FRANCIS GOMILLA: Q&A with BIRGIT RAMSAUER
Published in: Moscow art magazin, Moscow, 2001
FRANCIS GOMILLA: What made you interested in the ART.HOME-LESS? What was the starting point?
BIRGIT RAMSAUER: The starting point of working in the ART:HOME-LESS is the immense fantasy which is coming out of using things you don't really have, things you can't buy and going further through a process of dealing with things you find. I don't want to produce something, an object. I am not the end of the road to form it. At the end there is the public again, which has to deal, is meant to deal with the artwork more or less in a way they are aware of and they feel free because it is their place. It is the public who mostly make the rules in the public space. There is less space left to deal for the people, freely. It is another story in a building, it is more at the sidewalks where the ART:HOME-LESS is at.
So is ART:HOME-LESS referring of to be homeless but to the status of your artwork, as being homeless -outside the art institutions?
In addressing the environment the artwork defines the rules in the space I want to deal with. Which I find very interesting. There are many competing elements in the urban space, therefore the work has to stop the spectator and make them accept what I am doing as an artist ... this is the most difficult thing.
Your activity is intrinsically a process of intervention, where in the normal course of every-day life, you invite people to come into contact with your artwork.
It's like when you are arguing a point, a discussion and somebody interrupts you. The most difficult part is to get something built up and to finish the argumentation. When an artist is building up the work, the most fragile thing is when you interrupt and the people are not willing to listen. You have to make them listen and look. To pull all this together you have to have a plan of action, a clear idea of what you are doing every moment. You have to have the same intensity of concentration like a child play. I create my own concentration, my own atmosphere.
What kind of emphasis do you place on the ephemeral way you work? Does the fact that your installations are temporary a valuable form ? For example, there are different ways of working in the public space, some artists would develop a permanent piece, (let's say like some pieces of Buren are permanent public pieces) while your work is ephemeral; the material and the way it is produced is only meant to last for a few hours. The paper bags, for example, get wet or the tape comes off the pavement. Do you see this as intrinsic to your work progress?
I think in the case of art in public if every artist were to put a forty ton piece, after ten years the public space would be filled up! And I think it's wasting this space, which is lost for the next generation. I definitely agree to change a place in the mind of the people for a short time, but it may be much more impressive for the people it is happening now. I, my body, is in the piece because I came just at this time to this place and they can take part. In the end the only thing left is the documentation (which makes it possible to deal with the place for other artists in a totally different way) and the people who live around or use to the place can have an impression of different treatment of the same place. I think it is much more interesting, especially when you deal with emotionally charged places like churches, railway stations, bridges et cetera.
Do you think this makes it easier to tackle some spaces as for example the difference between creating a permanent piece in Central Station in New York with its complications in terms of permissions on logistics etc. Does it make the work process easier, when it is only there for a few hours?
I wouldn't say it is easier, I think it is the same preparation time, but at least I think the people are much more free to deal with the piece. At least I have more freedom to do my work because I can really take the space and cross it, block it, what ever, in a very brutal way, maybe. If you have a permanent sculpture you have to deal with institutions, and the rules of making art in public spaces and at the end you are left with 30% of the piece you originally wanted to do. It becomes a little design.
How important is the audience, I mean how do you define your audience. Is the audience just passing through or do you try to actually generate an audience, by advertising what you are doing et cetera ? How important is it to have an informed audience, experiencing the life and death of the work, which takes pace in a short spurt of time ? Is this important for you?
I worked in some spaces where a lot of artists where around, like Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow and before I was more or less alone with my photographer Karin Desmarowitz. In New York you don't get people to come for one piece especially during working time. I found it is much more difficult to deal with the artists who feel like they are in an exhibition and I feel I have to deal with them also. I have to mention, that they are there and they also watch and make a little protection for the piece which is not any more a wild animal.
Do you mean it changes the context?
I think what I like to have is really a playing audience. Who are bringing something of their own fantasy to the piece. And if there is some art audience around, they feel, they can not understand the rules and they step back behind the "professional" emotionally. Because there they feel these "professionals" are people able to "understand" the work.
Your body, yourself, frequently features in the installations as an inclusive part, how important is it to identify the action with the physical presence of the artist?
There are different levels in different cities, sometimes you need more presence of the body, a person that the public can face to and make contact with. In Moscow this was very important, because Moscow people really do not have the custom of just meeting and talking in official public spaces. They were very pressed into institutionalize meanings and not very free to talk.
So the body is a kind of focus?
Yes, it makes the intervention human. Because everything around them is so impressive, very loud, very official. And in this way they step back when there is something which is coming their way, interfering. They don't want to be present any more and they step back behind a book and only glance over the edge. And here you have a person who is definitely not Russian, who they can see an artist and makes the piece more human. But in New York for example this presence is only a pushing ball to talk and make fun, as in New York they are used to art events and making them on stage.
Obviously in the last thirty years New Yorkers have experienced more artist interventions in the streets that in Moscow. So that must present quiet a different kind of audience in terms of the symbolical and physical action and presence of an artist in an ordinary public space.
In Marseille, by contrast, I would say there are two waves. I made different pieces. The one very important thing is, that the Marseille Museum scene is centralized. So I wanted to take my person and put it against the centralized system at the museums of Marseille.
Having set off in the artistic urban mapping which your works represent in terms of looking at the urban locations which you specifically chose. I would like to know at what point does the work has to talk about how you choose those locations. At what point do you see the relevance of taking it from the street back into the art institution. You have worked in the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Marseille. Do you feel taking something from the street back into the institution is important? How do you see this?
When I arrive to a city I read a lot in what's going on in the city; the literature, movies et cetera. So before I step into a city (New York is very different, because I live there temporarily) I undertake a kind of narrowing of the city and its history. I always want to deal with places who have their own influence on the people. They are always in a higher concentration in the city.
Are you searching, essentially for traces which have some kind of charge, which already have some kind of electricity that you want to tap into?
Yes, and I use this knowledge and the electricity and the architecture. Maybe the facades have something behind them which is of an enormous interest to the people. I want to use the power of the place and interfere with that power.
That's a very challenging thing to do, because from my experience of working in public spaces, the artist and the artwork have got to contend with the fact, that the public urban space is not neutral space in like a museum, where you can control the lighting, the point of view of the audience how they enter the room, how they leave the room etc. In public space we encounter all the cacophony of every day life. The noise of traffic people working, people traveling and the scale of the buildings. How do you think, this reacts with your work?
The most important thing is definitely the movement, it must be very high. There must be something like defined ways. What inspired me c lot for the next cities after New York, was c research group of architects at Columbia University, who researched how people walk through places. They installed a camera for a few hours and afterwards they traced the path of the people walking through the place. Mostly this was totally chaotic in comparison to the official walkways or driveways, it didn't fit together. After this study and research the architects wanted to reorganize the place. I think about the movement after I have chosen the place, the movement that has something to do with the place's history and use.
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ABOUT FRANCIS GOMILLA: Born in Gibraltar (1954), Gomila emigrated to the UK in 1973. He was appointed as Peterborough Town Artist in 1978 and Sandwell Town Artist in 1985. From 1990-96 he was a founder and director of Fine Rats International, an artist-led company dedicated to the production of innovative art events in urban locations, most notably 'Under Spaghetti Junction', 1993, a two-day performance-based event held under Birmingham's infamous motorway junction. Gomila has undertaken residencies in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Mexico, USA and the UK, most recently completing a residency in Berlin, which has seen his work develop on an international platform. Recent exhibitions include Legal Illegal (Art beyond the Law), NGBK Berlin, 2004, Presence et apparitions / un visite particuliere, Chateau d'Avignon, France, 2004, People Die of Exposure, Smart Project Space, Amsterdam, 2003, New York Video Festival, Lincoln Center, New York, and the Prague Biennial 1, Veletrzni Palace Museum, Prague, 2003. He is based in Newcastle.