each of these modes of operation, the person looking/walking will be following in the footsteps of another. To varying degrees, they will place the work in motion. Various readings are always possible, and none is imposed, but the ones that work are all based on an approach proposed by the work itself.
Through your art, are you asking questions or providing answers?
Personally, I don’t think art either asks questions or provides answers. I think art bewilders; in other words, it invites us to think differently, by shifting around our references.
- Written by Elena Cué
The galleries of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum have recently opened an exhibition by artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), successfully curated by Paloma Alarcó, that enables us to “listen to the dead with our eyes”. Paintings and writings come together in the museum’s galleries, divided into emotional Archetypes to communicate this artist’s obsessions from throughout his intense life. People think that you can have a few friends, forgetting that the best, most authentic and above all, most numerous, are the dead. I intend to engage in a series of conversations with the afterlife. As the tormented spirit of the Norwegian artist has circumstantially settled in Madrid, I enthusiastically headed there to learn more. I always felt like I was treated unfairly during my childhood. I inherited two of the worst enemies of mankind: tuberculosis and mental illness. Disease, insanity and death were black angels beside my crib.
The galleries of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum have recently opened an exhibition by artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), successfully curated by Paloma Alarcó, that enables us to “listen to the dead with our eyes”. Paintings and writings come together in the museum’s galleries, divided into emotional Archetypes to communicate this artist’s obsessions from throughout his intense life.
People think that you can have a few friends, forgetting that the best, most authentic and above all, most numerous, are the dead. I intend to engage in a series of conversations with the afterlife. As the tormented spirit of the Norwegian artist has circumstantially settled in Madrid, I enthusiastically headed there to learn more.
Let’s start with your childhood.
I always felt like I was treated unfairly during my childhood. I inherited two of the worst enemies of mankind: tuberculosis and mental illness. Disease, insanity and death were black angels beside my crib. A mother who died early, planting me with the seed of tuberculosis. A hyper-nervous, pietistic father, religious to the point of being crazy, from an ancient lineage, planting me with the seeds of insanity.
When you think about those years, how did you feel?
The angels of fear, pain and death were beside me right from birth, going out to play with me, following me under the spring sun, in the splendor of summer. They were with me at night when I closed my eyes, threatening me with death, hell and eternal punishment. And I often woke at night and looked around the room with panicked eyes thinking “Am I in hell?”.
The fear of death tormented me, and this fear harassed me through all of my youth.
Heaven and hell, how do you envisage eternity?
Flowers will emerge from my rotting body, and I will be part of them. That is eternity.
And where is God?
With fanatic faith in any religion, such as Christianity, came atheism, came fanatic faith in the existence of no God. And with this non-faith in God there was content, becoming a faith itself in the end. It is generally foolish to assert anything about what comes after death.
But what is it that gives strength to the Christian faith. There are many who have difficulty in believing it. Although one cannot believe that God is a man with a big beard, that Christ is the Son of God who became a man, or in the Holy Spirit formed by a dove, there is much truth in this idea. A God as the power that must be at the origin of all, a God that governs everything. We can say that he directs the light waves, the movement of the tides, the center of energy itself. The Son, the part of this energy that is in man, the immense energy that filled Christ. Divine energy, genius energy and the Holy Spirit. The most sublime thoughts sent by the sources of divine energy to the human radio stations. In the very depths of beings. That which is provided to every human being.
But what do you think death is?
Dying is as if the eyes have been switched off and cannot see anything else. Perhaps it’s like being locked in a basement. You are abandoned by all, they closed the door and left. You see nothing and only notice the humid smell of putrefaction.
And what about life?
I have been given a unique role to play on this earth that has given me a life of illness and also my profession as an artist. It is a life that does not contain anything resembling happiness, or even the desire for happiness.
Not even love?
Human destinies are like planets. Like a star that appears in the dark and meets another star, glistening in a moment, to then return, fading into obscurity. So as well, a man and a woman meet, they slide towards each other, shining in love, blazing, and then disappear, each one for himself. Only a few end up in a great blaze in which both can fully join.
The ancient were right when they said that love was a flame, as the flame leaves behind only a pile of ashes. Love can turn to hate, compassion to cruelty.
Jealously is closely linked with love, how would you describe it?
Jealous people have a mysterious look, many reflections focus in those two sharp eyes, like in a crystal. The look is exploratory, interested, full of love and hate, an essence of what we all have in common.
Jealousy says to its rival: go away, defective; you’re going to heat up in the fire that I have lit; you’ll breathe my breath in your mouth; you’ll soak up my blood and you will be my servant because my spirit will govern you through this woman who has become your heart.
Now let’s talk about art… where does it come from?
Art generally comes from the need of one human being to communicate with another. I do not believe that art has not been inflicted by the need for a person to open his heart. All art, literature as well as music, has to be generated with the deepest feelings. The deepest feelings are art.
What is the purpose of your art?
I have tried to explain life and the meaning of life through my art. I have also tried to help others clarify life. Art is the heart of blood.
We must no longer paint people reading or women knitting. In the future we must paint people who breathe, feel, suffer or love. As Leonardo da Vinci dissected corpses and studied the internal organs of the human body, I try to dissect the soul.
My art is based on one single thought: why am I not like the others?
How do you think the audience should approach art?
The audience must become aware that the painting is sacred, so that it unfolds before them like in church.
One of your iconic paintings is The Scream, could you explain the origin of such a radical emotional expression?
I was walking along the road with two friends, the sun was setting. Suddenly the sky turned a bloody red. I stood, leaned on the fence feeling deathly tired. Over the blue-black fjord and city hung blood and tongues of fire. My friends walked on and I remained behind, shivering with anxiety. And I felt the immense infinite Scream in Nature.
Your love of photography is known, what do you think of photography as another mode of artistic expression?
The camera cannot compete with the brush and palette as long as it cannot be used in heaven and hell.
Where is the beauty in your art?
The emphasis on harmony and beauty in art is a waiver to be honest. It would be false to only look on the bright side of life.
Your writing has a strong aphoristic style. We’ll finish there…
Thought kills emotion and reinforces sensitivity. Wine kills sensitivity and reinforces emotion.
- Written by Elena Cué
Martín Chirino (Las Palmas, 1925) grew up on the beach of Las Canteras, feeling the sand, the sea and the breeze whilst watching a horizon that he dreamed of moving. The earthiness, ancestry and mythology of his birth place purify the forger’s soul through fire to take a new form in material, in this case iron, arisen from the deepest interior of this wind sculptor. This particular place has rooted him to primeval and his dreams and desires have lead him to that which is universal. The spiral, the symbol of origin and formation of the universe, defines this artist in constant search of the truth. “Look at this sculpture, I’m going to make it a tribute to Picasso. Look at the beauty that’s going to remain underneath, the beauty of the shadows. It’s easy to draw or paint shadows, but the challenge for a sculptor is to materialize them, to give them body weight.”
Martín Chirino (Las Palmas, 1925) grew up on the beach of Las Canteras, feeling the sand, the sea and the breeze whilst watching a horizon that he dreamed of moving. The earthiness, ancestry and mythology of his birth place purify the forger’s soul through fire to take a new form in material, in this case iron, arisen from the deepest interior of this wind sculptor. This particular place has rooted him to primeval and his dreams and desires have lead him to that which is universal. The spiral, the symbol of origin and formation of the universe, defines this artist in constant search of the truth.
“Look at this sculpture, I’m going to make it a tribute to Picasso. Look at the beauty that’s going to remain underneath, the beauty of the shadows. It’s easy to draw or paint shadows, but the challenge for a sculptor is to materialize them, to give them body weight.”
Why don’t you tell me about the shadows of your life?
I believe that we all have an inner character that gives us answers and questions us, a character that you converse with. I am a calm person because I look for the answers within and my surroundings have little impact on me. I realized at a very young age upon reading Demian by Herman Hesse, which struck me in both senses, that the protagonist was always talking to himself and was able to bring out a truth drawn from reality...
And when did you discover your other side?
I am number 12 of my family. I was a kid living in a very big house, on the beach of Las Canteras and from a young age I was in search of my own space, my refuge, in a lost bedroom, so things happened in there. And I think that that’s where my other personality was shaped. I used to sit with my legs either side of one of the doors in the room where we kept the sheets and I always used to hide there.
And with so many siblings, how was your relationship with your mother?
Very good because my mother was an only child, she married my father and started having children. She used to read Balzac and she loved his work because he describes very interesting things and things that reflected life itself. She had no literary judgment but a passion for reading everything. And she read it to the people who she worked in the house with. My mother was a very special person and I always got along with her really well. She was very calm, very soft, but she also had inner strength.
And what do you long for?
I think I’m missing a place where I can belong and just be. My whole life and artistic career has been conditioned by this search.
Throughout your life, what discourse do you think your work has had?
My inspiration has never been divinity, my inspiration is life itself. I’m talking about a spiral that is identity, because it is the spiral of my land and it makes me feel Canary. One day I asked myself why and, in the end, I realized that my fable ability is the same as anyone’s else but what I’ve really done is look and look in a comprehensive manner. I began to study the whole course of the spiral, not only in my town but in others, and how soon you realize that you haven’t discovered everything that you were searching for in any of them. The most that can be said is that the spiral is a cultural symbol, although no one knows why it is present in the whole of the universe.
From the Canaries you settled in Madrid, where you lived for several years, and then left for New York…
From Madrid I ended up leaving for New York, but before that, there was a final touch there: the poet John Ashbery, who had come to Franco’s Spain together with Frank Ohára. I was the translator for both of them because there were not many people who spoke English in Spain at the time. They came for a few days and had to mount an exhibition at the MoMa and as I translated for them, Juana Mordo was always getting angry with me because she thought I hadn’t said what she wanted.
You were an avid reader, what writers have really influenced you?
Many writers, but Joyce was a passion of mine, I also read it in English. I even went to Ireland, to Dublin, after reading Dubliners, to see if I could learn something from that. I didn’t find anything. I asked myself, where were the Dubliners from Dubliners? But in the most exquisite sense, I didn’t get to meet Joyce’s Dubliners. It was too late, it was not the right time in history.
You said he was the cause of your insanity...
Until I gained a little understanding of Finnegans Wake, an impossible work that I then managed to translate into my vision of a Latino man. That’s why it’s very beautiful in Ulysses, when Joyce puts himself in such a strange position, as if he was God. It was set out to achieve a whole, complete thought, it was very difficult, and he didn’t achieve it… no one achieved it.
But we try…
Perhaps our unhappiness lies here.
And apart from Joyce, what writers have affected you?
Ortega y Gasset: he taught me to find a way of expression. It was extraordinary for me and I don’t think that anyone has handled Castilian better, in such a coherent, perfect way as Ortega y Gasset. I had a passion for it, I even carried El Espectador with me as if it were a comic. Then there’s poets, like Antonio Machado, whose thoughts and metaphors I constantly follow.
And do you write?
I’ve never wanted to be a writer because it scares me, because the written word has problems, because you express thought. Rigor will not let me. I write for myself, things about me, what I know, what I feel, what I think. It’s as if I had written myself.
And what about that phrase of yours, that you don’t make a sculpture but you write a sculpture?
I mean that at the time of making them I have to develop a coherent discourse so that it’s understood, it’s as if it’s written. I write about the circumstances on pieces of paper, a beautiful phrase, what I make of it. I interrelate it all to see what’s going on, it’s a way of understanding it.
Are your values unstable as a result of living in such turbulent times as you have?
You are not born with values, but you acquire or improve them over time, enriching yourself. Obviously I, like everyone else, have had great trouble for blindly believing something that was not proven. What the church says is somehow passable, conversable, and everything that is conversable is subject to the possibility of this change. But you have to be aware and then step forward and put yourself in another situation. My mother taught me the most basic values, she taught me to be religious and I do not want to fail her so I’d rather believe than not believe, it is a choice, I do it out of respect for my mother. Because if I want to reverence things, I want to respect…
But do you really feel the faith? Or have you managed to keep it up based on desire…
No, because I think that thought is not only subject to passion, but also the brain. I mean, I said the word “reverence”, reverence is something self-imposed. But no, I have the chance to demand things of myself, like anyone else.
So we’re not talking about faith, but a rational insistence and desire…
Using my brain to keep faith in some values, out of love for my mother.
To keep it, you must practice it… do you consciously practice it?
Of course, I have great respect for others and my mother is the person who I respect most in the world because she taught me things that created great happiness when I was little. And when I grew up she continued being my friend, someone who loved me, and she said to me: you have to really respect others so that they respect you.
Apart from your mother, what other people have affected you most during your life?
One is more frivolous and the other may be more fictitious because he belongs more to the world of art. One is Donatello, someone who impresses me, who has always drove me crazy and his work leaves me shocked when I see it. The other is Greta Garbo, a symbol for me, a cold, untouchable image, I liked her so much…
And what has remained true after so long?
I think the only thing that has really mattered throughout my life is being a liberal, and therefore being liberal and understanding even what destroys me. It’s good, it’s better.
- Written by Elena Cué
Author: Elena Cué
Berlin. On a sunny day, strong rays illuminate the studio where Thomas Struth (Geldern-Germany, 1954) meets with me to begin our conversation. This artist with an intense and precise gaze is one of the most interesting photographers of our time and belongs to the prestigious Dusseldorf Academy.
It appeared, I think, when I was almost 13 or so. Because it was not really a calling to want to be an artist, but I started to like drawing and using water colours and oil-chalk, and I painted my first oil paintings when I was 14. I had a room at my parents’ house, maybe 8 square metres or so, really a very small room. But I just liked to do that and I always loved music.
I started to learn the clarinet, then, when I was 14 my music teacher told me I should switch to saxophone and he started a school jazz band. So I played in the school jazz band for three or four years and then there was a time of pop music. Anyway I didn’t think about whether I wanted to be an artist or not, because that just wasn't the question. I didn't see myself becoming an artist, which I think was good because I didn't bother thinking about the future, I just did what I wanted to do at the time.
It’s important to note that you were the first artist to receive a grant to be in residence at the PS.1 Studios in Queens, where they dedicated an exhibition to you. Was this your first one?
Later on, you were a Professor of Photography at the University of Art and Design in Karlsruhe from 1993 to 1996, after already establishing yourself as a well-known artist. What was this teaching experience like?
I think I learned a lot about photography. He had developed an idea with new patients who came to look for help, where they'd tell a story and create a narrative about what they believed they suffered from and what they thought the cause might be. He asked them to bring 3 or 4 photographs to show what their family life was like. When we met and got to know each other, he found out that I was a photographer with a darkroom and the tools to print. So he told me that it was a dream of his for a long time to collect pictures like this and bring them together and work with them and make an exhibition at the institute where he was working. I said yes, I was interested, so we collected these photographs from about 35 people. Everyone brought about 2 or 3 photographs, so we had 80-100 pictures and I reproduced them all, made them all the same size and all in black and white, because before they were all in colour and I wanted to make them more comparable.
In the beginning, it was black and white because I couldn't afford to pay for the materials myself. I didn't have a colour printer. I didn't have the money for colour film, or the development. But the contact sheets and black and white were fairly inexpensive, so that had a very simple reason. Later I started to work in colour, but you don't look properly when you look at scenery in colour. When you photograph in black and white, you look at things in a different manner because you think more of cubic volume and light and shadow and stuff like that. You have to ignore the colours; you judge everything only by the density of light. Whereas with colour, of course you only look at the colour. You look at one scene and there's a bright red and then there's a bright yellow. You would find the attractive point in the picture where there's a dominant colour. When you have a blue sky and you photograph in black and white, the blue sky doesn't matter. If you have it in colour, the blue is dominant and it's an intense element in the photograph. Because when you look at it, the sky, it's air. But in the photograph it's a blue colour. It's blue paper. So it's a different thing. That's why, when I want to make a print now with the blue sky, my aim in the printing process is to make sure it looks like air. And not like blue paint. It's a very fine line.
Your photographs of urban landscapes in Unconscious Places seem rather objectified. Do they have any association with “Non-Places” by French Sociologist and Anthropologist, Marc Augé?
No that was not what I wanted to do. Everything is created by man. What I wanted to say with the title Unconscious Places is that when people design a building like this one or the curved one, the architect and the people who pay for it - or give the permission for it - believe it has to be contemporary. But beyond all this, it unconsciously creates an atmosphere that radiates to the people. I mean, the people who live over there in those buildings will look out at that building all the time when they look out of the windows. And the building is much uglier on that side there! So it's something that has a strong unconscious element, which matters a lot for the atmosphere for the city and the people who live in that building. Because the architect doesn't live in that building… They live somewhere else. Maybe in an old farmhouse, I don’t know, maybe in a pre-war building that is nicer. And maybe it has something to do with anger. So all cities are filled with this underlying unconscious, atmospheric energy. That was something I wanted to highlight.
The themes in your work could be like a socio-political analysis, because they reflect our current reality; family, technological and social structures...
I love to make pictures. I have to have a reason to make a picture. It's more fun to give myself a challenge in making a picture than to make pictures of the most obvious things. But I have to find excuses. There are all these questions about responsibility and society and questions about existence and the different levels of influences that exist. Picture making has a lot to do with that, to find reasons to make my pictures. But in principle, I have a strong urge to speak through pictures and not through talking.
Yes, you know some people speak through music, or architecture or sculpture or pottery… It’s a strategy to form an identity with the work you're doing. On the other hand, it's a problem to over-identify yourself with what you do. I think I'm a very invested artist, but sometimes I feel that I don't identify completely with the art world.
I think the conscious absence of people is necessary to show that what you're looking at is a human creation. And so the mentality and everything that humans represent is expressed through the buildings. With too many people it would just be a normal street scene, with people in houses and you wouldn't get that feeling.
During our discussion of how inspiration arises, I remembered your Paradise photographs, some of which were taken in Australia. Were you searching for inspiration there or did it come naturally?
I used to have an apartment in Düsseldorf for a long time with a terrace towards the back garden. I often used to have breakfast there, read the paper and observe the visual structure of the trees and branches, the information flow of these patterns. That stimulated the idea to make these kinds of pictures that would be very crowded with information which would make you surrender to the act of observation rather than interpretation. However, it could not be a German forest with pine trees and their dominating verticality. It needed to be something wilder, so I thought that jungle, primeaval forests would be good. I had a few trips scheduled, to Australia because I was invited to the Sydney biennale in 1998. In the North East of Australia, there's a jungle area that used to be connected with Indonesia. These two continents separated, so there's this jungle area north of Daintree. It's quite amazingand I came back with five pictures.
In any case, these days we're so used to taking so many photographs digitally.Yes but I use a much bigger camera , so it is very complicated and it takes a lot of effort.
What is your concept of paradise?
Paradise is a condition of mind, soul, emotional quality I would think. I decided on this title to make sure people don’t think the work describes botanical differences etc.
It has different elements. You are confronted with yourself to a stronger degree. The constantly moving growth around you is very elemental. Nothing stays the same at all times, everything moves very slowly. As a friend of mine said, as soon as you stand still for a while insects and other animals appear, believing that you're something they could eat. So you're easily confronted with your anxieties. In that respect, there are confrontational elements. But the pictures are pictures, so what I think the pictures do is make the observer very calm. Because you can see it’s a jungle, so you don’t have to identify an assembly of objects: a carpet, a chair, a table, a woman, child, etc.. We cannot stop naming what we see. But when you look at the jungle photograph you don’t have to. You can refrain from this impulse.
You were the first photographer to exhibit at the Prado Museum. Could you tell me how you feel about that experience?
In my museum work, I wanted to connect with the paintings I chose in a particular way, through photographing groups of visitors corresponding with the figures in the paintings I photographed. It was maybe like an attempt of resurrection, to give people a hint that these master works or so-called master artworks were not created as such when they were made. They were made by artists in particular circumstances of their daily life and these works were not born as the famous artworks that they are now. I wanted to make them look like more contemporary works. The interesting question is: why do works of art speak to us? Why do we even want to look at them? Because they were made with condensed information about love and desire and beauty and all kinds of complex emotional qualities? Because of their artistic craftsmanship? What resonates in us during the observation, which is a playful process, and one thing that destroys play is too much respect. When you have too much respect you cannot play, you are intimidated, you become passive. I felt that people would go to museums with too much respect. They don't really know what they’re allowed to think. Maybe in the end they only go to those museum galleries because they know the artists or the specific paintings are famous. The peak of the phenomenon is the Mona Lisa and the way it's presented now at the Louvre, which is quite a carricature. I think what happened was that the artworks in my photographs became a little bit more contemporary and the visitors were pushed back into history, because once I've photographed them, the moment has of course already passed. It created this double reflection of consciousness.
I thought to do that would be amazing, so I decided to fly to Madrid and meet Miguel Zugaza. Then at the time, I had a fever and was not very well and I thought it was a bad sign, but anyway I went to the meeting and I was coughing all the time but we liked each other immediately. And then he said "I want to support you to do that". And that’s how it began… When I was about to start, he talked about inviting me to help open the new building and I thought that would be quite amazing. I showed these three friezes - one of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, one of the Accademia in Florence and one of the Prado. And then I thought I would have to convince the board, so I hired a video projector and made a PowerPoint presentation in the construction site. Then they started to talk about offering to show some of my works amongst the paintings, which I found extremely strange and I was not so sure if I could handle that or if that would be a bit too much. Because I think photography and painting don't go together so well. Photography and sculpture go well together but photography and painting don't.
Well, I do use minimally invasive digital corrections, but I’m not inventing anything. The digital process allows me to deal with partial contrast and colour changes or adjustments in a much more finely tuned way than in the darkroom. The more recent pictures are mainly photographs taken with large format and sheet film, scanned into a file and then we work from the file.
Can you reveal anything about your new project in Israel for the Marian Goodman Gallery in London?
There will be some photographs that I made over the past five years in the context of this larger project called This Place. There are about 18 photographs in total but I will show maybe only 12 or so in London. Additionally, I will show new works I have made last year at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and at the Armstrong Airforce Research Center near Edwards, north-east of Los Angeles.
- Written by Elena Cué
Author: Elena Cué
It is difficult for personalities with such prolific lives as the doctor and French politician Bernard Kouchner (Avignon-1939) not to provoke admiration and controversy. His political life, apart from the legendary May of '68, developed through his ministerial positions in the governements of Mitterrand and Sarkozy, demonstrating his independence. Moreover, he has been a UN Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (1999-2001). He has also published numerous books, articles, and essays. But the most oustanding accomplishment is his humanitarian work started in 1968 when he traveled with the Red Cross to Biafra, Nigeria. This experience moved him very deeply, leading him to establish the non-governmental organization, Doctors Without Borders (1971), which made him worthy of winning the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize. In addition to this accomplishment, he was also the founder Doctors of the World (1980). Kouchner has been present since the beginning of many great natural and politial disaters in the world by assisting and alleviating the pain of the civilian victims of both wars and catastrophes.
E.C: We are flying over African territory, where everything started. What do you think the future holds for Africa?
B.K: Well, just a few words on the past of Africa: it has a past of battles and difficulties, but the group of people existed already and ISIS existed, although it was not as unethical… And when a colonisation came, all the colonisation, I mean the Portuguese, the Spanish, the French, the Indian, the British, they kept all the population in peace. And sometimes they cut families into parts. As ever, all the colonial lines were at the pressure of the battles, the armies, and after we used to say that we had to keep the countries like we were conquering them. I was not on a side but it was difficult. Sometimes it happened that we corrected the countries like it has been done between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Was it a good thing? I mean, trying to reproduce the borders of the people and the borders of colonisation? I don’t know, because Eritrea and Ethiopia are independent countries but they are fighting each other so I think that the old, wise decision to keep the border like it is - of course it’s an obstacle for the future, but it is like that, we cannot change completely now. So the future of Africa is certainly a big transformation, a big change, a big jump in the 21st century. First the population of Africa is important. We know that two billion will come in the coming century - before the end of the 21st century, so a very big potential for people. Will it be possible to educate them enough, because of the number of them? Yes, I hope it will be done by an international effort. This a huge continent, with space. For us - for Europe, we are all considering Africa like a free territory; like part of the future of humanity, that’s for sure. That’s why it was so important for the people of the bank - the bank of Dakar - to start in a country where democracy already existed. And Senegal is the best example of a democratic country in Africa. So it’s very important to start from a solid start, like in Senegal. Not all of the countries are looking like Senegal. We cannot answer to such a question, ‘yes, Africa is part of the future of humanity, it’s a continent in progress’ without a few words on terrorism and extreme Islamism. We have to fight against that, and today Nigeria is one of the most important countries in Africa. In Nigeria, business is developing, people are working very quickly. They have to take Boko Haram and the massacres of the women and the young people and the kidnapping, all this babarian attitude very seriously. And I hope it will be done by a sort of coalition of people. It will chat to Niger, etcetera. That’s very important also for the future. For their economical future and their political future. For the political with their particular forms, the future should be democratic. With an African style of course, an African conception of the word.
E.C: In 1979 you chartered a hospital ship, that was named Ile de Lumière, with a mandate of helping political refugees to run away from the communist regime of Vietnam in smalls boats. Do you think the Île de Lumière would be a utopia today given that thousands of Africans throw themselves to sea in search of a better future?
B.K: Yes. Formerly, we were talking about how, over the rest of the century, Africa is changing. But today, the most important question for them, and for us in a way, not the only one but an important question – is migration. What are we supposed to do, facing migration? First, we cannot stop the flood. It will take time, it will take years and years. Because the people there are not coming to us - to Europe for the pleasure of the country, they have to because of the poverty, the misery. They are fleeing out of misery. Out of misery, because there is no future – no immediate future – for their families. They have to feed their families. And in some countries like Mali, it is culturally necessary to leave and to go to France. And there are places where, if you’re arriving at the age of being an adult, you have to leave and find a job to send money back to your family. First point: they are not coming to please us, or to fight us. They are coming because misery is high, immense. Second, the TV representation for them, they believe that arriving in Europe they will find a job immediately and become rich, but this is not true. Because we are crossing a big crisis. And even in our country, unemployment is a big problem. So unemployment and migration, this is very difficult. We should nor confuse the « migrants « ,general speaking, and the asylum seekers. Those people leaving from a war, a dictatorship, those who cannot come back home without risking their life, being jailed or tortured should be accepted, along the terms of the Genova convention (1951). We are talking here about «economical migrants», not protected by Geneova Convention.
But first, we cannot mix even if it is impossible we cannot intellectually, in consideration of the people dying in the Mediterranean Sea. We cannot say ‘yes, but there are 11 migrants’, all migrants are fleeing for economical reasons and not political reasons. They are illegal, so we should rescue them. This is a moral obligation. This is very difficult to explain to the people and that’s why, as we are refusing massive migration, the people believe that we shouldn’t save the people. Some of them believe that we don’t have to send them a rescue belt or a rescue jacket. No, even if, after they come to Italy or to France or to Spain, we cannot just let them die. This is impossible for me. For me, even if we haven’t solved the problem of immigration in our country, we improve the number of people accessing our place. But two answers: first, we cannot say ‘we should think about a new general convention’ because the general convention obliges the countries to give asylum for political reasons if they cannot go back to their countries because of dictatorship, or because of racial attitudes. If it is too risky for them to go back, we have to give them asylum. This is the general convention, I think '54? And we are obliged, we signed the general convention. But the people, the migrants, the majority of them are coming because they are fleeing out of misery, as I told you. Not because of dictatorship, not all of them - Eritrea certainly. They are also fleeing for war reasons - the Syrian people, the Iraqi people. So it is very difficult just to separate now economical migration and political migration. First point: Europe exists. If Europe exists, this is not to let them die in the Mediterranean Sea. And I gave you the example already of the French boat: we sent seven of them to the China Sea – 12,000 km away, when the boat people were swimming to Vietnam. We were good to do so. The Mediterranean Sea is our sea: the sea of our culture, the sea of our holidays, the sea where we lie in the sun on a white beach. So we should rescue. Europe’s answer was very slow and it was an impossible, unfair and cold answer. We let them get on shore in Italy, the big majority. Of course, because Italy is the nearest country and the people are leaving from Libya and from that whole coast. Because of the commercialisation of slavery, all of these people, the migrants pay between one thousand dollars and seven to ten thousand dollars. All the efforts of their family during their whole life. And of course, these people, the merchants of slavery, they promise ‘you will find…’ etc. And they promise access to Great Britain across the channel, but no, it is impossible. So, the first answer should be coming from Europe – we have to share the burden, not to let them stay in Italy by thousands and thousands and ten thousands. No, we have to share the burden and we need to answer the proposal coming from the new commission - The Russell Commission. And this is absolutely no-one. The twenty-eight countries have to change. And the proper numbers – I remember from my country it was around seven thousand people. It is not so large! We are sixty-seven million now. So we have to share, all the twenty-eight countries. But they didn’t answer yes! They failed to listen. First answer: sharing in twenty-eight countries according to the number of people - the demographic, and second, the richness. So they did the calculation and then Jean-Claude Juncker proposed: first we have to rescue them. And not only the Italian boat and saying thank you to the Italian people and thank you to some of the Spanish people when they were coming from Libya and from Morocco etc. We cannot let them die. So let’s send one boat per country. Twenty-eight boats, this is nothing for the country. And if the country has no access to the seas they have to rent a boat! This is nothing. The second answer is sharing the burden, not letting the Italians accept all the numbers. And after, according to the Schengen Law, to cross the border and to be joining, say, Sweden, etc. That’s my answer. We should see this complicity of murder, not helping them in the sea, second, immigration is a problem. Do we have to change with a new answer of the general convention? I think so, it will be very difficult, but we should do it.
E.C: You named ISIS. What do you think is the future of ISIS?
B.K: To make a long story short, I think that we will get a new state somewhere between Syrian territory and Iraqi territory, because they already suppress the colonies at the borders. It’s up to the local population to fight against them, like the Kurds did. And I’m very confident with the Kurdish way of fighting against Daish. But we, and this is a must, should help the Kurdish people to fight against Daish. We tried - the Americans more than us - but we tried. We were involved in Iraq, we were involved everywhere, but it was not a big success. The poor Americans, they lost all the wars! Vietnam, Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq. So this is not a solution for us - to send ground troops - certainly not. Not ground troops, at the moment.
But if there were a real invasion, the answer of bombing the country like the Saudis did in Yemen, was another failure. They were killing the population more than the soldiers. We have to consider the internal battle between Shiite and Sunni people. Daish is now, unfortunately for the victims, killing Muslim people. Even if the danger is a world danger, they are killing Muslim people, so the Muslims they should react - with our help. But their future? I don’t know. I think there is no future for people as brutal as they are. I was very impressed when I went to Syria a few months ago to see a Kurdish woman fighting as a commander-in-chief in the city of Kobane. She was the commander of a thousand men and women, and they resisted to Daish, and they won! With a bit of help from the French people, and much more massively from the American people. We’ll see, I think that Bashar from Syria will not resist any more, I think that he will be replaced by another. The problem is Iran also fighting against Daish. Iran is a Shiite country fighting against ISIS - Sunni people, and this is a vicious circle. But we are exactly the way we were with the fighting and aggression against the protesters. This is a repetition. Don’t believe that religion is made for peace, religion is also made for war. I’ve no precise answer, but I believe that ISIS will lose. But immediately they will gain a big territory.
E.C: In 1971 , from "Doctors without Borders" you became a strong advocate of the concept of humanitarian intervention in order to protect civilian population from a sovereign state in countries which were unprotected and faced civil war, famine or genocide. Do you think this has been effective? What areas do you think could be improved?
B.K: Sometimes it has been effective. Like in Kosovo and Bosnia. Sometimes it has been negative, like in Iraq. We convince the UN system to vote in favour of the French resolution on the right to intervene. Because the right to intervene, according to my experience, was necessary to prevent war. But we never succeeded in preventing, except in Macedonia. In Macedonia in the middle of the Balkan war, we sent just a few hundred, and mainly Americans. We stopped the fighting, it was mainly by prevention. But for the rest, it’s always too late when we intervene, it’s always after the massacre. So I think that with the future of the right to interfere in protecting the people against massacre, unfortunately we were always waiting for the massacres and then we reacted. It was not always successful, not at all. Is Libya a good intervention? To protect Benghazi, the second city of Libya, against Gaddafi’s violent bombing by tanks, the right to protect the population is not binding and living at all. We had to have an agreement with the borders, and to stay and aid the people, with the agreement of the UN system. The right to interfere should go through the Security Council. Without a world agreement, any agreement is always coming from the only respectful international body, which is the UN. So I think there is a future for that if we are able to tell the people there is a risk of massacre somewhere, let’s try to stop the fire first. This is very, very difficult. Otherwise, we will be witnesses of massacres everywhere. Was it possible to protect the people in Iraq? Yes, it was the first success to get Saddam Hussein out. But after that, Shiite were the majority in Iraq, so Maliki was chosen after Allawi, who was elected as a secular guy. Maliki used the Shiism to get revenge on the Sunnis, so another time where it was not a good example. Is there a good dictator? This is a false question. Because of course it appeared, for the people, to calm down the situation, but it will not work for eternity. But was it better? My answer is no, but the answer of some is, ‘look, people were much more happy with the dictatorship’. The eternal question: For a doctor, and don’t forget that we were medical doctors. Medical doctors cannot accept massacres, just cannot. But that’s why, for me, the humanitarian conception is always a bit political. Protecting the people is political and of course, the humanitarian access is difficult. My answer is: Yes we have to protect, yes we have to act by prevention and, yes we have to act by information and education.
E.C: Did you achive more for human rights using your political platform or through your humanitarian work?
B.K: I think that it’s very complex to balance any inference of so-called political things. Human rights are political, and it will take years and years to explain to the people that the solution to the massacres is not hanging people or firing guns. There is no future for ISIS. Meanwhile there’s a sort of inside terror, and if you’re accepting terror, can you survive? At the beginning, yes, but after time you cannot. There is also no future for that. I’m in favour of human rights; I’m in favour of having respect for human life. I agree that religion as a peace process can work, but religion as a fight against the other religion, no. So we invented the right to intervene as a sort of medical dommage, but also as a political dommage. Medical passports were necessary to access the people at risk, to access the victims. Was it enough? No. But without a political vision it was impossible to force the door. Medical sensibility was affected by human rights; medical access was additional. Was it a political angle? Yes. Was it clearly political? No! This is impossible. Is it political dommage to save the people in the sea? No! This is a human dommage. And the right to interfere was a human intervention, for human victims. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than before, like some Jan Volski from the Polish government before the Second World War. He came to Churchill, Roosevelt having gone into an extermination camp and told them: ‘they are killing systematically’. But they did not intervene, they did not even bomb the railway going to Auschwitz. Why? Tell me why? For the same reason that we didn’t intervene for two years in the Mediterranean Sea. I don’t want to compare this directly to the migrants, but we still did not intervene. So, this is always a political decision. But the political decision is helped by sensible human reasons, by respect for human life. Who is respecting more human lives than a medical doctor? So it is an attitude.
E.C: You could be described as similar to the Dr. Schweitzer, the Doctor who attended to the sick in Africa and received the Nobel Peace Price in 1952. His motivations were to give back everything he received whilst he could. Is this your case? What are your motivations? Or perhaps you would describe yourself as “life-affirming" and a person who spreads vital values.
B.K: Well, I was writing a book on Schweitzer, he is a very interesting guy - the pioneer of this human access. Not for the same reasons that we had, he was a religious man. He was a protestant and a medical doctor. I’d say yes, he was one of our examples, and a good example. Of course at the same time it was before the discovery of antibiotics, and a lot people were angry because he didn’t use modern medicine. But at the same time it was good, he used the cultural methods of the people in Gabon. Of course, I visited his office in Lambaréné and sat at his table and I had a lot of admiration. My book on him is not finished, but Schweitzer gave us a good example for the time, and the time was a colonial time.
E.C: But what about your motivations?
B.K: My motivations are of course similar, but it was after the Second World War and after the Holocaust. And as I told you, nobody reacted against the Holocaust. When I was in Biafra, during the Nigerian-Biafran War, I saw the people coming to our hospital by the hundreds and hundreds. The bombing was targeting the civilian population. There was a blockade, so starvation was killing the babies in the thousands. So we were doctors, we had to react and protest, which we did and created Doctors Without Borders - just a few of us. I have to name my co-founder who was Max Recamier, he was not a political guy at all. He was a man of faith, he was a Catholic. But he was a doctor, so we did it together. It was more or less the same motivation but for me, it was more that my grandparents died in Auschwitz. And nobody protested. It was another time, but Schweitzer was a good example, not the perfect example – because there is no perfect example.
E.C: Do you think there is a solution to the Israeli conflict?
B.K: Yes, the solution is the creation of a Palestinian state. It is easy! But will it be possible? I cannot simply summarise, I don’t know if it’s completely too late. But the security of the Israeli is the security of the Palestinian. The Palestinian state would protect Israel; Israel would protect the Palestinian state. This is so obvious that it is ridiculous to find another solution. There is no other solution. Yes, for the time being the Israeli army is stronger than the other. But it will not last forever. So the solution is in between. I don’t say that the solution for Iraq or Iran is easy to say. But the creation of a Palestinian state is the beginning of all the solutions. We are in a real hurry. Unfortunately, for me, the Israeli people voted for Netanyahu. But my friends Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog - the chiefs of the Israeli Labor Party, were in favour of the Palestinian state, and they were right. So, on the other side, Mahmoud Abbas is an old man now. The new generation really want a Palestinian state, they are recognising Israeli people. Not only that, but they are meeting with them every day. This is ridiculous – it is a big, big crime not to recognize a Palestinian state. I know the story of Israel, yes they have the right to live, the right to be protected. This is my solution, that’s all. At the same time it is very difficult to understand the American political attitude to this. But President Obama wants to sign a document with Iran. I cannot be against peace; it is better than war. Let us see. For Israel it is a danger if Iran is following the line of setting up a nuclear weapon. I think to sign - if it is signed - at the end of the month, or at the beginning of July, I think that will be progress. Gaza was unacceptable, it did not change anything for some thousands of days of alienation. I know Hamas is not for peace, but I know that PLO is for peace. Let’s side with PLO!
E.C: What did you think about the position of Netanyahu?
B.K: Netanyahu was against the peace. Netanyahu is in favour of enlarging the borders in favour of settlement. We were close to the agreement with the former government, very close. I’m strongly in favour of the existence of the Israeli state, strongly in favour. But the basis of the Palestinian state is showing that they are not the country undermining Israel, not at all.
E.C: You’ve just arrived from Ukraine. What were you doing there?
B.K: I don’t know if I will do it, but I was in charge of offering a plan for changing the health system completely in Ukraine, like it was in Soviet Union and in Russia - a statist plan. I think we should mix public and private involvement under certain laws and under private health insurance, under public supervision. We’ll see, but there is a problem with Mr. Putin, who was not responsible for the separation between Russia and Ukraine, that was Gorbachev and Yeltsin. So we have to respect the border, and even if Russia is a bit different, the way they took over in fighting and bombing, remember, not only were they fighting but they missiled a Malaysian plane with Dutch people on board. It is not acceptable. I don’t know, we have a problem, and the solution is not war against Russia, certainly not. So is it sanctioning - economical sanctions? Partly, yes. And talk and talk, as we used to say, diplomacy.
E.C: What are your future proyects? Maybe a book? About...
B.K: I want to take some time to think about – and this is very arrogant of me to say so - my experience in mixing the political and the humanitarian. Having confidence in people but at the same time discovering that people love war. It’s like the most exciting experience for them, like a permanent merging and mixing male hormone through history, and though it’s a kind of caricature what I’m telling you, maybe it’s true. But I strongly think that you cannot separate humanitarian intervention from politics. I want the political people to be a more humanitarian, and I want the humanitarian to be more political. But they want to separate, you know why? Because of power! Having big NGOs gives you power. We are not all like Bill Gates, he’s a good example. I don’t want to insist too much, but remember what I said in your first question about developing Africa. Developing, developing; investing, investing. That’s the answer instead of letting them die in the sea, absolutely. We take tiny steps to start, we are starting with humanitarian, but humanitarian is not the solution of development, it’s a sort of generosity and charity. Okay, this is better than letting them die, but this is not the solution, the solution is development. So that’s why I was happy to be in Dakar for the setting up of the Dakar Bank, the people were waiting for that. It was a good signal in the modernization of Africa. So, we’ll see, because the solution is not to be a doctor instead of them or inventing the drugs in order to sell at high prices.
E.C: Could you tell me more about how Doctors Without Borders originated?
B.K: We were coming, young European doctors. French doctors. That’s why we went, we were French doctors and we were coming from a rich country; a country where we had been highly educated and we were had diplomas and we were working in hospitals, good hospitals, in France. And we discovered what? The reality of the world. And we discovered that our education was unable then to tell us what we have to do…what we had to do. What was our behaviour? We discovered that there were people dying of starvation, they were dying of misery. Of course they were also dying from bombs. We discovered a word: bomb. They were bombing the villagers, they were machine gunning all the highways, and they targeted the children. Every day there were violations of human rights, of course it was a civil war. So what were we supposed to do? To take care of the victims. OK, we took care of the victims from the bombing. It was not easy. A lot were dying, the others we tried to save. We played the role of doctors. Women and children, dying from bombing, okay, we helped. But after, we discovered that they were coming because of starvation, the children. We didn’t know about ‘Kwachmaco’ and ‘Marasmas’. The name of these illnesses were unknown to us real doctors. So the first time we set up a resuscitation unit for the children, so we tried to resuscitate them. Sometimes we succeeded. But then we had another hospital and then were was a flood of starvation they went back, resuscitated, to their villages. Then three months after, they came back another time with a different condition and the third time they all died. So what were we supposed to do? To say, ‘well, you know, we’re doctors and they came – doctors are waiting for the patients. First step: we went to the patients, across the border - across-the-border-doctors, doctors without borders. Then we protested politically. It was a big revolution because the doctors used to keep quiet. No, now it was not possible, the Hippocratic Oath is something between the patient and the doctor. Yes, you have to maintain ‘the secret’, but not during the massacres and it reminded me that during the Holocaust nobody protested. So we had to protest because the children – African black children were condemned because of the food blockade on both sides. There was a part of Nigeria completely at siege - that was our discovery. That’s why, coming back from Africa, we set up in ’71 because we were in ’68 and we had to regroup the people etc. We were obliged as doctors to play our role to exercise our duty. Our work. To be able to be a real doctor, we had, politically, to protest. Because there is always a way. They were dying from starvation, not because of natural disaster, because of a blockade by demand.
- Written by Elena Cué
Author: Elena Cué
Joana Vasconcelos: "Artists manage to open a new path to beauty". The Portuguese creator conquered Moscow, Venice, Versailles ... where 1,600,000 people visited her exhibition.
In Lisbon, on the banks of the Tagus, is the studio where the artist Joana Vasconcelos (Paris, 1971) deploys all of her creativity. With her I made a tour through the technology rooms, the foundry, architecture and sewing rooms of the world of this Portuguese artist who conquered Versailles.
Elena Cué: Her birth in Paris was a result of the asylum her parents asked for in France when they escaped from the Salazar dictatorship. What configured the presence and affirmation of her roots and identity in her work?
Joana Vasconcelos: The fact that I am a Portuguese artist today is the political outcome of the dictatorship that conditioned many people in Portugal and Spain. My parents were in France and I was born there and the truth is that their life would have remained in France if there had not been the Carnation Revolution (Revolução dos Cravos). I think they would have stayed there and today I would be a French artist. Internet allows the artist to live in their country and to export their work without problems. People reflect their identity, but not only where they come from but also where they are; in other words, the artists can exist in their countries. This allows a person like me, a Portuguese woman, to be in Portugal. It's like another view of art.
What can you tell me about your childhood that has been important in your work?
My childhood was very normal, like all children. What I did that was different was karate for many years. It taught me to be very demanding, to achieve a level of results; it has to do with doing one thing from beginning to end. High competition workouts are very demanding. If we apply this to art, I would say that when I face a challenge or an order, I feel as if I were in a championship, I have to train to get a result. I could have made a career in karate, but there was a time when I wanted to go to art school, and I did both activities together. But after a week in Arco, I went for training session and broke my knee. That was when I understood that I could not continue in karate but that I could use all this training as an artist.
You are an artist committed to human rights and, in particular, the role of women in our society. What do you want to convey with your work, what dialogue are you seeking?
It depends on the work. I'm an artist, we do not think like men. I can be talking about the rights of women but also about beauty, the East, and the piece I did for Macao. It is another concept that has nothing to do with political things, it has to do more with the idea of beauty, volume ... I can be talking about communication. Women are like that, they can do many things at the same time, men can not. Men have a more linear discourse, it is another way of thinking, neither better nor worse, just different. We are like that. It is no longer necessary to have a single discourse.
What has it meant for you to display in Versailles?
I can not answer without telling you two or three things. I am the result of a time, of identities, of a change in the way we look at the world. Versailles could not have happened without first doing the Venice Biennale in 2005 with Rosa Martinez and Maria Corral, because they were in fact the first women at the Venice Biennale and both Spanish. I was the first woman in the Rosa Martinez exhibition and the world realized that I existed as an artist and I am very grateful. I was with Maria Corral in Venice and we said that there are people who are at historic moments and do not realise. This was my case in 2005. Then I did more things that led me to Versailles. In 2005 the world realized I existed but I had no works. Then I did a couple of exhibitions. One of them, in the Garage in Moscow, which was the first group contemporary art exhibition, and I was part of it. It was also a very important moment. Then I did another in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and was there in front of all the big names: Struth, Jeff Koons, Murakami ... And again I had the chance, much younger and female, to be amidst a group of awesome people. Then I was invited to give an exhibition in Versailles. It would never have been possible if I had not done these international exhibitions where your work is alongside all these great artists of the world, where you have a presence.
You engage in a dialogue between past and present. When do you think that the great change in art takes place?
You were asking me what Versailles meant for me. Versailles changed everything. The exhibition had 1,600,000 visitors. Why? First, I am Portuguese. Second, I do not have a large gallery. Third, I have no great curator behind me. Fourth, no one knows me. 1,600,000 visitors! Jeff Koons had 850,000, Murakami roughly the same and you wonder, why? The truth is that the impact is greater for a woman, and I am also European.
You are closer to our culture ...
It's a culture that I understand, that we share in Europe. I integrated my work, I didn’t confront it with the palace. There was a divine union between the work and the space.
The great beauty of Versailles. Where does beauty lie in art for you?
For me art has to be beautiful. I believe that beauty and art are synonymous. I do not think it resides, I believe it is.
That moment when subject and object are the same ...
Yes. I think very much about the time, the emotion, the intensity ... I believe very much in the truth, in the idea that there are no lies, that communication is direct and sincere. If you look at these pieces they are not hidden, they are not isolated from the visitor, they are here present. And then you have many laws of understanding, you can look for this or that, but the truth is that they are hidden behind a theory. Then you can generate your own, but you do not need theory to exist. Beauty does not need theory, beauty is.
The big question, what is the concept of art for Joana Vasconcelos?
I think that art is what we are describing. It is the ability to generate a dimension of beauty and new light, that is, to me it is more interesting to talk about works than artists because those who are artists are the ones who manage, through one or many works, it depends, to open a new way for beauty, for understanding the world and to have a new perspective on the world. Art is the need to represent ourselves in complete freedom, art is the ability to keep the world alive, to keep our construction as human beings alive. This is why 1,600,000 people visited my exhibition because I represented Europe in a natural way. And when you are in a crisis it is more important that the artist should be in your country and represent your culture because otherwise, as in the Palaeolithic, you do not know what happened to the tribe that did not do the drawing, you know about the one that did. I not only represent my country but also this idea of common culture that we create in Europe.
I remember our first meeting in Venice. The connection between Lisbon and Venice through a ferry turned into a work of art after being covered by its wool, fabrics and crochet and the famous Portuguese tiles was an amazing experience.
Yes, the boat was the most complex and difficult project I had ever done. It took us a year. We did not have much budget either and the truth is that my country helped me, companies and individuals sent me money and it ended up being a movement of support to get me to Venice. It is at times of crisis when people want to have a say, when they want to be represented and not lose their identity. It was a national project. I had to reflect what Lisbon is today, which elements are specific to our identity, like the tiles, what we have in common with Venice, like the boats, the river, the fact that we are two tourist cities, the fact that in the 15th century we were strongly connected. There is a historical connection but also a contemporary one. For me, the connection was the water, for Lisbon and Venice water has complete control over the city. Then I took the boat and we transformed it. It was an amazing life experience. It is possible to do everything you think. It was sincere because people realize and help you. We must continue representing ourselves in the world. I came to Venice because the Portuguese wanted to come and I'm very grateful. It was all tough, the transport, the opening ... but we managed.
- Written by Elena Cué
Author: Elena Cué
Architect Jean Nouvel Invites Us into His Creative Thought Process and Discusses His Current Battle over the Paris Philharmonic
The Paris studio of architect, Jean Nouvel (b. 1945, Fumel, France), serves as the meeting place for our interview. Nouvel is one of the key members of an exclusive group of architects, which has been honored with the most significant architecture awards in the world, including The Imperial Prize of Japan, The RIBA Royal Gold Medal, The Pritzker Prize, The Aga Khan Award, and The Wolf Foundation Arts Prize.
Elena Cué: The anti-Le Corbusier architect Claude Parent was your mentor when you were starting out at the age of 21. Please tell me about what meeting him meant for your career.
You were actively involved in May 68 with a radical stance against the educational model of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. What were the things you demanded?
Jean Nouvel: I felt that his studio was one of the most creative at that time. He and his partner, Paul Virilio, created a space where a new approach to architecture could evolve. Paul became a very well-known philosopher and thinker of the time. I joined the intellectual rebellion of "May 68" and it certainly impacted my architectural style in terms of its criticism of the way in which French cities have traditionally been constructed. Later on, I joined with them to create the "March 1976 Movement," which demanded that the design of French cities no longer follow the same traditional model. Soon after, the architecture trade union was formed. It was a time of intellectual excitement.
EC: How would you define your architectural thought?
JN: I think it's similar to the solidification of a cultural experience, which means that ultimately, every generation has a job to do. Cities are made from an assortment of constructed testimonies, which reflect the things that each generation specifically liked, the different techniques that were used at that time, and their relationship with art. I've spent my life fighting against certain forms of academicism. It's true that there's an actual entity that's devoted to reproducing models from the past—the worst things from the worst situations and then making them pastiche. A pastiche, in reality, is always a degradation of what was true at an earlier time. It's like a ghost or a faint remnant of the past. I believe that every place deserves careful consideration.
In my opinion, every project is the start of an adventure, and clearly, I never seem to know where I'm going. I don't start with a preconceived idea. I always begin with a hope that the place, the experience, and the people with whom I am going to find myself at that moment are all going to contribute something completely unique. This sort of precision and nonconformity serve as an attack on the concept of cloning. Along these lines, there is something that has made the situation even worse—the development of information technology. Nowadays, the guidelines for creating any kind of project are readily available. As a result, you can design a building in a few hours based upon these predetermined criteria. It doesn't matter if they're residences, offices, or shopping malls. You select from what already exists, adjust a few elements, and just like that, it's done. Unfortunately, there isn't any gray area. There isn't enough thought, planning, or love in the designs that come about like that. They're automated and don't have any soul.
EC: In your work, as you say, you try to create a space that would be the mental extension of what is seen, a space of seduction, veiling and unveiling, looking and going unseen, concealing, light and shadow, mystery. How much is there of the erotic in your work?
JN: When there isn't mystery, there isn't seduction. Architecture is a mystery that must be preserved. If everything is revealed at once, nothing will ever happen organically. Without a doubt, concealing is one of the elements of eroticism and therefore, of erotic architecture. So, if we look at the Cartier Foundation, for example, you have two parallel, clear glass panels on a surface creating a mysterious uncertainty because of the way it plays with the reflections of the trees and the clouds.
There are also situations where you can play with the presence of nature to the point that you wonder if it's really a garden, for example. A garden is where thousands of natural species have reproduced and are coexisting together. All of these things, as well as the interference with the sun and the rain, create certain sensations that we aren't used to feeling. It's a form of simplicity that truly hides an enormous complexity and this complexity is what distinguishes that specific location. The reflections and the porosity of the emerald-colored glass make it so that you can hardly see what's behind. When you put blinds on the inside, it appears as if the landscape is printed on them.
Essentially, one attempts to choose ways of concealing, ways of showing, ways of hiding, ways of saying things or not saying things, and ways of suggesting things, but not ever formulating them. That is architectural eroticism.
EC: You work is highly heterogeneous, your buildings adapt to the space, context and culture with which they will coexist. For each project, in what factors do you seek your inspiration?
JN: In life and situations. I believe in situational architecture. Circumstances don't only relate to the actual place, but also to the aspects of an encounter or an appearance. In this regard, I'm considered a "situationist," but I don't think you can design a building just like that. A building isn't a sculpture and it typically doesn't change places. Some are relocated, but that's very rare and I feel like those situations are completely unpredictable. For that reason, we are always searching for anything that can impact a project and change it, which means that we must respond to lots of questions and concerns. You have to realize that architects are always considered to be incompetent and yet their work in and of itself must be highly competent. Every time I'm asked a question, I have to view it as if I'm coming from the opposite perspective and there are a lot of things I just don't know. For that reason, we are obligated to listen, to take into account, and to understand all aspects of the question at hand, every single time. Essentially, you must always combine the outside perspective with the inner viewpoint.
EC: So, what is your perspective?
JN: Mine is generally from the outside in. Sometimes it can be from the inside out, but that's rare. I'm always looking for exteriors. Someone that knows a location or a profession very well has inner vision. If you visit a city that you've never seen before, you're able to see things without noticing every single detail. Something quite poetic and pleasing can be emphasized, highlighted, and revisited by those who are on the inside. The architect's first task is what I call catalysis; in other words, it means to put things in their place. When the catalyst is present, things usually materialize with just a tiny spark. Then, there's the job of harmoniously combining all of those elements that, oftentimes, are contradictory. You must try to establish unity or synergy.
EC: The first time I met you, you were disappointed with the end-result of the enlargement of the Museo Reina Sofía. Can you explain what disappointed you?
JN: I wasn't happy. This often happens with me. Sometimes, contracts are not entirely clear and businesses have intentions that are not necessarily the same as ours. It's always been like that, but before, architects had a certain level of power that would get them respect in these kinds of situations. As time passed and the economy advanced, things became much more complicated, like how things are today. Perhaps, at the Reina Sofía, I wasn't happy about some of the conditions that were set forth in stone, but I'm generally not dissatisfied with the profound nature of the project. What bothered me most was that the Council promised to do a bunch of things. There was a study done by Álvaro Siza where the traffic in front of the Reina Sofía would be redirected underground. So, the project was carried out based upon the hypothesis that this would be accomplished. Well, what that means is that the pedestrians are not going to have the same relationship with the building and, further more, there is a sound effect caused by the noise from the street, which bounces off the roof and is heard inside where the original calmness has been lost forever. It's simply not possible to have the same tranquility that was originally envisioned
EC: You have commented that in your building for the Cartier Foundation you mix real and virtual images using glass panes and light to trick the senses. Your aesthetic principles are reminiscent of the artist James Turrel, who explores the perception of space by using light to modify that perception. Are you interested in this artist’s train of thought?
JN: I am really interested in Turrel. He's someone that works with light, nothingness, and location. He's an artist that completely plays with locations. His works simply can't be moved to different places. Their meaning derives entirely from their locations. I'm not talking about the core of the design, which obviously is very close to his vision of the world. I'm referring to the way in which his designs are positioned in order to frame the sky or to capture and create light thereby altering the classification and contours of the location. I really like artists that work according to the situation at hand rather than simply focusing on a few objects that they don't really know where to put. As a result of the commercialized advancement of art, I think that there's a kind of truth to art that is best expressed when the works are done in their original location. They either belong to a place architecturally well or geographically well. Needless to say, all of James Turrel's work involving perspective and light has clearly inspired me for a very long time.
EC: You've designed a lot of buildings in Spain. Which one of them did you enjoy the most?
JN: Because of what I've explained to you, I really don't want to tell you which one. What I can say is that I can't put the Agbar Tower in Madrid. It just wouldn't work. So, for example, people that don't know Barcelona see the Agbar Tower in international magazines and they don't understand it at all. The Agbar Tower is completely Catalonian. It simply can't exist in another location. Its formal design has been utilized by Catalonian architects for many centuries and was inspired by Monserrat's mountainous peaks, which have been shaped by the wind. The phallic nature of Monserrat's peaks is impressive. The fact that the Tower has been designed on an urban scale never seen before and that it's also colored makes it a tribute to Gaudí. The Catalonians and Barcelonians readily acknowledge that the building represents their culture and, at the same time, understand that it was formed from their DNA. On the other hand, the international community only sees the phallic symbol as a suggestion of sexual provocativeness and nothing more.
EC: The recently installed Paris Philharmonic opened to the public without your work being finished, and yet it's been an overwhelming success. What can you tell me about this project?
JN: The Philharmonic is a drama and a melodrama. It's the kind of project where normally, everything is in line for success. I feel that it's a project that demonstrates an innovative arrangement of a room on a musical level, a room that successfully defends the use of inside space as well as its emphasis on musical symbolism. Everyone recognizes that. Unfortunately, the building itself isn't finished, obviously. For political and financial reasons, they've done something that's never been done in France since all public buildings are made by a public entity that controls the use of funds. This project was carried out by a private association that decided to hide the rise in cost and, for that reason, they pushed me aside. All of this might seem rather tragic, but in my opinion, it doesn't really feel that way because I'm used to suffering when it comes to my profession. I'm here to defend the pleasure of all music lovers and the artistic aspirations that all of the children will have, thanks to this building. For that reason, I'm going to fight to the end in order to settle this so that the building is completed correctly and no one accuses me of any atrocities about the way in which it was finished, its details, or about the public spaces that surround it. I'm involved in one of the toughest battles of my life.