Artis, 1995, p. 50-55 (published in German translation)
"Cross-Over." An Interview with Fareed Armaly
Sabine Vogel: You’ve just shown your work in Hamburg, a combination between architecture and media. The video shows the erased wall being used as the platform for a graffiti action. “Mix” is based on your contribution to the exhibition “Project Unité” in Firminy, France, two years ago.
Fareed Armaly: Those “Mix” versions occur in the traditional
sites defining ‘art’. I like to consider confounding the
institutions, so for my work architectural codes are treated as media,
and vice versa. Every version of “Mix” is reviewing the
art discourse in terms of cultural production, the social, and, as
evident in the Project UNITE version, combined to the circumstances
of the exhibition.
SBV: Did you include the high walls in Hamburg as a contrasting factor for the scale of “Unité”?
FA: The Deichtorhalle’s huge interior walls were planned by
Harald Szeeman for the opening exhibition: ‘Einleuchten’. These are really 5m20 tall sculptures,
whose aesthetic proportions reflect the scale of the original hall.
This sculpture became architecture by the later curators. Although
there is no roof, they added portals, the architectural sign for human
scale, to the wall openings. So the exhibition wall was already material.
S.B.V: You’ve often included video in your solo exhibitions, what position does the inclusion of video take up for your work?
FA: Various functions. All my works relate to the ‘production
of space’ – though neither pointing towards a direct location
nor a specific installation. This demands for a variety of media and
a balance has to be. In Firminy, using the example of the pure modernity,
I questioned how different aspects of expression – media, wall
signs, interviews, sound, video, etc … contribute to our perception
of space and thus upon material aspects of architecture. Video has
its own ‘economy’, working on “Mix” means
producing for different pragmatic goals. With UNITE, one video served
the overall exhibition media, and was used wherever the curator introduced
the project. It presents a drive spiraling outwards around the building
site, from urban to countryside, with an over narrative of 1960s texts
SBV: Regarding graffiti, are you also interested in art scene references like Keith Haring for example?
FA: There are references, but not in the sense of a comment or quote. But I always have worked with drawings as elements of a sign system in my exhibitions, like using the court drawings in `Contact`, or the construction and children’s drawings in `Brea-kd-own` and `Orpée 1990’.
SBV: Did you contribute to the situation ‘low-culture enters high-culture territory’ in Hamburg - and was there something to be erase?
FA: No, the graffiti taggers did not know my conceptual concerns – they could get an idea of what I was doing - but rather like everyday ‘youth’, art production is not their first consideration. They did appreciate the idea of tagging the walls inside the Deichtorhalle.
S.B.V.: Recently some artist’s concern as a theme or artistic process is to invite others – non-artists - for painting or other forms of production. Painting/art - working with the creativity of others – do you see any relation to those positions?
FA: In general I don’t want to talk about those practices. There
are no relations I would consider seriously. My interest focuses on
art practice and not on documentation, nor production using art as
parameter. My special concerns concentrate on a ‘remapping’,
the re-structuring of elements which define a location or situation.
The themes I am engaged with are always
SBV: You mention interviews, I would suppose interviews play an important role in your work. Are interviews given the same value as other elements in the narrative line?
FA: Yes. Interviews provide a lot of material, as a specific text-based
category oriented towards gathering information. It turns the individual
into an active ‘past tense’ by re-constituting it through
‘the present’. This is also a crucial point regarding
historical aspects of the continuous process of my working method,
which is the production of space and not of architecture or ‘context’.
S.B.V: Are journals and the method of interviews a possibility for you to extend the limitations of the art term and especially your artistic productions?
FA: No, I think in the beginning I was really just interested in interviews.
I didn’t know exactly what their function could be in an exhibition
until with “Contact”, 1992. That exhibition basically
synthesized the journals and exhibitions together. This should have
S.B.V.: ‘Neue Deutsche Welle’ – what was attracting your interest?
FA: .. how the german language was used in pop culture, how it became
a sign. In the 60s some of the imports from America and England were
sung in German. Also the re-invention of popular hits, or even further
back song text in the tradition of Brecht/Weill from Holger Hiller
or later Blixa Bargeld. Equally the story of ‘Kraftwerk’.
The idea of all three journal issues was to address the generation
which had grown up with pop culture. Again, the themes allowed me
to reflect on my status as American. As living temporarily in Germany,
and like in ‘Contact’ and the models of german TV productions,
I am interested how people integrate their pop culture.
FA: As even its market has proven, the strength of the field of art
is that is is one of no shared consensus. It is a perfect constructed
‘territory’. But the trends are important to note, like
, a few years ago - ‘crisis’ was the key term, now various
larger collections, or major recurring exhibitions are ‘restructuring’.
I’ve been involved at various levels with, and considered, the
model of the gallery, of certain exhibition types, the role of the
collector, the corporate space. I want to gain experience with how
different structures operate as the art system, to learn and know
how it operates. I imagine a logical development ahead would certainly
be a ‘production house’, because of the responsibility
and possibility implied to cross-over with other fields - to
SBV: Do you prefer different exhibition locations to traditional art institutions?
FA: In some way the art institutions are a perfect location – for something different … I often think art institutions have missed their chance to change their structures. No future positions have been planned for. It is an alarming signal, if ‘political’ art can be reinvented as a trend, if ‘body’ can be dislocated from ‘gender’ and ‘policy’. If art institutions consider something like a concept they usually just pick up the shell – they search only for different colors of the same shell. It is easy to relate to concepts such as the construction of identity and the unifying force of the media. I don’t care to present that as new contents for traditional institutional frames, to me it means affecting changes in philosophy concerning investment in cultural productions. Changes are necessary because methodology and approach won’t be like that of existing models - nor will the productions.
SBV: Yes, but that does bring up the point that although you’ve used the institutions that define the art system, you obviously wouldn’t call your position institutional critique?
FA: No that’s a term that developed a life of its own - a discipline. I would be interested if those critiques would establish alternatives where one can work in and communicate through. Institutions are this kind of forum, but it’s not important whether they work through buildings, journals or discourse. I am not interested in that purist institutional critique. My approach towards institutions is to show the influence they have to establish values and dependant systems.
SBV: You’ve always utilized the institution of your solo exhibitions as material itself. With “Brea-kd-own”, the institution ‘turned in upon itself’, as one critic mentioned. “Brea-kd-own” was in fact your last exhibition in an institution, the Palais des Beaux Arts. In this sense is Breakdown the “Brea-kd-own”?
FA: Yes, in my solo exhibitions I set up a mirror of sorts which refracts
the exhibition space. This obviously is part of a broader discourse
and had been set up as constituting and connecting concept in the
shows ‘Orpée’, ‘Contact’ and ‘Brea-kd-own’.
SBV: Since Brea-kd-own you’ve worked on various projects, and were involved in Vienna with the opening of the Generali Foundation’s new space. You have been appointed the curator – is there any relation to your ‘Brea-kd-own’ project?
FA: Yes, obviously today, there is a change occurring, from public
funded institutions to the private. I wanted to look onto a clearly
corporate space - which came by way of invitation for the opening
of the new building for EA-Generali Foundation. It’s a logical
step after Brea-kd-own: liberalism’s abstract individual is
functioning rationalized in the transparency of the corporate space
– in corporate culture. It was a good example of a Foucaultian
model. With the project I began by reflecting the goals claimed by
the Foundation, I also had an autonomous space, set up a collection,
and a program for an independent space with research facilities. As
I mentioned earlier, part of the project in Vienna was to set up an
autonomous office through which to organize and produce the exhibition
in sections. It included redesigning the Foundation’s ad identity
to correspond with the new site in construction underway. That site
had a great architectural plan built from the space between buildings.
It has no exterior. It needed an outwards expression for a public
identity. The plan was to integrate its construction with new media
material, and finally return it in the opening exhibition.
SBV: What problem occurred in the realization of the exhibition?
FA: Well, in corporate space autonomy is something special. Terms such as ‘transparency’, ‘openness’, are intended for use in one direction. There is a “vorstand” (board) and an artistic advisory board. They consult but are allowed no decisions. If agreement is there, fine, if disputes arrive - no check and balance system exists. The whole project was initiated for a year - the office produce a good ten months result. The Foundation’s corporate view of our autonomous nature was in respect of surveillance and control. For example, the Director insisted on being with us on every interview for research, literally to introduce the corporate presence. The next step was insisting on seeing the unedited tape transcripts - only for financial control as they say. From this point, I would just mention now, that much was learned: the Director of the Foundation, was also to be Project Director and budget control and Artistic Director and, of course, the transcriber for all protocols. So you understand, I consider in the tactics that eventually the subjects of all my previous exhibitions will reappear, in and as production, now firmly integrated to the fabric of the Foundation’s foundation: thus when you would check this all, you would see our dialogue is missing, we are invisible in the Foundation’s protocols, except our few letters, which are never officially reflected. Despite the protests of the artistic advisory board - now gone. Even they refused to discuss that the contract isn’t resolved. But it really is interesting how it works.
SBV: You’ve always pointed to television in you works, and now you’re finally working on a new project.
FA: Yes, I am working on the plan for a project for The Belgium TV station – a concept, roughly laid out , which is concerned with the themes state TV, archive and communities. What’s interesting for me is the ‘cross-over’ with media to define a certain methods of productions and its implications. They are an example of smaller kinds of production houses, which wish to develop another kind of approach more matched to the future, as for ex. To work without solid spaces. As for “Mix”, I’m preparing some other versions which take up aspects of media including a producer, who is specialized large scale events and theatre.
SBV: Thank you for this interview.