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

4th. Witness – approx. 30 min (transcript)

Exhibition Making Use – Life in Postartistic Times, Warsaw 2016
Stretching the Imagination workshop, (participant experience)

M: Monica
S2: Second speaker, female
S3: Third speaker, female
S4: Fourth speaker, female
S5: Fifth speaker, male

M: Okay, so my name is Monica (??). I came here from Warsaw, and I am supposed to tell you about my work, or collaboration with Jesper, at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, and I’m not a curator, I’m not an artist. In fact, I have never had anything to do with art before meeting Jesper, because I met him in February, I think, of this year, because like in January, I went to the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, because I wanted to be a volunteer. I was a little bit bored – well, maybe not bored, I was a little bit tired with my work, because I was a journalist, and (?? 0:50). I also had a literary café, and I was a little bit tired of it, so I went to the Museum, and I told them that I wanted to be a volunteer, and they accepted me, so to speak, and it was at the beginning of … because the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, it’s not so any longer, but it was placed in a modern, it’s in a very beautiful modernist building in Warsaw, which had been previously a furniture shop, a good furniture shop, but it’s a beautiful modernist building, but it was only, it didn’t belong to the Museum. The Museum was there only temporarily for some years, and it was giving away this building. The Museum was moving away from the building in May, so in the spring, we had like three last exhibitions there, and Jesper’s project was supposed to be a part of one of those three exhibitions. I’m sorry, I’m a little bit, like nervous. I am!

S2: I’m much more nervous than you. You only have to bear with me. I have to examine your work.

S: Okay, but I don’t want to say anything quick (? 2:08).

S3: You have to have that possibility, you know, to represent the work.

S: Okay, so the exhibition started by the end of February, and Jesper’s project was a part of it, and I got to know about the project by Jesper’s … I think it was an email sent to all the volunteers and educators of the Museum, just asking anybody who’d like to take part in the project, so I just, I said, okay – anything, just anything. I just wanted to do anything interesting, and anything a little bit different from being an owner of a literary café, and having to take care of the whole business and things, so I just signed in for that, without knowing, because you know, the email with the information about Jesper’s project was quite enigmatic – well, maybe it wasn’t enigmatic, it was quite long, but I couldn’t understand anything about it. So I thought that, okay, the less I understand, the better, because there are more things to think about, and more things to force yourself to find out, so yes, so we met like by the end of February, because we had like eight meetings, as far as I remember, during weekends. We met once a month, or something like that, once, twice a month, one weekend a month, Saturday and Sunday, like for four or five hours, and it was quite strenuous, to be with Jesper. It was a group of, I think, eleven people at the beginning, but then one, somebody dropped out at the very beginning, because it was like, when we met with Jesper, and he started telling us things about it, we didn’t understand anything. We were looking at each other, like, what the hell is he talking about? And we couldn’t understand, but I think that most of us, I mean, the one person that dropped out, she wasn’t prepared at all for it, and the rest of us were like totally open for it. I mean, at least me, I was like, just anything, you know? – just anything that might be interesting.
So at the first meeting, Jesper explained a little bit, and then he asked us, and that was the strangest thing – I didn’t like it, he asked us to write a description, sort of what we were expecting from this workshop, so it was like kind of a science-fiction work, like looking into the future, and then, during our meetings, we were, well he was like, during the two or three first meetings, for me he was like a kind of a (?? 4:55).

S2: A what?

S: (?? 4:57), a god. (?? 4:59), I think … it’s what you say, that’s how I felt, because we were there. He’s quite, well, he’s quite enigmatic, I would say, about Jesper, so he was telling us things, and we were just trying to do whatever he said, without understanding what he wanted us to do, but of course ….

S3: You knew nothing? You did not know anything?

S: Well, it’s not that we didn’t understand, because, for example, as the first, one of the first tasks, it was to paint a painting, and then to write poetry, so of course, we understood the exact thing we had to do, but then we are all, what are people thinking? So we are thinking, what is it all about, why we are supposed to – uhu, exactly, so when you don’t understand the purpose, you feel like people being ordered to do things by some kind of god, so that’s how he appears at the beginning, during our meetings.

S3: So you paint a lot, but he explained the purpose? – so you did not understand it?

S: He didn’t explain the purpose.

S3: And you did not ask?

S: No, we were a little bit ashamed, I think – yes, we were.

S3: Shy?

S: Shy, ashamed, because I’m speaking not only about me, like the ten of us. We were only like listen, okay – so what he wants from us, okay – he wants us to go there and to paint something, yes? – yes, so we were just concentrated on the details, and then after the meetings, we sometimes gossiped a little bit about what he wants us to do, but what is it all about, and things like that. So yes, that’s how it was, but it was really … but then, with time, I started to see things. It was also, well, I want to be a little bit chronological, so he made us paint, he made us write poetry, then he also made us sing.

S3: Sing?

S: Sing, yes, really sing.

S4: Sing a song?

S: Yeah, well, I wouldn’t call it a song, sing something. We had these paintings, and we had to write the poetry connected to the painting or it was the other way round, first write poetry, and then paint the painting connected to the poetry, and then everybody … because very important, for me, the thing was that we started this project when the Museum, when the exhibitions weren’t there yet, so you were working in an empty space, which was really just a beautiful space, in this modernist building – an absolutely beautiful space, and we were allowed to be there, and then we were allowed to put our paintings on the walls of that space, which was really, it was something, you know? – because we were like, kind of, starting to inhabit the space, like pretending, making something, I wouldn’t call it art, because it wasn’t art, but anyway we were somebody more, or somebody different than we were supposed to be as volunteers and as educators, and when we put the paintings on the walls, he asked us, each author of the painting was supposed to direct the rest to sing, in accordance with his or her painting. Do I explain myself? You just stood by your painting, and you are telling the other people, okay, you make this sound, you make this and you make that, and then you have this kind of communal singing, which was a little bit … well, it was okay, I think. (she laughs) Well, yes …

S4: At least.

S: At least.

S3: So (?? 9:11) the results of the painting, the poetry, the singing – did you enjoy it?

S: Yes, I enjoyed it extremely, although it’s not to say that I enjoyed it as, for example, lying on a beach. I enjoyed it like more, something that more gets on my nerves, more makes me think, but I enjoyed it really extremely, and also one of the first tasks before painting, when we were in that empty space, was to create, each one of us had to create our own work of art, just imagine it, and put it in a certain place of that empty space, and then explain, describe it to the rest of us, which was really absolutely beautiful, because I myself, well, for me it was really eye-opening and great, because I just discovered that I had so many pieces of art in my head, so just to create. I didn’t know which one to choose, I mean, my ideas were there in my head, so it was really great, and the people had really interesting ideas. It was a little bit like, modern art is a little bit strange, because in the past, you knew what you had to do to be an artist, and now it’s a little bit different, so when you saw those (?? 10:38) people, because in the group they were mostly young people, just creating their pieces of art. It was somehow subversive, because it made you think about those young people being artists as well, being able to be artists as well, because what they created was also interesting, if you know what I mean. I think it gave us some energy, first to believe in ourselves, what we did then, and yes, so we were painting, we were singing, we were making poetry, and then, which was a little bit different, Jesper asked us to think, I think it was the fourth meeting maybe, to think about some problems connected to our activities at the Museum, as volunteers or educators – some kind of things that were difficult for us, for example … for example, me, I talked about one thing, well, it was an adventure, so to speak, when I went to the toilet, and there I was attacked by a guard, who thought I was some kind of an intruder, who didn’t come to the Museum to see art, but only to use the toilet, so she just followed me to the toilet, and started shouting at me. It was funny, but at the same time I thought, okay, if she is going to do that with other people, that’s not okay, but … (she laughs), yes, because you know, you can enter a museum to use the bathroom only, and that’s okay. You don’t want the guards to shout at people only for entering bathrooms, but what was even more important in the whole story was that the guards, in our Polish museum, they are paid like ten Norwegian krone per hour, which is nothing, which is completely virtually nothing, so you start thinking, okay – well, I can tell her things, not to behave like that, but then again, if she’s paid so poorly, what is my right to tell her anything? So I spoke about this problem during the project with Jesper, when he asked us to speak about different problems, and then we could discuss things like that, so it was also very interesting to hear, to listen to people, to other people talking about other problems and things like that they had, something like that. Then he, during our last meetings, I think, you can hear how I say, I say all the time, he made us, he made us, because he made us do things really! (she laughs) – so he made us invent scenes, just imagine scenes and play scenes, like actors, so to speak, and what was also important for me is that I had this idea – well, it wasn’t my, it’s not important – I had this idea, because I’m also a journalist at heart, so I had this idea to make an interview with Jesper, so I made it, and it was published in (?? 14:01), which is, I think, the most important literary – not literary, but art and cultural online magazine in Poland, and it was quite a nice interview, I liked it, and people liked it at the museum, so when I spoke to Jesper for this interview, I had some opportunities to understand more about his work, but what I really, well, what I really liked during that workshop, that it was, well for me, as I was a complete outsider from the art world, it was like, for me, like entering a little bit the Museum and the art world through the back door, and not only as a volunteer, because you know, volunteers are people who are complete outsiders. The Museum of Modern Art seems to be a very, at the first sight, it seems to be a very democratic institution, but then, when you are there a little bit longer, you see that it’s very hierarchical, and there are hierarchies and people who are up there, like curators look down on educators, and something like that, that’s what I noticed, and when you are a volunteer, you are completely from the outside, which is very good, but then, if you get to work, for example, in the project like Jesper’s, you just get a little bit more insight without having to be part of this hierarchy, which was very nice, because I could observe all the relations between people, and of the dynamics, well, maybe not all of them, but still it gave me the opportunity to observe and to see a little bit more. It made my imagination work also, and I got to talk to people connected to the Museum, so it was like that, I think.

S3: Thank you.

S: You’re welcome.

S3: If there are some questions?

S4: So now do you know the purpose of it?

S: Well, when I talked … not exactly, I can suppose the purpose. The purpose was exactly that, what I started to understand by the end of it, just to let the people connected to the Museum, but not being the main actors of creating art, to take part of it in a little bit different way, to enter the Museum through the back door, to study the relationships between people who are also involved in the process of making art, but not as these main actors, so to speak.

S2: I have a question related to that. My own professional background is in museum and gallery education, so I’m coming from this angle, to look at the piece, and I know a lot and an increasing number of projects from museum and gallery education who do exactly that. They create these minimal spaces, the spaces in between, where you can be part of the thing without being necessarily exposed or subjected to the hierarchies, and also challenge the hierarchies, so that is quite … I wouldn’t say it’s a common thing, but it’s part of the practice, the system practice, since maybe 20 years, and usually the ethics of those projects it that everybody tries to get into an alliance, so there isn’t somebody like telling other people what to do, and not being clear about the purpose, but it is like, it’s about creating complicity between the people you know. So what do you think was the extra value, like, why was it necessary? – because it seems also, in other works, it seems to be a very necessary essence (? 18:01), not to tell the people involved actually too much about the purposes and the plans, so there must be a reason for that, they want to take that serious, so do you think the project would have functioned differently, if you all would have sat down in the first meeting, and had an agreement on, this is what we are trying to do together – we are trying to create this space together, and everybody contributes with their knowledge and their experiences, to the creation of this kind of in between space?

S: Well, when you know from the beginning what it is all about, first of all, if you know from the beginning before you sign in, then it’s kind of a way of selecting people, because if you know, before you sign in, what it is going to be about, then only certain people were inscribed – the people that are interested in it. If you don’t know anything, then it’s like the basic level, that you attract people that are basically quite open, and just want to know many things. They are not so focused, they are not, for example, educators wanting to get to know about the educational process, but you get more different people – that’s what I think, and then, when you already sign in, I think that if you know the purpose and everything like that, I think that there are different expectations. By saying what the thing will be about, you create expectations, quite specific expectations, and if you don’t tell specifically what it is going to be about, I think that the space then is more like the atmosphere then, is more like open – yes, for anything. I don’t know if it answers, I’m almost sure it doesn’t answer.

S2: Oh no, if you could leave that to me, I’m really pleased with (?? 20:00)

S: Okay, yes. For me, being there with Jesper, not really explaining very well, it was really mind-opening. I wasn’t, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t somewhere when I knew exactly what it was all about, how the process was going to develop, what were the outcomes, what were the milestones and things, so it was completely different. It was mind-opening, imagination-opening, and it also somehow made me notice and concentrate on the things I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

S3: I have another question, a short one. So you say, you understood the purpose of the words, to create this kind of …

S: More or less the purpose, just as I explained it to you a couple of minutes ago.

S3: But did you have any chance to express this understanding?

S: To Jesper, or to somebody else?

S3: Yeah, to make an outcome of this, to talk about it?

S: Well, I talked about it to my friends.

S3: I assume it was not in the Museum?

S: In the Museum, well, I wrote this interview, and I think, because as I wrote this interview, also because I worked as a volunteer there, and I worked as an educator, so I also got to meet curators, and the head of the volunteer department, so I spoke to them about it – yes, we did speak about it. It was very, it was also very interesting to observe, to see the interactions between, for example, the curators and our work, because they were a little bit … also they seemed not to know exactly how to approach us, how to approach, for example, our paintings, because when we painted it, and then the exhibition started, our paintings were left for a couple of days among the exhibition objects.

S2: How was the exhibition, apart from the paintings?

S: Well, I really liked it. The title was, “Making Yours” (? 22:08), and it was about artists entering the real space, I mean making real change in reality, so to speak.

S2: It was a group exhibition?

S: Well, mostly, because the exhibition didn’t consist really of objects of art, but more like of different reports of what artists, or a group of artists, did in the real world, in kind of a one-to-one scale, so you want to change the world, so to speak, and you undertake different things, enterprises, just to be in the real world, make a change, and the exhibition consisted mostly of reports of those activities, so our activity with Jesper was also a kind of … but we didn’t, well, we weren’t sitting all the time at the exhibition, but for example, a couple of days, our paintings were there. It was a little bit strange, because people, I mean the guests of the exhibition, they were looking at different objects, and then they were stopping in front of our paintings, not knowing what to do with this, because they presumed it was also like part of the exhibition, which was a little bit, I felt like a conman, I felt like a cheater.

S2: But it was part of the exhibition?

S: Yes, but at the same time, looking at my yacht, because I painted a yacht, hanging there, it was a little bit strange.

S5: A yacht?

S: A yacht, a boat, so well, it wasn’t art! Myself doing the art of painting, and talking to Jesper, are things, it was, but the mere yacht on this blue sea, I wouldn’t say it was art, although I’d like to be perceived as art, so that’s why I felt a cheater.

S2: Who curated this exhibition?

S: (?? 24:10)

S2: And they were curators of the Museum?

S: Well, Sebastian (?? 24:14)’s the main curator of the Museum, and (?? 24:18), well he collaborates as curator, as far as I know. I don’t know the exact relations, but Sebastian (?? 24:26)’s, the main curator, and they both just created and curated the exhibition, and it was really interesting, because it made you think a lot, because you read those reports, you started to think about things that artists do, and so on, but I’m not here to speak about the exhibition, but really, yes, it lasted like three months, I think, and it was one of the three exhibitions that were the last in the building, this modernist building which was previously the furniture shop, and then, at the beginning of May, it closed, and the whole building was closed, and the Museum was thrown out, so to speak, well moved out, so it was like a farewell exhibition.

S2: So, if I understand, from what you were telling, Jesper was an artist invited to this exhibition? – and the work in this exhibition was his interaction with you?

S: Yes.

S2: And what you show in the exhibition, was to say, a kind of representation of this interaction?

S: Well, we were part of this exhibition in the way that we made, we had those meetings. We had those workshops, and this workshop in its happening was part of the exhibition, but it’s not that we met in the middle of the exhibition, and it’s not that, for example, there were photographs of us meeting at the exhibition.

S2: No, but your painting, of the boat?

S: Yes, but it was only for two or three days, because I started talking about interesting interaction between curators and the artists, because when our paintings were hanging there, the curators didn’t really know what to do, because curators are really very attached to their exhibitions – that’s my observation, so they were a little bit stressed.

S2: The question is, why there were only two days there, I mean (?? 26:29)

S: I think there were two or three, yes.

S5: And you were painting for only three or four days?

S: Our paintings, yes – only for two, I don’t remember exactly.

S3: That’s what I understood, what I get – they were doing this workshop in the room?

S: Yes, it depended. Sometimes we did it in a room completely separated from the exhibition, sometimes in a corner of the main space, seated by a table, then sometimes we had to move around the space, just to hang our paintings, to sing, yes, and there was also one of the things we had to do, we had to, because I said that we had to create a scene, and then we had to create another scene, and we were filmed, and we did that in the middle of the exhibition, when people were there with all the objects and reports of the exhibition, with people walking around, and we were in the middle of that, just making up scenes and being filmed by Jesper, I think.

S2: I still have a question, it’s not yet clear – so they were displaying this hanging, and then they were taken away. What was left in the exhibition, not a work of Jesper?

S5: The film?

S: The film, yes, there are films, there are photographs. There is a description, because there is also the web page of the exhibition, so there is a description of it.

S2: Like, in the exhibition?

S: No, materially, like some objects, I don’t think there was any object, I don’t think so.

S2: So the painting is gone, everything is gone?

S: Well, as sometimes they are creating scenes, so like they’re short, but no object.

S2: So these are happening in the middle of the exhibition?

S: Sometimes in the middle of the exhibition, with people around; sometimes in a separate room, sometimes in the corner of the main space.

S2: But it was happening while the exhibition wasn’t started?

S: It started before the exhibition was, because our first thing was to get inside and imagine those objects, without the exhibition being there on display, and then the exhibition started, and as we were meeting once a month for two days, for three months, so it was also during the exhibition. I’m sorry, I just …

S2: No, no, it’s not your fault.

S: Technically it was like that.

S3: And the documentation was not part of the exhibition?

S: I don’t know anything about the … I’m sorry, I just don’t know …

S2: You didn’t see it in the exhibition?

S: Well, I saw, for example, one of the girls making photographs.

S2: But you didn’t see the photographs then, being placed or displayed?

S: No, because the photographs weren’t placed at the exhibition, so that’s, I’m sure of it. It was placed, for example, on the web page of the exhibition. There were photographs, and there was this interview I made in this magazine, but nothing like an object of the exhibition, besides those paintings for two or three days.

S2: I have another question – actually, it’s ending.

S5: It will be red hot!

S2: Did you know what was going to happen with all this material?

S: No.

S2: Did you sign any paper? I’m just asking now, I’m not being kind of, the police here – I just want to know, what was the nature of the contract, that’s what I’m trying to understand.

S: I don’t remember, I really don’t remember if I signed anything or not. I really don’t remember. I think it wasn’t important at all for me, because I was just very open, and I was like, hey – I can do anything, as long as is it interesting, and it was, so I don’t remember signing anything.

S4: I think we are out of time, sorry. Thank you very much.