If you can’t come in smile as you go by – Jårg Geismar in memoriam by Niclas Östlind
Walking and Talking2 – Niclas Östlind and Prangtip (Maxie) Geismar interviewing seven curators and artists in Venice 2019
On several occasions, the artist Jårg Geismar, his wife Prangtip and I have written together about our impressions of the Venice Biennale. We have done so both to sharpen the senses and because it is fun. Through their contacts, a couple of the reports were published in the
Japan Times. At the biennial in 2015, Jårg suggested that we do a performance where we discuss different topics, and that the conversations would take place during walks throughout Venice. The project was named Walking & Talking, Venice 2015 and Jårg made a flyer that was sent out in advance and spread in Venice. It stated the time and place for the conversation and the topics to be addressed, including: Transparency, Appropriation/Copy Right, Visual, Respect, History, Continuity. The flyer was an invitation to participate in the conversation and on several occasions spontaneous meetings arose with both known and unknown people. We recorded, filmed and photographed the walks and conversations. The documentation was published online, where extensive material is still available.
Two years later, at the 2017 Biennale, we did a new version of the project. Driven by his curiosity and willingness to investigate different methods and perspectives, Jårg wanted us to interview a number of people instead. Some interviews were booked in advance; others we left open for unexpected and interesting meetings. As always, Jårg wanted to talk about the most basic things – about what is really important in life and in art. Jårg’s combination of commitment, humour and seriousness contributed to the interviewees lowering their guard. The conversations were characterized by an unusual openness, not avoiding sensitive topics or critical perspectives on problematic phenomena. This time the results were published in Hjärnstorm with the title Voices from Venice. Among the interviews, one in particular lingers and in my opinion reflects the spirit of the project. A young Venetian woman guided us – as part of one of the biennial’s art projects – on a gondola ride through the canals in a quiet part of the city. She told us about her impressions as we slid forward and she said what we would especially notice, including how the acoustics and temperature changed as we passed under the bridges. She herself could not see and had never been able to do so, because she was born without eyes. The interview revolved around the experience of experiencing the world in this way, and about her life and dreams.
Inspired by seeing the results in print, we decided pretty soon after the publication to carry out a new version of the project at the next biennial. But in the summer of 2018 – after a spring where he felt weak and had lost a considerable amount of weight – Jårg found out that he had cancer. Although Jårg was severely affected by the disease, he managed to open the exhibition Fly Me to the Moon at gallery Ruttkowski;68 in Cologne at the beginning of October. With the help of a young star chef, he also carried out a happening in his series Restaurant Mes Amis – this time with food inspired by space. On December 2, I received an email from Jårg. It was short but characterized by optimism. He felt better and asked me to ask Bengt Jahnsson Wennberg if Hjärnstorm could once again help us with the press accreditation for the biennial, which would open in May. He also had an idea for a theme for the project that he wanted to discuss: Abstraction. Given the open character that characterizes Jårg’s work, the accuracy with which everything is prepared can come as a surprise. This time, however, the planning did not get very far – Jårg died on February 26, 2019.
Even though nothing would be the same, Prangtip and I chose to finish what had been started. We thought that Jårg would have wanted us to. For us, it was important to look for people who meant something to Jårg, and for whom Jårg had a place in their lives. Of the many expressive and telling titles Jårg gave his works, we especially carried one with us, which could also be the motto for these seven conversations: Future is Based on Trust.3
1 If you can’t come in smiles as you go by was shown at Thomas Taubert Gallery, Dusseldorf, Germany, 1993
2 Walking and Talking, copyright Jårg Geismar & Niclas Östlind
3 Future is based on trust was shown at Littmann Gallery in Basel, Switzerland, 1989.
Walking and Talking with Beral Madra
Niclas Östlind (NÖ): We are happy that you are participating in this conversation. If you could present yourself by talking about your relation to the arts?
Beral Madra (BM): Thank you for inviting me to this interview in the memory of Jårg Geismar, with whom I worked in the past in two very important exhibitions. One was in Venice Biennial in 1994, the other was in Istanbul in 1995. After that of course we were in touch, and I was following what he was doing. He was one of the sociologically, politically and aesthetically very, very engaged artists. In art we are always looking for truth, and he was really looking for truth. The exhibition In Between with 45 artists in 1994 – in this particular garden – Riva dei Sette Martiri – where we are doing this interview – was the beginning of globalization, and Jarg had already a global vision. Actually, it was a project with Adem Yilmaz and Jårg Gesimar, and with a lot support from Germany, but they asked to be within the Pavilion of Turkey, which I was curating at that time. Pavilion of Turkey was in very small room, only ten square metre, at the backside of the main Italian Pavilion. Okey, the 90’s was a very different time. Modernism was over and everybody was looking forward to a new era in which the deficits the modernism would be healed. We were hopeful. I mean, it was a kind of another utopia, but it did not last long. In 2000 we started to enter into a Neo-capitalist, economically and politically very autocratic system. Now I’m quite old, working as a senior curator in Istanbul. I started my profession in the beginning of 1980, when we had a military coup. It was a severe time. Thousands of people were in jail, but our friends left the country – like now. I mean, now, 400 000 people left Turkey. These people are academicians, intellectuals, or people who are involved in political dissident situations. So, I mean it was almost the same. I’m seeing this film again and again. But, in the 80’s, as I told you, we were looking for a new kind of modernism or post-modernism, whatever you want to call it, and I really had a role in making the contemporary art scene in Turkey visible in the international world. I applied to Venice Biennial, where Turkey didn’t have a pavilion. I also applied to all the European Union institutions to make collaborative exhibitions, partnerships, etcetera. So, in my archive now, there are over 250 exhibition boxes. If anybody wants to make research, they can get some scholarship from their country and come, and work in this archive. In 1997 I started to look to the Middle East; what is happening there? Also to our other neighbours, like Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan. I had the opportunity to make some exhibitions with all these countries; inviting the artists from these countries to Istanbul to show their work. This is still continuing. My last important curating was the 8th Bucharest Biennale in Romania, with Razvan Ion. He co-curated the biennale, and I, again, invited all the neighbours, not only the European artists, but Armenia, and Georgia, and Middle East. And currently here, in the last days, somebody asked me: “What is the most important honourable exhibition for you?” May I also tell you what it was?
NÖ: Yeah, please do.
BM: It was the exhibition I made for Andrej Djerkovich, a Serbian origin artist, who was in Sarajevo during the Balkan war, the Bosnia war. He made a documentation of Srebrenica victims with Braille alphabet, and he invited me to curate this show; and at the opening I was with the Srebrenica mothers. This is the most important exhibition in my profession, I mean, this was a duty, because we witnessed what happened in the Balkans.
NÖ: Thank you for sharing this. It’s reveals a passionate relation to the arts, and what art can do – the agency of art. The current Venice Biennial has the title May You Live In Interesting Times. Have you encountered any work that you think reflects the situation of today?
BM: The title provokes people to ask questions: Are we living in an interesting time? But, of course you should not read it directly. The word “interesting” is a used very much in our era – it’s a mediatic concept. Yes, it’s an interesting time in its paradoxical contents. We are looking towards universe, and for example NASA is showing us this black hole. Malevich has told us about this black hole already in the beginning of the 20th Century, and now we experience it as a digital photography. I mean, the people living on this planet should think about it, and should take their position in this world in a more responsible way. On the other side, what we see is that there is a big clash between religions and modernism. So, it didn’t end. Modernism changed its root, its direction, but religion did not. The confrontation now, between religion, tradition and modernism is very dangerous. I experience it in my country, and many people experiencing it in their countries. At the same time, this religion is very friendly with nationalism; so the heritage of the 20th century nationalism is also valid and we are experiencing it everywhere. The partnerships between these very devastating ideologies is really making us very depressive, very angry, and afraid of our future. In this exhibition, we can see this paradoxical clash. Some artists, like the Polish artist Roman Stańczak who produced that aeroplane, which is upside down and as a metaphor shows what we are doing. I mean, this is the world he is showing, it’s a chaotic world, it’s, like Paul Virilio says, all accident – everywhere there are accidents, geological accidents, political accidents, social accidents. But on the other side, in the main pavilion we see a Disneyland, so what could the curator do? I mean, this is what the artists are creating, and maybe he wants to show us this clash. I hope.
NÖ: When you say Disneyland, what do you mean and could you give us some examples?
BM: In the main pavilion I have seen that artists are using everything which is produced by industries. They use it, and they try to make art of these materials; they try to make scenes like theatres. For me this is a real Disneyland. We also see that some artists are using the computer technology in a very perceptual way, but there is no content in it.
Prangtip Maxie Geismar (PMG): Like a hologram.
BM: Yes, and you just feel, “ah, what a technology”. That’s it. But I am a curator looking for art which is political, which is critical, which is dissident, which is oppositional. I’m living in a country where I need this, I need freedom of expression.
Walking and Talking with Branko Franceschi
Niclas Östlind (NÖ) Could you to say something about your way into the arts, and what you do?
Branko Franceschi (BF): My name is Branko Franceschi. At the moment I’m the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Split, Croatia. I am also an art critic and have contributed a lot of texts for papers, magazines, television and radio, and for the last three years I’m broadcasting the weekly radio program in Split on visual arts phenomena and what the museum is doing – trying to reach the audience, which is the main concern and main problem in the Croatian context of art. Although we are a small nation of four million we have a very strong and vivid art scene, and the main problem is the lack of interest from the local public.
At the museum we do 20 exhibitions per year, and we are trying to do as many collaborations with international artists as possible. I met Jårg by doing an exhibition series called One-on-One – one artist on one artist, or one city on another city, or one national art scene on another national art scene. This year it will be Sweden and Croatia in August, and then it will be Jårg and the local artist Momčilo Golub in October.
NÖ: And from a more personal point of view – how did you come into art?
BF: I’m from the city of Zadar, which is a coastal city north of Split. When I was a teenager there was a group of older teenagers that were very hip. They were students at the University of Social Sciences in Zadar, were you can study philosophy, history of art, literature etc. I wanted to be like them, and later in life, when I went to study, all of us became friends. My idea was to study history of arts and literature, but then I studied philosophy and history of art in Zagreb, because I wanted to get away from parents and family home to be free on my own. I was having fun and had a very untypical career in the Croatian context. I realized that the curriculum – both what we were told and how it was told – was very old-fashioned. It was the 70s and I was thinking of quitting, but I was kind of embarrassed because my parents wanted me to study medicine or economy – something every serious parent think is good for their kid’s future. I decided to finish my studies quickly and find a job. I graduated in four years, and then I found the first job with a Secondary school degree. It was in the oil and gas company INA, which was in those days the biggest company in Yugoslavia. I was very happy, I had my own money and I could party and come to work at 7 am. Then my colleagues told me that company opened a gallery, and I started to work there in 1987. In only five years I made it one of the most innovative exhibition spaces in Zagreb, which is the capital and cultural centre of Croatia. I grew professionally together with the gallery, but it was happening outside of the public cultural system. The entire cultural life in Croatia then and now is based on public institutions, and there is almost no significant private initiative. In 2004 I was contacted by the municipality of the city of Rijeka and they offered me the position of museum director. Before that I was appointed by the ministry to curate Croatia’s participation at the São Paulo Biennial. It was ground-breaking situation that someone not from the public cultural system was given this opportunity and job in major cultural institution. This is how my, let’s say, big time career started.
From then on, I have been invited by the municipalities that wanted to change the institutions and make them more present in the community. For me as a professional, no matter if I write, curate or manage an art institution, my responsibility is always the public. This usually creates confrontations with the artists. They believe that we should focus on their careers, but my heart is with the public, and with this I’m actually doing service for the artists, since I’m building a bridge without which the art really doesn’t have a meaning.
NÖ: That brings us to the venue and context where we are now, the Venice Biennale. What are your impressions and thoughts of what you have seen so far?
BF: I would like to give you some broader, but also a personal context of Venice. My family name is Venetian and the area where I was born was part of the Venetian Republic, so for me Venice has the aura of the ideal capital. My hometown also looks a bit like Venice, and the dialect we speak has a lot of words from the Venetian dialect, so in a certain way visiting Venice is a kind of home coming. And the second thing – Venice Biennale is one of the most spectacular art manifestations, and for Croatia it is important because of our limited resources for culture. Venice is our closest international scene, and Venice Biennale is a big thing in the agenda of the Croatian ministry of culture. It is one of the focal points of the international exposure of the Croatian visual arts. I have been involved in the Croatian pavilion a few times: I was the curator 2008 and 2009, and I won the first Open Call for the national pavilion in 2013, and I was curator under the commissioner for the Architecture Biennale in 2011, so one can say that I understand how it works. It is incomparable to anything. In the context of the international art scene the concept of national pavilions is kind of outdated, but I would say it serves a purpose, since every pavilion tries to present what the curator believes is the best at the moment in the country. Each biennale is also a huge drama, since Croatia doesn’t have any pavilion in Giardini because for some reason the Yugoslavian pavilion today belongs to Serbia. The biennial is something that we are looking forward to since all the art world comes together and for professionals working in countries like Croatia it is the best opportunity to see what is going on in the contemporary art world. It is not just the biennial but all the side programs and beautifully produced exhibitions. You can really understand how the contemporary cultural scene functions, and what we have witnessed the last few biennials is how market-driven it is.
My overall impression of this biennial – after the first day when I went to Giardini to see the central exhibition and the national pavilions – is that it is one of the palest I have ever seen. The second day I visited Arsenale, and it made a much better impression. It is strange since it is the same artists as in the central pavilion, and the question is why it works much better in Arsenale. I think they should do something about the architecture of the central pavilion; reconstruct it completely and build bigger spaces. What is typical for the national pavilions, since everyone is aware that they have to stand out among thousands of works, is that they tend to be produced on a very high level. When it connects with good content it is great, and that is actually what you expect from the biennial. My favourite pavilions – I haven’t seen all that are outside, which is always the problem – are the French and of course the pavilion of Ghana. I have never seen so many good African or Afro-American painters, whose works are bringing some special quality to the traditional language of oil or acrylic painting on canvas. It has to do something with combinations of colours and overall density of the composition – I don’t know how to explain it better this briefly. I would give award for the best national pavilion to Ghana for It is the sheer excellency, great selection and functional combination of painting, photography and video installation. It is great curatorial work. What I loved with the French pavilion is that it brings back the trust in art – in pleasure and the importance of creating. It has music, it has movement, and a psychedelic feeling. It’s all about intuition and being young and it all brilliantly comes together.
Walking and Talking with Jernej Kožar
Niclas Östlind (NÖ): Please tell us about yourself and what you do in the arts.
Jernej Kožar (JK): My name is Jernej Kožar and I have worked as a curator for about 20 years. I am at the Koroška galerija likovnih umetnosti in Slovenj Gradec, called KGLU. It is a small space and a small town. For the last seven years I have run a separate space where we do six, seven contemporary art exhibitions per year with Slovenian and international artists. Jårg Geismar had a show there last year (April 2018), called Fairy Tales.
NÖ: Could you say something about the exhibition?
JK: Jårg’s idea was to present the everyday life, which is sometimes very difficult and sad, viewed through fairy tales. But his interpretation of the fairy tales was different from how we often think about fairy tales, through Walt Disney and children’s books – it was fairy tales for adults, for us. The whole space, which is 17 x 8 x 3,5 meters, was covered with aluminium paper, and on the glossy surface Jårg draw lines and stories which expressed his thoughts and feelings.
NÖ: We are meeting at the Venice Biennial, and the title of the main show is May You Live in Interesting Times. What does that mean to you?
JK: I am rather sceptical, because they usually put some title that is very broad, and with these big concepts you can actually put anything into it. So, from this point of view I am a bit disappointed. As I see it Venice Biennial – although I’m very privileged and can come here – has become more like a regular art show, and not a special exhibition.
NÖ: Have you encountered anything that you find particularly interesting?
JK: I saw a couple of things yesterday in the Arsenale, and I’m in general very pleased to see new works by the internationally “star” artists, like Tomás Seraceno who got his own pavilion in Giardini. For me it’s also important to see the national pavilions, since this is one of the few opportunities for people from other countries outside Western Europe and US to get some attention from the international art world art.
On the other hand, it’s often disappointing since the style is more or less the same everywhere, there are just small differences. But, I’ve been here for the last ten Biennials and I have gotten spoiled – art spoiled. There are actually few things that excite me as much as before. This is sad. I’m of course glad to see all that’s new, but I’m not so thrilled anymore,
NÖ: Why do you think it is like that?
JK: I think it has to do with the globalization and that everybody wants to follow one thing. Few people have the courage to do something outside of the mainstream. That’s why I actually liked the Czech Pavilion where they show an artist called Stanislav Kolibal who is working with geometrical minimalistic art. It is nice that someone from an older generation is presented here, because what you see is a drive to be young and it seems that only young people can do good art.
Prangtip Maxie Geismar (PMG): There is a huge presence of digital media. What do you think about that?
JK: It is a sign of the times and of course it is interesting – but I am 50 years old and was born last century so I still like the modernist aesthetics [laughter]. I totally accept it and everything, but sometimes it’s just a fascination for the media in itself, a shell that has no meaning inside. There is also another question I have been thinking of for some time. The Venice biennial is actually an interesting exhibition since the commercial and bureaucratic parts come together. With commercial I mean the art market driven Western style of art, and on the other side, the bureaucratic art is the museums productions, like in Slovenia, where the Western art market doesn’t really exist.
NÖ: What do you think happens when they come together?
JK: What happens is that this bureaucratic state sponsored art gets attention from the art market, and of course everybody hopes to get invited to the rich side. Although it’s not so nice, as I heard… [laughter]. And I think this other side – the capitalistic, commercial side –also see some other things, and the potential in that meeting is interesting.
Walking and Talking with Krist Gruijhuijsen
Niclas Östlind (NÖ): Could you tell us about your background in the arts, and what you do at the present?
Krist Gruijhuijsen (KG): My name is Krist Gruijhuijsen, which is a name that everybody keeps tripping over, and I got myself in the arts by accident actually. I was always focused on working in theatre, but I ended up in art school. From art school I went to a post-graduate school and that’s where I met Jårg – as my teacher. Simultaneously curating became more prominent in my focus and my so-called career. Currently that has resulted in the directorship of Kunst-Werke in Berlin.
NÖ: Can you give an example of what you have curated, and how you work?
KG: The exhibition, which was important for my understanding of my role as a curator was one which I did at Extra City in Antwerpen in 2006. There it became obvious how the role of the artist and the curator was blurred to a certain degree, which also made it very clear to me of how I wanted to continue and what I wanted to concentrate on. Today I’ve done over a hundred exhibitions so I don’t know where to start, but the most recent one was a large exhibition of David Wojnarowicz.
NÖ: We are meeting in the context of the Venice Biennale, and it has the title May You Live in Interesting Times. It would be interesting if you reflected on the title through some of the works you have seen.
KG: When I arrived on Monday night in Venice I said: “It’s actually kind of incredible”. I wonder if there’s some strange marketing team that forces the curator to choose the most ridiculous title, because I haven’t heard a good title of the Venice Biennial in decades, and this is yet another silly title. I cannot reflect on it in terms of this exhibition, which is basically market-oriented – Art Basel unlimited, squeezed into the main exhibition, with no thematics. If this is considered to be interesting times, then I would rather withdraw myself from the art. I think it’s a really very underwhelming, very problematic position we are in at the moment, were things are just cheerly decadent and therefore entertainment. I don’t see any urgency around anything I’m seeing.
NÖ: What do you think about the concept of showing the same artists in two different venues, does it add a dimension to our understanding of what they do?
KG: I think you could actually do something with it. For example works that are cut up in two venues, or you could really go much further and really force the artists to think about this more thoroughly. Here it’s more a curatorial trick; just a way of giving them more space, which is always nice, but you could also decide to show fewer artists and give them even more space. I mean, these are just formats and I don’t think they contribute much to my thinking.
NÖ: You mentioned that Jårg was your teacher, could you share something about the encounter you had with him, and what you learned from him?
KG: I started really young in this business and I’m still considered to be young. I’m 38 and I was 23 when we met. I came straight out of art school, and then you’d have to imagine that I had people like Harald Szeemann in my studio, but it was not always interesting to have the big names in the studio that obviously didn’t give a shit. Jårg was someone that came without a pretence. He came with sincerity and was truly engaged. We met twice a year roughly. To be honest, his practice is very eclectic so I didn’t totally understand everything that he was doing, but we had a very personal relationship. I noticed that he was fascinated with me and I felt heard, so that’s a little about how that started.
Prangtip Maxie Geismar (PMG): I remember Jårg told me about you. He said: “I met this young artist. He’s not an artist, he’s a curator.” I never forget that.
KG: He said that immediately: “You’re not an artist!”
NÖ: In doing these conversationsMaxie and I are inspired by one of Jårg’s titles Future is Based on Trust.
KG: I know that work and that would actually have been a nice title for a biennial.
Walking and Talking with Marina Garcia-Vasquez and Pablo Power
Niclas Östlind (NÖ): First we would like the reader to be able to learn something about you, and your relation to art.
Marina Garcia-Vasquez (MG-V): My relationship with art has come from being a writer, a poet, and being in reflection with and using art and visual language to inspire the words; or to pull from the emotional kind of vacuum that we live in. For me, coming to an event like this and approaching art has always been about being alive with the world, and seeing how other people are using all of their resources, their skills and emotions to reflect on and talk about themselves and the world they live in.
NÖ: Could you say something about your poetry?
MG-V: My poetry has always been very small, succinct, I would say, boats. The works that I’ve written are like collages of experience, factual information, collaged words, articles that I’ve read – like layers and layers of experience. The idea of being somnambulist, like a waking, dreaming person, and using references from many parts of yourself.
NÖ: I am looking forward reading it. And what about you Pablo?
Pablo Power (PP): Art for me has always been extremely personal. I grew up during a period when my father Ross Power – you got to meet him briefly last biennale – was very prolific and doing a lot of work. I was very close to him and his artist friends, but as a kid I didn’t really see the bigger picture. In high school I started to see art as a real thing that other people can do – I wouldn’t say normal people but other people aside from my father. A great focus for me became to find some direction out of Miami, where I lived at the time, and it got me to New York City, where I went to college and then stayed. For me art is also a way to meet people. It was always a way for me to brake a wall down, between myself and other people, and telling stories as well and bringing some of that stuff to life, both for my own curiosity, and for the value of exposing those stories to others.
NÖ: It would be very nice if you could describe what happened when we meet in 2016.
PP: Last time in Venice was really a special time. We were newly married and in half-term pregnancy. I was coming with my father and it was the first opportunity for he and I to travel like that. You always want to say: “Oh, there’s going to be many more trips,” but in reality, who knows. It was my father’s and mine last night out and we had a leisurely dinner and by chance you sat next to us. We happened to walk out together and heard each other speaking English and struck up a conversation. Next thing you said: “Let’s do the final chapter with them, it just seems to be a great encounter,” We talked and walked for 15–20 minutes, and we were completely taken back with everything that had been so overwhelming: as artists, as a father and son, as just people being in Venice.
NÖ: You have been able to already enter the Giardini and I am curious to know if there is something in particular that has caught your attention. But since you mentioned that you were travelling with your father I must say that Jårg proposed a project called Fathers and Sons. His idea was that the curator Magnus af Petersens, myself and Jårg should go to Venice together with our fathers, since he thought we spend too little time with them. But before we managed to get everything together his father passed away, and a year later my father passed away, so it never happened.
MG-V: Yesterday, just for the sake of the path, I walked straight into Switzerland’s pavilion. There’s a huge sequined, glittery curtain that moves back and forth and you’re completely in the dark. Then, all of a sudden, a video is presented in front of you and it’s so stark that you have nothing to do but to pay attention. It shows persons who are not walking backward or forward, but just walking. They’re moving their bodies but no matter in which direction their body is always backward, since their bright blue cowboy boats are turned in the opposite direction. Everything is very poignant and very considered and I think it is very political work.
NÖ: In what way is it political?
MG-V: It’s about being inclusive and considerate of personal politics in terms of gender, nationality and identity. I took a picture of it because it was so striking that something like that could be expressed with so much humour. I thought that was a really a good starter to the rest of the pavilions.
NÖ: How would you describe the times we’re living in and what are your thoughts about what difference art can make?
PP: I definitely agree with the title of the biennale, that it’s a very interesting time. I also think that the concept is quite relative to anyone’s era – it’s always the most violent, the most successful or the worst or something else. But at a time like ours, when it does seem more strikingly that negative things are happening, it is to me most important to maintain the belief and trust in the creative spirit. Not that I’ve been in Venice through such a long span of time, four visits in six years, but I’m sure a lot of people would say they live in a different era now than six years ago. One thing that always has struck me here is the openness people have. I don’t experience that at home in New York, which is known to be a progressive place. I think that our chance encounter that night two years ago is a good example of what putting the creative aspect of yourself out there can bring. It’s about being able to open doors to people, and to explain things that people fear, take them out of their comfort zone and teach them something about another side of humanity, that’s really not another side – it’s all of us together. Visually putting something in front of somebody’s face suddenly can open them up to engaging in a way that they never would’ve thought.
MG-V: For me, because I work in media, I feel these messages are always in deep reflection to how we are as a culture and as a society. I think that what you find here is that art and our responses to it has an impact on a cellular level. It may not be that immediate impact, but something unravels within you, so the emotion, the memory – I keep saying historical legacy, because it’s so important to so many people – that you see that they’re representing their region and where they’re from. They want to share their stories, it’s so important to them and to their sense of self, to the history of their countries. Some people come from places that no longer exist, have been re-named or are refugees, and it’s important that there’s this opportunity to share, and these pavilions and exhibitions are like a collective memory.
Prangtip Maxie Geismar (PMG): The curator of the main exhibition decided only to show living artists. What is your view on this?
PP: I think it’s really important referencing things that people have done in the past next to the most contemporary, or older, works by living artists. It does bother me when one sees such a tremendous amount of resources going into regurgitating the same old guys over and over again. It’s important to go out of your way, since people so often fall back on what is already known – another Pollock or Picasso show. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of those works, but how many people have no opportunity whatsoever, and the Biennale is actually opening it up to a lot of countries. There is almost always some country in the world that’s doing their first exhibition, and that gives opportunity to people which can help them being recognized in their own lifetime.
MG-V: I would say it goes back to privilege. We often think about artists who were successful, or we want to venerate the past, but because the theme of this year’s Biennale is May You Live in Interesting Times, I think right now is always most filled with opportunity. And I am also thinking of the possibility to meet so many women artists. Last night we were at a dinner and met a woman who is in her 70s, and she said: “You know, there are a lot of artists like myself who have not had opportunities up until now, and this is my time now.” I think that’s really important, to give many more people, who may have been making art for their entire lives but have not had the opportunity to share this kind of platform, to have that gratification or awareness placed on their work.
PMG: But there are also artists who have deceased which have not been acknowledged. How do we go about those? For me that is another open question. I’m critical and at the same time I agree with what you said. There are many who are not like a Picasso or successful commercially, who also are truly good artists, and they’ve only been recognized after they died.
MG-V: I think it is up to us, art lovers –who make art pilgrimages and global pacts to protect the value of art – to speak of the artists we have lost. It is up to us to keep their memories alive by sharing their archives or publishing their works. Today we sit with you out of honor for an artist who dedicated his entire life and livelihood to his art making, how profoundly moving and inspiring to be overlooking the sea and recognize the continuum.
Walking and Talking with Pier Luigi Tazzi
Niclas Östlind (NÖ): How did you came into art, and what does art means to you personally?
Pier Luigi Tazzi (PLT): My first contact with art was when I was extremely young, but art – in the real sense of the term – I start to get in touch with at an age of 12 or 13. For me it was, how can I say it, like an opening to the world. It meant to pass through a door, the door of art, and be introduced to the world in all its beauty. To me, the world and the life of the world is something that has to do with beauty. And art was the means and the medium that introduced me to this world. That’s it.
NÖ: You’ve been working as a curator for many years. How would you describe what you do as a curator?
PLT: That came much later. I am not fast growing. I’m slow. I think the first exhibition that I recognized myself as the curator of was in 1983, and I was already 42. It was a small show in the Elba island, it had a very long title. In Italian it was called, L’estate del 1983 fu straordinariamente lunga e fresca: senza precedenti.
NÖ: That’s almost a novel!
PLT: The title means “The summer of 1983 was particularly long and fresh: without precedents.” After that I took the taste, and I never stopped. I may have stopped recently – it’s not that I stopped, there is a sort of break, or at least a sort of change. You know that the term curator comes from the Latin ‘curator’, that means to take care of something. Now I am a curator in the original sense of the term that I am taking care of someone else, and this someone else are artists. For the moment I’m taking care of three artists, their activities and their discussions and practicalities. So, I’m not any more the international curator who organizes thematic shows, but I am the discreet ‘curator’ who takes care of some particular artist’s production and image. It was not my choice, it is just happened by chance. The three of them belong to three different generations, which I have identified the most myself with. The generation of the 1980’s, mostly European, and North American; the generation in between the end of 20th century and the beginning of the third millennium; and the third one, that is the youngest, is from the generation that start to emerge on the art scene around 2005. To change from being an art curator, to the original meaning of the word is really challenging, to say the least.
NÖ: We are here on the occasion of the Venice Biennial, and the Jårg Geismar’s projet Walking and Talking. When were you here the first time, do you remember?
PLT: I think it was in the mid-1950’s, and then, starting from mid-1960’s I came here every year. I have only missed two. The one prior to this, and another one immediately after DOCUMENTA IX 1992. I was so full of what I had done with that show so I had no time to occupy me with other things. Usually they say that after being the director or curator of documenta you get depressed, but it was not the case – I was simply overworked…
NÖ: What are your thoughts on what you have seen in this version of the biennale? Is there anything particular you find strong, or disturbing, or something that you would like to share?
PLT: Yeah, something very peculiar, at least. This is really the first Venice Biennial where, in my point of view, something has changed deeply. It doesn’t correspond, at all, to all the biennials that I have been visiting in the last 50 years. There is a really big change. But there has recently been also a big change in the vision of the world through the art system, through art exhibitions. I don’t mean it is surprising to me, but very peculiar.
NÖ: How would you describe that change?
PLT: The change is that in this new vision of the world the artist as an individual, the artist as a person, is not so important any more. What is important here is the product, what you have here is a work – it can be a sculpture, a video, an animation, everything, whose links to the individual who produced it don’t appear any more to be substantial. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, I don’t mean that we have abandoned a theory of the personality, I don’t mean that, but we have left the substance of the individual in favour of the product.
NÖ: Is there any particular artwork that has caught your attention?
PLT: Yes, and this is very personal. The first part of the Biennial that I visited was the Arsenale, and there, I was very moved by the Thai participation. The two Thai artists are very different from each other, also in terms of generation. Apichatpong belongs to a moment of Thai art that has been before of Korakrit who is the up-to-date issue of Thai art in the international art arena of now, with a different aesthetics, different mentality, a different sensibility. But I liken both of the works very much. I truly like the work of Apichatpong: his big installation is particularly beautiful. I mostly like his cinema, his films, but in this case I like very much this video installation, I find it really great.
NÖ: What is it in the work that you find so interesting and appealing?
PLT: I think it is the combination between material, settings and image that Apichatpong relies. Since he’s an artist and a filmmaker that transfer his feelings with a certain kind of sensibility that is beyond the art of film. For me it was extraordinary when I in the corner discovered some glittering jewels, diamonds, and then I found out that they were lamp bulbs. And the light that you see through a hole, a real hole in the screen, that brings you to discover the real space behind the projected image: everything was composed in a dreamlike and materially suggestive way. Korakrit: I am very different from Korakrit, I really like him as a person, he’s young, he’s bright, everything, but, I mean, it’s very far from me, from my sensibility. His concept of painting is different from my concept of painting, but even worst, his concept of performance is different from my concept of performance. I build my taste for performance in the end of the 1960’s, beginning of the 1970’s, and Korakrit does this kind of lightning, sparkling spectacular actions that for me are a bit repellent, but, despite of that, what I found really extraordinary here in the Biennale, is that he could touch something that is really moving, something that doesn’t even, or not only, belong to him personally, again, but belongs to his culture, to the Thai culture. And again what I say: it’s not the individual that matters, but the work that is a substance that goes beyond the individual as a maker.
Prangtip Maxie Geismar (PMG): I’m Thai, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. I said to Niclas yesterday also, “This is so Thai.”
PLT: It really is! It was heart-breaking for me, I mean, it was moving, and it was also a moment when someone like Jårg came to my mind. Not because of the aesthetics, but because of the missing. You know, someone is missing. And there, in that work, there is this feeling of the missing. Something is going to be missed. It is very intimate at the same time. You come back to the individual, but the individual not as a personality, but as a human being that you have been encountered with and had become part of your life.
Walking and Talking with Susanne Kaufmann
Niclas Östlind (NÖ): How would you describe your relation to art?
Susanne Kaufmann (SK): My name is Susanne Kaufmann, I’m working as an editorial manager for the cultural resort for radio and TV at the Südwestrundfunk in Stuttgart. That’s the second biggest public broadcasting company in Germany. I’m also writing art critic for the monthly Kunstzeitung and for the Informationsdienst Kunst in Berlin. When I was a child, my parents forced me to visit museums. I found it sometimes quite terrific, but in school I had a very good art teacher. She made me curious about art; what particular art works are about and the artist’s ideas. So, I decided to study art history, already with the aim to become a journalist in the cultural section. I chose art history because it’s a field where you can discover almost everything you can think about. That is also true for literature, but in art you have more to see.
NÖ: Is there anything you have seen so far at the biennale that has either made you feel the possibilities of art, or made you critical?
SK: The most problematic I have seen until now is Natascha Süder Happelmann’s work for the German pavilion. For me it is an example of how art can be farest away from spectators’ imagination and possibility to understand. It’s art for experts, but all people who are interested in art – who are interested in getting new ideas, impressions, and to understand more about our world – are totally left outside. It’s a kind of closed art, which I don’t like.
NÖ: The question is what we can do to bridge the gap you are mentioning. Is there anything you have seen that reflect the contemporary times, and also has an agency to change things?
SK: I think art only can change things if it reaches a wider public. That’s what I really must say very clearly. A good example this year is the Canadian Pavilion with contribution of Isuma, a Inuit filmmaker collective from Canada. I’m not yet sure whether it is kind of visual art that they show inside, or whether it is ‘only’ film, but in general it remembered me of Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 2002, where he showed a lot of contributions from artists in the widest sense from all over the world. He gave us the opportunity to have a look inside their life to see new, for many people unknown parts of the world, to reflect unexpected ideas in their works, and so does Isuma with their films on the Inuit people. I experienced yesterday that the ‘Enwirkung’ has a very strong effect on people, even if it’s film. Many people say: “Oh, film, it’s difficult, you have to look and look, and it takes such a long time.” But somehow it catches you, and I noticed that people in the Canadian pavilion spent a lot of time when they were inside, and I think they are reflecting on the situation of the Inuits, and on the question how we could, or should, behave with people who are different from us, and whose life is different from our life. It is both visually and psychologically strong. For me, something like that can really change people’s minds, and somehow also a bit of the world. And when it is able to change something, I guess it’s art.
NÖ: You made a distinction between film and art, and what would you say is the difference and what characterise art?
SK: First I would say that film is art when I don’t understand what is shown! [laughter]. Film as art is surely what I saw in the Australian pavilion, where the artist, Angelica Mesiti, works very associatively with the images, and where you sometimes feel more than you understand – feelng it in a deeper sense. I remember when I saw a film by Stan Douglas at Documenta, with black miners who went down in an elevator, and they went down and down and down. They were standing still and one saw the movement of the walls behind them and their faces. The light was changing – black, a bit light, black, dark – and it was very expressive. It touched me deeply, and I think I stayed 20–25 minutes. I was ‘gebannt,’ fascinated and I wanted to see it without understanding why. I guess this was the most impressive film experience – film as art – that I ever had.
Maxie Geismar: What you share reminds me of Jårg’s titles: Future is based on trust, and Nothing fits, everything goes. What you mentioned about the German pavilion is for me an example of that nothing fits, everything goes – nothing matters, you know. And when you describe your experience at the Canadian pavilion, I think this is a very strong in line with Jårg’s ideas.