Questions to Allen Ruppersberg about his exhibition "One of Many - Origins and Variants" in Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 11.12.05 - 19.02.06. **
The e-mail interview took place in December 2005 and January 2006. Birgit Jensen and Lothar Frangenberg corresponded with Allen Ruppersberg for kunstaspekte. (Translation: Birgit Jensen and Kate Houghton) **
kunstaspekte: Is it still important for you to be called a "first generation conceptual artist" or do you think more critically about the definitions of concept art today?
Ruppersberg: "First generation conceptual artist" situates me in a period of time and positions me in a relationship to my peers. It positions my contributions, such as they are, in a historical period which I think is important. I was very involved with the ideas of the time and this shows in the work I think. They reflect on each other and on their times and whatever I think of the idea of concept art today reflects the times and age I am now. A lot has happened between these periods both to myself and to art.
There is a strong emphasis on the presentation of your work in the Düsseldorf exhibition, while earlier works like "Where's Al?" seem more casual and improvised. In your more recent work the aesthetic moment and the sensual qualities of the creative process seem to play a much more important role. We found that your newer work sought an an ultimate perfection without reflecting the production process. Do you think there is a significant development concerning the issue of presentation between your older and newer works?
It's true I was probably more involved in the process of the work at an earlier time although there are other works of mine from the period that would be not so casual looking. There is a large difference between conceptual and neo-conceptual works as to how they look and what they are after but the time span between them in actual fact is not so large. I think my development as an artist reflects that also. You look at different things and I began to look at the more poetical side of objects in art that I had always admired. Things that stand alone and can be nothing else but art whereas before I was probably more involved in the blurring of things and categories.
Which consciously aesthetic decisions do you make when producing your work? Your work seems to be produced and developed according to a precise conception of order. Take for example the various symmetries and precise linearity: Are the principles of order you apply as important as the subject matter you have chosen, or as the visual impulse which signals the beginning of your work (1)?
I'm quite orderly so I can't help it. The subject remains the primary starting point and I follow a logical path to the presentation (or it seems so to me anyway). I can see something visually that starts the process but the process itself is more cerebral and investigates a subject to some initially unknown end. Each work has only one form of original presentation and aesthetic decisions are in accordance to that subject. As you see in the exhibition there is no consistent formal approach. I choose to use as many approaches as I can think up and sometimes after a piece is realized one way I'll decide to do it another either because I can now see it would be better or just to confuse the issue.
Found objects from everyday life appear in different contexts in your work. Do High and Low Culture really exist alongside each other, as you have said in the past, if creative works are confined to the walls of a museum? Doesn’t classical presentation in an institution of art make them all equal in the sense that everything becomes art? Even the popular takes on auratical qualities, prompting the museum visitor to perceive it as art. Doesn’t everything become art in such surroundings, regardless of where the found object originated? Do you return the Benjaminian "aura" to the (reproduced) piece of art?
Yes I agree that once things move inside of the museum they all take on the same aura. The experiments we all participated in have seen to this. But these objects still remain what they are when they are first seen in the "real" world. This is what I enjoy about them even after I see them incorporated into a work. My and others sophisticated selves of course know the dialogue but I think it still has some relevance to others to see these things in other contexts. There are still different rules and considerations for things high and low in the many different contexts they exist in and this is what I still like to consider.
The construction trailer in "Siste Viator" seems to be much more an altar-like cabinet, ajar -- a theatre prop, if you will -- than a means of transportation. One has the impression that it is now a medium for "transporting knowledge". Was this change in emphasis necessary because the work was brought from outside inside (into the Arnheim library) or should we see this work as an example of a general tendency toward more conscious and aesthetic placement?
The Siste Viator wagon was made into a different object when it entered the Arnhem library. The original trailer was an actual working one from the period that I restored in it's location in the cemetery. When it was to move as a work into the library it had to be completely rebuilt to a smaller size and was redesigned at this time to make it more of a display object. Its nature as an object was altered as was the context in which it was to be seen. It had to be experienced in a different way and this determined its "aesthetic" approach.
Where is the thematic connection between "Locus Solus" by Raymond Roussel and the Grave of the Unknown Soldier in your work "Raymond Roussel Falls to the Floor (Discovering Art), A Biography with Additional Notes"? "Locus Solus" seems to be a verbal labyrinth full of artistic imagination to the point of delusion, in which language runs riot against all forms of convention. “The Grave of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington" points to political and social issues. Do your drawings reference the monument in combination with the literary idea ("Locus Solus") of freedom of the artist – in analogy to the excessively process-oriented style of authors like Raymond Roussel? Are you playing with a surplus of meaning in this work?
The Raymond Roussel piece is a visual illustration of his working method as seen in "Locus Solus" from my reading of it. The Grave of the Unknown Soldier is used here as some kind of a mysterious and magical construction that exits in the world in parallel to Roussel's constructions in his fictions. People gather around it without really knowing what it is. The political and social issue was not what I was precisely focused on, only that at its base it is a fiction also. It is the word unknown which plays the major role here. It was more about the making up of stories which remain unknowable but seem real and exist in the imaginations of people everywhere. The intermixed stories of the people looking at this object are presented as fictions masquerading as facts. The biographical facts of Roussel's life read like fiction and the details ascribed to the people seen looking at this unknowable object in the image seem like facts. But of course are fiction except they are based loosely on facts from my own biography.
Using techniques like combination, superimposition and implicit cross-referencing, what do you expect from the visitor of the exhibition? Do you consider your work “self-explanatory"? What kinds of background knowledge are necessary for viewing your work? What does the institution need to communicate when presenting your work?
I don't really see my work as that much different than other artists I respect so I assume the visitor will look at it much the same way as they do other shows by similar artists. There is the catalog presented by the institution for those who want to look further and I think this is sufficient. All shows require whatever amount of background you can bring to it and this is the beauty of being able to return to a show as many times as you want. The ideas should seep in slowly and then you can return for a refresher course. At least that is how I approach most exhibitions and hope others do the same with mine.
In the catalog to the exhibition “One of Many - Origins and Variants" W. Zumdick among other things describes your work as an experiment in new poetry, consisting of everything which can be taken to represent the world. Have you come closer to reaching this aim? Are there any completed works in your oeuvre which cannot ever again be reopened, reused, transformed or changed?
I hope my work is truly an experiment in poetry trying to represent everything in the world. I have a long way to go but that's the idea I remain committed to. Just as Doug Huebler once proposed photographing everyone in the world, I try. Yes, I think there are works which can't be opened again in their present form but if those forms change in my mind…who knows. I remain open on that question.
(1) Please refer to Belinda Grace Gardner's interview with Allen Ruppersberg from October 13, 2005 for artnet: "...mein erster Impuls ist immer visuell..." ("... my first impulse is always visual ...")