Seedling of the unexpected
In conversation with Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkacova
HT: You are dealing with serious issues of memory and the remnants of the socialist past. But you also add the filter of gender and a seemingly light-hearted tone to all these. You offer an alternative, somewhat inverted view of politics and history. Do you connect it to a conscious feminist tactic? Is it an ironic appropriation of male discourse? Some of your works are based on books, books that once were highly respected and acclaimed, such as Marx’s Capital or Darwin’s The Descent of Man and his theory of evolution. How and why do you choose exactly these texts to work on history?
AMC és LT: Instead of using already acknowledged and canonized feminist strategies, we are looking for less recognizable and traceable tactics of resistance. We are more interested in tactics of invisibility, in ways how to avoid being assimilated by the subject we criticize. For us, feminism is a dilemma, a fiction or an entry in the vocabulary rather than a working method. Furthermore, we see appropriation as just another form of ownership, which is in itself an invention of the patriarchal regime. Appropriation does not eliminate the relations of domination, only changes the casting. We prefer to operate through thievery and defiance, we borrow and return broken.
In our works we like to destabilize the historical, scientific and philosophical pillars of our society in order to create cracks for seeds of other possible world orders. Since our world and especially its history is constituted by words, in order to bring forth a change we are looking for words which are capable of creating transformation, i.e. gossip, jokes, mantras, incantations, oral instead of written history etc.
Our video The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex ((2010) focuses on Darwin's theory of evolution - one of the fundaments of our notion of the past and present state of mankind. The video depicts a kind of a "corporal translation" of one of the fundaments of our contemporary Weltanschauung. Oral transmission of scientific axioms functions here more like delivering personal experiences and interpretations. In this way, the Great Theory turns into a poetic and silly version of itself.
Similarly, the video Capital: Magical Recipes for Love, Happiness and Health (2006) deals with the alchemistic potential of words, their reading and interpretation. We subjected Das Kapital to the use of a fortune teller (a sort of a popular futurologist) and employed it as a tool for divination. Looking for prophecies in Marx's writings is a performative rendering that has the ability to transform the subject it interprets.
We had an urge to update and upgrade the prevalent view of Marx, perceived as an uncomfortable ghost here, in our region which is still writhing in the purgatory between yesterday and tomorrow. It was interesting to discover how personal future is always conditioned by the collective past and how the individual past can be shaped by shared future.
HT: This year at the Venice Biennial your work is shown in the Romanian national pavilion with Ion Grigorescu. In what ways do you feel a spiritual or intellectual community with Grigorescu?
AMC és LT: Although we are artists of different generations and we have to cope with different traumas and life experiences, we sense a common ground with Ion Grigorescu. He represents for us a somatized chronicle and a perfect embodiment of the concept of a contemporary saint. We admire his ability to remain detached from the triviality of mundane passions and expectations and at the same time be able to reflect the world in its fundamentality. He is a broad-minded, freethinking person, a sophisticated artist and a paragon of his kind.
The formal resemblance of our works is distinguishable mainly in the way we employ our bodies, in the performativity, endurance and precarity of our practices. Besides, the substance and the subject matter of our art is in both cases fuelled by the idea of freedom and the longing for the metamorphosis of the world through the transformation of the self.
HT: At the Venice Biennial you used the fist. The balloon in the form of the fist or a boxing glove seems to work like a moving, destabilized, light sculpture. It is a fetish and a simple balloon at the same time. Is it a historical symbol, and what new meaning did you give to it? How did you revise its connotations?
AMC és LT: A raised fist is a universal symbol of protest, used by various (even contradictory) groups throughout history, from leftists, feminists, anarchists, to rightists, black nationalists, etc. It is notoriously emblematic for struggle, resistance, anger and the yearning for change. The clenched fist pointing to the sky is an archetypal image of human disobedience, a symptom of the Babylon complex, an image of the power of the weak, of courage and vanity. We re-created this symbol as an ephemeral inflatable sculpture, a huge "harmless" toy. It looks like an object made for mass amusement, revealing the unfortunate fate of revolutions and their potential to entertain, to sell well, to become an attraction, a free-time activity, a hobby.
The performance is conceived like a puppet show, a play in which the object is controlled by strings. In our case the strings establish a relation of interdependency, a mutual control ruled by (physical) force. The action turns into a reversed play, in which the "marionette" is at the same time the hand that moves the strings, whereas we become a sort of living puppets. The interplay of idolatry and iconoclasm emphasizes the slippery area between control and subversion, hopes and resignation creating a paradoxical relation between the followers and the transcending power of the idea. The question we want to raise here is how to free resistance and protest from their own representations, from their ideologically reified and commercially fetishized effigy. Could there be a revolution without an image?
HT: You overwrote the whole exhibition with an orange inscription, which I would like to consider a new additional meaning of the exhibition as a whole. As you say in your statement, you did it in accordance with Ion Grigorescu. Why did you feel the need to do the inscription, and how was it received?
AMC és LT: Performing History was conceived from the beginning as a curated show and both of us artists (Ion Grigorescu and we) were invited independently to contribute with works fitting to the topic suggested by the curatorial team. The final display of the works was conducted solely by the curators and for us it was an unpleasant surprise and a great disappointment - an anemic assemblage driven by mercantilistic thinking. Neither us nor Ion Grigorescu could identify with the final compliant presentation, which lacked the potential to transgress the approved boundaries of a commercial exhibition. We are used to look at exhibitions holistically, as a whole, and we expected that a strong and precisely formulated concept like "Performing History" was, will be imprinted in the way the show will be built. In our opinion the curators neglected this task and drowning in the organizational work, they "forgot" to curate the show. Curating is not solely about enlarging and displaying things on walls and in space, it is composing a gesamtkunstwerk, a solid organism with lucid substance.
Thus our rampage was driven by the need to express our disapproval on how the show was build. We did it because we believe an exhibition shouldn't be an artfair booth, an excercise book (a re-make of approved patterns), a boot camp, a shop window, a betting office, a mausoleum, for sale, a playground of control and domination, a storage room, a fashion victim, a job, obedient, a lodge of the golden lion, politically correct, a must. And, because we believe an exhibition should be a manifesto, a white spot on the map, an alchemistic formula, a battlefield, a collective orgasm (not a masturbation), a seedling of the unexpected, fearless, a work of art, a time-bomb, embracing the potential of own failure, a book of dreams, an arena of conflicts, a trojan horse in the world order, a prophetic hollow, a spectre of utopia.
HT: You "do things with words", that is, engage with performativity, with communication, with words are crucial for you. The inscription over the walls and works inside the Romanian Pavilion means working with words in a performative way, making the pavilion a kind of battleground. On the other hand it can be considered the continuation of the mural inscription on the façade of the pavilion, the Pareto principle, 80/20. What do you think of the paradox that even this reclaiming the pavilion, as you call it, can be integrated in the system of the exhibition, the biennial?
AMC és LT: The paradox you mention is one of our main concerns. It makes us sad and angry how every act of visible protest is assimilated by the unsatiable octopus of the spectacle. So far, we didn't manage to overcome it, but we will never give up.