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Schweizer Pavillon


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

A jour­ney back in time, which flows back and forth bet­ween ritu­al and rhythm, an inter­play of har­mo­nies and dis­so­nan­ces imbued with sce­nes of imper­ma­nence and cathar­sis. The­se are just some of the sug­ges­ti­ons around which the offe­ring of artist Lati­fa Ech­akhch, com­mis­sio­ned by Pro Hel­ve­tia, the Swiss Foun­da­ti­on for Cul­tu­re, to repre­sent Switz­er­land at the 59th Veni­ce Bien­na­le Inter­na­tio­nal Art Exhi­bi­ti­on, has been shaped. The pro­ject enti­t­led „The Con­cert“ was con­cei­ved and rea­li­sed in col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with the per­cus­sio­nist and com­po­ser Alex­and­re Babel and the cura­tor Fran­ces­co Stoc­chi. It is an explo­ra­ti­on of the won­der and sur­pri­se that over­turns the defi­ni­ti­on of the known and the unknown. „We want the audi­ence to lea­ve the exhi­bi­ti­on fee­ling like they do when they are lea­ving a con­cert. To make them feel an echo of this rhythm, of tho­se frag­ments of memo­ry,“ says the artist.

Born in 1974 in El Khn­an­sa (Moroc­co), Lati­fa Ech­akhch lives and works in Vevey and Mar­ti­gny (Switz­er­land). Using her mul­ti­fa­ce­ted approach which embraces pain­ting, sculp­tu­re and instal­la­ti­ons, she inves­ti­ga­tes the con­tra­dic­tions and ste­reo­ty­pes pre­sent in our socie­ty, the the­mes of memo­ry and migra­ti­on, by trans­forming objects and mate­ri­als from ever­y­day life, tur­ning them into important car­ri­ers of iden­ti­ty, histo­ry and mytho­lo­gy. Cele­bra­ted inter­na­tio­nal­ly, after gai­ning many expe­ri­en­ces all over the world, after win­ning the Mar­cel Duch­amp Pri­ze in 2013 and pre­sen­ting „Screen Shot“ in 2015 at the Muse­um Haus Kon­struk­tiv in Zurich, for which she was awar­ded the Zurich Art Pri­ze, Ech­akhch now returns to the Veni­ce Bien­na­le – she has pre­vious­ly par­ti­ci­pa­ted in the 54th edi­ti­on – with her cur­rent pro­ject pre­sen­ted joint­ly with cura­tor Fran­ces­co Stocchi.

Fran­ce­s­ca Inter­lenghi: „The Con­cert“ is a pro­ject that speaks with several voices; one might say it is poly­pho­nic, as the­re are dif­fe­rent motifs that inter­act in a way that, while each pre­ser­ves its own iden­ti­ty, all car­ry the final melo­dy tog­e­ther. Can you tell me how you approa­ched this very important event from a curator’s point of view?

Fran­ces­co Stoc­chi: It is cer­tain­ly an inte­res­ting pro­ject becau­se it is dif­fe­rent from any other work I have done befo­re. That is why I call it inte­res­ting, becau­se if the­re is one dan­ger in our pro­fes­si­on it is that of get­ting trap­ped in a repro­duc­ti­ve, not to say repe­ti­ti­ve, loop. The­re is a risk of beco­m­ing for­mu­laic. Ins­tead, I use the term inte­res­ting pri­ma­ri­ly becau­se, at an ope­ra­tio­nal level, we are in an unpre­ce­den­ted situa­ti­on: the­re are four of us and the meta­phor of a musi­cal band descri­bes it well. The­re is a lead sin­ger, Lati­fa Ech­akhch, and we, around her, each play a dif­fe­rent role, which dif­fers from the usu­al nome­n­cla­tu­re of cura­tor or pro­du­cer and so on. It is a pie­ce of work crea­ted by a group with the clear inten­ti­on of crea­ting the artist’s pavi­li­on, but it is a syn­er­gistic uni­on. In terms of con­tent, we all admi­re what Ech­akhch is try­ing to do. The Veni­ce Bien­na­le is an important sta­ge that she is using to crea­te some­thing new and unex­pec­ted, some­thing that was pro­bab­ly pre­vious­ly hid­den and that was perhaps wai­t­ing for the right oppor­tu­ni­ty to mani­fest its­elf. But no one would have gua­ran­te­ed the result. In recent years, the artist has offe­red us a new kind of pain­ting that has been wide­ly wel­co­med by both cri­tics and the public and, fol­lowing this trend, many would have expec­ted her to exhi­bit this type of work in this con­text too. Ins­tead, Ech­akhch deci­ded not to use the pavi­li­on as a podi­um to pre­sent and cele­bra­te herself but rather to use it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do some­thing com­ple­te­ly new, both in terms of the lan­guage and medi­um used. We’­re tal­king about music! Which she has always been pas­sio­na­te about but this is a first from the point of view of her being a creator and it may open up a new chap­ter in her life.

FI: The term „new“ is fre­quent­ly used to cha­rac­te­ri­se this pro­ject. A defi­ni­ti­on that does not suit set­tings like fairs or insti­tu­ti­ons like this one, as they have been shown in the past to be pla­ces that are rather unli­kely to wel­co­me inno­va­tions and expe­ri­men­ta­ti­on. New descri­bes not only some­thing that has never been done befo­re but also some­thing that is unex­pec­ted. Can you tell me about it?

FS: The way in which the artist loo­ks at the Veni­ce Bien­na­le is new: not as a con­se­cra­ti­on of the inte­res­ting things pro­du­ced so far but as a star­ting point for a new begin­ning. And I think that’s worthwhile. This pro­ject sum­mons the new and the unknown in a way that puts us all on the same level, and it is this that I con­si­der admi­ra­ble when I think of the artist, regar­ding the way in which she has deci­ded to deal with an event like this. Espe­cial­ly in recent years, we have been wit­nessing a sort of stan­dar­di­sa­ti­on in pro­duc­tion and lan­guage perhaps and in part due to a genera­ti­on that is tired of words being put in their mouth but also due to an excess of infor­ma­ti­on that we are all expe­ri­en­cing in real time, and this makes being ori­gi­nal arti­fi­cial. The­re­fo­re, the new its­elf is beco­m­ing a dif­fi­cult exer­cise. The young artists whom I fol­low regu­lar­ly tend to do new things not becau­se they are fee­ling like it but as a reac­tion. And this is how, by wan­ting to be ori­gi­nal at all cos­ts, you end up being like ever­yo­ne else becau­se ever­yo­ne is try­ing to be ori­gi­nal. For the­se rea­sons, I find a pro­ject like „The Con­cert“, which is so cha­rac­te­ris­tic in both form and aes­the­tics, that risks doing some­thing 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 accom­pa­ny her on this adven­ture, she said: „I only know one thing: I would like the audi­ence to come out of the pavi­li­on fee­ling like they do when they are lea­ving a con­cert.“ This was our star­ting point, and we then worked back­wards. This was the only base­li­ne we had – a rather poe­tic base­li­ne, I would add. Thus, Echakhch’s reflec­tion was deve­lo­ped not so much based on what to do or what to show but on how she would like the audi­ence to feel after visi­t­ing the exhi­bi­ti­on. Shif­ting her atten­ti­on to the audi­ence meant ques­tio­ning what is left behind in their memo­ry, sup­por­ting an idea of cathar­sis that the spec­ta­tors expe­ri­ence at the very moment when they are enjoy­ing the event but, abo­ve all, that they take with them. This was the star­ting point and I must say it was some­thing new, also first and fore­mo­st for the artist. Going back­wards means star­ting by con­fron­ting hope and desi­res, to con­front the desi­re for what has been and what you want to hold on to. Hope for what isn’t the­re. Or again, always going back­wards, a hope for one’s past? I can give you no ans­wers, due to the extent that the lay­ers 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 pas­si­ve, as spec­ta­tors, but an acti­ve one, as the acti­va­tors of the work. I would like to ask you if it is pos­si­ble, and to what extent, to descri­be the pro­ject as par­ti­ci­pa­to­ry 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: Tal­king about the public it is thus not a stretch too far to speak about bodies and their meta­mor­pho­sis. This is the broad the­me cho­sen by Ceci­lia Ale­ma­ni, cura­tor of this edi­ti­on of the Veni­ce Bien­na­le for the exhi­bi­ti­on enti­t­led „Il lat­te dei sogni“ [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 pro­ject enters into a dia­lo­gue with the buil­ding desi­gned by Bru­no Gia­co­met­ti in 1951 – a space cha­rac­te­ri­sed by pre­cise spe­ci­fi­ci­ties, 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 pavi­li­ons if not a suc­ces­si­on of floats set out in a sequence? And what is the Bien­na­le if not a book in which each pavi­li­on acts as if it were a page to be per­used and loo­ked at one after the other? We have explo­red this idea, the con­text and uni­que pecu­lia­ri­ties that the Veni­ce Bien­na­le pres­ents. Becau­se bey­ond the impor­t­ance and pre­do­mi­nan­ce of the event its­elf, I was inte­res­ted from a curator’s point of view in under­stan­ding how this pro­ject could be inscri­bed in a sort of car­ni­val, whe­re the­re is an idea of suc­ces­si­on and of the gene­ral public, a recur­rence and a collec­ti­ve visi­on that is never abso­lu­te but rela­ti­ve, in the sen­se that the pavi­li­ons are very often per­cei­ved in com­pa­ri­son to each other and not as enti­ties in their own right. Just like for a con­cert, I wan­ted this to trans­la­te into a secu­lar and not reli­gious­ly artis­tic expe­ri­ence. On an inter­pre­ta­ti­ve and cri­ti­cal level, it means intro­du­cing art into socie­ty. Becau­se, as beau­ti­ful as it is, it is not a world that is sepa­ra­te from the rest. It is some­thing that is drawn from life.

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

FS: To tell the truth, I don’t know what to expect. No one can know until the last minu­te what is going to hap­pen, and I like that very much. I expect, perhaps, that the risk taken, the choice to tread a new path, can also high­light the Biennale’s func­tion as a bridge: a gui­de towards what can be rather than an unders­co­ring of what has been. How we can take a step for­ward, wron­gly or right­ly, towards some­thing dif­fe­rent, an attempt at tomor­row rather than a con­fir­ma­ti­on of what has been in the past. I intend to work orga­ni­cal­ly with this con­text that is dif­fe­rent from all the others, which is why it is here. In fact, ever­ything was pro­du­ced on site and ever­ything will end here. The sculp­tures were made on site with mate­ri­als recy­cled from pre­vious Bien­nia­les and will not be trans­por­ted else­whe­re. What hap­pens in Veni­ce stays in Veni­ce. Exact­ly like a con­cert, at the end of it the sta­ge is dis­mant­led and ever­ything goes back to the way it was befo­re. And like at a con­cert, I hope to dance until dawn.

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