varda sora – città – derlickln
Émile Ouroumov Could you describe your intervention for Soleil politique at Museion in Bolzano?
Émilie Parendeau The work’s protocol is the following: varda sora – città – derlickln consists in closing all of Museion’s shutters, with the exception of a few on the top floor. The realisation of this arrangement, in its form and duration, can be limited by other museum activities requiring that the shutters be opened.
É.O. The work and the exhibition have a specific relation to the Bolzano context. Do you know this region, the city and the buildings emphasized by Pierre Bal-Blanc’s exhibition?
Bernhard Rüdiger I spend a lot of time in that region, and I was aware of various aspects of the context of history shared between Austria and Italy. There’s an interesting link between Bolzano and the inland region with regard to the question of power. The land in these Tyrolean valleys was feudal, whereas the peasants in the mountains were independent. Looking at the valley from the mountaintops, you see something completely different from what you see from the opposite direction. The view from the 4th floor of Museion offered a symbolic top-down point of view.
É.O. Is it also a question of Museion’s location in the middle of the city, between the historic Austrian city and the new Italianised city?
B.R. The museum is built on the boundary that is the river. One side faces the Austrian valley, the other side the Italian valley, but I’d never drawn the parallel that Pierre Bal-Blanc drew with Monumento alla Vittoria, the monumental fascist gate that towers on the site of an earlier monumental Austrian gate. This already emphasised that kind of point of passage, but from the opposite point of view.
É.O. This reversal of perspective leads us to the one carried out at Museion.
B.R. The exhibition highlights the fact that the museum builds this same passage from Italy to Austria and vice versa. When Émilie was invited to contribute to the exhibition, the guiding lines of the project were at an advanced stage; it’s a detail that was very important.
É.P. The invitation was probably linked to the fact that my work is often built on a context, in this case the museum and its layout. Since the exhibition had a strong link to the city, I felt that my proposal would be weak if it only addressed institutional aspects. By extending the invitation to Bernhard and his work linked to the notion of space, the point was to enrich the project through the historical and topographical perspectives it could provide.
É.O. How did these questions of passage and perspective-reversal affect your proposal?
É.P. The exhibition offered a reversal of the function of the museum spaces; the viewer had to enter the exhibition directly on the ground floor, which is normally a passage, and then view the city from the 4th floor, which had been turned into a belvedere, in order to finally go back downstairs and follow the suggested route through the city. Our proposal found its place in that belvedere. We were unsure if when viewers reached a practically empty room on the top floor, facing large windows, they would intuitively be able to experience looking at the city.
B.R. The gesture of opening the museum onto that broad landscape could seem romantic: the mountains, the city roofs… you’re gripped by the sublime immensity. It seemed to us that this impression is the opposite of political awareness of what’s going on in the city at the viewer’s feet.
É.O. Whereas visiting the exhibition on the ground floor was preparation for looking at the city from the belvedere?
B.R. It was a matter of constructing a determined perspective instead of a passive contemplation, as well as introducing the question of the body and the notion of unstable balance: at what moment do you start consciously looking at what you see? The final proposal was to close some of the shutters on either side of the building (and therefore either side of the city) to create a specific field of vision that involved a movement dynamic and spatialized the bodies in the space.
É.P. It’s a shift from the theoretical proposition to the notion of experience. We did a trial during the exhibition in progress and as soon as the shutters were closed, people stopped looking at the works to approach the windows.
É.O. What role did the model play?
É.P. In the exhibition, there was a model of the building that reproduced our intervention, and two Newton’s cradles were placed in it. It’s a metaphor for what seemed to be happening in the city.
B.R. This metaphor in the state of language becomes a physical act as soon as you experiment with it. When you release the first bead, the one at the end moves, whereas the beads in the middle stay still; yet there’s a transmission of energy. The beads at the centre are an experience of the violent stability that conveys the region’s historical and social specificities. It’s something to be felt physically, like the bodies that pass from one side of the belvedere and the city to the other.
É.O. The exhibition brought forward the notion of architectural filter. I’m thinking for example of Gianni Pettena and his intervention linked to the fascist arcades of the Piazza della Vittoria. There is a certain equivalence of preoccupations and ways of filtering the gaze.
B.R. The two works operate in opposite ways, but actually express something very similar.
É.O. Another work in the exhibition, that of Marcus Geiger, consisted in extracting one of the apartments from a housing project, an empty space that ultimately offers a transversal perspective, enabling reflection upon architecture and town planning. Here there’s a similar act that causes the perspective to pass through the structure. It’s interesting in relation to the notion of transparency, which this building wishes to assert.
É.P. It’s a matter of withdrawing some of what’s visible in order to provide a better view. The gesture of closing some of the shutters to create openings also produced “eyes” on the building and gave it a solid body, even though it’s meant to be a point of passage, of transparency.
B.R. It sports these two eyes that look outside, a two-faced gaze in the shape of a Janus head, something that is very characteristics of the local culture.
É.O. Speaking of local culture, can we discuss the title?
B.R. It’s written in three languages spoken in the region. The Ladin expression Varda sora means “to look upon” and expresses the idea of paying attention and keeping everything right under your eyes, something that interested us in relation to these highland cultures.
É.O. Thinking again of the belvedere, is the title therefore a clue about how to use the work?
B.R. Yes, it’s an imperative form: “take a good look, look upon the thing”. Città, in Italian, means “city”. The third word is in the Tyrolean dialect and expresses the idea of looking past appearances to understand reality. So it’s kind of an instruction relating to developing a conscious perspective on the city. At the same time, people only understand a third of the title, since each of these languages is only spoken by some of the population.
É.O. It’s a collaboration that seems to go beyond individual practices.
É.P. It’s the result of both of our practices, a territory built on our shared experience. It reconsiders questions about the activation of perspective, which are important for Bernhard, through my own methods, including the production of a condition of incisiveness when regarding what is already present on-site, without adding objects.
É.O. The desire not to add objects seems to me to be very apt – since the museum itself is already an object, and not a transparent, neutral tool.
Paris, May 2015
varda sora – città – derlickln
Émile Ouroumov Pourriez-vous me décrire votre intervention pour Soleil politique au Museion de Bolzano ?
Émilie Parendeau Le protocole de l’œuvre est le suivant : varda sora – città – derlickln consiste en la fermeture de la totalité des volets du Museion, à l’exception de certains au dernier étage. La réalisation de ce dispositif, dans sa forme et dans sa durée, peut être limitée par les autres activités du musée qui imposeraient que des volets soient ouverts.
É.O. L’œuvre et l’exposition ont un rapport spécifique avec le contexte de Bolzano. Vous connaissiez cette région, la ville et les édifices mis en exergue par le projet de Pierre Bal-Blanc ?
Bernhard Rüdiger Je passe beaucoup de temps dans cette région, et j’étais conscient de divers aspects du contexte d’histoire partagée entre l’Autriche et l’Italie. Il y a un lien intéressant entre Bolzano et l’arrière-pays par rapport à la question du pouvoir. Les terres dans ces vallées du Tyrol étaient féodales, alors que dans les hauteurs les paysans étaient indépendants. Quand on regarde la vallée du haut des montagnes, on voit tout autre chose qu’à partir de la direction inverse. Le fait d’être au 4e étage du Museion proposait un point de vue symbolique du haut vers le bas.
É.O. Il est aussi question de la situation du Museion au milieu de la ville, entre la ville historique autrichienne et la ville nouvelle italianisée ?
B.R. Le musée est construit sur la limite qu’est la rivière. Il donne d’un côté sur la vallée autrichienne et de l’autre côté sur la vallée italienne, mais je n’avais jamais fait le parallèle que Pierre Bal-Blanc a fait avec le Monumento alla Vittoria, la porte monumentale fasciste qui surgit sur l’emplacement d’une précédente porte monumentale autrichienne. Cette dernière soulignait déjà un tel point de passage mais avec le point de vue inverse.
É.O. Cette inversion du regard nous conduit vers celle opérée au Museion.
B.R. L’exposition pointe le fait que le musée construit ce même passage de l’Italie à l’Autriche et inversement. Lors de l’invitation adressée à Émilie, les lignes directrices du projet étaient dans un stade avancé ; c’est une donnée qui a été importante.
É.P. L’invitation était probablement liée au fait que mon travail se construit souvent à partir d’un contexte, ici le musée et son organisation. L’exposition ayant un lien fort avec la ville, je sentais que ma proposition serait faible si elle ne visait que des aspects institutionnels. Par le fait d’associer Bernhard et son travail lié à la notion d’espace, il s’agissait d’enrichir le projet par les aspects historiques et topographiques qu’il pouvait apporter.
É.O. Quelles étaient les implications de ces questions de passage et d’inversion du regard pour votre proposition ?
É.P. L’exposition proposait une inversion de la fonctionnalité des espaces muséaux ; le spectateur devait entrer dans l’exposition directement au rez-de-chaussée qui normalement est un passage, et ensuite voir la ville depuis le 4e étage transformé en belvédère, pour qu’à la fin il redescende et fasse le parcours proposé dans la ville. Notre proposition prenait place dans ce belvédère. Nous avions un doute qu’en arrivant au dernier étage dans une salle pratiquement vide, face à de grandes vitres, le spectateur puisse intuitivement faire l’expérience de regarder la ville.
B.R. Le geste d’ouvrir le musée sur ce vaste paysage peut paraître comme romantique : les montagnes, les toits de la ville… on est happé par l’immensité sublime. Il nous a semblé que cette impression est le contraire de la prise de conscience politique de ce qui se passe au pied du spectateur dans la ville.
É.O. Alors que la visite de l’exposition au rez-de-chaussée préparait à regarder la ville depuis le belvédère ?
B.R. Il s’agissait de construire un regard déterminé plutôt qu’une contemplation passive, mais aussi d’introduire la question du corps et la notion d’équilibre instable : à partir de quel moment on commence à regarder consciemment ce qu’on voit ? La proposition finale était de fermer une partie des volets de part et d’autre du bâtiment (et donc de la ville) pour créer un champ de vision spécifique qui implique une dynamique des mouvements et spatialise les corps dans l’espace.
É.P. C’est un passage de la proposition théorique à la notion d’expérience. Nous avions fait un essai pendant l’exposition en cours et dès que les volets ont été fermés, les personnes ont cessé de regarder les œuvres pour s’approcher des fenêtres.
É.O. Quel est le rôle de la maquette ?
É.P. Dans l’exposition, il y avait une maquette du bâtiment qui reprenait notre intervention et dans laquelle étaient placés deux pendules de Newton. C’est une métaphore de ce qui semblait se passer dans la ville.
B.R. Cette métaphore à l’état du langage devient un acte physique dès qu’on l’expérimente. Quand on fait tomber la première bille, celle du fond bouge, alors que les billes du milieu sont immobiles ; pourtant il y a transmission d’énergie. Les billes au centre sont une expérience de cette stabilité violente qui traduit les spécificités historiques et sociales de la région. C’est à éprouver physiquement, comme le font les corps qui passent d’un côté à l’autre du belvédère et de la ville.
É.O. Dans l’exposition, il était question de filtre architectural. Je pense par exemple à Gianni Pettena et à son intervention liée aux arcades fascistes de la Piazza della Vittoria. Il y a une certaine équivalence des préoccupations et de la manière de filtrer le regard.
B.R. Les deux propositions opèrent d’une façon contraire, mais effectivement disent une chose très proche.
É.O. Une autre œuvre de l’exposition, celle de Marcus Geiger, consistait à retirer l’un des appartements d’un projet d’habitation, un vide qui finalement ouvre un regard transversal permettant de réfléchir sur l’architecture et l’urbanisme. Il y a ici un acte similaire qui fait traverser la structure par le regard. C’est intéressant par rapport à la notion de transparence, de laquelle ce bâtiment se revendique.
É.P. Il s’agit de retirer une partie de ce qui est visible pour mieux donner à voir. Le geste de fermer une partie des volets pour créer des ouvertures produisait aussi des « yeux » sur ce bâtiment et lui donnait un corps solide, alors même qu’il se veut un lieu de passage, de transparence.
B.R. Il est affublé de ces deux yeux qui regardent l’extérieur, un regard biface en forme de tête de Janus, ce qui est très propre à la culture locale.
É.O. En parlant de la culture locale, peut-on évoquer le titre ?
B.R. Il est rédigé dans trois langues pratiquées dans la région. L’expression ladine Varda sora veut dire « regarder par-dessus » et exprime l’idée de prêter attention et de garder tout sous les yeux, ce qui nous intéressait par rapport à ces cultures des hauts-plateaux.
É.O. En repensant au belvédère, le titre est donc un indice sur le mode d’utilisation de la pièce ?
B.R. Oui, c’est une forme impérative : « regarde bien, regarde sur la chose ». Città, en italien, c’est la ville. Le troisième mot est en dialecte tyrolien et exprime l’idée de regarder à travers les apparences pour saisir la vérité. C’est donc une forme d’instruction quant au développement d’un regard conscient sur la ville. En même temps, on ne comprend qu’un tiers du titre, chacune de ces langues n’étant pratiquée que par une partie de la population.
É.O. C’est une collaboration qui semble excéder les pratiques individuelles.
É.P. Elle est le résultat de nos deux pratiques, un territoire construit à partir de notre expérience commune. Sont reprises des questions de l’ordre de l’activation du regard, importantes pour Bernhard, à travers des manières de faire qui me sont propres, dont la production d’une condition d’acuité en regard de ce qui est déjà présent sur place, sans ajouter d’objets.
É.O. Le souhait de ne pas ajouter d’objets me semble très juste – le musée étant déjà un objet lui-même, et non pas un outil transparent et neutre.
Paris, mai 2015
1-6. Émilie Parendeau & Bernhard Rüdiger, varda sora – città – derlickln, 2015, Museion, Bolzano
Photos: (1, 3, 4, 5, 6) Émilie Parendeau, Bernhard Rüdiger / (2) Luca Meneghel
Ilaria Gianni Your interests in linguistic manipulation, absurdist comedy and ideological and historical clashes, develop irreverent and often hilarious videos, animatronic sculptures, performances and writings that question our actual condition of life in a permanent and present time, as well as challenging our notions of taste and ethics. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alfred Jarry, Antonin Artaud, the Marquis de Sade seem to have made brief appearances in your world: a universe in which limits are abolished and drama takes a new twist. Who are these figures to you and how have issues addressed by them fed into your work (if so)?
Nathaniel Mellors Hi Ilaria. Wow! Well, De Sade, Jarry, Artaud and Pasolini are all really seminal cultural figures who I feel share a certain sensibility – basically of being opposed to ‘sensibility’. They all prioritise the unconscious and the anti-rational as a basic component of human consciousness. None of these characters have appeared literally in my work, although there are clear influences which I could talk about if you like? But what De Sade, Jarry etc. represent is something I think of as of eternal value and also under permanent assault from a basic human desire to tidy up and deny things which don’t fit into the centre of a certain kind of consensus. But these marginal things which tend to be repressed or denied often turn out to be more important, culturally, than the ballast at the centre. And then the ex-centric gets pulled to the centre. This is something I was thinking about when I wrote “The Sophisticated Neanderthal Interview” in 2013, where I projected a smarter but marginalized Neanderthal figure – and recently science has been moving the Neanderthal from maligned extinct evolutionary failure (almost sub-human, ‘ape-man’) to our noble ancestor – apparently the genetic source for certain northern European features – blue eyes, fair skin, red hair, etc.! And when you look at that – the process that’s playing out there – it’s the same process that’s happened with so many western cultural ‘others’. So in a way, the constant there is the value system that’s making these weird projections and shifting judgements. It’s mirroring itself. And if you’re engaged in a critique of that structure, and of the prevailing trend – in some ways you are always dancing a dance with a form of bourgeois politesse that doesn’t recognize itself. But you have to, or you just alienate yourself. Pasolini spoke of ‘bourgeois entropy’, which is the tendency towards a kind of cultural homogenization coming out of capitalism – where people – given a certain amount of money and a certain amount of freedom – all end up choosing the same lifestyle and the same cultural values. It’s a kind of deadening effect. Anyway if you work against this, historically it’s a very tough thing to do – ‘madness’, imprisonment, murder. But now there’s the broader structural problem of capitalism’s absorption and neutralization of dissent. It’s killed through forms of ownership – material and academic. So it’s hard to know if it’s even possible to resist that quicksand or to know if what you are doing is effective, partly because of this bourgeois entropy, whereby any kind of oppositional voice or any position asserting its own authenticity gets pulled into the vortex of a structure which is in the throes of a permanent panic-attack about its own authenticity. I often think of the art-world as a bit like Terminator 2, when it falls into the molten hot metal, it tries to take on various forms as a solution, but all it does is formalize and dissolve them. But on the other hand the art-world is also a very unique and special environment in that it can create space and support for potentially very diverse and polyphonic activity, through lots of very smart, inter-connecting people. This community side of it I really love. So I’m you know, bi-polar.
I.G. Now, it’s me beginning with a Wow… Your scripts, which I’d define in antithesis with a “bourgeois politeness” and your grotesque animatronic sculptures are carriers of the marginalized “ex-centrics”. Language – both literal and figurative – is quite an important aspect of your work. It conveys a sense in nonsense and brings to light the fear of the mechanical. Your eccentric characters, which are set in a space-time bubble, are magical and scary. How you develop the language(s) they speak and are made of?
N.M. There’s something about the permeability of sense and nonsense which I find very compelling – I mean, who can draw a line between those things? Everyone’s would be different. And this grey area is a zone that feels natural to me to occupy. Sometimes I’m conscious that things that might seem quite literal or legible to me might seem nonsensical or straight up absurd to a viewer. When I’m writing the sense can be quite embedded because it can be highly associative. But then again I can also make really childish puns, and I love the basics of language and words. I’m just watching my daughter developing her own proto-language right now – she’s 8 weeks old. I’m naturally attracted to the physical properties of language and so on one level there’s that – creative writing, poetry. And lots of word association, language games. But I’m also equally fascinated by the physical effects of language – the real world effects and applications of the word. I feel like I’m inventing characters and fantastical scenarios which are strung-out between the form and politics of language. The narratives I invent are situated within that conflict. And that’s why I’m using absurdism, because you can start off at the edge of reason and go straight behind it, and it’s a way to explore the conflict between the form and politics of language which is something that is being constantly played with in reality. We’re all subject to it. Particularly now that we have global mediation, it’s amplified. We’re all living inside it. I think there’s something inherently grotesque in that. You’d have to go off and become a hunter-gatherer to avoid it. There’s a line I wrote in Giantbum (2008) when the religious leader of a group of explorers lost inside the body of a giant tells them “There is no outside! – Nothing – literally ‘no thing’. No time and no infinity either.” I was thinking about the horror of a permanently mediated present, and an ensuing loss of relativity. It’s something that keeps coming back in my scripts.
I.G. Your shared working methodology is also quite intriguing. Your films generate from a live and unique communal organism composed of yourself and of a series of close collaborators who really enter the work on many sides. Can tell us something about your working process?
N.M. That’s true and I appreciate the question. Each work has a different combination of people involved. With my films I have developed a core group of actors I work with and this is a group that has evolved over time. Certain people have been very central to it – Johnny Vivash, Gwendoline Christie, Patrick Kennedy, David Birkin and Richard Bremmer.
I have worked with most of them for over 10 years. Gwendoline introduced me to a lot of talented actors when we were working on Ourhouse in 2010, but I was friends with her for many years before that, from before she studied drama. The same with Johnny Vivash who is also helping me in this kind of crypto-producer way. So I’ve been lucky in that respect. David Birkin and I lived together in 1996-97. But I’ve always been lucky like that and the process goes back to the end of the ’80s when I was 14 and first started improvising music in Southborough and Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, South-east England. On two adjacent streets from where I was growing up there were two teenage punks / musicians, one of whom owned every Throbbing gristle, Coil and Psychic TV album (Grant Newman) and the other, Simon Johns, had all these Foetus, Big Black & Husker Du records and was my portal into a brave new world of experimental music. He invited me to be in my first band and later became the bass player in Stereolab. And through them I quickly met Ashley Marlowe, who has been my other very long term musical collaborator and dear friend. He is the best drummer I have ever seen and someone who completely lives music. He has the most diverse taste in music of all. Ashley and I still make music together. Oh and also Alex Tucker! Alexander Tucker and I were also good friends at that time and then he went of to Slade and I went to Oxford, both to do Fine Art. But sensibly he went straight back into music :).
Anyway, I am just trying to say that getting really into Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle, Coil, Butthole Surfers & Captain Beefheart, and getting to know all these really creative local characters, taking acid and improvising – and getting an understanding of group dynamics, has been really key for all my subsequent work. My studio work over the last few years has evolved in collaboration with Chris Bloor, my film work with Director of Photography Aaron Kovalchik, and my life with Tala Madani, my wife. It’s all collaboration.
I.G. I actually am also really fascinated by the physically repulsive animatronic sculptures. Why have you decided to work with the obsolete mechanism of kinetic art and who are the faces we are confronted by?
N.M. There are two levels to that. The first is just that in 2007 when I was at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam there was a facility there for engineering and computer-controlled art which was not being used so much or not really in an interesting way. The work made tended to be quite labor intensive and spectacular, at best, but not so interesting as art. And being around that I was thinking about kinetic art and how unfashionable it was and I had this idea that if I could MAKE IT TALK it would all be OK! Because then I could invibe the art-attempt with its own consciousness, and it would be able to reflect on its own condition, somehow. Also I was confident in my own ability to write dialogue. So I had this idea that I would make talking animatronic sculpture and it could be funny and grotesque, and the talking would redeem the work. But of course that just sites the work within the timeless quandary of art and consciousness. This led me back into the origins of art and towards what Clayton Eshleman called the “back-wall of human consciousness” – the back-end of the cave. That’s an amazing place to be.
The second level is the question of obsolescence which is fascinating to me. I was attracted to kinetic art partly because, with it being at that time very unfashionable, I felt I could make some progress with it. It’s harder or less interesting when everyone decides that something is the right form to work with. I mean, usually there’s only one or two people that are really doing something with it anyway. Like with ‘post-internet’ art, the interesting people are not comfortable with that moniker because they’re trying to move into some space they can feel – it’s more that the materials became accessible and they saw a potential in it. It’s not a movement, we’re not living in 1917. That’s the thing to do really, to feel this physical possibility of creative conscious and unconscious movement and to occupy that space and realize something which is hard to reduce. Hard to process.
1-2. Nathaniel Mellors, The Object (Ourhouse), 2010, La Ferme du Buisson, Courtesy the artist and Matt’s Gallery – London. © Émile Ouroumov
3. Nathaniel Mellors, Giantbum – Stage 2 (Theatre), 2008, The Object (Ourhouse), 2010 and Giantbum – Stage 1 (Rehearsal), 2008, Courtesy the artist and Matt’s Gallery – London, La Ferme du Buisson. © Émile Ouroumov
Protagonist: Nathaniel Mellors
Project: Alfred Jarry Archipelago