We interviewed artist Anri Sala (Tirana, 1974) on the occasion of the exhibition AS YOU GO, designed for the spaces on the third floor of Castello di Rivoli, the project presents three interwoven film works: Ravel Ravel (2013), Take Over (2017) and If and only if (2018). The films unfold in the form of a “parade,” with a flow of moving images and multiple narratives which create a unique and gigantic sculpture in movement.
Lara Morrell: The title of the exhibition AS YOU GO alludes to something in motion. By composing separate works one after another, like you have in this show, how are they transformed?
Anri Sala: I conceived the exhibition as a parade of sorts, merging aspects of a walkway with attributes of a conveyor belt. The visitor may choose to either stick to one place and let the exhibition pass by in front of them or walk along in tandem with the pace of the works, or go faster or go perhaps against the flow. As each film crosses the consecutive rooms while being present at the same time in multiple spaces at once, contrasting feelings of déjà vu and ubiquity emerge, juxtaposing repetition with progression. In terms of the relationship between the three separate works; I did not edit or alter the films as such, but composed the pace of their trajectories across the exhibition space. I was interested in developing how the films chase, overlap or catch up with one other as they parade. In the case of Ravel Ravel, a work that combines two separate films of two distinct interpretations of Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in D major by two pianists (Louis Lortie and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet), back in 2013 I was interested in the resonance of a space consecutive to the temporal lag between the two performances. The respective tempos of each performance were recomposed so that both executions continuously shifted in and out of unison – shifting away from one another again or eventually catching up. In this exhibition, the temporal lag between the two performances translates into a spatial interval on the wall, with the distance between two projected films increasing or decreasing continually. The exhibition as a whole aims at transforming aural and temporal intervals into visible and spatial ones.
Visitors are welcomed with the piece Bridges in the Doldrums (2016), which definition of the word Doldrum does this title refer to? The equatorial area of the Atlantic Ocean where direction is suspended or a state of depression? Regarding Bridges what is it about this specific transition period in a song that you were drawn to?
I’m referring to the definition of doldrums as a weather condition, the state of stagnation that usually precedes a climatic depression, the moment when things are completely still and it is uncertain when an upcoming change will suddenly occur. Whereas bridges refer to the transitional part when a song is nearing its end, just after the verse and before the last chorus, leading to the coda. I find bridges particularly interesting, both musically and psychologically, because they create moments of suspense and alienation. A bridge has a significantly different melody or rhythm from the rest of the song. This contrast produces a moment of surprise in the course of the song that suspends one’s expectations. You think you have grasped the song but then the bridge arrives and leads you in another and unsuspected direction before bringing you back – thanks to the chorus – to a sense of homecoming and familiarity. I find bridges very daring, in how they break with the set pattern of a song. It is very difficult to write a good bridge and as a matter of fact they are fast becoming an extinct species. For this piece I worked together with the musician and friend Andre Vida. We selected around 75 songs coming from very different genres, periods and geographies. They have been compiled one after the other according to their BPM, from the slowest to the fastest, producing an ever-increasing sense of acceleration. The fact that the bridges here do not lead as usual to the chorus of their respective songs, but to the bridge of another song instead, it keeps one in a state of continuous guess. Many of these bridges come from unknown songs whilst some come from well-known songs. Consequently the bridges from the renowned songs offer a sense of anchorage and temporary relief, thanks to their familiarity.
Could you tell me more about the interactions between the two Anthems, the Marseillaise and the Internationale in Take Over and their connotations? Also the machine versus human agency dichotomy?
La Marseillaise and The Internationale share a musical kinship and political affinity. The 1871 lyrics of The Internationale – a hymn to the ideals of fairness, equality and solidarity – were initially set to the tune of La Marseillaise, an inspiring song against oppressive regimes, Thus, for 17 years the lyrics of The Internationale were sung to the tune of La Marseillaise, which means that when the music of The Internationale was finally composed in 1888, the melody of La Marseillaise was already embedded in its lyrics. From the onset, the connotations of both anthems have drifted, floating across history and political landscapes with an ever-changing symbolic significance. In regards to the machine versus human agency, where a pianist is playing alongside a self playing piano – both playing simultaneously – the piano becomes a battlefield where some notes are played by the machine itself while others are played by the pianist’s hands. So there is a double dichotomy, La Marseillaise versus the Internationale and the human player versus the self-playing piano.
Both in Take Over and Ravel Ravel the keyboard is the central visual player, what does the visual architecture of the keyboard represent to you?
The piano keyboard embodies the whole horizon of the Western conception of musical sound. In the beginning of both films of Take Over, before the appearance of the pianist’s hands, all the keys of the keyboard play by themselves at once and consequently all the notes are heard together in a cluster. Then the cluster eventually breaks down to smaller blocks moving up and down, alluding to a landscape of peaks and valleys, and the horizon starts resembling to a cityscape.
If and Only If seems to focus on the collaboration between human and non-human and the transformation of music as an outcome. What does the role of the Snail emphasise in the music?
In If and Only If music behaves like a physical matter that is continuously evolving, constantly becoming. The presence of the snail, even its weight (which appears to be irrelevant) makes a huge difference to the playing of the music. The snail’s presence becomes inherent to the music. This developing condition, before it can even be taken as a metaphor, is a real thing. If and Only If is a road movie, it portrays the voyage of the snail across the bow, but also the inner journey of The Elegy as it coheres with the snail. The trajectory of the snail along the bow becomes a tangible part of the musical composition, the snail’s location and pace compel the viola player to compose with it, resulting in a tactile interaction between the violist Gérard Caussé and the snail. When the snail pauses, Caussé encourages it to continue, using some notes and the movement of the bow as means to lure the snail to go on. Although all the notes come from Stravinsky’s original score, during Caussé’s performance the intervals between the notes dilate, creating an elasticity that helps the snail continue his journey and persevere. The performance of Elegy usually lasts 5 and a half minutes, but in If and Only If it takes about 8 minutes which corresponds with the time that it takes the snail to reach the end of the viola bow.
Where did the idea of snail come from?
At first it was simply the idea of a snail on a bow, whether a viola or a violin. I wanted to make a road movie across the length of a bow. I was looking after this double cohesion, where the bow plays the cords, while the snail plays the bow. It’s only later, when discussing with a musician friend in Mexico that I became aware of Stravinsky’s Elegy for Viola, whose slow pace would allow the snail withstand this particular journey.
You represented France in the 55th Art Biennale, you are part of a group show Luogo e Segni at Punta Della Dogana opening next month. Our studio is based in Venice, could you tell us a little more about your experiences there.
I have indeed been to Venice many times and the longest time I stayed there was when I was installing my project for the French Pavilion in the German Pavilion, and mixing Ravel Ravel Unravel in-situ with the sound designer Olivier Goinard. There is something special about Venice when you are there during these intervals that do not correspond with save-the-date moments and feel like instances of ‘low tides’, in terms of the reduced number of tourists and events. It is then that something magic happens, when one starts developing their own daily rituals and routine, against a backdrop of extraordinary views. Then, all of a sudden, everybody arrives, prompting an “aqua alta” of events and interactions, and in its brevity and intensity there is something nice about it too.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently preparing two exhibitions, one in October in Luxembourg at Mudam and then in November, another solo exhibition, in Santander at Centro Botin. I am still in the phase of imagining what aspects will hold each show together.