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Ugo Rondinone, Sunrise East: July, 2005. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Rust, Rust Designs.

by Deanna Sirlin
The Art Section

I am always interested in how one can survive intellectually and at the same time give of oneself as an artist. I returned recently from an artist's residency in southwestern France at a chateau near Toulouse. Curator and Architect Elaine Merkus and her photographer/filmmaker spouse Denis Piel have opened their beautiful Château de Padiès to artists. My first experience of the place was that I could not take a bad photo there, so beautiful and complicated is the landscape. The second part of the experience was to be thrown headfirst into a documentary film festival curated by Denis Piel. It was the last days of this festival, called CCiiff (Culture & Cultures international intercultural film festival), and I think I saw five films in three days. A standout was a film by Gianfranco Rosi titled Below Sea Level about a group of individuals who have fallen off the grid, either by choice or circumstance, and live in a deserted area south of LA, mostly in their cars or campers. Gianfranco, who spent five years making this film, is an artist I often had to challenge for bathroom rights at the château, but since his films were quite terrific, I will let it slide. Also in the guesthouse was a fabulous jazz composer and musician, U. Aldridge Hansberry, originally from New Orleans but who has spent the last twenty years in Paris. More about both of them in an upcoming issue of TAS.

In this issue I am delighted to have an English translation of Michel Batlle’s 1981 interview with the renown Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies (b. 1923). I met Michel at Padiès—he is known and respected in France for his artistic generosity and I am delighted that he has given us this interview for our English reading readers. I hope TAS will have more from Michel in the future.

As I was leaving Padiès , the collaborative artist team of Edwards + Johann arrived from New Zealand in an artistic whirlwind. These printmakers and performance artists are interviewed here by Philip Auslander.

I would like to thank Elaine and Denis for their hospitality and inspiration.

All my best,



Still from Mark Wallinger, Threshold to the Kingdom (video), 2000. Photo: The Russian Museum.

September in France

by Deanna Sirlin

I have always thought that where a work of art was made is important. The local light and color, and maybe the food and politics, have a large affect on an artist and somehow permeate the work. I also think that seeing a work of art in different places can change the way it is perceived, as context certainly can change meaning. With this in mind, I will try to describe my experiences in Paris and Toulouse this past September.

Château de Padiès, where I was an artist-in-residence for two weeks in September, is in Lempaut which is, as best as I could tell, a tiny crossroads in a particularly beautiful part of southwestern France about 35 kilometers from Toulouse. I have taken part in other residencies--I was invited to Yaddo as a young artist, which turned out to be crucial to my artistic development. In mid-career I was invited by the city of Nuremberg, Germany as part of their sister city exchange program with the City of Atlanta. For two weeks, I was with 14 other artists at a retreat, and for two additional weeks I made art while living in the city of Nuremberg. It may seem strange that Atlanta and Nuremberg are sister cities, but “they both rose from the ashes.”

But enough about me. What I want to comment on here is the amazing amount of art in France and some of the amazing attitudes I encountered as I traveled between Paris and Toulouse. What day are you reading this? If it is the 22nd of the month there is a one-day art exhibition, as there has been on the 22nd of every month for the last 15 years, in the home of Laurent Redoules in Toulouse, which he calls “Le Salon reçoit”--"the room receives." Redoules not only invites one into his home and hangs a show there-- he also removes everything from the space to make it as much as possible like a white box gallery where an artist will show their work just for the night of the 22nd. The work I saw there on the 22nd of September 2009 was interesting, well made and conceptualized. It was the work of a not so young artist who is quite far from just emerging.

At the end of the same week, there was a festival of exhibitions of contemporary art in Toulouse called “Printemps au Septembre” ("Spring in September"). In the depth of winter I can only tell you how wonderful the idea of spring felt in the fall during the last nights when it was warm enough to walk the city and look at art. That night, the galleries stayed open all night. I went with my hosts from Padiès to Musée les Abattoirs. This former slaughterhouse is a museum of modern and contemporary art. There were several simultaneous exhibitions in the space, but the Jim Shaw painting installation, Labyrinth: I dreamed I was taller than Jonathan Borofsky, created especially for the Printemps au Septembre, was really magnificent. This installation is a mise-en-scène complete with backdrops and two dimensional flats of figures from Picasso and Dali that refers to the stage curtain Picasso designed for the Théâtre du Peuple in 1936, The Minotaur’s body dressed as Harlequin, an important work in the Abattoir museum’s collection shown as part of the installation, and The Tricornered Hat, a stage curtain by Salvador Dalí for a 1949 ballet performed by a Spanish dance company in New York City and presented here for the first time in France. I loved the graphic and theatrical presence of this work with its large painted caricatures that are articulated with an illustrational style presented en tableau with the Picasso and Dali theatre curtains kitty corner to each other and the flat figures behind them. The work fills the entire large gallery. As viewers, we can merge with the elements and walk in and around the space and become part of the theatre: first, I am a voyeur and then I am part of the scene. And I enjoy so much the going back and forth between being in the art and behind the scenes.

As if that was not enough, in the next gallery of the museum is a body of work by the German artist Cosima von Bonin, who sews together fabrics to make paintings and sculptures that read like a sort of soft sculpture bricolage. She does not hang the paintings on the wall but brings them into the space like theatre flats. She has hung stuffed animals on clotheslines across the gallery. I am sort of bored by plush in contemporary art, but I have to admit hers have a certain charm.

If you think all the art was in this one museum, I have misled you. In fact, these were not even the only exhibitions in the Musée les Abbatoirs, let alone other venues. I counted over 27 sites around the city, and there may be more of the unauthorized variety. I will not go into details about all these exhibitions, which varied in content and quality, but it did indeed make happy to have all this art around me when back in the States galleries in my city are hanging on for dear life.

My days at Padiès were sprinkled with work, dialogue, and travel to other art venues. My hosts took me to the Toulouse Lautrec Museum in Albi. I must admit I did not want to go, as I had a bad cold and thought nothing could make me leave the comfort of my studio and the pleasure of making drawings there, but I am glad they insisted. I had forgotten about Lautrec--how dare I in the place of his birth! His hand made the most elegant of lines and the clarity of his compositions is delicious. Sick as I was I absorbed these works and felt better, at least for the moment: form triumphs over illness.

I left Padiès after only two weeks but I think I got what I needed. Who knows what would have percolated if I had stayed longer; but for me it was the right amount of time. So, on to Paris where of course there is no shortage of art. However, there are still surprises to find and efforts to make in the support of contemporary work. At the Cartier Foundation was an exhibition of French graffiti artists. As wonderful as the works inside the museum with accompanying video documentation were, the wall outside the center was even more spectacular. It given over to graffiti artists: first by invitation, then to all who wanted to come work on the site, writing over each other's tags and drawings. Watching all this, I experienced the thrill of art making vicariously.

One of the Paris gallerists on whom I reported in the TAS issue for March 2009 has already lost her lease, but hopefully not her energy and verve--Galerie Lorrain Baud has moved to Berlin. The director of School Gallery, Olivier Castaing, has kept up his good humor with a delightful exhibition by a collaborative partnership of 2 men and their dog from Argentina. These triple family portraits are vividly colored embroideries, all made by hand by the artists as they watch telenovelas, with their little dog making the family complete. Leo Chiachio and Daniel Giannone have worked in Buenos Aires together in this way since 2003. These are indeed artists worth noting.


Leo Chiachio & Daniel Giannone, Pombero, pomberito y yaguareté (embroidery), 2008. Courtesy: School Gallery, Paris.

At Galerie Isabelle Gounod I found an exhibition by a young artist named Wilson Trouvé. His excellent exhibition, aptly titled Impasto, featured a brightly colored sculpture made of melted giant Legos, which was a visual trip. I love the drippy lusciousness of the work and the way it plays with the notions of contemporary abstraction and the drip. Isabelle was also in good humor, but had the slightly worried look all gallerists seem to have these days.

I ventured to Montmartre the next day to find the Kadist Foundation. For some reason I had never been to this part of Paris and was sort of shocked to find it in full tourist state, filled with souvenir shops and cheap wares. I am told there are very beautiful parts of Montmartre but for me the imprint will be of the Japanese tourist showing me a postcard of the Moulin Rouge and asking me where it was … sorry to say, I did not know. I was more than a little delighted to find among this visual chaos the Zen-like space of the Kadist Foundation and the exhibition Capturing Time curated by Jeremy Lewison, a member of the Kadist Foundation committee. This was the first exhibition drawn from its collection, a revealing and satisfying way to understand the foundation and what it is about. Time has always interested artists. Tacita Dean’s video Baobab, about those wonderful knobby ancient trees of Madagascar, shot in black and white, conveyed a feeling of time standing still. Both the loss of time and the need for it permeate this exhibition.

I went to the Louvre to see the very excellent exhibition Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice curated by Vincent Delieuvin, Arturo Galansino, and Jean Habert. This is a monumental exhibit that premiered at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this past summer. As I left the museum at dusk and strolled through the Jardin des Tuileries I found the most delightful installation of by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone consisting of giant silver colored heads that look as if they were made with tinfoil (they were not, of course). But their large scale was such a delight in the context of a 16th century French garden. The contrast between the contemporary work, the light and the garden was perfect.

Kimsooja, A Needle Woman (multi-channel video), 2005. Courtesy: Kimsooja.

I girded by loins for my last evening in Paris, which just happened to be the Nuit Blanche, a city-wide all night contemporary art fest. There are Nuit Blanches all over the globe, but the Paris one is quite large and now stretches all the way to the suburbs.

Mark Wallinger's Threshhold to the Kingdom is a brilliant work-- it was when I first saw it in 2000, and it still is now. It was very special to have this work in a beautiful church, l'Église Saint-Eustache, combined with Wallinger’s choice of music, Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere. As you stand in the center of the church you watch the video of people moving through the international arrivals door at an airport in slow motion. Korean artist Kimsooja presented her video Needle Woman in Paris projected on the outside the grand expanse of the Hotel de Ville. Again I enjoyed the video in this particular context; I felt at one with her as she stands with her back to the crowds, her long dark ponytail and her back a strong and powerful silhouette. In the program, the video is listed as a new work for Paris, but as far I can tell it is part of same series she made between 1999 to 2001. It also says Kimsooja is moving to Paris. Of course, she can revisit this form of performative video of the intervention of her body into the chaos of the city. Both of these works have been seen many times before, in many different exhibition contexts. But the specific juxtapositions between them and their Nuit Blanche venues made them special all over again. Where and how you see a work affects your perception of it. Whether in a residence in Toulouse or a church in Paris, France makes it special.


Deanna Sirlin is an artist.

Antoni Tàpies and Michel Batlle in Tàpies' Barcelona Studio, 1981.

Antoni Tàpies
The Painting, An Object

A Conversation undertaken in Barcelona in May 1981 by Michel Batlle, Catalan painter

Translated from the French by Philip Auslander.
Please scroll down for the original French text.

Tàpies’ studio in Barcelona is a pit at the very center of his house,
like a lion's den. The artist paces back and forth; he says to me
that he likes to do this before attacking his canvas. It’s a true meditation,
comparable to those of monks who circulate in their cloister. . . .

Michel Batlle - In 1946, you made your first collages to include strings, crumpled paper, bits of fabric. . . . How did you move from the painted canvas to these materialist works?

Antoni Tàpies - From the beginning, I wanted to make large collages, partly to provoke, because a very academic style of painting reigned at the time I started. I had the feeling that making pasted things was anti-academic and a provocation of the bourgeoisie.

M.B. - At that time, were you the only one in Barcelona to think this way?

Antoni Tàpies – In 1948, along with a small group of writers and painters, we created the review Dau Al Set [The Seventh Face of the Die in Catalan—trans.]. The group included Cuixart, Ponç, Tarrats, Joan Brossa. But I claim the “materialist thing” pretty much for myself alone.

M.B. - Can one say that you were starting from scratch with an anti-painting, a kind of return to primitivism, caves?

Antoni Tàpies – There are times when one wants to return to the origins to seek out the most essential things.

M.B. - Would art go beyond the image one has of art to become an attitude, an object of knowledge, life itself?

Antoni Tàpies - It is all of that at the same time. A wise Hindu once said: ”To have knowledge without ethics is to be unbalanced.” And, the other way around, to have ethics without knowledge does not work, either.

M.B. - For you, art is not something banal or innocent. You wrote [in 1974]: “For me, the smallest sign of life, a simple graffiti on a wall, if it is justified by a human action, has infinitely more value than all of the paintings in museums which have lost all connection to our existence.”

Antoni Tàpies - It is rather difficult to specify. I would like what I do to be useful to humankind. If there is no utility, it does not interest me. Art for art's sake is a purely aesthetic thing that I never pursue. When I make a painting, I think of myself as working for others, and if it becomes beautiful, it is in spite of my intentions. It often does become beautiful, though I do not know why; it is the last thing I intend to do. I mean, I painted excrements, a man taking care of his basic needs! Perhaps behind all that there is an intention to show that the things one takes to be ugly are beautiful. I am above all intuitive, and I never think about all that.

Antoni Tàpies, Tasse, 1979. Photo Courtesy of Michel Batlle.

M.B. – A striking feature of your work is its fairly limited repertory of signs. I do not see any that were abandoned after being there from the beginning; there is nevertheless a constant renewal in your work.

Antoni Tàpies - I am conscious of that. I like to have my “sellos,” [Spanish for “stamps” or “seals”—trans.] my own imprint. I find that helps the spectator. When one sees one of my paintings, one knows that all of my work lies behind it and one can thus better understand the work down to its signature. Moreover, I find that if artists mark their work with their signature, it is best that it be there, clearly visible, well presented.

M.B. - How do you use these signs and symbols that sometimes seem to have come out of the mists of time? Do they have a precise significance?

Antoni Tàpies - It is a very instinctive thing. I let myself be carried by what is called “taste.” When I like something, when it represents a certain force within me, I make a sign, I mark this impression. Sometimes I transform them a lot; some of them take a while to find. I correct, I modify, I insist on finding the precise sign I like. But I never open a dictionary of signs. To the contrary: I prefer to avoid the known ones.

M.B. – What is a painting to you?

Antoni Tàpies – For me, it is an object; it’s always been that way, since the beginning. I belong to a generation that was told a painting is not a copy of reality.

M.B. – Do your choices of colors and materials represent a rejection of a certain reality of the world of today with its bright colors and its technologies?

Antoni Tàpies - I strive to make my colors spiritual. Those of publicity disturb me by their excesses.

M.B. – You have said that without shock there cannot be art, therefore art must be disturbing.

Antoni Tàpies – This is why I’ve always defended the artistic personality. He must conquer his own vocabulary. With a language lacking in originality, there can be no shock.

M.B. - If the painting is an object, what for you are the displaced things that you reappropriate by integrating them into your works and which, as in the case of the African statues, are “charged”?

Antoni Tàpies - I always wanted to make the painting a magical object that could influence those who look at it, like a talisman. This was part of what one said before about the art of living. It would be necessary to sacralize all the small things of daily use and transform them into mysterious objects. So that one could see all the mysteries of the universe concentrated in a small cup or glass. This is nothing new--all those who painted still-lifes must have thought about it. For centuries it’s been said that there are objects that are artistic and beautiful. It’s the same in poetry: one always uses grand poetic words, but it is possible to create another poetry starting from the simplest things. For me, the great masters of poetry are those of Japanese Haïkus.


Left: Antoni Tàpies' Studio in Barcelona. Right: Antoni Tàpies. Both 1981. Photos Courtesy of Michel Batlle.

M.B. – Are the simplicity and austerity that bathe your works akin to the investigation of the void in the Zen Buddhist philosophy that influenced certain Western artists, such as the American abstract expressionists?

Antoni Tàpies - If you have studied and practiced this, you know it is difficult to speak about these things. The idea of the void is similar to the idea we Westerners have of the absolute. It is not nothing--it’s a sort of primary material that constitutes all of nature.

M.B. – Isn’t your manner of working close to those of the Buddhist monks who, after lengthy contemplation, reveal the essence of a landscape in a few gestures of brush and ink?

Antoni Tàpies - It is a little like that. It should be said with great modesty, because to compare me with a Zen monk . . . !!! Before painting, I walk; not in a landscape but in the workshop, for a very long time, because I’ve discovered that a rhythmic walk in this place excites my imagination greatly. I think that it must be similar to meditation.

M.B. – Have you experimented with a practice of meditation?

Antoni Tàpies - Never, never. I adore Japan but I detest those practices. I would be too afraid of not being able to undo it, like the sorcerer's apprentice! In fact, I do not need these things. Perhaps we artists understand ourselves more easily than do others. I do not need to meditate; my work provides for it, because a painting is an object of meditation that opens a door and can illuminate you like a religion. It is the same finality, to find a way to salvation, “una via de salvacion.”

M.B. – Does your painting detach itself from time, that is to say, is it ageless, or is it a trace of its time?

Antoni Tàpies - All these things are combined; I like simultaneously to be of my time and to make things that will last.

M.B. - Your fight against the oppression that stifled your country, particularly Catalonia, which was proudly opposed to Francoism, is well-known; when you paint the four red bars of the Catalan flag, is this a political or aesthetic gesture?

Antoni Tàpies - It was one moment of my life, of my career in the sixties and seventies. Once the Catalan flag was tolerated somewhat, I often used it because we had to do it secretly before. I made four symbolic marks, as in the canvas you may know where the four red bars form the furrows of a field. Under Franco, we lived through times that killed our way of expressing ourselves culturally. We needed to do it as artists, but also to educate people so that they could understand what we were doing. For me, these two things are inseparable. In my case, I was sometimes refused licenses to export paintings that were homages to Garcia Lorca, or Miguel Hernandez, the Communist poet who died in prison.

Freedom, like democracy, is a distant goal one can never reach, an ideal. One must fight for it every day by working and finding subjects that refer to this fight for freedom, because there is always something to be gained.


Michel Batlle is an artist and gallerist of Catalan origin based outside of Toulouse, France. He is the founder of several journals, including Articide Circuit, established in 1993.

Antoni Tàpies

Le Tableau, Un Objet

Entretien réalisé à Barcelona en mai 1981 par Michel Batlle, artiste peintre Catalan.

L’atelier de Tàpies à Barcelona est une fosse au sein même de sa maison, comme une fosse aux lions. Il est vrai que l’artiste tourne et retourne, il me dit qu’il aime marcher ainsi avant d’attaquer son tableau, une véritable méditation comparable à celles des moines qui circulent dans leur cloître…

Michel Batlle – Dès 1946, vous réalisez vos premiers collages où apparaissent des ficelles, des papiers froissés, des bouts de tissus… Comment êtes vous passé de la toile peinte à ces œuvres matiéristes?

Antoni Tàpies – Depuis le début, j’avais envie de faire de gros empâtements, un peu par provocation, car, au moment où j’ai commencé régnait une peinture très académique. J’avais le sentiment qu’en faisant des choses empâtées, c’était anti-académique et une provocation pour la bourgeoisie.

M.B. – À cette époque, étiez-vous le seul à Barcelona à avoir un tel état d’esprit?

Antoni Tàpies – Nous avions créés en 1948, avec un petit groupe d’écrivains et de peintres, la revue « Dau al set ». Il y avait Cuixart, Ponç, Tarrats, Joan Brossa. Mais la « chose matiériste », je l’attribue un peu à moi tout seul.

M.B. – Peut-on dire que c’était un départ à zéro, une anti-peinture, une sorte de retour à un primitivisme, les grottes?

Antoni Tàpies – Il y a des moments où l’on a une espèce de nécessité à revenir aux origines ; chercher les choses les plus essentielles.

M.B. – L’art irait au-delà de l’image qu’on a de l’art, ce serait une attitude, un objet de connaissance, la vie elle-même?

Antoni Tàpies – C’est tout cela à la fois. Un sage hindou disait : »Avoir la connaissance sans une éthique, c’est un déséquilibre ». Et, à l’envers, avoir une éthique sans connaissance est quelque chose qui ne marche pas.

M.B. – L’art pour vous n’est pas une chose banale ou innocente, vous avez écrit : « Le moindre graffiti sur un mur s’il est justifié par un fait humain… »

Antoni Tàpies – C’est assez difficile à préciser ; je voudrais, que ce que je fais, soit quelque chose d’utile pour le genre humain. S’il n’y a aucune utilité, ça ne m’intéresse pas. L’art pour l’art, c’est une chose purement esthétique que je ne me propose jamais. Quand je fais un tableau, je crois travailler pour les autres et s’il devient beau, c’est malgré mes intentions ; et souvent il devient beau, je ne sais pas pourquoi, c’est la dernière chose que je me propose de faire. Pourtant, j’ai peint des excréments, un homme en train de faire ses besoins!

Peut-être que derrière tout ça il y a l’intention de montrer que ces choses que l’on prend pour laides, sont belles. Je suis avant tout un intuitif, je ne réfléchis jamais à tout cela.

M.B.- Ce qui frappe dans votre œuvre, c’est le répertoire assez limité des signes. Je n’en vois pas, qui depuis le début, aient été abandonnés ; pourtant il y a dans vos œuvres, un renouvellement constant.

Antoni Tàpies – Je suis conscient de cela. J’aime avoir mes « sellos », une empreinte à moi. Je trouve que ça aide le spectateur. Quand on voit un de mes tableaux, on sait qu’il y a derrière tout mon travail, on peut ainsi mieux comprendre l’œuvre jusqu’à sa signature. D’ailleurs, je trouve que les artistes qui marquent l’œuvre de leur signature c’est bien, qu’elle soit là, visible, bien présente.

M.B. – Comment utilisez-vous ces signes et symboles qui semblent parfois venir de la nuit des temps, ont-ils une signification précise?

Antoni Tàpies – C’est une chose très instinctive. Je me laisse emporter par ce qu’on nomme le goût. Quelque chose me plait, lorsqu’elle représente une certaine force en moi, je fais un signe, je marque cette impression. Quelque fois je les transforme beaucoup, certains d’entre eux sont très recherchés, je corrige, modifie, j’insiste jusqu’à trouver le signe exact qui me plait. Mais je n’ouvre jamais un dictionnaire de signes, au contraire, lorsqu’ils sont connus je préfère les éviter.

M.B. – En fait c’est quoi le tableau pour vous?

Antoni Tàpies – C’est pour moi un objet, ça a été toujours comme ça depuis le début. J’appartiens à une génération à qui on a dit qu’un tableau n’était pas une copie de la réalité.

M.B. – Par le choix de vos couleurs et vos matières, ne refusez-vous pas une certaine réalité du monde d’aujourd’hui avec ses couleurs éclatantes et ses technologies?

Antoni Tàpies – Je m’efforce à ce que mes couleurs soient spirituelles. Celles de la publicité me perturbent par leurs excès.

M.B. – Vous disiez que sans choc il ne peut y avoir d’art, donc l’art doit bouleverser.

Antoni Tàpies – C’est pour cela que j’ai toujours défendu la personnalité de l’artiste. Il doit conquérir son vocabulaire propre. Avec un langage sans originalité, il ne peut y avoir aucun choc.

M.B. – Si le tableau est objet, que sont pour vous les choses délaissées que vous vous réappropriez en les intégrant à vos œuvres et qui, comme des statues africaines sont « chargées » ?

Antoni Tàpies – J’ai toujours voulu faire d’un tableau, un objet de magie qui pourrait influencer ceux qui le regardent, comme un talisman. Cela fait partir de ce que l’on disait auparavant sur l’art de vivre. Il faudrait sacraliser et transformer en objets mystérieux toutes ces petites choses d’usage quotidien. Qu’on voit tous les mystères de l’univers concentrés dans une petite tasse, un verre. Ce n’est pas une nouveauté, tous ceux qui ont fait des natures mortes ont du y penser. Pendant des siècles on a dit qu’il y avait des objets qui étaient artistiques et beaux. C’est comme dans la poésie, on emploie toujours les grands mots poétiques alors qu’il est possible de créer une autre poésie à partir des choses les plus simples. Pour moi, les grands maîtres de la poésie sont ceux des Haïkus japonais.

M.B. – Le dépouillement et une certaine austérité qui baignent vos œuvres sont-ils cette recherche du vide propre à la philosophie du Bouddhisme Zen qui influença certains artistes occidentaux tels les abstraits expressionnistes américains.

Antoni Tàpies – Si vous avez étudié et pratiqué cela, vous savez comme il est difficile de parler de ces choses. L’idée du vide est une chose similaire à celle que nous occidentaux avons de l’absolu. Ce n’est pas le rien, c’est une espèce de matière de base qui constitue toute la nature.

M.B. – Votre manière de travailler ne serait-elle pas proche de celles de ces moines bouddhistes qui après une longue contemplation libèrent en quelques gestes avec le pinceau et l’encre, toute la quintessence d’un paysage?

Antoni Tàpies – C’est un peu ça. Il faut le dire avec beaucoup de modestie, car me comparer à un moine zen !!! Avant de peindre, je me promène ; pas dans un paysage mais dans l’atelier, très longtemps, parce que j’ai constaté qu’une promenade rythmique dans ce lieu excite beaucoup mon imagination. Je pense que ce doit être similaire à la méditation.

M.B. – Avez-vous expérimenté, déjà, une pratique de méditation?

Antoni Tàpies – Jamais, jamais. J’adore le Japon mais j’ai horreur de ces pratiques. J’aurais trop peur de ne pouvoir revenir en arrière, comme l’apprenti sorcier ! En fait, je n’ai pas besoin de ces choses. Peut-être que nous, artistes, nous nous réalisons plus facilement que les autres. Je n’ai pas besoin de faire une méditation, mon travail y pourvoit, car un tableau est un objet de méditation qui ouvre la porte et peut vous illuminer comme une religion ; c’est la même finalité, trouver la voie du salut, « una via de salvacion ».

M.B. – Votre peinture se détache-t-elle du temps, c'est-à-dire, est-elle sans age, ou alors une trace de son temps?

Antoni Tàpies – Toutes ces choses sont mélangées, j’aime à la fois être de mon temps et faire des choses durables.

M.B. – On connaît votre combat contre l’oppression qui a étouffée votre pays et particulièrement la Catalogne fièrement opposée au franquisme ; lorsque vous peignez les quatre barres rouges du drapeau Catalan, est-ce un geste politique ou esthétique?

Antoni Tàpies - C’était un moment de ma vie, de ma carrière dans les années soixante et soixante dix. On commençait à tolérer quelque peu le drapeau catalan, je l’ai utilisé souvent car avant nous devions le faire secrètement. Je faisais quatre barres symboliques, comme dans cette toile que vous connaissez peut-être où les quatre barres rouges forment les sillons d’un champ. Nous avons passé sous Franco des moments qui tuaient notre façon de nous exprimer culturellement. Nous devions le faire an tant qu’artistes mais aussi éduquer les gens pour qu’ils comprennent ce que nous faisions. Pour moi, ces deux choses sont inséparables. En ce qui me concerne, on m’a parfois refusé le permis d’exportation pour des tableaux qui étaient des hommages à Garcia Lorca, ou Miguel Hernandez, poète communiste mort en prison.

La liberté, comme la démocratie, c’est un but lointain que l’on ne peut jamais atteindre, un idéal. Il faut lutter chaque jour, travailler et trouver des sujets qui font référence à cette lutte pour la liberté, parce qu’il y a toujours des choses à gagner.


Edwards + Johann, Self portrait: Landscape # 1 & 2, 2009. Photo Courtesy of Edwards + Johann.

Edwards + Johann

Interviewed by Philip Auslander

Edwards + Johann are Dr. Victoria Edwards, a New Zealand-born artist, and Ina Johann, who emigrated from Germany to New Zealand. They have worked together in Christchurch, NZ since 2007. Dr. Warren Feeney, Director, Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand commented in 2009:“The work is conceptually rigorous and resolute in its integration of ideas, processes and materials. In particular the work of both artists gives primacy to the exploration and testing of ideologies about the making of art, in practices that are grounded in the detail and activities of the environment in which they work, socialize and live.”  

Tell us a bit about how you came together, since each of you also has an established career on her own?

We met in the 90’s in an arts education environment just after Ina and her husband immigrated to New Zealand. We shared many senior student critique sessions and engaged in collaborative institutional exchange/exhibition projects both nationally and internationally.

We both left teaching around the same time to work full time in our practice. Responding to the isolation artists invariably feel in studio bound practice; we decided to support each other with discussion and feedback sessions on the work we produced as individuals. We were also interested to extend our sphere of activity, as we had both previously collaborated with artists, writers, musicians and poets.

What is the relationship between your collaborative works to each of your individual practices? What do you get from working together that you don’t get from individual projects?

Edwards + Johann is a sub brand, related but separate. We also operate as individuals and have done so for many years. The creative collaborative overlap formed from the aggregate of our individual practices, creates a new energized space of potential. 1+ 1= 3. Collaborative energy and activity raises interesting questions around sole authorship and the ‘singular creative genius’.

Our collaboration allows us to each work to our strengths and is based on ‘ludic’ play and process. Humor is an essential aspect of our engagement. All-inclusive critical discussion is embedded in the development and production of our work together. Cut through is spontaneous and direct enabling us to compact the work development time and free us to give attention to the per formative, interactivity and residency aspects of the collaboration. We challenge and inspire each other.

Could you say a bit more about the specific imagery and motifs that arise in your collaborative graphic work, and perhaps a bit more about how two people go about creating graphic works together?

Our collaborative practice is like a research laboratory. We do site/subject related research, share experiences, throw ideas around, and immerse ourselves in the diversity of the material. We assess our visual note taking and start making stuff.

These layers of activity and engagement feed into processes like drawing and printmaking. Imagery is drawn from a diverse range of sources (including our performative activities, found materials and other graphic mark-making from our individual mark-making repertoires). We both have a background in printmaking from way back, which we believe, for us, translates into a like minded approach to visual activity.

What is the relationship of the performance and installation work to your collaborative work in other media? Are they all aspects of a single general project or do you use different media to get at different things?

Performative activity is one of the methodologies we use to explore, define and activate a site/space. Our interventions mark it (as a dog spots), record it, engage with it and personalize it. We harness the tension created in and around our body dynamics and the site as we perform. We bring in other elements (e.g. string/tape/objects) and engage with them so they become part of the action creating an inter-active drawing in space. In a public performance, these devices draw the audience in and blur the boundaries between the observer and the observed, work and life.

Yes, we agree different media do deliver different things. We fluently work between media and our diverse work processes feed into each other. It is a fluid process of investigation and always includes drawing in its broadest sense, yet we often start with performance activities and still photography. The project framework influences the process, but the work directs its outcome.

As a fan and scholar of popular music I find your use of song titles from the 60’s intriguing. In part because they speak of certain aspects of the work you do together (in part, of the tension of collaboration) but also in part because of the cultural associations they evoke. Please comment.

Our titles can be an eclectic mixing and matching, re-takes, much like dj-ing.

References in them allude to the breadth of our research and often touch on a particular aspect of the project.

For example the title for a show in Auckland/NZ in August 2009: I’ll be your mirror – one of us cannot be wrong [the first phrase is the title of a song by the Velvet Underground, the second of one by Leonard Cohen—ed.] (Gilles Bouquillon referred to it in his video piece), links us to individual as well as collaborative enterprises past and present. The series of photographic parings are like duets, where we both play an individual part, yet the visual language in each diptych creates a third space.

I’d like to ask another question about this. Anyone who knows popular music recognizes these titles as references to rather iconic figures: Nico, the Velvet Underground (and, by extension, Andy Warhol and Lou Reed), and Leonard Cohen, as well as the North American music scene of the mid-1960s. What do these cultural evocations mean to you, or are you primarily attracted to the implications of the phrases themselves?

We are aware of all these references. They of course potentially open up another framework and cultural context. In this particular body of work it’s the implications of the phrases themselves (and their historical reference to forms of collaborative practice.

Since our readers can see your online performance at Château de Padiès please tell us something about it, its themes, imagery and genesis. It seems closely related to other work you’ve done. Is it a performance you have done before or is it site specific or portable? What specific meanings did it take on in that specific performance context?

The Padiès performance was a unique, site-specific piece and was a culmination of our month long residency at Château Padiès. It could be viewed as a summing up of the day’s energies and focus. It was a thank you to all present; homage to Denis Piel and Elaine Merkus for the fantastic time we spent together sharing ideas, intense work related discussions, rich and elaborate meal times and much laughter.

Our materials to construct costuming for the two characters were sourced from local Emmaus outlets and various Vide Greniers [similar to garage sales or flea markets—ed.] in the area, which we pillaged. The elements for the performance were all there: the audience, the performers E+J and the installation Notations on a visit: Ghost and Hydrangeas in the attic. Vintage historic postcards were dealt interventions and gifted to audience participants during the performance. Brushes and other anthropomorphic objects were crafted from local materials harvested during our residency and became part of the installation. For example, the materials for the sack characters on the floor in the space we retrieved form the attic, were printed with the name Lilly Fabre (the second of only three owners of the Château since 1209). This performance facilitated connectivity. It linked us all in a very human way and gave us all a collective, lived experience.

Given that your collaboration is relatively new, where do you see it going? What projects do you plan to undertake in the near future and what are your aspirations for the work you do together?

In 2010 our focus is on international residency and exhibitions opportunities secured to date. We will return to Padies in May 2010 for an exhibition and continue on to Scotland where we have been invited by the Scottish council to be the International artists in residence for the month of June. We will also present a workshop and talk about our collaborative work. New work will be generated from these experiences, which in turn will generate further engagement. After all it is the fundamental nature of our practice and the potential for engagement is huge.

Curiosity and interest in our collaborative work continues to grow. No doubt this will lead to all sorts of opportunities we cannot imagine at this point in time. Our work raises more questions than it does answers. Edwards + Johann is about being human and living in this world. We celebrate and explore difference. We engage – expose - connect.


Philip Auslander is the Editor of The Art Section.