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

3rd. Witness – approx. 30 min (transcript)

Exhibition Competence, Prague 2015
(Audience experience)

S: First speaker, female (sometimes her accent is a little hard to understand)
S2: Second speaker, male
S3: Third speaker, female
S4: Fourth speaker, female
S5: Fifth speaker, male

S: My name is (??). I’m a curator and writer, and I’m based in Paris presently for research reasons, and I was in Prague at the time of the exhibition, and the photograph gallery, researching into the art scene, and was invited to visit the exhibition by the (?? 0:23), so I flew in from Paris last night, and on the plane I tried to recall this experience, and wrote a few pages of the diary that I never write, so I thought I would read it to you.
So that’s it, okay, in 2015 I spent a few months in Prague, to research its art scene, basically (?? 0:54) Jesper’s exhibition and the photograph gallery. I had already been there, and it took me a little while to figure out the entrance was in the one that I had walked through when I had first gone. Something was (?? 1:05) might start with. I obviously attributed to my being now, and not all too familiar with the place, to however, soon realised that the photograph, the topography of the place had in fact changed. As I entered, I found myself in a small room with a darkish-grey tonality. I remembered that it was a white cube, usual gallery, and then I was invited to sit at one of the small desk, the school-like desk. It was reminding me of a desk that I had as a child, and I would sit at my grandparents’ house in Belgium. So I remembered vividly that it was a desk carrying its own stories, with all the marks and previous users, of previous users covering it. There were many colours, the years on top of it, and scratches, and I even took a photograph of it, I remembered I have somewhere, so I’m given a sheet of paper, and I’m asked to draw my own hand. A little embarrassment ensues, as I am not a drawer at all. I can say it, I’m a curator and not an artist, and I don’t really have an artist’s practice, especially in craft, but I do go on the little challenge, and draw the palm of my hand, not the back. So I guess I had in mind the intervention of a dear friend of mine, (?? 2:37), who, for a project, she (?? 2:39) the artist, instead of giving his (?? 2:43) biographies, decided to communicate their palm reading, so his biography took the form of a palm reading, and the last line reading, and his life, as I recall vividly, and the way it had started, it was the end of the biography based on the palm reading. So anyway, to go back, I finished my drawing in this first room, where I had been welcomed by the person, and I am told to hand it over to a fissure in a wall, and I also present my hand upon request through a hole. Then I am escorted to a second room, the atmosphere of which is closer to that of the white cube, the gallery that I had visited previously, even though the space has changed – it’s been reorganised with panels and dividing walls, and in this room there are three photographs, black-and-white photographs with headphones and chairs in front of them, so it was trees, more wooden chairs, in this quite empty space. So the voice is recorded speaking Czech, and I don’t know Czech at all, but I read the text in English from a handout, a sheet of paper. However, I still listen to the voice – it says, they carry a tonality that affects the text that I’m reading. I remember a female voice reading over, and one, maybe a man or two in the other recordings. I remember better, the story of a woman that was in this short story recall, was listening to her roommate having sex in the room next to hers every Friday with a different person, and the person who’s recalling the story is trying to tell about how she was trying to imagine the scene, to picture the clothes of the man especially, describing this moment with amusement, and almost delight. It was a very light and fun and playful atmosphere that was conveyed, not a voyeuristic attitude at all, so these two set the effective tonality of the experience.
Then, a second story, after offered a glimpse into some sort of (?? 5:23) action, so the scene that is described is that of a man that’s dropping a teabag into his cup of hot tea, the molecules of water are colouring up, and these, by the way, recall me of what my grandma used to say about tea, that’s just dirty water. I know my grandma and grandpa keep showing in this story, like the cold (? 5:54) story, but anyway, so crumbs of bread were falling on a newspaper that a man is reading, and it’s an ads newspaper, and the man says that he is marking the squares around the ads with his black pen, but he doesn’t mark the squares to actually find something, as the action of marking the squares leads to the filling up of the squares with a black pen, which to me resonated somehow with the black-and-white of the photographs of the forest. Also, from a distance, with Kazimir Malevich black squares on a white background, and in general, with the idea of the zero degree of things, the language in this case, but also totalitarianism, so yes, I guess the reference to Malevich made sense, as the black square marked the victory in Malevich’s painting, the victory of man over the sun, with the liberation from work, that to me also, the covering, filling up of the ad, maybe an ad for a job was (?? 7:12).
So then the true story that I read out of the handout, and I kind of listen in a foreign language on the headphones, it’s the story of this man who created a computer industry, a very successful one, without knowing anything about computers, so according to him, he was able, this happened because he has this capability, was able to see things not so much by focusing on the thing itself, but rather on its background, and on its (?? 7:53). So these reminded me of (?? 7:57) considerations about the forefront and the background, in the difference and repetition, that is, that I hold very dear, and which now makes me also think about the differential capacity retained by images, of which another philosopher, Gilbert Simondon, writes about, and somehow I was thinking, the mind of artistic people work this way. The reason why some savants are able to make incredible mathematical calculations is not so much because they have incredible, amazing calculation capacities, but because they see numbers just like, for instance, a shepherd sees his sheep, and can make the difference about their numbers by just comparing two images, to memories, without actually having to count them, so this, I was thinking as I was listening and reading, and anyway, after this second room, I entered, I think I’m escorted into a third room, where I sit on a chair. There’s just a chair in front of a fabric wall, and here the voice of a woman, who is speaking with me, so an actual person behind the fabric wall that I am facing, asked me to visualise my end, and I don’t really understand at the beginning, but I’m kind of challenged into trying to imagine or visualise these hand that had just been drawn. So I don’t recall all the details of the conversation, not exactly what led to what, but the effective tonality of this third room is, as of today, the most vivid to me. So I do remember that I engaged in a very funny conversation with a woman, and that I escaped from the position, and I kept escaping from the position of being asked questions, and having to answer them by imagining, and then describing her, my hand, running up a tree, that I was seeing, was a big tree, and then somehow jumping into a swamp that was made of bubbly raspberry juice, and then this swamp was giving some kind of (?? 10:38) massage to my hand, and it came to that by way, as I say, the fleeing (? 10:46) answers to the questions that I was asked, and of course I remember having amused very much this woman that was talking to me, to the point that we both couldn’t avoid laughing at my story, it was quite surreal, I admit. It felt like we both took some liberties to how the press is, and I had the feeling that she was also transgressing a little bit from the script. This might have been part of the intentions of the artist, but anyway some freedom was allowed, and the space was given to us to allow for that freedom to take place.
So, after this third room, and this relational moment, I was guided somehow to a fourth room, where I was left contemplating a black-and-white photograph, and this photograph depicted my hand, next to my (?? 11:49) fully-drawn hand, so it was a drawing and the actual hand photograph next to one another, and this was a very private moment. I was by myself, no-one was the room. It was just me and this work, this photograph, that had been realised by someone, but in fact in a way, made by me, even though originally conceived or triggered by the artists, Isabella and Jesper.
I remember the feeling, and the slight pride, of being the spectator of my art, and realised with my very, very freshly-acquired skills. So besides, it felt like a strange, this whole setting felt like a strange opening of an exhibition with no public but me, exceptionally the artist as well, so I was both a visitor and the artist, but in a kind of participatory project, where it wasn’t very clear what authorship could be placed, so in a way I perceived here a play intended by the artist, or at least I think so, with the notion, with the very notion of authorship, that I was gifted or lent from the time of my staying in the room, so it was almost some kind of generous act that was to me, from what I can recall, involved in this fourth layer of the experience that I was going through.
So, as I left the gallery, I didn’t shake hands with anyone. I didn’t greet anyone. I was left just with my impression of having gone through four different densities, four different ways of displaying and experiencing the situation, different degrees of involvement in a certainly multi-layered artistic project. So also, I remember well making a connection, one of the many connections that this, I remember that I discussed it later with Jesper and Isabella, between the set up of the third room, so the conversation with the person, where I imagined all the absurd story, and the apparatus of the confession, where you don’t see the confessor. You speak to the confessor, and people were familiar with the places, at least when you grow up, it’s an experience that you’re close to, so except that here, of course, the conversation was freed from guilt, from the very idea of guilt, and of course also from the (?? 14:52) art scene, but something remained from the apparatus of the confession, and (?? 14:59) wrote about it, and noting how the confession, if that ties ourselves to the truth that we utter, and the moment it’s spoken, the moment it’s spoken to someone, then it becomes a truth for us as well, so this is, I figured, was probably why the memory of that moment stayed so vivid in me, and still is, because I had shared it as it was taking place in my imagination – that’s probably why.
So to conclude, a bit like the life of my friend, Raymond, according to his palm reading, was that the exhibition with my hand frame that I had been drawing, as I entered the space, and where it had begun, although it’s slightly different, so this is my diary and my recollection of the experience, that I’m happy to share with you here.

S2: And your background?

S: I have a background in theory and philosophy, and I’m actually doing a philosophy, and I’m a curator, so I’ve worked on ….

S2: A curator?

S: I’m a curator, yes. I worked on several projects, and I write about art, so I’m in between theory and practice, and I can’t really see a different, like a sharp separation between the one and the other.

S3: Why do you think you were selected, or asked by Jesper to figure here as a reference?

S: I think because of the interest that I showed at the time in their project, so after seeing the exhibition, I got in touch with them. I asked for a meeting. It came from me, I think, and they accepted to meet me, and we met (? 17:19) by phone, we spoke for a couple of hours about their practice, and the project itself. I was curious.

S3: Do you know of any people who didn’t feel so happily interpolated by this situation in the room, but rather refused to embark on this psychological transgressive journey?

S: I don’t recall meeting, I mean, certainly my people who have gone to the gallery, and seen the exhibition, that probably happened. I mean, I myself, going to this, for different densities, and I see where it could have happened, especially people not all too familiar with these processes, but I didn’t have the occasion to speak with anyone who might have had that experience.

S3: Do you know if there were reviews of this exhibition, or like, how people responded to the exhibition?

S: There were reviews. I guess so, in Czech, I know that there was one, like it’s opened the case for many exhibitions in Prague, in this Artyčok TV, or online newspaper, but yeah, I don’t speak Czech, so I didn’t know, but people who were talking about it, and in fact the reason why I went to see it, because it’s because I’d heard that it was, I was recommended to go, warmly recommended to go by people that I trusted, and had respect for, so I was approached at the exhibition, that (?? 19:07) guys.

S4: What did you know about the exhibition, before you went?

S: Nothing. I just knew that it was in this gallery, and I remember the gallery because I had been there. It was for a group exhibition, so there were three, maybe four projects, and the space looked completely different from the space that I had experienced, so in a way I think that worked well for me, because if I had never been there, I probably wouldn’t have had that experience of displacement of the space within itself, than the current, because I had to enter from the back door, and like, first go into the office room, and then ending up at what would have been the entrance of the exhibition, and the space, I wouldn’t say labyrinthine, but it certainly was as octagonal as it used to be, so there was work with the perception of the space as well, that the elements, because of this previous experience of mine to appreciate.

S2: You were alone, in the space?

S: Yes, I was alone.

S2: All the time alone, or somebody behind you in another space?

S: No, I remember when I entered, there was a person who was finishing the process of the first room, of drawing, so I got a feeling of the fact that there could be a succession in there, but I was alone all the time. I think it was structured in a way that you had to be alone.

S2: And after, you come to another person, then you left the first room?

S: Yeah, I didn’t see anyone behind me. I don’t know if there was someone, so I was there during a week day, but I think, if there was someone, the person would have probably been asked to wait, and the timing was also envisaged by the artist, meaning there was a person taking care of the fact that we would spend enough time in each room, and then working in, and escorting me gently, in a fluid way but structured at the same time, from a room to the other.

S3: Okay, so you were escorted?

S: Yes, yes. I think now, I think from each room to the other, to the following one.

S3: Because we were told that you could hear people behind the curtain? – before you actually had this conversation in front of the screen, they would nevertheless hear people that were like, walking around behind, but there was also somebody with you, escorting you? What kind of person was this, what kind of exchange did you have?

S: It was a woman, in my case, and I didn’t really have an exchange with the person, meaning her role was to … I mean, except from the kindness, we both had for one another, it was a person who had this function of guiding me to the place.

S3: And was that when you were drawing?

S: Erm, I don’t think she stayed there. I remember it was organised in the way that any way I wouldn’t feel the presence of a person, so I was, with the experience itself of the art, there was this kind of, this question. I think it was very functional to the work, especially it was, I think, very necessary in the fourth room, like always, because having a third person, a witness, changes whatever the effect, completely the experience,

S3: So this person disappears behind the curtain?

S: Yes, somewhere, she disappeared.

S3: You know for a fact that she went behind the curtain?

S: Are you asking about the person who was in the third room?

S3: I am just wondering, you say she was not there, she was very discrete. I was wondering, where did she go?

S: I think, now I mean, this was a couple of years ago, but I think I was escorted, and then the person would go back. She would leave the room anyway, in a way or another, and it didn’t really matter, from where. The fact is that there was something, someone who I believe, the artist considered the right moment, were keen (? 24:13), and like, take me.

S3: (?? 24:15) and part of your duty, so I have to insist. You think she went to escort someone else?

S: I had the feeling that she was there for me. Maybe she did, but my experience is that this was something, a moment that was dedicated to me, and someone was taking care of me and my timing, my experience of the piece.

S2: Did you imagine how many people worked behind the walls?

S: I thought there were a couple of people. I don’t know if the person that was talking to the fabric wall was the same one who was escorting me – I thought it wasn’t. It didn’t really matter.

S2: Was it the same voice, that asked for your hands, and to make a conversation after the wall? Was it the same person, or not?

S: I don’t know, I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure. I don’t think, in my experience, it doesn’t really matter, if it was the same person or not.

S4: Do you remember the light, the light in the room with the fantasy journey, like the conversation with the person behind the wall?

S: With a kind of light? Well, it was kind of a white box, a white cube light, yes. It was a white room.

S2: Spots, or neon?

S3: It was intimate, or it was like here, or it was more designed to …

S: No, it wasn’t a particularly soft light, like what changed the perception of the room is this fabric, which is slightly diagonal, and that this space, pretty much the more quality as the second and the fourth rooms, meaning they were more like white cubes with white walls, and different from the first room, where I was asked to draw my hand, is that, as I gathered, was the office originally, so remember maybe there was a grey carpet, but anyway the colours were just not intended to host, in a white cube, the works, so it was more (?? 26:54).

S4: I have another question, which is leading away from the account, like what you tell the account of the physical appearance, and more to your conceptual musings in that non-diary (? 27:09). You talked about the conflation between the producer and the spectator, and I don’t get it.

S: Oh, at the end, you mean?

S4: Yeah, your questioning of the authorship, and the conflation between visitor and artist – I don’t understand that.

S: This was about my describing the experience of seeing my hand, because it was framed. It was obviously presented, this drawing that I had made, and the photograph that someone else had made of my hand next to the hand that I had drawn, so it was mixed, of, who has made this? – like, am I the author, let’s say, of this object, or is the person who took the photograph the author? – and in the end it was presented to me as an artwork, it was framed, so it was playing with the apparatus of exhibition. Everything was speaking the language of the exhibition. I was presented, I was put in front of a photograph. It was very well framed.

S4: Yeah, I understand that, but I still don’t get it. I mean, you were mentioning (?? 28:25), and knowing that the exhibition of this positive, like 400 years old or more, and you were moving yourself in the framework which has been set by two artists, curators, and just because then there is moment where you are presented with a drawing you made, but you were told to make, I just don’t seen any conflation here. It is still the work of the people who did the set up, when you were moving in. I just don’t see it.

S: It wasn’t so – no, no, it wasn’t so clear, that it was their work.

S4: You couldn’t even enter without doing it? – you were following the instructions.

S: Yes, but you could refuse to draw the hands.

S3: And walk away, no? You had to walk away, you could not enter using those (?? 29:14).

S: Yeah, I guess you could. I didn’t … I guess you could walk away, in case you didn’t want to draw it.

S3: If you did not draw, you had to leave? You had to leave, if you did not draw the hands?

S: I think so, I don’t know honestly, because I drew the hands, and I wasn’t handed instructions on what could happen in case I didn’t, but to me it was quite clear that it was quite a subtle play with authorship in the end, because still, I mean, I had taken part in the process, and I mentioned it because of the confession, not because of this.

S4: Yeah, I know what you mean, I’m just always so surprised how easy, like how easy that idea of positions being conflated is mobilised, because I think in this case it isn’t … I would rather be interested in looking on the title of that piece, which is called “Competencies”. Did you kind of try and relate the title of the work, of the exhibition to your experience?

S: Yes, but in a way this place was with the notion of authorship. I mean, I know that there were two episodes that influenced the beginning and the conception of the piece, and if I’m correct, one was the fact, one was about skilling and the other one somehow was about deskilling, so one of the anecdotes, if I’m right, was referring to these people who migrate, and have to abandon their skills, like learn new skills, and another episode was related to this, to artists that learnt, practised skills, and then haven’t pursued their careers as artists, so I guess, like the fact of being asked to draw, and I could have been an artist, but in this case it worked in this direction, because I wasn’t, and really I’m very bad at drawing, so in this case I clearly touched the fact that I was asked to produce something with no skills, so I was confronted with my not being skilled, and this was also the irony at playing this authorship, you speak of the complexion, but I don’t really see a collapse. I see a play within the two. I mean, to begin with, it was a bit ridiculous that I was the author of this set piece, as I really am so bad at drawing. But still, that’s what I was (?? 32:14). Maybe I was just a crafter (? 32:16) of it for them, but this is something that, it’s anyway an element to take into account in the production of work today. There are many artists who delegate production of the work to someone. I might have been in the position of just the executor of the piece, but it wasn’t just that. It was more blurred, the boundary between their authorship and my authorship. Of course, I was playing along with the frame that I’d been set very clearly, with spaces of freedom that were clearly also defined. Here it was allowed, here not. I mean, the framing, of course, I had to go through, was pretty much structured, and that’s also an experience of someone else’s authorship, but then you play with these boundaries. I understood there was, I might be wrong, but I understood that this was one of the intentions of the project, to play with that.

S3: Did you keep in mind the title of the exhibition, “Competence”? I understand that was the title of the exhibition, Competence. Did you keep it in mind, while you were visiting?

S: No, not so much, but this is just because, me, I think it’s subjective, like I don’t keep in mind the name of a person when I meet them.

S3: No, I just wanted to see what (?? 33:50) to competence, so if I go and see an exhibition, and it’s called competence, I think – ah, this is what they mean, no? I think that’s why I was asking, if the title was something that helped you to see what you were doing? Did you have it in mind at all?

S: No, more retrospectively, but this pertains to my way of experiencing exhibitions in general.

S3: And you only think of the title afterwards?

S: Often, that’s often the case, yes, like I often ask the name of a person, after meeting the person, or we ask it, it has to do, yes. I think there are things that escape the fact of having been named.

S5: I know we have to move on. Can I ask one thing actually, just to follow up Dora’s question – is that okay? – because I’m just curious, in relation to what you just said, in a way about if you talked about your feeling of your lack of competence, or your lack of skill when it came to the drawing, how do you feel about your role now, in the situation above, as an extension, or the relationship to the exhibition, but also how competent do you feel, or how much do you feel your skills are being brought into play or not, in this situation? Do you think there’s a difference, or what’s that?

S: Well, it’s very different. There I was experiencing the work, and on this side of a public confrontation, a recollection of my experience, I was in the experiential process here. I am in a different experiential process, but I couldn’t, like looking back to that, so how much my skills affect this moment, I guess I carry my own history, and my childhood (? 35:42) references in a way, but also my, but more than that, my experiential references, so I come here with my history of visiting exhibitions, and I know that I wasn’t, opportunist (? 35:58) exhibition, like in a blank state, and I came from, I mean, I have a story of understanding, like the artistic process, so obviously I also frame it within some (?? 36:13) concepts and contexts, obviously, but I think that’s what enriches the experience, and it also limits it somehow.

S4: We are getting out of time, so do you want to ask the last question?

S2: It’s a question about the relation, that the exhibition, or this kind of process, for me it was, it looks like, the part of the machine, so in relation to the machine, you come in, you give your identity, and the process of talking and (?? 36:49) with the product, and what is the difference to these kind of issues that we have in our, here, you have, so called, this kind of (?? 37:00) platform of (?? 37:01) art in difference to like, a performance of (?? 37:04), or like this, if you want to interpret it? – (?? 37:11).

S: Yeah, let me see if I understand what your question …

S3: The question was that, because, you say, some comments, that artists can delegate, and I think this process started, I think, in the 19th century, with kind of delegation, and like this, but to do it in that time, this kind of so-called after (?? 37:39) work, the sub-contracted work, what does it mean? – it would be part of the machine, in the sense of the fragment of machines.

S: Yeah, well, that’s a question that requires, what could have been a multi-directional answer. It’s a very complex question to refer to. Obviously it’s (?? 38:06) from (?? 38:07) work, and that the references are completely different, and we will put it in relation specifically with that kind of performance, how does this place itself? – position itself within the history of performance? Mmm, I don’t know. I think, what’s interesting is that it plays on the (?? 38:41) between both performance, like institutional critique, and in a way sculpture, and the photograph, but not so much. It’s just a medium among other mediums that were considered and put into question or embraced to different degrees within this process. I think it was thinking retrospectively about it, like considering also these as somehow part, and (?? 39:19) of that process, I can say that, well at this moment, first of all, affects my perception of the piece at the time, and that it’s very much about the framing of experience, and it was a bit of a sample situation, so we were presented with samples of experiences in what could appear as either a mechanical way, but in fact it was played so gently, and not in a compulsory way, so that I appreciated, I mean, in general, I must say, but it’s my position, the way that I come to a piece such as that, I’m not so comfortable with the input, the output, kind of dynamics, would impose relational walls where you are expecting certain relations, and what the work brought, with itself in that sense, is a certain discretion, the fact that I was not alone in the space, in each of these four moments, with no weaknesses except for my own mental thinking about the fact. That was probably the thing that I appreciated the more. I didn’t have a clear opinion of the piece right after experiencing it, because I think it was messing up also with the idea of a clear and perfectly framable experience of the piece.

S2: Thank you.

S3: Sorry to interrupt, because we are getting out of time.