- Written by Elena Cué
One morning in May we arrived at the appartment that Cai shares with Hong Hong Wu, his wife, and their two daughters in New York's Soho district. As he was refurbishing his work studio at the time, we were lucky enough to see his home transformed into a kind of workshop, complete with some of his works lying around on furniture and on the floor. We enjoyed an unforgettable leisurely lunch with the Cai family and some friends, which gave us a great opportunity to observe the artist in his natural habitat: his rhythm, his look, his profound love of music and above all, his way of communicating. Cai Guo-Qiang can be described as one of the world’s most recognized Chinese artists. He was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China, a city known for its cultural openness and religious diversity, due in no small part to its coastal location.
Author: Elena Cué
Cai Guo-Qiang observing one of the sculptures in the Patio during the exhibition I Want to Believe at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, 2009
One morning in May we arrived at the appartment that Cai shares with Hong Hong Wu, his wife, and their two daughters in New York's Soho district. As he was refurbishing his work studio at the time, we were lucky enough to see his home transformed into a kind of workshop, complete with some of his works lying around on furniture and on the floor. We enjoyed an unforgettable leisurely lunch with the Cai family and some friends, which gave us a great opportunity to observe the artist in his natural habitat: his rhythm, his look, his profound love of music and above all, his way of communicating.
Cai Guo-Qiang can be described as one of the world’s most recognized Chinese artists. He was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China, a city known for its cultural openness and religious diversity, due in no small part to its coastal location. He moved to New York in 1995, where he began producing, social- and cultural-themed works, but it wasn’t until the end of that decade, coinciding with the sudden breakthrough of Chinese art in the rest of the world due to broader Chinese reform and change within the country, that his work began to be exhibited in the US.
His decision to relocate from East to West has also instilled in him a greater interest in bringing the two cultures closer together. He is passionate about Taoist cosmology, and thus finds himself in a permanent state of profound movement and change. As a conceptual artist, his work recovers cultural memory —via installations, ephemeral ‘explosion events’ and drawings made with gunpowder— in order to tackle ideological issues and historical conflicts with a poetic aesthetic approach. His hometown and cultural roots are always present in his work, evoking an eternal return to a world of nature and spirituality, and a conduit between the world of the visible and the invisible. A recurring theme underpinning Cai’s art is in fact the desire to unite these two worlds; his artworks skillfully and playfully juggle space and time, tradition and contemporaneity, blurring the existing social and cultural limits of any culture, ripping one out of its context and placing it in another to create a new global whole.
Cai Guo-Qiang in front of Odyssey, the permanent installation at the The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2010. Photograph by I-Hua Lee, courtesy of Cai Studio
His youth coincided with a time of great upheaval and radicalization in China, the decade between 1966 and 1976 (the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution).
Elena Cué: How has the spiritual influence of that kind of upbringing–growing up in an era where the Chinese Communist Party was undergoing a process of ideological affirmation– affected the artist you are today?
Cai Guo-Qiang:The political movements during the Cultural Revolution employed tactics that motivated large crowds. Having witnessed and even taken part in some of the parades during that period, I later applied the same strategies to my art practice. For instance, I often work with large groups of volunteers from local communities to realize my artworks. My goals may be different from the political leaders’, and the ways in which I work with large groups of people may also be different, but it is evident that I am influenced by these experiences from my youth. People of my generation were taught [by Chairman Mao], “to rebel is justified”, and we were told to disregard figures of authority. As a contemporary artist, this gave me the courage to step away from tradition, explore new mediums and new ways of working, and to transform traditional iconographies with my own visual language.
Shining and Solitude, 2010. Gunpowder on paper, vulcanic rock, and 9,000 litres of mescal. From artist's own collection. View of the installation at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, UNAM, Mexico City, 2010. Photograph by Diego Berruecos, courtesy of MUAC
Cai studied stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, and he tried his hand at cinema by participating in two martial arts films. He also dabbled in violin and theatre, and has a wonderful voice that I personally have had the pleasure of hearing. His father, a traditional painter and calligrapher, would paint landscapes on matchboxes, and was a great influence on the artist. “A small space can easily be filled with the corners of the earth”.
E.C: How have all these experiences shaped the person you are today?
C.G.Q: At the Shanghai Theater Academy, the training I received in stage design was different from the art academies at the time. I learned many different approaches to come up with creative ideas: from working freely with different materials, to studying spatial compositions, and these help me create diverse forms of art. The collaborative team spirit and the performance aspect, the emphasis on dramatic effects, the focus on audience interaction or participation in theater, and the temporal nature in artistic expression—all helped shape characteristics of my work.
Refection–A gift from Iwaki, 2004. Remains of a shipwreck and porcelain piece. Size of the boat: 5 x 5.5 x 15 m. Faurschou Collection. View of the installation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, 2009. Photograph by I-Hua Lee, courtesy C
E.C: In 2008 the Guggenheim Museum organized your retrospective Cai Guo-Qiang: Quiero Creer (I Want to Believe), this exhibition was presented in New York, Beijing and Bilbao, and featured works spanning over two decades of your art production. What does Cai Guo-Qiang want to believe in?
C.G.Q: I Want to Believe is a comprehensive examination of my early works, many of which express a deep-seated curiosity towards the universe and the unseen worlds around us. The exhibition title therefore encompasses all these possibilities, whether they are extraterrestrials, principles of feng shui and Chinese medicine, or metaphysical forces and worlds not visible to the human eye. It expresses an attitude and a sense of anticipation.
Head On, 2006. 99 life-size wolf models and glass wall. Wolves: muslin, resin and skins, various sizes. Deutsche Bank Collection. View of the installation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, 2009. Photograph ©FMGB Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa, 2009 (Erika Barahona-Ede)
A critical view of mass ideologies is present in Cai’s work, a famous example of which can be seen in the piece Head On, where 99 life-size wolves form a large suspended arch before crashing head-first into a glass wall. The work references the legacy of Nazism on contemporary Germany and that of the Cold War, evidencing the impossibility of learning from our own mistakes (the wolves return to the beginning, starting the cycle once again).
Even works such as Head On, with their solid conceptual baggage, or when dealing with more violent or disturbing subjects, Cai’s works achieve an elegant aesthetic expression: there is harmony in their design and beauty in their form. The artist’s own philosophy is always expressed in an aesthetically pleasing, poetic form.
E.C: What meaning do you ascribe to the Plautus’ phrase “Man is man’s wolf”, popularized by philosopher Thomas Hobbes?
C.G.Q: Growing up, I saw how figurative paintings depicting human subjects—either political leaders or soldiers at war—were used as tools for propaganda, and have thus avoided portraying people in my work. To tell stories, I often use animals as a metaphor for human behaviour. Animals are more natural, more spontaneously expressive than humans, and they can be more easily integrated into exhibition spaces and themes.
Bringing to Venice what Marco Polo Forgot, 1995. Installation which includes a wooden fishing boat from Quanzhou, Chinese herbs, ginseng (100 kg) and other works by the artist. Commissioned by the 46th Venice Biennale. From the Museo Navale di Venezia's collection and private collections. View of the arrival of the boat in Venice. Photo by Yamamoto Tadasu, courtesy of Cai Studio
In 1995, at the 46th Venice Biennale, Cai presented Bringing to Venice what Marco Polo Forgot.
E.C: With your 1995 installation for the Venice Biennale, what did you bring to Venice that Marco Polo had forgotten?
C.G.Q: The year 1995 marked the 700th anniversary of Marco Polo's return to Venice from China after a maritime journey that began in Quanzhou, my hometown, so I decided to make a joke about Marco Polo. He brought back many stories of the East to the West, but he did not tell the West about Eastern thought and philosophy, so I sought to remedy this oversight by bringing Chinese herbal medicine from the East to the West. I brought an old-fashioned fishing boat brought from Quanzhou, and navigated it along Venice's Grand Canal from Piazza San Marco to Palazzo Giustinian Lolin.
The boat docked outside the palazzo, and functioned as a seating area where visitors could savor the medicinal tonics and potions offered inside. Within the palazzo, a modern vending machine was installed on one wall to dispense five varieties of bottled herbal tonics for 10,000 lira each. These drinks were formulated according to the ancient Chinese principle of “five elements,” wherein the five elements of natural phenomena (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) correspond to five tastes (bitter, sweet, sour, spicy, salty) and five organs of the human body (liver, heart, spleen, lung, kidney). The prescriptions posted on one wall enabled participants to select remedies suitable to their needs.
Available along the opposite wall were traditional ginseng soup and ginseng liquor, each contained in a large earthen jar. Visitors used bamboo ladles to pour these potions—formulated to enhance bodily qi, or energy—into porcelain cups.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Venice Biennale, 100 kilo sacks of ginseng were displayed on a handcart placed near the ginseng service. I applied the idea of healing a living organism and its energy flows to the city and its canals. Inside the entrance of the palazzo, I hung a plastic curtain that was filled with canal water and covered with common acupuncture meridian charts, and symbolically pierced it with acupuncture needles.
Legacy, 2013. 99 life-size animal reproductions, water, sand, dripping mechanism, various sizes. Collection of Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. View of the installation at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2013. Photography by Queensland Art Gallery ׀ Gallery of Modern Art
In 1966, in the first days of the Cultural Revolution, the People’s Liberation Army decided to create a portrait on the mountainside by carving it out in the rock — what Cai describes as his first contact with Land Art. This relationship between man and nature is very present in Cai’s work, something he reflects on in his latest exhibition, Falling Back to Earth, his first solo exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Queensland, Australia.
E.C: Does this fall back to Earth symbolize a need to return back to your roots, to nature?
C.G.Q: The title of the exhibition Falling Back to Earth conjures a sense of yearning for the spirit expressed in Chinese literati paintings of earlier times, when people lived humbly and in harmony with nature, an ideal that stands in opposition to the way in which people interact with nature now.
The Ninth Wave, 2014. The installation includes 99 life-size animal reproductions, wooden fishing boat, white flag, electric fan. Size of the boat: 17x 4.55 x 5.8 m. From artist's own collection. Commissioned by the Power Station of Art, Shanghai. View of The Ninth Wave navigating across the Huangpu River near Bund, Shanghai, 2014. Photography by Wen-You Cai, courtesy of Cai Studio
The ecological and environmental crisis that China is suffering is at the heart of his latest exhibition, The Ninth Wave. It is also the first solo exhibition of a living artist at the Shanghai Power Station of Art. In it, an apocalyptic Noah's Ark - a fishing boat full of dying artificial animals - navigates the Huangpu River as a symbol of the dangerous present-day situation. It is also a recognition of the need to return to nautre and to our spiritual roots.
E.C: Do you believe that Art should serve a moral, social, political, or cultural end... Or should art be the act of expressing our unguarded passion?
C.Q.G: There are many types of artists, and there are no hard and fast rules on how artists should act and behave. Otherwise art will turn into history and become static, rather than constantly improving and changing with the times.
History's footprints: Fireworks project for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing, 2008. The display took place in Beijing on August 8, 2008. Commissioned by The International Olympic Committee and The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.
Photograph by Hiro Ihara, courtesy of Cai Studio
He lived in Japan between 1986 and 1995, where he got to know and use gunpowder as a tool for art, and which eventually became the art form for which he is globally known. Gunpowder has become an artistic creative source that defines his identity as an artist; this powerful material has been used by the artist as transformative energy to create drawings and ‘explosion events’.
His work includes a number of dichotomies: a mixture of traditional symbols — acupuncture, dragons, powder — and contemporary ones (time), a merging of East and West (space), and the contrast between yin and yang, destruction and creation (opposing forces).
E.C: Your interest in time and space, opposite forces and cosmology are evident in your work. What is your guiding philosophy in life?
C.G.Q: In the I Ching, or the Book of Changes, “I” means “change”, and this is important. There are also two doctrines I embrace in Daoist philosophy: “no law is the law”, and “leveraging others’ power to exert your own strength”. In Confucianism, tolerance is a value that has taught me not to exclude others, and to learn from and work with people of different cultures; it enables me to find new possibilities in art. These underlying principles are the most valuable lessons I have learned from Eastern philosophy, and they are more important to me than superficial symbols (such as dragons), or even gunpowder as a choice of artistic medium.
Tree with Yellow Blossoms. Photo by I-Hua Lee, courtesy Cai Studio
- Written by Fabrizzio Morales-Angulo
Author: Fabrizzio Morales-Angulo
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.
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 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.
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.
Enlaces de interés:
- Written by Marta Gnyp
Autor: Marta Gnyp
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Written by Marta Gnyp
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frauen, installation view from De Pont Foundation for Contemporary Art,
Tilburg, Netherlands, 2006, photo: Peter Cox)
- Written by Matteo Mottin
Yesterday, May 15th, inaugurated “Suites”, the new solo exhibition by Olve Sande at Antoine Levi gallery.
Matteo Mottin – in collaboration with ATPdiary – asked some questions to the artist.
ATP: I’d like to start from the title of the exhibition. “Suites” is a word that has different meanings in French and in English (I don’t actually know about Norwegian…). Could you tell me about it?
Olve Sande: The structural basis for this show is a continuation of a correspondence with the norwegian poet Jørn Sværen, where he sent me a series of short notes with the measurements of windows he had encountered in his daily life accompanied by a small text fragment. As a representation of a series of spatial situations, each work in the show is based on the interpretation of these notes. The dimension for the window for the room for the situation. The term suites suggests this set of rooms and the resulting amalgamation of different narratives and situations.
ATP: In “Outs”, your previous personal exhibition at Antoine Levi, you worked inside the gallery space in conjunction with its renovation, transferring the former space’s floor onto the walls of the gallery. Is there any link between “Outs” and “Suites”?
OS: Definitely. The works are in both cases created in the gallery space, and the final outcome of the show is a result of the interaction between a predefined concept, a given material, and the situation of production. It’s a process of reading and writing at the same time.
In this case, the given material was the notes i received from Jørn with the window measurements and its corresponding titles. For this show, the work in the gallery coincides with the process of reading and understanding the titles and relating to the scale of the works, like i had to relate to the given laminate floor of the last show. Working in the same space a second time, there is also the recollection of the previous show which also resonates with the current work and doubles the situation.
ATP: You studied both architecture and literature. In which ways this background has influenced your practice?
OS: At this point it´s a bit difficult see what comes from where. I think the most important implications of my background is that it gave me a quite good understanding what architecture and literature can and cannot be, and it made me realize that my interest was located somewhere in between the two. When i was studying architecture i was more concerned with its narrative potential, and studying literature made me want to explore the physical aspect of language. At some point i realized that art probably was a good place to start if I were to pursue what had started to interest me.
ATP: Could you tell me about the way you work? Do you start with a concept or is it more about experimenting with materials?
OS: As most of my works are produced in a site specific situation within a limited timeframe, it makes my working process quite compartmentalized. Before I begin a new project I try to create a certain distance to my own work so i can develop a conceptual framework without being too concerned with the practical implication of actual production. Between projects I spend most of my time reading whatever catches my interest, browsing through books in the library and taking notes until a new project starts to emerge. I then look into ways of investigating a particular idea, looking into potential manifestations of the project. As the actual production necessarily has to be based on a certain amount of improvisation, this usually implies developing a kind of working procedure so that i have a clear structural basis when I enter the gallery space to make the works. Informed by this new body of works, the show is then succeeded by a kind of retrospective process where I try to get an overview of its conceptual implications before I start looking into new material again.
OLVE SANDE, SUITES, EXHIBITION VIEW, COURTESY THE ARTISTS AND GALERIE ANTOINE LEVI, PARIS; PHOTO: CLAIRE DORN
OLVE SANDE, SUITES, EXHIBITION VIEW, COURTESY THE ARTISTS AND GALERIE ANTOINE LEVI, PARIS; PHOTO: CLAIRE DORN
OLVE SANDE, SUITES, EXHIBITION VIEW, COURTESY THE ARTISTS AND GALERIE ANTOINE LEVI, PARIS; PHOTO: CLAIRE DORN
|Written by our friends at ATPdiary.com in colaboration with Matteo Mottin|
- Written by Matteo Mottin
On April 19th inaugurates “Michael Clifton & Michael Benevento and D´Ette Nogle Present: Regressing to Mean“, the second solo exhibition by D’Ette Nogle (1974, La Mirada, CA; vive e lavora a Los Angeles) with Clifton Benevento.
Her work is often in service of the host and the particular context in which its presented. Among her works, the video “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” in which the artist dances with some of her students from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, putting into practice the assumption that a teacher should learn from the culture of her students in order to develop the right educational practice; in “Reality / Relax” she pays tribute to the structure of Dan Graham’s 1969 “Lax / Relax” performance by reading at home, with her parents, some dialogue transcriptions taken from reality shows. For the 2012 edition of ”Made in LA”, the biennial organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, she played inside of the museum the bells used during meditation sessions.
MICHAEL CLIFTON & MICHAEL BENEVENTO AND D´ETTE NOGLE PRESENT REGRESSING TO MEAN – CLIFTON BENEVENTO NEW YORK, 2014 – INSTALLATION VIEW
Matteo Mottin asked some questions to the artist.
Matteo Mottin: Could you tell me about “Michael Clifton & Michael Benevento and D´Ette Nogle Present: Regressing to Mean”? How is it structured?
D’Ette Nogle: The structure supports a testing exercise. Participants take two brief 10-question tests, Form A and Form B. The 10-question test presents visual information and the two answer choices are A) true or B) untrue. As soon as the participant completes Form A, their test is scored and they are informed of their results. Then they will complete Form B. Form B is scored and test-takers are able to determine the change between their results on the two forms of the test. They will know if they: advanced toward the mean, regressed toward the mean, or maintained a consistent position in relation to the mean. The gallery will be organized to support testing by providing an area where participants look at two tableaux that serve as prompts for the first two questions of the test and an area with a table where test-takers may sit and complete the remainder of the test questions. While test-takers wait for their results, they can also make use of a reading table where they may read material from Clifton Benevento’s extensive art library.
MM: “Regressing to Mean” reminds me about my Statistics exams… Why did you choose this title?
DN: First, there is the direct connection to the language of statistics, as you mention, and the idea that when a result is extreme in its first measurement, the second result will be closer to the average. Conversely, if the result is extreme in its second measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on the first measurement. Also, there is a connection to the other content of the exhibition, the theme of schadenfreude and the potential connection between “meanness” and low self-image on the part of the person feeling schadenfreude. Finally, using elements from my previous show at Clifton Benevento (the office partitions), there is an intentional regression to mean or to communicate a link to my first show at the gallery which is then intended to convey a comparison between the two shows and highlight the vulnerability of the art practice to evaluation or assessment–which is often self-imposed (e.g., “Has she improved or regressed?” or “Have I regressed or is this an improvement?”)
MM: In this exhibition you overturn the common relationship artist-viewer within the exhibition circumstance: here you use a test to give marks to the visitors, and these marks are based on the answers given by a gallery representative. Could you tell me about the reasons behind that?
DN: I see it as an opportunity to consider the typical circumstances that determine how art is viewed and evaluated. In the testing exercise, one person’s subjective answers are compared to another’s, that of Silke Lindner, an employee of the gallery. People working at galleries are often called upon to provide answers to questions about the artist and the art on view. In this case, you have the opportunity to see how your interpretations of the work compare to hers.
MM: You’re using the same grey office partitions you used in your first solo exhibition with the gallery, “Michael Clifton & Michael Benevento and D’Ette Nogle Present: Information from Two Sources” (2012). Besides that, is there any other connection between these two exhibitions?
DN: Each of the two tableaux residing within the office partitions present a scenario, one involving a blonde female and one involving a male. In Information from Two Sources, there was a video within each partitioned space, one presenting the text from an Elle magazine article about the lifestyle of the actress Blake Lively whose role on the series Gossip Girl is characterized in the article as “the perfect escapist heroine for our recession-era daydreams,” and one presenting the narration of a viral video made by an investment publisher named Porter Stanberry called “End of America.” In the video, Stansberry employs fear-mongering and advises potential investors to invest in as much gold and silver as they can afford. Another link to the first exhibition will be a series of three Thematic Posters for Exhibition (Improving, Regressing, Norming). Each of the three will graphically represent improvement, regression, and a consistent relationship to the mean. In the first show, there was an “Investment Opportunity” which presented a portfolio of prints based on scans of my hair, one gold portfolio containing color prints of my blonde hair and one silver portfolio containing black and white prints. I see the “Investment Opportunity” and the Thematic Posters, in their representation of value variations, as an opportunity to consider how art and artists are collected and valued.
MM: This exhibition builds around the notion of schadenfreude, i.e. the joy derived from the misfortunes of others. Why did you decide to deal with this topic?
DN: As a statistical phenomenon, regression toward the mean is also associated with “second-year syndrome” and “the sophomore slump”. I’ve been considering the “sophomore album” and the projections we might be placing on performers or other producers. When we perceive someone’s diminishing success, we may actually be seeking the experience of schadenfreude. When the value judgment is placed on the production of art or some other form of cultural expression, it is difficult to attribute it to the statistical phenomenon or a desire within ourselves. The investment of art largely operates within set conditions that determine value and affect what, by extension, will be valued by others. Within these conditions, it’s difficult to determine what is “true” and what is “untrue.”
Until May 24. The gallery is located at 515 Broadway between Broome and Spring streets, New York. Opening hours are 11am-6pm Tuesday though Saturday.
MICHAEL CLIFTON & MICHAEL BENEVENTO AND D´ETTE NOGLE PRESENT REGRESSING TO MEAN – CLIFTON BENEVENTO NEW YORK, 2014 – INSTALLATION VIEW
MICHAEL CLIFTON & MICHAEL BENEVENTO AND D´ETTE NOGLE PRESENT REGRESSING TO MEAN – CLIFTON BENEVENTO NEW YORK, 2014 – INSTALLATION VIEW
|Written by our friends at ATPdiary.com in colaboration with Matteo Mottin|
- Written by Calíope Garmendia
You don’t make a such a discovery every day. Not long ago I picked up a random stranger, unknown to most, with a growing influence on national art circles. My encounter with him happened out of pure chance, but that’s a whole other story. His name is Íñigo Navarro.
Here’s the conversation we had in full: it’s certainly worth a read.
“May I come in?”, I said timidly from the corner of the studio.
“Just a moment, I’m getting dressed!”
“Oh goodness me, ‘getting dressed’?”. Navarro appeared a couple of minutes later wearing a leopard-skin dressing gown and a dazzled expression.
“Holy Mary, you’re beautiful! Are you a goddess?” Before answering him, I grabbed the can of pepper spray that I always carry in my jacket. He looked harmless enough, but you can never be completely sure with artists.
“Well… I’m Calíope, Calíope Garmendia.”
“And what have you come here for, Calíope Garmendia?”
“I was curious, I wanted to find out more about you and your work. What were you doing there naked, anyway?”
“I was exploring my body.”
“OK, never mind…”
“Oh no, no no no, it’s not what you think… I have a friend who’s a performance artist… How can I put this? He undresses in inappropriate places, like the men’s toilet of a bar — there’s always someone who gets angry and ends up attacking him. He then goes back to his studio and takes photographs of his wounds. He puts the photographs together in series of five and sends them off to his gallery in Cologne, who pay him handsomely for them. He believes that an artist simply resides in a body, and that knowledge of one’s own body is absolutely essential. I personally am very interested in the conceptual relevance of my work, which is why I spend a lot of time carefully studying each single element of them.”
“This friend of yours seems interesting, perhaps I could interview him too.”
“Of course — I’ll put you two in touch as soon as he’s out of the hospital.”
“What? On second thought, forget it, let’s get down to business. I want to talk about you. I can see that your studio is full of your work, and some pieces are very large. For example, how big is this one over here?”
“Three metres tall. Actually, I think it’s too small. I’m preparing a large event in Ávlia, with more than a hundred models, and I want to have the models in the foreground look like they’re life-size. This means that my next painting will need to measure four metres by eight.”
“The models will be in fancy dress, right?”
“It’s a ceremony, an interpretation of the exotic cruelty that’s all around us. Would you like to take part?”
“Not for now, thanks. Could you tell me more about these anthropological digressions you just mentioned?”
“Of course. What I meant was that we still celebrate the bloody bull runs of Pamplona, we send enxanetas to the top of the Castells (human towers) without fear of their death, atheists shed tears accompanying the Macarena, we walk bare-foot over burning coals, parents happily buy their children fireworks to celebrate the mascletades, among many other peculiarities.”
“Spain has changed a great deal.”
“It’s certainly true that we have changed, and we’re many other things now, but these other things, which can in fact be found everywhere else in the world, don’t interest me as much. Nor do I think they are particularly interesting from an artistic point of view. This is exactly what globalization in art is about, a conceptual homogeneity that is terribly harmful to creativity.”
“Is this why you paint?”
“Actually, yes. Spanish painting education is world-renowned. If we can learn something from the relentless tautology that is contemporary art discourse, it is that there is no technique that is superior to others. By choosing painting over newer artistic media, I do away with all the showy, technological factors that new media bring with them, and in so doing I can get straight to the core idea that I want to express. And paradoxically, I also distance myself from institutional tendencies, from contemporary academicism.”
“What is that idea?”
“Fatality. Whatever we may do in life, we end up dead. I’m interested in everything we do to fill our days until our time comes to die. Deciding to occupy one’s time with such an old activity as painting can be considered a joke or something extremely important — it’s ambiguous. I personally don’t fear death.”
“Of course not; I’m convinced that death is not final. In fact, I can prove it to you mathematically. Would you like me to show you?”
“No, thank-you! By saying that “death is not final”, are you not contradicting your beliefs in fatality?”
“Well… no. I’m generalizing. Here in the West, we are living in the best time that we’ve ever seen, yet I think we can see symptoms of decadence. Materialism is the new God, and this brings its own dangers. People’s greatest fear is death. This has never happened before in the history of humanity, and its consequences on our daily lives — let alone on art — are far more serious than we think.”
“Are you saying, then, that belief in God is a prerequisite for creating great art?”
“No, certainly not, but it does help. You can’t just make something exceptional by sitting around. You need to invest many hours of hard work without the certainty that you will be rewarded with a great piece of work. Some kind of faith — any kind, it doesn’t really matter which — is required in order to overcome this phase without falling into materialist temptations. Would you like a coffee?”
“I’ll put one on for myself, if you don’t mind.”
“Many artists find it difficult to talk about their work, but you don’t seem to have any trouble doing so.”
“On the contrary, I love talking about the work I do. I spend hours on the phone talking to my colleagues about art, like an excited teenager. Perhaps something I don’t do is explain my work in detail. The only way I can explain my work is by exhibiting it. I create my work for it to be shown — that is how it reaches its expressive peak. At one of my exhibitions, Scope London, a gentleman from Bristol got so emotional at the sight of one of my photos that he couldn’t help but relax his sphincter muscles.”
“Oh my goodness.”
“He farted so loudly that he ended up buying two photographs”.
“Poor man. I have never felt so honoured by a visitor’s reaction to my work as I was then.”
“Who are your references?”
“In terms of writers, Conrad, Kennedy Toole, Sharpe, Amélie Nothom. In terms of artists, I’d single out two, among the many that I like: Velázquez — not only for his clear technical ability, but also for his sensitivity and worldliness — and Antonio López, for what he taught me in his workshop and for being a true artist, full of energy and love towards painting. If I had to pick a soul-mate in the art world, I’d choose Berlanga, the late film director, God bless him.”
“A film director!”
“Berlanga was a genius story-teller, without ever taking away the mystery that is always present in a work of art. That’s my leitmotiv: to express myself, and to be understood, without losing the magic.”
“What are you working on now? What will you do with all this work in the studio?”
“What you see here are four years of research. In these four years I have tried to understand what it is that I do best, and how to express it. It’s a complex and ambitious project, and I aspire to immortality.”
“You’re certainly not modest, are you?!”
“It’s been a pleasure.”
“The pleasure is all mine. It’s rare to be visited by one of the nine muses from the distant city of Argos.”
To learn more about this fascinating artist, visit www.inigonavarro.es.