The most peculiar sensation of rotating without moving – a conversation between gerlach en koop and Laura van Grinsven

Issue no2
April - May 2021
#WATGEVENWEDOOR

gerlach en koop made Was machen Sie um zwei? Ich schlafe: an exhibition that can be considered as a single work. It was closed almost immediately after it’s opening at GAK in Bremen, Germany. In conversation with the artists Laura van Grinsven finds traces of this invisible work in the space between falling asleep and waking up. There where you will find a distinctive ‘double recollection of the two bodies’.

—gerlach en koop You would have come to Bremen by train. From the station you would have walked straight on towards the river Weser. We would have walked towards the bridge from the other side, from the left bank, the Neustadt, where our flat was. We would have been able to see each other from afar.

—Laura van Grinsven Our conversation which began with an article for Metropolis M in 2013 continues today, in real life, over email, becoming increasingly precise. Conversation as a concept is too extensive, diffraction is better. We do not reflect, we do not mirror, we do not form any fixed ideas. We formulate propositions that make each other’s mindsets bend like an interrupted beam of light, and like this we make each other change direction repeatedly.

—gerlach en koop In 1961, Alberto Moravia proposed to Claudia Cardinale to interview her as an object in space. He hesitates, is a little nervous. He wants to describe how she appears in space, and how she disappears again. Cardinale starts answering just as hesitantly, surprised by his proposal, almost shy. Halfway through the interview a break occurs and he asks, 'What do you do at two?' I sleep,' she replies. 'At three?' 'I sleep' 'At four?' 'I sleep' 'At five?' 'I sleep' 'At six?' 'I sleep' 'At seven?' 'I sleep' 'At eight?' 'I sleep' 'At nine?' 'I wake up.' We were struck by Cardinale's mirroring of Moravia's impassiveness. You can’t get any closer.

—Laura van Grinsven Cardinale escapes from Moravia’s grip of the concrete. For a moment I hesitated to open Google street view to move digitally over the bridge towards the Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst.

—gerlach en koop Halfway across the bridge, we would walk down the peninsula together. Under the buildings, we would lower our voices because of the echo in the tunnel. We would ignore the large glass entrance with its aluminium frames and stop in front of a massive steel door without threshold or step, which looks like an emergency exit.

And it is the emergency exit. A large grey area in the wall. Twenty centimetres above street level. No door handle. A door bell though.

—Laura van Grinsven Now the exhibition Was machen Sie um zwei? Ich schlafe is hardly accessible, and the big question remains whether that will change, its existence has become spectral: an invisible, inaccessible presence.

—gerlach en koop There are so many exhibitions that we read about or hear about but do not see, or half see, or even less: on the black screens that die if we do not look at them often enough. Exhibitions that are too far away, or we have no time to visit, or were over before we knew it (sometimes long before we knew).

—Laura van Grinsven There are exhibitions I never saw and yet know quite well, such as Dylaby in the Stedelijk, Sonsbeek, Buiten de perken or When attitude becomes form.

Does your exhibition have a spirit? Does an exhibition have only one spirit?

—gerlach en koop Actually two. From the beginning, two works have been on our minds constantly without ever intending to include them in the exhibition: Sleep by Andy Warhol and Closed Gallery Piece by Robert Barry—by the way, what would exhibiting the latter work again actually entail?

In an old catalogue, we found a photo of the closed gallery door with the reflection of the photographer—maybe Seth Siegelaub—intended to document the work.

—Laura van Grinsven Sleep I saw long ago at the Stedelijk museum, in Warhol’s 2007 retrospective Other voices, other rooms. At the time, I didn't look at it extensively, and not very closely.

—gerlach en koop Indeed not the best circumstances for a film of more than 5 hours, or you should have gone back just for that. Sleep is referred to so often and you’ve seen stills of it so many times that you think you know the film without actually having seen it. That’s what it was for or us until a few years ago. We had always assumed that Warhol had simply pointed the camera at the sleeping John Giorno only to return to change the film, like he did with his screen tests. But that is not how it happened at all. Warhol moves the camera around the sleeper and brings the body into the frame at unusual angles so that you can’t always discern what you are looking at. The image is sometimes out of focus, the camera is close to the body, and therefore the composition becomes almost abstract. The sleeping body disintegrates and this is reinforced by the fact that the film was not shot in one night but is a montage of dozens of shots from as many nights.

The disintegration of falling asleep and the integration of waking up have become defining elements of the exhibition.

—Laura van Grinsven In August I received the invitation in my letterbox. A card with an earthenware pillow on it: a packshot, greenish background, indefinable space. The origin of the pillow is China, the first half of the twentieth century. It seems uncomfortable to me. It looks like it has been used frequently.

—gerlach en koop Sometimes the shape of an object is so ordinary, so obvious, that you cannot imagine that it could also look completely different. You realise that it must come from a different conception of sleep, from a different way of sleeping.

—Laura van Grinsven The documentation lies on my desk in front of me: the invitation, the exhibition booklet and the floor plan, the booklet with the conversation between you and Daniel Gustav Cramer and of course the digital photo file on my computer. There is a double wall that is placed on the location of the fold in the floorplan. It is not drawn onto it, you told me about it. That is not the place where, if I had been able to visit the exhibition, I would have started, I would not have immediately noticed that wall. After entering through the emergency exit I would have simply walked towards it and entered the room either from the left or right of it.

—gerlach en koop The narrow void between the two walls, a volume of 662 x 326 x 3 cm, cuts the elongated exhibition space across the middle and turns it into two spaces. We decided that one should enter the exhibition there, exactly at that point. And then, on the left, the works that we connect with the experience of falling asleep, and on the right, those we connect with that of waking up. The architecture made this possible, but it meant that the entrance had to be moved to the emergency exit.

For us, it was important, despite its central role in the exhibition—or perhaps because of it—not to be specific about the volume. Not more specific than a fold in the paper.

—Laura van Grinsven The exhibition opened and closed again almost immediately.

—gerlach en koop A surprisingly large number of people had come to the opening in view of all the travel restrictions. Everyone outside of course, in the tunnel. Because the situation was so unusual, we decided to say something—despite our preference for staying in the background. We talked about the Disappearing Bed by the inventor William Murphy, a bed that can be stored invisibly inside the wall, a so-called Murphy bed. Of course, saving space was the intention, but the consequence is that not only the bed disappears from everyday life, but also the bedroom, and with it sleep itself.

The double wall is a distant echo of the Murphy bed.

British scientist Matthew Walker wrote Why We Sleep. Many of the explanations given circle around the idea that sleep is necessary to repair things in the body that are disturbed by being awake. His book explains why sleep is so beneficial and useful and that automatically leads to the real unanswered question of his book: Why did life ever bother to wake up? Why We Wake Up.

—Laura van Grinsven In 24/7 Jonathan Crary argues that sleep is the last non-commodified human remnant. I immediately think of sleeping pills. Crary is concerned with sleep as a choice, or rather not sleeping as a choice. For example, the US military is investigating a species of sparrow that during their migration can go without sleep for seven days, as a model for soldiers who would hardly need to rest and fight in a war without sleep. Not sleeping is also a vicious and often used torture technique. That wish not to sleep is actually a nightmare. Sleep is culturally unpopular. Sleep is for wimps. Bad for the economy. I also don’t say when I go to bed early.

—gerlach en koop So that no one in the house will notice that you have gone to sleep? In sleep, the boundary between self and world fades. It is not you who sleeps, but rather something other that slips into and perfectly fits the mold that is you. Night has fallen outside, but it has also fallen within the sleeper, who has become indistinct to him or herself.

—Laura van Grinsven On the exhibition floor plan I see references to works by other artists. None of the numbers refer to any of your works. Do I understand from this that the exhibition as a whole can be considered a work of yours?

—gerlach en koop Yes.

—Laura van Grinsven The works are still themselves and at the same time as a whole they can be considered your work.

—gerlach en koop We shape the space in between. Most of the artists did not think about sleep in the specific work that we chose from them. In the way we show the works—sometimes completely differently from before—and relate them to each other, something is highlighted in each work that can also sink back into it when the spaces in between change or disappear.

—Laura van Grinsven You are opening up your authorship, initially for each other. Your practice is the third artist that moves in between your interspace. It doesn't end there. The location, the collection, other artists, other thinkers, all kinds of objects and often literature also contribute. The third artist gerlach en koop is not a static body, it is a living organism that exists because of other influences. Here too I am reminded of diffraction. You are not afraid to change course, acknowledge the other as co-author of gerlach en koop.

—gerlach en koop For us, authorship has become rather fluid. With co-authorship, you still assume that it could be taken apart, but it cannot.

—Laura van Grinsven After a diffraction, you cannot bend back.

—gerlach en koop It’s all and nothing.

—Laura van Grinsven In pushing your ego back from the work and opening it up to the situation and to other(s) who can make a statement, your practice is highly political. Although the gestures seem minimal, a small procedure can trigger a movement that unsettles everything. Taking the door out of the entrance of the De Appel Denial (2015) meant that no one actually entered De Appel to see your solo exhibition ‘Choses tuées’ there. The whole institute became a question.

—gerlach en koop Mark Geffriaud said that your thoughts are reset when you pass through a doorway.

—Laura van Grinsven The resistance I feel viewing the digital photos stems from the format and the situation in which I have to view them: at my desk on my laptop, in Apple finder format. Long ago, when I saw your work with Ellen de Bruijne for the first time and immediately developed a kind of love for it, that was certainly due to a fragmented perception. The relationship with the space, the alienating objects, the route that was affected by obstructions and of course the texts in my hand. Watching, thinking, reading, imagining, laughing, all at the same time and mixed together. And, and, and ... and then, it all doesn't add up anymore, then things separate from their fixed ideas, everything is suddenly absurd and made free for new connections. I love that moment when I no longer understand it.

—gerlach en koop Yes, it seems superfluous to emphasise that the exhibition is made to be experienced in the physical exhibition space—defined expansively, but that seems increasingly less obvious.

At the same time, we included in the exhibition booklet an existing text by Jean-Luc Moulène in which he says that the idea of an audience does not appeal to him at all, that this comes from marketing, and he is already happy when there are one or two spectators in whom the objects resonate, in body or mind. He has no illusions about comprehension, because that arises outside the work. Or not. He proposes to close his exhibition the moment it is finished. We made a small change to one of his sentences so that his text could speak about our exhibition: ‘We would like for these objects to be considered for what they are and what they say to each other, and not because we chose them.’

—Laura van Grinsven You also choose from the collection of the Bonnefantenmuseum. It is not only choosing, it is also re-doing. For a work to be in your exhibition, or for a chosen object, word, quote, to become part of your work, it must allow itself to be deflected by you.

—gerlach en koop To make Moulène's sentence logically correct, we only needed to change the subject and change 'make' to 'choose'. Moulène weakens the importance of making and through him we weaken the importance of choosing. A revision that, before your eyes, almost of its own accord seems to agree: yes, this is how it is.

—Laura van Grinsven I do remember the work Shoe Shine (2004) by Francis Alÿs you showed there. You disconnected the sound from the image, of course in consultation with the artist. The shoe polish sounds could be heard in the halls; very indeterminate without an image. Normally in sound the thing is very close, you hear the object more than the sound itself. The window closes. Here, that was not the case. The image of the shoe shiner could only be seen on a screen in the control room, inaccessible to the spectators of the exhibition. A curator would never have attempted that.

—gerlach en koop You are probably right, but for us it is rather artificial to make a distinction between artist and curator. Thinking about how something is displayed, why it is exhibited, in what context and so on, has long been a part of being an artist and not the preserve of curators. And the step from one's own work to the work of others is not such a big one, especially within a collaboration (because what does ‘own work’ mean in that case anyway?).

—Laura van Grinsven The simultaneity of the event of the exhibition, normally immediately imposed upon the viewer, unavoidable shatters in fragments within this conversation. The reality of the exhibition is spectral, it haunts this text, within it’s words and sentences that change direction.

Empty Room by Daniel Gustav Cramer is a room in a house in Japan which is emptied and closed off for the duration of your exhibition. In the booklet carrying the same title, a conversation between him and you is printed. It also contains a postcard with a photo of the road that leads to it. Both the visitors of the exhibition and the readers of the booklet can only imagine that space. How would it smell there? What is the temperature? Is there dust on the floor or is there a dead fly on the window frame? At the moment the exhibition at the GAK closed, the room in Japan is opened again, and is filled again with furniture, inhabitants and life.

—gerlach en koop One night, Frederik van Eeden dreamed he was lying in the garden on his stomach. At the same time he knew with perfect certainty that he was dreaming and lying on his back in bed. And then he resolved to wake up slowly and carefully, to observe how the sensation of lying on his stomach would change into the sensation of lying on his back. ‘And so I did, slowly and deliberately, and the transition—which I have since undergone many times—is most wonderful. It is like slipping from one body into another, and there is distinctly a double recollection of the two bodies.’*

* Frederik van Eeden, ‘A Study of Dreams’, in: Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 26, London: Society for Psychical Research, 1913.

This English translation is proofread by Alex Farrar

 

Laura van Grinsven
is an art historian and philosopher

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 2 — 2021