»We consider our life and our work as a great adventure.«
Usually fellows take the bus 92 or a house-bike to explore Solitude’s surroundings and the city life of Stuttgart. Paris based artists Magali Daniaux and Cédric Pigot are on motorbike. As current fellows of the new program NetworkGrant – an initiative by former fellows – they often cross the borders of Solitude to dive into the Stuttgart’s underground scene, hosting extensive events in the Waggons. In their work, Magali and Cédric are challenging boundaries. Before they came to Solitude in May 2015, they worked in extreme cold regions on political climate and geostrategic issues, which led to an exhibition at Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris. Here at Solitude in studio #20, they are focusing on a new project based on the idea of creating archaeological anomalies with wood shipped from Solitude to Alaska.
Marte Kräher: Magali & Cédric, you are the first fellows of the NetworkGrant. What is for you the idea of this new program, and in what moment of your artistic activities did you arrive here at Solitude?
Magali Daniaux & Cédric Pigot: The NetworkGrant is an initiative by former fellows Demian Bern and Konstantin Lom. All the former fellows are invited to propose the name of an artist whose research or work they think could benefit a residency at Schloss Solitude. Our name was proposed and we were invited to send our application. We were chosen by a jury composed by Elke aus dem Moore (head of the visual arts department at the IFA – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) and Sinethemba Twalo (independent curator, author, and artist).
The timing was just perfect for us; at this time, we were preparing our exhibition at Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris after four years of research in the Arctic of the northern Norwegian/Russian border and in Svalbard, and we thought that the residency at Solitude would allow us the perfect context to think about what would be next for us.
MK: Your previous works like Arctic Tactics or Devenir Graine deal mainly with climate change, economic, and geostrategic issues and food management. How did you come to your interest in these topics?
MD & CP: Well, it’s a long story, and normally we just gave the short version but the process is of some interest here. So, here is the story. In one of our short stories called Stilpark, there is this scene where some film producers stuff themselves with DHEA petits fours looking at Final Melt, the 24h/7 TV channel that live broadcasts the melting of the ice cap. We thought that it could be great to make it true. We decided to display a video station in front of the biggest glacier in the world, the Illulissat Glacier (UNESCO world heritage site) in Greenland and film for 100 years its disappearance. We needed expertise and lot of people to help us. For example, we needed energy expertise and cash to run the first expedition to Greenland. We had a meeting with the head of sponsorship department at Gdf-Suez and we knew that they had the energy expertise that we needed because they were involved in the construction of the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica station. We were told that they could not be involved in a project like ours because it was much too pessimistic since our project came with no solution, only observing the disappearance of the Illulissat Glacier. Doing nothing was not a part of their PR image! This is a company that likes to think that it brings solutions to the world! So, this guy completely missed the poetry of the project, its beauty, and this is the very moment where we started to be interested in places in the world where climate change is more a synonym of economic development, of wealth.
Kirkenes, on the northern Norwegian/Russian border is this kind of area. It’s a strategic point along the Barents Sea. With the melting of the ice cap, there is now new opportunities for commercial shipping to Asia and the Barents Sea is the biggest unexplored reserve in Europe for fossil fuels. We started by attaching a webcam device to a TV antenna, pointing towards the city in the harbor in order to document the urban and industrial development of the city, the traffic in the fjord. Our series of texts Cyclone Kingkrab and Piper Sigma was written at this time and published by Hilde Methi in the book, Hotel Polar Capital1.
We came back few months later, in February 2011, to cover the Barents Spektakel organized by Pikene på Broen. The Barents Spektakel is a gathering of artists, economists, and architects invited to think about the future of the Arctic. Ministers, ambassadors, and diplomats were there – even the Queen. We produced Arctic Tactics for the national state radio France Culture. Arctic Tactics is a sonic immersion into political, geostrategic, and urban issues of the contemporary Arctic.
Kirkenes is at the edge, a periphery, and these places will be of great interest in the near future because it is at the periphery that we produce energy and also food. We heard about a weird survivalist initiative in Svalbard, The Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It’s a seed bank. There are seed banks all around the world but this one keeps a copy of all the seeds for food from all around the world, it’s a back-up, built to resist even a nuclear attack and funded by agribusiness stakeholders and foundations related to the »new green revolution.« The information on this facility was confused, and we decided to see if for ourselves. That is the starting point of Devenir graine (becoming seed) that ended with an exhibition in Kirkenes during the Barents Spektakel in 2013 and at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in 2014.
MK: In your works, you often combine sounds, music, visuals, performances, texts, and sometimes even scents. What are you searching to express by combining very different media?
MD & CP: We are two, with different practices. So, from the beginning it appeared very natural for us to combine them in our work. It also depends on what we are working on. For instance, SEED – where we exhibited a scent in a container in the town square of Kirkenes – came about because a scent with its non-visuality and abstraction was the perfect medium to share the fact that we never really entered the Seed Vault. It was the perfect medium to share a non-experience. Actually, it’s not really the combination that we are interested in, but more where media collide, the liminality. It’s also a way to create new excitement in our work, to renew it by initiating collaborations with different skills, as for instance the nose we have worked with on the scents, or developers for our online works. Performance is crucial to us, the direct link with the audience gives us a lot of energy.
MK: You’ve been working together for 14 years. How do you both work and develop projects together?
MD & CP: We can’t really answer this question. It’s a kind of symbiosis. We live together, we work together, we love each other. We consider our life and our work as a great adventure. That’s all that you need to know.
MK: Here at Solitude, you are currently planning a project in Alaska. Can you tell us more about this project, its main idea and how you are proceeding?
MD & CP: Last year, we were invited by Julie Decker, director of the Anchorage Museum, to develop projects in Alaska for the Polar Lab Program. We spent 15 days traveling above the Arctic Circle in Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow, following the Week of the Arctic (political gathering to prepare the US chairmanship of the Arctic Council) and meeting families and whale hunters, thanks to Allison Warden a wild artist, performer, and activist. Alaska is very different from the Arctic we experience; the Inuit culture is very lively, the political layer very different. We have worked for more than four years on political and geostrategic issues in the Arctic, and this time we wanted to work on the landscape, to integrate the work in our own poetry and cosmogony. We had a crush on Kotzebue, a little town that lies on a gravel spit. Around it, just the flat tundra.
Part of our project is to create an archaeological anomaly. In the forest near Solitude, we bought a tree. It’s a beech (Fagus Sylvatica); this species doesn’t exist in Alaska. We will ship the wood to Kotzebue in order to light-up a wood fire. Two archaeologists and a anthracologist (a coal expert) from Nice/France have made a breakthrough: with a coal from a fire, they can define the species and have some clue of the nature around at this time. They can date it, but now they are also able to define the use of the fire: if it was for light, for dry meat, for a steam bath, or for a ritual. This work is a turn towards the future, its time is of the Earth, a geological time. We rely on some archaeologists to find this trace in the future and wonder what happened. Afterwards, we will collect the ashes that will be pressed into a record vinyl. This record will be played during the exhibition. Side A, a poem with music; Side B, an electronic composition made with on-site field recordings.
The other project is more aggressive with the landscape. We have seen what permafrost looks like for the first time in Kotzebue. It looks like very compacted gray dust. With the climate change becoming warm, if you dig a hole in the tundra, because the permafrost is melting, after a while you will create a pond, and after few years a lake. We will dig a hole in the tundra of Kotzebue in order to create a lake. It’s a process sculpture. It is also very personal. Since the beginning of our collaboration, we kind of classify our works: Drohobycz is related to money, power, coercion, post-apocalyptic environments; Lait frelaté (impure milk) is related to chemical, colors, a kind of dark psychedelia, escape, or mind control; and now, there is Lac (lake). For 14 years, we were not able to really define Lac, but we know that it was related to magic; we like the idea of a surface like the door to an incredible and scary hidden world, a mystery. So, we will dig this hole and create Lac. In this way, we will define the origin of our common work 14 years after it started in this place, in Kotzebue. We like very much that these two projects are about moving things, moving wood from Stuttgart to Kotzebue, moving the soil from the hole in Kotzebue to the museum of Anchorage.
MK: Would you agree that bringing together very different people is important for you and your work? Can you talk about the events realized at Solitude/Stuttgart?
MD & CP: You surely are referring to the events at Waggons and in the woods. Actually, it’s more a question of sharing moments across practices.
For the event at Waggons, we invited four artists, musicians, hackers, and activists as part of the French experimental music scene to perform with us (Yiking Operators, BCK/NMKB) and also a crazy duo from Stuttgart (Erkan Baran & Cello Nero) that has really fired the dance floor. So, the first part was more mental and the second especially designed for your body. It was a success, we ended up attracting between 500 and 600 people!
The session in the woods was for pure selfish pleasure; listening to music in nature is great!! That event was for Solitude people. We invited all the fellows to participate and the program was rich and diverse: guitars improvisation and dance performance, experimental electronic live set, the diffusion of a quadraphonic sound piece, a talk about technologies and capitalism, diffusion of field recordings in zoo with animal screams, and a screening.
MK: What are your plans for your last weeks in Stuttgart and the time after?
MD & CP: Right now, we are preparing our performances for the 25 year anniversary of Akademie Schloss Solitude, le Bip de l’âme and 19 Miracles. Then we will make sure that the wood is well shipped to Alaska, and finishing the proofreading of the last issue of our publishing house Éditions Supernova. We are very proud of this one: it’s an essay by Manuela de Barros on magic and technology.
For a few months, we have initiated a collaboration with Sylvie Pouteau from INRA (the French institute of research in agriculture). She is a geneticist who is now focusing her researches on vegetal ethic. We can tell you that she is an alien among the INRA research community!! Our common project, PLANTS, is a multimedia project that proposes a thought about the artificial containment of plants and their disconnection with natural cycles in connection to climate change. Built on a philosophical and ethical research, we intend to create an entirely new aesthetic language that corresponds to the originality of the plant life, an open world that is beyond ordinary space-time which tries to offer a unique view of planetary evolution. We are searching for funds, and we have already passed the first selection for a 50,000 Euros grant. The second step, an interview, is planned for August 26. We’re crossing our fingers
Then we fly to Alaska !!!!
1. Hotel Polar Capital, Accounts from the Sami Art Festival, Edited by Hilde Methi and Kristin Tårnesvik