Aleksandra Mir

24 Questions for Aleksandra Mir

By artinfo, New York, October 2011

Name: Aleksandra Mir

Age: 44

Occupation: Artist

City/Neighborhood: Kentish Town, London

Artinfo: What project are you working on now?
Aleksandra Mir: I am about to open a show at the Whitney and I am always doing research for new work that may or may not happen.

Your new video on display at the Whitney, "The Seduction of Galileo Galilei," documents a gravitational experiment inspired by the great Tuscan astronomer. What attracts you to gravity?
That it is the greatest force we have working against us and that we still manage to defeat it every day. In this work I am having an intellectual affair with a man 400 years my senior, the father of modern science and a devout Catholic who was charged with heresy for his radical gravitational experiments. Much like a corrupting ‘femme fatale,' I am intercepting his arguments with my own.

Your collage series "The Dream and the Promise," also on view at the Whitney, combines religious imagery with that of space travel. You stated your motivation for combining the two is that angels and astronauts "share the same sky and should be introduced." If an angel and an astronaut were introduced, what would they talk about?
Sex maybe?

A new study suggesting that neutrinos might be able to travel faster than the speed of light throws the cornerstone of Einstein's theory of physics into question. In light of this kind of uncertainty of our understanding of the universe, do you feel that artists have the same legitimacy to tackle the biggest questions as scientists?
The first scientists were also great spiritualists. I still see it as a joint project — that of wanting to know more and to connect with what is over the rainbow.

What's the last show that you saw?
Concrete Poetry at the Concrete Bar, Hayward Gallery, London, today. I use it as my public office in London to have work meetings in.

What's the last show that surprised you? Why?
Delightfully, the advent of Hennessy Youngman. He has single handedly, with great wit and intelligence and what appears to be no budget, resurrected populist art criticism from the abyss of art diaries and art-oriented reality-TV shows.

What's your favorite place to see art?
The outdoors.

Do you make a living off your art?
At the moment, yes, but I have also logged some 40+ various other jobs including: nightshifts at a bakery packing bread, dayshifts in a darkroom printing commercial cibachromes of huge shrimp for food stores, 16-hour shifts at the Swedish cruise line Stena Line's liquor counter before I was even at the legal drinking age myself, newspaper delivering, sign painting, photography assisting, faux-finishing, poster restoring, nude modeling, party decorating, HTML coding, illustrating, translating, cross-cultural consulting, walking Dara Birnbaum's dog in Soho for a year, filing X-rays in a doctor's office in the East Village for another year, copy-editing first generation web sites from a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan for another year, and so on. I now think back on each job as a journey from which I either got fired or quit. No point in denying that the experience of lower-end labor informs everything I do in my art, both its content and methods. I am quite proud of it all.

What's the most indispensable item in your studio?
A cup of coffee.

Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
Same place as always, my head.

Do you collect anything?
Not anymore. I had a big art collection with artist's swaps but I moved and returned everything to source. Now I am trying to own as little as possible.

What's the last artwork you purchased?
The first collector to buy my work was an artist, Maurizio Cattelan, and with a part of that money I bought another artist's work, and then again with every show I made money I would buy another younger artist's work. But that was long ago. I don't buy art anymore. I have nowhere to put it.

What's the first artwork you ever sold?
The day after high school I left for Italy to be an au-pair and when that didn't work out, I took a job in a bar in a small town north of Naples called Mondragone. In my free time I was hanging out at my friend's old lady hair salon sketching old lady hairdos. The bar owner found out I could draw and asked if I would paint a sign for him. He offered me a 36-foot-long whitewashed wall on the beach, expenses paid, carte blanche for a motif — but the only requirement that his name had to be part of the design. I spent three weeks sweating in the harsh sun on a ladder with a bucket of household paint and a brush, 15 men standing below and staring in disbelief. I painted a jungle motif with palm trees and wild animals and huge lettering that spelled out C L A U D I O. He paid me well and then I got other offers. I made another sign for Enzo's HiFi in an Art Deco style, and so on. It became my career that summer. It has all been painted over many times by now, but if it has any art historical value to you, you are welcome to bring your team of art restorers down there and uncover it. I can probably still point out the wall, although it was 25 years ago.

What's the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?
I love going to Versailles for its guaranteed weirdness. The combined vulgarity of the former royals with that of the contemporary mass tourists, the same mob that once had the Queen's head cut off and who now happily queues and pays money to stare at her empty bed, is priceless.

What's your art-world pet peeve?
I am quoting a hilarious complaint someone had with the Swedish drama world which has become increasingly professionalized and middle class. "As a result the drama industry is now lacking in actors who truthfully can depict the character of a truck driver."

What's your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?
I prefer home-cooked food and I am not so fussed about restaurants. Whatever is close I suppose.

Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?
I usually arrive early to openings.

What's the last great book you read?
I just read Christopher Bollen's novel, "Lightning People." It is my generational novel depicting the time that I lived in New York myself, in those neighborhoods with those people and those fears. And so it is very exciting to recognize almost everything, in a Frankenstein's Monster type of way. The evil character's name is Aleksandra.

What work(s) of art do you wish you owned?
I wouldn't want the responsibility of caring for anything that I can see in a museum.

What would you do to get it?

What international art destination do you most want to visit?
I have huge respect for the public arts programming in the UK. All the provincial spaces with top programs. It is not unusual for people from London to spend a few hours on a train to see a show in another, smaller town. So Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol and Glasgow are always on my list.

What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?
My show at the Whitney originated as a commission by the non-profit art space Mercer Union in Toronto. They spent a year location-scouting and raising goodwill and we ended up staging a highly experimental and risky event at a race car track in tiny Stouffville, Ontario. Less than 50 people showed up, half for the races and half were our volunteers. At the Whitney the expected visitor number for the show is 73,000. I would like everyone who will see it to know that spaces like Mercer Union are the backbone for artists like myself.

Who's your favorite living artist?
I have spent the last 9 months documenting the life story of Irena Sedlecká, a now-82-year-old Czech sculptor who was a celebrated Socialist Realist superstar in Prague before she escaped Communism and came to London in 1966. Here she initially supported herself and raised three children by making souvenir models for the shop at the British Museum, slowly returning to her trade in sculpture via 'Talking Heads' in marketing and eventually, thirty years later, landing the commission to create a monumental statue of Freddie Mercury in 1995. This is where Glam Rock and Socialist Realism truly meet. It has been fascinating and incredibly humbling to learn from a true master, not only of sculpture, but of life itself. (Read my interview with Irena here.) The statue itself has an equally fascinating fate. It was rejected in London and currently lives in Montreux, Switzerland, where Freddie's exuberant rock-star pose, once struck at Wembley Stadium, now faces the calm waters of Lake Geneva. The sculpture has become a popular pilgrimage site for fans from all over the world. To make use out of all of this, I have now also created an independent and unsolicited proposal to bring this masterpiece back on loan to London for one year, to return Freddie from his exile and to put him on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. But also, for our generation to take a good look at and experience figurative statues again, and maybe to shake up our investment in the form a little. Let's put Freddie on the Plinth! Sign the petition.

What are your hobbies?
I like to walk and I have tried to cook.