en español -
Sophie Berrebi: I would like to go back to
your childhood and to the way it determined your career as an
artist. Your father was an important painter in Yugoslavia,
and as a child you painted, and your pictures were exhibited.
Later on, you moved away from the artworld and became a junior
ski champion and when you returned to art, you became a conceptual
artist. You could say it was inevitable that you would become
a conceptual artist, given a background which could be compared,
for example, to that of Yves Klein, whose parents were very
much involved in contemporary art. In a way, you knew all the
tricks of the trade.
Braco Dimitrijevic: I think that is very true for many artists
actually - for Yves Klein, for Gordon Matta-Clark, for some
other people who took radical steps. In a way, you know the
rules of the game from the very beginning. It may appear that
it becomes more conscious later on, but somehow intuitively
you are there from the very beginning, you relate better to
the art of the past.
In what other ways did your background influence
your first works. How did the idea of the casual passer-by [from
1968 on] come about?
Well there are two reasons: one is that in my
childhood I was surrounded by many artworks, not exclusively
by my father, but also by artists from the 19th century because
my grandfather collected art, and there were also other works
from the past. Then also there were so many people who were
of special importance in the art and cultural milieu. Throughout
my childhood and teens, they appeared as everyday normal people,
so instead of trying to find the same environment in the other
cities I moved to later on, I had the idea of working with anonymous
people, anonymous people that I would meet or select at random
to work with. They embodied for me a certain creative principle
that has probably been ignored in the course of history. Because
if you approach somebody you don't know, he might be a great
poet, or great inventor, or... Anyway, the unknown is the richest
field of all, because the unknown has no limits, no frontiers.
Did you ever get to know any of these anonymous figures who
were the subject of your works, the large portraits you hung
in public spaces, the monuments you erected to passers-by, or
the memorial plaques displayed on buildings? Or do they just
remain a face or a name?
I really do not know what they do. I would never
ask them so they'd remain as an open possibility, and I would
just speculate about what they did. However, I remember two
examples. One person in Holland approached Rudi Fuchs [then
the director of the Stedeljik van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven]
and he intended to make a trip around the world in a raft and
wanted to use the large banner I had created with his face on
it as a sail. And on another occasion, when I was lecturing
in Germany, an elderly gentleman came to my class, and when
I asked him why he had joined my class - because there were
three or four other artists lecturing at the same place - he
said he came to my class after hearing about me through a casual
passer-by I had previously met in Düsseldorf. So there is this
kind of invisible link.
These works create some sort of poetic link
between people; they create stories that would otherwise not
exist. I have the feeling that a work like your 'portable monument',
the stone plaque bearing the inscription 'This Could be a Place
of Historical Importance' [first installed on buildings nearby
St Martins School of Art, London, in 1971] works in a similar
way, but with places rather than people.
This work is actually linked with the idea that
any place under special circumstances can be historically important,
or that every image could become the image of the century. Sometimes
it is a question of convention and sometimes it is a question
of chance, where the chance appears to be some invisible higher
authority. I think actually there are so many elements that
come into play in deciding what could be the event of the century,
who could be a person of historical importance.
Whereas your works on the casual passer-by
and the portable monument are virtually immaterial pieces based
on chance, or anonymity, the series of works you began to work
on in 1978, the 'Tryptichos Post Historicus', are very material,
very heavy, invested much more with a sense of tangible cultural
time and space. How did you move from one kind of work to another?
The passer-by works and the photographs of different places
where the portable monument is installed try to emphasize the
importance of every place, of every segment in time, of every
person and his or her possible contribution to history and creativity.
In the museum, I make installations, which consist of a masterwork
that is sometimes insured for several million dollars or whatever,
and everyday objects such as fruit or vegetables. There is a
kind of link because, in the triptychs, every element is given
equal importance, regardless of material value. In this triangular
relationship, one can see how these elements are perfectly capable
of measuring each other. An apple in the kitchen is not the
same as an apple next to a Cézanne painting, and you have a
different feeling with an everyday object when it's next to
a painting. You get a different perception of an apple when
it is standing next to an everyday object and a painting at
the same time. So in a way these installations are the universe
in miniature because you have a representation of two different
spheres of life: cultural and natural. And within the cultural
you have two different categories: the everyday object represents
everyday life, and the paintings stand for spiritual values
(although not only spiritual values), because in our culture
these are the connotations that art has. The idea is to point
out that there is a very complex meaning in every segment of
a triptych, just as every particle of the universe has a very
special meaning. So for me the triptych is a metaphor for something
that is much greater.
I also find that the objects you use often have a timeless quality.
Can you give an example of how this metaphor works?
They are indeed. In some cases, for instance,
when I put a bicycle next to a Kasimir Malevitch painting [Russian
suprematist working in the early 20th Century], one would
probably think of contrasting the circular shape of the bicycle's
wheels with the square painted by Malevitch, but it would also
suggest a certain rotation, a sort of revolution. There is one
particular work with a bicycle, Red and Black Square by Malevitch
and a yellow melon standing on the same pedestal, and it is
a work which basically talks about the zeitgeist of 1914, when
this painting was made, but also possibly of Marcel Duchamp's
bicycle wheel, as well as of Einstein's theory of relativity,
which also goes back to 1914. And I think that if you would
observe this image very carefully, you would see that first
you have a big black square on the upper part of the painting,
and then a slightly rotated red square. In my triptych, that
red square is extending towards the yellow melon and it gives
you a full spectrum of the colors, indicating a kind of rainbow
spectrum. It implies a certain perception of the sky and, automatically,
it evokes space in a more abstract way, which is where we join
Einstein. Then, while the wheels and shape of the bicycle suggest
a horizontal movement, you have the almost vertical arch of
the rainbow colors, from black to red and yellow.
But at the same time, you don't want to comment
on natural and artificial beauty...
I think one important thing to know is that these
works are not about equations - equivalencies saying 'apple
equals painting or bicycle'. My aim is basically to underline
their differences and the fact that every element or object
has its own beauty and meaning. I think the view I have of things
is to say that they are not divided into two categories: those
that are very beautiful and those which are not, or those that
are meaningful and those which are not. The idea is to point
out that there is a complexity and richness in each element
which surrounds us. I remember the story of one person who exchanged
four bottles of vodka for a Tintoretto painting, in Dresden
in 1945. It is a true story. So there are situations and contexts
in which somebody can find four bottles of Vodka more important
that a Tintoretto painting. If somebody thinks he can save his
life by making this exchange, which doesn't seem to make sense
in any other context, one should be aware that one only has
one life and this is the way to judge these things.
Couldn't you say that there is in these triptychs
a kind of DIY process, whereby the viewer brings all the elements
together and creates his interpretation from his personal relation
to the objects and his knowledge or appreciation of the masterworks?
I think that is basically the case in every artwork.
If you want a Color Field painting, and you have yellow, black
and a little bit of green, then you can make out of it whatever
you like. I think art is the basis for reflection, and somehow
you always get involved when confronted by an artwork. Instead
of using those elements of yellow, black and a dot of green,
I have these other elements that I play with.
Objects, you mean?
Yes. I think that in my triptychs we have the
accumulation of several thousands of years of people creating
a vocabulary that I am then using to construct the meaning of
my own work.
Is that to say that everything has already
been said? Is it a postmodern attitude?
No. Really no; I think that the language of art
has simply become more complex. For instance, if you take the
palette of the traditional painter, take for example Matisse,
he had these very full colors: black, red, green, yellow and
so on, and on my palette there are already paintings, sculptures,
refrigerators, bicycles... I think that kind of process was
already much evident in philosophy, or in literature.
Is this what is called intertextuality?
Yes, I didn't arrive at a definition of Culturescape
[in 1978] out of nothing. It is very symptomatic to look
at the moment when I arrived at the definition of Culturescape.
The definition that I gave in the mid-70s, that our environment
is not physical space but cultural heritage, is really significant
because technological goods have been assimilated ever since
the Neolithic Age. I don't mean environment as physical surroundings
but as history or culture.
To end, could you tell me about one work of
art you own: your portrait by Joseph Beuys, which is made from
a leather jacket with cans stuffed into the pockets.
It is a flying jacket with a drawing of an aeroplane.
I bought this jacket on the King's Road in London and then Beuys
recognized that this was a kind of original leather flying jacket
[used by the RAF during the Second World War] and he
decided to draw this aeroplane.
Does it refer to the lifelong perilous condition
of the artist, living hand-to-mouth?
Probably yes - it is some kind of survival kit.
(*) Sophie Berrebi is a Paris-based art critic.
- Versión en Español
a Enfocarte.com y recibe las actualizaciones en tu e-mail