We interviewed artist Anri Sala (Tirana, 1974) on the occasion of the exhibition AS YOU GO, designed for the spaces on the third floor of Castello di Rivoli, the project presents three interwoven film works: Ravel, Ravel (2013), Take Over (2017) and If and only if (2018). The films unfold in the form of a “parade,” with a flow of moving images and multiple narratives which create a unique and gigantic sculpture in movement.
Lara Morrell: The title of the exhibition AS YOU GO alludes to something in motion. By composing separate works one after another, like you have in this show, how are they transformed?
Anri Sala: I see the exhibition as a parade of sorts, merging aspects of a walkway with qualities of a conveyor belt. The visitor may choose to either stick to one place and let the exhibition pass by in front of them or to walk along with the pace of the work or to go faster or by going with or against the flow. I was also interested that it induce a feeling of Déjà vu against a feeling of ubiquity and omnipresence in time, as well as a feeling of repetition, but also that of progress.
In terms of the relationship between the distinct works; I did not edit the films as such but installed them so that they move along each other, I was interested in how they approach or catch up with one other and how one film leaves behind another film. In the case of Ravel Ravel, which stages the films of two different pianists (Louis Lortie and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet) playing the Concerto in D for the Left Hand by Maurice Ravel, you have one pianist pass by behind the lead of the other pianist and then leave the room until it reappears again. The whole piece is about a shifting interval and temporal lag between the two pianists but this space of difference, once temporal, translates into a spacial interval, as the distance between the two films increases before it decreases again. The exhibition in general is very much about making the intervals visible, by inducing the impression of an echo.
LM: Visitors are welcomed with the piece Bridges in the Doldrums (2016), which definition of the word Doldrum does this title refer to? The equatorial area of the Atlantic Ocean where direction is suspended or a state of depression? Regarding Bridges what is it about this specific transition period in a song that you were drawn to?
AS: I’m referring to the definition of Doldrums in terms of the weather condition, the state of stagnation that usually recedes a climatic depression, the moment when things are still and it is uncertain when a change will come. Bridges on the other hand refers to the transitional part of song, when nearing its end, just after the verse and just before the last chorus, leading to the coda. I find this interesting musically, because usually it creates a moment of alienation and suspense, for example if the songs slow usually the bridge is twice as fast or if the song is fast the bridge is usually twice as slow, producing a moment of alienation which makes the listener more aware of what has been heard before, making him more present in the song, attracting ones attention whilst also suspending ones expectation. You think you have a sense of a song but then the bridge arrives and leads you in another direction before bringing you home in the end, back to the chorus and to a sense of familiarity. I find this moment of suspension very daring, it is very difficult to write a bridge for a song and as such they are a species in extinction nowadays.
For this piece I worked together with a friend of mine Andre Vida, we selected around 75 songs coming from very different genres, epochs and geographies. They have been arranged one after the other according to their BPM, so there is an ever increasing sense of speed and pace in the installation and music, the fact that one of these bridges do not lead us to the chorus of their own songs but to the bridge of another song leaves one in a state of never-ending alienation. Some of these bridges come from unknown or lesser known songs whilst others come from very well known songs. In the case of the bridges from well known songs, for instance a bridge that comes from a Beatles, David Bowie orMadonna song, by the fact that they are well known and are followed by lesser known songs , they consequently become like a chorus because all of a sudden one recognises them and this produces a sense of anchorage, an escape from this ever transitional space.
LM: Could you tell me more about the interactions between the two Anthems, the Marseillaise and the Internationale in Take Over and their connotations? Also the machine versus human agency dichotomy?
AS: They have a common political and cultural history, for 17 years the lyrics of the Internationale, when they were written in 1871, were set to the tune of the Marseillaise, until 1888 when its original music was composed. So for 17 years one sang the Internationale with the melody of the Marseillaise, which means that when the music of the Internationale was finally composed, the melody of the Marseillaise was already engraved in people’s memory.
The starting point that interested me most was how both anthems have drifted on the political landscape, floating across history with an ever changing symbolic significance and an evolving identity. Feelings towards them depends very much on the subjectivity of the listener and the viewer.
In regards to the machine versus human agency, there are two elements; the human pianist alongside a self playing piano. So the piano becomes the playing field where some notes are played by the piano itself and sometimes they are played by the hands of the Pianist, so there is a dichotomy between Marseillaise and the Internationale and human player versus the self playing machine.
LM: Both in Take Over and Ravel Ravel the keyboard is the central visual player, what does the visual architecture of the keyboard represent to you?
AS: The length of piano keyboard represents at 360 degrees the Western imagination of musical sound, it represents its whole horizon, in terms of classical music it is encapsulated there. The piano is the architecture par excellence of the western imagination of musical sound, but when it comes to Take Over there is a whole part where the piano is playing by itself, before one becomes aware that there is a human presence, there are a couple of minutes where all the notes of the keyboard play at once in a cluster, then eventually some of them start playing in blocks, then singularly, then clusters that start to break down and you see some of these blocks moving up and down, alluding to a city skyline or a landscape of peaks and valleys; the architecture of the keyboard.
LM: If and Only seems to focus on the collaboration between human and non-human and the transformation of music as an outcome. What does the role of the Snail emphasise in the music?
I don’t think it emphasise anything particularly in the music, the music is the matter in the making and in the becoming. The very presence of the snail and its weight (which appears to be non existent) makes a difference to the playing of the music, before it can even be seen as a metaphor it is a real thing, its presence is there in the music. To me this a lot like a road movie, a film about a journey, not only that of the snail but that of the listener as it listens to the music of the Elegy. The Elegy of the snail helps elongate the Elegy so it becomes a tangible part of the musical composition, the snail’s location and pace compel the viola player to compose with it, resulting in a tactile interaction between the violist Gérard Caussé and the snail. Caussé encourages it to pause or change the relation between certain notes so that all the notes are such as they were written on Stravinsky’s score but the spaces between them change, thanks to the elasticity that the snail brings. It essentially stretches the music which originally lasts 5 and a half minutes yet it takes 8 minutes for the snail to cross the full length of the viola bow.
LM: Where did the idea of snail come from?
AS: At first it was simply the idea of a snail on a bow, whether a viola or a violin and its only later the idea came to me of The Elegy, it was the snail that prompted the idea, I knew I wanted to make a road movie along the length of a bow and then speaking with friends I became aware of Stravinsky’s Elegy for Viola, a slow piece so that the snail could withstand the journey, the Elegy by nature being a slow piece made it possible for the snail to be part of it.
LM: Your primary medium is video, are there any particular directors who have been of influence at any point in your career?
AS: I must say that my moments of inspiration or influence are mostly extra-artistic, meaning they come from territories that come from outside the ‘art world’, having said that cinema is an art which interests me. I made a piece inspired by one of Michelangelo Antonioni’s unfilmed scripts for which he only wrote a couple of very short dialogues.
Then in another project of mine ‘Why The Lion Roars (2009)’ I selected around 57 feature films from different genres and countries according to the feeling of temperature that it conveyed for every Celsius degree from minus 11°C to 45°C, I picked these either by scientific means, by subjective feelings or because someone had told me thats how it was during the shooting. It was a single channel screen connected to a thermometer measuring the outside weather that simultaneously edits the film programme which changes in correspondence to the actual outdoor temperature by one degree, the films cut into each other with the slightest temperature change, so in the end the evolving story is dictated by the temperature of that day.
LM: You represented France in the 55th Art Biennale, you are part of a group show Luogo e Segni at Punta Della Dogana opening next month. Our studio is based in Venice, could you tell us a little more about your experiences there.
AS: I have indeed been to Venice a number of times, the longest time I stayed there was when I was preparing my project for the French Pavilion, both in terms of the installation of the exhibition but also the final mixing for Ravel Ravel, onsite with my sound designer Olivier Goinard. There is something synaesthetic about it when you are in these intervals which do not correspond to save-the-date moments, I like the moments of ‘the low tides’, in terms of tourists and also in terms of events, it is then that one starts developing their own daily rituals, there is something very magic about these low tides in Venice. Then the high tides might lead to “aqua alta” but there is something nice about that too. Regarding ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ I think its a very interesting title, but I once I see the exhibition is when I’ll start thinking about it.
LM: What are you working on at the moment?
AS: I am currently preparing two exhibitions, one in October in Luxembourg at Mudam and then in November, another solo exhibition, in Santander at Centro Botin. Right now I am working more on the putting together aspect.
- Still from Take Over
- Still from Ravel Ravel
- Still from If and Only
- Bridges in the Doldrums
- Anri Sala. Photograph courtesy of Kaldor Public Art Projects