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Never seen or done before
by Mario Garcia Torres and Raimundas Malasauskas, 2005

BRUSSELS, 17 JAN. - In 1969 Robert Barry realised a work entitled A work submitted
to Projects Class, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Barry instructed the
students to conceive a work which would exist ‘as long as the idea remains in the
confines of the group. If just one student unknown to anyone else and at any time,
informs someone outside the group the piece will cease to exist’. This work recalls a
recent series of works by Mario Garcia Torres, like the Never to be seen by the artist piece etc. It seems that both artists are dealing with exactly the same issues. What is
interesting is the fact that Mario Garcia Torres didn't know about the existence of
Barry's work. This fact and the publication of a text by Maxine Kopsa (see elsewhere
in this Newspaper) on re-enactment led to a show, organised in collaboration with
Garcia Torres, about repetition, originality, uniqueness and re-enactment, including
works by 10 artists. The title of the show comes from a work by Jonathan Monk. What
follows is a conversation between Garcia Torres and the Lithuanian curator
Raimundas Malasauskas.

 

MARIO GARCIA TORRES: It’s interesting that Jan relates the re-enactment issue to
the previously-done phenomenon as that also raises the question about how a work of
art is perceived once it accesses the artistic circuit and how originality still plays an
important role in the art system. You are right, I wasn’t aware of Barry’s piece when I
started the never-seen projects and actually, when Jan first proposed to think about
re-enactment for a show, I initially thought about it in the most literal way, the
restaging of a particular fact in history.
Although I wasn’t thinking about repeating Barry´s strategies, I think the never-to-be-seen works are very related to and very much indebted to his work.

Not only to theone submitted to Askevold’s Project Class but to most of his practice, to the idea that the artist does not need to see or experience the actual work, but needs only to know of its existence.
The most interesting part of this kind of coincidental actions -if we are to perceive
them as coincidences- lies in the fact that the same action could trigger very different
meanings when inserted in different contexts –both place and time. Barry set-up a
way of understanding the work of art and, in that sense, ‘A Work Submitted…’ became
fundamental for my artistic practice. The never-to-be-seen works are more interested
in the implications that those very strategies might unveil within a new artistic
scenario, as for example how the art world as a whole would assume the
responsibility of keeping the piece alive. In Barry’s work, the students were/are in
charge of maintaining its existence, whereas my works make a larger circuit - the
museums, galleries and even the public - responsible for it.

 

RAIMUNDAS MALASAUSKAS: I was wondering what happens if we shift our focus to
the operations of a detective trying to unravel a crime. A detective, according to a
great book by John T. Irvin on Poe and Borges (who doubled series of fairy tales by
Poe not only in terms of structure and the subject, but also temporally, i.e. exactly one
hundred years later), always tries to double the working of someone's mind and then
to make a step ahead in order to prevent a crime. So in the case of deliberate reenactment
or repetition I am tempted to think about this "one or two steps ahead",
which means that there's a retrospective attempt to speculate about various
possibilities and scenarios that could have happened if there were different political or
cultural circumstances as well as seeing how the same act could affect the current
circumstances (recently Jeanine Oleson, NYC artist, did a re-enactment of Joseph
Beuys' I love America and America loves me communicating with rats instead of the
coyote). I don't know if that's true, but there's always a certain game of truth involved
too, no?
In the case of almost-coincidence of yours and Robert Barry's piece I think it's
impossible to think of an original piece anyway. Does the fact that it happened after
means that it happened After? And on the contrary, I think it also happens that
repetitions tend to coincide with something other than the event they try to represent,
no? We call those things coincidences, but it's just our way to articulate something we
don't fully understand. So to address this notion of contingency is a self-reflective
task, I think. Pierre Bismuth was playing with it in Waiting for Coincidence, a videoprojection showing a juxtaposition of two different TV channels at the same time.

 

MARIO: Yes, I would agree, coincidences are ways of articulating something we don’t
fully understand, but this leads us back to Jan’s first inquiry; why do things repeat in
time. As you say, maybe we should not be thinking about time, about what came first,
but about repetition.
In this matter, the first person that comes to my mind is Daniel Buren. One might say
that he has done the same work again and again throughout his career. His activity
does not merely rely on painting colour stripes but in initiating its meaning in very
different forms. (“My main activity is tied to the ambition of making visible the ‘not-yet-seen’” D. Buren, 1981). He has made us understand how things work by repeating the
same strategy again and again.
Maybe Buren’s strategy is closely related to the detective’s procedures; repeating an
action to make things visible. There are a few works in the show that we should talk
about like Joachim Koester’s photographs, Darwin Place. He re-shot the same picture
that Robert Adams had done in Colorado Springs in 1969. By repeating the same
action thirty years later, Koester’s work may reveal the changes that have occurred in
that location but which remain unnoticed in the everyday.
It’s funny you mentioned the detective thing; actually the first time I saw the word reenactment was in crime documentaries –it was blinking on the TV.

 

RAIMUNDAS: I think I started to think about re-enactment in a more repetitive way
after an encounter with the work of Eran Schaerf, whose work was incorporating the
culture of the so-called hobbyists (a term I came across in the text of Maxine Kopsa
on re- culture.) It seemed a good way to reveal the mechanisms of the production of
history - so indeed to make things visible. But what happens when you make visible
something that has never existed and say it's a re-creation of a past? We have fun,
no? Imagine having photographs of a party that Truman Capote held in 1966 at Plaza
in NYC and printing them in Wallpaper magazine in 2004 saying that it’s a reenactment
(actually Wallpaper magazine organised the re-enactment in London last
year for real)?
Wasn't it in a certain way one of the issues that Argentinean Media Art Manifesto
addressed in the 70s? They said that you don't need to make an actual performance,
a photograph with a caption is enough to make it into a performance. Mario, what
happens if someone re-issues a series of your works from 1999 that you have never
seen or heard of (and when you say that they say that it's something that you have
thought about.) I love this zone of repetition where the whole set of issues connected
with copyright and intellectual property gets involved.
Thinking in this direction (and it's a direction of a labyrinth of course since a repetition
always build's up a labyrinth instead of line of succession, no?) I suddenly found
myself in the realm of economy nowadays where competition and collaboration goes
hand in hand, so in a way I can see re-enactment as a way of merging social capitals.
But perhaps the most important moment to me is the fact that repetition basically
functions as a producer of change and thus difference as what is re-created never
coincides with what it intends to represent. And when it coincides with something else
than intended it makes one think of Slavoj Zizek's proposition that identity of
something is always outside of itself. So at the end the re-enactment or repetition is
simply a sort of creative way of co-producing reality, no?

 

MARIO: It seems to me that there is a reason to think that we try to fool ourselves
about understanding re-enactment as a precise repetition, although at the end we all
know that the impossibility of a pure repetition still constitutes some kind of production
of knowledge. Gus van Sant’s Psycho was widely criticized; the argument was that
there was no point in doing a take-by-take copy of the original Hitchcock version. But
to me the most fascinating part of it all is to see precisely the rhetoric of failure put into
action by van Sant. On the surface we are copying, remaking, re-enacting but actually
the works, others and ours, are only being redistributed –recycled- for very different
purposes.
I guess I would love to see the chain reaction you mention about a work of mine that I
have never seen-or heard of. It would become some sort of repl(a)y. What could be
difficult then is to recognize one’s own thought. Would you then consider similar works
of art made simultaneously in different latitudes a re-enactment?
In that Borgesian thinking we could try to figure out what Barry knew on June 15th,
1969 at 1:36 pm when he made the piece All the things I know but of which I am not
at the moment thinking.

 

RAIMUNDAS: This piece of Barry’s to me stands as one of the most monumental
concepts in art. When are you able to recognize that you know something? What
constitutes this knowing? How many things do you never think about even if they are
stored in your mind? So all these cognitive questions arise when I think about this
piece, however the truth could be much more simple. I remember when I asked Barry
what was in a telepathic message that he sent in 1969 that was ‘neither word nor
image’, he said ‘nothing complicated, a sense of difficulty to express something’. It is
interesting to think about this difficulty in relation to the rhetoric of failure you mention,
no?
Going back to the piece of yours ‘that you've never seen or thought about’ I would say
that you have to double the working of the mind of a person trying to replicate the
working of your mind and thus create a piece of yours that retains the logic of your
thinking, but is not yours. But why is it not yours? I think as soon as you think about
something it becomes yours. And maybe this is what Barry was thinking about: when
does something become yours? When another person becomes (a part of) yours and
vice versa? What are the limits of an ongoing transpersonal experiment? Or maybe he
was thinking about piracy as a way to liberalise copyright laws? Do you know?

 

MARIO: It’s interesting that you mention this. I got this letter on the mail yesterday. It
was from Konrad Wendt –one of the seven students that took Askevoldt’s Project
Class in 1968. He is got very interesting thoughts about Barry’s piece. He said for him
it has become less about group loyalty and more about (collective) memory. He
comes up with a couple of questions that might be answered differently by the rest of
the group: Are you absolutely sure about the date of the piece? Are you sure about
who was actually involved? The fact has become something else, regardless of their
actual idea.
That could also be related to what you are saying about the Never-Seen. Normally
when I mention it, the immediate response is to try to figure out what the work could
be, somehow informed, I guess, by what people know about my work and something
of their own. I don’t know, maybe the students then also tried to match their own
common idea with what they knew about Barry’s work at the time… Wendt would of
course only be assured that he hasn't told anyone about it.


Source: Gallery Newspaper 45, January 2005