Research Fellow Jesper Alvær (2013 — 2016)
Oslo National Academy of the Arts / Fine Art
Norwegian Artistic Research Programm

2nd. Witness – approx. 30 min

Exhibition Competence, Prague 2015
(Audience experience)



S: Main speaker, male
S2: Second speaker, female
S3: Third speaker, female
S4: Fourth speaker, male

S: So I was asked to come here, and to say what I saw. I’m not the nectar (? 0:08), so of course, I’m the curator. I studied art history. I’m based in Prague, and I attended this exhibition that Jesper and Isabella did, so I consider it more like, it reminds me very much when my son was called, like two weeks ago by the police, because he lost his mobile phone, and he was called to the police, so I went with him, and he took a quite precise description of what happened with this mobile phone, so I do the same, I just go through the exhibition, and I have to say one thing, that actually, when I saw the exhibition, of course I didn’t know that later on, somebody will ask me to speak about it, and Jesper just asked me two weeks ago, so yes.

S2: I don’t understand what time we’re in, what country we’re in, what context we’re in – I don’t understand.

S: Yes, yes – we are in Oslo, and I’m from Prague, from Czech Republic, and the exhibition that I should speak about, because I experienced it most in Prague, approximately one year ago, I don’t know exactly – 2015, right? It’s about 2015, and so, I was asked to speak about this exhibition, and the exhibition title was called, “Competence”, and there are two authors, two artists. One is Jesper Alvær, and the other is Isabella (?? 1:40), so I’ll be sitting right over there. I think I should kind of tell, or describe the exhibition, or this kind of exhibition, because they decided not to use visual materials, so I suppose the oral, with this thing, is for them, as I understood it, replacing the images and the documentation of the exhibition. If you have any questions, ask me please, because for me, it’s also more easy if you ask the questions, because I don’t know what to say. I just wrote this today, what I could speak about.
So , I will describe the exhibition approximately. So will say the opening of the exhibition, so there are many people. I suppose also the, when the exhibition was in a normal set up, it was slightly different. So first, we had to queue. The gallery itself, I think, has three, two or three rooms, one, two, three rooms, and we had to queue outside, because they didn’t let people enter in, all of them, just one after the other, so there was kind of, the regime of control of the entrance of the visitors. It was not an exhibition for one person, but I would say, like five to six people were allowed to let in.
So first we queue, and we were kind of quite a long time, as I remember, discussing, what is it about, and there were some people that came out, so they described some details of the exhibitions. Then, the first room, we entered, or I entered the first room, and there was a wall, and in the wall there were two holes. One was rounded, and the other was kind of, like a mailbox letter hole in the wall, and there was a growing, how do you say it? – this desk that is used for drawings.

S2: (?? 4:02)

S: (?? 4:04), yes, actually.

S3: A scaffold.

S: A scaffold, uhum.

S3: Or an easel?

S: An easel.

S2: That’s what I meant, yes.

S3: That’s the word!

S: And we were asked, or I was asked to make a drawing of my hand, of my proper hand, so I suppose I did a drawing, and then I asked, because there was nobody, so behind this wall there was somebody. There was, I think, a woman who is coming out from behind the wall, and I made this drawing. It didn’t go so well, because I don’t know how to draw very well, then I delivered the drawing, and she said, “Ah, you should maybe repair it, or do it a bit differently”, but I was not (?? 4:51) so much, as I remember. I knew that I wouldn’t do it much better, so I think I left it, and I went further, because I wouldn’t do it better, if I do it longer or twice, or a second time. The next room was, twice, I suppose it was something about like, of course, I will not interpret actually – okay? I am an art professional, but I will not interpret what does it mean. I will just describe, and then you ask questions – I think it’s more appropriate.
Then the second room, there were photographs, black-and-white photographs on the wall, framed, and somehow out of the photographs went a cable, and there were headphones, and there were three stories told by, there were three stories from the recording, and the stories were something like, I remember two stories, or I had to kind of refresh it yesterday, but two stories were interesting for me. One was a story about a person I slightly know. I heard about him, but I don’t know him personally, and he was giving an account a little bit of his life, and of his relation to art, and the guy, he was an art student, and then he became an entrepreneur. He started a business, and it was just right after 1989, and he started a computer business, and he became one of the biggest owners of computer hardware shops, but then, in this short text, it says that actually he doesn’t know much about computing, that he feels more like an artist, and he solved all the problems while using his artistic capacities, rather than technical, because he never studied computers. He’s not a very strong candidate, and so on and so forth, and he’s more concentrated on the background, and on the kind of organic relation of the things, than on the kind of, solving always the problems directly, analysing what the problems are.
Then the second story was another, which is maybe connected somehow with this one, and it was the story of, I suppose, of a woman and her roommate, and she’s describing, she describes a simple thing, that her roommate, every Friday she goes out, and she finds a man, and they had sex together behind this wall, and she’s always imagining how the person looks, and what they are doing, and then, in the next day, in the morning, she tries to meet this person, to kind of compare or to kind of actually see how this person that she imagined through the life experience behind the wall looks, so this is the second story.
Then there is the last room – no, almost last room, and this was for me the most strong experience. There was this wall behind that goes through the whole exhibition, and there is an empty wall, so I sat on the wall, and there was a person behind the curtain, and the person started to speak. It’s kind of vague, something like, vague or weak, or a matter of psychoanalysis, I would say, I would describe it. I don’t remember it very well, what it was, but the person started to say, ah, how was this drawing, how it was to draw for you, what do you do in life, and then kind of imprecise talk starts, and this talk is getting a bit, is going a bit into some psychological issues, I would say … (4), well, a bit about family, labour, eventually about art a little bit, but it’s quite, as I remember, it’s quite imprecise, but nice, by the way that it’s a person that is anonymous. You don’t know who they are. The person didn’t see me, I didn’t see the person, so this was quite the strongest experience for me, and then you walk out of this room, and there is the last room, and there is one image of actually, this image of my hand that I draw, and next to it there is a photograph of my hand actually, that they took a photograph, because also they ask me to put my hand through this hole in the first room, and they took a photograph of my hand, and at the end, so basically somebody had to place it, I think, the image behind, at the end of the exhibition, and this is almost, I would say … I just remembered one thing, maybe it’s completely, it’s not connected with this. It was another artist who made a film, and we went together to the nature. He did something in the nature. It was for me, just an interesting experience, a way of speaking about his hand, and he made a film, and then I saw the film. I didn’t know he was filming, and I realised that these are my hands in the film, but it took me like, really like two minutes to understand that these are my hands, like the face, immediately we recognise our face anywhere, but the hands, for example, when you take a portrait of your hand, I think it’s very strange that it takes us like, a very long time to recognise our hands, but it’s not connected with this – it’s just my personal appendix, because I think I have twenty minutes, but it was almost okay. So if you have any questions, please?

S2: Then the second last two, the one you said were the most important for you, I would like to hear more about the importance of that group. I would like you to make it more clear to me, the magnitude of the importance.
S: Maybe it was because it was unattended, so it was more, not attended in the context of an exhibition, especially for me, because I go to many exhibitions and openings, so that’s something sincere, or not, maybe close to sincere, something close to sincere, sincerity, or close to, well what, for example, it was psychoanalytical, of course, but there are some slight moments of what psychoanalysis describes as true speech, for example, something like that. Of course, it was not such a deep experience, but there are moments that I would tell something quite, maybe, even unknown about myself to the person. I had this impression. I don’t know what it was exactly, I don’t remember very well, because it’s a long time ago, but this was the importance for me.

S3: So also the intimacy?

S: The intimacy also.

S3: It was in an exhibition unexpectedly?

S: Yeah, and also that people were not there, maybe this was this regime, that I think they let almost one person enter in these two rooms, or something like that, so people, they were like intimate, as you say, relatively quiet for ten minutes, sitting there, and really developing a sensual talk with the person.
S2: I have two questions. One is, you say that there were five, six people allowed to enter at once, so did you see these people while you received the exhibition?

S: I saw them at the beginning for a sure …

S2: And then not?

S: And then not, I have the impression.

S2: And why do you think that was, where did they go?

S: I don’t know, because there were no guides, I think, in the exhibition, so it was maybe that people have different kind of speed or rapidity, how they went through. I just know that it was not possible to enter this room, where was this parlour, or speaking to one, just one person.

S2: But in the one with the photo labs, it would be more (?? 13:52)

S: A nice thing, uhum.

S: And then I wanted to ask, what was in the photo labs?

S: When, sorry?

S2: You say that, in the second room … ?

S: The photographs were in the first room. It was the first room where the drawing of the hand was made, and they asked, actually to enter your hand through the wall, there was a hole in the wall, and I gave them the drawing, and they asked, please can you enter your hand, and I didn’t know what happened with the hand.

S2: When you say that in the second room, there were photographs and headphones?

S: Yes, yes.

S2: And what were the photographs? What kind of photographs were they?

S: I don’t know actually. These were strange photographs. I even watched them yesterday. It was kind of black-and-white photographs.

S2: But what? Big things, bloodstains, (?? 14:41)?

S: No, no – some details, abstract details of some materials, like metal or something, you know, very big details, and all of them looked the same, and all of them are kind of abstract, strange, well, just I would say, macro photos, details of metal. Maybe it was the guy, I was thinking, maybe it’s the guy who was the artist who spoke about his artistic, and then became a businessman, I don’t know, but maybe.

S4: Can you say something about the quality of the wall? Was the wall in the same height, or was the space bigger, when you see the wall? So you can imagine another room, in height? Or was it the wall full in the space, and what kind of material?

S: So for sure, there was, through a kind of corridor going through all the exhibition, that was a bit, slightly, something like, it made a corridor going through the exhibition, and I think it was a textile, or a kind of fake wall, that people could go behind the wall, to move behind the wall.

S4: Were there other spaces in the corridor? – spaces with another function, like?

S: Actually, this corridor was not in the middle of the space, but it was going just, following the wall, a fake wall next to the wall, you know? – but the way that it was visible, that it’s a fake wall.

S3: How do I know that you were really there? – because most, or actually everything you describe, apart from your answer to the question of, and there is now, is already documented in the text Jesper wrote about irony? For me, it was a little bit redundant, because I’ve read everything he said, so how do we know that you are not just an actor who read the text, made careful notes, and gives an account of the text?

S: I didn’t read this text, so then I wouldn’t repeat it.

S3: It’s a bit eerie though, because partly it’s almost the same words.

S: Really? And who wrote the text?

S2: Like, because that’s the truth, and that’s why!

S: And who wrote the text?

S2: Jesper.

S: Jesper, okay.

S4: Perhaps it belongs to the title, irony.

S: That’s strange.

S3: Yes, I find it very strange, yes. I wonder if I’m participating in some strange experiment.

S: I don’t know, how can I … ?

S2: You won’t have to take your watch, because you’re far free. (? 17:26)

S3: No, maybe you’ll have an idea how you could … and you’re a bit, (?? 17:30), how you can prove that you are a true witness.

S: For me, what is more strange, that he has told me that he knew something, some materials, but I don’t know what he sent you. He didn’t send me, for example, this text. He just sent me buildings to the exhibition, because it’s true that it’s a long time ago, so I had to look at the images, to refresh it.

S3: Well, I would be really grateful, I mean you said you will just describe, and not interpret? I personally doubt that this distinction is possible to be made, and I would really appreciate, as I’m mature enough not being influenced by your (?? 18:14), I would really appreciate to hear your reading of the exhibition, and what it meant to you, apart from just hearing what you perceived, because as I said, I already knew everything which you just counted, without having been there, so can you tell a little bit more about your own thoughts and your own perceptions?

S: Yes, so maybe I have to say that, I know this person quite a long time, since he started to study in Prague. It was in the second half of the Nineties. He was one of the rare art students at the time, coming from abroad, and we had many discussions at the time. I remember also some collaborations we did, so we were quite close, the second half of the Nineties, the beginning of 2000, and then somehow we lost a bit … so for me, it’s interesting always to follow what he is doing, and I didn’t see his work for some years, so that’s why I went to see this opening, and I have to say that I was quite impressed, because he was always dealing with kind of performative, material, I would say traces of performative for different social activities, and here what I liked first was that it’s really concentrated on the time and space, where the exhibition is happening, so it’s not something that relates to outside, to some issues that could be anthropological, social, political, whatever, but it’s very much working with the visitor, in a direct sense, and all this, I understood it, all these stages and rules and procedures as a kind of really, preparation, or I would say, concentration worked here for this one moment of discussion with the person, you know? This was for me, kind of, when I should interpret it, what does it serve? – so this drawing could be understood as a kind of physical exercise, or something like an exercise, then this listening exercise, audio recordings, to be, let’s say, in the mood to speak to this person, and then, of course, we were discussing outside, who this person is. This is also an issue, a crucial issue – who this person behind the curtain is? Is it always the same person? Is it the kind of, what is the profession of this person? Is it an actor, is it a kind of psychoanalyst? – what kind of person is it, and then we were told also that there are different people behind the curtain, and it depends, whom do you speak. There is one good, (?? 21:34), and they are more or less amateurs, as I understood, not really professionals in any field, so this would be my comment, but it’s neither an interpretation. It’s more, I would say, a precise comment.

S4: Is that your comment, talk about the regime of control, and do you think it was, to have a whole piece (?? 21:57), but in a controlled atmosphere?

S: No it was kind of, the atmosphere was not, inside it was not controlled, but it’s true that it had a regime of control, because once you kind of controlled the entrance to the space, then I think the visitor can never forget that it’s kind of, that you had to queue for 20 or 30 minutes, or something like that, and then you enter some space that is quite intermittently yours. It’s quite a strong regime of the entrance, I would say.

S4: And what do you think about the purpose behind, if you reflect, (?? 22:42) next come up two minutes later, and you have to observe all the time? Was it a kind of job?

S: Yeah, it’s almost like a Kafka idea, that you have a curtain, and behind there is a lot of people who don’t know what is happening. They are doing small activities and bringing things there …. because there is also some sounds, so you can hear that people are going behind the curtain, but you didn’t see them.

S2: Only that one.

S: Everywhere, all over the space. There were not so many, but there were some people going and creating …

S2: But you never get to see them?

S: No, no, because I think it was a textiles thing, and so one can hear the sound but couldn’t see the people.

S3: I have a question – did you give any symbolism to the hands, or meaning to the hands, why the hands?

S: Yes, it is, it’s related with your identity somehow, I suppose, or through the fingers, that’s (?? 23:47). I didn’t think about it much.

S4: Could you open your hand?

S: Yes, but you could, actually, how shall I draw it, or what should be the position of the hand? – and they said, it doesn’t matter.

S3: So you could have done?

S: Yeah.

S4: You can make this thing up (? 24:03).

S: Exactly, that’s true – it’s a gesture that could be, of course! (he laughs) Well, you see! I think everybody was like, in this (?? 24:15), because also I went once or twice to drawing lessons (? 24:17) now, and they tell you, put your hand like this, and open it a little bit, and then you know, then you are, you have it, you take it as a drawing exercise, but of course, as you say …

S3: It was deliberate? How was this exhibition perceived by the public and the person? – do you remember?

S: I don’t remember to read, for example, any review. There was quite nice text about the exhibition written by the curator of the gallery, but then the reviews, I don’t remember, but we spoke about it with the friends, that it was a very interesting exhibition for us, and Jesper is not exhibiting very often, so it wasn’t even in the sense that, for a few years it was really one of the exhibitions that was talked about, I would say. This also is something maybe that comes here as a kind of eco … yeah, it was an exhibition that people spoke about, and maybe it’s also, it fits well, that it’s easy to speak about it maybe, I don’t know.

S2: Yeah, it’s a conversation piece.

S: Yeah, exactly! (he laughs)

S3: I have a bit of an (?? 25:29) question, which (?? 25:31) has asked it already, so the exhibition was of two people, one of which is here as well. What was the role of the second person or the first person, the other person?

S: This, I have no idea. It was just signed by two artists, you know.

S3: But we didn’t have any information about that, from our papers. Okay, you didn’t know that.

S: I didn’t know. I know it was signed by two artists, and that’s all I know.

S4: Have you discovered any other cameras or recording in the spaces above you?

S: Here, or there?

S4: There.

S: Now it’s everywhere!
(they laugh)

S: Like a nightmare, or I don’t know, everywhere we can see. No, no.

S4: Because you talk about, the film, that probably it could be, in your head, during your talk, or you mentioned, there was a camera above you, you describe in the top with the wall, they some way film you?

S: No, I don’t think there was a camera.

S2: But that was a narrative aside, (?? 26:40) film a friend?

S4: It was going to be a narrative story.

S2: A friend is …

S: Ah yes – this was another thing.

S2: It was just an afterthought.

S: An afterthought, yeah.

S3: We have two more minutes, if there is last comments or questions?

S4: Was there any publicity for the exhibition outside, with posters, letters, or like this? – or how, getting people invited?

S: For sure, there were some posters and invitations and stuff like this. I think there was something with the hand, like a drawing or image of the hand on the poster.

S2: Does the institution have educational activities, and did they do anything on this exhibition, do you know?

S: I don’t know. I know that it’s quite a well-funded gallery that is focused on photography, contemporary photography, but mainly exhibiting artists that are not typical photographers, dealing with the media and photographic (?? 27:42).

S2: Okay, so that’s the type of institution.

S: Yeah.

S2: From the start of the contemporary arts, topography of …

S: I can just give an example, using the (?? 27:52) service, photography, there was this football.

S3: Now we know the name of the place. (she laughs) You mentioned that it was one of these exhibition people talk about a lot, after the event, in the weeks and months and years after. Would you say that your way of narrating, or retelling the exhibition, has changed over the years? – because now you are asked again to retell it again, and I assume that you’ve also been part of the other conversations before. So I would be interested in these little kind of shifts, or it’s the same approach?

S: Maybe it was changed in the details, but I would say substantially, I go to this experience, that I try to describe more or less precisely, so I think not much evidence, not much. Maybe I forgot a little bit, then I saw it again, like I had to refresh it through the images, then I heard some others’ comments, but I think it didn’t change much. It variated, but not much. Maybe it’s true – I didn’t get this idea of the hand as a kind of expression or gesture that could be done.

S3: So you never thought the title of the exhibition was “Competence”, you didn’t think the hand had to do with that? – no?

S: I don’t read the title of the exhibition, no! (he laughs) I’m the curator, I don’t think about the title of the exhibition, I have to say.

S2: We have that on the record – I’m the curator, no need!

S: No, it’s true – I didn’t, sorry.

S2: Okay, thank you.

S: Thank you.