AN INTERVIEW WITH ALICIA FRANKOVICH
LILIANA RODRIGUES: Your 2011 film ‘Volution’ is loosely inspired by a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘City of Lights’ (1931), while ‘Genet Piece’ (2010) freely re-enacts a scene from ‘Un Chant d’Amour’ by Jean Genet (1950). Why this interest in the re-enactment of choreographies taken from historical film footage?
ALICIA FRANKOVICH: In a way by coming so close to other works you can actually divert further from them than if you were not to look to them at all. There is a sense of a skeleton that you can build on and divert into a new language. You can kind of insert yourself into an old text and do something to it and come out of it, pushing it somewhere else. I also like the idea of making a kind of (feminist) modern day interpretation from works of the past. How do actions/ gestures from 1930 or 1950 read today? What if the actions are misused or if they are such a brittle vein in the final piece… The earlier works allow for layers of texts/ readings from the original text to the new one. There is also a politics in the way that you see the piece in terms of media, from Chaplin’s blackand white films (which I have seen on TV and on Youtube) through todays technology. Really I think that you are initially interested in a specific concept or a specific history and then it becomes entirely new … it adds context.
AF: This work involved making a structure in front of the audience where one chair hung of the other and was wrapped around the space ¬– out through the windows. I asked curator Hannah Mathews to get up onto the upper chair and I proceeded to sit on the one directly underneath her. We then played out a series of instinctual poses, negotiations, in the mode of a kind of ‘conversation’. It was about challenging the architecture of the site, but also about the power dinamics between the artist and the curator – two binaries that formed one unit. There was of course an element of danger in that the curator’s chair was completely in mid air, only hand tied around the space with no other structural support. My own body was also at risk as I sat directly underneath. The breakthrough was that together we pulled an audience into a temporary space under pretences of a normal relation between artist and curator, but then I built a situation, a construction that pulled on the site itself, the curator and me, the artist. I gave her the freedom to leave at any point. After 27 minutes, I was the first to leave, Mathews then jumped down also exiting the scene. The piece was about trust, both physically and in terms of content. Beforehand, neither party knew exactly how the performance would unfold.
LR: You also made a piece based on the human activation of a sculptural-figure in space. Why does the absence of your own body become so important here?
AF: At a certain point with performance it can be interesting to leave the scene. In many cases there is no reason for me to be there. It is merely a human giving something to an audience. That is what I was interested in here. Fiona Gueß held a kinetic sculpture for me at Salon Populaire and people stood around and underneath her and it. She was ‘live’ as was the sculpture.
LR: Can you explain more about the ‘Floor Resistance’ (2011) piece?
AF: This piece was held at the HAU3 theatre. There was a white mat which I was interested in resembling a kind of judo stage which the audience and performers sat on/ performed on. There were chairs spread off the stage, and the main bunch of seats off ground level was roped off. There were a series of acts, the main ones included a quintet playing string instruments whilst lying down and moving on the floor. They played a Béla Bartók pizzicato and then an improvisation in these positions. They read from musical scores which were on music stands hanging upside down from the ceiling. I introduced a jumping sculpture into the arena, which interacted in close proximity with the viewers. The performer made movements in relation to my kinetic sculptures which jumped maniacally, repetitively, or turned somewhat apathetically. He became more and more tired and his physical self became even more evident. I also performed ‘Bisons’, a piece where I attempted to conquer people individually in the mode of rugby scrum until one side of the party gave up.
LR: In performance practice, and as you mentioned in a recent interview, what happens is as much spatial as is social. The audience is present and experiences the staging of different situations. In what other ways does your work involve the audience?
AF: Sometimes if there is a risk at play, especially a physically one, the audience may become hooked into the situation. I think that when I present my own body or the body of others, the audience becomes very aware of themselves and of everyone in the room, how they should behave, how they are behaving. It is not the way that you are normally confronted with social presence; it is marked by a situation and for a certain amount of time.
LR: In ‘A Plane for Behavers – Performance 2’ (2009) you have presented yourself as a sculptural problem for the audience. How did the audience deal with this problem?
AF: For me as the subject and in a way as an audience member I felt like I was in a physical… some kind of living ‘pietà’. For the audience it was quite emotional, some in fact cried. People came together and held up the work (me) for the entire duration of the performance. It was great responsibility for them. A kind of taboo I suppose. People could relate to situations in the real world as funerals, processions, weddings, the carrying of children, rock concerts… sculpture that gives something back…
LR: Your choice of working with non-professional actors, friends and passerby’s seems to “help” a certain flavour of amateurism and genuine spontaneity which comes across in your work. But the technique also seems to play an important role in it. Do you care to comment?
AF: This work and perhaps I could say of all of my work, is a mid-way contradiction between control and whatever the opposite might be. The risk of shooting film or presenting a performed situation to an audience without a propper rehearsal, meets the fastidious study of movements from Chaplin’s scene from City Lights. I wanted to learn the scene pretty much inside out, and explain it very well to the participants even on site, but I did not want to fix the outcome. I think it is at this point that it gains power, that it steps into its new mode of being, a new history. I sought participants with diverse background abilities (to dance, to act), for some it was their first time on film. We relied on memories on instinctive interpretations, and reaction from our bodies and backgrounds. I was interested in this. A situation that I constructed controlled and then let loose in a way. I let it take on a new language and turned it into a new choreography. I choose to base the piece on Chaplin’s boxing scene as I was interested in the point of mediation between two parties, and how it turned into a comical dance. The implication of having my body being tussled between 3 guys suggests a kind of gender politc which was a thread throughout. Then you have the added context of the street itself and how the public might behave. In the end, we were all performers in some way.
A FUNNY TURBULENCE. AN INTERVIEW WITH ASSAF GRUBER
LILIANA RODRIGUES: Adam Budak has already referenced how your artistic practice “deploys and simultaneously deconstructs a variety of formal languages”, and how “it is gestural as it is performative”. Your most recent installation, titled ‘A Great Big Joke’ (2011), is no exception. It joins a two-dimensional historical painting, moving image, and sculptural elements with a performative aspect to them. Why do you feel the necessity of working a multiplicity of vocabularies within the same piece?
ASSAF GRUBER: Because comedy happens in threes.
‘A Great Big Joke‘ is consists of three elements: a highly pixelized cellular phone photograph of a painting by the French Caravaggisti Nicolas Tournier. It belongs to the ‘club’ of iconic crucifixion images, but it is not one that we can easily identify. The second is a short looped extract from the film ‘The Swimmer’ (Frank Perry, 1968). The loop shows a man climbing up a mountain, an image associated with the cinematic representation of the myth of Sisyphus, which recurs throughout many films. The last is the different sculptural elements made from photosensitive paper and steel, which I call ‘Isomorphs’ due to their ‘repetitive energy’.
This ensemble of familiar/non-familiar imageries and forms attempts to achieve a peculiar déjà vu experience where the viewer is being held somewhere in between awkwardness and ‘terrible beauty’.
LR: You used the expression “crime scene” in reference to ‘Great Big Joke’. Can you explain?
AG: Maybe because there is something transgressive in it, which leads to a feeling that something bad is about to happen or already did. But then, the overcharged use of imageries neutralizes the drama and the whole remains a great big joke.
LR: The ‘Study in Sculpture’ series is an on-going collection of Hollywood blockbusters film clips which you choose as references to well-know ‘sculptural gestures’ in the history of sculpture. N#20 for example is a quotation on Marcel Duchamp’s bench. What do you intend to achieve by building this archive?
AG: When I was a child, my parents used to rent VHS tapes twice a week and we all gathered around to watch movies during the evening after the 8 o`clock news. The majority of the vocabulary of the ‘studies’ is taken from that period. Nowadays, when I think or see a work of art, I wonder to myself: ‘I’ve already seen this, of course that was Tom Cruise who was making this Donald Judd’… That liminality shares a different gaze on sculpture and art.
LR: ‘Samson’ (2007-09) is but one example of your frequent use of photosensitive papers. These seem to work like screens, and change color with time, as a consequence of the intensity of the environmental light. The pieces thus become performative and it feels like they have a memory of their own. What role exactly do these “screens” play?
AG: Samson was one of the first suicide terrorists in history. After his eyes were torn out by the Philistines, he pushed the columns of the temple with all his might, killing everyone present including himself. The three ‘blind photosensitive screens’ are protecting the rough steel arms. Photographic paper is a classical support for visual documentation but I use them as monochromes that fade and change with time. It interacts with the notion of view and sight and as you mentioned with our collective and subjective memory.
LR: Another recurrent material in your work is bowling balls. You have used it in different pieces, such as ‘Getting Even’ (2009), ‘Private Dancer’ (2010) etc., for what are they a metaphor for?
AG: Sometimes they look like erotic fruits, sometimes like ammunition, sometimes like a pervasive virus in the space. That diversity of sculptural possibilities intrigues me.
LR: Equilibrium, gravity and other physics phenomena seem to occupy a great part of your artistic practice. ‘Private Dancer’ (2010) is a great example of that. So is the piece ‘A Catalyst’ (2010). Do you want to tell us more about your interest for these forces?
AG: The clumsy, dis-equilibrated architecture of some pieces reveals a ridiculous construction process reminiscent of (stubborn) human behavior.
LR: Pieces like ‘Getting Even’ created and exhibited at the Herzliya Museum in 2009 and ‘Match Point’ (2007) perform a very strong comment on the nature of violence. What is the relation between this interest in addressing issues like violence and aggression, and your own nationality and origins?
AG: Both pieces illustrate a broken state of things. ‘Match point’ evokes an analogy for the absurdity of force and ‘Getting Even’ can be considered an act of revenge while implying arithmetic evenness. Violence and aggression are the right words, they exist everywhere; the nature of violence exists everywhere.
LR: You have done a series of video pieces in Tel-Aviv. ‘Avgossepere’ (2009) for example features your own father, or, ‘Joseph’ (2011), the latest about your grandfather, reveal a more personal tone. How does this autobiographical level develops throughout your work?
AG: ‘Avgossepère’ is a surrealistic video about a person who is not satisfied with his environment and landscapes. He decides to ‘take action’ and marks ridiculously different territories by using sculptural gestures and building personal monuments. I do not see this piece being autobiographical. It is personal, one that derives from an ‘immanent room’ of the mind. I asked my father to play this role because of his personality and physicality, his way of being. I could not imagine a better person to play this ‘personal Jesus’, a super antihero.
Maybe that relates to your previous question, because his presence obliged me to deal rigorously with the notion of fatherhood and motherland while working with him. The first idiosyncratic idea, about the action of sculpting became more subversive and opened a larger range of questions.
‘Joseph’ is a digital image displayed on the publicity screen of the Heuston Station every five minutes for 30 seconds, the average time slot of a publicity video. In the image we see a young Jewish man, with two ‘Indian warrior’ red stripes coming out his eyes. He is counting money bills in his restaurant at Lviv underneath two large sausages in 1946.
The work tackles the unconscious of the passers by for that length of time between the ‘Coca-Cola’ and ‘Makita’ ads…. It is obviously a personal story, but I’m not sure that the fact that I’m a part of it is relevant.
LR: The public often complains about the difficulty in understanding conceptual art due to its self-reflexive nature. Your pieces are quite hermetic; they hold numerous references to works by other artists and also quote your own work. How do you imagine the experience of the viewer to be in relation to your work?
AG: A funny turbulence.