“In the Mirror Cabinet of History.”


Fareed Armaly was born in 1957 in Iowa (USA) as a child of Lebanese parents. He is known as one of the most analytic minds in the young art scene. For him art is nothing static anymore but a dynamic process which also involves those outside of “art.” With videos and installations he creates in the Kunstverein München an analytical future panorama of the past.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung: What makes an American artist deal with media from the German postwar period?

Fareed Armaly: After all we have a considerable relation at the level of considering media, pop culture, television, film, etc. I have always believed it’s interesting to investigate what happens in the surrounding of the art practice—although you all live in the same world, you still have a different perspective. For my generation, the artists coming out of the 80s, the media theory and the new identity politics were very important. Although these ideas existed in discourse, there were hardly enough connections to the American art world.

SZ: In 1987 you came to Germany for a longer period of time. At that point of time the climate was perfect for developing experimental production forms of art, which meanwhile have gotten labeled “context art.”

FA: Historically Germany has a tradition of art that allows the audience to be quite open (to what is expected). You think in other categories than in America, where the question of mass media is a main subject to be discussed. To be even register in America one has to do the same thing over and over, and has to work at the level of their image.

SZ: If we look at your work in the Kunstverein, we can see that you take up threads of the past and investigate historical disruptions in culture.

FA: Unlike the known 1980s New York artists, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman or Barbara Kruger, my generation tries to re-imbed history within art. One of my favorite directors is Fassbinder. In his films, history is always a condensation. That’s similar to my work: my exhibition is not about history—say of Hip-Hop or Techno—but you can find that ‘history’ is referenced and signaling.

SZ: You are using the museum as a platform to reflect another different, socially transforming space. Why don’t you do without an institution as the Kunstverein?

FA: To be honest: for my artist generation there is no existing art institution. The methodologies from how to organize the budget to public and press relations, are totally changed. Of course, there is the architecture “Kunstverein München,” but the space I am working in, and at, is more similar in thought to those people who produce film and video.

SZ: With your oxblood-red wall painting in the exhibition entrancehall, you are projecting the outside of the Kunstverein to the inside and vice versa. Do you want to make the architectural borders permeable?

FZ: The architecture of the Kunstverein looks like a mirror cabinet. The arcades build a dividing line between the outside and the inside, between the public and the ‘cultural’ space. In a way the ensemble is odd, if you know some of the history: on the one side you see the protected arcade ruins of the original Kunstverein building, and then on the other side a different, complicated postwar-period building: its ground floor still has the historical forms, the upper exhibition hall, is a typical 1980s assemblage. I wanted to develop a sensibility for this asymmetrical architecture.

SZ: Why did you specifically interview the German film-voiceover actors and synthesizer musicians in the parallel showing video program?

FA: The “Arcade Channel” takes up the architectural situation of a boarding line. The program is another way to show how an American can understand German culture: over historical conditions of television culture, over very specific idea of synchronizing [dubbing foreign movie dialog to German] and over sound, which was known to my generation as the typical New Wave. I am not talking about Germany; I am talking about my reality.

SZ: Parts of the Munich Olympic Stadium roof are part of the exhibition. Is this due to the current occasion?

FA: I had this idea nine months ago. The architect Arnold Walz, who worked with me on the computer calculation for cutting the new arcade arch was a student of Frei Otto in Stuttgart. It is strange to me that the roof is being renewed now. It’s a symbol of a zero-point in history and the idea of a new society. A utopian future idea is reflected in the Olympic stadium and now the roof seems so old-fashioned. Not only considering the plexiglas material, but also the original idea.

SZ: What can one understand from the title of the exhibition, Parts?

FA: Parts stands for the different methods of investigating phenomena, but also something to do with my perception of society. In English the word “part” also means a role in a play. In all my last exhibitions we tried to find new ways to bring architects, designers and other creative people together. The main question is: how to construct another space for the art of the new millennium.

SZ: What is your opinion of the designer group Tomato? (exhibition parallel in Munich)

FA: I didn’t see the exhibition in the Neue Sammlung yet but a designer group may stand for something conceptual. It is often more interesting to talk to people out of the design area than to concept artists, since the designers deal with current questions in a more understandable way. We have today this sense of an ‘open space’ and the play within can be with art. That’s why my work has something to do with ‘Crossover’: one should be able to recognize that there exists a shared syntax between all these different Parts.