“Cross-Over. An Interview with Fareed Armaly.”


Sabine B. 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 Unité version, combined to the circumstances of the exhibition.

In Unité, artists were assigned to work within a modern ruin, the long abandoned section of a still operating Le Corbusier Unité in Firminy France. Mix took Le Corbusier’s Unité as urbanistic icon and focused on the architects emphasis on social behavior, not just concrete housing. I wanted Mix to blur boundaries between the architectural site and media, to introduce orientation by other axes which shouldn’t appear isolated: the exhibition itself, the community still living in the building, contemporary art production. The ‘red thread’ of Mix, the blackboard, also comes from there. Before he ever saw a Unité built, Le Corbusier often utilized the blackboard to illustrate the principles. When some Unité buildings were finally realized, he had placed in every apartment a sliding blackboard separating the children’s rooms.

For Mix, the modernist ‘cell’ was transformed into an erased blackboard—a box on display, missing the cultural orientation of room proportions, picture-window framing ‘nature,’ wallpaper, etc.—shown as what it is: a small box. That transformation into an accumulation of small boxes transmits something different then a building with modernist pretensions.

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 5m 20 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.

For Mix these sculptural elements were brought together with the actual social architecture of the urban space outside. In one corner I installed a triangular ceiling construction at the height of 2,26m—the ideal Modulor-scale for Le Corbusier. Entering the huge Deichtorhallen, and turning around the corner one is then confronted with that smaller scale—that one within which we spend our daily lives. It is a combination of aesthetical, individual and social architecture. Similar to Firminy’s theme, here in Hamburg is again the ideal urban planning, regarding our positions, judgments and the influence of those plans, etc..

SBV: 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 Unité, 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 by Vasarely.

The second video stayed within the Unité, in the rooms of the community radio station, whose plan doubled that of my erased room. It was actually on the same floor. I met a DJ of a weekly Rai music program and videotaped his live broadcast—1:1. With the Hamburg version, Mix referred to the erasing and marking of graffiti as the urbanistic view of teenage youth. The markings were treated as media—a ‘sender’ of sorts. The video seamed together the urban and exhibition walls. It was constructed with a spoken text by Barbara Uduwarella, of the Hip Hop Hamburg, e.V. Her over-narrative of graffiti articulates a space, of Hamburg, a subculture history, of adolescence unaccounted for in urbanistic perspectives, and—concerning taggers—the social space limited by Law. Here as with the other examples, the video is done with the exchange in mind; her center also has a copy of the video, and will use it for their purposes other than Mix.

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 Orphée 1990.

SBV: Did you contribute to the situation ‘low-culture enters high-culture territory’ in Hamburg—and was there something to be erased?

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.

SBV: 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 a 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 complex configurations of specific aspects: ‘Crossover aspects,’ like for example the thematic complex of social architecture. This initiates the question, how artistic practice can be constituted as an ‘interface,’ completed through ways and methods of relations, thus defining the artistic act, and cannot be mastered through a single discipline or form like architecture, design or interviews, etc..

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.’ In 1986 I started to put together a journal on music and culture, and interviews, sometimes on video, were a necessity. I felt that the typical issue of 80s interviews, usually just celebration of personality were unsatisfying. I wanted to have discussions on production scenarios, and that still is the case today. The magazines weren’t focusing on art discourses but brought up cultural issues. So those interviewed were all well-known popular artists, at the time no longer all ‘hot,’ but out of vogue—the ‘just past,’ pop culture’s dark side of disposability. I am interested in the moment when people start to create structures and get involved into systems and processes through initiating projects like a music label or a band.

SBV: 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 been the time my third German issue developed, which beneath the other themes focused on Neue Deutsche Welle. But by living awhile in Germany and Europe, my interests had shifted over onto certain realities and I found that the model of State television, with its family model, more interesting

SBV: 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 1960s 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.

SBV: You work with structures in the art system, and to be involved in the structuring of the context, there were, for example, you’ve produced journals, were involved in the realization of Gallery Nagel, were also involved in the initial outlines that developed later as Project Unité. How do you define the field of artistic practice then?

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 work on what occurs at the boundaries. The transition was the office I had with Ulrike Kremeier in Vienna, the last year, which itself was a major part of the opening project for the new Generali Foundation building.

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 a constituting and connecting concept in the shows Orphée 1990, Contact and Brea-kd-own. Brea-kd-own at the Palais des Beaux Arts takes the early EC optimism of ‘frontiers opening up,’ and situates it within a psychosocial history that leads the exhibition public to reflect on the open borders and projections of fears onto ‘others’—where finally the public is unheimlich (uncanny) to the public. It concerns, in general, the definition of borders between different groups of interest and publics. Naturally incorporated within that are the status of modern cultural institutions including TV stations.

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.

Their collection had an Austrian sculpture definition. We established to enlarge this by including a historical axis, which took pneumatic architecture, the icon of 60s transparency, as the emblem. So, historical research would work through the early 1960s and 1970s Vienna social architecture and design experiments. In our method and approach, the various architects, designers, artists, were interested that it wouldn’t be some ‘greatest hits,’ etc., history, but work through history.

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 an agreement is there, fine, if disputes arrive—no check and balance system exists. The whole project was initiated for a year—the office produced 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 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.