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Dorothea von Hantelmann (DvH): Let's start with low pieces, a project you've been working on between 2009 and 2011. We see a group of people that move through moments that are perceived as images of animals, or machines, or plants. They never stand up, they never walk, never represent the human figure. This idea of approaching a deconstruction of the human body through the non-human, is an ongoing theme and method of your work. Here, however, you work with a group of performers, and, in this piece quite explicitly, also with the group of visitors, the audience. How do you approach the social through a gathering of non-humans, of stones, animals or plants?

Xavier Le Roy (XLR): My motivation to look for ways of transforming the human into something non-human is guided by the necessity to escape the processes of identifications that humans tend to throw back and forth to each other. When we worked on low pieces we were looking for ways to embody movements and sounds from diverse machines and animals and later on from things that come from vegetal or mineral worlds. The embodiment of each of these “non-human” actions involves diverse methods such as imitation, imagination, execution of tasks, and often, a mixture of all. They also develop specific performing techniques. At the same time they condition how we can see or look at each other, how we can or cannot listen to others, and they produce different kinds of agency for the performers. So the people performing these actions behave and relate to each other according to specific modes. They form some kinds of “social groups” resulting from the set of relations produced by each specific embodiment. As for the interaction with the audience that you asked about: We wanted to use the possibility that the theater offers (unlike e.g. a movie-screening) to have a conversation with the public at the beginning (in the light) and the end (in darkness) of the performance. Moreover, this need for framing the event with these conversations was also a way to articulate the dichotomy between processes of subjectivation and objectivation in that situation. When we perform these things – we call them things: the animal thing, the plant thing, the stone thing, the machine thing – we are objectifying ourselves by making these objects and we use the ability of the theater to separate, that allows the spectator to look at people on stage as if they were objects. So, on the other extreme, when we talk to people, we are in a way performing our ‘subjectivity’. Everyone can say what she or he wants ...

DvH: … following a certain idea of subjectivity being generated through language and a rational form of communication.

XLR: Yes. Bojana Cvejić said about the conversation parts: “ the public and the performers rehears how to be human” while the other parts of the work might be about rehearsing how to become non-human.

DvH: Let's talk about the exhibition version of low pieces. How did this shift to the exhibition context take place?

XLR: It took place in Sydney, as a commission of John Kaldor Public Art Project. The proposal and the idea wasn’t to do “the exhibition version of low pieces” but rather to extend the work with the notion of landscape as a mode of composition that I had started to use in low pieces. I proposed to use the materials of that piece and to make one landscape that continuously transforms instead of a series of landscapes interrupted by black outs. We worked on modalities of transformation to be able to transform something that might look like a group of plants into something that ressembles machines, lions etc… The aim was to do something that transforms continuously in an imperceptible way. The work is an exhibition piece that unfolds while the visitor can come, go and stay at will while performers form and deform assemblies that compose a landscape in perpetual transformation.

DvH: The format of the theater provides a collectively shared experience, whereas the format of the exhibition introduces an individualized set-up. It's interesting that this individualised set up of the exhibition format makes these different forms of connectivity possible that your work produces.

XLR: Yes this individualized set up allows also producing diverse degrees of address and anonymity. A work and performers in the theater usually address the public as an anonymous entity. Each individual stays anonymous to each other and to the performers. In an exhibition a work and the performers can be addressed individually and personally to a visitor. When conversation is involved this exchange can either be anonymous or not. In an exhibition a work and the performers can address the visitor in multiple ways and forms of exchange, that can be anonymous or personal, individual or in small groups. Moreover there can be transitions in between these modalities. This is a plurality of connectivities and sociabilities. I see it as a way of being together produced by the superposition or coexistence of the social specificities of both the theatre and the exhibition.

DvH: What provoked your interest to work in exhibitions?

XLR: Mainly what I just said before about the potential of producing specific ways of being together and exchanging between the work and the public. I realized that I was more and more working in the theater in order to produce a situation by using and transforming its rules. Tino Sehgal made me understood this, and our intense and continuous discussions since the project E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S in 1999, as well as his works, that I have closely followed since then, as well as your writings, have informed my interest to do work in or as exhibition. Tino has established a practice to work in the exhibition format that involves the continuous presence of people doing the work for the entire duration of the exhibition and the opening hours. By doing this he has opened a way to reconfigure the format, the rules and the structure of the exhibition. That is great to use and can produce many things. It is something radically different then simply doing a performance in the museum. The invitation by Laurence Rassel to do a work for the whole building of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona which became “Retrospective”, exceeded my expectations in terms of the potentials this format could offer.

DvH: How would you describe the specificities of each format in terms of the situation it creates and its relation to a visitor or an audience?

XLR: In a theater the spectators have to synchronize their time among each other and with the duration of the work. In an exhibition the relation to the work has different durations for each visitor, and the time of their experience is not determined by the duration of the work. In the theater the distance between what happens on stage and the public stays the same, while in an exhibition space the performers can go closer or further and back and forth to some visitors. The visitors can also do the same, get closer to or further from the work. The relation is often to be in the work as much as in front of it. I try to do works where both the artists and the visitors have the agency to decide about proximity and distance, and I seek to produce sets of relation that vary and are not all predetermined.

DvH: Historically, all significant cultural rituals or ritualised forms of gatherings (such as the theater or the cathedral) where structured in the form of the one that speaks to many: one sender, many receivers as Michel Serres puts it. The idea of the exhibition format is to come up with a different modality, where not the one speaks to the many, but the many communicate with each other transmitted and mediatised through material objects. This is a much more individualised, flexibilised and in that sense liberalised form of gathering.

XLR: But one of the questions or critique that comes with it today is, that this flexibility is tightly linked to certain modern Western concept of individualism.

DvH: Which is why the theater is used as a toolbox for contemporary visual artists. It can solve the problem of a liberalised individualised society: to create connectivity, focus and density. But we are not interested in rebuilding some presumably lost social bond. It's more about creating new modes of connectivity that seem adequate or relevant to our time. Here I think the Münster project is interesting, because it creates an idea of connectivity and at the same time the work remains utterly disconnected and invisible.

XLR: The specific “connectivity”, as you call it, results of the particular situation that Münster Sculpture Projects offers and conditions. The work Still Untitled has been developed to answer the invitation to make something with human actions performed for others. This request came together with a strong wish from the curatorial team to avoid to transform Skulptur Projekte Münster into a festival, meaning a series of events programmed one after the other at certain time, instead of works that can be experienced at any time during the whole exhibition. Following these instructions we try to make « Sculpture(s), in the city of Münster, with live actions, presented by human beings, accessible 24h/24h, during 100 days for the citizen of Münster and the visitors coming specially for the occasion ». The other condition was a budget that would not allow to pay the fee of performers who could have performed and make the work visible during 100 days 24/7. Based on these conditions and on reflections about time, Still Untitled will take form in sculptures that are embodied by human beings and presented to other human beings. Each individual sculpture will be developed with people who wish to make her/his sculpture how we propose it during workshops. Each one is then free to present or not their “sculptures” to the person and at the time and space of their choice . These sculptures become something to share, or pass on to others. They are like encounters and occur when the visitor meets one of these sculptures or when one of the carriers of these sculptures comes across someone they want to address. They will multiply and appear at any time, in any space, or eventually simultaneously at a multitude of spaces and times along the 3 months of the exhibition. Maybe many will stay imperceptible, maybe they will spread and grow like a virus or develop into a rumor. The work wants to stay disconnected from the imperative of synchronization that a performance usually requires, specifically in events attracting a very large public.

DvH: Your work in Münster has a 'viral existence', so to speak, but also needs the physical encounter and embodiment of people.

XLR: We didn’t think about it in this term but this requirement of embodiment make me think that the work isn’t at disposal like on internet platforms. A physical connection needs to be produced. It requires the construction of a moment in order to share this time that is created through the interruption of the time of a person by another who offers her/his sculpture as a form to share time. It’s potentially there somewhere, but needs this embodiment to exist. This depends on the decision of a person to do it and from another to receive it. It’s an interruption of their time. If we want to change something in the relation to the other and how we can do things together, and not exclusively individually, I think questioning and working on time is the most important. I’m interested in this moment when you get the sense that you have made the time rather then spent it or made it productive. It’s not given. It’s something else than consuming time or being consumed by it. Maybe a feeling you get when you have made something else than what the time wanted you to do. I try to produce situations where you can get a different sense of time or where different times coexist. The exhibition format allows to do this. I have more difficulty to imagine how to do this in the theatre. But the theater is a good resistance to our tendency to cut the time in very small units and have to multitask. To take an hour or two to be together in the theater being involved exclusively in the activity of experiencing an artwork, that’s really something amazing.

DvH: How difficult was it to realize a rather invisible piece at a project like this?

XLR: One of the main difficulties was to pass the idea that the work should not be communicated as a performance, because there isn’t any time and space that can be communicated to the public to experience the work. We insist in presenting Still Untitled as sculptures, something that gives form to time and space as extremely variable materials and extends their ungraspable qualities in the work. We also have to resist to the wish to describe the work as a “social performative practice”. The work isn’t motivated by that and wants to work in relation to art production rather than as a social practice. It’s also difficult to understand what this category could be. Any artwork's production and reception involves various kinds of social acts. It was also difficult to bring through that we would not ask people to present the sculptures they have developed with us. Each one presents it when and where she / he wants. We had to insist that even the team of collaborators who work with us to give the workshops, and ourselves, would not be asked to present their sculptures at certain times, places and for a certain number of times per day, especially for the opening or the press etc… It’s difficult to make the curatorial team understand and accept that the work might stay imperceptible for most of the public as it depends on the desire of each one to present it or not. But as they also participated in one of our workshops they can show their sculpture as many times as they wish to make it visible. On the other side it is possible that the work spreads like a virus, that it turns into a rumour, makes people curious and in this way becomes very present. A work that can’t be put on the map of the exhibition and to which you can’t give a time when it happens can be seen as a critique to the desire of producing work involving people who perform during 100 days, day and night, without offering or having the necessary means. But it is a productive critique as we would never have been able to develop and produce that work without the invitation.