239 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

239 Things

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: When people ask me, “Who is your public?” I say honestly, without skipping a beat, “Ross.” The public was Ross. The rest of the people just come to the work.

Ross Lalock was Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ partner. When the doctor diagnosed Ross with HIV, he assessed his ideal weight to be at175 pounds. Portrait of Ross is precisely that: 175 pounds of candy collected into a mound. By the invitation to take one of the candies, the viewer becomes part of the work and becomes more than simply a viewer. Every morning, the mound is replenished until it’s back at its ideal weight.

These candies are not only a representation of Ross’s weight, but also one of his struggle against the illness. HIV emaciates its patient, but the weight of the soul remains the same and allows for the patient to carry on, day after day.

Each day, the work risks being reduced to absence as the mound dwindles to nothing and no candies are left, in which case the viewer would be responsible for the lack of an artwork. And every day, Gonzalez-Torres plays this game with his audience, allowing them to decide the form of his work. With his work, art becomes fluid and in movement, but also in constant risk of disappearing.

A black and white photo of an empty bed with two pillows. A slept in bed. This is the artist’s own bed. The image was exhibited at the Projects Gallery at the MOMA, as well as on twenty-four billboards around the city of New York: Second Avenue and East 97th Street in Manhattan and Third Avenue and East 137th Street in the Bronx. None of these places were related to the art world of museums, galleries, and collectors. The number, twenty-four, relates to the date on which Ross died.

With Gonzalez-Torres’ sparse and tranquil photograph, the barrage of images that overwhelm New York pedestrians was temporarily paused. No text was supplied to explain the text. And there was no intention, as other billboards typically have, to lure the passerby into buying something. It was nothing more than a photograph of an empty bed with two pillows and a crumpled sheet. An image of private space manifesting itself within public space.

Gonzalez-Torres’ decision to refrain from showing Ross’ image can be seen as a political act. Typically for that time, depictions of AIDS denoted a discerning breach between the homosexuals and the heterosexuals. The sick homosexuals and the healthy heterosexuals. Gonzalez-Torres refuses to depict Ross. With his billboard, Untitled, he depicts the invisibility of the gay community. But he refuses to place himself in opposition to the dominant population, as Robert Mapplethorpe was doing. Gonzalez-Torres invites the viewer, regardless of their sexual preference.

Gonzalez-Torres: Go to a meeting and infiltrate and then once you are inside, try to have an effect. I want to be a spy, too. I do want to be the one who resem­bles something else [….] We have to restructure our strategies [….] I don’t want to be the enemy anymore. The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack.

But Gonzalez-Torres also uses other strategies to include absence in his work. By allowing the viewer to take a part of his work, he plays with the role of the artist and the role of art. The role of the artist as designer, the role of the artwork as form. His work displays and art that is not static, but susceptible to constant change.

Gonzalez-Torres: Go to a meeting and infiltrate and then once you are inside, try to have an effect. I want to be a spy, too. I do want to be the one who resem­bles something else [….] We have to restructure our strategies [….] I don’t want to be the enemy anymore. The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack.

To what extent is it his work?

Gonzalez-Torres:Perhaps between public and private, between personal and social, between fear of loss and the joy loving, of growing, changing, of always becoming more, of losing oneself slowly and the being replenished all over again from scratch. I need the viewer, I need the public interaction. Without the public these works are nothing. I need the public to complete the work. I ask the public to help me, to take responsibility, to become part of my work.


A conversation with Maziyar Pahlevan

The work by Iranian artist Maziyar Pahlevan (1983) is strongly characterised by the suggestion of absence, missing, and/or lacking, like in the omission of the mountaintops in the series Peakless Mountains, the absence of an opponent in the photo montage series The Wrestler (opponentless,) and even more explicitly in his typographical work, We decided not to be invisible anymore. During our conversation it swiftly becomes apparent that the suggested absence isn’t something merely plucked from the air, and is greatly rooted in the disappearance that preceded the life of the artist; an inglorious and vanished period in the life of his predecessor, a past that has left no trace. Within the mystification of this undocumented period of his father’s life, Maziyar finds the source for his fascination with art.

How did you end up in the arts?

“My father used to study fine art in Italy. This was before I was born, before he’d even mert my mother. Family, friends, and acquaintances often tell me of how talented and driven he was as a young artist. But at a certain point, he stopped his studies and returned to Iran. He found a job and his life took a wholly different turn. In fact, he abruptly broke his ties to art and never mended them. I’ve never seen anything from his active period because he kept. Drawing, and with that, art, was only a temporary thing for him that he only practiced during a specific period of his life, of which no evidence exists.

That’s why I was always so curious about it. I always wondered what it was, the drawing, and art.

I also started very early. In high school I taught my fellow classmates how to draw, and later I studied graphic design at the university of Teheran. However, art education in Iran is much more conservative, and graphic design mostly involved the designing of posters. Since my arrival here, I’ve completely detached myself from my schooling in Iran and who I was there. It’s only here where my work really began.”

What was it about that vanished period in your father’s life that ignited your curiosity?

“You have to understand that family life is vastly different in Iran. Bonds are very close. That’s why it speaks for itself that children become like their parents and live similar lives. In that context, it would have been normal if I had turned into a copy of my father.

I think that my work is partially psychological because I’m trying to understand the exact nature of my relationship with my father. When it comes to my father, I can’t help but ask myself: where did the art go? How could it just have vanished? I felt like I had to search for something that he had lost.

That’s probably also the reason why I love documentation. I document everything that I do, so that it won’t fall into oblivion, and so that I won’t fall into oblivion.”

Do you find it important that he understands what you’re doing now?

“I try to keep my family informed on what I do. This is something I do out of respect, so that they understand how I spend my time. They probably won’t understand the content of my work. They don’t have to.”

Which mountains are depicted in the series Peakless Mountains?

“They’re the Iranian Alborz mountains. Mountains are extremely important in the Iranian landscape. In poetry they’re a recurring theme. I gave them a comical twist. It seems like the image is saying that we have mountains, but no mountain tops. The post-produced images are grainy because I chose to use low-quality images.

In essence, it’s a very simple image of a mountain without tops, and a man holding a stick, ready to punish. I’ve used the same man in another image and stuck him multiple times in a circular pattern, as though he’s punishing himself. A teacher punishing his student or a father punishing his son… This is very common in Iranian culture and I’ve seen it often. Generations before me have experienced this and next generations will witness it. It’s a pattern of repetition.

The man holding a stick in the Peakless Mountains series must be seen in relationship to the unchanging mountains that I placed in the same image. It’s so deeply rooted within our culture that it’s impossible to ignore, let alone change. You can make a poster of it and hang it on the wall. That’s all you can do about it.”

One of the typographical works in your graduation show was titled We decided not to be invisible anymore. Which “we” are you referring to?

“The ‘we’ first and foremost refers to myself. I use the plural form of the first person to speak of myself and through myself. This, too, is a cultural thing. The first person plural allows me to talk about myself, to show myself, without explicitly using the I-form. It’s a position that allows me to be invisible and visible at the same time. This desire resurfaces in the piece of clothing I designed: cloth for first person plural. When I wear the white robe, I’m unrecognisable. But still, it grants me the ability to still be presenting the work, like in the King of Voracity video in which I wear the piece. I’d like to continue my research into the area of implicit visibility in my future work.