MUSIC FOR A WHILE CONVERSATION AVEC XAVIER VEILHAN ET CHRISTIAN MARCLAY
IN A GESTURE OF RADICAL RECONFIGURATION OF THE FRENCH PAVILION AT THE 57TH VENICE BIENNALE, XAVIER VEILHAN WILL PRESENT A NEW VERSION OF KURT SCHIWTTERS'S MERZBAU, IN WHICH AN INTERNATIONAL ENSEMBLE OF MUSICIANS PLAY WITH THE CONTEXT OF THE PUBLIC RECORDI
L'OFFICIEL ART : The experience of Studio Venezia led you to a total immersion in the city. XAVIER VEILHAN:
Indeed, I will live there for several months and until the closing of the Biennale. I am inviting eighty musicians to intervene successively in the pavilion, and it seems natural to me to be present to welcome them. I am very interested in this very special feature of the sevenmonth exhibition. It allows one to develop a project whose temporal factor is key, and to go against the current of the dis-proportionate focus on the Biennale's public pre-opening week. I went quite late to Venice for the first time, at about the age of thirty-five. I was captivated.
Your absolute approach, which digs deep down into a place's roots, inevitably refers to the concept of a work's context. How do you envisage this?
The work is the context. I have worked on the construction of the architecture, which is both a monumental sculpture and a setting in which the artists who produce the music come together. This sculpture follows the building's contours, making it disappear entirely by covering it, but also by absorbing the function of the recording studio, where the musicians successively perform. The purpose was thus to allow for a symbiosis between architecture and function, and to create a work that becomes the beginning of an entity upon which I have no control – that is, the creation unique to each guest musician.
Is it a subtle way of “speaking” to the audience?
There are two stages. First of all, that of the visitor, where I really want to create the moment during which he or she is going to witness attempts, to be possibly in contact with the notion of failure. A moment deeply inscribed “in the work”, upstream of the music being written, rehearsed, performed. The period of time of the “I do
not know”. In the live experience of music, there is a determined place of, and a precise relationship to, hierarchy, with more people being in the audience than on stage, and a process that the viewer must not interrupt. There is a unity of time and place, and one can judge that one particular concert was more successful than another. In Studio Venezia, I sought to circumvent this aspect.
Is it a desire to escape the work's tangible, “evaluable” dimension?
There is the different relationship to time, because music introduces a chronology, as in the cinema where one enters into a narrative, a precise temporality. The exhibition, however, poses no boundaries. One can look at the works for a few minutes or for several hours. Studio Venezia introduces this time, which seems very different because of the seven months of the Biennale. After this first period of sound without mediation, interpreted in front of the visitors, there is the second movement, the one where we encapsulate time by way of the recording of music. Thus, the visitor to the Pavilion accepts the principle according to which he or she is perhaps not going to be able to “see” or, on the contrary, to participate in an exceptional moment.
What specifications have you given to the musicians?
There is one rule to the game, a sort of gentleman's agreement, which consists in their acceptance of seeing visitors appear in the studio, which is precisely the most protected place, the place that allows for mistakes and trial and error ... There is, therefore, a certain risk taking on their part.
You referred to the instruments as “prostheses», we can hear in this the idea of a medical prosthesis: the work itself would deploy this organic dimension, an immense body where various entities would come together to form a whole?
You can see it like that. The word prosthesis may be excessive... When one looks at a musical instrument, it both performs a function and has the shape of a body. If the body had a different shape, the instrument would have a different shape, thus a form of extension of the parts that come to occupy a vacant space. But the studio itself is rather the architectural elevation of this same problem, wherein the function is also very important.
What links did you have with Lionel Bovier and Christian Marclay, co-curators of this exhibition, and what was the distribution of roles?
Lionel Bovier is one of the first critics to have written about my work, he runs the Mamco in Geneva, which is currently presenting one
of my works, La Forêt, which is linked to the Studio Venezia project, insofar as it involves the use of the same material. Lionel Bovier is more precisely in charge of the editorial side – we produce a newspaper that will be published twice – and also ensures the ambassadorial dimension and representation of the Pavilion. Christian Marclay is the artist whom we all know, and his participation is a great opportunity for us.
In addition to the Merzbau by Kurt Schwitters, you mention the interdisciplinary experiences of Black Mountain College and Doug Aikten's “Station to Station”, as well as PJ Harvey who recorded an album behind a window where visitors were invited to witness a work in progress. Why this choice?
I really appreciate the Doug Aikten's idea, it contains the idea of the journey and convokes creativity in a road trip format, in this case aboard a train. It is the idea of permanent movement, in a rather gentle form, which is obviously not found in Venice, where the pavilion is stationary, but is situated in a place where this powerful imaginary world joins experience. The cohesion between Venice's super-fantasized image and the lived reality characterizes the city. Black Mountain College interests me by the profusion of artists who worked there, under the paternity of Josef Albers. In the perspective of transmission, rather than real teaching.
At the same time, the archiving of the data generates a material which will be useful to other disciplines, and to other creators?
Yes, but I distance myself from that logic. Maybe I am the meeting point between all these artists, but I do not want to predefine the form. Obviously, the live format, the moment when the thing unfolds, and then this time of archiving, offer the infinite possibility of data, of reproduction. Artists accept the invitation and the risk that it implies, but they remain the absolute owners of their creation.
What is your definition of modernity?
I never understood post-modernity. I see its formal applications in architecture and I appreciate the positive impetus of the Revolution of 1917. It highlights what remains possible beyond naiveté. When I work with new technologies, when I think of new forms, I share the impetus which emerged a hundred years ago. The whole question of artistic production, of one's relationship to an environment, or to the occupation of space, is conditioned by this postulate in a form of positivity. For me, this is modernity, not postmodernity. We can play with it today, but in a different way from what occurred with Suprematism, Bauhaus, and the historical forms of postmodernity.