During FIAC 2017, the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain in Paris, the work Domestikator duly signed by Atelier Van Lieshout should have been installed in the Paris Jardin Des Tuileries as part of the program Hors Les Murs.
“Should” because, a few weeks before the opening, the board of the Louvre refused the installation, “avoiding the risk that it could be walked on by the public in the garden”. The censored work, a 12-meter sculptural build that symbolises in an abstract way the “act of subjugation” between man and animal, alluding to the domestication carried out by mankind on each other and on the planet in general, was commissioned by the Ruhrtriennale di Bochum, in Germany, where it has been installed in the last three years, and used as an experimental space for theatre and performing arts. It is certainly not the first scandal to appear in the history book of contemporary art, and in this specific case the drama is not surrounding in the general perception and intrinsic meaning of the work, but in the role of the institutions, that they should defend freedom of expression as a direct channel to foster awareness and awareness. “There is a trend taking place in the art world,” van Lieshout explains, “To submit to public opinion and avoid anything that could raise a debate. But art is a way to reflect on the society in which we live. As an artist, I think the role of institutions and artists is to guide people in interpreting the paradigms of lives and to not be afraid of being judged.”
Fortunately, the story is not over: Domestikator has been installed at the Centre Pompidou, which with the support of FIAC and Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery has voiced great opposition in censoring the work.
In a conversation with the artist in his house-atelier in Rotterdam, we investigated the specific position of one of the artists whose work is among the most ambiguous and paradigmatic of the contemporary art world.
In the CryptoFuturism series, you write about revisiting Futurism a century ahead. What fascinates you about the movement and what is, if any, the political orientation behind this thought? I like Futurists because they have been revolutionaries, starting with the way we understand art. They produced completely different works from what existed before their time, and crossed all the boundaries between what is considered art and what is not including design, music and performance. Futurists believed in a new possible utopia, which drove this directional change. It’s been frequently document however, that Futurists have made questionable choices such as supporting fascism and wishing officiate Art, even if in fact it was not accepted by the regime. And this is probably the moment when utopia meets its opposite, dystopia. In breaking any reference to the past, the Futurists believed that war and violence would be the ultimate and definitive tool to achieve and conquer change. In their case, the war also brought incredible progress in the form of technology. The beginning of the last century was as dramatic as it was innovative, if you think about the developments of transport, information and communication. And I think that today, for the same reason, we live again in a world that changes radically: human labour has been replaced by machines, decisions are made by an algorithm, robots will guide and act as lawyers, our life can be manipulated or prolonged thanks to genetic manipulation… we are undergoing epochal changes in the way humans live.
What is your position with respect to all this? I’m feeling lost. I remain a romantic, and I am tempted to return to the industrial age, or to support a more natural way of understanding our existence, in which man is responsible for his own society. But new technologies play a fundamental role in how our society, and our economy, are and will be guided.
It means that there will be people who will be provided with knowledge, machines, quotas, algorithms, and many others that will simply be unemployed. So: do we continue as we are doing, or should we distribute the wealth? If such a balance could exist, we all could end up working only 8 hours a week. A sort of last concept of communism, accepting that well-being is not in the hands of individuals, but actually in those individuals who renounce individual domination.
I also know that this will not work. If I think of myself, I do not really want that much free time. Every moment I have available I use it to create something. There will be people who just don’t know what to do with “time”. The liberation from work, which on surface level appears as a utopia, also forces the thought of a dystopian, unfair and unsustainably unemployed world. On the one hand, therefore, you have these enormous possibilities that technology creates, on the other the strong emergence of a form of populism, of fascism; if you combine the two things you get a really disturbing formula.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: many of your works express a kind of intrinsic brutality from which emotional nuances form; what is the alteration of thought that you want to provoke through the use of these codes? First I like to contradict myself, on the one hand I create, on the other I destroy. I do not want to be categorised. I do not want to be associated with a simple and trivial ideology. And this is why I am so criticised by idealists who turn out to be hypocritical idealists. So mine is a critique of the hypocrisy of our society. It is the refusal to request answers. But I’m interested in starting thoughts, raising questions. I put the spectator in front of an image that shows the good and the bad, the rational and the irrational, the real and the surreal. Do you know what was one of the most important books I read, and which I copied by hand with feather and ink? The Prince by Macchiavelli. This book is the first that deals with politics and sociology, looking at people’s behaviour (and how they move to achieve power) without any notion of morality. Look at the world without considering ethics. My work provokes an ethical thought because it does not consider it as an instrument, nor as a means.
One of the declinations of CryptoFuturism is the series The End of Everything, which embraces a reflection on the consumption patterns of society. What is your position, and why the idea of the end? The End of Everything, is a story about change. Whether we should provoke change, or refrain. A possible, less programmatic way is to bring everything back into the cycle of reuse. In recent works I have put in place destructive actions, I have designed machines that pulverise everything, and readjust what I get to make new works and furniture. On a metaphorical level, reconstruction has the double value of erasing everything, and this represents a second possible way forward: to provoke an apocalyptic action able to determine a blank space from which to feel free to re-imagine our reference systems. Even if it means going back 2000+ years.
What is your end? My end? It will be heroic. I will die in battle. Struggling for the world.