Palermo - Interviews

The Body of Energy: Blanca de la Torre in Conversation with Stefano Cagol

2 days ago

During the opening of Manifesta 12 in Palermo Stefano Cagol realised a large scale projection on the façade of the former monastery in Piazza Magione. He is also taking part in the group show “Cassata Drone”  which runs until September 21st – alongside works by Maria D.Rapicavoli and Raqs Media Collective. The curator Blanca de la Torre has interviewed Stefano Cagol to find out more about his different projects in Palermo.

Blanca de la Torre: You decided to work in one of the most iconic squares in the city and also the location of the Manifesta 12 headquarters, a piazza that is in fact not a real square but the negation of a urban settlement at the core of an overlapping of memories and cultures. Could you tell us about your interaction with this special location?

Stefano Cagol: In Palermo I presented “TBOE. The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, a project that is continuously evolving and is always in dialogue with the environment. I decided to interact with my own body heat and with the wall of the centuries-old monastery, the former Convento della Sapienza that survived demolition, now alone in the middle of Piazza Magione. I started an exchange with the empty building, giving it back my energy – “the ‘warmth character’  creates chaos and love”, as Veit Loers wrote about “TBOE”. I embrace the ancient edifice, moving my hands over the bricks and the empty windows with grills, touching the surface with warm hands and cold ice, and leave invisible traces that become evident and prolonged tuning the vision into infrared waves (here a videoclip). I visualise heat as an expression of energy, of life. I bring to light the exchange of energy between people and the environment as a metaphor for the persistence of our passage, of our actions and choices.
This is what art does: it offers different visions and gives out energy. The action of making visible warmth and energy – Andreas Beitin states about the project – “can also be viewed from a sociopolitical perspective because it also figuratively reveals the force within the individuals of a society”. Tobia Bezzola describes “TBOE” as a “thermopoetic research”, while Andrea Viliani as “a research-based manifestation of exorcism, a technology-driven exercise in sorcery, a social-oriented act of faith or, finally, just a simple revelation of basic contemporary digital… ghosts”.

Blanca de la Torre: You were invited to participate in Manifesta 12 by the Danish nomadic curatorial platform Arts & Globalization in “Art & Connectography. Remapping the Global World through Art Practice”, curated by Rikke Jørgensen and Valentina G. Levy, also part of the collateral events, but you stated that “TBOE” is an on-going project. Could you tell us how this project came about? And why did you decide to bring it to Palermo?

SC: I presented the project “TBOE” to the VISIT programme of the Innogy Foundation and received the VISIT #10 award in 2014 with the idea of dealing with energy, a term already used by Aristotle in philosophy but a concept elaborated in physics just in 1619 by Kepler in his “Harmonice Mundi” because it is as important, vital, present, as it is invisible, immaterial, intangible. So I started an expedition in scanning and giving shape to energy exchanges, I realised this with the support of the Foundation as a transnational travelling project that crossed Europe from Norway to Gibraltar, presenting the project in many museums and interacting in each venue, with the public and with the environment encountered along the way. After this first, intense phase I decided to continue and develop the “TBOE” experience and Innogy Foundation chose to support my participation in Manifesta 12. I received support also from Autonomous Province of Trento – a rendez vous for the region that hosted Manifesta 7. I also collaborated with KaOZ, the venue of Arts & Globalization for Manifesta, from where I made the impressive projection.

BdlT: You are also participating in Cassata Drone”. What are you presenting there? Could you tell us about the venue and your interaction with it? Did you realise any performances, which I know is usually part of you practice?

SC: The exhibition “Cassata Drone was conceived by g.o.stuppia, and curated by Giovanni Rendina. The venue was completely unexpected: an apartment on the sixth floor of an early twentieth-century building in the district of the Kalsa. I decided to project my “TBOE” visions onto the walls creating an exchange with the landscape. I used special screens to block the sunlight but not the view to the sea from the arched windows and projected the video with infrared images: a silent dance slightly touching a building of the same age of the venue and the wild and crazy graffiti drawn invisibly with snow by the Norwegian students on the wall of a school, revealed by the infrared eye.

According to the method of developing “TBOE” in progress on a site and time specific basis, I also realised an improvised performance in Piazza Borsa with the students of the Istituto Comprensivo Arenella of Palermo.

BdlT: I think you were precursor of what is now the critique of anthropocentrism, a theoretical line that has become very influential in art, while you were already working on this direction a decade ago. Actually, I see that some of your projects connect to the idea of the so-called “hyperobjects” described by Timothy Morton, one of the main thinkers of the OOO (Object Oriented Ontology), who intersected this 21st-century philosophy with ecological issues. I refer to your striking participation at the 55th Venice Biennale with a melting ice block, but also to “Bird Flu Vogelgrippe” 2006. Could you tell us more about your vision?

SC: I confront diverse global issues, intersecting politics, ethics, science, history, culture, nature from an individual yet broad point of view. I’m pleased you recall “Bird Flu Vogelgrippe”, as I consider it a critical moment in the course of my research. I drew upon the fear of pandemic which came about in 2006 surrounding the avian influenza. Mass media generated the alarm and the virus in my artwork became a metaphor for the “hyperinfluence” of the media. Crossing the Mitteleuropa, from the Italian Alps, I arrived at the 4th Berlin Biennale with a white van with black capital letters: “Bird Flu Vogelgrippe”. The van was empty; the topic was heated. The day after my arrival all the headlines in Berlin read “Vogelgrippe im Berlin”. Was it the “real” flu arriving or was it “mine”? I am drawn to these multilayered visions/messages that are totalising in their simplicity and always have an ecological undercurrent.

BdlT: As a result of this holistic vision, your practice is full of oxymora: you pass from a powerful light beam, recalling “The End of the Border” winning the Terna prize, to the invisible traces of energy you visualised in Palermo, and from ice to fire referring to “The Ice Monolith” and to the video with the Arctic on fire exhibited in the occasion of the COP23-UN Climate Change Conference at the Ministry for the Environment in Berlin. Could you tell us more about your practice? What tools do you use in order to engage with the public?

SC: I work on borders: both physical and mental, borders between personal and public opinion, between humankind and nature. The idea of border is in my DNA as I grow up in Switzerland, a melting pot nation, and was born in Trentino South Tyrol, a cross-border region. My tools are both technology and nature. I force the limits of the engagement of the public and of the institutions, using propaganda, playing in the public space, including the transnational travelling process in the projects. And involving the monolithic museums in-progress, “on-the-road”. This attitude has been connected by Jeni Fulton to the Institutional Critique and referring to my practice she coined the definition “activist aesthetics”.

BdlT: What’s next? Any other projects planned?

SC: With a new project titled “The Walls Book, I will participate in the Off Biennale Cairo opening at the beginning of November; the chief curator is Simon Njami, artistic director Moataz Nasr and curator of my section Valentina G. Levy. In Cairo the wall is taken as the extreme and the most evident symptom of borders. Both the impassable barriers and the invisible borders on maps are drawn by the most powerful one, try to force the balance, to write a preferred history, to underline the prominence. A series of images of border barriers around the world – e.g. in Cyprus, Belfast, Tijuana, Israel – are modified in a radical black and white vision that removes the geographical identity of the specific wall and underlines the pure essence of the division. They are printed on billboards and hung in public spaces in different areas of Cairo – “walls on walls”. After Cairo I will deal with a very amazing building: the Reggia di Caserta, more details coming soon. Then I’m working on a project in Kochi during the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and I am present also in two on-going exhibitions, both in Germany: the grand inaugural exhibition “Aftermieter. Lodgers curated by Veit Loers at the new Haus Mödrath in Kerpen-Cologne on view until November 15 and the exhibition “All’idea di quel metallo” curated by Peter Ungeheuer in Berlin at VDB – Verband Deutscher Bürgschaftsbanken until April, 2019. In the frame of the latter exhibition I will do a solo special screening on September 29 during the Berlin Art Week.

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Stefano Cagol, 2018, Haus Mödrath, Kerpen Stefano Cagol, 2018, Haus Mödrath, Kerpen
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, large scale projection, Piazza Magione, Palermo Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, large scale projection, Piazza Magione, Palermo
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, large scale projection, Piazza Magione, Palermo Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, large scale projection, Piazza Magione, Palermo
  • From the right: Blanca de la Torre, Stefano Cagol, Giulia Pilieci (Arts & Globalization team), “Art & Connectography”, Manifesta 12 collateral, June 16, 2018, Piazza Magione, Palermo From the right: Blanca de la Torre, Stefano Cagol, Giulia Pilieci (Arts & Globalization team), “Art & Connectography”, Manifesta 12 collateral, June 16, 2018, Piazza Magione, Palermo
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, propaganda, badges, edition of 1000, Piazza Magione, Palermo Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, propaganda, badges, edition of 1000, Piazza Magione, Palermo
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, badges, edition of 1000 Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, badges, edition of 1000
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, installation view, “Cassata Drone”, Palermo Stefano Cagol, “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, 2018, installation view, “Cassata Drone”, Palermo
  • Stefano Cagol, “Stars & Stripes. Redouble”, 2013, installation view, “Aftermieter / Lodgers”, Haus Mödrath, Kerpen Stefano Cagol, “Stars & Stripes. Redouble”, 2013, installation view, “Aftermieter / Lodgers”, Haus Mödrath, Kerpen
  • Stefano Cagol, New Experiments on Vacua, 2016, photo, “All’idea di quel metallo”, VDB, Berlin Stefano Cagol, New Experiments on Vacua, 2016, photo, “All’idea di quel metallo”, VDB, Berlin
  • Stefano Cagol, “The Walls Book”, 2018, billboards, Off Biennale Cairo Stefano Cagol, “The Walls Book”, 2018, billboards, Off Biennale Cairo
Berlin - Interviews

Berlin from an Artist’s Perspective: An Interview with Jeewi Lee

3 days ago

On the occasion of Art Berlin and the Berlin Art Week, we interviewed artist Jeewi Lee to learn more about her practice and her perspective on the city art scene. Jeewi (b. 1987, Seoul) is currently artist resident at Villa Romana in Florence and has just opened a new show at Sexauer gallery in Berlin.

Mara Sartore: Let’s start with the exhibition that is opening just before the start of the Berlin Art Week at Sexauer gallery. The show investigates the history of your homeland, South Korea, and its division from the North. Could you tell us about this body of work and the creative process behind it?

Jeewi Lee: For my project “Incision” I refer to specific periods of my country Korea’s past, which simultaneously reveal the everyday life of the people. I used an ancient Asian technique to make paper prints of Korean trees that are rooted precisely on the 38th parallel. The age of the trees was a relevant criterion since I tried to choose trees that grew before the division of the region in 1945. By their very nature, trees are unable to leave their homeland by themselves.  For me, they function as metaphorical living testimonies of the 1945 division. As the central line of demarcation, the 38th parallel also constitutes a manifestation of the complex Korean conflict. 

I pinned ten equally distributed points along this line, five of those points are located in South Korea and five in North Korea due to border policies. The fact that I am not able to enter North Korea and therefore the work is „not completed“ on five points, is an important conceptional element in my work. It represents the on going political situation.
As for the 
five points in South Korea, I chose trees that met my criteria of age and location to make Hanji prints of them, using the traditional Korean printing technique of Takbon. These prints of their barks symbolise “fingerprints” of the trees as witnesses to the history of the division. The artistic translation of the line through my prints represent for me a visualisation of my home country’s ever-present wound.

M.S.: Your main focus in your practice are everyday human traces, which can also be seen as traces of history which we can basically see as traces of our history. How do you apply this interest to your art? Which are your favorite tools of exploration?

J.L: I have been working on an artistic cycle of works that deal with the visibility of traces for several years. In my work, I focus on human traces as well as historical ones, that inscribe themselves on various materials and so bear witness to history. The traces provide conclusive evidence of something or someone’s existence. I often use traces and leftovers as pictorial elements because they are visually minimalistic and abstract but contain elements of narrative and time, which I find very interesting.

M.S.: You are currently working in Florence as part of the Villa Romana award which you received in 2018. Could you tell us about the residency and the project you’re working on? How do you spend your lifetime in Florence? 

J.L: That might be the question I´ve been asked the most this year. Florence is very enriching and to be at the Villa Romana is the greatest gift to my art production. The city is filled with history and traces and as with the old Villa, which has existed as an art institution since 1905.  One of the latest work I did this month is “Impianto II“. “Impianto” is a project, where I interfere directly with the architecture, especially with the facades of buildings by filling in the blanks or replacing ‘missing parts’ with marble that is considered a traditional and valuable material. Highlighting the blank-space and referring to its time and story – an intended revaluation. I was inspired by my stay in Florence, where I got the chance to observe and study a culture and society that emphasises and cultivates the preservation and revitalisation of the past. I question the value system and the meaning of restoration work.  

Right now, I am working on an intense research based installation. I was inspired by hangers left in the wardrobes at Villa Romana. Hangers represent the human body.  Metaphorically  they carry our everyday life, but are always locked back in the closet. I noticed some parallels between a closet and an archive system. The Villa Romana archive has got a lot of private photos and letters from the former artist, showing their everyday life during the residency.  All these documents are sorted in closed folders in book shelfs. Since every artist is questioning every year, who used to work in earlier days in their studio space, I decided to track back traces from my studio room named “Toscana“.
I am producing by my own wooden hangers and engrave on each of them the artists name who worked and lived in my studio. Since there is no documentation about who was in which studio in the Villa, I started my research from archive materials, old catalogues and private contacts.

M.S.: You studied painting at the Berlin University of the Arts and divide your time between Seoul and Berlin. What is your relationship with the city of Berlin? Does the city itself inspire your work? 

J.L: I grew up both in Berlin and Seoul. My parents are also artists and they studied at University of the Arts Berlin when I was a kid. So Berlin feels like home for me. To have two places I feel home is very inspiring and enriching itself. I am bringing materials form Korea to Germany and ideas from Germany to Korea. Thank to this situation I always have a heightened awareness of my surroundings.

M.S.: We’ve recently published My Art Guide Seoul / Gwangju / Busan a paper guide dedicated to the biennales that are currently running in the Republic of South Korea and we’ve explored a new artistic panorama. Now we are coming back to Europe with the Berlin Guide. How do you perceive these two realities in terms of art scene and cultural ground? 

J.L.: This is a very difficult question, since it is impossible to reflect upon this objectively and it is very complex. The art scene and the cultural ground is very different in those two cities, since cultural development and the understanding of society differs. One thing I can say for sure is that I hope that the arts in Korea have more visibility and presence with society.

M.S.: My Art Guides likes to recommend to its readers unique places to visit in each destination, not necessarily connected to contemporary art, in your opinion, what are the absolutely unmissable places, landmarks and spots in Berlin? And would you recommend something not to be missed during the Berlin Art Week?

J.L.:  I love to walk through the Museum Insel at night in Berlin, when the amazing buildings and the streets empty and the tourists disappear – it has a very special atmosphere. Sitting at the waterfront in the dark gives you a totally different perspective of Berlin compared to that of the daytime. Everybody in Berlin loves Tempelhofer Feld. So do I. It is very refreshing to have such a huge public space with no buildings around in a metropole such as Berlin. I would recommend going there early in the morning, before it gets crowded or on warm, windy days I really enjoy going there. Not far from there, there is a exhibition space called Kindl – Centre for Contemporary Art, which has nice shows and architecturally speaking, it is amazing too. If I have to recommend another art space, I would say Haus am Waldsee. It is an art institution, which is in Zehlendorf – a small distance from the city centre but they have wonderful exhibitions and also being surrounded by nature after seeing an exhibition is quite nice too. In Berlin there are so many nice bars. Especially, the old school ones, called “Kneipen” in German. Unfortunately due to gentrification in Berlin they are slowly disappearing but if you look carefully you can still find them. One of my favourites is Zum kleinen Mohr (even the name is terribly politically incorrect) and Lützowstübchen in Schöneberg. If you are in Schöneberg, of course you shouldn’t miss Kumpelnest. Combining Kumpelnest with Victoria Bar is even nicer. The most important landmarks in Berlin in my opinion, which are disappearing over time, are the abandoned buildings. Despite the gentrification in Berlin, there are still some blank spaces in the city, which define the character of this city and you should keep your eyes open for them. 

Mara Sartore

  • Jeewi Lee © Kira Bunse Jeewi Lee © Kira Bunse
  • Jeewi Lee, Jeewi Lee, "Inzision", 2018 © Mischa Leinkauf, Courtesy of the artist
  • Jeewi Lee, Jeewi Lee, "Inzision", Making of © Mischa Leinkauf, Courtesy of the artist
  • Jeewi Lee, Jeewi Lee, "Impianto II", © Marcus Schneider, Courtesy of the artist
  • Jeewi Lee, Jeewi Lee, "Impianto II", © Marcus Schneider, Courtesy of the artist
Seoul - Interviews

The Urban Acupuncture Method: an Interview with Seung H-Sang

3 weeks ago

Mara Sartore: In 2002 the Korea National Museum of Contemporary of Art selected you as artist of the year, being an architect what did the acceptance of this prize mean to you? Which are in your vision the main links between art and architecture and how these merge in your work, if they do?

Seung H-Sang: It has been the first and last that an architect was awarded Artist of the Year Prize by National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Thanks to winning the prize, I was able to hold the first solo exhibition under the name of “urban void” at MMCA. In a Korean society, where architecture had been mostly recognised as a part of real estate or economy, this event was a good opportunity to raise the people’s awareness of architecture as culture and art. For me, also, it boosted my interest in publicity of architecture.

MS: You have been the first City Architect of Seoul from 2014 and played a fundamental role in the city’s architectural development. What was your main aim and what did you achieve?

SHS: In the past, Korea faced economic development as a challenge of the times and focused on construction while considering a quantitative perspective more than a qualitative one. Since my inauguration as the city architect, Seoul has been trying to shift its focus from construction to architecture by urban regeneration policy rather than redevelopment, by “Urban Acupuncture”, which affects surroundings via small-scale intervention, rather than master plan, which does everything at once. In addition, Seoul is concentrating on connecting fragmented parts of the city rather than building a landmark. Above all, the most important thing is to help the citizens understand and engage in the projects while creating urban environments together. To do so, it revised commissional process of all the projects, gave more opportunity to young architects to participate in the projects and hosted the first Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017 to promote exchanges with other cities.

MS: How Seoul has changed in the last 15 years, could you point out some positive and negative aspects? Do you think a similar process has happened also in other Korean cities as Gwangju and Busan?

SHS: Seoul is a historic city with more than thousand years of history and has a billion of population and dynamic topography made up of mountains and rivers. Also, it has become the capital city of Korea for more than 600 years and would become a hub of Eurasia railway if the two Koreas were united. In the past, Seoul followed the conventional urban design theory, already thrown out in the world including the West and pursued a plain city, losing its identity. However, unlike architecture, which someday collapses and disappears, mountains and rivers are still there in Seoul, leaving room for regaining Seoul’s identity. Of course, it would be difficult for Seoul to restore itself in a short period of time, but an important thing is to share the awareness of Seoul’s identity and revise the principals and systems to maintain related policies.

MS: You are linked to Seoul, Busan and Gwangju for different reasons and projects you have worked on, could you tell us how is the contemporary art scene in these there cities and the main differences between them?

SHS: Busan began to develop in modern times and was used as a base port by Japan for its invasion of Korean peninsula. During the Korean war, moreover, many refugees fled to Busan. All these things created a unique scenery of Busan. Since Busan has sea and ports, its cityscape and people’s spirits stand apart from those of other cities. Gwangju is a city where culture started to advance a long time ago. Also, it has the highest level of democratic spirit and human rights through the May 18th Democratic Uprising against military dictatorship. On the other hand, Seoul has all the urban factors and it is still rapidly changing. Likewise, these three cities have different characteristics. Of course, artists from these cities have different artistic tendencies.

MS: My Art Guides are always suggesting to readers some special place to visit in each destination, not necessarily connected only to contemporary art, what are your not to be missed places, landmarks and spots in Seoul, Busan and in Gwangju?

SHS: We need to look at Minjung (meaning public) Art in Seoul. In the modern times, left-wing artists who protested the dictatorship drew a resistance spirit. Therefore, their works may be of great importance. Of course, it is also significant that shantytowns for people kicked out of city have been revitalised through urban regeneration. Haundae and other areas which are intensively developed by Busan are losing their identity. We should focus on original downtown. Regeneration of original downtown would ultimately promote Busan’s identity and towns on hills, the hinterland of sea, have strong potential. Furthermore, Gwangju boasts great traditional art. We should not only pay attention to Korea’s unique traditional art but also look at the fact that this has a lot to do with our daily lives such as music and food.

Mara Sartore

  • Seung H-Sang , Courtesy of IROJE architects&planners Seung H-Sang , Courtesy of IROJE architects&planners
Caribbean - Interviews

The Brand New Caribbean Art Initiative: an Interview with Albertine Kopp

1 month ago

We have recently learned that the Davidoff Art Initiative will end the program by the 31st of December 2018. Albertine Kopp, who has been for the past six years the head of this extremely valuable program, is now committing to continue the work of the initiative, seeking new partners, under a new format and a new name of Caribbean Art Initiative believing the best is yet to come. We have met Albertine to ask her about her experience and her future plans.

Mara Sartore: Could you tell us about your experience of the past five years working with Caribbean artists and in particular could you describe the cultural situation in the region?

Albertine Kopp: The cultural scene in the Caribbean is extremely rich and flourishing. Unfortunately this scene is still underestimated, certainly outside the region but even locally, I think, as if it is not operating at its true potential. This is due to a number of factors. There is no real ecosystem for the arts across the Caribbean that could coalesce the individual efforts in each location and better connect with each respective nation and territory there. There are some very good institutions throughout, but there is a lack of governmental support and hence a lack of visibility for the Caribbean art scene.
With the Davidoff Art Initiative (DAI) we created a platform that helped to grow the interest for the entire region over the past five years. The residency program was the cornerstone of this engagement, and the exchanges that were made possible through this residency, as well as in meeting and working with myriad professionals throughout the Caribbean and internationally, were extremely rich and inspiring.
I am excited to see how many great events and exchanges are happening, even as DAI winds down, and how many new formats for inter- and intra-cultural dialogue, such as Tilting Axis , Curando Caribe or the latest residency for Puerto Rican artitst by Artists Alliance Inc., and Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, in collaboration with Embajada

Mara Sartore: The centerpiece of the Davidoff Art Initiative was the residency program, why are they so important?

Albertine Kopp: From the beginning we wanted to address the lack of visibility. The idea is to offer an opportunity for professional mobility in a different cultural zone while connecting to other artists who could spread the word about the Caribbean region.
To leave one Caribbean island for another one, or even another country, is logistically and financially challenging. With DAI we partnered with different places: with the idea to connect the artists with different local and global cultural networks; providing exposure for research and practice as well as to share creative and critical expertise with peers from around the world.
The experience can be crucial for the artists’ respective practices and make a lot of sense, as they are forced to leave their comfort zone and get encouraged in their development. But think about it, arriving to a place, where you don’t yet know anyone. It forces you to be open-minded, to discover, connect, and create links that one can nurture later through the advancements of social media and technology. I am still dreaming of doing a residency one day myself, I believe the residency is the best possibility to grow without leaving one’s origin forever.

Mara Sartore: In your view what was the most important achievement of the Davidoff Art Initiative (DAI) program?

Albertine Kopp: It has been an extraordinary human adventure. We are a big family, if you want to see it that way. This is also how we call it between artists and friends: the Davidoff Family. There is always a door open and someone within DAI around to support and give advice. Through our global platform, we were able to enhance visibility to the Caribbean art scene and provide a trusted network to all participants and partners. I think we demonstrated how a successful corporate sponsorship programs looks like. In that sense, Davidoff Art Initiative was a proof of concept that demonstrated the successful CSR implementation with mutual benefit to arts as well as the brand. For that, you need to find the right balance between business requirements, the needs of the art program and the human being. Long term it was very important to be credible and build from the beginning a solid program otherwise it would have not been taken seriously by the established arts scene and it would have been only a marketing initiative.
The strength of DAI is that it is centered on the art and artists and that it is open. I’m not sure if it helps to be Swiss and so what we like to say neutral, but the program is neutral within the Caribbean. It belongs to all at the same time. It is about facilitating access, building visibility, and it is open to everyone.

Mara Sartore: Could you mention Caribbean artists that have benefited from the Initiative and started off a successful international career?

Albertine Kopp: The personal engagement behind the program is super important. Without this human engagement, projects like Transeúnte by Jimmy Robert, which occurred both at Altos de Chavón in the Dominican Republic and at Universität der Künste in Berlin, would have never happened.
Also, we were really proud to see Tessa Mars, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, and Christopher Cozier engaging with the Berlin Biennale this year, as well as Engel Leonardo entering the Reina Sofia Permanent Collection in Madrid, and Jesus “Bubu” Negron with Brigada PdT, presenting this community project at the Serpentine in London.
These are only a few example of great success that followed Davidoff resident artists. I could go on for hours, detailing each artist’s activities now… I think the most important memory to recall are all the wonderful and unique friendships and networks that we were able to create over the past years. Without this unique network of over 150 people, all over the world, we would not have built such an initiative.

Mara Sartore: Could you tell us about your new venture: the Caribbean Art Initiative? In which way this will continue your past activities and in what it will be different?

Albertine Kopp: We want to build on previous successes given the huge cultural potential of the entire region. The initiative’s primary focus is on Caribbean arts and artists, including the Caribbean Diaspora. We aim to create an open and active dialogue with artists and institutions around the world.
We want to create opportunities for artists, writers, and curators from the Caribbean region to engage with the world, and for international artists, writers, and curators to engage with the rich and diverse cultural context of the Caribbean. Even more than in the past we would like to promote educational development and community building. In an ideal world a program encompasses residencies, research trips, and platforms for cultural discourse.
We will work with arts institutions and not-for-profits that exhibit and support artists in the Caribbean region, while also participating in international events that foster an interplay between regional and global arts scenes. Not being tied to only one brand will allow us to collaborate with more partners and act truly independent; clearly, this also allows us to be more flexible and address various needs. This is essential, the program should be a long term community oriented venture accessible for everyone.

Mara Sartore: In your vision which is the role the Caribbean can play in the contemporary art scene and how it can grow?

Albertine Kopp: The scene is already growing, if you look at the past exhibitions at the Perez Museum in Miami, or the growing profiles of Caribbean artists in Latin American shows. And of course, there is an interest towards the past as well, such as the latest show at the MASP, “Afro-Atlantic Histories”, with over 20 works on loan from museums across the Caribbean region or from Caribbean artists. International art fairs start to recognize the region too, such as ARCO Madrid inviting last year Sindicato from the Dominican Republic and we look forward this fall to see the program by Sara Hermann for ArtBo.

Mara Sartore: What is the contribution that international initiatives and institutions can bring to the region?

Albertine Kopp: A difficulty in the Caribbean is that support is oftentimes ephemeral, and this is why we are looking with the Caribbean Art Initiative to make this support concrete, evolving, and ultimately long-lasting.
We hope to foster and grow the global network we established over the past five years to achieve something fruitful and reciprocal, and ultimately durable, for the entire region that builds on the potential of all islands. Many international actors are doing business in or with this region. We are starting the discussions and are actively looking at this stage for potential sponsors.
Our concept of collaboration is that is not about the amount of dollars pledged, but much more about committing one-self for the long-term. We understand that business requires adjustment and refocus on sponsoring activities from time to time. But the most successful partnerships are ultimately not short-term. Just think of BMW, Deutsche Bank, LVMH or Migros in Switzerland. Some might want to dismiss it as naïve but our vision is to create a network of new partners and sponsors that share the same goal of supporting the region. We are convinced that the potential for engagement and exchange is huge and can be fruitful.
With the knowhow won over the past five years, we hope to create as we did with the artists’ community, a new sponsor family that shares a similar, long-term interest in the Caribbean and also business activities. We are convinced that the potential for engagement and exchange is huge and can be fruitful. Once we are up and running, we are very open to discuss and incubate new formats of exchange for everyone involved: artists, corporate sponsors, institutions, and everyone individually interested in the Caribbean arts scene.

mara@lightboxgroup.net

  • Albertine Kopp with Andras Szantó (on the left) and Stephen Kaplan (on the right) Albertine Kopp with Andras Szantó (on the left) and Stephen Kaplan (on the right)
  • Transeunte Project by Jimmy Roberts © Alfredo Esteban Photography Transeunte Project by Jimmy Roberts © Alfredo Esteban Photography
  • Inauguration of the construction of the Davidoff Art Studios in Altos de Chavón, 2014 Inauguration of the construction of the Davidoff Art Studios in Altos de Chavón, 2014
  • First tilting Axis in 2014 in Barbados at Fresh Milk First tilting Axis in 2014 in Barbados at Fresh Milk
  • Tessa Mars in Residency in New York with Residency Unlimited © Thisby Cheng Tessa Mars in Residency in New York with Residency Unlimited © Thisby Cheng
  • The Venezuelan Pavilion was designed by architect Alejandro Pietri in 1954 for the Feria de la Paz y la Confraternidad del Mundo Libre (Fair of Peace and Fraternity of the Free World), an international event organised by dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo to mark the 25th year of his rule. The Venezuelan Pavilion was designed by architect Alejandro Pietri in 1954 for the Feria de la Paz y la Confraternidad del Mundo Libre (Fair of Peace and Fraternity of the Free World), an international event organised by dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo to mark the 25th year of his rule.
  • Transeunte Project by Jimmy Roberts © Alfredo Esteban Photography Transeunte Project by Jimmy Roberts © Alfredo Esteban Photography
  • Yornel Elias Martinez in Residency with Atelier Mondial and FHNW Institut der Künste 2017 Yornel Elias Martinez in Residency with Atelier Mondial and FHNW Institut der Künste 2017
  • Jesus Bubu Negron in Residency with Red Gate Residency Beijing 2017 Jesus Bubu Negron in Residency with Red Gate Residency Beijing 2017
  • O’Neil Lawrence, Albertine Kopp, Sara Hermann, Pablo Leon de La Barra, part of the DAI Council during the last Tilting Axis 4 in collaboration with Curando Caribe in the Dominican Republic. O’Neil Lawrence, Albertine Kopp, Sara Hermann, Pablo Leon de La Barra, part of the DAI Council during the last Tilting Axis 4 in collaboration with Curando Caribe in the Dominican Republic.
São Paulo - Interviews

The Art of “Viventes”: an Interview with Laura Lima

2 months ago

On the occasion of her solo show at Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, I’ve interviewed Brazilian artist Laura Lima to learn more about her project, her art and practice and her own vision on São Paulo art scene.

Mara Sartore: Let’s start from “Alfaiataria”( “Tailorshop“), the exhibition currently being shown at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. The development of this project involved you engaging with local tailors from the Bom Retiro neighbourhood. Could you tell us about the creative process behind the project?

Laura Lima: “Tailorshop” was first conceived in 2014 for an exhibition at the Bonnefantenmuseum, in Maastricht, Netherlands. A discussion into painting and portraits and their context is very present in this work. I inaugurated the museum in Netherlands when it was practically empty and the exhibition was being assembled from the moment the portraits were ready, one by one in its time, during the course of the 3 months, by the hands of local tailors working in a temporary tailors installed in the last room of this museum. In this work, the public follows every detail of the construction and if they return to visit the museum, they will always find something new or to reveal itself. The tailors follow the designs I leave as guidelines for each “vestment portrait” they make for the frames. To explain the process, I simply work as a “fashion designer” and they make and solve with their expertise the designs I offer, but in fact, instead of making even anthropomorphic clothes, they make these “clothes” for the frames with which I also determine the shape and colour, and that are always abstract and geometric, and the fabrics chosen also speak about them.

The Pinacoteca is a traditional institution, which was once a Licée of Arts and Crafts, and also because of its surroundings of textile tradition, this work ended up creating a dialogue between the place and surroundings. After some research we came across excellent professionals, both male and female teachers, because the profession is also changing, it’s not essentially male anymore. The portraits are of people I know or have known, of historical figures who do not reveal themselves by their whole name, but only their first name, or also of imaginary figures. I have never met a Crisóstomo, but I have already done his portrait. While Angela, who could be the portrait of an angel is Angela Davis, the philosopher of the Black Panthers. Or it could be any Angela. But not everything I deliver, we must preserve this mystery, a sort of divine gossip. What is the artist talking about? The frame reveals itself in parts depending on the portrait or it hides completely, both the front and back of this work reveals many details although the painting remains two-dimensional. In the moment they are made and before they are to be hung in a museum, the visitor sees their back. But for Pinacoteca, I decided to leave a trainel specially designed for the place, showing everything, still in storage, suggesting the coming of the exhibition, as if it is all simple and purely process. I also like the audience to feel curious, but also slightly intrusive and uncomfortable in disturbing the concentration of tailors. Not everything is delivered.

M.S.: In this exhibition, as well as in many of yours projects, your focus is on the “viventes”, you’re interested in the participatory acts and the everyday experience. Could you tell us about this side of your practice? What tools do you use in order to engage with the public?

L.L.:  It is not participatory art as understood in the 60s and 70s. The “participation” of people in my work is given as matter, the people who are part receive direct instruction and are part of the work, without rehearsal. The artwork does not exist without the people, it’s not a work waiting for the public to happen and to be “activated”. There is a rougher skin that separates these two ideas. Thinking the living as matter can dialogue with other formal issues. Some people associate my production more with a Brazilian sculptural tradition. It may even be a bias. However, it would not fit to say performance-sculpture. I am not interested in the experience of the one who participates (so it’s not like the 60s / 70s), even that being a person participating of the artwork, there is an experience. The living matter that composes the image is only matter, there is no hierarchy between objects (other matters) and the living (people = flesh). Like this we also say that it’s not performance. These nomenclatures (or the act of avoiding certain standard nomenclatures) I have dealt with since the 90s, when I started. Even that I find peers elsewhere discussing the same thing, we still have to develop a broader and more critical text that can respond to these proposed categories at a new time. Lisette Lagnado once called them “instauration,” basing herself on this word invented by Tunga to describe his own work which, according to him, was between the performance and the installation leaving traces. It’s worth thinking that Brazilian art is willing to invent and experiment with concepts that have not yet been fully absorbed and understood, by the internal critical time in its cataloging, much less by the external criticism. Yet, it’s an art with a vast history which has been inventing concepts for decades.

M.S.:  Moving to Italy, you’re the fourth and last recipient of Slight Agitation chapters at Fondazione Prada in Milan. Could you tell us about this collaboration? What about the making of the exhibition? Did you feel comfortable with the Cisterna exhibition space?

L.L:  I was invited by the curator Elvira Dyangani Ose, one of the mentors of the Slight Agitation project designed for the Fondazione Prada’s Cistern. Elvira had seen my work for the first time when I did the exhibition “Naked Magician” at the Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm 4 years ago. We planned the exhibition for 2017. But for many issues in producing the project, we delayed to 2018 and combined an extended period that would cover the whole summer, which was something that interested me, mainly because of one of the artworks was made with astronomers. It was interesting to mature the idea that begins with a research into Pataphysics – the science of imaginary solutions and the laws that regulate exceptions. The questions of the absurdity of existence surround my work, like people pulling giant architectures, projects of exhibitions that navigate over water, etc. Facing tricky architectures is a bit like ‘killing Saturn’. But this becomes an incredible adrenaline to solve spaces like that of Cisterna, for example. I’m already accustomed to this type of invitation.

The space called Cisterna in Fondazione Prada is composed of three very vertical volumes. The verticality there ended up being a choice of work. The exhibition is suggested as a battle or game with the title “Horse takes King”, which would be a chess move, an animal (horse) threatening the status quo (king). In the first volume, a sculpture of a “Bird” (2015) of gigantic proportions dropped on the ground – made in co-authorship with the artist Zé Carlos Garcia – suggests that he struggled until he died. In the middle of the space, the work “Pendulum” (2018), an abstract painting little known of Dali of 1928, “Pescador ao Sol” (to say, a landscape), is hung in a Foucault’s Pendulum. The pendulum is a vertical mathematical and philosophical constant, it is not the pendulum that rotates within an environment, but the earth, that is, the floor of the exhibition space, here also understood as a “board.” The visitor looks at the painting swinging, a change from the contemplative idea. How to look at a moving painting if we are trained to the immobility of this instant with gravity acting on us? Time passes throughout the day, the floor (I mean, the earth) rotates, not the painting that just swings. They are questions of perspective. There is still a third work in this “battle”, “Telescope” (2018), a structure of labyrinthine scaffolding and with stairs that lead to nowhere or to the highest point of the place where there is a telescope pointed to the sky. In this route, the visitor can find astronomy classes taught by real astronomers and questions of recent astronomy. The astronomer will take his visitors students to the top, where the telescope is. The light of day, because it is summer and the night comes late, blinds the telescope, or as we say, turns the day into night.

M.S.: Along with Ernesto Neto and Marcio Botner, you’re co-founder and adviser of A Gentil Carioca, an artist run gallery in Rio de Janeiro. Could you tell us about this initiative and the projects you’re currently working on?

L.L:  The idea of having an art gallery in Rio when we opened 15 years ago had a political purpose and still has. And although most of our artists are from Rio, we did our first exhibition with an artist from Paraiba, Fabiano Gonper and our first buyer was Antônio Dias, another artist. It’s a very symbolic thing for us from Gentil, as we affectionately call the place. We have always wanted to incorporate other projects that would give way to local production and we ended up doing various non-profit works that also define the gallery as the Gentil Wall, the Aldeia for meetings and conversations, the education t-shirts, the crossroad projects etc. In fact, it is in the energy of this crossroad between the two gallery buildings in the popular Saara Center of Rio de Janeiro that much happens and we learn without stopping and know many other languages. We are the only commercial gallery managed by artists to participate in national and international fairs like ArtRio, SPArte, Basel, Miami Basel, Frieze, Artíssima, Fiac etc in the world, I think this is crazy, but it is real. Gentil has a very peculiar project, that has already led us to talk about her in several places. I am very proud and emotional to have built this space with Marcio and Neto and have learned and shared so many ideas with them and with the artists who helped build this story with us.

M.S: You live and work in Rio de Janeiro but are linked to São Paulo for different reasons and projects you have worked on. Could you tell us how is the contemporary art scene in these cities and the main differences between them?

L.L.: I’m from Minas Gerais and I moved to Rio de Janeiro as a teenager. I started my first experiences at the Visual Arts School of Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro, but my first major exhibition was the Antarctic Arts with Folha in 1996, a very special project that visited artists from all over Brazil. Soon after, I would participate in the 24th São Paulo Biennial, of “Antropofagia”, and the city of São Paulo adopted me once and for all. There are many legends between one city and another that complement each other; example: how to explain so many Brazilian female artists from Minas Gerais in the visual arts of Brazil? And the artists from Recife? And the discovery of so many others in other states of Brazil? Let’s hear the legends and pay close attention to them all! There is no dichotomy, nor paradigm between Rio and São Paulo, I walk with flip flops in both.

M.S.: My Art Guides likes to recommend to its readers unique places to visit in each destination, not necessarily connected to contemporary art, in your opinion, what are the absolutely unmissable places, landmarks and spots in São Paulo? 

L.L.:  I love the Ibirapuera Park, the MAM and its Marquise which is also incredible to see the diversity of groups that frequent this spot. I love riding the subway randomly by SP and getting off at Paulista with no direction. The MASP is amazing and that central void with the fairs. I love the Liberdade neighbourhood, walk randomly and go to the open fairs there to buy all kinds of cups. The Republic Square and the various sebum of books near the Sé Cathedral are awesome too. The Copan and the Pivô, a space run by Fernanda Brenner. I love to see all the programming of the galleries and museums that always work hard on the projects, although Brazil is in a difficult economic time with a reactionary curve, all art spaces are united facing this situation with phenomenal intelligence. Finally, I would say that you should not miss an art gallery called Superfície, directed by Gustavo Nóbrega, who has made a very important rescue of Brazilian visual poets of the 20th century, never shown before; the gallery Sé, directed by Maria Montero and the Auroras, directed by Ricardo Kugelmas who has special projects and is located in a house from the 50’s.

Mara Sartore

  • Laura Lima © Levi Fanan Laura Lima © Levi Fanan
  • Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus
  • Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus
  • Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus
  • Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus
  • Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus
  • Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus
  • Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus
  • Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus Alfaiataria, Exhibition view, 2018 © Isabella Matheus
Basel - Interviews

“Smutty Opulence and the Wallace Collection”: Alys Williams in Conversation with Jamie Fitzpatrick and Lindsey Mendick

3 months ago

On the occasion of the duo show “SMUT” by British artists Jamie Fitzpatrick and Lindsey Mendick at VITRINE Basel, which opens on Tuesday 12 June to coincide with Art Basel 2018, we asked the curator Alys Williams (VITRINE Founding Director and SMUT Curator) and artists to have a conversation to learn more about the exhibition, the artist’s practice and their interest in the Wallace Collection, London, where they have both taken inspiration.

Alys (to Jamie and Lindsey): You have both talked about the influence that the Wallace Collection has had on your individual practices and Lindsey recently described your joint trip as being a moment of “bonding over the grandeur and splendour of both the collection and décor”. Could you both tell me a little more about your interest in this collection and its relationship to your new work for SMUT?

Jamie: I was first drawn to the collection by the frenetic energy of the work of that period and I was trying to tap into that energy in the way I was using my materials in sculpture. An illusion that everything has been made in a wind-rush of stimulated panic, like a moment of chaos, and has been frozen and then carefully reassembled as an image. I began lifting a lot of the stock tropes of the period directly into my work as a simple short-hand for privileged excess and the decoration and beautification of tyranny and power which, at the time, was the starting point for a lot of my work.
In that excess, there is a kind of unabashed sexual flamboyance that is fun and seductive. There is something in this sense of sexuality on the edge and sexual stereotypes that turned Lindsey and me on when thinking about the work for this show.

Lindsey: I’ve always been so attracted to the sickly sweet earnest grandeur of the Rococo movement and the Wallace Collection has the most delicious examples of its ceramics; furniture and paintings. Each room is a celebration of a rich pigment and the adornment flows from the cornices to the feet of the table legs. It’s just so heady and luscious and it dazzles you into submission. But I think particularly with the Wallace Collection there’s this inherently and unabashed romanticism that I have such an affinity with.
The work I have created is my sculptural interpretation of a Fragonard, all frills and florals and bloomers. The sculptures are lonely and lascivious; attempting to entice the viewer to succumb to their delicious excess.

Alys (to Jamie and Lindsey): The figure and gender are explored in both your practices, often in extremely different ways. For SMUT, you have described taking your respective male and female positions – could you describe the importance of ideas of masculinity and femininity in your work and how you see it unfolding for this exhibition?

Lindsey: When approaching the show with Jamie I knew his work was going to be magnificently engulfing (which is why I adore it) and there’s an aggressive quality to his mark making that both enraptures and frightens me; almost ‘Laddy’. But I have to admit, I’ve always been drawn to laddy men. There’s something about the humour and fragile masculinity that paradoxically arouses and repels me; it’s something that I’m quite ashamed of as someone who considers themselves feminist.
My work has always come across as extremely feminine, probably due to my primary medium being ingrained in craft and my affection for pastels; and it’s unashamedly personal and candidly emotional. I feel there is a great deal of power in embracing the very traits that people deem to be female and subverting them, pushing the boundaries of what the ‘female’ gender can be.
For me the work that I have created ‘The Spectre at the Feast’ is about the shame of gluttony and sexual desire; exploring how arousal and appetite circumvents taste and sophistication. There is a submissive quality to the work. I’m exploring the simultaneous paradox that women my age can feel, growing up in a society where gender is rapidly evolving whilst having been instilled with traditional gender stereotypes by those who raised us.

Jamie: This show happened at an odd time as I got married the week before. In the lead in and build up to the two events it became difficult not to get them tangled up together. When Katrin, my wife, and I were talking about what sort of wedding we wanted, you start to scratch away at all these different traditions and see the heavily gendered origin of them. I began to see the wedding (in its generic term, not mine specifically) as this ceremonial performance of two stereotyped gender roles for the community.

Likewise, when Lindsey and I were discussing the show, we were having similar conversations about the performance of sexual stereotypes in the way we form our practice. In my method for making work, there is something violent, brash and tongue in cheek that sort of aims to live out ‘ideals’ of masculine principles like aggression, virility, competition, and irresponsibility. Similar to the work in the Wallace Collection, there is this facade of energy that is built on something more fragile. It’s these ideas of crumbly power and authority and delicate masculinity of white-middle class-straight-english-speaking men (like me) that I keep coming back to in my work and particularly in this new body of work which centers on ‘The Transformative Stag-Do’.

Alys (to Jamie): Since graduating from the Royal College of Art, London in 2015, you have worked primarily in wax, both cast and sculpted. You have used motors in your sculptures to add movement and more recently you have been branching out into painting with oil bar and making video. Could you tell me what brought you to wax as a medium initially, the qualities of this material that you are drawn to, and how you are amalgamating and developing the other diverse media in your practice?

Jamie: People focus heavily on the wax, but for me the importance is to be able to handle material in a way that records the aggressive gestures of its making. I’m currently most interested in exploring immersive narrative sculptural installations like that in the film, influenced by the physical landscapes of artists like Kienholz and Paul McCarthy. These sculptural installations act as active dioramas, which tie together elements of sculpture, animatronics, video and audio. The combination of these elements has developed from previous individual pieces, which I am now looking at as more complete environments within which sculptures narrate, sing, and story-tell.

Alys (to Lindsey): SMUT contains works that you have each produced concurrently in 2018. You have also created kissing sculptures in collaboration, which are inspired by the ‘amour sculptures’ at the Wallace Collection and are produced in clay. Clay is a medium that you have worked in for many years and a material that you have introduced Jamie to recently. I imagine that this process of developing these works has been an interesting experience: a performance even! Can you tell me a bit more about these works, the process of production, and your interest and experience with this material?

Lindsey: Before working in clay, I had used a lot of found objects. The objects I found never wholly captured my sensibility and they felt so detached from me. It was around this time that I first saw Rebecca Warren’s immense and gluttonous anthropomorphic clay sculptures. I was instantly drawn to the medium and the way that it solidified and immortalised the hand of the artist. I always go back to this quote by William Morris, who said that ‘nothing which is made by man will be ugly, but will have its due form, and its due ornament, and will tell the tale of its making and the tale of its use’. This idea is so important to me and by working in clay I am resolutely ingrained within the work.
I often work collaboratively, inviting my friends and family to create alongside me. I find that art can be quite a lonely discipline; so working with Jamie wasn’t a hard task. Spending a day together, we took the time to find common ground. The gestures in Jamie’s work are so delicious that they leant themselves so beautifully to the chocolaty terracotta we used. We’ve also been in the pub a lot which has loosened out tongues so to speak!
The kissing sculptures were a way that we felt we could marry our respective practices through a very literal gesture. We talked about moments of intimacy that we had experienced and as Jamie was getting married around the same time we were planning this exhibition it felt only natural that our work should mirror this event.

Alys (to Jamie and Lindsey): You both graduated with an MA in Sculpture from the Royal College of Art, London (Jamie in 2015 and Lindsey in 2017) and began exhibiting internationally very quickly. Jamie won the UK/RAINE Saatchi Gallery Sculpture Prize (2015), amongst other prizes, was selected for New Contemporaries 2015 and 2016, and had a solo booth at Artissima 2016. Lindsey was exhibited last month in Invites at Zabludowicz Collection, London (April-May 2018) and has recently been awarded the 2018 Alexandra Reinhardt Memorial Award. It must be an exciting and challenging time for you both. Could you talk a bit about this journey and how working together recently for this show has fostered this development?

Lindsey: It’s an extremely exciting but also absolutely terrifying time! Sudden bouts of self-doubt creep in, but then this also propels my impetus to keep on creating and to experiment with new techniques and materials. Jamie’s been amazing throughout this process and it’s been an incredibly nurturing and honest experience.

Jamie: I’m still finding my feet! I’m in a privileged position of having opportunities to show and visit new places, but I don’t always enjoy the anxiety caused by this. I’ve not worked collaboratively before, at least not this closely. My work has always been a private space that I wasn’t easily willing to share, however, for some time I had been wanting to work with Lindsey as I’ve loved pretty much everything I’ve seen that she’s made.

Alys (to Jamie and Lindsey): Finally, what are you both looking forward to from your first experience exhibiting in Switzerland, and from your time in Basel?

Jamie: It’s been a busy couple of weeks of preparation so, to be honest, I’m most looking forward to everything being installed and working. There’s a group of gargoyles by Arnold Böcklin in the foyer of the Kunsthalle that I loved last time I visited, so I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

Lindsey: I have no idea what to expect to be honest! But I can’t wait to spend some time outside of London and to experience the beast that is Art Basel…

SMUT Jamie Fitzpatrick & Lindsey Mendick
VITRINE, Basel.
Vogesenplatz, 4056 Basel, Switzerland.

Preview 12 June 2018, 5-10pm, with drinks and food al fresco in Vogesenplatz in collaboration with Bridge Bar, Rhyschanzli, and POPTAILS by LAPP.

Exhibition is then viewable 24/7 from the square – or for appointments email sales@vitrinegallery.com – throughout Art Basel and until 2 September 2018.

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Lindsey Mendick, The Spectre at The Feast (Detail), 2018. Glazed ceramic, papier mâché, tights, chaise longue, acrylic paint, camembert. Lindsey Mendick, The Spectre at The Feast (Detail), 2018. Glazed ceramic, papier mâché, tights, chaise longue, acrylic paint, camembert.
  • Jamie Fitzpatrick and Lindsey Mendick, SMUT, Installation view, 2018. VITRINE, Basel.
 Jamie Fitzpatrick and Lindsey Mendick, SMUT, Installation view, 2018. VITRINE, Basel.

Venice - Interviews

Karole Vail: One Year at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection

3 months ago

Recently we interviewed Karole Vail a year on from her appointment as Director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Prior to this appointment, she served on the curatorial staff at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, where she worked since 1997.

Mara Sartore: I’m glad we have a chance to sit down now that a year has passed since your appointment as director of PGC.

Karole Vail: Yes absolutely, already a year has gone by. It’s been really full and intense and also very exciting. I have learned a huge amount. I came here as a curator and I am now a director of an extraordinary museum. I want to continue to observe and get to know the museum, in a different way from what I used to know before. I think that what was very important this past year, was to get to know the staff well, to have conversations with them, to participate in as many meetings as I could with them, understand what they do, what they are thinking, what they are hoping to do. It’s been a year of great excitement, meeting so many people and institutions from Venice with whom we collaborate on a regular basis and I think it is very positive and something that we definitely have to do. I believe in outreach to other institutions.

M.S.: Was there a moment of this first year that was really emblematic, a moment that you want to remember?

K.V.: Everyday has been emblematic and special, everyday there’s been something new to discover. Even though we put on exhibitions three times a year, we have to repeat that process over and over again, there’s always something to discover, a new problem, a new issue that has to be resolved. One interesting thing for me, as a former curator, was to pay special attention to the collection. It’s important to play with the collection, to move paintings and sculptures around. Reinventing the collection.

M.S.: How often do you do this?

K.V.: Not very often but in the past few weeks a painting left for San Francisco because we maintain an active loan policy whenever we think an exhibition is important.
I decided to put out all the 11 Jackson Pollock paintings that are in the collection, something which I believe hasn’t been done before and this year is also a special year with the celebration on the 1948 Biennale, so 70 years ago when Peggy Guggenheim brought her collection to Venice for the first time; when she introduced the young American abstract expressionist artists, including Jackson Pollock. I thought that as an homage to that movement, as an homage to Pollock, it would be good to put all the Pollocks out and we have also organized an exhibition around 1948 and the Biennale, as an homage to Carlo Scarpa.
There are some curatorial moments which to me have in fact been very important to be able to get better acquainted with the collections, to come up with better relationships between works also because Peggy believed that the collection shouldn’t remain static. It’s a living entity and even though it’s historical, many of the works are years old, some of them over a hundred, they still have a dynamism and an energy. I think it’s a really good curatorial exercise to show works in a new light, I think it makes it exciting.

M.S.: Talking about anniversaries, next year you’re going to celebrate 40 years after the death of Peggy. I know you’re working on a series of events in her honor, can we have some little anticipation of what will be going on? It will also be the 58th Venice Art Biennale so it’s an Art Biennale year.

K.V.: We celebrate Peggy everyday here, it is a museum that was Peggy’s house. But as you said, next year we are going to show more of her collection so that’s a very exciting moment for me. Part of the collection is also going to be shown in the Barchessa which Peggy had built on purpose to allow for more of her collection to be exhibited, this means that the Schulhof Collection will move to the temporary exhibition galleries for a couple of months in a more complete presentation.

This is also an exciting curatorial exercise, that means that for the first few months of next year we’ll see more of Peggy’s pre-war collection, and then at the end of that same year I am going to do an exhibition in the exhibition galleries of the acquisitions that she made once she settled in Venice. That will include the Italian artists Vedova, Santomaso, Tancredi, Bacci and also British artists from the 50s including Graham Sutherland, Francis Bacon sculptors like Henry Moore. The exhibition will also be punctuated with a couple of key moment in Peggy’s Venetian life, so next year will really be an opportunity to see more the collection which I think is important and then the summer exhibition will be an exhibition dedicated to Hans Arp which we will be hosting after the first venue in Dallas at the Nasher Sculpture Center. Arp was the first artists who entered Peggy’s Collection in 1938, so I thought it was important to mark that moment as well with an exhibition dedicated to this extraordinary artists. And then we will probably organize other series of events like public programs with institutions in Venice, a programme we are still developing.

M.S.: Is there a specific or more than one local institution with which you work more closely? Or that you share aims with?

K.V.: We worked with Ca’ Foscari quite often, we often have lectures there. Right now we are collaborating with Fondazione Ligabue on the “Albers in Mexico” exhibition. We are collaborating with them because of their collection of pre-Colombian art and it’s always nice when there’s the opportunity to do something together because it helps both institutions. We are also continuing our collaboration with Comune di Venezia and Regione Veneto. We just held our last big event together with OVS with our Kids Creative Lab, we had this extraordinary performance in Piazza San Marco which was a great moment of collaboration with a sponsor and with the city of Venice.

M.S.: How important is it for an international museum like PGC to be active in a city like Venice, where the everyday life life is so rare sometimes with few locals still living here?

K.V.: We try to engage as much as we can with locals. We do have the Settimana dei veneziani in November and the Museum is open to all Venetians. It’s incredibly successful and Peggy was really generous herself opening the museum several times a week to the public for free. We are open to anyone who wants to come to the museum, we organize many programs for families, for kids, for teenagers and for schools. The educational programs have been going on for a long long time, the previous director has to be credited for that, among other things

M.S.: As a new Venetian, how is it for you living here?

K.V.: It’s wonderful, there are challenges like in every city, before I was living in NY and there were a lot of challenges there as well. Some things are not easy here but then I just stop and look around and everything else just collapses and it doesn’t matter, it’s so beautiful. What could be better? I’m working in this extraordinary museum, with great staff, there’s not much to complain about.

M.S.: For the 40 years celebration, do you have special sponsors who will come in?

K.V.: I don’t know yet. We are always looking for sponsors because we always need funding for all kinds of projects, for our operations or anything we are interested in. Myself I am very interested in conservation and research on the collection is very important, especially when you have a collection of this caliber to take care of it. I want to do more for conservation and restoration based research projects which I think are crucial for the future of the collection and the museum.

M.S.: Is New York going to be involved in the celebration?

K.V.: There’s nothing planned for now. Next year there’s going to be an anniversary in NY as well because it’s going to be 60 years of the Frank Lloyd Wright building, which opened in 1959. So maybe we can celebrate all together. Even though Peggy didn’t like the building at all! She called it the garage of her uncle Solomon, she wasn’t particularly excited by it. But I think she must have been really pleased when she saw her collection exhibited there in 1969 which I think was also the point at which she realized and understood that it was a good idea to leave her collection to the Guggenheim Foundation.

Mara Sartore

  • Karole Vail, Ph. Matteo de Fina Karole Vail, Ph. Matteo de Fina
  • Peggy Guggenheim on the steps of the Greek Pavilion with Interior (1945, unknown location) by her daughter Pegeen Vail, 24th Venice Biennale, 1948. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, photo Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche. Gift, Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, 2005 Peggy Guggenheim on the steps of the Greek Pavilion with Interior (1945, unknown location) by her daughter Pegeen Vail, 24th Venice Biennale, 1948. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, photo Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche. Gift, Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, 2005
  • Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Ph. Simone Bottazzin Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Ph. Simone Bottazzin
  • Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Ph. Simone Bottazzin Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Ph. Simone Bottazzin
Palermo - Interviews

“The Beauty of Palermo is in its Soul”: an Interview with Letizia Battaglia

3 months ago

Working on our special issue on Manifesta 12 and traveling to Palermo, I met Letizia Battaglia in her home to learn more about her life and career as well as the projects she’s undertaking at the newly opened art space Centro Internazionale di Fotografia at Canteri Culturali alla Zisa.

Mara Sartore: Last November you opened at the Cantieri Culturali alla Zisa The International Photography Centre. How did the idea come about? Was there an active collaboration with city institutions?

Letizia Battaglia: I’ve always loved working with others, especially with women. A photographer usually works alone but I have always worked within a group of people.I have always dreamt of and imagined having a space dedicated to photography that would value and take into account not only Sicilian talents, but also those from elsewhere. I had already started in 1978, by opening the first photo gallery in the South below Rome. I have always looked abroad with curiosity, but never with a sense of inferiority. Seven years ago I went to my beloved Leoluca Orlando mayor, I spoke to him about my idea of opening up the Centre of Photography and he said “all right, let’s do it”. After his agreement, I communicated the news to the press; some people went to the mayor in opposition to the project, declaring: “why can she do it and not us?”. After these protests, the thing stopped, perhaps because Orlando did not want to be unjust. Finally after seven years we have managed to open The International Photography Centre in a pavilion at Cantieri Culturali alla Zisa, restored by architect and university professor Jolanda Lima, free of charge and with the support of the Municipality. The International Photography Centre does not only wish to be an outpost where a high-level of photography is carried out and presented, but also a place where important social operations are carried out.

M.S.: Palermo this year has been named “Capital of Italian Culture”, and the city is hosting Manifesta12. How much are these initiatives worth in reviving the city at local and international level? How has Palermo changed over recent years?

L.B.: We are just continuing on the way we have always done, we are not doing things differently just because Palermo is the “Capital of Culture” this year. The city has however re-awakened, the restaurants are better equipped, b&bs are popping up everywhere and prices are rising, there are evermore tourists (not that tourists are the panacea, but if they are to arrive, then they are welcome). The Centre of Photography was born to enrich our own lives and helps us to grow. Palermo “Capital of Culture” is interesting even if there are many problems, we are also the “capital” which welcomes immigrants, we have great respect and we are not racist. On the topic of migration, Giovanna Calvenzi, Gabriele Basilico’s wife, has worked at the Centre for free for a whole year on an exhibition entitled “Io sono persona” (I am a Person) 34 Italian photographers who have made photographic projects around this topic. The title “I am a person” comes from a quote by our Mayor in the local paper declaring that Palermo is a welcoming city and that anyone who arrives in Palermo becomes a Palermitano.

M.S.: Was there a key moment in the change of Palermo or was it a slow and progressive transformation?

L.B.: A lot has been done in recent decades thanks to Leoluca Orlando and his party members. But so much has depended on the commitment of women. They are more open, more free, more independent. Girls were once slaves to a father, a husband, a brother. We are not talking about independence that comes from work, but about a form of openness. The city has changed culturally from the inside rather than the outside, we do not have new buildings, for example. When in 1989-90 I was councillor alongside the Mayor Orlando, we designed a museum for contemporary arts in Piazza Croci, to take the place of a beautiful Art Nouveau Villa, which the mafia had blown up with a bomb then to build in its place an improbable skyscraper. Today there is a car park where our museum, designed by the Swiss architect Botta, should have stood. Unfortunately, only his model remained because there was never enough money to make it happen. Everything is very difficult in Palermo, it is difficult to eliminate rubbish, it is difficult to rebuild. Bureaucracy is the enemy of progress, often preventing things from actually happening.

M.S.: Your photography has always been closely linked to your struggle for survival, documenting and condemning the absurdity of the Mafia. Your artistic research, the search for beauty among the horrors of the Mafia is your means of resistance. You began as a reporter almost at the age of forty, becoming a brave witness to Italian history. Can you tell us about your journey as a photographer?

L.B.: I’m not a photographer, but I’ve alway taken pictures, I was in theatre, I volunteered, I had three daughters, I’ve been in love, but I do not want to label myself as a photographer. I’ve lived with photography, with the Centre, with the magazine Mezzocielo, designed and edited by women only. I’ve always used what I had. It happened to me for forty years to take photos, I used this both as a tool of denunciation to what was happening in Palermo, and also simply to express myself.

M.S.: Where did this dedication come from?

L.B.: As a child I wanted to be a writer, then I got married at sixteen to runaway from my jealous father and I fell into a marriage in which he did not understand anything about me. I wanted to study while having daughters, I have always stood back from and remained disengaged from social norms. At one point, when my daughters were grown up, I introduced myself to the newspaper L’Ora as a journalist. It was August, all the journalists were on holiday and needed help and I was welcomed. So I started writing my first articles. After a wonderful session of psychoanalysis that helped me to leave my husband, I went to Milan to offer my articles to Milanese newspapers. There they asked me to provide the items with photos, and so a friend of mine gave me a camera. I was thirty-seven. I started working to make myself independent as I had refused financial help from my husband. I did not want to have to deal with him anymore, I did not want to be a kept woman. In Milan I found space, I found a city that offered opportunities. After a while the newspaper L’Ora called me back to Palermo to direct the photographic team there. I went back to Palermo to work as a photographer, but this work became an ever greater task, because I started when the crazy, greedy and bloody Corleone’s mobsters unleashed the Mafia war in Palermo to destroy us. I photographed to condemn, but with the camera in hand I was able to express myself too, I felt powerful and free. What I wanted to do as a writer, I did as a photographer. But I did not just report, as a woman I always looked for beauty, love, sweetness, tenderness. And photographing the Mafia was to report everything that prevented us from being sweet and happy …

M.S.: Those were terrible years, how were they overcome?

L.B.: A month ago there was finally an exemplary sentence at the prison of Pagliarelli. The Court issued a sentence condemning those representatives of the state that immediately after Falcone and Borsellino were killed, made agreements with the Mafia. We have firmly and vigorously supported this process carried out with courage and solitude by judge Nino di Matteo between general indifference and death threats. Now finally, after many years the sentence declares that this negotiation was there.

M.S.: In Palermo they say that you no longer pay protection money (in Italian “pizzo”), is this true?

L.B.: We continue to pay it, everyone does, who says that we don’t is either lying or a “mafioso”. The Mafia is stronger than ever, it’s just different. Now it works within the economic and political system and not only in Palermo.

M.S.: After the bloody period, what has your photography concentrated on?

L.B.: Always, even when I worked for L’Ora newspaper, I made time to photograph subjects that interested me and that were outside the news: girls, women, poetic moments.

After a few years, when everyone was asking me for pictures of the mafia, and I was marked by everything I had seen and photographed I began to have nightmares, to dream of burning my negatives because I could not stand them anymore. I could not bear to remember and see those images, I escaped from Palermo and locked myself in a house in Paris for a year. I felt marked, but I could not burn the story, I did not have the right to destroy documents which were to pay testament to the history of Italy. So I decided to artificially put my life in front of this photo of murdered men or “mafiosi”. I mixed photos of naked women, of flowers, of little girls with those of the news to recreate a new image, moving the focal point.

Then, I later made a series of photographs that I titled “Invincibles”. I asked myself: “what has kept me going, how have I resisted for so many years?”. I understood who were the pillars which kept me standing: Pasolini, Che Guevara, Ezra Pound, Pina Bausch were my stimuli. Another heroine of mine is Rosa Parks, a young American black worker. One day, going to work, she got on the bus and sat in the place of the whites. A white man asked her to get up but she refused. The white man called the police and the next day with Martin Luther King the revolution broke out and from there the buses opened to all, white and black. For me she is the symbol of the fight against racism.

M.S.: Tell us what will be going on at the Centre during Manifesta 12 and then if there are some places in the city to which you are particularly attached, where you often go, and what you would suggest to our readers visiting Palermo.

L.B.: for Manifesta12 I myself participated in a video by Masbedo, sponsored by Beatrice Bulgari. One of the projects that won a competition supported by Manifesta 12 which consists of photographs of 780 works of art which were never finished in Italy. This project will be hosted by The International Photography Centre. Then we have three artists who present projects around the theme of homosexuality. The American photographer Catherine Opie, the Roman photographer Roberto Timperi with “A’mor” and the video “Salvatore” and an installation of flags, and finally “Sguardo di attore” by Massimo Verdastro. Another exhibition is called “Street Watching”, from a book published by Drago. In September we have an exhibition on Enrico Mattei, in October we will have Josef Koudelka, important photographer from Magnum who in 1968 photographed the invasion of the communists in Prague. Towards the end of the year we will have Franco Zecchin, a Milanese photographer with whom I worked for nineteen years at the newspaper L’Ora and who now lives in Marseille. We will close the year with a group exhibition called “Palermo bella nell’anima” (“Palermo Beautiful in the Soul”), for which I will invite a series of photographers to depict Palermo following this theme.

M.S.: “Palermo beautiful in the soul”, why this title?

L.B.: Palermo moves me, it makes me angry but I love it so much. And I also love Leoluca Orlando, our mayor. He has such a dramatic look in a recent photo I took of him, a Caravaggio-like face, marked by all that he has lived through to keep Palermo carrying on, amid great difficulties and pitfalls. Orlando is a kind of modern hero. He has sacrificed his whole life for Palermo to pull it through a thousand difficulties so that the Mafia no longer entered the municipality. I would like to see hundreds of images hanging in the walls of the galleries of the Centre which reflect the love that has evaded our city while hatred and violence has tried to destroy us.

M.S.: What we shouldn’t miss in Palermo?

L.B.: The historic centre must be visited and appreciated. The alleys, the small local bars, the market squares with the wonderfully overbearing smell of fish. The exhilarating Vucciria, which is no longer a real market but the memory remains. Piazza Magione is rife with nostalgia. Once, there were small houses, it was like a small town. The people who lived there were deported to the social housing in the suburbs. There was a master plan put together by the Mafia and mayor Vito Ciancimino, a terrible plan that wanted to destroy even the baroque church of Santissimo Salvatore to build streets and skyscrapers. Once life in Piazza Magione was extraordinary. Now everything is different, but equally poignant, full of history and also of life. Often beautiful.

Mara Sartore

  • Centro Internazionale di Fotografia, Letizia Battaglia, Palermo Centro Internazionale di Fotografia, Letizia Battaglia, Palermo
  • Centro Internazionale di Fotografia, Letizia Battaglia, Palermo Centro Internazionale di Fotografia, Letizia Battaglia, Palermo
  • © Letizia Battaglia, © Letizia Battaglia, "Gli Invincibili", Pier Paolo Pasolini, 2013
  • © Letizia Battaglia, © Letizia Battaglia, "Gli Invincibili", La venere di Urbino, Tiziano, 2013
  • © Letizia Battaglia, © Letizia Battaglia, "Gli Invincibili", Nora Barnackle and her husband, James Joyce, 2014
  • © Letizia Battaglia, © Letizia Battaglia, "Gli Invincibili", Rosa Parks, 2013
  • Letizia Battaglia, Photo by Mara Sartore Letizia Battaglia, Photo by Mara Sartore
Basel - Interviews

Basel from an Artist’s Perspective: an Interview with Hannah Weinberger

4 months ago

On the occasion of our paper and digital issue on Art Basel and the art week in Basel and Zurich, we asked Basel-based artist Hannah Weinberger (Filderstadt, Germany, 1988) to tell us about her art and practice and to unveil the projects she has been working for Art Basel.

Hannah Weinberger lives and works in Basel. She completed her Master‘s degree in Fine Arts at the Zurich University of the Arts. Her recent solo exhibitions include “Sounds like news”, Istituto Svizzero di Roma, Rome; “just take it and leave it”, Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris, Nuit Blanche, Paris; “You’ll be there when I’ll be near”, Badischer Kunstverein Karlsruhe (2016); Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (2016); “As If I became upside down,right side up”, Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof (2015); KUB Arena, Kunsthaus Bregenz (2014); MIT List Center for Visual Arts, Cambridge, MA (2014); Freedman Fitzpatrick, Los Angeles (2015); “Le Moi Du Toi”, Swiss Institute, New York (2012), amongst others. From 2011 to 2013, she co-ran the project space Elaine at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel, and is currently a residing board member of the Kunsthalle Basel.

Mara Sartore: You frequently work with sound and interaction with the audience in your works and installations. Which one of the two came first?

Hannah Weinberger: It came together. I can’t separate these things. I always think of the place also in a potential relation to an audience where works are being shown and distributed especially when they’re interfering with the acoustics and the already existing atmosphere and sounds

MS: You collaborated with Art Basel on two projects for this edition of the fair. Could you tell us a bit about them?

HW: I’m currently preparing a project called Down There for this years Art Parcours edition. It will be a 10 channel sound installation spread out and distributed inside of a variety of sewers located in Basel’s Old town between Kunstmuseum and Münsterplatz. Each sewer will have its own sound resonate with both field recordings and site-specific compositions. The other special project I initiated is the Hidden Bar located at Art Basel exactly behind the big watch in the main fair building as part of Art Basel venues. Together with friends and artists there will be a running Hidden Bar always open during the hours of the fair and accessible to everyone entering the fair. As a special we will have daily a happy hour (last two hours of the fair) where people can meet artists, experience special projects, see them performing and get inspired. This will be a new and very special place to experience inside of this fair situation.

MS: What does it mean to you to be a woman artist in 2018 (or ever)?

HW: Maybe one could also ask what does it mean to be a male artist today!? The beautiful thing is that there is not really a gap between my life as a woman and my life as an artist.

MS: What will be your future projects after Art Basel?

HW: I’m working on various new works and especially new ways of distributing sound and images.. Exhibitions coming up will be the 57th October Salon in Belgrade entitled THE MARVELLOUS CACOPHONY, the Athens Biennale, also working on a piece for the 20th anniversary of Kunstraum Riehen and a big solo show at Villa Merkel in Esslingen. I think there are few more projects that still have to be confirmed that could be listed bit later.

MS: You live and work in Basel. What is your relationship with the city? What are your favorite places to hang out to chill or find inspiration for your work?

HW: Most of my life I have lived in Basel. I like the size of the town and the fact that it’s easy to leave and return and the way it is geographically situated in Europe. The Art Institute in Basel is currently one of the important places for me to be. As an artist and lecturer at the Institute I appreciate to see and work with all these amazing artists. It is a fulfilling and inspiring experience.

Mara Sartore

  • Hannah Weinberger Hannah Weinberger
  • Hannah Weinberger at Istituto Svizzero, 2012 Hannah Weinberger at Istituto Svizzero, 2012
  • Hannah Weinberger, As if I became upside down, right side up, 2013. Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof, Hamburg 2015 Hannah Weinberger, As if I became upside down, right side up, 2013. Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof, Hamburg 2015
London - Interviews

Block Universe, London’s Performance Art Festival: An Interview with Director Louise O’Kelly

4 months ago

On the occasion of the opening of Block Universe, I interviewed curator Louise O’Kelly to learn more about London’s leading international performance art festival. The festival runs for 10 days, starting on the Spring Bank Holiday Weekend – 26 May to 3 June 2018.

Carla Ingrasciotta: How was Block Universe born and what motivated you to start a performance art festival?

Louise O’Kelly: Block Universe was born out of a desire to support artists working with performance and to create a platform to promote this medium. There remain many misconceptions about ‘performance art’ in the public mind, and I was keen to champion what I saw as a new generation of artists working at the cross-section of contemporary art, dance and music. The energy and excitement audiences have for this type of work is palpable, and I was conscious that there wasn’t one dedicated organisation in London committed to supporting or presenting this type of work, so it felt like a necessary addition to London’s cultural landscape.

C.I.: Could you tell us about this fourth edition of Block Universe? Who in terms of visitors are you expecting to see this year at the festival?

L.OK: For our fourth edition, we have expanded to ten days from a week, and are presenting a really exciting selection of UK-based and international artists coming from as far as Australia, the US, Germany and the Netherlands. We are commissioning the majority of the performances, so there is lots of exciting new work to see in both major institutions and unique locations around the city, many of which will be new to audiences. There is also a fantastic programme of special events including talks, workshops, a symposium and artist-led gatherings and discussions curated by my colleague Katharina Worf.

Visitors really cross the spectrum of audiences interested in contemporary art, dance and those interested in cultural events more generally. Usually people never know what to expect, but when they come love what they see as it’s something new.

C.I.: The festival takes place across various locations in London such as The Store X at 180 The Strand, the British Museum, Somerset House, Royal Academy etc. what long-term vision do you have for your performance art festival in London?

L.OK: We have built a strong reputation within the international arts community, which has resulted in fantastic opportunities for the artists we have presented and our goal is to reach even wider London audiences. Positioning the work inside familiar and well know institutions in central London is an important means of engaging people with the work who might not otherwise seek it out. This positioning is part of our longer term ambition that performance comes to be seen and respected as just another medium alongside the traditional forms of painting, sculpture or installation.

Next year will be our fifth year anniversary, so that is a big one for us and we already have some very ambitious projects underway. We are planning a publication to reflect on the 50+ performances and 30 new commissions we will have realised over the last few years. We are also working towards a number of specially commissioned events and interdisciplinary projects across the city and internationally to celebrate this special anniversary edition, which will be important to further strengthen our international ties and elevate the profiles of UK-based artists in a wider global community.

C.I: How did you select the artists involved in this edition?

L.OK: This year’s edition in many ways was a response to the divisiveness that has been more pronounced in world politics over the last year or two, and it felt like a positive action was necessary to think about how we can exist together at this moment in time. Hence the selection of works or the conversations we had with artists around the new commissions they would develop revolved around ideas of community and collectivity, whether utopian or dystopian, and of course conversations around gender relations and sexual harassment were also important in considering the ways that we relate to each other in a broader social context or in our intimate relationships. It felt like a much needed response to the current political situation we are in and all of the artists selected I felt were already dealing with these topics in one way or another.

C.I: Is it a coincidence that most of the performers in this year’s programme are women? How important is feminist topics to you and to what extent is it something that you take into account for the festival?

L.OK: I am proud to present individuals of any gender, but being a woman, of course feminist topics are very important to me. By creating a platform to champion artists working with performance, I do feel it is important to consider how that platform is used and whose voices are heard. There is always a strong representation of female or female identified artists in the programme, but this is simply because they are great artists! I try to be conscious in my programming choices that Block Universe is representing the full spectrum of performance happening, regardless of gender or race.

C.I.: Could you tell us about one performance or project that you particularly like this year and would suggest our readers to attend?

L.OK: I would of course recommend seeing everything, as I am so excited about every single performance that we will be showing over the ten days of the festival. What I might suggest is having a little taster over the bank holiday weekend to whet your appetite.
We will be launching with a free live installation by Maria Hassabi at 180 The Strand, co-commissioned by The Store X. It is an incredible venue in the heart of London that has hosted pop-up projects from the likes of the Serpentine, Hayward Gallery and Lisson Gallery. Happening from 11am-7pm on Saturday 26 & Sunday 27 May, this will be Maria’s first ever presentation in London, and as an artist who has shown in every major museum in the US and as part of Documenta 14 last year, this is certainly not one to miss!

Carla Ingrasciotta

  • Louise O’Kelly. Photo: © Louise Greidinger Louise O’Kelly. Photo: © Louise Greidinger
  • Maria Hassabi, STAGING Solo #2 ©Thomas Poravas Maria Hassabi, STAGING Solo #2 ©Thomas Poravas
  • Gery Georgieva, Blushing Valley Gery Georgieva, Blushing Valley
  • Giselle Stanborough, Dates, 2016 Giselle Stanborough, Dates, 2016