Models of Thinking: Alfredo Jaar

Article excerpt

Kathy Battista: Could you describe your work for the Liverpool Biennial?

Alfredo Jaar: I have created a new piece titled The Marx Lounge and it is sited in a large empty storefront in the centre of Liverpool (Reviews AM341). There are too many of these around, it is quite depressing and sad. It consists of a salon painted all red, including a red carpet, black sofas and a large 8x2m table that contains 1,500 books by Marx as well as subsequent writers, theorists and philosophers. As you know, there has been a renewed interest in Marx because of the financial crisis. I wanted to offer a larger audience the extraordinary amount of knowledge that has been created in the past few decades. I believe an intellectual revolution has been going on for the past 20 or 30 years, but I also see an extraordinary gap between this intellectual revolution and the real world. So I wanted to ask, why is this? Is this gap a symptom of the difficulty of apprehending this new knowledge, or is it in the interests of the status quo to keep it the way it is? I am afraid it is a little of both. Besides hundreds of books by and about Marx, you will find political theorists and philosophers like Zizek, Hall, Ranciere, Butler, Laclau, Mouffe, Jameson, Bourdieu, Fanon etc. For me these writings offer us models of thinking the world. And that is what I try do as an artist--I create models of thinking. I view The Marx Lounge as a space of resistance, or as David Harvey would call it, a space of hope.

It resembles an architectural model of a city.

I was thinking about an architectural model, what might the architecture of knowledge look like. But in the end it is a reading room, a very focused library.

Do you think your work is most appropriate in a biennale context rather than a commercial setting? I consider myself an architect making art and most of my practice is site-specific. In the past 30 years I have divided my work into three distinct areas and only one-third of my practice takes place in museums, galleries, what we call the art world. But because of its extraordinary insularity--it is a small world in which we mostly talk to each other--I decided to get out.

That is why in another third of my practice I create public interventions. These are actions, performances, events that take place in places and communities far removed from the art world where the audience is not well-versed in the vocabulary of contemporary art. So you have to create, to communicate using a new language, a different language. I like the challenge of talking to a different type of audience.

The third part is teaching. I give talks and direct seminars where I share my experience with the new generation from whom I learn enormously. It is a real exchange. I feel complete, as a professional but also as a human being, only by doing these three things at the same time. The Liverpool Biennial context, like most biennales, has the potential to go beyond our little art world and reach larger audiences, and it has a strong education component.

The three categories implode in The Marx Lounge.

Absolutely. This is clearly a work where these three categories/ audiences overlap in the most perfect way.

Was the work acquired by the Liverpool Biennial or by Tate?

The economics of my strategy have always been the same with all institutions. Liverpool Biennial paid for the production of the work but I own it. If it ever gets sold, I will return the production money to the Biennial. This way they can finance another work by another artist. Money must circulate.

In the case of this particular production, because there are three copies of each title, in a way I potentially own three Marx Lounges and what I do with these three sets afterwards is a fundamental aspect of the piece.

Because of the reckless funding cuts being implemented now in the UK, there is a great deal of resistance but also some initiatives in England to do with creating places of study. …