Much Ado about nothing (and fictious)

Posted on November 9, 2012


An art collective, run by an art critic/curator, an artist and a writer, from different countries. Exhibitions involving artists as Tino Sehgal, Fischli & Weiss, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Gianni Colombo. Apparently, nothing new under the sun.  Well, we should me more careful; there is something new , infact there could have been something new, but there wasn’t. Why? Simply: the members of the collective don’t exist, and the exhibitions have never taken place. Well, something that do not exist is new, indeed.  Focusing on the writing as a practice embodying fiction and reality, The Phoenix Atlas  tries to cross the boundaries between art writing, curatorial activity and fiction. Remember everything is fictious. Maybe, also this interview.

1. Can you briefly explain your project?
Everything started with the question: How can we realize exhibitions without involving galleries, institutions, collectors, curators, artists, but even the artworks themselves? A weird question, perhaps; a question against the system, somehow; but also an experiment. Then came out the answer: We can create art shows by using texts, in a form that can maybe be labeled as “paper exhibition” (to be honest, other people before us used this label). So it became a writing experiment, with a curatorial approach. Among our cultural references, we all had authors like Stanislaw Lem, Jorge Luis Borges, Raymond Queneau, Oscar Wilde, but also Roberto Bolanõ and the so-called “post-modern writers”;  we naturally searched for something on the balance between criticism and fiction, with a special care for the tradition of conceptual and narrative art. But, of course, this doesn’t mean we make literature! Our work is much more rough and useless!

2. Some years ago, Boris Groys wrote that “each project strives for a socially sanctioned loneliness […] if one is involved in a project, one is already in the future. One is working on something that cannot yet be shown to others, that remains concealed and incommunicable”. In some sense, it seems you try to prolong this de-synchronization of the project, which is the central feature of contemporary projects– as Groys underlined. In my opinion, there is the concrete risk to become “autistic”,   prolonging the de-synchronization until the dead of the project.

Wow, hard question! Well, probably the risk you mention actually exists. But I would not speak in terms of de-synchronization; because the projects we develop are not meant to be realized one day. We don’t look for someone saying “Hey, would you curate at MoMA the show you designed featuring Cyprien Gaillard, Monika Sosnowska etc.?” But we do want to communicate. We just follow a different path. I’d rather say that we may go too far and become not understandable, too conceptual and intellectual; this is the real risk, to me.

3. Who are you? Well, what shall you be?
What Okke and friends stand for?

TPA is in fact a collective, run by three people: Me (Okke De Groot), Jan Karan and Ana Laura Ferreira. We all work in the field of contemporary art, Jan and me more on the curatorial & writing side, while Ana is an artist – even if she also run a space in New York. However, the most important thing to say is that none of us actually exist. We are fictitious identities, like characters in a novel. As I said, from the very beginning we tried to avoid everything was concrete and thus we turned to writing. In this context of dematerialization, it was quite instinctive to adopt a fictional structure.

4. A lot of new projects involve fictitious identities. In my opinion, “like characters in a novel” cannot be totally far from their author/s. This relation can be fruitful but sometimes, can also bars from real life and therefore, real involvement.

I don’t know what kind of projects you’re refering to, but a good mix of fiction and reality can also intrigue a lot, instead of pushing the audience away. Then yes, we are “like characters in a novel”, but in fact we’re not in a novel at all, and behind these three identities there are three real people, which are all into contemporary art and which do real things. Until we – Okke, Jan and Ana – will do concrete projects, I don’t think we risk to lose involvement and grip onto reality. On the contrary, we’re working to realize a publication and some events…

5. “You remove the object, but you keep its concept, its idea – because you use it as a starting point for developing a text.”
I disagree with this sentence: in this project the text seems the starting point, focusing nor on the artwork, neither on the artist, on the contrary, trying to discuss the previous vision and consideration of an artwork. Well, let’s say, it’s a critical action aimed at art thought. Am I right?

Well, your quote comes from the correspondence that me, Jan and Ana had while trying to focus the project and discussing the various ideas. Then we decided to publish it online and use it as a sort of statement. But in fact everything turned out a little bit differently. In some cases the starting point is a sort of curatorial draft, made up of artists and artworks that share a topic, a particular aesthetic, or create interesting connections; from this base, we realize a text – namely the exhibition, as we conceive it. In other cases we work on a piece of writing, sometimes wrote by our own, sometimes collecting pre-existing parts of essays, articles or whatever, and this suggests a selection of artists and pieces. Some other times we intervene onto a specific text, like a press release of a well-known exhibition, in order to underline some points or revise some assertions (see for instance the Sensation example).
As you see, we don’t follow only one strategy. But you’re perfectly right when you say that our project is a sort of “critical action aimed at art thought”. At least, this is what we’d like to reach. Because, and now we get back to your first question, for us curating is after all anything but that. Don’t you agree?

6. Uhmm, finally,we can say that you “un-curate”, unfolding, unpacking, misleading previous statements and critical thoughts. Isn’t it more close to artistic behaviour than to curatorial one?

Maybe… But honestly we don’t care so much about it. Every day more we see artists that curate art shows, sometimes even demonstrating more talent than professional curators normally do (I’m thinking for instance of Simon Starling, Thomas Demand or Damien Hirst), and the most interesting art shows are the ones revealing a strong curatorial approach, to me; which means, at the end of the day, an objectification of a strong, fascinating and fantastic Weltanschauung – exactly what we search of in an artist. So, who finally cares of these distinctions?