A CONVERSATION BETWEEN O.A. BIDDLE AND MARTE EKNAES
on the occasion of the closure of their collaborative exhibition "Stragedy" exhibited at ART2102 from January 29 to February 19, 2005.
OA Biddle: we should just get this over with- she snooze, she lose.
Q1: What were the circumstances of the collaboration- this began as your show; what was it within your work that seemed to call forth a collaborative effort with this other field?
Q2: Did the collaboration produce results you expected, or did it maybe shed a different light on the formal elements of your work and their relation to the field of architectural theory? I'm specifically thinking about how the first time I saw your work, the fragmented forms you produce echo a very specific period of Decon, whereas upon closer examination it was the materials chosen that point to a certain delightful sleaze that's very- I don't know- vital.
Marte Eknaes: Thinking about my practice I can separate it (crudely) into two equally important and interdependent parts. On one hand is the making of objects, drawings etc. This is a pretty formal investigation of materials and the surface of our surroundings. It is a questioning of familiar systems and forms, taking things apart and creating new compositions.
On the other hand is everything around the piece—the context and the dialogue of the process and of the exhibition. I would like my work, when exhibited in the gallery space, to initiate a continuation of this investigation.
OAB: So your central preoccupation is division between it- and- not it? the individuality and apart-ness of your object?
Speaking for myself, my form fails where yours seems to succeed- I want the things I make to disappear, and they just won't. I should consider vapor for a medium. Whereas what you do is make a series of strong moves. I felt, during the times we were working in the same
room, that I was engaged in covert, minute operations- sauldering, measuring, adjusting-while you were doing things very boldly; tape, gold, etc. When our things were put together, a very puzzling scale shift occurred. I drank too much last night, and it's cold outside- a truly bitter day.
Process is not important. Trying is not important. The moment at which you sense a final sort of engagement is the point at which, to me, time begins to stretch endlessly and you become very close to what you are envisioning- literally, your eyes focus into the center of what your hands are doing. I've spent a lot of time and energy attempting to capture the alchemy of making but it's always second- rate that way.
You can't be of two minds.
ME: To me this collaboration was initially about this investigation. I invited you without having seen your work, only based on conversations we had had before. I was intrigued by how you talked about architecture.
You said that you didn't want to make buildings—in fact you were against buildings. Seeing most buildings around us as solid structures that serve a function, I was very interested in the idea of a building that questions its own purpose and existence. At the same time as using the field of architecture to question architecture is the most appropriate, there is also something perverse about the idea of thinking through the largest, most permanent objects. Making sculptures that largely derive from facades of buildings and often utilize construction materials, I also wanted to expose my process and the work directly to the field of architecture.
OAB: Good, very smart. I like the collaboration we had because, though we were at times nervous and uncertain of direction, there was no anxiety about it. While I was doing my thesis, there was anxiety and a sense of competition all around that I felt I needed to transcend. The nights were very, very long. Yes, scale.... I'd someday like to explain to a kid how architects proceed to think about scale, and the transparency that happens when you separate systems, each on their own layer. Now I am exposing myself- things don't fragment to me, they levitate on handkerchiefs.
That's directly an effect of working on a computer.
And when I hear artists talk about architecture, I always want to ask them what the hell they mean. Do they mean Bruneleschi's fucking dome? Buckminster Fuller's forehead? Kuala Lumpur? That sounds arrogant, and I guess it is, but to me the language of profession is really turgid and stuffy. What is a building?
ME: Generalizations are often used when standing outside looking in, and in order to be specific one will have to somehow, if even temporary or by imagination, be on the inside. My work is often talked about in terms of these general ideas of architecture seen from the field of art. I don't really know what that means and I didn't really know how this could be useful to understand my work. I needed to find a way in to a specificity that would erase the generalizations. Specificity without a greater context (fuck context?) is potentially flawed or prone to mis-readings. I think the collaboration was a mutual temporary / imaginary inside into each other’s fields at the same time as we created a specific and solid formal relationship with a bunch of loose ends and tangents still to investigate.
ME: I think one of the most interesting aspects of the collaboration process and the final result, is the constant imbalance and somewhat uneasy relationship between our work. The story in the press release describes a disagreement between the architecture and art and shows how art (here in the corporate field, but it also goes for the gallery space) often ends up simply being decoration or as we wrote in the press release "a social lubricant".
Looking at the show now, I feel that this problematic became very prominent. Materials carry completely different meanings simultaneously depending on how they are utilized in your models and my sculptures. Your model and dioramas have a very rich language, which draws the viewer in to imagine how this would look in real life. I think my sculptures end up sitting in between. In terms of scale, they're big in relation to the miniature life you have constructed, but ridiculously small in relation to what we imagine the finished structures would be like.
OAB: Yes, I'm given over to brash generalizations when I speak, so when I work, I obsess over specificities. I guess sitting hunched over a miniature world seems like playing god, but it feels very miserly to me. I'm a miserly deity! I'm always accounting. I'm not sure how my products are perceived; but I'm glad I came to terms with my attachment to socialism and pretensions toward utopia. I was really forced to question all the sincere desires I had to "make the world better.’ But in the end, I still don't know. I still believe.
ME: We had some pretty interesting discussions during the installation, negotiating the space of the gallery and how our work would interact there. Your project is part of a much greater thesis, and you chose to leave out a lot of this information, showing only the model, diorama light boxes and diagrams. I wonder if it then becomes more about an imaginary space, or maybe you are approaching the idea of decoration?
OAB: A part of me just didn't care what people knew about the particulars of my thesis. It seemed narcissistic to just transplant it into a new scenario and not adjust it to our collaboration. So I chopped off the theories and site homework surrounding it. Fuck context!
Yes, imaginary spaces. Imaginary places. I don't understand the meaning of decoration. Everything outside oneself and a newspaper over your head could be considered decorative. Homelessness is minimalism; minimalism is another disguise of conspicuous consumption. The whole notion of emptiness in the Miesian sense is elaborately constructed. But it is the very finest, the most refined. There is a ruthlessness to it that I really love. Anyway, maybe that doesn't answer the question of whether I think the work I made is decorative. It certainly exists in the realm of extraneous things, and I toil to make it beautiful, as an offering of gratitude to its viewer.
ME: I don't think homelessness is minimalism, because minimalism is a bare structure. Decoration, or excess, is stripped away. If a newspaper over the head is decoration and it exists without a structure, I don't know what this would be called. Homelessness is a symptom though, a consequence of other problems in whatever society we are looking at. decoration without structure in this sense is for sure undesirable. However, it seems to not be dealt with because none is addressing the structure, but only looking at this decoration / symptom. I think minimalism rather could be seen as a strategy to deal with homelessness.
OAB: I completely disagree with you. What are we talking about here? If we're talking about minimalism on an architectural scale, we are talking about an elaborate means of disguising structure through detail, dropped ceilings, etc.—a style that denies reliance on any structure but column. Refinement is deceptive- while it appears subtractive- or 'stripped'- it's actually additive- another layer atop a surface, in the way lacquer is additive. Exposed structure is generally busy and messy.
ME: The model you showed has changed a lot during the process, getting more and more elaborate and detailed. However, it is very different from the obvious progressive development. This seems to be about the economy of the site as well as a formal issue happening in the model. How did you think about this, and will it continue?
OAB: The model grew without my help. I figured out how to make the sugar models, and everything sprang up in twenty minutes, just like a real development. It became what it became. Remember? It grew the night before the show, a totally different hairstyle. Before, it was a skeleton. Will it continue to grow? Definitely! Because I am throwing it into the garbage tomorrow, and it will have mold all over it!
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