Answer is never the same
by Raimundas Malasauskas, 2004
VILNIUS, Date unknown - People sometimes get irritated if you ask them the same question again, especially if it happens in the same conversation. Yet sometimes they provide different answers immediately or let’s say two minutes after the first try (think of the Oracle in the Matrix movie or Bill Clinton in his trial). However when there are 40 years in between of two identically asked questions there’s a big chance to get the same answer. This does not a priori mean that nothing has changed or things remained the same. The same answer could mirror a totally different fold of an arrival than the previous attempt, and to illuminate this trajectory is an intellectual ride through a number of possibilities that otherwise might remain mutually exclusive. Which is why an answer could be considered as a typical media-type of event, while the route towards it is a terrain where things are happening always, but occasionally (and live).
The fact that one day you might be studying Hegel of course is not as interesting as the path that brought you there: maybe it happened via Heidegger or perhaps via Spinoza (like you may land to 70’s Disco via House Music or…maybe to Spinoza via Disco), but let’s face the fact that the ultimate choices and slips happened before the arrival. Therefore each new entry-point and route generate a new destination and a new arrival-point. So the answer is never the same even if it is the same sentence.
For a publication of Don’t Expect Anything, a project recently curated by Luca Cerizza at Galleria Massimo Minini, I was browsing a number of old interviews (from 60s and 70s) with Robert Barry, Ian Wilson, Sol Lewitt and Lawrence Weiner as well as more recent conversations of Jonathan Monk, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Carsten Höller and Tino Sehgal, trying to find questions that would be interesting to ask again. Together with some newly fabricated inquiries it resulted in a series of conversations with Barry, Sehgal and Wilson. Later on the 12 questions have reached Mario Garcia Torres, whose work addresses not only the first volume of Conceptual artists like Barry and Weiner, but also the later explorations of Jonathan Monk or Francis Alys. So basically this interview took off from the idea to construct different entry-points to the sources of inspiration as well as playing with the genre of interview. Especially when an identical principle of asking already used questions had been exploited in more colorful publications like Face or Another Magazine where Kylie Minogue and Gwyneth Paltrow did a similar thing to what Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner did in 1989 answering same 20 years old questions by critic Arthur R. Rose1. This does not mean that Conceptual Art was earlier than Kylie and Gwyneth. Yet the issue of originating is of course constantly recurring, especially in the discourse of Conceptual art which “has been marked by a fierce, absolutely fierce series of attempts by many different artists to claim primacy and position”2. By the way, this phenomenon is very well pointed out in Untitled by Argentinian conceptualist Eduardo Costa which is “A piece that is essentially the same as a piece made by any of the first conceptual artists, dated two years earlier than the original and signed by somebody else. 1970.” In this respect new entry-points are intended to create warps in time and promote connectivity instead of competitive dialectics of history. I hope to hear back from Kylie and Gwyneth one day too.
1 Robert C. Morgan, Art into Ideas. Cambridge University Press, 1996. 2 – Charles Green in interview with Geert Lovink at www.nettime.net
Mario Garcia Torres
Question 1: Have you read Jack Burnham’s book Beyond Modern Sculpture? He makes the argument that we are changing from an object-oriented world to a system’s oriented world, and that art is involved in doing it right now.
I guess Burnham referred to post-representational and or post-object oriented practices to which I will then totally agree, but I would also say that we are now trying to counteract the overwhelming systems that dictate our daily activities so to restore some sort of chance related space for framing art. In other words, I think our artistic practices function as getaways of the modern project that seems in a way still prevailing a lot of thinking nowadays. Since we are overconscious of the systems we live imbedded in, art can still work as a catalyst for “mystic” experiences. It is interesting enough to realize that Sol Lewitt´s sentence “Conceptual artist are mystics rather than rationalists” seems to be as lively as ever.
Source: Patricia Norvell to Sol LeWitt in Recording Conceptual Art: early interviews with Barry, Huebler, Kaltenbach, LeWitt, Morris, Oppenheim, Siegelaub, Smithson, Weiner. 2001.
Sounds like a long-lasting book. The title is a bit outdated, nevertheless the backlash of object-based practices makes it relevant today. The idea about “system’s oriented world” confirms that we are probably on the same course of Modernity like we were 40 years ago, only the entry point has changed. Don’t forget: how many systems? The book was written when there were at least two of them: Communism and Capitalism. There could be even more today: McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, etc.
Question 2: I wonder if we can place any significance on the idea of real time, not only in terms of a temporal work, but as a subject. We now have different notions of time than we used to… it’s not limitless anymore. What are other notions of time that are particularly important to you?
Jack Burnham also referred to “real time art works” as simulated ecosystems where immediate interaction and exchange of information took place; that notion was relevant for that particular time. I don’t think real time in technology and art is that relevant today since we seem to have come to terms with it. What I think is more interesting is the paradox that the idea of “real time” seems to be very “dated”.
Source: Bob Nickas’ interview with Robert Barry, Journal of Contemporary Art, Vol. 5., No 1 Spring 1992., page 14.
The second part of the question is an addition to the original one. Time is a key category for all three of artists (in the show at Massimo Minini’s - JM): Robert Barry claims that “time is creativity” (see interview with Bob Nickas), Tino Sehgal talks about his interest “in proposing different notions of history, presence, eternity” (see Hans Ulrich Obrist interview with Tino Sehgal) and Ian Wilson acknowledges that time was the subject of his very first discussions (see the source of Question 3.)
Question 3. Is the notion of truth important in any respect in your work? I think truth is not important to art. Art functions in a cognitive arena where the message is read in an intuitive-reasoning act, which is not necessarily based on actual facts.
Source: Interview Ian Wilson by Oscar van den Boogaard, the newspaper of Galerie Jan Mot, issue 32, May-June 2002.
Ian Wilson talks about truth in the interview with Oscar van den Boogard. I think it’s more relevant to talk about truth than to produce it, because it’s a dramatic business.
Question 4. How are you deciding what is art? Or when is art?
There is no when for art. Art is an endless negotiation, in social and personal terms. In my own quest, each breakthrough becomes art.
Source: Patricia Norvell to Lawrence Weiner in Recording Conceptual Art: early interviews with Barry, Huebler, Kaltenbach, LeWitt, Morris, Oppenheim, Siegelaub, Smithson, Weiner. 2001.
The second part of the question functions as a reference to Nelson Goodman who in his seminal Languages of Art book re-formulated essentialist question “what is art?” into relativist “when is art?” A similar attitude is expressed by Sol LeWitt who talks about art “as verb.”
Question 5. Do you have an idea where does deleted or erased information disappear in general?
I don’t precisely know where the information in De Kooning’s drawing or in the Baldessari’s paintings went, but there is neither a reason to ask ourselves about that. The void they left is more interesting than the information they had. There is a saying that explains there is a planet where all the lost sox are. I find this an interesting way of explaining these kind of factual phenomena.
Source: Raimundas Malasauskas interview about weblogging with Catherine Fake, Jouke Klereebeezem and Paul Perry in the second edition (2003) of the online version of NU magazine: www.nu-e.nu.
Perhaps this question has to do with info-ecology related issues that are common to all three artists (Barry, Sehgal, Wilson - JM) as well. Self-consuming or self-sustaining instead of self-replicating?
Question 6. Have you ever done work under a different name? Can you imagine doing a work of another artist? Do you sometimes imagine work of another artist that hasn’t been ever made?
I have never made a work under a different name, although as reposition to art history, I have completed some works by other artists. An example is a video that David Lamelas and Marcel Broodthaers conceived in the late sixties but never got to do. Being in Berlin where it was supposed to be taped, I made the piece along fellow artist Stefan Bruggeman. It ´s called Untitled (Historical reposition) and it’s a very simple video where the two protagonists walk towards the camera. I happen to talk to Lamelas in NY early that year and he told me they made sketches for the piece which was supposed to be done when he came back to Europe after going to America. When back in Berlin, Broodthaers was already in bed and they could never realize it. Most of the time I try to evade creative decisions and deposit them into prevailing structures or persons so, I guess it could be interesting for me as an exercise to ask people to think in a work of mine and consider the possibility of making it happen.
The man who taught Blake painting in his dream is a drawing by William Blake. When I saw it first time last year I couldn‘t understand whether this was a portrait of a man who was using his dreams to teach William Blake the way of painting, or whether it was Blake who was taught how to paint in his dreams. “Can you teach me something in your dreams?” I would like to ask someone one day. “There are many artists I respect. I must be influenced by all of them. I must be influenced by Picasso also although I’ve never really looked at his work,” claims Tino Seghal (see Hans Ulrich Obrist’s interview with Tino Sehgal.)
Question 7. Can your pieces be redone in another situation, somewhere else, by someone else, actually
Yes. I think in the works as operational structures, and in that sense they are just platforms to be activated in any time and space. I guess that is also my way of interacting with other art agents as curators, art dealers or collectors. I am right now working in some works that are only titles to be filled out with content by other agents as: A photograph taken by its owner before having acquired the piece or A sculpture that was misplaced by a curator.
Source: Patricia Norvell’s interview with Robert Barry in Recording Conceptual Art: early interviews with Barry, Huebler, Kaltenbach, LeWitt, Morris, Oppenheim, Siegelaub, Smithson, Weiner. 2001.
Sort of a take on Question 7, only it addresses the issue of repeatability instead of
recombination, multiple identity and transpersonal commons. Actually the question
comes from the statement of Robert Barry about his work in 1969.
Question 8. I was wondering if you use the Internet? Do you imagine a dissemination
of your work via Internet? Is it appropriate to your work?
I use the Internet a lot. I would even think of oral communication as a technology and a
dissemination tool. When the work is just the beginning of a speculation (some sort of
private rumor) it doesn’t matter what medium carries it. In that sense, if we think the
Internet now possess some sort of credibility -although we all know that its not
necessarily true all the time-, it has become a great broadcasting vehicle, just as the
Source: Hans Ulrich Obrist to Sol LeWitt and Jonathan Monk in Jonathan Monk
catalogue, Lisson Gallery & Galerie Yvon Lambert, 2003.
“I am not into it at all” (Sol LeWitt to Hans Ulrich Obrist)
Question 9. Isn’t non-productivity one of the most radical and violent means to
counteract dominant structures? Do you use the notion of a product in your artistic
You are right about the violence in non-productivity, but I would also say that nonproductivity
is almost an impossible concept in practical terms. I think that nonproductivity
will most of the time lead you to something. (Maybe I am just thinking on
Francis Alys’ two video works, Paradox of Practice… (Sometimes Making Something
Leads to Nothing and Sometimes Making Nothing Leads to Something). I think nonproductivity
should be understood as a creative tool and not only as a reference
framework or an activist practice. I understand that a product could be anything that is
the consequence of an action (even if it is a minimal one) without needing to be an
object, contrary to the way the capitalistic system understands it.
Source: Carsten Höller in a discussion with Daniel Birnbaum in Production, Kiasma,
The second part of the question is something more general. The notion of a product is
something that often puts people off, but since we are in a multi-system reality (see
notes for question 1, it is inevitable to use it.
Question 10. Is oral communication just language?
Oral communication is a lot more than language; It is one of the best mediums for the
dissemination of ideas. It is in the missing and adding details of daily conversation that
the triggers of aesthetic speculations relay. It has been said that a large part of the
success of Conceptual Art is due to the efficient spread of its body of ideas through
academies and arts schools.
Source: Robert Barry to Ian Wilson in Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization
of the art object from 1966 to 1972.
Question 11. Is the “unknown” an important element in your other work also?
It is definitely an important element. Although I have to say that is not “the beyond” (if
something like that ever existed) that interests me, but that space where non-likely
facts remain obscure but still believable. It is the presupposition of this notion that most
of the time activates my works.
Source: Interview with Robert Barry in the catalogue of Prospect ’69. Kunsthalle,
Düseldorf, September 30 – October 12, 1969. Via Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The
Dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972) (see also page x for the
complete version of this Interview Piece by Robert Barry – JM)
Question 12. Can you have a discussion with an Invisible Man?
I guess I could. I just haven’t seen any recently.
Source: unidentified. Perhaps this has to do with immaterial and untraceable character
(or….?) of some of the work of Tino Sehgal, Robert Barry and Ian Wilson.
Source: Gallery Newspaper 43: August 2004