Loris Gréaud: On and Off
Christophe Gallois interviews Loris Gréaud, an artist who manipulates and expands the art of exhibition-making. Following the showing of Cellar Door at the Palais de Tokyo, the ICA hosts the second version of the exhibition which brings together opera, architecture and black champagne
The work of Loris Gréaud develops through different levels of displacement: between fields of expertise, between references, between the studio and the exhibition space, and between various modes of presentation for the same project. After his widely discussed exhibition Cellar Door, which filled the entirety of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris from February to April 2008, this protean project has since moved to London’s ICA with the subtitle (Once is Always Twice). In this interview conducted in Paris in March 2008, Loris Gréaud and Christophe Gallois discuss the problematics at the heart of Gréaud’s work, including his use of the exhibition as production space, his approach to the studio and his notion of collaboration.
The Exhibition as Production Set
Christophe Gallois: I’d like to bring up a question at the core of your practice in general and Cellar Door in particular: the exhibition as production set. In this project, you’ve highlighted your interest in ‘what the exhibition can produce’, thus inverting the usual logic of the exhibition as an end goal into the exhibition as a point of departure. To go back to a distinction used in the project, the exhibition doesn’t function as a ‘dream machine’ but rather as a ‘dreaming machine’. Could you clarify the position of the exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in the general context of Cellar Door?
Loris Gréaud: I’m more interested in the time frame of an exhibition than in the exhibition itself. The generation of artists that emerged in the 90s showed, brilliantly, that anything can be part of an exhibition: a conference, a Thai dinner, and so on. My point of view is that today, everything can also come out of an exhibition. The exhibition is thus the period in which things become possible. I think that an exhibition dreams more than it thinks. The project Cellar Door therefore had several aspects to it: the construction of a studio in a Parisian suburb as well as a libretto, the musical score for an opera that can be played and reinterpreted in multiple forms. The exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo and at the ICA are possible interpretations of this libretto. The opera is also available on CD, and it’s going to be played at several locations across the world. The construction of the studio just began. One of the stakes of Cellar Door is that the exhibitions, the musical score, the workshop and the architecture are all facets of the same form.
CG: Your practice is based around a rather singular approach to the studio. Although the studio constitutes a central element in your production, the manner in which you approach it contrasts with the typically romantic vision of the artist’s studio, coming closer, in fact, to the model of the recording studio. Along these lines, you have expressed in the past the influence that Bruce Nauman’s ‘Mapping the Studio’ has had on your work. There are, I think, numerous similarities between the way in which you approach the studio and the way that Nauman worked with it. Starting with his first films and videos in the 60s, Nauman placed the studio at the center of his practice, conceiving of it as a space-time, like a performative space.
LG: One of the most obvious links between Mapping the Studio and Cellar Door is the idea of suspended forms and latency. The exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo can be viewed in two modes: ‘on’, from 2pm to 8pm, and ‘off’, from noon to 2pm and from 8pm until midnight. Paradoxically, the exhibition is, to my mind, more active when it’s in ‘off’ mode. When you visit an exhibition that’s been turned off, you end up projecting activity onto it. The exhibition will never be as good as it is in this mental projection. Aside from artists and curators, no one visits exhibitions outside visiting hours. To be in a silent space where the works are de-activated, however, is a very powerful experience, very imaginatively generative. To go back to Nauman and the question of the studio, one of my hopes for this project was to explore how an exhibition of this scale could transform my practice. The space we live in transforms our imagination. If this exhibition is capable of transforming my studio, then it will also transform my artistic practice.
CG: In the libretto, the studio is presented like a character. How would you describe this?
LG: An image that often comes to mind to describe the studio is a Mobius Strip, in which the interior and the exterior are part of one and the same surface. The exhibition, the notes, the architecture – all that is part of just one layout. Cellar Door is also tied to a number of significant references for the development of my practice. There is, for example, the ‘paradoxical door’, which comes from Duchamp’s apartment when he lived on rue Larrey in Paris. This door was always both open and closed: when you opened it to enter the bedroom, it closed off the bathroom; when you entered the bathroom, it closed off the studio.
CG: Another important aspect of Cellar Door, and your practice in general, is its collaborative nature. Several of your works were created in collaboration with individuals from different disciplines: architects, scientists, engineers, designers, and even musicians and art critics. The opera Cellar Door was composed by the musician Thomas Roussel, while its libretto was written by art critics Raimundas Malasauskas and Aaron Schuster. For other works, such as the Celador candy, you worked with manufacturing structures that you set up with more consistent collaborators. Could you describe the way these collaborations take place?
LG: Actually, I rarely speak about collaboration, but rather about spaces of discussion and negotiation. Collaboration is a given these days in the practice of most artists; I simply try to make this aspect as visible as possible. In my work, process has as much value as the formal creation. That also allows me to be in a position of ubiquity: I am both source and receptor of my own practice. I arrive with an idea, I discuss it and then I put machinery in place that’s going to move me and the people I work with forward, toward finding aesthetic, conceptual and technical solutions to questions posed by the project since the beginning.
One of the works in the exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, entitled ‘Merzball’, demonstrates this aspect of my practice. We started out with a group of architects, looking at Merzbau built by Kurt Schwitters in Hannover in 1923. We then extrapolated from Schwitter’s forms. The result is a metal structure with organic shapes, which houses the paintball scrimmages. The paintball fights use two colours: Yves Klein’s International Klein Blue and M46, a colour I created. The work appears like a game without established rules. It’s a space of conflict and negotiation.
CG: This brings us to a notion that I would like to talk about, that of non-control. Cellar Door’s libretto describes the exhibition as an ‘exhibition with no one at the controls’. More generally, you have always emphasised your interest in works that generate a life of their own. One could say that Cellar Door is like a machine that creates its own logic and its own forms. It is characterised by a paradox present in the very concept of the machine: something very precise, extremely controlled, but that can take up a life of its own and end up in total loss of control. An important element in the exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo is the ‘Bubble Studio’ (‘Bulle Studio’), which functions as the heart of the show.
LG: The show is controlled by an engineer who controls the sound, starts up the artworks, activates certain parts of the exhibition and slows or speeds it up. He’s really the one at the reins; the exhibition becomes a giant marionette manipulated by this Bubble Studio. Paradoxically, this very controlled aspect allows the exhibition to never remain the same, even two minutes later. It becomes something organic, which transforms over time. More generally, the ‘machines’ that I set up, the work zones, are completely empirical projects: I don’t try to make final products correspond to the initial intentions. On another level, I have, in recent exhibitions, put a lot of attention toward the idea that the exhibition generates its own energy, its own electricity, its own light…
CG: That was the case in your show at the Plateau in Paris in 2005…
LG: Yeah, during the opening, a musician did a drum solo that lasted three hours. The whole exhibition was in the dark. The instrument was fitted out with receptors that charged the batteries that later served as the power source for the show.
Once is Always Twice
CG: To conclude, I’d like to talk about the project that you’re developing for the ICA.
LG: The exhibition Cellar Door (Once is Always Twice) at the ICA emphasises a very important part of the libretto, a passage devoted to black champagne and the multiplication of rooms. The black champagne is an effervescence that produces all the bubbles in the exhibition. It’s also a drink that we are trying to market. In the libretto, the character Bucky Wonka offers black champagne to the soprano. Bucky Wonka says, ‘You have to drink it at room temperature. If not, the rooms will multiply’. In spite of his warnings, the soprano drinks the champagne, and the rooms multiply. The exhibition at the ICA takes up three spaces, three identical exhibitions that you enter through an identical door, the same door from Cellar Door in Paris. At certain moments, the exhibition guards will be triplets who will serve black champagne to the visitors. There will be very few objects, but the opera will be playing throughout the space.
Christophe Gallois is a curator based in Paris and Luxembourg
Translated from the French by Joanna Fiduccia