CONVERSATIONS Mousse 16
Follow the Instructions: Nina Beier and Marie Lund
by Alli Beddoes
As we find ourselves approaching the end of 2008, this year has marked a particularly vibrant and prolific year for the Danish artists, Nina Beier and Marie Lund. Recent exhibitions have revealed the duos sensitivity to object, performance and collaboration through their exploration of social infrastructures, relationships and intuition. Each project seemingly starts with a simple set of instructions, however, a rich and multifaceted set of questions arise, it seems the end result can never truly be predicted—by the artists, the collaborators or the spectators. Alli Beddoes interviews the artists about these works, uncovering their ideas and thoughts about history, time, presence and absence.
ALLI BEDDOES: What are you working on at the moment?
NINA BEIER AND MARIE LUND: During the last three months we have been working on an exhibition project at One One One Gallery, a private foundation in London. The curator Vincent Honoré curated a solo show of our work, and we responded with the concept to exchange our work with work by artists whom we like, admire and have been invited to show alongside in the past in different contexts. Over the course of the exhibition, each work was exchanged in dialogue with the artists. We wanted to focus on the group exhibition as a collective process in the forming of the show, rather than when show is presented. And in doing so, we focused locally on each exchange, rather than having a curatorial overview. For us this approach has been, similar to the one we apply to our other work, a response to an existing context, in this case the structure of a group show and the context of a generation of artists that usually present their work alongside each other. During the process it has been really remarkable for us to see how the relations between our own work and the invited artists work, as well as the connections between all the artists work became apparent as it all came together. The exchange with each artist has taken form in very different ways. Some responded directly to the concept in more or less direct ways and others resulted in a dialogue about their existing works and the meaning behind them. It has been a rewarding adventure and we are grateful that these artists (Johanna Billing, Aurélien Froment, Dora Garcia, Cecilie Gravesen, Jacob Dahl Jürgensen, Chosil Kil, Jiri Kovanda, Benoît Maire, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Roman Ondak, Mario Garcia Torres and Åbäke) agreed to enter into this slightly demanding approach to creating a show.
AB: I’m always interested in collaboration. This is significant to your practice, of course, but I would like to explore the collaboration beyond you both. Can you tell me how identities maybe formed and then moved around within each work?
NB&ML: Our collaboration seems to have different processes, sometimes as an idea that grows through thorough discussion, where it is tried out in different combinations, questioned and altered. Sometimes in another, maybe more intuitive way, where we leave room for personal fascinations. Our process is based on dialogue and we try to use our differences as a motor to keep the conversation active. It is important for us to welcome the fact that we are two individuals working together, and not give in to the temptation to turn to a company-like method where each person takes care of different tasks and everything runs smoothly. We try not to build too much of a closed structure around the practice and work both as a duo, individually and in larger collaborations, to keep that dynamic alive. And maybe because of this loose structure, our collaboration and already being in conversation about the work, it seems natural to build our practice around an exchange with other artists, curators and other groups such as Åbäke, as we mentioned.
AB: Who is your audience?
NB&ML: Our work is mainly initiated and exhibited within the art context, but we also often apply it to spaces outside of this context to an audience that doesn’t necessarily experience it as art. We recently did a residency in a small town in Norway where we produced a series of works. Some of them exist in the local community, like The Destination. We intervened in the community’s social life that was centered around outdoor activities, and the walking trails as meeting points. We got permission to polish a mountaintop, and both marked it as a destination and made a tactile invitation, but it was left behind without any indication of its relation to an artwork. When we exhibit the piece in a gallery, we present it as a pile of old bronze figures balancing on top of each other, pointing to the mountain, the activity and maybe a mental journey there. So the piece exists in two different forms for two different audiences.
AB: The liveness of your performances can often be open to misinterpretations and misunderstandings, where the installations and the documentation are like solid gestures. I’d like to investigate as much about the doing, as the “undoing” the presence and the absence in your works. I am wondering whether you can talk about the nature of predictable and unpredictable, the visible and the invisible within the performative events?
NB&ML: Our work usually takes its starting point in the inherent story of the material we choose to work with, be it a social context or material one, and the approach is quite similar regardless of the medium. Both in the pieces that take a concrete form and the more transient work, we try to keep the readings open-ended. We are not aiming to make a point, merely to point towards or disclose some existing mechanism, so we build in an invitation to read or misread as an integral part of the work. Like in The Points which is a series of cutout graphic symbols from covers of books that attempt to offer new theories for social organization of different kinds (sociological, pedagogical, political etc.), the collages and the simple symbols is a language that doesn’t convey much, but the space between the intentions behind them and the understanding or interpretation of them, is where they come to life. So we try not to hold the key to the reading of the work, and let it depend on individual references. Especially the events, which often include the audience, their participation and perception is openly out of our control. Each situation plays out according to the implicated people’s response. We initiate the situation, but don’t design it with a specific conclusion in mind. The work can be entered from different points, through the present material or situation, or through the title and the description of the context, and the viewer can compose their own narrative. Recently we did a trilogy of events at ICA, and one was a concert held in the normal concert space. We had asked a young singer-songwriter who recently had played at ICA, to come back and repeat that concert, on the premise that he do it exactly as the first time around, including the comments between the songs, mistakes etc. We wanted to explore the construct of a repeated performance, the space between the genuine and the performed and the expectations in the contract between performer and audience. It all played out quite subtly and as an audience you shifted between just being at concert and enjoying the music, and stepping outside of the experience and become aware of the structure and meaning of the situation. We are interested in placing the events at this stage, where the situation is just pushed slightly from its normal position, which somehow creates an awareness of the existing structure.
AB: You recently had a solo show at Laura Bartlett Gallery, works such as Self-to-Other Ratio and The Collection were specific to the gallery space and it’s architecture. What is the role of the gallery here?
NB&ML: The installations and the events we do respond to the context, spatially, socially and with an awareness of the gallery as this other kind of space detached from the surrounding world. The Collection consists of a series of items selected from the belongings of a sixty-eight year-old man who lives alone, from the sole premise that they follow the width of the gallery space. The space at Laura Bartlett is very specific (long, narrow and wedge shaped) and we were interested in the relationship between how the space could dictate the work and the work in turn take over the space. But the act of singling out our subject, going through his belongings and leaving behind a gap in his lifelong accumulation, was as much part of the work as the objects wedged in between the walls. Another example would be a work like All the Best, which is an instruction to the gallery to leave all post sent to the space during the exhibition, unopened by the door, is a direct response to the structure of a commercial gallery. It is a comment on the border between the real and the staged space.
AB: Time within performance, it seems, isn’t necessarily limitless anymore and I wondered how time is important to your works—not just with temporal work but as a subject?
NB&ML: We tend to use time as an important component in the work. The distance and the weight added by the time passed in between, plays a role in both our object based work and especially those of our situations that rely on ritual qualities. We seem to return to the stories that have been stored and that we can unfold or recall. As for example Reminiscence of a Strike Action where we created a sort of reunion for a group of former revolutionaries, to meet up and keep their eyes closed in front of our camera for as long as they all stuck to the task. This situation relies on the time that has passed, the value that the ideals these people shared have with our eyes and the recollection taking place behind their eyelids. Or like The House and the Backdoor which is a wooden box containing twenty-five of Nina’s mother’s books that have been stored in my parent’s attic since they moved in together. The books are the duplicates overlapping their two collections, and the time they have been stored is directly what makes the story they carry.
AB: Is historical awareness important?
NB&ML: More than specific historical facts, the work often relates to common cultural references. We are interested in the space between the specific and the general, the personal and the common. Most of our work is rooted in the personal implications of the stories we deal with. So for example the peace posters in ‘The Archives’, are not as much referring to the actual historical events that they point to, as much as to the significance they had to our parents generation as a communication of certain beliefs and convictions.
AB: For me, having works such as yours is incredibly important; they make such an incredible (and very beautiful) footprint on how the history of art is augmented. One question that I would like to ask you both is how do you think the performances and the documentation of your works will translate in the forthcoming years? Do you discuss this together? Is it important to you both?
NB&ML: It is very important to us that the situation-based work we do, exists in the moment as an actual situation. This is usually challenged by the presence of a camera or a sound recorder, which inevitably introduces an awareness of the future reading of what is going on. Generally this self-awareness pushes a sense of performativity into the setting, which is not what we are aiming to create (especially if we have orchestrated the recording of the event ourselves, we feel we blur the focus for the participants). So we find ourselves having to prioritize and most often end up sacrificing or playing down the documentation. So basically we rely on the retelling and luckily there always seem to be someone else present who can’t resist taking a few quick snaps for the future. On the other hand some of our work is depending directly on the documentation, the camera functions almost as an instigator for a situation. Like Les Sabots where we asked a group of people to make a face towards the camera for the duration of a roll of 16mm film. The expectations established by the camera’s presence and our simultaneous instruction to sabotage this, creates the tension, which makes the situation and the final document a fundamental part of the process.
AB: Do you have any unrealized works? What is the future for you both?
NB&ML: We are currently working on a new filmproject, gathering the members of an experimental/political theatre troupe who were active in the early 1970s. We are inviting them to rework their memory of their shared past and ideals collectively, interviewing them as a group with the knowledge that their individual voices will be written down and presented as one single testimony.
Originally published on Mousse 16 (December 2008-January 2009)