Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Interview with Marina Grzinic Recorded by Eva Kerremans at HISK 2005
Marina Grzinic(Slovenia) is doctor of philosophy and works as researcher at the Institute of Philosophy
at the ZRC SAZU in Ljubljana. She is a freelance media theorist and curator, and has been involved in video art since 1982. In collaboration with Aina Smid she has produced more than 30 video art projects, a short film, numerous video and media installations, Internet websites and an interactive CD-ROM (ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany). Grzinic has published hundreds of articles and 5 books; her last book is Fiction Reconstructed: Eastern Europe, Post-Socialism and the Retro-Avant-Garde (Vienna: Edition Selene in collaboration with Springerin, Vienna, 2000).
NOT, WHAT IS ART BUT, WHEN IS ART?
Eva Kerremans: “In former days, a painter made his own paint; as the painter, you were the master and there were guilds, etc. You knew perfectly well what you were doing. Later on, industrial paint was invented and was therefore accessible for more and more people. During romanticism, an elevated style came up. This period gave birth to the “shock of the new” and avant¬garde movements. The question about the contents of the concept “art” also rises, finally resulting in ready-made objects. The concept or idea becomes more important than the craft itself. But this ready-made style also indicates the necessity museum’s context. The curator develops into the final critic: he will make a selection from all of this available ready¬made art. The syntaxes and themes of the exhibition practically is a new work of art. His selection criteria are based on intuition and taste. The public however considers this selection as general, common. The artist has become dependent on the museum’s `critical curator machine’. How can an artist nowadays save his authenticity? Can the artist’s authenticity survive at all?”
Marina Grzinic: “The relation `artist - institution’ is a crucial theme. First, you have the topic `tautology’. That means what was the question about ready made. The question of ready- made was not only, that every thing can be proclaimed as art, but also, that the gallery system, the system of art, the institution of art, actually is the last point of verification. Next question could thus be: how is the institution related to art, and vice versa? The gallery was from that moment on the context, which was actually the content of the work of art. And it is the question of ready-made that this is a tautological process. Not, what is art but, when is art? The question `when is art’ is becoming more important. It is not only the context that is relevant, because `what is art’ equals the question `when is art’. It’s a moment of decision. And some art works can also be seen as an event, like in terms of Alain Badiou, something that rearticulates the space. But it is not only about authenticity. But it’s about this context that is actually influencing the reading. Who decides the tautological machine? And this is a matter of naturalization. It means, that everything or some things were generated; they all had these divisions, this contextualization, but at a certain moment we think about them that they always have been like this. And this is how the institution functions, it’s always a certain naturalization of the process, it’s hiding as soon as the question between context and content changes.”
EK “Are the books that they produce as important for the gallery? Because, without a manual, without a legacy, the whole thing doesn’t function.”
MG “There are different systems, because we talk about the so called first capitalistic western system of art. For, this is the system that actually is the most advanced and the only one that is in relation with the capitalistic system; that even generates art as a product, as a system of relations and a system of tools, rituals, the way we behave, the way we buy, the way we influence and in this system what the base is. What is always put apart, what has never been discussed, is the genealogy. What means genealogy? Genealogy is the system of the historical interpretations that actually makes continuity in the story about the background of art. And this is also in what establishes the art market; and the difference between the first and second world is about what I call genealogy, in the classical way. It’s about every type of art. If you think about conceptualism, what do you have? It’s a huge genealogy, a huge historical import; nothing is left out of the machine. And then you have this second world that is this former European Eastern world and maybe the third world is not even included on the map. It’s actually what I call the fast speed up genealogy; it is this Mc Donalds. Because they had to have something, but it’s not important, because the main root is the history in the first capitalistic world. And theory that, until now was seen as a kind of space, that is out of this institution. As a kind of island where legacy is given from which you can speak and you are safe, because it was all this academic institutialization, showing precisely that no one is innocent. Not that we can say: no image is innocent. However, we can say: no space is innocent. So we are all part of this machine. In this way, it’s not theory, but industry of theory, industry of criticism. And a very good example is, just to be even more actual is what’s going today at the present moment. Maybe you heard; there are a lot of projects that are dealing with what... They were going back into history to see who these artists in the sixties and seventies that left the art world, actually are. Who said I don’t want to be part of the story anymore. Because art that was threatened as a space of emancipation, as a space of utopia, showed very quickly that it’s actually a space of art market, manipulation, power, institutions, and so on. And what’s going on today, actually shows that you can’t quit the machine, because you have to think about when the machine will be picking you up. So some of these artists have been picked up and they are contextualized back in the field of art. So this tells me that this system is the most important content and context.”
EK “In the seventies, there is a change in how the museum was perceived by the artist. Before the seventies, you had avant garde movements. In the beginning, the museum was against this new movement but gradually, this new movement was eventually allowed into the museum’s history. The museum had a concept of a historical classification and believed in the continuity of progress and evolution. Suddenly, this became a threat for the art community in the seventies, because the art scene revolted against this historical classification and continuity of progress in art styles and culture. But in the nineties this threat is non-existent, because the museum gives itself a new meaning with all those new media-oriented work that involved the public as a fundamental element of the work. The museum becomes an artificial social construction, where everything is allowed. You can’t fight anymore against the museum like in the seventies, because the museum accepts everything now. In other terms, you get a distorted art world.
When you, for instance, go to the Guggenheim museum, you see a huge monumental architectural palace before entering the art buffet. In 19th century, visitors of the Louvre sat down on banks, smoked a cigar and took their time to look at a painting by Gericault. Nowadays, the museum visit is a speed-up mass event...”
MG “It has changed. The museums have changed into airports, the whole idea behind museums, especially, the new museums like the Japanese `Mori’ in Tokyo or the `Kunsthaus’ in Gratz: you are entering the museum by a staircase that leads you to a stage where you feel as if you were in one of these duty free shops; the whole setting, is as if you were waiting
for taking the next plane., The relation to the books, to the small objects that are coming from the exhibition is the same as what you are buying in a duty free shop. Changing the whole idea of the institution because it’s pressured very much by the money, and the whole idea is actually of diminishing every kind of critic, especially critical thinking. Most of the things you get, is branding; the system of branding. Art is not an exclusive field anymore, that maybe was a bourgeois so to call free entity, where you could think. But now it has become a part of the society in which can be invested. A very good point of this is that everything can be branded and everything has to be sold. And the excellent outcome of all these processes are these unbelievable presentations of private collections today. Because, considering the amount of private collections
that are emerging in the year 2005, `boom’ would be the right term here. You can make an analysis and you see that every second museum that was a public institution, that means that it was an institution that tried to make a kind of presentation of art for a public interest, exposing this critical discourse. What is happening today in 2005, inviting private collectors who invested money and showing them doing this for a private sake. Now they are the only ones that can buy this art with invested money, that actually can take care of the public concern and they are having the best exhibitions, because a museum as a public institution can’t afford it. This too is a paradox. And is showing what? Private property and ownership, at the base what is a fight of the capitalist system, just being logic that it is going from other all different sectors, that before it was hiding this. Because they were working with the question of private interest. But then you see that today, art, social activism, is only connected to private sponsorship and ownership. That is why the whole idea of art is topsy-turvy. That is becoming a private institution of private interest. And because of this very much restricting what is possible to be the so to call the major aim of art criticism. Today it is bordered.”
WE LOVE ART
EK “It is remarkable that all kinds of marketing strategies exist in order to get as many visitors as possible in your museum. Moreover, in SMAK, museum of contemporary art of Ghent, they organize a show for kids, where they can buy an art work for 35 Euro. The parents are not allowed to visit this show, except for during the last hour of the last day, where it is impossible to buy something. Doesn’t art suffer of this too much of love? Selling the works of art as like you have to love them, or you have a manual that helps you out.”
MG “My point is: eventually, it is all the same; but it is distributed and shown in different versions. For instance, all to make this simplify diagrams is also a way to on one part give a kind of a fake feeling that everybody can understand art. But it has to do again a lot with the genealogy. Because this is a meaning that is very specific, in other terms a line of art, it’s one way drawn and also the whole process of history is naturalized. In this history you can see no other worlds, you have no access. So on one way it’s a feeling that is an absolute proletarisation. But on the other part it’s actually reinforcing history and making a fake continuity. In this way it is also establishing the relations of power. This is one aspect. The other aspect is this managerial logic, that is inviting every sector of life, because this way of taking, simplifying, drawing a so to call map of art history that can be accessible to everybody, means also evacuating, getting rid off every critical potential, this is a cleaning, an ethnical cleaning almost. If you look at the names who stay, you can make a very precise analysis of which names stay. Who are these artists, who actually are selected to represent this continuity. And this is also a very good example of universities and academies today, because they are also transformed in bureaucratic institutions. Because what do you get today? You don’t get the idea that critical thinking is an issue at universities and academies, but you get the idea that you are actually just doing your work, you do your exams and finish the things. End of story. And everything is a sort of factory situation. Almost a production unit where the idea is not to produce thinking subjects, but actually effective administrators. Also in terms of art: people, who are doing the things; they are producing, building, they have their part and they will also be integrated into the whole system. Making art is not enough, it’s the whole system of institutions that is covering the whole personal process.”
EK “You combine three functions: curator, critic and artist. How does the art market deal with this? Do they like it?”
“You can do it, but combining these different levels is not accepted easily. Because especially the intervention of reflection that means if you are writing and you are making the work that means that you are constantly reflecting. My point of view is that practically, being a Gesamtkunstwerk is not the point here, thus, totalizing is not the point here, but it’s actually the only political position you can take in this world you’re living in. At least my work, everything is connected. So the way of making the work of art, writing and curating, are elements of the same story. And the story is trying to find the logic of how the art system is functioning. And because we are all part of the capitalistic system. For me the main point is in which way the system functions and how we have to include our selves into this story in order to be accepted. But also: what is the logic that is not so clear at prima vista? Because nothing is just transparent, it’s obviscated, we think that we are working, we think that we have to be productive, we have to be creative. But I’m always wondering myself what then the resistance is. What is behind this huge creativity, this productivity? What are the points where we actually contextualize, politicize our positions? And we are trying to understand how the machine functions. Why are certain exhibitions allowed and others not? Why are certain names always appearing? Why are we talking about the criticism of art? On the other hand, you have an exhibition. A very good example is the upcoming Dokumenta. There will have been fifty years of Dokumenta and all we were talking about during the last decade was: multi cultural, new works, new opportunities, the world is changing. And when you open the catalogue of this pre Dokumenta, there is no one, no single name coming from the second world. There are only names of the art market. And this is the passport, the identity card of this Dokumenta. This is the huge exhibition that is regulating the next four, five years how we perceive. So all these stories of the African world, the Asian world, when you open, there is the magic. This magic shows that these people are not included. It’s always the same magic of names, very clearly so that you can just follow the genealogy and the investments that were done by the so called system of art, the institution of art, including the art market in the sector of contemporary art. I hope you will not be censured. Censorship.”
EK “I already have problems... The last studio visit was actually a cold shower. A curator came into my studio and took a brief look at my script `the sublime is now’, but without looking at the foot notes or structure of the text. Then he watched only one work in progress and gave me a one¬hour-monologue in which he tried to convince me to make a choice. That I was unable to combine being a critic with being an artist. In his report about me, he wrote, that there were a lot of works in Eva’s studio that she wouldn’t comment on. That was a lie, I was looking forward to finally show him the real work, but I even didn’t get the opportunity to show him anything, because directly he started attacking my position and continued this narcissistic monologue. I don’t actually know what I am labeled doing. I know what I am researching. But I can’t say I am a scientist, an artist or a writer.”
MG “You know, just to come back to point. When you say `I am an artist, I am a scientist and I am a critic’. It is also a political decision. It was very good for me, once I asked Tri Minha “Are you a feminist?” and she told me this is always a political decision. Not every space is the space that you can proclaim. But some spaces you have to take the stands and tell I am a feminist. Or you can say `I am a writer and a terrorist’. Because this is precise political positioning of yourself. So I think it’s always the question of really of the context and knowing for what purpose you are saying these things.”
THE CAPITALIST MACHINE IS A CANNIBAL
EK “Coming back to the artist..., maybe there are two art scenes: the first capitalistic art scene that fits in the genealogy, they created for them selves. Then maybe there is also an underground art scene, which doesn’t participate, but anticipates on the first one...”
MG “I think underground art doesn’t exist anymore. There is no... Especially in the first capitalistic world that produced all these underground movements, nothing is left out anymore. So there is, so to speak, no space to build. Some political associations still exist, crucial but they are however disappearing. The anti-globalist movement, that was of crucial importance. It lived a short life, but I think it was one of the mayor actions, trying to delineate and to split up what is called the unbearable circularity of `everything is possible, everything is okay, everything can be exchanged’. But definitely in the art market, and also in the art institutions of first capitalistic world, which is regulating, today it is very difficult, almost impossible to establish an underground, because of new technology and because of an unbelievable progression of technology. That things have speeded up that much, because the underground and the space where you can retreat or were you can withdraw, is also connected with time. You need a time. Or it was in the past like this. It was possible to persist in a certain kind of marginal situation, discussing and developing a parallel. Today, because the capitalist machine is a cannibal, and there is in a way, no space left. Because the first rule of capitalism is new spaces, so this is the first rule, and everything can be a space, it’s not necessarily a physical one. The things have so speed up that there is no time anymore to develop a more intensive and more consistent space of resistance. No more resistance space from which you can actually rethink and also shape the structures and institutions. So in this way I think this question of avant garde is a historical definition.”
EK “But how can you as an artist manage to protect yourself from becoming a slave to this art market?”
MG “I have only one answer. For me, it’s crucial for instance, the way how is terrorized; What is going on in South America. You have a class fight, a fight of space and there is an interesting rethinking of this position. And it is called contamination. Thus, retreating is not the point here. That you actually don’t insist anymore on an autonomous position, but that you actually emerge yourself to contaminate. Your so called high level position of intellection, retreat of the dirtiness of mass media, this awful situation that is going on, you actually don’t put your self out, but even more you go into this. And you actually politicize maximally the position of an artist and also the whole field of art. And I think this is for me one of the possibilities to make very critical and very precise, no less politics. But even more politics, even more to point the fingers to what the link is between politics and art. Absorbing the political discourse into art. Pointing at what actually is current, important, crucial, real, infected in the society. So now this what I call also position, and I made the example of artists who are just out of it all, art that is just contemplating the world, living and working in some kind of exclusive space, because you don’t want to have any kind of contagious relation to the world. This emptiness that is just brought as a last paradigm. This nothingness that becomes a last resort.
Just think about two films, `Lost in Translation’ and `Broken Flowers’. And if you think about these two fantastic films, they’re showing a process that is even a step farther. It’s not anymore this Adorno situation, that we had in the past, where we were depressed about our selves, about everything around us because we were cannibalized by mass media, we were just consumers. No, now this emptiness, nothing to say, nothing to relate to the world, that you can see in Lost in translation with Bill Murray `You know what?’.And in Broken Flowers it is actually spiritualized. And this is even one step farther. This void is becoming the ultimate, so to call, first capitalistic form, a snobbish attitude where you can just be there and where you can just withdraw your self in your emptiness, which is nothing to say, nothing to do, you can just look at the world and you can tell this is the last big spiritualization. This is why I think contamination is in contrast to this emptiness is crucial , just to be part of this, and not to withdraw your self, not to be some kind of Buddha. But contaminated by the world, by immigrants, by poetry, by the horrors. Yesterday in Amsterdam fifteen illegal people in a prison died because no one of the guards opened the door on time. But they had the time to open the door. So this contamination is very crucial. I want to politicize my philosophy, my theory. Not to be some kind of an academic situation where I am functioning like a spiritual entity. Because speaking slowly, related to the world… When the world is falling apart.
I want to draw a line, not between me and the world, but between this fake spiritualization of nothingness and actually the nothingness of spiritualization. Because you see it’s nothing, it’s a void and I want to be contaminated and to contaminate.”
EK “To come back on the artist. Is he than in this first capitalistic world a manager? In pre-Socratic period the artist was kind of priest, who wanted to change the world on political and ethical levels. After Socrates mimesis became the goal of the artist. He tries to achieve the Beauty . With Modern Art, the artist doesn’t seek the Beauty anymore as head goal, but he wants to touch the viewer on a higher metaphysical level. The Sublime is born and the artist is praised as a genius. Nowadays even the winning horse of a tierce is a genius. We can’t call the artist anymore a genius. But should we consider him again as a kind of priest like in pre-Socratic period. Because the image that the artist produce is from such a conceptual, political, social and ethnical value, the artist is someone who want to shock or dare to take an object out of the cultural conventional frames… Can we maybe see this as a crucial element of being an artist, being very aware of the society we’re living in… You can’t differ the artist anymore on skull, so lays the difference than in his consciousness? By example why does an artist his picture differs from a Japanese tourist shooting a photo of his wife in front of the Brussels Atomium.”
MG “What differs is the work. But not every work. What differs for me is just the concept, it’s the line that is drawing. A line that can actually sustain any kind of difference. Because most of the cases, I think that it’s not enough knowing what is going on out. You must also rearticulate this position in the artwork, so the work in itself is actually the difference. But in which way to make the work it’s also a question. Are you making the work because you want to make a brand? That will be ready for selling? A very well packed, that instead to make a chair, you make a photograph that has all this emblems that you can actually go to Ikea and buy instead of there. You can also buy an artwork in Ikea by the way. Piet Mondriaan was sold there as a kind of decoration. So I think the crucial point it’s not only this consciousness, but the materialization of certain position in the work. So what matters is only the work, that means the concept, that can sustain this difference, that can draw a line where you see this difference. Where you don’t just see an exchanged value, where the work is not just a simple decoration. I call this when the art is not just a mad machine, just producing, producing, … But in one way, producing what, just to sell, and to have a nice life. You can be very critical, because you have the bank account. And when you have the bank account, you can be very generous. You can be very understandable, you can think and talk with everybody. And feel a real and honest sorrow for somebody who has not in threat. But this is because you have the leisure and the possibility to be so generous because I call this the truth of your self or them selves is in the bank account. If I speak very profound, people can understand me, because the truth is not in here, it’s somewhere else, it’s not the generosity. Also words are just losing power. You can say everything, I think it’s important to see from which point the person is speaking. The artist is speaking from the point of the artwork and if this artwork is words, than you have to read words. If it’s a textually, you have to see what kind of texts. Because today it’s the idea that you can tell every sentence, and that everything can be immediately an artwork. I always say tell me from which text you took your sentences, tell me which film you took as a reference, which image is the referential image for organizing or articulating this space. And this is actually the point of reference, this is the point of difference. So just to break this circularity. Everybody is sincere and honest in just repeating the words and having the reflection, but this is not enough.”
WE ARE ARTISTS, NOT SUPERMARKETS
EK “But how can you go farther than that?”
MG “Farther it’s the question of how you contextualize your work. We are artists. We are not politicians, we are not nurses, we are not… This is crucial, it’s the point from which we are talking and you can’t be all inclusive. Because we are not supermarket where you get a bonus and than you go and buy everything. So you always define yourself in the point from where you are speaking. It’s a point of annunciation, and I think the subject of an annunciation is actually the art work. It’s the work. And I think this is the only point. How to establish is actually what kind of work we will do. What will be our artwork? If I can show my art work, because you asked me what are you doing? I can precisely explain you when you see my work what are the elements that I took. And this is one point, the other point is how the work relates to a much larger context. But in this context you can control the interpretations.”
EK “So, when the work is finished you give it out of hands, and than the work is for you the most important issue. So becoming famous or celebrated is not something you seek to achieve. You’re not busy with the issue that your name has to last forever, that you have to leave traces in history.”
MG “Unfortunately I think the system always select those… If you will be famous and how you will be included also depends again on the work. Because it’s some kind of mirroring. The system functions in the system of mirroring. They always fund them selves. This is the point, the things are very simple, actually. They seem very complex, but it’s not. Because what you see, what is presented in the gallery, which names circulate, what works have visibility, what are the borders? It’s showing precisely that it depends of your work. If you are doing as the so to call established, like you said the codex of the manual, is telling this things and those things means something, you will be maybe sooner or later, but it’s no hundred percent guarantee, be taken. Because it will be some kind of a state of mind. It will be reflected in all these needs, these tools, this vocabulary, the grammar. This grammatical language it’s practically like the grammar of anti globalisation, the grammar of multitude, so there exist also the grammar of fine art. The field that we are both part and there you know what are the tools, the sentences,…”
EK “And also which new brand word they have invented in which the art works have to fit for their coming exhibition… But than I wonder, like Andres Serrano he told to me a social life is not important, I want to leave a legacy, traces. It was a call for me to become an artist. And very important for him is also to be celebrated. That’s also an aspect of the artist that he wants to be famous?”
MG “Because in art being famous means being rich in one way, especially in this first capitalistic world.”
EK “No, he said, even when I wasn’t selling that well, for me the most important is the show and the traces that I will leave in history. So after he dies, life will go on, but there will still be trace of him. Not in his children, but with his work of art.”
MG “But for him being a black person, and this is a fact, coming from such a context, for long any person of colour was resisted. Especially being part, selling products, I mean they were part of certain histories, but not of the main history. I can understand . Because this actually also means that you cut yourself out of the ghetto. This is true. From this you get actually, traces for me it’s also one moment that you can really be going out of this ghetto situation and that you can claim to a certain history. But this is not something that happened through the work, by the way, it happened by the art machine. At a certain moment it was a discovery of this other worlds. Because the capitalistic machine couldn’t function anymore based on one of the rules and this was the racial rule. Racial differentiation still exist but it had to be loosen. Because they need new bodies, they need new investments, and they need new so to call blood in the physical and spiritual way, to be included. Because the first rule of capitalistic machine is territory. And territory is everything, it’s internet, it’s absolutely the new parallel, that was the boom of the eighties and now it’s almost suffocated. Because open, but on the other hand they want the police to regulate it and so on. Than it was body, and now it was no world left anymore to be discovered geographically. So how the things function? It’s coming from Marxism, just read the laws of political economy. It’s the interior cannibalization. And it’s also alliances, because it’s obvious. If you see what’s going on in Iraq and in other Moslem countries , who are those who are possible to make the alliances with white people.
So I think it’s really much more factors, and I can understand you. But also I think that his sociality is precisely this inclusion in history.”
EK “What is your personal motor for creating images? Why are you an artist? What drives you? Like Andres Serrano had some kind of existential fear of death?”
MG “I have no troubles with this. I always say, people who are coming from the second world they are already dead. We’re already symbolically dead. You don’t find us in big books. Our art is not presented. This is the fact. So I’m having absolutely no trouble with this. I have actually another point of view. For me why I started making art is from which the space from which I was speaking, I’m coming from ex- Yugoslavia, this second world, socialism, than post-socialism. Art was really something that was absolutely a space, the only place where you could really articulate politically your position. And for me this was crucial, where you could rise the most important social questions. Because everything was so everyday politics, and this was the only space. This was really, like in these Avant-Garde movements a place where you were free in your critical thinking. You could radically open questions that were not allowed anywhere else. For me it was always the question of political articulation. I wanted to know why I am living in the world I am living and what can I do, and if I can change something. Not just making things, but also if it’s possible to open a position from which the things can be possible to be changed.”