London - Interviews

The Human in Material, a Fleeting Encounter with Rayyane Tabet

3 hours ago

We had a quick chat with Rayyane Tabet at Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art on his first major solo exhibition in the United Kingdom, with eight works from the past 13 years installed together for the first time, curated by Ziba Ardalan. Tabet’s works offers alternative perceptions of political and personal events within the parameters of sculpture and found objects. He unearths hidden narratives in experiences and materials, narratives with layered dimensions that go beyond the purely factual and teeter on the emotional.

Lara Morrell: The show begins with the piece ‘The Sea Hates a Coward’, hung oars belonging to a boat once rented by your father in 1987 when trying to escape the Lebanese Civil War, this boat was then re-found twenty-five years later. The piece appears to oscillate between collective and personal experience, could you tell me what sort of feelings came to the surface upon re-finding these objects?

Rayyane Tabet: When we found the boat during a family meal on the coast in Jbeil, this was the first time my father ever told us the story of the attempted escape. At the time we were young and until then I had always thought of it as a fun sea adventure. When we were told what had actually happened, this memory was completely transformed. So upon encountering this object and being able to re-appropriate and re-purpose it, it was a way of transforming and thinking about the memory of the object itself, a memory similar to ours, that had also witnessed that event. The object had been through the same and the object could stand in and be re-purposed for that moment. It came at a time when I was becoming more and more interested in the idea that objects telling an alternative version of history that is not only subjective, history happens to things, not only to people.

Lara Morrell: Yes, your work tends to make things/materials more human, highlighting the personal and emotional, transforming the material through the role of storytelling. Where did this approach come from?

Rayyane Tabet: I think it started with the first encounter with The New York Times piece (‘Friday, September 1, 2006’*) which ends up being one of the first works in the show. I stole the copy from a coffee shop on Third Avenue and 7th Street in Manhattan, shortly after having to evacuate Lebanon back in 2006. The front page showed an image of these trucks full of rubble going to dump their content to the sea, the rubble a result of the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon. So much of that war had been described through the experience of people, yet in that image I was looking at the material remains of that act of destruction. That image opened my eyes and transformed my way of looking at things, so I think it was then that I started refocussing the attention to finding the personal and the emotional within material.

*Friday, September 1, 2006 is a framed copy of the New York Times newspaper from that day. The front page depicts a line of loaded dump trucks that stretch to the sea, signaling the end of the military conflict between Lebanon and Israel earlier that summer. 

Lara Morrell: In Colosse Aux Pieds D’Argile‘*, the large-scale installation across the entire first-floor gallery, emphasis is place on thinking through the past in relation to our present by bringing together two different materials spanning a 100 year history – what is the significance in bringing these two histories together?

Rayyane Tabet: This work came about from the discovery of a nineteenth-century house that had been destroyed in Beirut in order to be replaced by a concrete skyscraper. The house was owned by a large family where not all members agreed to sell the property to the developers. In order to accelerate the sale, the developer hired workers to break the columns of the house so that the roof would fall in and they would be forced to sell the property. So I bought back those columns and then got in touch with the developer and asked if I could buy the sky scraper’s concrete core samples (used to ensure they abide by the structural rules). So I started accumulating these columns in my studio and suddenly I was confronted with these two materials, from the same place, across one hundred years of history and belonging to two different logics, but what is interesting is that they have a lot of very similar formal qualities. This project starts confronting these two materials in a very organised grid, the idea borrowed from the language of ruins or archeological grids, but also graveyards or minefields. I have always felt that the discourse around urban environment has been caught between preservation and development and I think maybe there is a space in between where these moments have more in common that one might expect.

*Colosse Aux Pieds D’Argile is a large-scale sculptural installation composed of reclaimed marble columns and concrete cylinders that transforms the gallery into a field. 

Lara Morrell: Could you tell me about the title of the show – Encounters – to unexpectedly be faced with or experience (something hostile or difficult)? Also when was your first encounter with Parasol unit and Ziba Ardalan?

Rayyane Tabet:  A lot of the works in this show were entirely generated by accidents, like the encounter with the boat – something I didn’t have any idea about until we went to have dinner with my parents, or finding these columns while helping a friend look for old tiles. Many of these encounters have shaped my way of thinking through, I don’t sit in my studio and say to myself ‘today we are going to start making work with marble columns’, the studio is my world and it’s about finding those moments to look out for and listen to, sometimes it takes years before anything happens with them. I stole that New York Times copy in 2006 and I am showing it here for the first time 13 years later. It’s about making twists in these encounters.

My first encounter with Ziba was in 2016 in Berlin, when I was doing a residency there and this is actually my very first time in London!

Lara Morrell

  • Rayyane Tabet, Douglas Friedman Rayyane Tabet, Douglas Friedman
  • Colosse Aux Pieds d'Argiles, 2015 Colosse Aux Pieds d'Argiles, 2015
  • Detail from 'The Sea Hates a Coward' 2015 Detail from 'The Sea Hates a Coward' 2015
  • Three Logos, 2013 Three Logos, 2013
Venice - Interviews

Delfina Foundation’s Interviews Series: Cooking Sections

5 days ago

Episode 2 of Delfina Foundation’s Interviews series features artist duo Cooking Sections.

Aaron Cezar: Your projects as Cooking Sections are highly research-driven. While they differ in outcomes, you seem to consistently take a similar approach to them. Can you speak about your methodology and the influences behind it?

Cooking Sections: Cooking Sections was born to use food to understand how space is built. This is perhaps the common thread that cuts across our projects, trying to explore the different environmental or geopolitical frictions that determine the ways humans and more-than-humans inhabit the planet. Our practice is indeed highly research-driven and the conversations, interviews, and readings shape our working methodology and approach in each project we undertake. In that sense, the methodology has to be shaped and created for each context we work in. When developing a project on watering systems in Sicily or a project on ocean pollution from salmon farms each demand a specific approach and language. 

AC: Your work has increasingly centered on subjects related to the environment, often appearing to be trying to challenge dominant narratives, perceptions or approaches in this regard. What drew you to this area of interest?

CS: From the beginning of Cooking Sections, questions around the environment have been a fundamental concern for us. It underlies all of our early work for The Empire Remains Shop but perhaps in recent years, it has become more apparent. There is a parallel line to draw here for the sense of a climate emergency that is looming above us at the moment. It is something that the planet has been experiencing for decades but while marginalised communities have always been the ones most affected by pollution and extreme weather events, now it is something that is only starting to reach everyone. For the past years, we have been working on a project titled Offsetted, which culminated last spring with an exhibition at Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery, GSAPP, Columbia University in New York. The project explored and displayed 40 tree specimens that portrayed the ways trees have been valued in New York over the past centuries. At a wider level, it critically explored the mechanisms that enable the global north to offset its carbon emissions and pollution counting on the obligation of the global south to cleanse the atmosphere through its forests. Working in collaboration with the Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund, we wrote an amendment for the New York City Legal Code to grant rights for trees not to be used as carbon offsets so that we deal with our environmental guilt at the source of the problem. In that sense all our work tries to understand and challenge contemporary concepts around ecology and the environment that in many cases just promote the further circulation of capital, rather than rethink and change our actions and practices. 

AC: I want to ask you about two of your long-term projects which has gained a lot of critical acclaim:  The Empire Remains project, which partly came out of your residency at Delfina Foundation and CLIMAVORE. These projects appear opened ended and ever-evolving with wide-ranging outcomes, including installations, exhibitions, books, workshops, performance, lecture-performances. Can you talk about your sustained approaches to projects and your differing presentational forms?

CS: Over the years two main things have become very important for our practice one is a question around impact, what is the project doing? The second is what is a project’s legacy? We are all aware that the art world has also entered a space that demands constant production. That has great advantages as we are surrounded by ever increasing perspectives, stories, and experiences from all over our planet and beyond; yet at the same time, we question from an environmental point of view what happens to all of these ideas, materials, and projects when exhibitions close or performances end. CLIMAVORE is one of our long term projects that questions how we eat as humans change the climate. Since 2016 we have been creating a series of installations, interventions, workshops, and discussions on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, to challenge intensive salmon aquaculture and the dead zones it is creating; instead, we are developing alternatives CLIMAVORE aqua-cultures for the island. The project investigates how to shift a cultural ecology and economy and how do we also work with cultural institutions, corporations, businesses, and people to change their practice over time. It is a lengthly process that requires continuous work. 

The Empire Remains Shop is a platform that we initiated in order to speculate on the possibility of selling the remains of the British Empire back to London. It was modeled after Empire Shops that were envisioned to sell products of Empire across the UK in the 1920s and never opened. The project ran for 3 months in a building on Baker Street where we invited 40 contributors to create installations, performances, lectures and dinners to respond to remains of Empire today and it was a culmination of a 3 year research process that indeed started at Delfina Foundation with The Empire Remains Christmas Pudding. 

AC: In addition to the outcomes you yourselves present, you also on occasions relinquish control and allow others to take them forward. With the Empire Remains Shop you have invited franchises, for example. Can you explain why this has become an important element in your work? 

CS: When The Empire Remain Shop came to a close in London we were questioning the legacy of the project and how it could continue to live and evolve on its own. Working with various models we became quite fascinated by the franchise model and its origins, especially Marth Matilda Harper and her hair salons that were intended to enfranchise women by making them independent business owners in the late 19th century. Of course, today franchises are mostly about disenfranchisement, places where workers’ rights are controlled by multiple subsidiary companies and multinational brands are removed from caring for any workers’ rights. When we published the book about the project we developed with Guest Work Agency legal consultancy a franchise agreement that wraps the book and makes it an invitation for institutions, collectives, and individuals to open their own franchise and question the remains of Empire today in their own geography. The first franchise opened in May 2019 by Grand Union in Birmingham and there are more to come! We are quite interested to see how other voices and forces take our projects, work through them and give them a new life. We suppose it’s another way of environmental thinking. 

AC: Finally, could you describe for us what you will be presenting as part of the performance programme during the final week of the Venice Biennale?

CS: For the performance programme at the Venice Biennale we will be presenting a performance lecture about the CLIMAVORE project in Skye. It traces the history of the construction of salmon as a colour and a fish and how it has become dominant in the waters around Skye but also on land and at sea

Cooking Sections’ performance at the 58th Venice Biennale of Art is part of the programme commissioned by Arts Council England and co-produced by Delfina Foundation and the Biennale as part of Meetings on Art.

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Cooking Sections © Paul Plews Cooking Sections © Paul Plews
  • Cooking Sections, Cooking Sections, "Offsetted", 2019. Exhibition at Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery, Columbia GSAPP, New York © James Ewing
  • Cooking Sections, Cooking Sections, "CLIMAVORE On Tidal Zones", 2017. Photo Cooking Sections
  • Cooking Sections, Cooking Sections, "The Empire Remains Shop", 2016 © Tim Bowditch
Palermo - Interviews

BAM-Mediterranean Archipelago Biennial: an Interview with Beatrice Merz

1 week ago

On Thursday, 26 of September the second edition of the BAM-Mediterranean Archipelago Biennial, which will take place in Palermo from November 6th to December 8th 2019, was presented at the Foreign Press Room in Rome.
Titled “Übermauer”, the exhibition is organized Fondazione Merz, European Alternatives and BAM – Palermo.

On occasion, we interviewed Beatrice Merz to learn more about the initiative.

Mara Sartore : Today ÜberMauer, the second edition of the BAM-Mediterranean Archipelago Biennial, which will take place in Palermo from November 6th to December 8th 2019, was presented, this city seem to be increasingly more firmly rooted, what does this mean to you?

Beatrice Merz: “Palermo is something far beyond a city. In actual fact it is like a person: with a true and strong personality. It is a dynamiser of humanity, an accelerator of cultural process. Full of contrasts it is in many ways a paradox, set as it is in the midst of this great Mediterranean lake that has no north or south shores but only a single, endless and jagged coast, full of narratives and peoples.
In recent years it has been almost natural to breathe the air of these places, and bit by bit, I can really say now that I feel “at home”.

Mara Sartore: Can you tell us a little more about ÜberMauer?

Beatrice Merz: ÜberMauer through the walls of a plural city like Palermo, brings together, often dramatically, testimonies of the passage of humanity, offers the possibility of dynamizing poetic concepts and material towards continuous change and inclusion. The artists find themselves with a city that has been able to make reception and integration the centre of its administrative and cultural journey. ÜberMauer will be a widespread exhibition in the city of Palermo that brings together historical and unpublished works by artists such as Francesco Arena, Claire Fontaine, Claudia Di Gangi, Patrizio Di Massimo, Stefania Galegati, Shilpa Gupta, Alfredo Jaar, Emily Jacir, Zena el Khalil, Giuseppe Lana, Gili Lavy, Andrea Masu, Ignazio Mortellaro, Shirin Neshat, Damian Ortega, Michal Rovner Michele Tiberio and Driant Zeneli: all ‘invited’ to take on the project together.

Mara Sartore: In this case can art once again be an “instrument” of democracy and inclusion, beyond any limits, barriers, a viaticum of freedom?

Beatrice Merz: Among the various shores of the world, beyond the walls of indifference or short-sighted nationalism, art plays a conscious and, in some ways, still revolutionary role. It offers a change of perspective, reverses and subverts the perception of the experience and projects it forward. The protagonists of BAM’s image, the international artists who accepted the invitation for ÜberMauer have embraced the role of idea builders, the fishermen of relationships, ambassadors not of strange and distant countries but of the good practices of Palermo and its island that proudly finds its true nature as a port, laboratory and home. The same enthusiasm that sees the confrontation of several generations and backgrounds of artists and allowed an articulated and widespread exhibition between kalsa and càssaro, has for years led the presence of the Foundation in Palermo, where relations and projects seem to become more authentic and promising. “

Mara Sartore

  • Beatrice Merz. Fondazione Merz. Photo by Andrea Guermani Beatrice Merz. Fondazione Merz. Photo by Andrea Guermani
  • Convento della Magione, Palermo Convento della Magione, Palermo
  • Chiesa Santa Maria dello Spasimo © Vincenzo Russo Chiesa Santa Maria dello Spasimo © Vincenzo Russo
Venice - Interviews

Delfina Foundation’s Interviews Series: Vivian Caccuri

1 week ago

During the lead up to this second installment of the Venice Biennale Performance Programme, we will release a series of conversations between Aaron Cezar (Delfina Foundation) and the participating artists.

The first episode is featured by artist Vivian Caccuri.

Aaron Cezar: Your practice focuses on sound, taking specific references and investigating the meanings with which they are imbued and the responses we have to them. How did you arrive at your interest in sound and this particular approach to it?

Vivian Caccuri: I come from a family of musicians and I have always been fascinated by music performance and how it creates different dynamics between people, be it body or attention-wise. At the same time, I was very strong in my drawing passion as a child and teenager, but the nature of this expression was not exactly cathartic or liberating enough for me. That’s why music expression and electronic music became my way out of a rigid Christian education. When I turned thirteen I started faking my IDs and running away from home to go to the rave parties of the late 90s/ early 2000s and to drum’n’bass nightclubs. It was a whole new world for me, and somehow similar to the Catholic experience because it brought so much visuality, spatiality and ecstasy together, but the only clear rules were freedom, innovation and a positivity/optimism for the digital world or the internet could heal the world. So I was a Napster / Audio Galaxy / Soulseek kid for a couple of years until I learned how to program own sounds using MAX / MSP, an amazing coding platform for music, sound and noise.

AC: During your residency at Delfina Foundation in 2018 you developed an interest in the sounds emitted by mosquitos. This led you to embark on a wide-ranging research endeavour. Could you talk about the directions this took you in and your process in this regard?

VC: As soon as I became more aware of the history of the Americas, my heritage and the peculiarities of tropical nature (the kind of nature that surrounds me in Brazil), I started to develop a stronger sense of self in a global context. I believe that those experiences deeply impact the way we listen and feel the world, and they can definitely be a path to a very unique perceptual knowledge. That’s why I was so puzzled by the distress around mosquito noise. I was looking for other reasons why people hate that sound so much other than the obvious – they are an epidemy, they bring misery or they are simply and absolutely annoying. To go below the surface, I started researching the history of the mosquito-related diseases, as well as the aesthetics of the campaigns, the treatments, the hospitals. The Wellcome Collection had so much about this theme that it was almost easy to imagine that the fear of mosquitoes and the distress around their sound have roots in the colonial movements of the sixteen hundreds.

AC: An outcome of the research, “Mosquitos Also Cry“, was presented last year as part of Frieze Projects London in the form of a lecture-performance stemming from your Delfina residency. It combined the sounds of the insects, a visual montage of materials from a range of sources including scientific, archival, popular culture relating to the mosquito, along with a narrative delivered by yourself. This script wove these disparate areas together into often quite speculative, provocative theses. However, it was also playful. The audience were burst into laughter numerous times. What function does play and humour perform in your work?

VC: I believe mosquitoes are quite charismatic. Every time I tell people I am working with mosquitoes they don’t react disgusted but quite the opposite, they respond positively like “wow, so interesting”. I believe it has something to do with how they are related to human skin and to how mosquitoes are democratic, although they might prefer some people over others. Everyone has at least one mosquito story to tell. I guess people laugh at my jokes because they access their own memories and I am actually aiming right at them.

AC: Since the Frieze performance I know you have continued to work on this project. What other outcomes have there been and what do you think has been gained from this sustained interest?

VC: Mosquitos are a very broad theme and it was inevitable I would treat it quite densely, in a sense that every aspect they raise opens up a new door to explore. I have been very interested in the “come back” of yellow fever. This is a very old disease that used to haunt South American and Caribbean coasts, and it somehow survived inside the forests and inside the bodies of sabethes mosquitoes and monkeys. It is a very ironic fact that a great number of yellow fever cases happened right during the rise of a Brazilian alt-right movement that has yellow as their main color. I turned my attention to the hallucination that is typical of this disease to also talk about politics and courage, to the intricacies of the body and the self in a larger social fabric. This was my inspiration for the work “A Soul Transplant” that is a large sound installation that has a composition made by me and Italian-Slovenian pianist Sven Lidén on a high-end Swedish organ at Luleå University of Technology. There I mixed the harmonies of Brazilian mestizo flutes to the sounds of mosquitos, some even processed as a choir.

AC: Broadly, you explore how socio-political contexts impact our reception to noises. Given you have presented works relating to mosquitos in a number of different places now, and to many audiences, do you have any interesting observations as to how the work has been differently received?

VC: In a very short period of time, I have shown these works both in India and in Sweden and I could see how different the meaning of mosquitoes is in both places. In Sweden, mosquitoes are hibernating most of the year and they are not everywhere. Although they can be extremely aggressive when summer comes, there are no disease-carrying mosquitoes there, so this fact definitely changes everything when it comes to their socio-political meaning and how government and society behave towards them. Even though mosquitoes mean something else in Sweden, “A Soul Transplant” was one of my favorite productions of my career as an artist and the audience response was magical. In India, I could feel it was quite similar to what I had in Brazil, the structural issues, the temperature, the diseases, the colonialism heritage… I felt completely understood and the Indian audience was simply amazing… very interactive and curious.

AC: Could you reveal a bit about the work you will be presenting at during the final weekend of the Venice Biennale?

VC:  “The New World Syrup & The Fever Hand” is another work about yellow fever, similar to “Mosquitos also Cry“, a performance lecture where I dive into the yellow fever hallucination to raise aesthetic hypothesis for its come back. I look at the Portuguese colonial world and the ritualistic life of the Kayapo people, that has many aspects that involve “yellow” elements.  I then tell a fictional story of how Yellow is a revengeful entity that was making justice for the enslavement of indigenous people in the form a disease: yellow fever.

AC: Finally, I wonder if you have any particular thoughts about bringing the work to Venice – a city where mosquitoes are prevalent in the summer months and which has its own history in relation to them?

VC: It is very relevant to look at Venice’s role in the sugar trade and its prior importance in European commerce, one of the main distribution hubs of colonial products. Sugar plantations and the harbors that were exporting raw sugar were the best environments for feeding mosquitoes, therefore, they brew yellow fever epidemics. Mosquitoes from Africa made to America in slave ships. Mosquitoes from America and Africa went to Europe in slave and sugar ships. The fascination around sugar, the need for a sugar high provoked a human disaster and completely changed not only the Tropics’ environment but also the European. I really admire the wisdom behind the popular saying:  “Sweetness always comes at someone’s cost.”

Vivian Caccuri’s performance at the 58th Venice Biennale of Art is supported by Inclusartiz Institute.

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Vivian Caccuri, Mosquitos Also Cry, 2018. Performance at Frieze London. © Linda Nylind Vivian Caccuri, Mosquitos Also Cry, 2018. Performance at Frieze London. © Linda Nylind
  • Vivian Caccuri, A Soul Transplant, 2019. Röda Sten Konsthall. Photo Hendrik Zeitler Vivian Caccuri, A Soul Transplant, 2019. Röda Sten Konsthall. Photo Hendrik Zeitler
  • Vivian Caccuri, Mosquito Shrine, 2018. Courtesy Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018 Vivian Caccuri, Mosquito Shrine, 2018. Courtesy Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018
  • Vivian Caccuri, Mosquito Shrine, 2018. Courtesy Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018. Vivian Caccuri, Mosquito Shrine, 2018. Courtesy Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018.
London - Interviews

Antony Gormley, the Sergeant of Sentinels.

2 weeks ago

Born and bred in London, Antony Gormley is the best-known British sculptor working today. His ‘sentinels’ appear all over the world, investigating the relationship of the human body to space. We spoke to the artist about London today, our cyber-society and his show, currently on at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Lara Morrell: As a born Londoner how have you identified and developed a relationship with the city and how does this materialise in your work?

Antony Gormley: When Vicken and I first married we lived in Peckham for 10 years, built a studio there and had all our children there. Then for school reasons we moved back north. For 14 years I crossed the Thames over Waterloo Bridge or Blackfriars Bridge twice a day on my way from Camden Town to my studio in Peckham, what a way to connect to the river and London’s ever-changing skyline. In 2007, I made EVENT HORIZON on that same skyline around the same two bridges as a meditation on the city. Now the studio is in back in King’s Cross where I started. I love this city. For all its difficulties, it is comfortable, friendly, diverse and seemingly ever-welcoming to each new wave of people that arrives here. In 2009, I made ONE & OTHER for London’s Fourth Plinth, with 2,400 participants from all over the country celebrating our diversity and openness.

Lara Morrell: Your early years were spent squatting in Kings Cross, the face of which has had a dramatic overhaul in recent years (as well the affordability of the area). Do these drastic changes and forces in the urban and social landscape of London bother you?

Antony Gormley: 
London has put itself up for sale. We have had a sequence of real estate bids for the heart of London. The commodification of property can knock out feelings of community and neighbourhood, and of course that worries me. Mass tourism also worries me. This is not a London-specific problem but a bigger, global problem – that we are all eagerly travelling to and looking at other people’s places rather than living in our own.

Lara Morrell: The brand new purpose-built Central Saint Martin’s building situated in Kings Cross in the Granary building designed by Stanton Williams (where I studied a few years back), is considerably different to the content, context and overall feel of the CSM you attended. How do you think art education in the UK has evolved since your days as an art student? What are your thoughts on the accessibility/affordability of art education in the UK today?

Antony Gormley: Art schools seem to have been taken over by middle management and that’s a real tragedy. Back in the 1970s, it was normal that artists making their name nationally and internationally gained a kind of life-support from teaching. This made art school very exciting because you were in direct contact with a wide range of very different sensibilities – artists out there making shows, changing the artistic landscape, were talking to you about their work and about your work. Now that just isn’t true. On the whole, when I was at art school, students were often people who weren’t going to fit ordinary career paths and were interested in a wide range of things. It seems like we are now so dependent on a large proportion of the student intake coming from abroad, paying top tier fees. The system has become completely addicted to and reliant on that cash flow. I think that this shift has resulted in a dilution of  an inheritance from the post-war years, the legacy of Maynard Keynes and Albertopolis: the belief that a rich society had to have a making/thinking relationship and that the crafts and the arts should be supported in the centre of our cities by serious institutions giving the widest possible education to the widest variety of people. Art schools are very different places and I regret that the tradition of international and national artists teaching in art schools has not survived.

Lara Morrell: Your sculptures often outline alienated and solitary figures dwelling upon the abyss before them. How do you view the average London city dweller today? As the city evolves, do you find that it is becoming a lonelier place, evermore difficult to project oneself upon?

Antony Gormley: Cybersociety, the way in which we are all in touch with each other through our external brain machines, has had the most devastating effect on feelings of collective community. We are addled by an overload of reported fact that we can do nothing about, but everyone is aware of this problem and is working against it through friendship. Every kind of interest group seems to be flourishing, from running and yoga to all kinds of making and growing, we are all on a journey to reformulate our society in a time of mass information. My work’s singularity isn’t a manifestation of alienation and loneliness: the attitude of the work is alert, aware and awake. When placed against the sky the sculptures are often looking towards a horizon that we cannot see. I think of them as sentinels, aware of a wider picture, inviting a form of awareness to do with the future, the planet, space.

Lara Morrell: Your works are usually made and thrive in direct response to the locations in which they are installed, have you come across any challenges in grouping your works together for this retrospective at the Royal Academy? How does this re-location/de-contextualisation change the reading of the work and the way the viewer engages with it?

Antony Gormley: I think that every exhibition that I make is also an invitation to investigate the body of the building in which it is shown. I did that with the Hayward Gallery in 2007 and now again with the Royal Academy. The RA comes with a lot of baggage. The architecture itself is pseudo-renaissance, informed by Alberti’s orders. The RA is one of seven learned societies coming out of the Enlightenment and the belief that civilised rationality was the basis of humanity’s future. I do not particularly want to contradict those values but complement them with materials associated with our industrial age. Two works came into being in the Royal Academy, they came in bits and were constructed for the first time in gallery 3 and gallery 8, MATRIX and CAVE. They are conversations between shattered orthogonal structures, the grid and classical order. The thresholds of each room are an important part of this architectural dialogue. The three times lifesize doorways are either blocked or opened, barred or obscured and lead to light or to darkness. In gallery 8, where we enter into CAVE, there is a great marble doorway now blocked with tumbled steel boxes that offer the visitor only a small passage by which to enter the work’s dark bodyform. To do so you have to bend down and I like that juxtaposition of the grandeur of renaissance magnificence with the mode of entering a traditional long house where you have to bow down in a gesture of submission.

Lara Morrell: You work with a wide-ranging use of organic, industrial and elemental materials, could you tell me a little about the choice of material when approaching a new sculpture – the relationship between the chosen material, the subject matter and location.

Antony Gormley: All matter comes with a preordained feel and connection with things that already exist, either systems, or values, or location in landscape. I want to respect matter. When I use iron, for example, I am thinking of the iron core of our planet that gives us our magnetic field and keeps us on our cosmic course. When I use bread, I think about bread as the staff of life, the agent of transformation of matter into mind. Material is already a subject in its own right, there is no need to use it to make a picture. Simply by displacing something we can develop a new relationship with it, with ourselves and with the rest of the world. I feel the same way about context. As I have said, the RA building itself becomes part of the raw material and emergent subject of the show. I have thought hard about the materials that I have brought into my exhibition at the RA. They are all familiar, they are all everyday things, they are all out of our current lives whether food, earth or industrial material.

Lara Morrell: Art fairs, could perhaps be compared to the London property market, an important space where one needs to understand why people are building/making and buying, My Art Guide London is produced for the occasion of Frieze Week in London (with a focus on all that is going on simultaneously elsewhere in the city) how do you view the commodification of art?

Antony Gormley: I would contest the assertion that the art fair is an important space of understanding! You make an intriguing comparison with the London property market, a system of exchange through which the basic human need for shelter is transformed into something like style choice. Art has fallen into this commodification trap without fully recognising the consequences. There’s no doubt that art fairs allow artists an important opportunity to support their work, but I wish we could somehow use the net to exchange product, time and skill directly, without markets. For the moment we live in a world that is ruled by a late capitalism which cannot cure its own evils. Art fairs often undermine the integrity of the art they seek to support.  

Lara Morrell: Could you disclose to our readers, a few of your favourite, off-the-beaten track London hang outs?

Antony Gormley: Well, I love two Sichuan restaurants. One is called Silk Road on Camberwell Church Street and the other is Xi’an opposite Emirates Stadium. I love my local pub, The Lord Stanley, it serves fantastic food. Precious to me is Postman’s Park where George Frederic Watts’s memorial celebrates ordinary, unsung heroes and The Hardy Tree in St Pancras Churchyard, close to John Soane’s tomb, where the young Thomas Hardy arranged tombstones within the roots of a plane tree, hiding their names one against the other. And of course, there’s Hampstead Heath. What an amazing joy to find there, as I did yesterday, a heron preening itself, sitting on a floating buoy in the pond above the Men’s Pond and to be able to delight in the range of trees, American Pin Oaks, low crowned Holme Oaks, fantastic, ancient sweet chestnuts.


Lara Morrell

  • Photograph by Stephen White, London Photograph by Stephen White, London
Venice - Interviews

The Madagascar Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2019: An Interview with Joël Andrianomearisoa

3 weeks ago

This year Madagascar takes part in the 58th edition of La Biennale di Venezia International Exhibition with its own pavilion for the first time in its history. Titled “I have forgotten the night“, the exhibition is curated by Rina Ralay-Ranaivo and Emmanuel Daydé.

Mara Sartore: What was your reaction when you received the news of being selected to represent Madagascar at the Venice Biennale 2019?

Joël Andrianomearisoa: When the Madagascar government invited me to represent my country at the Venice Biennale I actually had two reactions: my curator, my friends and people around me suggested that I look at ways to represent my country. To me, it seemed very complicated, I wandered “How can I represent Madagascar in this space and with my work which is not only related to my country?”. So the first main goal was to find a title which is “I have forgotten the night”. In a way, I tried to forget Madagascar to remember this country in a better way, to discover different emotions and I selected the temporality of the night which is a time of the day I like the most, it’s more emotional, mysterious and it also gives me more inspiration. Physically there was another important point: to not touch the walls which I decided to keep white and clean as they were, so the piece is suspended. It’s a way to give an international breath to the work, I mean, we are in the Madagascar pavilion, in its own space, but the work reflects my international attitude. I am based between Paris and Antananarivo but I belong to the world, so this idea of nationality sometimes it heavy. In Venice and within the Venice Biennale we as artists are related to a country but as humans, we are just artists of the world, not necessarily related to our country of origin.

In regards to the piece itself, the initial inspiration for my work was, of course, Madagascar and specific elements of my country: the architecture, for example, I was inspired by certain buildings from the18th century that were built by our Kingdom; also literature inspired me: a very important author who has inspired me is Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, a melancholic poet who was the first in my country to write in English and French at the same time, he had a short life because he committed suicide when he was 33 years old. Marguerite Duras and her reflections upon colonisation is another international reference to me.

The piece is a metaphor but it is also a forgotten book: I tried to disperse different emotions and elements which can be read by the viewer, it’s a paper collage, a floating piece where the pages are moving – it’s not a written book but more of a book seeped in an emotion. I also wanted to simply engage with the public and allow the audience to go on a journey into Madagascar so I decided to include a sound piece in the pavilion. I invited a famous singer from Madagascar to sing a poem which is called “I have to ask” where there’s a constant idea of duality. The singer doesn’t sing in the proper Madagascar language, in a way, she transforms the poem into an international song, which was my intent.

Mara Sartore: Where did you realise the piece for the pavilion, was it in Paris?

Joël Andrianomearisoa: No, as you know, I have one studio in Antananarivo, one in Paris and a third one in the countryside, in France. It’s in this very big one that I built the piece.

Mara Sartore: What will happen to the piece when the biennale is over?

Joël Andrianomearisoa: The artwork is going on tour, the first stop will be in March at the Domaine de Chaumont in the South West of Paris. The castle is a museum with a section dedicated to contemporary art. Every year they invite an artist to exhibit a major piece, and they also have a wonderful garden where they a big flower festival on the occasion of which they invite prestigious garden designers. So this main artwork and other pieces will be shown from March 2020 and will probably then travel to another place, but let’s see.

Lear more about the Madagascar Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale.
The Madagascar Pavilion is located at the Arsenale Artiglierie among the first national pavilions following the international exhibition.

Carla Ingrasciotta

  • Joël Andrianomearisoa © Christian Sanna Joël Andrianomearisoa © Christian Sanna
  • Madagascar Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019, Arsenale Madagascar Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019, Arsenale
  • Madagascar Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019, Arsenale Madagascar Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019, Arsenale
  • Madagascar Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019, Arsenale Madagascar Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019, Arsenale
Brazil - Interviews

Curitiba Biennial: Curator Massimo Scaringella in Conversation with Artists Stefano Cagol, Hannes Egger and Philipp Messner

4 weeks ago

Open Borders” is the title of the 14th Curitiba International Biennial of Contemporary Art which takes place in the capital of the state of Parana in Brazil from 21 September 2019 to 1 March 2020.

In the frame of this topic, as part of the team of curators of the Biennial, curator Massimo Scaringella presents a project entitled “Human/territorial relations“, exhibiting the artworks created for this occasion by a group of international artists from 9 countries. Among them, he decided to invite a territorial cluster composed by three Italian artists born in the same border region, Stefano Cagol, Hannes Egger, Philipp Messner, but belonging to three different cultural and linguistic official groups: Italian, German and Ladin. The region is Trentino South Tyrol, considered an example of coexistence and linked to Brazil and Paranà by a history of migration to that continent. Their artworks are exhibited in the most prestigious venue of the Biennial: the Oscar Niemeyer Museum, considered one of the most important museums in Latin America.

On the eve of their departure to Curitiba, he asked Stefano Cagol, Hannes Egger, Philipp Messner what they expect from this participation – for Egger and Messner the first biennial, Cagol already at biennials like the one in Venice. This experience will be special for them also because of the dimensions of the Curitiba Biennial. A ranking among global events such as the art biennials is impossible, but the Curitiba Biennial holds a record, as the last edition recorded over a million visitors in 6 months, almost double than the 600 thousand in 7 months of the Venice Biennale of the same year. The Curitiba Biennial – born in the nineties as VentoSul. Latin-American Visual Arts Biennial – has never stopped growing, becoming increasingly international, expanding the venues and the program, up to include a reduced version of the Biennial on tour at partner institutions in other countries.

Massimo Scaringella: Why is your research linked with the theme of this edition of the Curitiba Biennial?

Stefano Cagol: Almost a year ago we discussed the Biennial and its topic “FRONTEIRAS EM ABERTO”, which led me to propose you the idea of inviting two other artists from different cultures from my own region, Trentino South Tyrol, between Mittle-Europe and the Mediterranean. So with this meaningful invitation you focused an “exhibition within the exhibition”. The idea of border has always been part of my research. My reflections have evolved over time, looking at the boundary with the other in metropolitan spaces, between collective and individual consciousness in the formation of public opinion, physical and mental borders crossed in traveling projects up to “The End of the Border” and far beyond the Polar Circle, arriving now to investigate the boundaries between man and nature, the balances of this relationship and the anthropogenic interferences on the environment and the climate.

Hannes Egger: Our territory is full of borders, not only between nations, but also between different languages, habits and cultures. I am used to dealing with these issues, to being in balance on the line of demarcation, to thinking in a cross-border way. To this I have often dedicated my research, always trying to cross borders, working for open borders. An example of this is my project “Bivacco”, presented on the Island of San Servolo in conjunction with the current Venice Biennale. By triggering a very symbolic action, I transferred along the coast an alpine bivouac, a high mountain emergency structure, which by definition must always be open to everyone and welcoming – a refuge for those traveling from the Mediterranean to northern Europe.

Philipp Messner: In my work, I have often dealt with the concept of frontier through the representations of the identity. Having grown up in a multilingual territory in the Dolomites, I have always had an approach of “close distance” with the ideas of identity and social construction of identity, balanced by the contact with a landscape characterised by a very formative physicality and presence of nature. So I feel the theme very close to the matter of the perception that forms reality. This is the main approach in my work, which confronts different themes, always focusing on the question of how we form reality, how reality forms us, revealing these dynamics.

MS: How does the artwork you present at the Biennial respond to this theme?

SC: Traces of the heat, on other hands, on walls, on leaves, ice melting on the palm, flowing like blood. The work talks about the border with the environment, is entitled “It’s all about giving and taking energy” and is part of the project “The Body of Energy (of the mind)”, on-going since 2014. In Curitiba I present a video work and a picture from the last chapter as result of a workshop held at the MA*GA Museum with students of the Academies of Brera in Milan and of Verona. I use an infrared video camera, capable of highlighting invisible traces of heat, the permanence of our contacts with the surrounding, the extension of the consequences of our actions. Then I present the unreleased performance “NÓS SOMOS AQUECIMENTO GLOBAL” (we are global warming), with propaganda banner & caps, spreading thermo-sensitive postcards, visible only with the heat of the touch. A metaphor for climate issues, which are in front of our eyes and we are not able to grasp, which we amplify with our actions, a metaphor for the rising temperatures (also caused by deforestation) as part of the complex system of imbalance of the border between man and nature.

HE: The work “Silent Border in the Middle of No Man’s Land” is an audio- or, rather, an audience-performance. It consists of 10 audio tracks, transmitted via headphones, which invite the audience to perform. There are instructions and the sound is by the music designer mr. coon. Each of these sound installations reveals a different aspect of the border: an invisible wall with a crack, the border of one’s own sex, that of one’s own self-definition. Philosophical works and figures are also mentioned, such as the tightrope walker of the Zarathustra by Nietsche or the work “Huis Clos” (No Exit) by Jean-Paul Sartre. The installation choices are minimalist, the viewer finds 10 headphones and a pair of objects, but the work expands, becomes truly visible only when the public takes part in it: at that point the work begins to live and the bodies of the performers become its centre.

PM: For the Curitiba Biennial and the Oscar Niemeyer Museum I developed a series of new flags working with terms like “we“ or “all”, and with short sentences like “brain capacity” and “tactile fields”, that overlap and address directly to the public. The graphic superimpositions, instead of defining, open up to an idea of potentiality, of the space and the self from the individual to the collective. The flags, once installed, outline a space of open-mindedness and question possible future actions.

MS: Is this your first time exhibiting in South America? What do you expect from this experience?

SC: Being in Brazil right now is particularly significant. The Amazon Forest is so immense but fragile, so central to climate change, important themes in my research. And then the effects and the questions of forcing the border with the natural environment …

HE: This is my first time exhibiting in South America. I am very curious to see how the audience will react to my interactive installation, whether or not they will participate. I am also looking forward to getting to know Curitiba and its surroundings, because it is an area where a lot of people migrated to from my region as well.

PM: Yes, it’s the first time I’m working and traveling to Brazil and I can’t wait to get in touch with this huge territory, with so many resources. The future of the world is at stake in South America. It is also an honour to participate in the Biennial and to exhibit at the Oscar Niemeyer Museum.

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Stefano Cagol, “ETERNO”, 2019, performance, ice, hairspray cans, fire. Hofburg, Brixen. Photo: Leonhard Angerer Stefano Cagol, “ETERNO”, 2019, performance, ice, hairspray cans, fire. Hofburg, Brixen. Photo: Leonhard Angerer
  • Stefano Cagol, “It’s all about giving and taking energy”, 2019, infrared video and print presented at the 14th Curitiba Biennial Stefano Cagol, “It’s all about giving and taking energy”, 2019, infrared video and print presented at the 14th Curitiba Biennial
  • Stefano Cagol, Stefano Cagol,"NÓS SOMOS AQUECIMENTO GLOBAL (We are global warming)”, 2019, sketch for the performance at the 14th Curitiba Biennial
  • Hannes Egger, “Modus Operandi”, 2017, performance. Hotel Schwarzschmied, Lana. Photo: Joan Casellas Hannes Egger, “Modus Operandi”, 2017, performance. Hotel Schwarzschmied, Lana. Photo: Joan Casellas
  • Hannes Egger, “Performance Now”, 2019, performance. Magazin 4, Bregenz. Photo: Sarah Mistura Hannes Egger, “Performance Now”, 2019, performance. Magazin 4, Bregenz. Photo: Sarah Mistura
  • Hannes Egger, “Vedere l’invisibile”, 2017, performance. Fondazione Barriera, Torino. Photo: Stefano Fiorina Hannes Egger, “Vedere l’invisibile”, 2017, performance. Fondazione Barriera, Torino. Photo: Stefano Fiorina
  • Philipp Messner, Portrait, 2019. Munich. Photo: Michael Daiminger Philipp Messner, Portrait, 2019. Munich. Photo: Michael Daiminger
  • Philipp Messner, “Campos tácteis”, 2019, sketch for a flag installation for the 14th Curitiba Biennial Philipp Messner, “Campos tácteis”, 2019, sketch for a flag installation for the 14th Curitiba Biennial
  • Philipp Messner, “Incorporare”, 2016, installation, 4 flags. Temporary school building, Lana. Photo: Philipp Messner Philipp Messner, “Incorporare”, 2016, installation, 4 flags. Temporary school building, Lana. Photo: Philipp Messner
Venice - Interviews

Majhi International Art Residency in Venice: An Interview with Durjoy Rahman

2 months ago

For the occasion of the first edition of Majhi International Art Residency Programme, presented by Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) in Venice, we interviewed DBF founder Durjoy Rahman to tell us about his experience in Venice.
The residency takes place at Combo, the former Convento dei Crociferi. Here the artists live and work over the entire period of residency (July 20 – August 3) to produce an artwork for the final collective exhibition which runs at Combo from August 4 – 11, 2019 (opening August 3).

Mara Sartore: How did the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) come about?

Durjoy Rahman: I’ve been a collector for the past 20 years. In 2015 I started thinking about the idea of creating a platform to collaborate with artists and share their different voices both on a local and international level. So with this in mind by 2018 I had finally founded the foundation as Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) which was simultaneously established in two locations Bangladesh and Berlin.

The reason I chose the European city of Berlin, is for its connotations as a thriving art conscious city, representing a bridge between the East and the West, between Europe and Asia. So I thought the presence of a foundation from Bangladesh could encourage the promotion and understanding of South Asia and its appreciation within the European context. The foundation mainly supports artists from South Asia and from the global South.

Mara Sartore: What was your first main project as DBF? Where did the idea of a residency programme come from?

Durjoy Rahman: When DBF initially registered in both Bangladesh and Berlin, I first collaborated with a German museum, the Kunstmuseum Wolfburg and I donated a major installation by Mithu Sen (b. 1971 India) to the museum’s permanent collection. This was the first time a female contemporary artist from India had been collected by a major German institution and it proved a great breakthrough and pivotal point for the emancipation of South Asian female artists as well as for art from that region. After this very first project, we started supporting artists exhibiting at the Bangkok Art Biennale 2018, we then introduced the foundation at Art Basel Hong Kong. We gradually began figuring out ways of collaborating with artists internationally and that’s how we came up with the residency programme. We chose Venice because it is an important city for art and it’s currently hosting the 58th International Art Exhibition. I was impressed with the team behind the Venice Biennale and I thought I would like to work with a that kind of spirit which I found in the collaboration with Lightbox and the wonderful staff that manage Combo, the residency’s location.

Mara Sartore: Have you noticed any subtle, underlying or even obvious connections between Dhaka and Venice?

Durjoy Rahman: Of course Venice is the location of major art events considering both the Art and Architecture biennales and the Venice Film Festival, but when we chose Venice as location for the residency programme, we were mostly attracted by its power in terms of natural and geographical pattern because it has a specific common element with various cities in Bangladesh which is of course water. Venice is surrounded by water and canals in the same way that Bangladesh has lot of rivers: that’s why we named the residency “Majhi” which in Bengali means “boatman” who takes people from a destination to another, this is a common element between the two cities, as in Venice the boatman steers the gondola. 

Mara Sartore: So the artists are staying in Venice for 12 days at Combo. They have been meeting, creating and working together. We have 6 Bangladeshi, 4 Venetian and 1 Turkish-German artists on-board. What has been your overall impression so far?  Have you had any feedback from the Bangladeshi artists?

Durjoy Rahman: The purpose of any residency is to bring artists to a specific space so they can work together, share their experiences, cultures and backgrounds. The foundation wanted to bring artists from Bangladesh into the European context and invited artists from the global South or Diaspora to provide them with the opportunity to work alongside local artists.
I have spoken to many of the artists which some of them claim that they are overwhelmed by this experience, working in such an interesting space, exploring its creative side and blending themselves in with Venetian concepts and ways or working.
Venice has a big Bangladeshi migrant community so the artist are involving them in their projects whilst experiencing Venetian practices. In this migrant context they are all sharing their views and this way of working falls core to the art residency’s main endeavour.

Mara Sartore: What’s next for DBF?

Durjoy Rahman: My plan is to keep the residency happening every year and in 10 years I’d like to bring around 500 artists to the residency programme. Also, one important note is that this first edition will have a publication where artists and artworks are featured and documented as well as on the Majhi website which guarantees them all international visibility.
In November we will have a major exhibition and public symposium title “Homework” at the University of Cambridge, UK. The exhibition includes works by Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian artists and it will run from November 2019 until February 2020. We are currently supporting the production of work by a Pakistani artist who will exhibit in the UK for the first time. I believe that DBF is the only foundation consistently supporting such an initiative at a University in the UK.
In 2020 we will continue our public art programme in Cambridge and in June we want to bring the Majhi Residency back to Venice with a  larger and more structured format.

Mara Sartore

  • Durjoy Rahman, Founder of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation Durjoy Rahman, Founder of Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation
  • Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva
  • Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva
  • Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva Majhi International Art Residency Venice 2019 at COMBO, Venice ©️ Valentina Sommariva
Venice - Interviews

The Belgium Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2019: An Interview with Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys

2 months ago

Artists Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, in collaboration with curator Anne-Claire Schmitz, present “Mondo Cane” at the 58th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia as part of their participation to the Belgian Pavilion.
For the occasion of the Special Mention they have been awarded, we interviewed the artists to learn more about their biennale’s experience.
Carla Ingrasciotta: You have been awarded a Special Mention as National Participation at the Venice Biennale 2019, what was your reaction? And how do you perceive the general public’s reaction to your project?

Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys: We were very happy and totally in shock. It was extremely difficult not to get totally drunk after the news of this Special Mention but I managed to stay sober. I went to bed early. It is a great recognition for our 30-year-old art practice.

The reactions on Mondo Cane are excellent as far as I know. Of course there will be people who think it’s bullshit but tools like Instagram, Facebook and Google are like a filter of positivity. We only see very enthusiastic posts about Mondo Cane so maybe that’s fake news. Who knows. We will see in the end.
We are satisfied with the result.

C.I: How was your collaboration with curator Anne-Claire Schmitz? How did you conceive and develop the project together? What was the starting point and the issues that inspired you to respond to Rugoff’s curatorial theme “ May You Live in Interesting Times”?

JDG & HT: When Anne-Claire asked us if we were interested in making a dossier for the Venice Biennale 2019 the idea was already completed after our second meeting.
The whole thing must have been sleeping in our heads for a long time, and then it woke up at the right moment.

C.I.: “Mondo Cane” is inhabited by automated dolls which are modelled both on fictive characters and real people. Could you tell us about the creative process of your artwork? Do you work alone or do you have a team of collaborators with you?

JDG & HT: We have been working with human figures since the mid-eighties. Our characters have always been undertaking small and rather repetitive actions. Overtime, they became even more stereotyped and slowly turned into puppets.

Last year we started using 3D printers to make a large number of plaster heads. This way we could create exactly the characters we wanted.
For “Mondo Cane” it goes a step further and the puppets are now automated figures. They can perform small movements but actually, they are very static and regressive. We collaborated with a very good team that has been working on the project since the very beginning. Coming to Venice all together to clean up the pavilion, paint it, install our work and present it to the public, feels a bit like a school field trip. Everybody thinks in the same direction. We are all astonished by what we have achieved.

C.I.: Our publishing house is based in Venice, I imagine you had the chance to get around the city a bit. What do you think about life in this city and its art scene?

JDG & HT: I have the impression that all the contemporary art in Venice comes from outside of Venice. It is the most important place to show art. This, in combination with the thousands of people who take selfies and the huge Cruise boats that are bigger than skyscrapers, make it a very weird place. Interesting to see but also a bit of a nightmare. We were very happy to stay on the Lido in quiet a Hotel with a nice rose garden.

C.I.: Are there any projects or pavilions you particularly enjoyed at the 58th Venice Art Biennale?

JDG & HT: The pavilion of Brasil I liked a lot. I will see them all when I go back in September. Until now I was too focused on the Belgian Pavillion.

C.I.: What are you working on at the moment? Future plans?

JDG & HT:  For the moment we are taking a break to digest.

Carla Ingrasciotta

  • Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys © Margaux Nieto Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys © Margaux Nieto
  • Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, “Mondo Cane” curated by Anne Claire Schmitz, Belgian Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia 2019, Courtesy and copyright of the artists and the Belgian Pavilion © Nick Ash Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, “Mondo Cane” curated by Anne Claire Schmitz, Belgian Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia 2019, Courtesy and copyright of the artists and the Belgian Pavilion © Nick Ash
Venice - Interviews

“Art Thinking Is How to Navigate the Future”. An Interview with Daehyung Lee

4 months ago

Claudia Malfitano: You curated the Korean Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. What was the main challenge of such a role? What does it mean to curate a national pavilion?

Daehyung Lee: Curating a national pavilion is very challenging, especially in Korea where the cultural proposal has to pass through the jury members. The jury usually consists of 6 curators and artists who have themselves experienced the Venice Biennale, so their expectations are usually centered on national identity and how to best present Korea. But at the same time, we have to either reflect or go against the artistic direction of the main exhibition. In 2017, Christine Macel was the curator, so I tried to analyse her curatorial practice not so as to emulate it, but to distance my curatorial methodology from hers; I implied Foucault’s pendulum. The pendulum would swing back to the more artistic expressions from that of Okwui Enwezor’s political narratives. In her exhibition “Viva Arte Viva”, Macel encouraged more diverse engagement with the audience; she invited sound artists and performance artists. So that was her taste and that was her curatorial direction. When I chose my Korean artists, I had to respect her curatorial direction, but the world in 2017 was divided by many forces such as transnational conflict, minority issues, and right wing movements (like Brexit, for example), so I tried to focus not just on the artistic forms but also on political, social and economic narratives. Then I realised that Korean problems or other Asian countries’ problems were all linked to global problems, so I conceived my curatorial direction as transnational and transgenerational. I then approached 3 artists: the first a fictitious artist I called Mr. K., representing our grandfather’s generation; the second, Cody Choi for our father’s generation and the third, Lee Wan for our son’s generation. Those generations are different universes: the grandfather’s generation depicted by Mr. K. is dominated by the conflict between Japan and Korea, because he experienced the Japanese colonial period; my father’s generation experienced the Korean war, when Communism was a big issue: Korea and America; Korea and the US Army. His dilemma is squeezed in between generations. But my generation—the son’s generation—we don’t care about Japan, we don’t care about America, and that’s our situation.
I discovered that our perception is increasingly infiltrated by multiple landscapes: we begin with the natural landscape, and then incorporate the social and political landscape, as well as the technological landscape. Since we are all connected 24/7 through our mobile phones and SNS (social networking services), so technological literacy is a key issue. Technological literacy among my grandfather’s generation is lower than among my father’s generation, so his universe is in some ways limited. America symbolises Western culture and our generation, we’re connected and we’ve got all the information. Like, you know BTS?

CM: Yes, they are huge! Not just in Korea.

DL: You see?! That’s because we are surrounded by the same technological landscape, so our path to understanding the world is different; that’s why yesterday we were talking about how the transnational situation, conditions and conflicts impact curatorial issues in many countries, but tomorrow we’ll talk more about transgenerational issues because technology is fast erasing all the boundaries. Then I discovered some similarities between art and technology, because technology also can transcend all the boundaries.

CM: So your analysis of the present and the recent past kind of led me to the second question I wanted to ask you which is, where do you think Korean contemporary art is now?

DL: Ok, that’s a good question…Back in 1980 to early 2000, many of my friends outside Korea described Korean contemporary art by saying “you guys are really good at making things, the fabrication technology is really good.” I think it’s a bit of a derogatory description, because fabrication without philosophy is just the final part of a process. When they said that, I heard “Conceptually weak but the fabrication is good.”
After 2010, we were all talking about the experience economy, and I think that Korean contemporary art is there. Artists are entering that phase and that opportunity because creating is more important that the physical entity; Korean artists have to collaborate sometimes with archaeologists, sometimes with sound artists or programmers, sometimes with environmental activists. So we do more than the fabrication: we ask questions and develop new narratives—really interesting narratives arise from this duality of fabrication. We cannot plan the visual: it is totally open-ended, that’s why Korean artists are very good at making, and really good at collaborating with different people.

CM: During every Venice Biennale there are many exhibitions of Korean art and artists. What is the connection between Korea and Venice, if there is one, or why is the Venice Biennale so appealing for Korean institutions and galleries?

DL: I don’t think there is a connection between Venice and Korea specifically, but the Venice Biennale is an international opportunity. It’s a place to visit, like a pilgrimage: we imagine thousands of curators, journalists and museum directors from all around the world so we really appreciate this opportunity because in Korea, Seoul is not a global city like London, New York or Berlin: it is economically strong but you rarely see any foreign curators.

CM: Why do you think that is?

DL: Korea is still a very homogeneous society. Universities need to hire more international professors like they do in Hong Kong or Singapore; even in Beijing and Shanghai they keep hiring international faculty members, but in Korea we are not. Or we are hiring but the numbers are small.

CM: Is it because of bureaucracy or is there another reason?

DL: It’s controversial. Before the current director of MMCA we had the first international director, Bartomeu Mari. I respected his new vision very much, but our society was not ready or patient enough to wait for his achievements.

CM: I kind of sensed this in Korea when I was there, but I also felt that people want to open up towards the rest of the world and be more international, and be seen as more international.

DL: I hope that in the next 5-10 years our society and culture will be more open to foreigners. Culture is not a product to export but a sharable creative experience that requires borderless collaboration between many different ideas.

CM: What’s in the future of Hyundai’s art initiatives?

DL: We started our programme based on 3 major museum partnerships with TATE, LACMA and MMCA, and we extended the programme to Bloomberg, do you know why?

CM: No, why?

DL: I think there are three phases or stages of contact between money and art, companies and cultural institutions: the first stage is collection, the second stage is commission, the third stage is perception; this is my analysis. We don’t support collection at the moment. We support commissions because we are not buying the final beautiful outcome, but we support really interesting ideas, either physical or experiential. At Hyundai Motor, we define art and culture not as a collector’s item for a small number of people but as a sharable experience for many people. Then we realised that Tate’s visitor numbers—somewhere between 5 and 6 million per year. It’s a big number but not big enough compared to the number of people that are actually travelling to London. We wanted to share really good ideas through virtual space so that you don’t have to travel to access them. That’s why Bloomberg filmed 75 international artists for 3 years, chosen based on a range of geographical locations and genders, then we asked the artists to find the right person to describe them—it could be a philosopher, a psychologist, or an art historian, for example, and they described the artist with their own voice. So that’s a phase.
Then we switched gears from contemporary art to art and technology; that’s a shift from the question within the art ecosystem to questions outside it. During the first three years we tried to support the art ecology, and now we are raising some bigger questions about what the role of art will be in our society; what will be its role in the future? We revealed this plan to our museum partners, and I had a talk with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Yana Peel at the Serpentine Galleries in London. They agreed because art is such a valuable experience, an asset, so we have to get the art out of the white cube space and bring it to society, to the city. That’s been our new role and that’s why we started the Blue Prize—a curatorial award programme for young Chinese curators. In many countries, when you ask international art curators “what do you think of Chinese contemporary art?” they all talk about the market, the auction houses, the art fairs but they don’t see what’s going on; their understanding of Chinese art is very flat and superficial, so I thought China needed a strong discourse-generating platform. China’s young curators are really, really talented so every year we select two young Chinese curators and we give them prompts. The first year the prompt was “social mobility.” The second year it was “future humanity;” and this year it’s “social intelligence.”

CM: What do you mean by “social intelligence”?

DL: The world is divided by different ideologies, different economic systems, and different political agendas. It’s a fight between humanities. Since 2016, we have all been talking about the fear of a robotised world dominated by AI (artificial intelligence). So we have to think about this from the perspective of the anthropocene; we have to consider what human feature can keep humanity human in the future. Empathy is a big part of it, emotion is a big part of it, but social intelligence is too—we have forgotten how to communicate properly with people, though we are really good at communicating with a digital gadget. Technology and robots and AI, yes…but we keep forgetting, especially younger generations with stronger technological literacy, how to communicate with real people with a different skin colour, background, or culture, because our default world is bigger than our real world and our relationship with technology is dominating our everyday life. So developing social intelligence is crucial for us to regain our real sensorium.
Now we need “art thinking”—everybody is talking about design thinking and finding solutions—art thinking is question-finding because our society and technology are changing so fast that design thinking is not timely enough to provide the real solution. We have to find the right questions, and that is the role of art. This is how we navigate the future.

CM: What are the exhibitions you want to see in Venice?

DL: I didn’t have much time, but my favourite National Pavilions so far, apart from the Korean Pavilion, are India, Ghana, France, Chile, and the Chinese pavilion’s AI augmented cityscape is very interesting.

Claudia Malfitano

  • Portrait of Daehyung Lee. Photo © ninevonstudio Portrait of Daehyung Lee. Photo © ninevonstudio
  • Hyundai Commission 2017: SUPERFLEX: One Two Three Swing! Courtesy of Tate Photography Hyundai Commission 2017: SUPERFLEX: One Two Three Swing! Courtesy of Tate Photography
  • Korean Pavilion and the 2017 Venice Biennale Korean Pavilion and the 2017 Venice Biennale
  • Installation view of Hyundai Commission 2016: Philippe Parreno, Anywhen 2016. Courtesy of Tate Photography Installation view of Hyundai Commission 2016: Philippe Parreno, Anywhen 2016. Courtesy of Tate Photography
  • Hyundai Commission 2015: Abraham Cruzvillegas: Empty Lot. Courtesy of Tate Hyundai Commission 2015: Abraham Cruzvillegas: Empty Lot. Courtesy of Tate