On 15 November André Tehrani opened a solo exhibition at Entrée, Bergen, the second in a trilogy. KUNSTforum asked him some questions about his work and inspirations.
Can tell us about your current exhibition?
The exhibition at Entrée is the second installment of a tripartite series of solo exhibitions which was recently introduced with a show at Noplace in Oslo. All three exhibitions investigate the poetic languages, political activism and inevitable recuperation of utopian movements such as the International Movement For an Imaginist Bauhaus (IMIB) and the Lettrist and Situationist Internationals (LI/SI).
The exhibition title (Lost Allusions) is a reference to a paragraph in Raoul Vaneigem’s 1967 book The Revolution of Everyday Life, which describes the process that allows revolutionary practices to be commodified and integrated into the media culture of advanced capitalism. Making art which further historicizes revolutionary initiatives such as these also becomes part of this recuperative process, of course, but the intention of the exhibition series was more to examine the shifting forms of the revolutionary impulse that the LI/SI inherited from the dadaists, which was later to be rediscovered by the subcultures of punk, post-punk and Acid House in the 70s and 80s.
This is the second exhibition in a trilogy. Does this also mean that new works will be included in each exhibition? What is the relation between the art works?
Yes, the exhibition at Entrée presents three new pieces and some of the stuff that was shown in Oslo is not included in the second presentation. The third exhibition – which is scheduled to take place at Tegnerforbundet in Oslo next spring – will mainly consist of new pieces which deal more with utopianist notions of city planning and the role that a radical re-imagining of architecture and urban space played in the revolutionary programmes of said groups.
All the works in the exhibition either allude to or make direct references to utopianist approaches to art and politics, and the individual pieces were made with a highly heterogeneous display in mind. I wanted the presentations to appear more as group shows or historical exhibitions than to produce works easily identifiable by a specific aesthetic signature.
What is the idea behind doing this as a trilogy? What are the consequences on the art works and the exhibitions when they are part of a trilogy?
Seeing as the story of the LI/SI and their countercultural legacy is a long and complicated one, the serial exhibition format allows for producing an extended narrative which makes use of a variety of approaches to the subject matter. Hopefully, the three exhibitions provide for a more nuanced treatment of the material at hand than one exhibition would.
You tend to work in several different materials and mediums. What is the common denominator, so to speak, if there is any?
My work is very much rooted in historical source material, of course, and I think more along the lines of entire exhibition displays when making pieces. The common denominator of the individual pieces is that they all have their specific place in the overall display as building blocks for a premeditated narrative.
What is your next project?
I’m currently finishing a residency at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels, Belgium and working on a group exhibition for their project space which I’m co-curating with Anthea Buys (who also contributed a text to the catalogue for the shows at Noplace and Entrée). The show is set for April next year and will feature four or five Scandinavian and South-African artists. Other than that, I have to prepare the concluding show of the exhibition series at Tegnerforbundet for next spring. Also, I’ve just written a short text about my favorite photo for the Norwegian photography periodical Objektiv, which will be printed in their December issue.
How would you describe your work process from idea to work?
The research part plays an instrumental role, of course, and I spend a lot of time reading and unproductively googling things. More practically, I outline a theme that I’m interested in working with, pick up some books and wait for the stuff to ferment a little before rolling up my sleeves. The ideas for specific pieces often pop into my head when I’m out running and I tend to pursue most of them on what Ed Ruscha would call ”blind faith”. When the piece is finished, I decide if it was worth the effort or not. Shortly put, it’s part careful planning and part whim.
What are your main influences when creating a work of art?
My main influences come from seeing exhibitions and I pay close attention to how shows are installed when visiting museums and galleries. With regards to the two solo exhibitions I’ve installed this autumn, I’ve been particularly influenced by interpretive historical exhibitions and I’ve tried to use the pedagogical format typical of historical exhibitions for more poetic purposes. There is something about the factuality and professed neutrality about these kinds of displays which has a very curious kind of poetic potential, I think.
Can you name an artist/artwork or exhibition that has inspired you?
I tend to enjoy exhibitions by artist who stick to their guns and just do their thing consistently over a very long period of time. Artists like Thomas Bayrle, Hanne Darboven, Louise Lawler and Ed Ruscha would be good examples of this approach. By younger artists (living or not), I really like the works of Danh Vo, Mark Lombardi and Sam Durant.
Is there a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your works?
I’ve been very interested in postmodern American literature the last five or six years and I’ve read a lot of Thomas Pynchon, William T. Vollmann and David Foster Wallace during this period. I’m especially interested in how the novels belonging to this particular tradition work; how they usually are dense with trivia, facts and informational noise and yet on antother level retain enough structure to function as fairly conventional stories with a narrative payoff. In some ways I suppose I’m interested in trying to find a spatial equilvalent to this kind of narrative in my exhibitions, which are similarly overloaded with references that make up a contextual basis which the audience can choose to ignore.
Why is art important?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this question during the last couple of days when following the debate about the cuts proposed by our new right-wing government for the upcoming cultural budget. There is clearly an unspoken imperative about art being useful for stimulating economic growth and an expectation for it to generate substantial popular interest in the rhetoric of Norway’s neo-liberal right. For me, art is important for completely different reasons. I think its relevance lies in providing a place for forms of expression which are too outlandish and esoteric to be communicated in either politics or other forms of cultural media. In my opinion, the purpose of art is to delineate a terrain where more marginal forms of thought and communication can be experimented with.
Although the exhibitions I’ve been working on this fall have been fairly pedagogically communicated, I do not necessarily subscribe to the notion that the experience of seeing an exhibition should be meaningful or instructive. On the contrary, I think that art’s real potential lies in its ambiguity and its scrambling of the relationships of images and their assumed content. The ideology of the commodity upholds the idea that images have fixed meanings: owning this car signifies that position in the social hierarchy; wearing this t-shirt signifies that subcultural preference and so forth. To me, art is important as an arena where these precarious relationships are contested and revealed as susceptible to change.