Patricia Martin (PM): Let’s start by talking about your relationship with Peter Fischli & David Weiss’ work
Luis Felipe Ortega (LFO): I became familiar with the work of these artists in the nineties. Photographs of the equilibrium seriesand the video The Way Things Go (1986) remained on my mind for a long time and then I began to thoroughly investigate their work. In 2004, they were in Mexico for their retrospective at the Tamayo Museum and I felt very fortunate to be invited to a guided visit lead by them.
I knew of your working relationship with them and I consider that the retrospective exhibition you curated for the Tamayo left a strong mark on artists of my generation as well as the generation of younger artists. During that museum visit, I was surprised with Fischli & Weiss’ mix of humility and wisdom. By way of their narration I felt closer to their processes—I could go beyond the readings I knew of their work (such as Boris Groys). That encounter lead to a sort of ethics of an artistic practice. Hearing them talk drew my attention to the fact that their rigorous manner of working was a reoccurring route that they undertook, which allowed the seemingly chance occurrences in their work to be possible. I understood that if everything is chance, nothing is chance.
PM: For Peter and David it was always very important to "waste time" as a way of dealing with a contemporary culture that considers time as a temporality for production. Everyone "produces" something or is on their way to becoming a maker of something. How do you relate to the idea of time and production?
LFO: Fischli & Weiss’ relationship with "wasting time" during long work hours is a key to an awareness of the present. In contrast to the rhythms of leisure time, or of time spent not working, they worked long, very long, hours in order to obtain very little. But that "very little" in the end was artificial, not only existentially but also in political positioning. They managed to reduce the results of their work to a sort of minimum enhanced the maximum--longer production time, would result in less material outcome. That idea was very important for my intervention with the series of photographs entitled Flowers. In this intervention, time (and materials) work as another layer. There are already two exposures, two pathways, two gazes; everything is arranged in random fashion thanks to the chance that comes into play. I understand all of this as an accumulation of time.
In my case, I had a stencil that I used to make another layer. I would start with a drawing, a stroke, a composition, and then after long hours applying color, decisions inevitably became very deliberate. The two layers become three layers, three points of view, from one physical path (made by the layers), to a millimetrical pathway I made to reflect their / my image. This "waste of time" is a device I used, an appropriation of their practice (and not just their photographic images).
PM: Flowers is a piece that is derived from Peter & David’s very clear and mature practice. There is a double exposure (analogue by the way) that generates images from precise rules whose outcome appears as a random action. They are very European in that they were educated by the rational procedures of their culture; but in the end it was the Dadaists school that set them free. Tell me about your practice—your selection process and means of intervention within your piece.
LFO: I lived in São Paulo from April to July of 2012. I had gone there with the intention of investigating the generation of Brazilian artists that followed the Neoconcrete movement (in a way it was about studying my own generation). I rented an apartment / studio in the neighborhood of Santa Cecilia and spent most of my time reviewing books and texts from these Brazilian artists while intervening in a series of 40 images that were part of Peter Fischli & David Weiss’ exhibition catalog,Flowers.
I first saw this book in New York in 2002 but I didn’t have the money at the time, so it was not until 2008 that I bought it in the same city. Then it sat on my bookshelf for four years. In order to intervene those images I decided to make a stencil, a grid-like template. From this geometry I overlaid a drawing onto each image and finally filled those squares with acrylic paint. At first the colors came from the images, but then I decided to liberate my color choices and played with my own palette.
The decision, that particular form of intervening the piece, derived from my relationship with Brazilian artists, particularly the geometric and pictorial designs they used in order to engage with daily life in their work and with their work in daily life.
My contribution to Flowers combines two sources of information and two temporalities. On the one hand, the Flowers works concerns a series of filters used in the selection of the pieces that have to do with the process in which they are made and the commentary that the work makes about images and visibility. On the other hand, my work approaches the way in which Brazilians have been relating to composition and the potential for ordering the world geometrically and emotionally while stepping away from European rationalism (which ultimately is their source). I’m not playing any game here in the sense that I’m hiding my sources. I literally lean on my references and make them visible. From this logic, I feel close to contemporary artists like Jean-Luc Moulène whose work derives from a sort of social-objective practice. In my case, my own practice comes from works that circulates as cultural and or intellectual products.
PM: How do you form connections with certain artists? Each time you start a project do you begin by weaving your methodologies from connections you have with other artists? How do you consider your work in terms of Brazilian “antropofagia”?
LFO: Strictly speaking I have always worked in relation to, and in tension with, other artists that have interested me since the beginning of my career and with whom I have had a long relationship. I am interested in a thorough selection of artists and works with whom I’ll be in company with and with whom I’ll keep in dialogue with on different levels: material qualities, emotional references, and ethical / political aspects (from my point of view, the conceptual traverses all three levels).
Why and how do I choose the artists that I choose? If I think that what another artist has discovered through his artistic practice will nourish and transform my own process, then this connection can be maximized to form multiple levels of dialogue. In the end, I have before me an interlocutor with whom I will continue an ongoing relationship.
Implied in this is a foundation from where I can begin. I can then try to push a little further the practices of the other artists. Some of these ideas and forms of appropriation come directly from a sort of Brazilian “antropofagia”, seen in how artists can pull on that trigger in the production of their work. Generally the critical appropriation of artistic processes is very slow. That was a very important thing that I learned in my intervention with Flowers, which is now mine and is called Double Exposure (Expanded).
I spent many days in my studio in São Paulo "wasting" time, spending hours trying to make a link between my idea of the rational / geometrical and the natural order that emerges from the flowers portrayed by Fischli & Weiss. I wanted that intake mechanism, the link to operate from a millimetric perspective as a way to superimpose on / intervene in the images of this duo.
I was working on an ocher image when a friend of mine wrote me and told me about the death of David Weiss ... I still had a lot of pictures ahead.
PM: Every time I read a review of the work of Fischli & Weiss, I think they felt the need to reorder the world through artistic actions which where resolved often through intuition. Even when they did very specific gestures, they were actually betting on a lengthy process in order that the sum total would make possible a new condition of things.
Visible World Series (which brought them to Mexico and allowed me to see them working up close) is definitely one of those pieces that is essential for understanding how an artist is able to propose a world (through their visibility and point of view) that can alter the way we live out the everyday. From this idea, what kind of order do you generate in your Flowers intervention?
LFO: In this series I worked with double exposure images and from there I was able to comment on / intervene in that process. There was the possibility of reordering the images in the way that Fischli & Weiss tried to order the world through their travels, making possible at the same time the invention of new landscapes in addition to the double exposure. Taking on this "double-image" implied that I was responsible for saying from where and how I articulate my resources, materials, references, citations, and plagiarism. I am interested in showing how my work highlights artists and their works; I want to continue to comment on them and their work within my own time and space.
I think the work of these artists will remain important because they managed to impose irony, absurdity, and humor on a language (art) that has relied heavily on a pseudo-conceptualism. They were able to bet on their own rules and supersede them, allowing them to go further. Due to their own found mechanisms and strategies they had a framework in which the language of sculpture, photography and video could be transformed.
When I intervened Flowers I thought of all the different ways I had related to certain spaces, materials, and languages throughout my own practice. I thought about my interventions in public spaces with my body (Docile Bodies 1995-1997) or the more recent pieces where I don’t resort to any anecdote except for geometry and a monochrome palette (series of drawings with graphite, 2008 to date). In my work there is usually little color and I have never painted before. Fischli & Weiss always considered their materials as raw material. But this material in and of itself had a very valuable dignity to them. They sought a balance between what the material was and its derivatives. But always with a sense of humor about everyday life, looking for equilibrium between the various elements and above all looking for overall balance in all of their work. All is contained and executed in a masterly manner in Suddenly This Overview, a series made many times with a material (raw clay) and a multiplicity of ideas.
Often, while working on these images I played an absurd game in which I changed my eye focus and try to observe only the color grid overlapping the flower landscape. I enjoyed that nonsense. Amid the silence of the studio, I found myself at my table whispering, “What nonsense! What am I doing here in São Paulo, stuck for hours and days looking at the pictures of these two crazies!?” ... But still, I kept on working. Later, I wrote you an email in which I told you I was glad to be working on the piece. I was trying to make something happen in my practice, at that time, within that specific process. Somehow, I was trying to alter their point of view, I wanted to rearrange the order they established with a gesture made of poetry and absurdity.
* The title of this conversation referes to a game practiced by Peter, David and myself. It was a way of communicating, of making up a rite: our sentences would start with they found out that... as if all our thoughts could string together and have multiple interpretations, layers and possibilities; in this way we would build a world of events, of moments. The single rule was that whoever continued the conversation, had to start with that same phrase.