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Schweizer Pavillon


An inter­view with Fran­ces­co Stoc­chi, cura­tor of the Swiss Pavilion
by Fran­ce­s­ca Interlenghi

A jour¬≠ney back in time, which flows back and forth bet¬≠ween ritu¬≠al and rhythm, an inter¬≠play of har¬≠mo¬≠nies and dis¬≠so¬≠nan¬≠ces imbued with sce¬≠nes of imper¬≠ma¬≠nence and cathar¬≠sis. The¬≠se are just some of the sug¬≠ges¬≠ti¬≠ons around which the offe¬≠ring of artist Lati¬≠fa Echakhch, com¬≠mis¬≠sio¬≠ned by Pro Hel¬≠ve¬≠tia, the Swiss Foun¬≠da¬≠ti¬≠on for Cul¬≠tu¬≠re, to repre¬≠sent Switz¬≠er¬≠land at the 59th Venice Bien¬≠na¬≠le Inter¬≠na¬≠tio¬≠nal Art Exhi¬≠bi¬≠ti¬≠on, has been shaped. The pro¬≠ject entit¬≠led ‚ÄěThe Con¬≠cert‚Äú was con¬≠cei¬≠ved and rea¬≠li¬≠sed in col¬≠la¬≠bo¬≠ra¬≠ti¬≠on with the per¬≠cus¬≠sio¬≠nist and com¬≠po¬≠ser Alex¬≠and¬≠re Babel and the cura¬≠tor Fran¬≠ces¬≠co Stoc¬≠chi. It is an explo¬≠ra¬≠ti¬≠on of the won¬≠der and sur¬≠pri¬≠se that over¬≠turns the defi¬≠ni¬≠ti¬≠on of the known and the unknown. ‚ÄěWe want the audi¬≠ence to lea¬≠ve the exhi¬≠bi¬≠ti¬≠on fee¬≠ling like they do when they are lea¬≠ving a con¬≠cert. To make them feel an echo of this rhythm, of tho¬≠se frag¬≠ments of memo¬≠ry,‚Äú says the artist.

Born in 1974 in El Khn¬≠an¬≠sa (Moroc¬≠co), Lati¬≠fa Echakhch lives and works in Vevey and Mar¬≠tigny (Switz¬≠er¬≠land). Using her mul¬≠ti¬≠face¬≠ted approach which embraces pain¬≠ting, sculp¬≠tu¬≠re and instal¬≠la¬≠ti¬≠ons, she inves¬≠ti¬≠ga¬≠tes the con¬≠tra¬≠dic¬≠tions and ste¬≠reo¬≠ty¬≠pes pre¬≠sent in our socie¬≠ty, the the¬≠mes of memo¬≠ry and migra¬≠ti¬≠on, by trans¬≠forming objects and mate¬≠ri¬≠als from ever¬≠y¬≠day life, tur¬≠ning them into important car¬≠ri¬≠ers of iden¬≠ti¬≠ty, histo¬≠ry and mytho¬≠lo¬≠gy. Cele¬≠bra¬≠ted inter¬≠na¬≠tio¬≠nal¬≠ly, after gai¬≠ning many expe¬≠ri¬≠en¬≠ces all over the world, after win¬≠ning the Mar¬≠cel Duch¬≠amp Pri¬≠ze in 2013 and pre¬≠sen¬≠ting ‚ÄěScreen Shot‚Äú in 2015 at the Muse¬≠um Haus Kon¬≠struk¬≠tiv in Zurich, for which she was award¬≠ed the Zurich Art Pri¬≠ze, Echakhch now returns to the Venice Bien¬≠na¬≠le ‚Äď she has pre¬≠vious¬≠ly par¬≠ti¬≠ci¬≠pa¬≠ted in the 54th edi¬≠ti¬≠on ‚Äď with her cur¬≠rent pro¬≠ject pre¬≠sen¬≠ted joint¬≠ly with cura¬≠tor Fran¬≠ces¬≠co Stocchi.

Fran¬≠ce¬≠s¬≠ca Inter¬≠lenghi: ‚ÄěThe Con¬≠cert‚Äú is a pro¬≠ject that speaks with seve¬≠ral voices; one might say it is poly¬≠pho¬≠nic, as the¬≠re are dif¬≠fe¬≠rent motifs that inter¬≠act in a way that, while each pre¬≠ser¬≠ves its own iden¬≠ti¬≠ty, all car¬≠ry the final melo¬≠dy tog¬≠e¬≠ther. Can you tell me how you approa¬≠ched this very important event from a curator‚Äôs point of view?

Fran¬≠ces¬≠co Stoc¬≠chi: It is cer¬≠tain¬≠ly an inte¬≠res¬≠t¬≠ing pro¬≠ject becau¬≠se it is dif¬≠fe¬≠rent from any other work I have done befo¬≠re. That is why I call it inte¬≠res¬≠t¬≠ing, becau¬≠se if the¬≠re is one dan¬≠ger in our pro¬≠fes¬≠si¬≠on it is that of get¬≠ting trap¬≠ped in a repro¬≠duc¬≠ti¬≠ve, not to say repe¬≠ti¬≠ti¬≠ve, loop. The¬≠re is a risk of beco¬≠ming for¬≠mu¬≠laic. Ins¬≠tead, I use the term inte¬≠res¬≠t¬≠ing pri¬≠ma¬≠ri¬≠ly becau¬≠se, at an ope¬≠ra¬≠tio¬≠nal level, we are in an unpre¬≠ce¬≠den¬≠ted situa¬≠ti¬≠on: the¬≠re are four of us and the meta¬≠phor of a musi¬≠cal band descri¬≠bes it well. The¬≠re is a lead sin¬≠ger, Lati¬≠fa Echakhch, and we, around her, each play a dif¬≠fe¬≠rent role, which dif¬≠fers from the usu¬≠al nomen¬≠cla¬≠tu¬≠re of cura¬≠tor or pro¬≠du¬≠cer and so on. It is a pie¬≠ce of work crea¬≠ted by a group with the clear inten¬≠ti¬≠on of crea¬≠ting the artist‚Äôs pavi¬≠li¬≠on, but it is a syn¬≠er¬≠gi¬≠stic uni¬≠on. In terms of con¬≠tent, we all admi¬≠re what Echakhch is try¬≠ing to do. The Venice Bien¬≠na¬≠le is an important stage that she is using to crea¬≠te some¬≠thing new and unex¬≠pec¬≠ted, some¬≠thing that was pro¬≠ba¬≠b¬≠ly pre¬≠vious¬≠ly hid¬≠den and that was per¬≠haps wai¬≠ting for the right oppor¬≠tu¬≠ni¬≠ty to mani¬≠fest its¬≠elf. But no one would have gua¬≠ran¬≠teed the result. In recent years, the artist has offe¬≠red us a new kind of pain¬≠ting that has been wide¬≠ly wel¬≠co¬≠med by both cri¬≠tics and the public and, fol¬≠lo¬≠wing this trend, many would have expec¬≠ted her to exhi¬≠bit this type of work in this con¬≠text too. Ins¬≠tead, Echakhch deci¬≠ded not to use the pavi¬≠li¬≠on as a podi¬≠um to pre¬≠sent and cele¬≠bra¬≠te hers¬≠elf but rather to use it as an oppor¬≠tu¬≠ni¬≠ty to do some¬≠thing com¬≠ple¬≠te¬≠ly new, both in terms of the lan¬≠guage and medi¬≠um used. We‚Äô¬≠re tal¬≠king about music! Which she has always been pas¬≠sio¬≠na¬≠te about but this is a first from the point of view of her being a crea¬≠tor and it may open up a new chap¬≠ter in her life.

FI: The term ‚Äěnew‚Äú is fre¬≠quent¬≠ly used to cha¬≠rac¬≠te¬≠ri¬≠se this pro¬≠ject. A defi¬≠ni¬≠ti¬≠on that does not suit set¬≠tings like fairs or insti¬≠tu¬≠ti¬≠ons like this one, as they have been shown in the past to be places that are rather unli¬≠kely to wel¬≠co¬≠me inno¬≠va¬≠tions and expe¬≠ri¬≠men¬≠ta¬≠ti¬≠on. New descri¬≠bes not only some¬≠thing that has never been done befo¬≠re but also some¬≠thing that is unex¬≠pec¬≠ted. Can you tell me about it?

FS: The way in which the artist looks at the Venice Bien¬≠na¬≠le is new: not as a con¬≠se¬≠cra¬≠ti¬≠on of the inte¬≠res¬≠t¬≠ing things pro¬≠du¬≠ced so far but as a start¬≠ing point for a new begin¬≠ning. And I think that‚Äôs wort¬≠hwhile. This pro¬≠ject sum¬≠mons the new and the unknown in a way that puts us all on the same level, and it is this that I con¬≠sider admi¬≠ra¬≠ble when I think of the artist, regar¬≠ding the way in which she has deci¬≠ded to deal with an event like this. Espe¬≠ci¬≠al¬≠ly in recent years, we have been wit¬≠nessing a sort of stan¬≠dar¬≠di¬≠s¬≠a¬≠ti¬≠on in pro¬≠duc¬≠tion and lan¬≠guage per¬≠haps and in part due to a gene¬≠ra¬≠ti¬≠on that is tired of words being put in their mouth but also due to an excess of infor¬≠ma¬≠ti¬≠on that we are all expe¬≠ri¬≠en¬≠cing in real time, and this makes being ori¬≠gi¬≠nal arti¬≠fi¬≠ci¬≠al. The¬≠r¬≠e¬≠fo¬≠re, the new its¬≠elf is beco¬≠ming a dif¬≠fi¬≠cult exer¬≠cise. The young artists whom I fol¬≠low regu¬≠lar¬≠ly tend to do new things not becau¬≠se they are fee¬≠ling like it but as a reac¬≠tion. And this is how, by wan¬≠ting to be ori¬≠gi¬≠nal at all cos¬≠ts, you end up being like ever¬≠yo¬≠ne else becau¬≠se ever¬≠yo¬≠ne is try¬≠ing to be ori¬≠gi¬≠nal. For the¬≠se reasons, I find a pro¬≠ject like ‚ÄěThe Con¬≠cert‚Äú, which is so cha¬≠rac¬≠te¬≠ristic in both form and aes¬≠the¬≠tics, that risks doing some¬≠thing new at such an event, wonderful.

FI: It seems to me that, in addi­ti­on to being new, the ques­ti­on of its timing is ano­ther cru­cial ele­ment. On the one hand, becau­se ever­y­thing flows back­wards, from the bright light of the day to the pre­vious evening. On the other becau­se, just as hap­pens at a con­cert, the pro­ject tri­es to trans­port the spectator’s sen­ses bey­ond the time of the event, bey­ond the space of the pavi­li­on, into frag­ments of their memory.

FS: When the artist asked me to accom¬≠pa¬≠ny her on this adven¬≠ture, she said: ‚ÄěI only know one thing: I would like the audi¬≠ence to come out of the pavi¬≠li¬≠on fee¬≠ling like they do when they are lea¬≠ving a con¬≠cert.‚Äú This was our start¬≠ing point, and we then work¬≠ed back¬≠wards. This was the only base¬≠line we had ‚Äď a rather poe¬≠tic base¬≠line, I would add. Thus, Echakhch‚Äôs reflec¬≠tion was deve¬≠lo¬≠ped not so much based on what to do or what to show but on how she would like the audi¬≠ence to feel after visi¬≠ting the exhi¬≠bi¬≠ti¬≠on. Shif¬≠ting her atten¬≠ti¬≠on to the audi¬≠ence meant ques¬≠tio¬≠ning what is left behind in their memo¬≠ry, sup¬≠port¬≠ing an idea of cathar¬≠sis that the spec¬≠ta¬≠tors expe¬≠ri¬≠ence at the very moment when they are enjoy¬≠ing the event but, abo¬≠ve all, that they take with them. This was the start¬≠ing point and I must say it was some¬≠thing new, also first and fore¬≠most for the artist. Going back¬≠wards means start¬≠ing by con¬≠fron¬≠ting hope and desi¬≠res, to con¬≠front the desi¬≠re for what has been and what you want to hold on to. Hope for what isn‚Äôt the¬≠re. Or again, always going back¬≠wards, a hope for one‚Äôs past? I can give you no ans¬≠wers, due to the ext¬≠ent that the lay¬≠ers overlap.

FI: I would like to return to the topic of the public, who I think are given a role here that is not only pas¬≠si¬≠ve, as spec¬≠ta¬≠tors, but an acti¬≠ve one, as the acti¬≠va¬≠tors of the work. I would like to ask you if it is pos¬≠si¬≠ble, and to what ext¬≠ent, to descri¬≠be the pro¬≠ject as par¬≠ti¬≠ci¬≠pa¬≠to¬≠ry art.

FS: The pro­ject is par­ti­ci­pa­to­ry not to the ext­ent that the view­er is asked to com­ple­te the work but becau­se the work only works with the public’s par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on. In other words, a pavi­li­on with pain­tings requi­res the pavi­li­on to func­tion even in the absence of an audi­ence. But here, just like at a con­cert, you need the audience’s pre­sence. The view­ers are not asked to act, to par­ti­ci­pa­te in the crea­ti­on of the work but their being the­re, their heart­beat, their foot­s­teps on a crea­king flo­or are neces­sa­ry. Moreo­ver, while having visu­al access to the works via a writ­ten order and a rhyth­mic sequence of lights, the audi­ence enters into a silent nar­ra­ti­ve lin­ked to an orchestra­ti­on. This is ano­ther inte­res­t­ing par­ti­ci­pa­to­ry element.

FI: Tal¬≠king about the public it is thus not a stretch too far to speak about bodies and their meta¬≠mor¬≠pho¬≠sis. This is the broad the¬≠me cho¬≠sen by Ceci¬≠lia Ale¬≠ma¬≠ni, cura¬≠tor of this edi¬≠ti¬≠on of the Venice Bien¬≠na¬≠le for the exhi¬≠bi¬≠ti¬≠on entit¬≠led ‚ÄěIl lat¬≠te dei sogni‚Äú [The Milk of Dreams].

FS: Is this becau­se this is the spi­rit of our time? Would you say that bodies are an important part of the con­cert? Would you say that we use the body as a way for us to enga­ge the public? All of the sen­ses are acti­va­ted through sen­sa­ti­ons of heat, noi­se and sound. Not to men­ti­on that the woo­den sculp­tures them­sel­ves crea­ted by the artist repre­sent parts of the body: the­re are heads, ears, frag­ments. In fact, the­re is some very important work to be done around the body, and it is cer­tain­ly an inte­res­t­ing topic to address nowadays.

FI: What works are on dis­play in the pavi­li­on? And how is it structured?

FS: The­re are a series of woo­den sculp­tures that bor­row from the folk­lo­re style of car­ni­vals, who­se burnt, black wood crea­tes a resis­tance to the light. From dawn to dark­ness. The rou­te is struc­tu­red as a jour­ney that moves back­wards, as if, at the end of a con­cert, you were moving back­wards through the night you have had. The loss of light accom­pa­nies this bur­ning of the wood and leads into the final room which forms the cen­tral space and is com­ple­te­ly dark. Here, the­re are other lar­ge sculp­tures illu­mi­na­ted by a sequence of lights, who­se move­ment and rhythm resem­bles that of a spe­ci­al­ly writ­ten music. The sound, howe­ver, is not heard, it is not a trans­la­ti­on of notes into light in the man­ner of Par­reno, for exam­p­le. Rather, they are lumi­nous beams that allow one to direct one’s gaze towards the unb­urnt sec­tions of the sculp­tures, i.e. tho­se that are less blackened.

FI: The pro¬≠ject enters into a dia¬≠lo¬≠gue with the buil¬≠ding desi¬≠gned by Bru¬≠no Gia¬≠co¬≠metti in 1951 ‚Äď a space cha¬≠rac¬≠te¬≠ri¬≠sed by pre¬≠cise spe¬≠ci¬≠fi¬≠ci¬≠ties, which you had to deal with.

FS: It tur­ned out that we nee­ded to inte­gra­te the pecu­lia­ri­ties of a space which was crea­ted to accom­mo­da­te art and which was only secon­da­ri­ly desi­gned to hold a coll­ec­tion of the various artis­tic medi­ums. The Swiss pavi­li­on is the only one with a front wall that deli­mits the exter­nal exhi­bi­ti­on space from that of the gar­dens. A wall that defi­nes an insi­de and an out­side space and that alre­a­dy in its­elf forms an indi­ca­ti­on of the path. It is also repres­ents a spe­cial archi­tec­tu­ral con­text, the non plus ultra of moder­nism. So com­bi­ning this almost ste­reo­ty­pi­cal image of moder­nism with the idea of an explo­si­on, of bur­ning and the voca­bu­la­ry of the car­ni­val and its eph­emeral floats, I belie­ve, is a sti­mu­la­ting under­ta­king that allows us to con­sider the con­trast bet­ween uto­pi­as and dreams, bet­ween the moder­nist uto­pia and dreams of the carnival.

FI: You have descri­bed this pro­ject to me making refe­rence, even lin­gu­i­sti­cal­ly, to its popu­lar appeal. You are tel­ling me about con­certs, car­ni­vals, floats. How does this fit in with the idea of art and the Art Biennale?

FS: What are pavi¬≠li¬≠ons if not a suc¬≠ces¬≠si¬≠on of floats set out in a sequence? And what is the Bien¬≠na¬≠le if not a book in which each pavi¬≠li¬≠on acts as if it were a page to be per¬≠used and loo¬≠ked at one after the other? We have explo¬≠red this idea, the con¬≠text and uni¬≠que pecu¬≠lia¬≠ri¬≠ties that the Venice Bien¬≠na¬≠le pres¬≠ents. Becau¬≠se bey¬≠ond the importance and pre¬≠do¬≠mi¬≠nan¬≠ce of the event its¬≠elf, I was inte¬≠res¬≠ted from a curator‚Äôs point of view in under¬≠stan¬≠ding how this pro¬≠ject could be inscri¬≠bed in a sort of car¬≠ni¬≠val, whe¬≠re the¬≠re is an idea of suc¬≠ces¬≠si¬≠on and of the gene¬≠ral public, a recur¬≠rence and a coll¬≠ec¬≠ti¬≠ve visi¬≠on that is never abso¬≠lu¬≠te but rela¬≠ti¬≠ve, in the sen¬≠se that the pavi¬≠li¬≠ons are very often per¬≠cei¬≠ved in com¬≠pa¬≠ri¬≠son to each other and not as enti¬≠ties in their own right. Just like for a con¬≠cert, I wan¬≠ted this to trans¬≠la¬≠te into a secu¬≠lar and not reli¬≠gious¬≠ly artis¬≠tic expe¬≠ri¬≠ence. On an inter¬≠pre¬≠ta¬≠ti¬≠ve and cri¬≠ti¬≠cal level, it means intro¬≠du¬≠cing art into socie¬≠ty. Becau¬≠se, as beau¬≠tiful as it is, it is not a world that is sepa¬≠ra¬≠te from the rest. It is some¬≠thing that is drawn from life.

FI: Final­ly, what do you expect from this experience?

FS: To tell the truth, I don‚Äôt know what to expect. No one can know until the last minu¬≠te what is going to hap¬≠pen, and I like that very much. I expect, per¬≠haps, that the risk taken, the choice to tread a new path, can also high¬≠light the Biennale‚Äôs func¬≠tion as a bridge: a gui¬≠de towards what can be rather than an unders¬≠coring of what has been. How we can take a step for¬≠ward, wron¬≠gly or right¬≠ly, towards some¬≠thing dif¬≠fe¬≠rent, an attempt at tomor¬≠row rather than a con¬≠fir¬≠ma¬≠ti¬≠on of what has been in the past. I intend to work orga¬≠ni¬≠cal¬≠ly with this con¬≠text that is dif¬≠fe¬≠rent from all the others, which is why it is here. In fact, ever¬≠y¬≠thing was pro¬≠du¬≠ced on site and ever¬≠y¬≠thing will end here. The sculp¬≠tures were made on site with mate¬≠ri¬≠als recy¬≠cled from pre¬≠vious Bien¬≠nia¬≠les and will not be trans¬≠por¬≠ted else¬≠whe¬≠re. What hap¬≠pens in Venice stays in Venice. Exact¬≠ly like a con¬≠cert, at the end of it the stage is dis¬≠mant¬≠led and ever¬≠y¬≠thing goes back to the way it was befo¬≠re. And like at a con¬≠cert, I hope to dance until dawn.

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