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 Turin-based curator Clara Madaro in this post and also take a look behind the scenes in Brussels and Bucharest.
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 Turin by Clara Madaro
When I first saw an Apparatus 22 exhibition, I never imagined I would meet the members of the collective a few months later in my native city. I nevertheless had a hint that knowing them would have significance for me. The time spent with Apparatus 22 in Turin while they attended the residence Bivaccourbano_R at Progetto Diogene was quite relevant in clarifying important art issues and in comprehending their work.
I think art has the role of criticizing different social worlds, analyzing their linguistic, behavioral, affective, and bio-political structures, creating new social realities through artistic work, intertwining relations between various types of knowledge and producing objects that are able to embody research and push thoughts, feelings, and actions beyond habitual schemes. All these roles could be summarized in the concept of performativity of art. The art is not a representation of reality but the production of reality and this feature is shared with many fields of human action.
Vision has an essential role in the performativity of art. In Apparatus 22’s research this is never forgotten, be it in their public and informal talk, in their open studio or in their exhibitions.
Their entire practice seems to project a world that works following a different set of rules. The system of social, linguistic, psychological, bio political, aesthetic institutions is temporarily suspended in a world modified by their artistic interventions.
Paraphrasing what Foucault wrote in the Microphysics of the Power, the task of an artist is to shake the habitual, the artistic habitual included. That is the most valuable achievement by Apparatus 22 during their time spent in Turin. Slices of our life are being returned to us enriched with their vision that has the power to transfigure our experience of art.
CM: Do you think that contemporary art is a space and time to reshape knowledge, work, and social relationships? How do you deal in your travels with the differences, geopolitical or cultural, in the way such relationships are signified?
A22: We totally agree with you on the thought-provoking mission that art should have. What thrills us is to try to produce works which overlay a critical cartography of contemporary society, which give a glimpse into what is not yet visible, which instead of coloring the parameters of reality are in fact obliterating its borders.
Criticality has long been linked with negativity, with a sort of destructive acumen, with virulent climax. Upping critique to a version that has a touch of hope within has been something unexpectedly fertile for our practice – what if critique could be camouflaged in positive outfits like cuteness, or kitsch, or shininess, or even beauty, etc. to charge our consciousness in new ways?
As to your second question, traveling and working in many different cultural, political, geographical contexts represents exhilarating occasions to learn. It is also about things to avoid. When going to foreign places we need to fight our prejudices – we more or less all have them somewhere deep inside as they are lazy shortcuts our minds operate to the surface of things.
Also when traveling frequently, one has to take a sensory overload and a certain restlessness into account. Things might look the same on the surface, yet they can vary a lot even concerning basic aspects such as getting around, buying food, packaging, use of voice tone and volume, dressing codes, paying habits, etc. As workers in arts with limited means, we learned to adapt and get around easily.
We don’t have any protocols or certain prisms to operate through in understanding other cultural instances, but a genuine curiosity in being »part of.« In being »in« (as we have to be realistic about being out in the same time). Precious insights from local friends significantly expand our understanding of complex and absorbing patterns and function as a push headfirst into new facets of the world.
Looking back, it is fascinating to conclude how all our travels and attempts at understanding differences have been transforming us, slowly hybridizing our views, our ways of doing things.
CM: Your mention about critical cartography brings me to something I really appreciate in Apparatus 22’s practice: Your attention and care to the synthetic or performative task of art is emphasizing not only the authentic force of art to produce new visions or images of the world, but also the potentiality of changing reality and our approach to it. What is the role of art visions in performativity for you?
A22: It all happens in a rather uncertain territory, starting from some simple questions: How can we know? Are we able to read the world? Will our work contribute to bringing new or lateral or insightful perspectives? The questions then narrow down for each work or series.
In properly answering your question, it is worth mentioning how we got into art. Each of us in the collective has a different educational background (literature, sociology, economics, and research) and had had various professional experiences before we initiated Apparatus 22 in 2011. Although lacking a formal art education (which actually is pushing us all the time to question what we do and allows us humbleness and self-criticism), we had been working within arts for some time. As to fashion, our main topic of research and reflection, we had an amazing first experience in international fashion machinery, therefore our in-depth research has been going strong for more than a decade even if we are not active in that field anymore.
All these elements, mixed, and stirred with imagination, lots of work and joy in exploring aesthetic landscapes brought us circling around something you might call a vision.
And since we are three, and the number of dreams comes multiplied by three, it’s no wonder we become expansive. We only need a glimpse of potential to set out doing something fresh, often ending up building works of epic intensity – the neo-chapel containing 7 Uncertain Scripts, or the otherworldly immersive environment hosting Morpheus Buyback innovative gift exchange, or Portraying Simulacra – a work of encyclopedic ambitions based on more than three years of research on the recurring motif of »FAKE,« or the river project of 1000 questions on fashion.
If only we could feed on the energies and the adrenaline we get while working on our projects – the research, the discussions, the experiments, the production, the glorious moments when everything is done, the fleeting or solid times of transformation for us and others – things would be so much easier.
CM: Wittgenstein wrote: »the limits of my language are the limits of my world.« In your research, there is a really strong symmetry between the analysis and critique of languages and the analysis and critique of the social world. Besides that, the powerfully sensorial dimension of your installations is not reducible to language, and I think this is crucial to understanding your practice.
How do you project this kind of magic or transformative moments that are beyond the language?
A22: Language permeates indeed so many of our works. Nevertheless, our approach conjures something larger. The genesis of an idea and the form it takes are as important as the message and it sometimes happens to nurture an idea for years, cocooning it in the back of our minds until it springs forward into something we are all excited about.
Forms and materials or choosing the immaterial are a potent source for speculation and advancement. For example in Several Laws. The Elastic Test, the works produced in leather contain formal hints at minimalism and conceptual art, yet the presence of the work in real life, with its haptic and olfactory elements, becomes heavy due to its texts and its materiality. The cabins draped in red velvet in the Fitting Not series look familiar as blueprint-of-enhanced-reality type of luxury of store changing rooms only to become an immersive space for finding uncomfortable truths. In Folding Screen (question no 19) a closer inspection reveals that homey and warm materials is in fact glass wool made of countless sharp fibers, while the imagery on the panels hint at troubled gender politics, sexual deviances, the tyranny of trend makers. In order to turn the gaze towards the dark side of fashion system, we tried to explore the political efficacy of objects and materials coaxed out of their original use.
It is such a difficult task to pinpoint »magic,« yet remarkably appealing to try again and again to produce works that expand the mind and emotions and become truly transcendent.
CM: There are traces in your work that point to a belief in things that the eye can’t meet. There are also hints at loss or alienation of human power to objects or materials. How did you approach this important feature of human history?
A22: After we lost Ioana, we thought so much about the afterlife and other worlds. None of us is religious, yet we all hoped there was something bigger than life. Somewhere else, yet here too. However, the way we look at things is not always deadly serious. We like to sometimes use irony and humor in approaching, for example, projections of the afterlife that are usually either perfect or doomy. To think beyond the limits of what we are, to speculate about the nature of the non-human, to relinquish power and consciousness to something inanimate are concerns that surfaced in our practice.
Intuition and empathy are the righteous keys to translate into works things we can’t see. We presented an animist throw back on the death of clothing and objects in a poetic installation in a vitrine on the fanciest shopping avenue in Bucharest, or we assigned totemic power to radio objects in The Hour Broadcast and The Continuum Broadcast sound installations that talk about post-war feelings and scenarios going beyond the gender binary.
We had experiences that gave us (and the participants) countless goose bumps during the otherworldly exchange of nightmares and amulets charged with our positive energy in the Morpheus Buyback performance and installation.
While for many such things might come across as oddities, for us it is a way to reflect on our limits and on the role affect has in grasping realness and making sense of this world.
CM: Last but not least: how was your experience in Turin? Did it help in any way to deconstruct and to reconstruct your previous experiences, to disenchant and re-enchant things?
A22: We first came to Turin in 2014, when invited in the coveted section Present Future of Artissima. Apart from Diogene and the unique residency in the tram, we didn’t know much about the city. But there was something in the air; we had a hunch we would be once again visiting the place.
So it was an enormous pleasure to find out we had won the Diogene Bivaccourbano_R research residency. And indeed the experience defied all our expectations. It is an extremely professional artist run residency with a real focus on research. Meeting the artists behind it – Franco Ariaudo, Andrea Caretto/Raffaella Spagna, Manuele Cerutti, Valerio Manghi, Luca Luciano, Laura Pugno, Cosimo Veneziano – and their fascinating practices was also rewarding.
Plus wow, the experience of living and working in a vintage silver tram turned into lodging and stationed in a popular roundabout was something unforgettable: closer to the heartbeat of the city and the cycles in nature, in the middle of friendly public interest.
For Dragos especially, with his enduring fascination for all things on rails, it was like a quirky teenager dream come true.
When the cold embraced Turin, courtesy of artist Elisa Sighicelli, we moved to a very different but equally outstanding residence. Inhabiting the elegant dwelling at DuParc made us think of stories of musicians and actors living for years in hotels. No wonder one feels inspired in a place filled with works of art and facing the most beautiful park in town.
Our research in Turin has been centered on religions and sects. It was not by chance we chose this topic. We thought of possible connections to wider research we’ve been doing on religions for our Positive Destruction series when we felt a certain propensity in town for magic and mysticism, sometimes in radicalized versions.
Then came one of those weird bits of serendipity when we found an amazing private library with incredible resources to fuel our readings and thinking process. Nevertheless, our research also takes place outdoors: we are interested in obscure happenings dissolving equilibrium or in the way certain spots in towns wrestle with time. It is too early to describe the results of our findings and experiences in town, but in terms of imaginative productivity, it has been voluminous, raw, and essential.