A selection of unpublished short stories and interviews (with or about Alice Cannava, Andrea Hiott, Christoph Tannert, Keren Cytter, Saadane Afif and Warren Neidich). All of these were written in winter 2010 in Berlin, during my “White Night” show at Markus Winter gallery. Also: all drawings are mine (!?), including the draft of the “White Night” book logo.
Marco Antonini: What brought you to Berlin? was it a deliberate choice or a matter of circumstances?
Alice Cannava: I would say that leaving Milan was a deliberate choice, and moving to Berlin was mostly a matter of chance. Everything happened pretty quickly though. Like almost everyone in Milan I had been having vague fantasies about moving somewhere else for quite a while, postponing the final decision. In 2008 I had a job in a good contemporary art gallery, a small but nice apartment in my favorite part of the city, a lot of people I love at hand: not the kind of things you would abandon without thinking twice. Milan is a difficult city, it is expensive and it doesn’t have much to offer to justify the stress you’re constantly living in (like Paris, or London would). It was a bit like a spiral, you worked more and more and had less and less time, but you also had a lot of friends in your same situation to complain and makes jokes with about it… and in the end it was not so hard to find extra jobs. The year 2009 saw the economical crisis exploding, and a certain turbulence in my private life: the two shocks kind of waked me up.
MA: What attracted you the most in the space you currently occupy with your flat/studio/gallery? Did you know it had been an orphanage?
AC: The studio belonged to a friend of mine who was going to move back to Italy, he proposed me to rent it before I could check it out. It was perfect timing for me. I wanted to move immediately, without having to make precise plans. Any German speaking country had always been an option for me as I love the language and learned it a bit during a period of study in Vienna. I was not especially focused on moving to Berlin, but this studio was a cheap and not so engaging option to start with, and of course the city is well known to be inexpensive and to have a rich cultural scene. So why not. More articulated plans came afterwards, when I saw the place, had time to reflect a bit and talk about it with a few people I trusted…
I first came here in January 2009 to make my decision. It was crazy cold, the surroundings and the building looked spooky and reminded me of the movie “Let the Right One In”, about a little vampire girl, which I had just seen. Moreover, the neighbors told me it used to be a DDR orphanage or something similar, and there were already jokes about two little twins haunting the place.
On the first sunny day I discovered how wonderful the light here is. I worked in the studio a few days and loved it (though I confess that I was a bit afraid to walk in the corridor at night). I was fascinated by the idea of using this place for public events, bringing people to an area of the city that I found beautiful and rich of history but nobody would really visit for other reasons. I also liked the idea to make shows in a little two room studio in a town where the galleries and sometimes even he more underground spaces can afford to rent huge places. The location fit my idea of collaboration: close exchange, small shows with a lot of attention to detail, high quality and small budgets.
MA: What is the single creepiest thing that ever happened to you in there? And what, instead the most inspiring and awesome?
AC: At first I constantly heard strange noises, without being able to identify the source. At night, a door is often slamming, I still can’t say which one it is, and I tried several times to close them all very well! The big firs outside the windows look beautiful in daylight, but quite scary at night or just before sunrise, when the sky often turns a shade of red. I once woke up hearing an especially hard and weird sound that really scared me. I followed it. It turned out to be a little spider trapping a moth three times its big in its net. So the noise was the moth, trying to escape, shaking its wings in vain against the window: a brutal but fascinating scene. No paranormal phenomena at work, by the way: just cruel nature. I realized that, compared to my former flats in Milan, this place is more like a country house, with its special noises and living creatures (moths, spiders, little twins…) hanging around, doing their thing. So I stopped worrying so much.
More and more, I started noticing interesting details in the buildings and in the surroundings; a few photo shootings I did just for myself helped a lot with this. In the sunny days, the wild (read: neglected) vegetation in the “garden” looks like a little jungle, wrapping the austere and typically DDR-style concrete building. I have found myself sweeping away dead leaves and planting roses, or planning to transform the rusty, fucked-up swing in a sculpture. I discovered more about this little corner of Berlin, at the intersection between three neighborhoods. Sure, there are no cool clubs, galleries, arty people or students hanging around at night but this area is not lifeless. The Brotfabrik movie Cinema/Bar/Theater, with its archive of East-German cinema… the Krokodil Cinema, focused on Russian and far east movies, the huge studio where the set designs of the Volksbuhne Theater are built, the beautiful Weisser See lake. My research, my plans about future shows and events in this space and even the way I am settling down and furnishing the studio started to be influenced by these “local inputs” and still are.
MA: I wonder if Berlin is still a city that can appreciate little treasures like the ones you described… how do you cope with the progressive internationalization and gentrification of the city? Do you see it threatening your Orphanage as well, one day?
AC: Going back to what I said before, about moving to Berlin mostly by chance: I was actually a bit afraid about not finding my dimension in such an international city, with so many big and small exhibition spaces and things going on. I do love being here and appreciate and take advantage of the many chances that the city offers. But it’s a risk: a little project can easily “disappear” or remain in a corner, with its little public, for years. It’s also a matter of personal taste and personal experiences: I had always been thinking about moving in Vienna or Bruxelles… At the same time my outsider-ish personality and slightly autistic Piedmontese temper needed to be kept in check before they turned into laziness or insecureness. So it was positive for me to meet so many people and find myself talking about what I am doing so much. But I am still quite afraid that someone will tear down the whole building to raise some new condo! Sooner or later, the place will need radical renovation…
Alice Cannava is the publisher of OCCULTO magazine (http://www.occultomagazine.com/)
Andrea looks a little bit like Demi Moore, just less statuesque and intimidating. Such compliments are pretty nice of me, considering that she left the only party I ever invited her to without even saying goodbye. She is writing a book on the history of Volkswagen and she makes a point of not giving details about it. We have a friend in common in Berlin and we both slept at his place (while we talk about this, a third friend pops in the conversation remarking that he, too, knows him and has slept there – seems like needing a place to stay is truly a common issue these days.) We have been connected by a third person of which we both know little or nothing, so the meeting has its awkward moments, but humor and Volkswagen-related jokes keep things cool enough to segway into an unremarkable Italian lunch somewhere on Chausseestrasse, more conversation, and the aforementioned invite.
The night of the party we meet at my place, then walk a few blocks down to buy some wine. All of a sudden, the sky turns faint violet, then pink/grey, then flaming pink, finally settling for a gleaming grey/pink gradient. We stop in the middle of a crossing, looking at that wild expanse of unnaturally beautiful color creeping in the city layout from all cardinal points.
Back at home, I sent Andrea an email. It simply asked:
If you ever had a Volkswagen, what model would it be? What color? What would the story of the car be and what do you imagine yourself doing with it?
This was her reply:
The Volkswagen I long for is the one I could never own. Its cylinders are arranged horizontally; they push into a centrally located crankshaft. Fuel, air, light. Each part of it is in perfect alignment with every other part. It is in constant movement, which might give you the impression that it is floating. Its body fits around me like a glove, shifting and rearranging with each heartbeat, muscle tone, expressed and unexpressed desire. It does not need water; it never gets old. When a space opens, it moves into that openness, just as water would, touching every part of it, expanding gently, never forcing itself, never harming any landscape it enters. It just drives on through. Maybe there is a trail of stardust behind it, like in a cartoon. It doesn’t attach to anything though, and nothing attaches to it: it feels everything completely, so there is actually a great deal of truth. This Volkswagen is effortless. Know what I mean? The point is: it’s a time machine. I step in and I am immediately dispossessed of myself, given over, given up, enchanted. It works the same way you breathe, the same way you dream. You’re safe, and it’s hyper-color. The green of the trees drips off and hits the ground and these drops are called leaves. If you leave this place, the Volkswagen will change color and become purple: the sunset ahead is purple. Not really, but if you look harder, less than a minute later, you’ll find the Volkswagen turning red and orange – just like the horizon. It can lengthen and expand without actually changing form. Isn’t that spectacular?
I think one reason I like this vehicle is because I always know exactly where to go in it, and exactly how to get there, but I don’t think about where I’m going or which way to go: that’s the point. Everything moves, and it moves perfectly, and I don’t need to do anything but open my eyes and ride. In a time machine, you’re basically allowed to acknowledge that time does not exist; it’s just a tool that helps you keep track of where you are. What you’re really doing is moving inside of something that has no beginning or end… What happens is, you get inside the vehicle, and as soon as you choose a particular place or time to visit, you immediately create that place and time. All the possibilities are always possible; you just call them forth with your thoughts. But then of course there are also the horizontal cylinders and the fluids and the steel and the rubber and the concrete and the air and the bark and so on…. It’s more like a spring bubbling up, or like the flickering of 0 to 1 in terms of atomic technology, or the way a particle can be in two places at once, which is really just saying that space is relative, and this has a lot to do with time too, I guess. An automobile is about space and time. Is this making any sense?
This particular Volkswagen is really wonderful; that’s what I’m trying to express. It’s a way I can get away from myself and rest, and that means it’s also a way that I return to who I truly am. Sometimes the day is so full of white swans on a pond in the middle of the forest or baby black ducks or phone calls that must be returned or shopping that needed to be done last week or the thought of bills that I pretend are in the future or of all the riches pouring in and the giant white beds and the kisses and rain clouds and pain and suffering and especially the planets and the sun – well, none of that stuff is in this Volkswagen. Regardless of what it is made of, this Volkswagen only holds what is real. Because, like I said already, nothing attaches to it and there’s nothing to which it can attach, and that means that I become so intimate with the rain clouds and kisses and riches and swans in the forest and bills and pain and suffering and ducks that there’s absolutely no need to think about them but only to observe them and let them be. So, in that sense, I guess the Volkswagen isn’t even moving at all; it isn’t even floating. It’s more like the vessel through which all this other stuff flows. But I never really know or understand that until I’ve pretended the Volkswagen is a real, live object and I’ve felt the metal handle in my hand and opened the heavy door and put the oil and fuel in and closed all this around myself and looked out from the inside.
Maybe now you can understand what I mean when I say this Volkswagen is the one car I can never own. That’s true on so many levels! First of all, it can’t be owned. And secondly, it’s the longing itself that is the joy. The longing for it is the thirst that leads me to it in the first place; it’s the only reason I even know how to open the door. I was going to say “it’s the only reason I ever learned how to drive it” but what really happens is that you learn how to be driven, not to drive. And that doesn’t mean I’m not going exactly where I want to go; I just don’t know where that is till we’ve gotten there. So this Volkswagen is my longing for this Volkswagen. It’s like those moments when you are so suffused with love and pain that you just want to curl up on the couch and cry. Those are the kinds of moments you can’t manipulate or own. And they always take you to some hyper-color place very far away from yourself. It’s shocking, really. And challenging. And simple. Anyway… thanks for asking.
Best wishes to you, and to NYC.
Andrea Hiott is the author of “Thinking Small: the long strange trip of the Volkswagen Beetle” described by Jerry Seinfield as “a marvelous piece of work”. At the time of this interview she was also the editor of Pulse Berlin, a journal of arts and cultural research.
I will never forget the brilliant characterization of the New York United Nations building conference rooms, parlors, corridors and assembly rooms in an old Venture Brothers episode. I particularly loved the scene in which a deadly ninja disappears in a cloud of smoke (the one ninja “power” I always wanted to have) just to be found hiding behind a measly potted dieffenbachia, seconds after. That dieffenbachia reminded me of a similar plant we had in the home where I grew up. My mom was always stressing up about the fact that those leafs produce poisonous drops at night or something like that. As if me and my brother would actually wake up in the middle of the night to go suck on the living room’s plant leaves.
Anyhow, I am still intrigued by potted plants and feel bad for not having anything like that in my flat. The death of my rosemary -probably killed by the end of the love story that gave it reason to exist, and not so much by my lack of attentions and care- was too traumatizing. Nothing says “institutional/corporate public space” like a large, well kept potted plant. Airport lobbies have their own. Sharp palmettos in Miami, dusty ficussen in Milan. Our dieffenbachia was there to qualify the living room as the institutional public space of the house. It worked perfectly in this sense, contributing to make my mom’s sumptuous living room a virtual no-go zone used only to receive people or have holiday dinners. I still remember a kiss given to one of my first girlfriends on the floor of that living room, a day that we sneaked out of school. That forbidden, pleasantly cold, black marble floor.
Where am I going with this… of course, Aude’s Contribution (2008). [Figure 7] There is a potted plant (actually flowers) in it. And what seems like a mutilated EU flag. A pleasant and aesthetically irreprehensible conflation of formality and mystery.
Marco Antonini: Why the title Contribution?
Aude Pariset: I was thinking about a composition that could look like an offering and then make it into an object… to materialize it, make it more concrete…
MA: …an offering from whom? And to whom?
AP: I wanted to stay vague, just use the signs of what could be solemn
MA: “solemn”… I like this.
AP: The flowers could be there for a birthday, an anniversary or a more mortuary event…
AP: I just arrived in Berlin when I did this piece. I was thinking about my situation there, questioning a bit what my status in this city, as if I was a migrant, a person dislocated for work purposes and so on… then I thought about the idea of free boundaries, which allowed me to live easily in Germany, and I thought that this concept of European citizenship was so vague that I wanted to use it…
MA: Is this the reason for that drape’s resemblance to the E.U. flag? The composition does strike as vague, but also made official and “important” by the exactness of the arrangement, the box, and the circular, effigy-like shape.
AP: Yes, the flag… an image that could have conveyed an identity but failed to do so because of the lack of shared cultural values between E.U. countries and the constant enlargement of the union’s boundaries.
MA: It only has 3 stars by the way… if I remember well.
AP: It’s enough to lead the viewer to identify the European flag, but the fact that there are only three stars could give a certain discreet feeling of lack of involvement regarding the seriousness of this “ceremony”.
MA: I see…
AP: For me there is also a kind of deadpan humor in this piece. I would like to say that the white round volume is related to the shape of a cake, combined with the influence of minimalist sculpture, which confers a certain distance to it…
MA: Very interesting. What’s going on around it? Have you ever fantasized about it? The picture is a narrow close-up so you get to wonder: where are we? Is there any kind of action around us now? The photographic face also resembles those edible ink printer decorated cakes so common in immigrant-owned bakeries, at least here in NY…
AP: About the space depicted in the image… yes it is a narrow angle. I have always been fascinated by the idea of the indoor studio, this idea of a composition that can have the power of evoking an off-screen via a very close point of view, and/or by using simple, crude elements.
MA: So you have never been tempted to imagine a context, a wider angle for it?
AP: No, because I am afraid that it would be too theatrical. I prefer to remain in a still life format.
MA: I see.
AP: But I could have imagined other situations like this one… to keep things “universal.” By that I mean imagining something broadly recognizable as some sort of ceremonial composition; I was thinking about creating something related to the ideas of travel and tourism with really simple elements, dealing as well with an interpretation of popular aesthetics but being careful not to fall in the kitsch.
MA: So it is about travel and tourism but still grounded in rituals (the ceremonial offering) that belong to an archaic time… Is it inspired by a real image or object?
AP: It’s a fantasy, but based on and inspired by found objects or photographs that I use as documentation, often taken from my living environment. At first, I wanted to challenge a bit the idea of producing the image of a bouquet of flowers without drifting into something completely outdated, feminine or kitsch; to work with the morbid/solemn ambivalence…
MA: Why morbid?
AP: Flowers standing on the floor give me this impression… (Although I’m not particularly attracted by death)… like cemetery flowers or those left by people on the street after an accident.
MA: I see. Flowers and plants can really “seal” a space… They confer a sort of official status to it.
AP: Sometimes, instead of giving some organic living presence they do the exact opposite. I’ve always been really surprised by those very 70’s (and very German) display windows where plants and things completely fill the space, choking it.
MA: It is because they are not supposed to be there… the pot, the vase… it’s all there. It’s a powerful reminder of their artificiality and of our power to control nature.
Aude Pariset is a Berln-based visual artist.
I am sitting on a couch, wrapped by the silence of long hallways, corridors, staircases. Going up and down. Wrapping themselves around the red brick body of an ancient monastery (if I remember well), now a beehive of artist studios and galleries. Smack in the middle of Berlin Kreutzberg. Christoph’s assistant smiles wide, tick-tacking along the corridors in front of me while she talks about ghost stories and how they are actually about to relocate the program to a newer, hopefully ghost-free building a few blocks south.
Christoph shows up. Tall and energetic, resolutely curious about me, he leads the conversation betraying a slight and pleasant (for me) “who the hell are you again?” tone here and there. We end up talking about ghosts again, and what the artists actually living in the studios say or have said about them. I bet he has some really good stories up his sleeve, but he probably keeps them for close friends and bonfire situations. He’s eager to introduce me to some of the artists and get back to his day, but I still have the time to ask him if he dreams, and if he would be able to recollect one of his recent dreams for me. I myself have had one of the craziest dreams in a while a few hours before. A short vignette featuring a mysterious man, a mystical fountain and a quasi-horror finale with post-human overtones. The stuff of short novels.
Christoph had a dream too. “It’s a recurrent dream,” he says. “I am flying. Just flying over Berlin… The fact is, I am naked in the dream. I am flying naked.” “I think there is something wrong with my mind.”
At the time of this interview, Christoph Tannert was Director and Project Coordinator, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin. He still works at KB as Artistic Director.
Marco Antonini: Tell me about your fish tank. When did you buy it? Why do you keep it on the floor? And what about the beer glasses plunged in it?
Keren Cytter: I bought this fish tank four years ago, when I moved to Berlin. Before that I had a round fish tank. It was in Amsterdam then, I bought the round one because before that I had a little square fish tank that cracked for no special reason, maybe pressure. I found that fish tank on the street – maybe it was not a fish tank but a flower vase (because it was very narrow.) I think I thought it was a fish tank. I brought it home, and realized I needed to buy fish. That’s the way it all started.
I put the glasses in it, so that when I clean the fish tank there is some entertainment for the fish, something different from sand. And it’s easy to clean. Creative stuff…
MA: I recently saw Anri Sala’s Nocturnes, a split portrait of two insomniacs: a Playstation-loving former UN operative in the Balkans and a reclusive tropical fish-maniac… I imagined you staying up at night to feed the fish
KC: …you know I’m not cooking for the fish; I don’t need to stay all night and feed them. It’s much easier than that. That’s why people like fish. They are easy.
MA: …yeah fish are easy… I used to have a couple too. They both committed suicide in spectacular ways. The first one jumped out. We heard it splatter around on the room floor one night but both me and my brother failed to understand what had just happened so we slept through. The second hung him/herself up on the safety net we installed over the fish tank to avoid him/her jumping out. Sad.
KC: It’s a bit shocking your fish committed suicide. I wonder what was the atmosphere in the aquarium.
MA: The atmosphere in the aquarium was probably dictated by the quality of the aquarium itself… a glass jar sitting on top of my drawing desk.
I like the idea of a fish tank (or terrarium) as a “home in the home”… What is your relationship to your personal, day-to-day living space?
KC: My home is my main thing – it’s almost like my coat. I hang at home most of the time. It’s always a bit messy. I clean it once a week. Now I have two floors, so it’s a nightmare to clean, I need to jump up and down because of it. I think I like my home especially when it’s rainy.
MA: Are there any memorable Berlin homes you would like to reminisce about? Your videos are full of recognizable domestic spaces, the features and “mood” of which often seem to influence the filmic action itself… have you ever considered the connections between the physical spaces you move in (and their look/feel) and your works?
KC: I used to live in the east, with a flat mate. We were like a divorced couple – very used to each other, and knew everything about one another without any kind of loving feelings. I think the feel of my works is more about the editing and the quality of the camera and less about the locations. Nothing is left from reality after it is transformed into a movie. At least one of my movies.
MA: I see that, although grounded in very mundane and familiar locations, involving ordinary people and objects and often describing common situations, your videos easily slip out or day-to-day reality. But then reality or unreality never seemed that important to me… I always get lost in the extreme non-linearity of the timeline. The effects of this fragmentation on the viewer and its fast-paced delivery are probably the reason why me and others have described your work as “sculptural.” Would you like to further articulate on this?
KC: Yes, sometimes I think my work is a bit sculptural, or physical, but I wouldn’t say it is so because of the fragmentation but because I separate the image and the sound and the edit, so they look less related to a narrative and more physical, or something like that. I didn’t think about it too much anyhow, and I’m afraid to blabber about this subject too much.
MA: In what language do you usually write? How do you organize language in a work that doesn’t really follow a logical/linear narrative and how important is sound editing in the work?
KC: I usually write in English. It’s complicated. I usually start describing the images and the text, but than it’s too hard to write a good text and describe images at the same time. So I’m almost always writing in several columns: one for the image, the other for the text, another one for background text, and a final one for general camera movement style.
The logical order is not as important for me as the mixing of all the elements. I think writing in a logical order is a bit boring.
MA: The idea of multi-linearity in your videos and films also brings my mind back to your quirky crossword book (the book actually doesn’t have a lot of info on it.. when was it published and in what context?) When did your fascination with crosswords, puzzles and (as seen in your latest film) sudoku start? Did it influence your video work and writing?
KC: I did the crosswords when I was studying in Amsterdam. I did it just for fun. Later on the curator from the Mumok (in Vienna) asked to republish it (I had a show there), and they made 1000 copies of it, or something like that. Maybe less. I don’t know if I’m fascinated by crosswords… if I do, it must be because I’m not so good with them – and they looks extremely “intelligent” to me. My mother used to solve crosswords and sudoku. My older sister used to do puzzles. I like shooting games, I think I like tactics. The reason I had sudoku in my latest film is because I knew I wanted to create many effects and split some screens, so I thought sudoku as a subject will be a good reason to do so because it’s played on a page split in 9 squares. I actually don’t know how the game works. When I’m writing a script, I feel like I’m solving some kind of puzzle because I need to find a way to combine all kinds of random choices, and refill all kinds of random rules with content and stories. It’s getting harder and harder.
MA: …did you buy any new furniture after that ominous (In a good way!) “Hand” crystal table I saw? What was its story again?
KC: I didn’t buy more furniture. I don’t know what to add and where to put it. I’m waiting for a sign. I got the hand table in a furniture and set design shop. I didn’t mean to buy anything there, but I thought the table would be funny, and the conversation with the sales man was rolling; so at the end I bought the hand table, set of couches and a lamp (I need to replace the bulb.) We drove to the house (the sales man and me) in an old ambulance from east Germany. We spoke about cinema and aging.
MA: After a hand table, what you need is clearly a hand chair – See attached picture. Let me know if you have problems finding one in Berlin, I would be glad to send you one from New York. Just let me know about the color.
KC: I already sat on that kind of chair!
Keren Cytter is a visual artist and writer, at the time of this interview she was still based in Berlin.
Fifth floor apartments have their own golden brand of light in Gesundbrunnen. Surely worth the climb up. Saadane’s small, expressive eyes peek from the corridor. Smoke, traffic and the smell of a tea in the making. We sit through chit and chat, this and that, share a little common sense on the city and the cold that isn’t anymore. How long will this glorious day last? He’s patient and knows how to handle my generic and uninformed requests with a smile. I should have done some homework on this one studio visit, I guess… It seems to work anyhow.
Looking from where I stand now, the entrance to the room is flanked by two massive, audiophile-quality speakers, like wooden lions on the gate to something grand. It’s actually just the corridor, again, then a large and sunny kitchen with white furniture and that lingering smell of tea in the making. We talk about Markus’s design furniture collection among other things.
Saadane’s work is a glass chain of connections between people (usually friends from a small entourage), materials and ideas that get replicated, altered, distorted until impossible to recognize and contextualize. Sounds from the street flood the rooms just enough to sound festive, I hear of songs created as soundtrack to works, lyrics inspired by works, works inspired by lyrics of songs created as commentary to works that were actually reproductions of other works. But different.
We leave the apartment wishing for a few minutes out in the sun before sunset. I sympathize with his closing the door, making a few steps out and then walking back in to get something he forgot, on and on. I couldn’t have done better. When we’re almost really out, he pauses a little longer, then tells me I have to see something. It’s a lamp. The center piece of his casually elegant livingroom.
Saadane Afif is a Berlin-based visual artist.
Warren steps in from the gallery door while I have other people around. Just a second I say. He barely seems to listen to me. In a short three seconds he’s already over some of the art, examining it from very, very close. Then floats to another piece, always throwing quick glances around and walking on the tip of his feet, lightly and quickly. We finally sit down and he asks me if I am an artist myself (no), if I have ever been one (yes) and dives into a series of flattering comments that I am not sure how to react to. His eyes are clear and charming, he’s quick, very quick with words. We interrupt each other a lot as we hurry through recaps of each one’s life and how we got to Berlin etc. etc. At the end it seems like the best thing to do is to visit him at his place in PrinzessinenStr.
Google maps rarely fucks up. But if you write “Prinzessinen Strasse” in Berlin, what you get is actually a far, far, far away street near to one of the airports or something. I know it’s not there. He mentioned Moritzplatz? So I assume to be the one who’s fuckin’ up (as usual) and head to Prinzstrasse, looking his number up. There is no such a number apparently. I bag two croissants and a coffee and stop a postman. I don’t speak German. He still manages to make me understand that there is no such a number; maybe I would rather try Prinzessinenstrasse? God bless you.
Warren’s place is in the backhouse, windows overlooking the usual gray courtyard. Red bricks stacking up as far as the peripheral vision can see, and more. It’s raining again. I walk up, an hour late (he’s fine with it). His work is not what I expected, but what was I expecting after all, and why? He speaks so fast I barely can fill in with some token observations. At one point I even manage to dissent on something and it almost feels weird, but in a good way. Like when you know you’re taking a chance, stepping into an uncharted territory inhabited by intelligent and possibly (but never necessarily) hostile creatures. At a certain point, my eyes fall on a small color print: two versions of the same, weirdly compelling piece of furniture.
Marco Antonini: How did the idea for Book Exchange [Figure 9] actually came about?
Warren Neidich: Actually it was the result of multiple and contiguous streams of thought and works in process that all coalesced to form it. I had been working on a work called Exchange Wall, in which I was to build a wall in a gallery and then ask artists to use it to make exchanges of their works. Artists are always trading works with friends. This was a way to formalize this practice and designate a place where friends could be made through such exchanges. Anyway I still hope to do that work. The second stream was my interest in contemporary and modernist furniture. I have built and designed this stage in my studio for a work called In the Minds, so this was an also opportunity to design something. In the late nineties and early part of this century I embarked on a body of work called Post Modern Modernism which I showed at the California Museum of Photography as The Mutated Observer part 1 and 2. So I was very interested in the beginning of Modernism especially its relationship to cinema. So when Jeremy Sanders at the Glenn Horowitz Gallery, which also is an amazing vintage book shop, asked me to make a book-inspired work, I came up with this
MA: Ho do you see people interacting with it?
WN: People in East Hampton New York will be asked to bring a red hard cover book to the gallery with which to make an exchange for one of the books on the shelf. As you remember, the books are all the books that Sarah Palin has been rumored to have wanted banned from her local library in Wasilla, Alaska. Books such as Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, As I lay dying by William Faulkner, Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, Carrie by Stephen King, Fanny Hill by John Cleland and so on and so forth… By the way, when organized on the shelf, the spines of the books form a very heterogeneous color palette. So people from the community bring just red books, and as they make the exchanges the book shelf turns into a monochrome.
MA: Who is Sarah Palin to you?
WN: Sarah Palin herself is not interesting to me but the persona of Sarah Palin is. That persona is a node or hub for which much of the media culture can invest in. She represents a point in a complex circuit or large nervous system, as Michael Taussig would call it, in which a folding of multiple streams occurs. One of the most interesting of such streams is for me the idea of gossip and traumatized truth. The conservative political matrix in the United States who support her and utilize her as their sounding board have no respect for the truth. They do understand how even rumor can become appreciated as truth if you say it enough on various news programs, conservative web sites and standard forms of printed matter. So when a false idea is repeated through these multiple platforms it becomes truth. It is a little like the art world. Anyway the truth is that the whole story about these “censored” books might also be a rumor. There is a certain amount of controversy about whether in fact it is true. But it is all over the internet. So the work is about this idea of rumor as well.
MA: Will she run for President? Does she stand a chance
WN: She stepped down from being governor of Alaska so she could make money, promote and publicize her book. She is now making a considerable amount of money. I believe she will not run but will become a TV analyst.
MA: Well I can only say that I hope so too… How do the formal qualities of the book shelf relate to the interactive book-swap component?
WN: The book shelf really is not a book shelf. It is a stand in for a book shelf as an art work. It is really a messenger of different epochal intensities that form the history of art in the Modern times. For instance, when it becomes a monochrome it relates to color field painting and earlier to Russian Constructivism. The shelf rotates so it calls out to early experimental film of the Weimar of Guido Seeber and later to Kinetic Sculptures of Calder and Tinguely. It is obviously a relational work but maybe its more related to the performative sculpture of James Lee Byars. So the work embodies the cultural memories of all these and more. It calls out to the viewer as a complex cultural memory and interpolates its audience. It is sampled by the audience who extract these different discourses from it and it creates an audience or many audiences according to their different interests. So the book shelf is really informal.
MA: This is not the first time you dealt with direct public interaction…
WN: I have made many works in the early and mid nineties concerning this form of audience participation. In 1995 I made a work at the Chelsea Hotel called Tabula Rasa. Here I prepared a five course meal. Twenty guests, Nicolas Schaufthasen, Dr. Werner Peters, Rainhold Schumacher and many others were invited. At Each table sat two guest across from each other; I turned the exhibition space into a dining room. There was a white table cloth covering each table, and two pens. In the middle of the table was a plastic device with small holes in it for speaking through like when you go to the post office. This was called a tabula rasa. I created a menu and served five courses. After each course the guests sitting at each table wrote down on the cloth the most interesting thing they thought was discussed during the course. After each course each person switched tables to sit across from another guest. The next day the table cloths were exhibited: besides the written statements they were covered with spilled wine, gravy bits and pieces of carrots and potatoes.
From 1995-1997 I also ran an experimental exhibition space in New York called Spot Art Foundation. This was a self reflexive fictitious foundation whose main role was to investigate the crisis of the independent and alternative space in New York. Artists made works on the telephone answering machine, we had a fictitious benefit which artist donated works to, Diane Lewis created a wall for the space which was curved, we also exhibited work there… It was also a meeting place for artists. For instance Joachim Koester, who exhibited some of his first works there met Mathew Buckingham there. I believe the slowed down version of Star Trek by Douglas Gordon was shown there first. But we also exhibited many works that one would call now relational aesthetics. Maureen Hugonnier had her first New York Exhibition there and Kelly Hashimoto and Cynthia Fiss did an absurd and hysterical work of this nature in the gallery that Nicolas Bourriaud, a frequent visitor to the space, used for a show he curated at Stefano Basilico Gallery
MA: Were the 2008 presidential elections a popular conversation topic in Berlin? Some say that Obama’s visit to Berlin was the defining moment of his campaign; that it posed him as a real world leader, loved, respected, welcomed by the “Old World”… What do you think? Where you there?
WN: I was in Berlin but I watched it on TV. Of course his election was a miracle.
MA: What is Book Exchange’s meaning in a post-Obama US? Is this Country really different from what it used to be?
WN: Well the color of the books is red. The monochrome created from the concerted activities of participants is red. The relation to Godard’s La Cinoise is real. One can only hope that this color red will resonate across a multiplicity of networks.
MA: Several of your works have quite clear political stances… What lead you out of the United States? Do you identify yourself as a US citizen or an “American” in Berlin?
WN: I was awarded a fellowship from the AHRB-ACE in England to work at Goldsmiths. When I finished at Goldsmiths in 2007 I had to make a decision on whether to go back to the US. I could not stand George Bush. I could not stand even watching television and seeing his chronies on TV. Something you must feel when you are back in Italy and have to witness all the antics of Silvio Berlusconi.
MA: You don’t know how right you are on this one…
WN: So I could not go back. I had lived in Berlin in 1994 at the Bethanien Kunstlerhaus and had a close feeling to the city. I visited Berlin again for the Biennial and decided to move here. Regarding my identity… the kind of work I make can find an audience here in Europe as I work with conceptualism and issues of contemplation. In the end an artist must live and work where he or she can find an audience.
Warren Neidich is a Berlin and Los Angeles based post-conceptual artist, thinker and writer who explores the interfaces between cultural production, brain research and cognitive capitalism. “Art Before Philosophy not After”.