The art collective Apparatus 22, former Solitude fellows for design, operates between Bucharest, Brussels, and Turin. For an insight into their studios, they invited three curators from the three cities to discuss their work and thoughts. Find an interview by the Bucharest-based curator Sandra Demetrescu in this post and also take a look behind the scenes in Brussels and Turin.
Apparatus 22 are currently curators and jurors for the third Schlosspost web residencies under the title »SUPRAINFINIT: L’Avenir redux«. All creatives – visual artists, musicians, writers, scientists, etc. – are invited to apply with all possible formats until October 21, 2016 to expand the Suprainfinit universe with ideas, fantasies, and manifestoes for rituals, dreams, exchanges, objects, energies, knowledge, and new words for other futures. Find all information here.
Studio Visit in Bucharest by Sandra Demetrescu
I met Apparatus 22 at the 2013 edition of the Venice Biennale, where they were exhibiting Portraying Simulacra, in one of two shows representing Romania that year (Reflection Centre for Suspended Histories. An Attempt, curated by Anca Mihulet). Their piece was an intriguing diamond-shaped object and, hidden behind it, a space where visitors could participate in a digital questionnaire revolving around ideas of fashion, economics, fake, and the afterlife with an undertone of questioning the various manifestations and meanings of the image at large. A few weeks later Erika, Maria, and Dragos arrived in Venice and after some in-depth discussions I became acquainted with the practice of Apparatus 22.
What I always found fascinating about their work is this element of »magic«. Although it’s not a term easily embraced by, let’s say, an art critic, I still think it works as a starting point in describing (as well as in the process of perceiving) their installations: behind (always carefully crafted) objects that show themselves with ease and impress themselves upon the viewer, lies a complex construct of sometimes elusive and mysterious notions paired with a very clear process of critical thinking.
The end results range from playful appearances – like the performance series sporting huge confetti raining over Museums Quartier in Vienna – to deeply unsettling ones, such as Disco Punch, an overwhelming series of installations balancing lightness and darkness they dedicated to the former member of the group, late Ioana Nemes.
There’s a red thread (or, better said, a whole network of issues and concerns) that spans across the works produced by Apparatus 22, as well as throughout their other projects. It’s never predictable though.
SD: You started working as Apparatus 22 in 2011. Before that, you had a fashion label, Rozalb de Mura, and a not-for-profit organization add, directed towards the young art scene.
All these projects are somehow organically intertwined and growing out of each other, could you tell me a little more about this transformation?
A22: At times, there are (or were) even more initiatives we’ve been involved in – a rather complex, almost schizoid, architecture for thinking and doing, nevertheless very clear for us. Even when they function in parallel, each initiative is focused on a certain niche, with a certain approach and different speed – but indeed, they are supporting and feeding each other with resources, experiences, and knowledge.
Apparatus 22 coming into existence in January 2011 was a longer process initiated approximately one year prior. At that time, we were running a progressive fashion label, Rozalb de Mura (2005 – 2011 together with Olah Gyarfas and Rita Ferencz), but for a series of reasons we were not very happy to be working in the fashion system any longer. It was the time we spent at IASPIS in Stockholm in autumn 2010 with artist Lisa Torell that made us realize we’d like to work further with fashion but in a very different way. We put an end to Rozalb and started Apparatus 22 and aimed to explore the intricate relationships between fashion and economy, politics, gender studies, social movements, and religion in order to better understand contemporary society.
Apparatus 22 was initiated as a collective of four, but in a heartbreaking twist of fate we lost our dearest friend Ioana Nemes (she had her own brilliant artistic practice for already a decade at that time) and carried on as a trio although it was hardcore and we were so lost.
We are currently involved in a couple of other work configurations: Dragos is working on a set of projects with the KILOBASE BUCHAREST moniker for a gallery he started with Ioana, and from this year onward continued with you, Erika and Dragos are running add, an NGO based in Bucharest working since 2002 as a support organization for various young artists and cultural initiatives, Apparatus 22 and Kilobase included.
SD: We are now at the add headquarters, which serve as your studio, a space which is always open (at least when you’re in Bucharest), functioning as a meeting place and almost a public library. It’s sort of a mini think tank, and many projects started right here.
How important is the studio for your practice and are we talking about this specific place or do you tend to »build« a studio around you wherever you are?
A22: »Headquarters« sounds grand and solid – it’s a small three-room apartment in a block of flats in Bucharest that we turned into our cocoon. We’ve been working there long hours since 2005.
Back then, there was only one shelf of books but over the years a couple of thousand books, a sea of objects, and materials and countless packages mysteriously accumulated all over the place.
add is indeed a place for countless encounters. We tried to keep it very open and welcoming. Besides the visits to our library and other work we’ve been doing, there were numerous times when curators used the space to meet artists from Bucharest who don’t have studios, or when people working in different fields got together here. While putting together the photos for the interview, we realized once again how bad we are at documenting in general; in this case of collective flux too.
It functions as a semi-public »add knowledge library«, mini-office, and right in the middle of our chill out/meeting room, there is our Apparatus 22 studio – roughly about three square meters.
In spite of this, most of the works we have done are quite large in size, and for that sometimes, more often than not, we needed to expand and either took over the whole lobby of the eighth floor (courtesy of our neighbors, who kindly pretend not to see the mess we usually make), or squeezed in the attic of Maria’s place, or found some other temporary solutions.
This lack of space also means that most of the times we discuss and brainstorm, we research and imagine a lot before actually making works. It’s not a very studio-based practice as usually we arrive at a sharply defined idea before starting the proper production.
SD: Do you feel like it’s some sort of a spatial prerequisite or is the studio a fluid structure, a way of (net)working, at times even a mood that could be adapted anywhere?
A22: We first let ideas, dreams, and energies pool. Therefore, in our practice thinking and discussing are as important as doing. It must be the fact that we work as a collective. It must be that we don’t have a proper studio space.
We nailed this way of working, and it functions even when we are in different cities.
There is little place for mistakes though; talking so much about things means we only keep ideas we really like. Also, we can’t afford to produce something we don’t believe in 100%.
We tried the other way around when we had the opportunity – in Solitude, working on our Positive Destruction series of painted objects or in Brussels where we have a room to test some ideas and to experiment with several materials like glass wool, steel wire, various textiles we found here, etc. Many things will never see the limelight, yet by trial and error we learned a lot and advanced with some ideas we would have never thought of otherwise.
Even if for us studio is more of a mood – we can call a table our studio, or a library, any room, or even the notebook – we do have a sketch of an ideal studio space: It has to be large, very high, with wide windows and perfect light, a long table for dinners. Pretty much like the studio our friend Farid Fairuz had at ADK in Berlin plus a great library, and a fine sound system.
As add got really full of things, more recently all the gatherings of more than 5-6 people are happening at CIRCA 1703 – 3071, a place we love, the studio-cum-wonder box filled with vintage design pieces of our architect friend Laura Paraschiv. She made us feel like the hosts of her place.
SD: And what about the public mission of this kind of »studio-and-more-space«?
Do you sometimes feel the need to work in a more secluded space, to separate the work for Apparatus 22 a bit and the other layers that gravitate around it?
A22: A space that would allow both concealing work in progress and a vivid social layer would be perfect for us.
We don’t really like to show works that are not finished, not even in the studio. We do that of course with very close friends or when it is something for a project in co-production and we have to show some progress.
On the other hand, to open a context for discussions and for exchanging ideas with other artists, curators and other participants in the art ecosystem and beyond is paramount.
We remember the first time we spent in Solitude.
We didn’t work on anything palpable although those dream-like studios were under our feet. We were depressed with the loss of Ioana and felt more like reading and discussing.
Then smoothly, we turned our studio into a meeting place, very much around eating. It often happened that there were a dozen of people in one of our studios gathered there spontaneously. It felt like having a sphere of luminous energy, abstract and imaginative; and truly real.
SD: In your latest exhibitions, you embrace some sort of trinity idea, be it through a recurrent cluster of themes or as a building and structuring principle for your recent works.
And then there’s also this overarching, even more mysterious notion of the »SUPRAINFINIT«.
Can you elaborate on these developments?
A22: Although in most of our works there is analytical energy and research poured into them, we do get around in an intuitive manner. The recent more prominent appearance of the number three in our practice is a direct consequence of us working as a trio, surfacing in different ways.
Certain works include more perspectives on the same topic, incorporating a view that each of us finds valid, as in Portraying Simulacra when we plunge into the pervasive universe of fake or in AS GOOD AS GOLD – a sort of trivalence of multiple alternative stances, not necessarily in opposition but also in parallel or intersecting. Besides respecting each other’s opinions within the collective, sometimes we agree to disagree. We decide there’s no need to arrive to one single conclusion; we are interested in augmenting multiplicity and the positive frictions and new transparencies brought by rupture.
Other times, it is a direct reflection of working three-as-one, like in the Infinite Contractions installation, featuring a leather flag for three people, and The Elastic Test series of appearances, which activate the installation. A manifesto about finding solutions for things that look unsolvable and impossible, about searching for balance, about unbalancing and rebalancing again because of the large and heavy flag and the trio configuration moving in silence demands intuitive coordination and strength, both emotional and physical.
In other works there is an attempt to capture the emotional and mystical ramifications of the number three, like in the TRINITY, TRIANGLE, THREESOME installation, which unveils and obscures in turns the fluidity, purity, and aggression of desire in relation to religion, sexuality, and science.
Some day, we might coin a proper term for this polymorphous exploration of three as a comprehensive afterthought. We’ve been told about similar yet very different approaches to »three« in the works of Raqs Media Collective or Paul Ryan, and to discover other contributions on the topic is something on the homework list.
SD: What about SUPRAINFINIT?
A22: SUPRAINFINIT is a rather lateral development in our practice, nonetheless very meaningful.
In short, it is a kind of new universe, a Utopian container for empowering thoughts on identity, economy, politics, spirituality. It might look at first like a sort of mirror reflection of our own universe, but the resulting image is full of asymmetries, indeterminate in size, a low-budget construct with a touch of atmospheric grandiosity that fantasy brings. After all, we are trying to expand beyond the infinite, mimicking on the surface the current logic but bringing a state of non-resemblance in how it works.
We started working on SUPRAINFINIT upon reflection on a number of aspects. One of them is related to us trying to critically navigate the present and the context of ferocious capitalism with a frail flag of hope.
SUPRAINFINIT is definitely not an alternative, but an experimental thinking process about how things could be if we infuse in a post-religious-orders-as-we-know-them, post-drugs, post-chronological, post-capital world more empathy and lots of hope and optimism in criticality.
Another thing that we realized is that we love to baptize things – sometimes doing this even as a job, but mostly for courageous friends – and embrace polysemy and we thought of putting this at work to imagine SUPRAINFINIT as a celebration of »l’avenir,« the most exhilarating of all possible futures, as Derrida put it.
A bold shelter for non-linear narratives on the future, SUPRAINFINIT would be slowly built on accrued thoughts of many other collaborators and contributors, a making-of world occasion in fact to bring back some new ideas to this world.
Talking about bringing back into real world some thoughts, we plan to give some of those ideas to different people interested in nurturing them on their own, to loosen control on them. Almost right at the beginning with SUPRAINFINIT, we offered our good friend Suzana Vasilescu that she use it as the name of her gallery as we felt we share a fascination for unknown futures.
The game of such overlapping between the SUPRAINFINIT fictional world and someone else’s understanding and use of the term oozes potential and it was an easy decision to take – a work that is a universe that is a name that is a work again.
SD: What shape is SUPRAINFINIT taking?
A22: SUPRAINFINIT has been a cloud coagulating in our imagination for more than a year, amorphous and luminous. We found the call for the web residencies at Akademie Schloss Solitude the perfect opportunity to start revealing and solidifying it publicly in a collaborative and unexpected manner beyond the circle artists we already know or have in mind as potential collaborators.
In the following months we will drop in several pieces functioning as preludes: a series of hymns celebrating SUPRAINFINIT – one of them, voiced by the enigmatic Diane Pernet, will be unveiled in the upcoming exhibition at Laboratorio del dubbio in Turin, another hymn infused with youthful thrill and produced with sound artist Sillyconductor will circulate from December on; a website built in-between spaces of information and creation of fiction will surface following a research time at Blank in Bergamo later in the fall; also, some of our ping-pong of ideas with artist/designer Otilia Mihalcea will turn into something vivid and palpable later this fall.