Anetta and Lucia, you have been producing projects together since 2000, was it back then (compared to now) a golden time for starting to work collaboratively?
Today it seems notions of individual authorship are associated either with the academic past, or with the efficientized model of business; in both cases, they are discredited as forms of indulging in capitalist structures and instead collaborations, alliances, teams, collectives are the avant-garde, in an artistic field which is imagining (sometimes testing) alternative forms of economy, offering clusters of resistance, and manuals of protest. How do you see your partnership in this context, and how did it change (if it did) your working methods when approaching a topic, in the past ten years?
Starting working together was more of an intuitive momentum back then. Gradually we began to see our collaboration as a socratic adventure and we started to consider it as a foetus of a possible amazonian clan.
Although we are a duo, not a collective, we speak of ourselves as “we” instead of “I”, which changes radically our way of reasoning and our grammar. Since we work in a permanent dialogue, in an endless conversation, we are constrained to ceaseless verbalization. Words became our primary tool for transmitting thoughts and feelings. Besides just being means of production, words surmounted to be the theme, the enemies and the amalgams of our ideas. It is as if, while yearning to get as close to each other as possible, we are trying to abolish the language (logocentrism, reason, the nature of Western thought and culture) through words. This is why many of our works deal with text and translation. Our projects are in fact crystallized exchange of words (ideas) forming a whole in which content and form are intermingled. As you pointed out, we live and work in a liaison for more than ten years and we learned during this time that the aspect compromise and negotiation is extremely important. We see it as a method how to overcome egocentrism, competition and emulation. The aspect of reflection (self-reflection) crops up as continuous questioning and mirroring ourselves in the other one. During the creative process we truly dissolve into each other, beyond the boundaries of the ego, otherness and own existence and re-create ourselves as a temporary “we” without any reserves. It is very liberating, provoking and exciting at the same time. Usually a female duo is perceived as the incarnation of standard erotic male phantasies. Yet precisely because we are a female duo, we generate the cockiness and strength to wrestle with the sublimations of these phantasies. Forming and performing a female duo is a way to outdare the scripts inflicted on women by the society as well as a way to dismantle the self-imposed (internalized) mechanisms of male domination that women carry out.
Nom de guerre
gold, dimensions variable 2013
courtesy of artists and waterside contemporary London
photo: waterside contemporary London
Your recent works, especially the performative ones, are staging collective situations, in which anonymous bodies brought together create an ephemeral (albeit strong) picture, with different meanings: stirring memories of a history which is still very present in the collective imaginary, transferring abstract figures into material shapes, freezing gatherings which by their nature should be tumultuous, etc. Most of these works take place in the public space, which codified and ritualistic functioning they are challenging. Do you believe in the power of human bodies to bring significant change in a society of immaterial relationships and delegated decision-making?
We understand human bodies as potential barricades and locuses of resistance. We believe in disobedient bodies, which surpass the enchainment imposed on them by the Empire and its minions. We activate the body in order to break the restraints of somatized habitus (gender, geographical, social, …). This resistance of the body can manifest itself in different ways: in choreography (i.e. in the way it is employed) or as form (how it looks).
Lately, we are fascinated with the phenomenon of anorexia, as an evolutional advantage, a strategy for survival as well as a purposeful and politically engaged expression. Anorexia is the extreme expression of self-control, a way of preserving the self and a manner of fighting free of sexual and emotional entanglements. We place the anorexic body in a tradition of self-starvation that stretches from hunger strikers to mystics and utilises the human body as the ultimate form of political protest or spiritual devotion. We believe the position of the anorexic tribes – with their tendency to asketism, dematerialization and defeat of the selfish cell – to be a powerful opposition to consumerism, and by transcending the imperative of beauty they become an uncanny threat to the male domination.
In our works, we approach bodies in many diverse ways – as living memorials, time-banks (Monument to Yesterday), as transmitters of secret and forgotten messages (Manifesto of Futurist Woman), as detectors of hidden class/power structures and as a collective incarnation of a hierarchy which is oppressing them (After the Order), or as physical obstacles and catalysts of behavioural situations (Uncomfortable Heritage). We believe that in our world, ruled by invisible economies, it is the body with its physical presence and its material urgency that stays as the ultimate structure which embodies (through its ornamentation and ritualisation) the potential of change.
You were mentioning the different languages, their use and translatability which are a constant in your works, also the significance of the physical carrier of a specific vocabulary or even, I would add, its reducing to the bare formal elements which structure it in writing. I am thinking of works such as Manifesto of Futurist Woman, Here and Elsewhere, Haiku, All Periods in Capital… You are not only confronting the given linguistic (and theoretical) framework in which you are supposed to move (as women, as artists, or as East-Europeans), but also contesting the domination of visual and rational paradigms over other forms of communication. Is this a way for you to challenge Art History itself, in the way it was written for centuries and deconstructed in the past few decades? Is it also a way to link to different practices from outside of the artistic field, in which the unexpected and the magical can still occur?
For us it is history as such that is interesting, the zombiesque monads from the past that hunt us till today and the embryos of the future in the past. Today, we are living the return of history. After the triumphalist “end of history” became “old news” it’s time to re-imagine the past and to begin from the beginning (Lenin). Moreover, we think today’s obsession with history, with re-living the past is eschatological and could be related to demographical cataclysm and to the threat of a global catastrophe.
In our works we like to interlink all kind of practices and thus to destabilize the historical, scientific and philosophical pillars of our society. Since our world is constituted by words (language = spectacle = nomenclature), in order to bring forth a change we are looking for words/language which are capable of creating transformation, i.e. gossip, jokes, mantras, incantations, oral instead of written history etc. For example in our video “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” we focus 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.
You mentioned the unexpected and the magical. This is exactly the way we think about art. Art is for us an alchemistic process which should have a transformative (magic) effect, a homeopathic process with re-forming consequences on the world. The retreat to the kingdom of magic is also a political decision, an escape into a field that is out of any kind of economic, legislative or political surveillance and beyond any control of the Empire.
Either Way, We Lose
inflatable sculpture 2012
courtesy of sorry we’re closed, Brussels
photo: sorry we’re closed, Brussels
As “one communist and one socialist feminist”, how would you describe your relationship with Marxism and with the spectre of Marx himself?
We see Marxism as a spiritual doctrine, as a way to transcend the self. We are fascinated by how dialectical materialism culminates in the promise that only materiality will emancipate one from materiality. Common spiritual ways lead to transcendence beyond materiality in an opposite manner, through refusal, abnegation, denial of materiality. Nowadays, when we live in a society capable of generating superabundance, Marxism could work as a catharsis of consumerism.
We can mention here a piece of ours, the video “Capital: Magical Recipes for Love, Happiness and Health”, in which we use Marx’s opus magnus as a tool for divination, a device for foreseeing the future. It’s funny how Marxism is obsessed with tomorrow, inherently futurological, the classless world being as if predestined to remain unrealizable. Exactly this tragic flaw is reflected in our piece, where we subject Das Kapital to the use of a fortune teller, sort of a popular futurologist. Looking for prophecies in Marx’s writings is a performative interpretation 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.
For the Pavilion in Venice, you are preparing an in-situ version of your 80:20 work, inspired by the Pareto Principle, also called the rule of the vital few and the trivial many. What made you decide to assess your private and professional lives following this objective statistical rule?
When we bumped into the Pareto principle, it was an eye-opening moment and we realized the obvious fact that the “just” balance of things, the 50:50 ratio does not exist. The equilibrium of the universe lies in the paradox that most things in life are not distributed evenly. It became fascinating to try to trace this asymmetry in our lives and we ended up frenetically balancing various aspects of how we live, think and act.
The last version of 80:20 that we developed especially for Venice Biennale, comments on the mission, structure and potency of this institution. We confront 80% of reasons to be in the Biennale with 20% of reasons why not to be there. The slippery aspect of these lists is that the reasons “against” can be seen as the reasons “pro” and vice versa. In these listings we want to speak out for ourselves as artists, as women, as easterners, but also to tackle the conscience of the depraved artworld. Furthermore we intend to create a situation of solidarity (with both those included and not-included in the Biennale), to uncover the skeletons of the power structures, to form a TAZ, to confess without expecting absolution. And, after all we want to pussify this choking-on-money mercantilist fossil.
mural on the facade of the Romanian Pavilion in Giardini di Castello, Venezia2011
courtesy Christine Koenig Gallery, Vienna
photo: Eduard Constantin
This is a very good description not only for the Venice biennale but for the artworld at large, which you have mocked, challenged and which (unwritten) rules you have turned upside down many times. At the same time you have proved its inexhaustible capacity of integrating in its mercantile circuit everything that has once seemed to be opposing it.
Do you still own the work Private Collection or has it been sold?
Yes, the impossibility to subvert the system is inciting us all the time. But besides being an attempt to mock the valorization of art, we like how Private Collection deals with the act of collecting and owning as such. As Susan Sontag points out, collecting is not characteristic for women but rather symptomatic for men. Collecting means belonging to a world where circulating objects are being hunted down, fought over, bought, passed on. Women are usually not great collectors, since they are deprived of membership in this priviledged universe. As well, women are traditionally brought up not to find pleasure in competing and plundering, both of which collecting encompasses. On the other hand, it is uncommon to collect collectively since everyone wants to own (and be owned) by himself. So we see our approach to collecting as “unorthodox” in many ways.
We use the method of collecting in many of our works, for instance the listings we do are also sort of collections. The groupings and hierarchies we make are like immaterial collections, spiritual gatherings of items or people that wouldn’t otherwise meet. One does not need to be in possession of the things themselves, since to know already means to have. Collecting as writing and enumerating, as compiling a wish-list or a to-do list is already a way of owning, an expression of desire to know and to remember.
And, yes, we still own our Private Collection.
porcelain, acrylic paint, dimensions variable 2012
courtesy of artists and Christine Koenig gallery Vienna
photo: Natalia Zaluska .
Since you brought into discussion today’s obsession with history, I would like to ask you how do you “dig out” forgotten characters such as Valentine de St. Point or Lida Clementisova and if you see as a sort of “duty” of the contemporary artist to look at the unofficial or unrecorded his(her)stories and bring them into spotlight.
We belong to a generation which had to learn to forget and to re-discover a new version of the past. Everything we learned at school suddenly became false and this shift strongly relativized our trust in the institution of history as a record of “truth”. Our interest in unknown women is actually a consequence of our pre-setting towards the history and our fascination with the invisible. Every time we come across traces of a forgotten woman, of her dramatic life, we tend to project ourselves into her story. It is like reading someone’s biography and looking for blueprints of your own life and mirroring your own past and future in it. Other women’s lives function like some kind of reflection screens for our own lives, means to foresee our futures.
From the first moment we found out about Lida Clementisova’s life we started to be possessed by it and we knew we have to chew and digest her story into art in order to let it go from our minds. We heard about a woman who spent two years in jail just because she married a man uncomfortable for the stalinist regime. She was incarcerated almost next door to her husband’s cell, without him ever knowing about it. Moreover, she was forced to maintain a correspondence with him and to pretend she is free, at home and doing well, even though she was being tortured and harassed. The “game” went so far, that the farewell meeting with her husband just few hours before his execution was staged like a theater play for one person – her husband, who was in fact the only one not knowing the truth. This drama was so entrapping for us that we just needed to know more, Lida just wouldn’t let us go. The interest in Valentine de Saint-Point was pretty much the same, from flirtation through fatal attraction to fixation.
What we find as an intriguing feature of the unknown women is their invisibility. They are not pinned onto the map of history, they didn’t make it into the collective memory, it’s as if they never existed. In our society based on spectacle and surveillance, invisibility is the state out of control; it’s the strength of the weak. These women are outstanding in their inconspicuousness and their weakness.
We realized that, strangely, our interest usually lays in known and powerful men and unknown, invisible women. This apparent antinomy has in fact the same motivation and is in the end oriented towards the same mission of balancing out the scales of power.
One of your works which I like very much is Dialectics of Subjection #4, in which you are bringing politics in the boudoir and replace important male leaders’ aura of power with that of physical seduction. You’re creating a situation in which messing up the world order suddenly seems possible and easy, at everyone’s hand. Do you believe that women are better leaders, or is power indiscriminately corrupting?
We believe everyone should be able to mess with the world order from their bed. You don’t have to be strong in order to make a change. Here’s few hints for indirect action:
– don’t read anything for a year
– sleep only with married men
– never use proper english
– learn to write with your left hand
– let tarot be your manager
– always say yes
– talk to strangers
– convert to islam
– imagine your father dead
– put on make up with eyes closed
– burn your favourite book
– re-name yourself
The interview was commissioned by and first published in “Performing History”, the catalogue of the Romanian Pavilion at the 54 th International Art Exhibition — la Biennale di Venezia 2011. Published by IDEA arts+society. Edited by: Bogdan Ghiu with Maria Rus Bojan.
Anetta Mona Chişa (born in Romania) and Lucia Tkáčová (born in Slovakia) collaborate since 2000. They both graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava and currently they live and work in Prague and Berlin.
Raluca Voinea (born in Romania in 1978) is art critic and curator, based in Bucharest. Since 2012 she is co-director of tranzit.ro Association (a member of the tranzit.org network) and she runs the space of tranzit.ro in Bucharest. Here she is organizing a programme of exhibitions and discursive events focused on the relationships between contemporary art and political determinations, stimulating local production and debate, involving mostly a younger generation of artists, curators, writers, architects, etc. Since 2008 she is co-editor of IDEA arts + society magazine, published in Cluj. She is also one of the founders of the international platform ArtLeaks. In 2013 she was the curator of the Romanian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where the artists Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmus presented the project “An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale”.