Wait to Wait
Boris Groys and Andro Wekua
The following conversation is an except from a longer interview between Andro Wekua and Boris Groys published in Wait to Wait, edited by Christoph Keller, forthcoming in April 2009 from Christoph Keller Editions and JRP/Ringier Kunstverlag, Zürich.
Boris Groys: We’ve already spoken before about the fact that people have an ambivalent attitude towards the art situation today—at least I do, as someone who writes about art. On the one hand, that situation appears very rosy: everything is moving forward, artists are accepted and recognized as never before, they’re economically successful, too, and being an artist or participating in the international art scene in any way is seen as cool. But, at the same time, there’s a certain pessimism and depression, a feeling of arbitrariness and pointlessness with regard to what’s being done in art. At least in the West there’s that mood. Do you feel that, too? Does it have an impact on you?
Andro Wekua: I have the same impression, too, and I’ve noticed that nowadays it’s very trendy to be an artist, and, consequently, there are a lot of them, and so many different self-contained scenes. But, in the midst of this boom I also detect a great loneliness. At the very time you find yourself in such a big, very active, very lively scene, you feel the other side all the more strongly. You almost have to decide if you want to stick with your work—or whether you want to join in all this activity in the context. Sometimes you don’t know how to divide up your energy because the whole business is just too big.
Groys: Of course we both come from the same part of the world, from what used to be the Soviet Union, although we certainly belong to different generations. When I recall my youth—there were a number of circles in art and culture then, too. But, within a particular circle, you felt fairly well looked after. You had the good feeling of being in a friendly atmosphere. There was support from other artists or writers. There wasn’t any feeling of competition. But right now in the West there’s a prevailing and overwhelming tendency towards individualism, and, as a result, a corresponding feeling of competition. You speak of isolation and loneliness. I don’t believe these feelings stem from the fact that you’ve come from outside. Indigenous, western artists are in the same boat.
Wekua: As I know a few artists from the older generation, I can well imagine that nurtured feeling. But today the time pressure in itself is much too great. If you join in everything that’s going on in the scene, you’re simply much too busy. But, you know, you just have to have some time to hang out with your friends now and again and simply do nothing for three days or simply chat about things from time to time. I think that plays a very large role. We’re always on the move, travelling a lot, so we’re no longer tied to one place where it might also be possible to grow. So we’re virtually always on the move with our own backpack and hoping we’ve got enough in there to fetch out.
Groys: I understand exactly what you mean. It’s the feeling of constantly just giving out and being active, but getting very little back. For you can derive energy first and foremost from just those conversations that lead nowhere, from relaxed meetings with friends you can talk with about every conceivable thing— impressions, feelings, and moods arise from them that you can do something with. If we just work the whole time, then it really is as if we’re living out of a backpack that we have to get everything out of. The question is: where does it all come from? How do you fill that backpack? Is it filled up once and for all and never again after that? Or do you always keep on filling it up?
Wekua: At the start of my work, my backpack was well stocked. What comes from outside helps me to give it shape and get my work moving. But it certainly wouldn’t have come from there alone. Exchange and information also take your work forward. Despite that, I’d reckon that the major part of my work is derived from that same backpack.
Groys: It seems to me that’s the case with almost everybody. Really everything is first accumulated before you begin to make art at all, before you start being active in this business. The artist creates from the store that’s already been collected when he starts being active in the art scene. But that used not to be the case. Dalí or Picasso went to Paris and only once there did they start to observe new trends, accumulate them, and become artists. Perhaps we no longer do things that way today. You enter the art scene with the baggage you already have. If Dalí or Picasso were to come to Paris today, then I imagine they’d be seen as Catalan artists who’d live off their Catalan cultural identity. They wouldn’t be able to sit around for days, weeks, and months in the Paris cafés and stock up on everything; they’d start working straight away so as to stamp out the label of their Catalan identity. In this sense, I think that outsiders and newcomers from other countries are often the most active and productive because they’ve got a bigger backpack so to speak, because they’ve accumulated more. Can you say that of yourself, too? Have you brought the material you work with from Georgia with you?
Wekua: Of course my memory, my life story, play a major role in my work. At the same time, whether I come from Georgia or Africa plays absolutely no role. But the intensity and variety of my feelings are so strong that I have to do something with them be- cause it splits me, as it were. In principle I have to develop a doppelgänger in order to hold things together somehow. I have a great deal of contact with other artists—but the problem is that we simply no longer get together in that way, also because the need isn’t really there any longer. Of course you can also pick up a great deal of information and lots of new things without being together like that—you don’t have to sit with one another any longer to learn about this and that, information comes from everywhere.
Groys: Yes, you don’t need personal contact any more.
Wekua: And that’s why it comes about nowadays that everyone at some time takes a step back in order not to get lost.
Groys: It works almost the same way as with Marcel Proust. To start with he spent his time just living and writing nothing—and then he only wrote about what he’d experienced. At first he lost time—spent a lost, inactive period of time—and then he retrieved that time and processed it. It seems to me almost as if everyone’s doing the same thing nowadays.
Wekua: That way of operating seems to me to be the natural one. For everything else you have to expend a great deal of effort. At least for me that way of working comes most naturally at the moment, and I think that in principle that’s how things work.
Groys: But what’s the nature of those memories, exactly? You say whether you come from Georgia or Africa plays no role. Is it a question of memories of your own feelings, the surroundings you come from, or memories of the political situation?
Wekua: They’re weird memories—but ones that don’t frighten me any more. Little stepping stones, but I can no longer put them together. Every single one of these phases could be the material for a film in its own right, but even so there’s a red thread running through them all. They could also be memories that are just a year or a day old. I often feel the need to arrange my memories—even if that may sound funny.
Groys: Yes, if we look at your works, they do in fact resemble quotations from a dream. They have something symbolist or surrealist about them. They could also be stills from a film; they remind me a bit of David Lynch, who, of course, also works with dream sequences in his films. Are your “film stills,” if I can call them that, related to the reality of your earlier life in Georgia—or are they purely subjective pictorial constellations that can simply arise in sleep, too?
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About the Authors
Boris Groys is a Professor of Philosophy and Art Theory at the Academy for Design in Karlsruhe, Germany, and Global Professor at New York University. He is the author of many books, including Ilya Kabakov: The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment (Afterall Books, 2006) and Art Power (MIT Press, 2008).
Andro Wekua is a Georgian-born artist living in Z√ºrich, Switzerland. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Z√ºrich; and Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam. He is represented by Gladstone Gallery, New York.