Walkie Talkie #81Fredi Fischli und Niels Olsen

Sonntag, 7. Juni 2020

Claire Fontaine, Evil/Good, 2017, installation view «Retail Apocalypse», gta exhibitions, ETH Zurich 2020. Foto: Nelly Rodriguez

«Non Essential Shopping and the Revolt Against Objectification»Fredi Fischli und Niels Olsenim Gespräch mit dem KünstlerkollektivClaire Fontaineaus Anlass der Ausstellung «Retail Apocalypse» bei gta Ausstellungen, ETH Zürich 2020und «Shopping Center. Zur zukunft des modernen Marktplatzes», Museum im Bellpark 2019

Fredi Fischli / Niels Olsen (FO): With Claire Fontaine you proclaimed the idea of a Ready-made Artist: We are all Ready-made Artists. At the same time there’s an association to a brand – not alone to the French stationary company, but as well with your work’s formal rhetoric. In many cases they function as generic and corporate signifiers. How do you think the Avant-garde concept of the readymade connect with corporate structures?

Claire Fontaine (CF): The concept of the ready-made in the way we use it has probably caused some deep misunderstandings. If an anti-commodity, an anti-product exists this is definitely the ready-made. The ready-made is a creature that lives at the intersection between art and the commodity, the infrathin appears within a critical space, at the crossroad between magic, the commercial and banal, creating a revolutionary dynamic that morally and esthetically disqualifies capitalism. Saying that we are ready-made artists doesn’t mean that we are all as banal as a urinal, it means that we are all as exceptional as a urinal is, but that the system of values in which we live prevents us from seeing it.
The formal rhetoric of our work is precisely “informal”: Claire Fontaine’s art isn’t recognizable on a visual level, there is no idiosyncratic, retinal “look” of our work, its visual vocabulary is vast and eclectic; the hijack, the use of neon, of light-boxes, of printing is at times impersonal because it strongly connects with the tradition of conceptual art. Now anonymity, that used to be a synonym of collective intelligence or political conspiracy, has become instead a synonym of the corporate. This might make sense for Swiss people who have a culture of secrecy when it comes to personal profits but it isn’t generally accepted within other democracies, where a business must be transparent, generate and redistribute wealth (at least on paper). There is also the question of appropriation within the ready-made that breaks the taboo of the “original”, the copyrighted, the legitimately owned by an author; corporate culture derives directly from the logic that lead to the enclosures. Every corporate contract comes down to encircling and limiting what one owns and what one doesn’t, which profits one will be harvesting and which ones he is not entitled to. It’s a logic of borders, surveillance, repression, there is no sharing, questioning the use value or the plus value of anything. The ready-made was born our of a playful skepticism towards the usefulness of anything and towards work as a value. Duchamp made a point of being idle and uncreative, we cannot think of anything more destructive than that of corporate mentality where everything is put to work and people sell their own subjectivities.

FO: High Art is a significant source for your practice. Did you ever consider to leave the institution of art and engage «outside», for instance to operate as an actual business?

CF: No we didn’t because in order to run a business your main drive and main concern must be profit and we are not interested in money as such. We are interested in freedom and there is no freedom in poverty nowadays, therefore we are all involved with some type of transactions in order to survive and find spaces where we do something else than working for money. If you have a business you might become rich but you are always working for money and constantly thinking about money: this is precisely our idea of a nightmare.

FO: With Evil / Good you refer to a hypothetical time before the original sin. In your recent text for the e flux section entitled Letters Against Separation you talk about how our society is based on risk. The piece appropriating Apple’s logo seems to relate to this debate and in a press-release on the work you stated: when good and evil could be recognized without risk of error or confusion?

CF: The moral dimension of risk is highly problematic under liberal capitalism. Risk is a synonym of opportunity within that mythology and with this pretext entire populations are put at risk lightheartedly. As a result of this the casino ethics prosper and flourish: it’s all a matter of hitting the jackpot, cheering and going to the next thing, inevitably honesty, fairness, responsibility become unpopular feelings because they stand in the way of business. Trump’s presidency up until this moment of emergency has given a brilliant example of this: the environment, the populations’ health, basic civil liberties all can be sacrificed on the altar of profit, and what is extraordinary in this dynamic is that the wealth only goes to the ones who were already wealthy, because if you can’t risk you can’t play and you can’t win. The poorer pay for the losses and because in such a system they don’t register (they are not part of the game), the losses don’t count: they are casualties. Anyway the idea of the apple without the bite came from a discussion with our seven year old son who, when he heard about the theory of the original sin, immediately asked: what happened to the snake? What kind of heaven is a place where you must stay ignorant and don’t even know if you have clothes on or not? And also what kind of place is a garden where if you eat the wrong apple you lose everything? These are good questions for a different society: as long as the success of a system rests on people’s goodwill and honesty we are all doomed, the system must be able to function without controls, it must be beyond good and evil. The form of the work came as some kind of still life or classical reproduction of one’s landscape, corporate logos are more familiar than plant species for us now, so it plays with the uncanny immediate recognition that takes place when we see that representation of an apple.

FO: Claire Fontaine came to life in 2004. As an avatar it foresaw how rapidly the virtual will overtake our society. How does the fictional artist change during this time?

CF: Claire Fontaine was born as a space of desubjectivisation more than as a “screen identity”. We often explain why it is more accurate to sign the works as Claire Fontaine rather than with both of our names, precisely because in this space some ideas and some forms can be born that wouldn’t exist otherwise. So it has the function of a shared space it’s the opposite of virtual, it’s not of a fictitious narrative to cover up some simple creative activity of two people that could exist outside of it, unchanged. When we first started working together we were both in the habit of doing things with others, all the time, related or unrelated to work, then progressively all the spaces dried out, all the occasions of sharing anything became more and more artificial. Cities have become gentrified and depressing, so now we might look like an exception, and we are only two. It has also become clearer how dehumanizing the idea of untying one’s autobiography from one’s artwork might seem to people who live swamped up in the cult of individualism. If nothing related to individuality and personal identity looks problematic after living for several years under surveillance capitalism and at the time of algorithms, it is just because the way we are governed is constantly preventing anything collective from happening. The experience of themselves that subjects acquire in spontaneous, politically charged collective situations doesn’t compare with anything in life; being illiterate in this matter produces people with a poor knowledge of themselves and their potential, less socially apt to coexist, to cooperate, much more malleable and easy to limit in their freedom, less likely to question repressive measures. It is way easier to impose a totalitarian regime, based on separating people and forcing them into an automatic obedience, onto people that won’t talk to each other and fertilize each other’s intelligence or fortify each other’s self confidence. People who don’t care about each other ultimately don’t care for themselves, they don’t have real self-respect, just fears and boundaries to protect their fragile ego from falling to pieces. These are the times we are living in. We are being deprived of real life. Social distancing existed before the corona virus, it was just less universal but intensely present.

FO: We present your work in the context of Retail Apocalypse and we wonder how you relate to retail. In relation to your work we had to think of Philippe Thomas who turned his exhibition quasi into a shop, an agency titled Readymades Belong to Everyone. Did you ever engage with retail?

CF: We couldn’t sell water in the middle of the desert. Commerce is rather mysterious, selling something necessary seems monstrous (if people need something they shouldn’t have to pay for it) and selling something unnecessary requires a social frame that adds value to whatever is sold, we don’t live inside that. Philippe Thomas was selling his own authorship – which is a splendid idea – and he also worked in advertising in order to survive, he was doing what artists do but in another context, selling his talent to people who can pay for it. How is it to run a shop? Do people steal stuff and you have to police them?

FO: One aspect of retail apocalypse is that capitalism fails in a domain it was very prominent in our daily life. Retail architecture as one way where capitalism manifested itself physically around us. Now shopping shifts online or is brought to a pause during the current times of the corona virus. Will you miss the shops?

CF: Hell no! That’s the best thing about this virus, it has shown that we can live without shopping and traveling. We are curious about the behavior of people for whom shopping was a vital distraction and had to stop their habit and get “sober”. Maybe they are buying things online from their isolation collecting packages with gloves at the entrance of their doorstep, washing their hands for two minutes after getting their possessions. It doesn’t sound like a great shopping experience…

FO: Exhibiting at galleries or art fairs you often challenged art as a commodity and galleries as retail. How would you compare the commercial art system to retail architecture?

CF: Retail architecture is the ugly erasure of history and landscape in the name of consumption and distraction. It’s a landmark that is both ethic and aesthetic. The contemporary art market operates in very different ways, it involves a very small portion of the population and it takes place in random stores, convention centers, temporary tents, auction houses, it’s fluctuating, galleries move in and out of neighborhoods, open several spaces in several cities, shut down from one day to an other. The exhibition format applies to commercial and un-commercial venues alike, so one can experience an artwork in the art fair and in the museum, in the biennial and in the gallery. The double life of the artwork is incomparable to the one of the commodity, Benjamin has explored this matter better than anyone else, but the beautiful thing is that the visual experience of art, as long as it is exhibited, is open to any passer-by, the privatization of artworks of course removes them from their potential collective use value, which is the exhibition value, the possibility of being seen. The pair of sneakers or the jumper, the piece of bread or the designer chair also become invisible when they get bought but they get produced over and over again and their final vocation is to satisfy their use value: to be worn, sat on, eaten, their exhibition value is not their essence, it’s part of the retinal scam of our consumer society, things are beautiful in order to be bought, the artwork is visually engaging because it wants to change your life, that you buy it or not, it doesn’t discriminate.



Sa04Nov16:3018:00Kamingespräch «Rethinking Art Brut»16:30 - 18:00 Museum im BellparkArt der Veranstaltung:Gespräch