I am quite anarchistic
Email interview between Erich Weiss and Simon Delobel on the occasion of the LOCUS SOLUS project by Erich Weiss and Ernst Gladbach in KIOSK on 05.03.2021.
SD: Can you tell us more about the origin of the LOCUS SOLUS project?
EW: The LOCUS SOLUS project is in fact based on an earlier idea for a museum performance. Under the title THE PREMATURE CONFINEMENT I wrote out a concept for a performance a few years ago, long before the current pandemic. It would be a happening that lasted several days, during which a volunteer would be locked up in a museum space. The person's movements would be projected live for twenty-four hours on a video screen at the entrance of the closed door of the site. They would spend the night in the museum and try to survive. I presented this project to various institutions, but it was never realized. When I spoke to you about this, we came up with the idea of a reworked version for the space of KIOSK. The historical past of the exhibition space as a hospital seemed particularly inspiring to me, and brought to mind the reference to Raymond Roussel. The location also reminded me of the definition that Isidore Ducasse, aka Lautréamont, came up with for the concept of beauty: Beau comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et un parapluie.
SD: Can you describe the project yourself – your intentions and expectations?
EW: The performance, like most that I realize, is performed by other people. It is important for me that I remain a kind of outsider to the happening that I have conceived and organized. This interest is reflected in the strategies that Allan Kaprow used for his interactive installations. I also find the factor of coincidence an important element, and I consciously play with it. Everything seems controlled, "but … accidents happen—just in a perfect world." I hope that this tension will exist among spectators and the participating performers. The project is a blind date with KASK students, whom I personally hardly know. It is an improvisation and much depends on the moment and the inspiration of the performers. For me it was important to create something 100% live in these difficult times. Giving a chance to and providing a stage for dancers, theater people, and performers who have to survive with the frustration of isolation and no audience. The shape I chose is minimal. I also see the entire performance as a statement, an investigation into what remains possible in post-coronavirus times ...
SD: What impact has the current health crisis had on your practice?
EW: I am quite anarchistic. So I didn't like the new rules and prohibitions at all. I find it questionable that the government can just rob us of our freedoms. That is why I tried to resist the imposed rules from the beginning. Not a real revolution, of course, but I have tried to bend the rules wherever possible. I discovered quite early on that breaking curfews was tolerated. I also tried to finish all my projects as an artist and curator on the planned dates. Only an exhibition planned for St Lukas Galerie Brussels was transformed into an online event. But the title of the project seemed like an ironic inside joke on the situation: THE SAME AS IT (N) EVER WAS. So it became a project that eventually did (not) happen ... As soon as the Spanish borders opened in July, I took the opportunity to travel to an area of Europe where the COVID-19 restrictions did not apply. I spent ten days in Tallinn, Estonia. Without masks, with bars and restaurants open, and open-air concerts on the beach of the Baltic Sea.
SD: Do you like to dance yourself?
EW: Of course. I go to gigs and concerts a lot. Part of the time I live next to Barcelona, also in Berlin. I am a real night person. I feel at home in nightclubs and discos. Barcelona is also known for its techno scene, with festivals such as Sónar. But I still follow contemporary dance very closely. Whenever possible I try to see all the new dance performances. And many professional dancers are friends of mine.
SD: For LOCUS SOLUS you work with musician Ernst Gladbach. I cannot find any information about him on the internet. Can you tell me more about him?
EW: For years I have been working with the same musician on the soundtracks of my films and performances. It's someone I share a music history with, and we have the same musical references and preferences. He is a special person, who usually feels my projects immediately, does not require much explanation, and knows how to create the right atmosphere for every project. As the owner of his own recording studio, he is used to working on commissions or in collaboration with other musicians. He is in demand nationally and internationally for post-production of recordings and film soundtracks. He chooses a new pseudonym for each project to match the project’s atmosphere. This list of composers has already become long. This is my first collaboration with Ernst, Klaus's younger brother.
SD: You were born in 1966, the year of the Rolling Stones’ song Paint It Black. What musical memories do you have from your childhood?
EW: I have a background in experimental theater. Almost every week from an early age, I visited the well-known NTG and KVS theaters in Ghent and Brussels but also experimental theaters in Belgium and the Netherlands with my parents. I remember performances with work by Dario Fo and Bertolt Brecht. Mistero Buffo put on by the International New Scene collective made a strong impression on me. I only discovered music as an adolescent and immediately became a follower of the punk movement, followed by the so-called New Wave and the industrial scene: groups such as Joy Division, Psychic TV, The Virgin Prunes, Fad Gadget, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Crime and the City Solution, Einsturzende Neubauten, Laibach ... And local Belgian bands such as TC Matic, Arbeid Adelt, and FRONT 242.
SD: LOCUS SOLUS is not only the title of the project in KIOSK but also of a novel by Raymond Roussel. What is your relationship with literature?
EW: I am the son of a librarian, so I have a strange relationship with books. To me they are public property. I am also self-taught, which means that all my knowledge is basically based on research and reading. The literature of the Surrealists especially fascinates me—hence the reference to Roussel. I speak eight languages and try to read all books in their original versions.
SD: You take photos, curate exhibitions, make films, create objects, organize performances, and collaborate with dancers. It seems like you don't want to stick to one medium, style, or genre. Or am I mistaken?
EW: Actually, I might have wanted to be an actor as a kid. The magic of theater, a fiction that mimics reality and at the same time criticizes it, fascinated me. That is how, after a short career in music, I ended up in the theater world. In the late 1980s, Belgium really reached a peak in dance and theater. Perhaps because Flemish is too restrictive a language, most theater makers presented performances that were close to performance or visual art. That’s why there was a real boom of contemporary dance. People like Jan Fabre defined themselves as a visual artist and museums opened their doors to show their work. This prompted me to move to Paris and try to sell my ideas for staging, installations, and performances there. In 1989 I took part in an exhibition entitled Le Salon des Anonymes, which was a bit comparable to the exhibition currently running at KIOSK. I shared a small space with a then unknown American artist who showed an aquarium with two floating basketballs as a sculpture. The same year I was officially invited by the organizing gallery owner to become part of the group of artists she represented. Her name was Nikki Diana Marquardt and she was Leo Castelli’s former assistant. In the gallery she mainly had big names such as Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, or Anish Kapoor. In the 1990s she produced my first, often spectacular and theatrical, installations. The Guardians at the Backgate of Hell was a confrontation of a wall of Marshall guitar amps forming a tunnel, where the spectator was confronted by five aggressive-looking dobermanns. The Last Ride was an installation consisting of a Chevrolet hearse tuned into a boom-car with the soundtrack The Passenger by Iggy Pop. Later I was invited to residencies—in Japan, among other places—where I developed a work on photography and the concept of paparazzi. A bit like my idol E. L. T. Mesens, I like to play with different media. As a contemporary artist you are not obliged to—often for commercial reasons?—commit to a single discipline. My latest projects are related to film and architecture.
SD: We got to know each other a decade ago, when you and I were working on separate exhibition projects around the artist-dealer E. L. T. Mesens. What fascinates you in the figure of Mesens?
EW: Many choices in my career are dictated by chance. I learned about Mesens through an older art collector who gave me exhibition posters and small catalogs when I was a small child. He brought them with him from gallery visits. His selection included a whole series of publications from the Isy Brachot Gallery in Brussels. Those were my favorites: René Magritte, De Chirico, Marcel Mariën and E. L. T. Mesens. Through an elderly woman I found the personal archive of Mesens: he kept a precise diary in which he classified all correspondence, but also all invoices and invoices by date and number. One of Mesens’ heirs, possibly a cousin, had sold part of his archive to the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles. When I contacted them, they informed me that they were looking for assistance to help translate some of the documents. I received a research grant and spent a month in LA. After that I proposed to the Mu.ZEE in Ostend that it present a retrospective exhibition dedicated to Mesens and his circle of friends and contacts. Thus the project THE STAR ALPHABET OF E.L.T. MESENS: DADA & SURREALISM IN BRUSSELS, PARIS & LONDON was born. And that’s how we came into contact, because you also worked on a similar project.
Mesens is a person I can identify with as an artist: he was Belgian, but mainly active internationally. He was one of the inspirers of Surrealism in England. He was a born provocateur. But was taken very seriously by many important artists of his time. Among his friends he counted Marcel Duchamp, Magritte, Man Ray, even Picasso. Many of his projects and initiatives were daring, such as exhibiting Picasso's Guernica in a factory shed in Manchester. And like him, I obsessively create collages. I even dare to define my installations or performances as collages, because they are based on association.