10-09-2013 [• bureau annex
SEDUCTION CORRUPTION CONTINUATIONAnna Rispoli is an Italian artist, currently based in Brussels. The relationship between humans and urbanity being a central narrative in her work, she tests citizens’ possible appropriations of the public space via participatory practices, architectural performances and urban installations. Her recent projects in Riga, Brussels, Hannover and Gwangju use the city plans of urban revitalisation as a fictional backdrops to set contemporary naumachia (the staging of naval battles as mass entertainment), domestic light show, ephemeral monuments and watchtowers on the current state of utopia. She is part of the artist collective ZimmerFrei, which creates sound installations, films and photographic interventions.
: As artists, both of us are interested in working with urban phenomena. Me, I'm simply very curious about Brussels, the city I chose to live in. I'm curious about all the 'others' living and working here, moving around in other places, other social networks, having other cultural backgrounds, behaving according to other codes, cherishing other values and so on. My work departs from this curiosity, this desire to trespass the borders of my own tiny social environment, being an artist among artists, and to enter other circles. As a consequence, I often initiate artistic collaborations with various 'others'. With Bureau Annex, the practice I developed together with Christiane Huber, I try to create a meeting place for very different city dwellers, a loose structure of people holding very different perspectives on the same city. These meetings are artificial, constructed situations. They wouldn't happen easily in normal everyday life. It's important to stress the fact that we never meet just for the sake of meeting. With Bureau Annex we always meet in order to produce work.Your and my work is very different in size, organization, degree of institutionalization and so on, but I think it is characterised by a similar curiosity. And in order to realize your projects, you are also used to setting up artistic collaborations with very different groups. While you mostly work with many people at a time on quite big urban interventions, I work together with rather small groups. We already noticed several times that we never lead these collaborators into our personal world but always into a 'third world': our artistic work. We called this 'seducing', which we don’t regard as a manipulative way of dealing with other individuals, but as a mode of leading people out of their own world, making them available for this 'third world'. There, temporarily, we all take a distance from our own social and cultural backgrounds and a special kind of proximity and intimacy can appear.But, just like purely personal relations, the semi-professional relations artists create because of their artistic interests and ambitions sometimes imply emotional misleadings, dependencies, false hopes, misunderstandings, et cetera. Although we clearly try to communicate to the other what our motivations are, collaborators might expect these relations to be personal instead of professional, or might have unrealistic hopes about a possible career in the art world. The situation can get easily corrupted. 'Corruption' means we find ourselves in a system that isn't healthy anymore. This term is mostly perceived as something negative, but I consider it an important element in my work. Like illness, like a physical crisis, it's necessary for renewing the ways we look at things we take for granted. 'Continuation' is thus an important notion for me. Once established, the kinds of relations I described above need further care. They need conversation and negotiation on a long term - which isn't evident in a project-based art world. For the moment I struggle with the form of the project, limiting us in time... and it also justifies that we stop the communication abruptly. I think we need to look for ways of radical continuation. If we want others being available for our concerns we must be available for theirs. 'Relating to others' as material for artworks is and will remain a very forced behavior, somehow violent. I am interested to find ways within this rather violent situation that can continue being interesting for all involved. I would like to ask you, how you feel confronted with all of this in your work...
1. What is for you the main reason to 'seduce' people, why do you need to do it within your work?
Anna: There is one image that crossed my path in one of my past artistic lifes (there are always several lifes in one single artistic career), an image that keeps on nourishing my imagination. The science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once told he woke up during the night because he had to go to the bathroom. Once he was there, he automatically tried to find the chords on the left to turn on the light but then realized he had always lived in a house with a light switch on the right. So where did this strange automatic gesture come from? He suspected people to live in parallel tracks of life. While he was there, in this bathroom with a switch on the right, he was also in other bathrooms in other houses.
When I heard this story my consciousness exploded. Sometimes these parallel tracks coincide. I agree with what you stated in the introduction. We both have this curiosity. We often imagine to be in another one’s shoes, it’s true, but not with the pretention to comprehend the world or to help the other. It’s in fact a quite egoistic need to discover a myself who’s walking in a parallel track, to discover ‘our my other selves’. I see this process as a kind of depersonalization. Maybe in our work we try to connect with our parallel lives.
Regarding seduction, the question popping up is: “how to seduce myself into the work?’ How do I make the work interesting for myself and how do I get seduced by others?
Sébastien: And what happens to them in this process? The others, I mean.
Anna: This mechanism works in both senses. It’s a kind of mutual mirror probably. Everyone has his own interest in joining a project, in using it. My work consists in making the setup visible: ‘this is what I can offer you, these are my tools. Do you want to participate?’ And of course there is always the promise of a destination, a nice place over the hill. When it works it can be wonderful. Then it’s no more about you and me, but about where we are going.
Sébastien: This ‘third world’?
Anna: Maybe. But as humans are very impure (luckily, they are), there are always dependencies, expectations, psychological complexities and so on. And we find ourselves carrying along all this stuff to the other side of the hill. It would be very arrogant to pretend you can purify yourself and your work from all of this shit. It wouldn’t make the work more interesting, anyway. 2. Could you defend ‘corruption’ as a positive force in your work?Sébastien
: I must admit I have difficulties understanding how corruption could be perceived as a positive force. Isn’t it something you have to try to avoid by making clear contracts with your collaborators? Wherein you state: “This is what I want, that’s what we will do, it will take this amount of time, you will or you won’t get paid and when the project is done, I will leave…” Then you can ask: So, do you want to participate?” And then the answer can be yes or no. Anna
: First of all, I don’t think I’m very good at establishing clear contracts, with myself or with others. There is always this mutual seduction: you often fall in love with the people you collaborate with, and they can fall in love with you. Although I’m convinced this kind of mutual agreement is very important, I’m afraid the perfectly clean contract can only exist in the ideal world. You need to keep flexible while you proceed and stay open to the possibility that everything can fail. Heike
: You can compare it to a personal relationship. There are always things happening that you can’t avoid. And again and again you discover you produce your own fictions about the relations you have with others. One day you meet and collaborate with each other; the other day you are on your own and you start dreaming about the other, projecting ideas, expectations, wishes... Anna
: You are talking about ‘ghosts’, no? The ghosts we live with, the ghosts we keep on nourishing with our thoughts when the other is absent? Heike
: I think these ghosts are not just corrupted versions of the real person. They help to elaborate an intimate dialogue with the other, a dialogue that becomes very creative along the way. It’s true, eventually these clones can become so independent from the original, that the real person feels offended. But we create them because we need them, and it’s very sad if you don’t recognize this and pretend to kill your ghost clone. After all it does not belong to you anymore!Heike:
How could I kill it?Anna
: For example when you come back and say: ‘This is not me, it’s a fetish. Please destroy it immediately because it is corrupting our relationship.’ But artistic collaboration is a complex setting and you can seldom avoid conflicts. Pretending to clean the territory from eventual troubles just makes things boring.Heike
: For several years I am working with a guy who surely created a ghost of me. He used to live on the street. In the beginning he was very nervous. He would call me all the time. After a while he accepted the fact that we cannot ‘be together’ and now I think I am a kind of sister in his mind. Anna
: What did he make for you? On what did you collaborate?Heike
: He took part as an actor in some performances I made. In fact he is an analphabet so it’s often very complex for him to understand which world he is actually stepping in. This is not only the case in my projects. Wherever he goes in this city, things must appear very complex and difficult to grasp.Sébastien
: But isn’t this a highly problematic working relation, full of illusions? Heike
: Of course you can avoid all of this by just telling him right away: “Hey, I don’t want that, it is not like you imagine it to be,…” This would make it easy for me and very clear to him, but it would also kill the ghost. I guess he also has the idea that he is a real actor now... but why not? In these years we are working together, I saw him growing stronger, more confident. Friends of his tell me he is taking more responsibilities.Sébastien
: And why is it a ‘positive force’ in your artistic work, I mean the work you present to an audience?Heike
: Maybe it’s not a positive force… More a necessity… And with my work I want to go a little bit further than using the given context for my own aesthetics. Within the practice of Bureau Annex I see the artistic work as a motor that generates meetings with and amongst people that have radically different backgrounds and opinions. Within this context, art itself and its place in society is naturally discussed. And that this discussion is enabled and taking place, interests me.Sébastien
: Do you share Heikes views, Anna? Do you make artworks in order to meet the other? ... or do you meet the other in order to be able to realize your artworks? Anna
: It’s a bit of both, I guess. I often work with a random group of people. I mean I’m not choosing this or that specific person. I usually define a perimeter. Sometimes it’s a thematic one, but very often it’s a physical, territorial perimeter. All the people who have something to do with that zone become my potential collaborators. Like this I often meet a wide range of people that are quite different from me. Sébastien
: The ones living in the other apartments.Anna
: Yes, for instance.3. How do you relate to the notion of ‘continuation’?Anna
: I have different kinds of collaborations. For already 15 years I work together with an Italian artistic collective called ZimmerFrei. It would be interesting to analyze how our dynamic changed and the meaning that 'continuation' gains in this long perspective. On the other hand there are the collaborations specific to each project, often with people without any artistic background. These mainly stay project-based.Heike
: You often produce commissioned artworks abroad. In these cases, do you demand the means for an extensive working process?Anna
: Yes, a little bit, but of course you cannot work for three years in South-Korea. At least, for me this is not possible: I have a family. That’s my big continuation thing! When I work in Brussels, it’s a different story.Heike
: I decided - to work with the Bureau Annex practice ‘at home’, in Brussels, because of that. Anna
: That’s an important difference. You really decided to concentrate your work in the city where you live. For me a strong experience of continuity was within the project “Vorrei tanto tornare a casa” that I initiated in Brussels in 2009. Together with the residents of a social housing apartment block in the Marolles neighborhood, we created a domestic light show that used the existing interiors lights in order to affirm the presence of their invisible building in the city centre. That was a success in terms of the self-confidence gained by the inhabitants towards the potentiality of their actions. After this artistic project we moved to a more social terrain: we tried to launch a building comitee, we organized parties, we managed to initiate an urban garden on slab in front of the building that until then had been more vandalized than cultivated. All nice things, but after a while I suspected some residents to have developed a certain dependency towards my persona… I discovered myself saying: “Sorry, I am not going to answer your call at 3 in the morning!” You probably know something about those fluctuant limits between artistic work, social work, artistic decisions, personal decisions… Like in everyday life, you can set barriers or open doors. Let me give you an example. I worked together with one resident for more than a year and a half. It was a conflictual but an enriching working relationship. When he suddenly died – probably because of his alcohol abuse – I somehow missed his funeral. I did it unconsciously: I mixed up the date or something like that. Still, that was a big door that I closed. Only afterwards I realized that my guilty distraction was somehow continuing the ambivalent dialogue I had with him. I was now conversing with his ghost. Finally, what is the status of relationships within collaborative projects? I'm now trying to find an healthy balance between artistic reasons and a collaborative practice that should be inspiring, promoting autonomy, not avoiding constructive conflicts…A way that might allow participants to see the work and just…Heike
: …take it?Anna
: Yes, take it and use it for their own needs. It happens anyway. The projects that work are those that are cannibalized by participants and this is good, otherwise… Otherwise it's a disaster. If this appropriation doesn't take place at all, the project is unfinished. You're just using people and that's boring, that’s what capitalism does every day. On the contrary if you manage to interact with the real desire or the unexpressed potential of a group of people, then everybody can profit from the collaboration.Anna Rispoli, Heike Langsdorf & Sébastien Hendrickx @ BIG studio, Brussels, 10-09-2013 [>>> here you can find all OTÇOE-conversation >>>]