Aleksandra Mir’s work often brings groups of people together in the name of failure. First Woman on the Moon (1999), in which she created giant lunar craters on a Dutch beach with a group who were triumphantly photographed, highlighted not only the futility of the gesture, but also the failure to get a woman on the moon before the end of the millennium a correction that could only be made in art, image and fantasy. For works such as The Church of Sharpie (2005), Mir assembled people to make her large drawings with the ‘world’s favourite marker pen’, all furiously scribbling until the ink ran dry, but also witnessed the beginnings of a spiritual structure within the group. In religion, outer space and Italy, she tells ArtReview what she’s been searching for.
Laura Allsop: Tell us about the How Not to Cookbook (2009).
Aleksandra Mir: While the typical cookbook format gives you a recipe for obvious success, it does not take into account the many ways in which its execution can fail due to the cook’s lack of experience. Based on my own personal history of cooking disasters, the project invited a thousand people from all around the world to give their advice of how not to cook. I have been interested in how we are taught or teach ourselves through trial and error. By making our guilty failures public, we may even be creating an original and subversive form of art, rather than simply aspiring to obvious and repetitive results.
Frequently in your work, you try to create and link communities. Where does this impulse come from?
From a very general interest in sociability. I like to be around people.
Is your view of the potential of communities essentially optimistic? Are you convinced of art’s ability to push things forward?
Not necessarily. My work often encompasses failure.
How did your postcard piece at last year’s Venice Biennale come about?
I printed one million fake postcards of Venice, entitled Venezia (all places contain all others). The cards depict a range of waterways from around the world: frozen Nordic rivers, desert springs in the Sahara, beaches in Miami, skylines on the shores of Sydney and Manhattan, lakes from German forests, the fountains of Paris. The postcards were giveaways to the public of the Biennale. You could take them home, or write them on the spot and send them out to your relations in the world through two Poste Italiane mailboxes that were installed as part of the work and emptied daily by an actual postman. I have been interested in: demography; ephemera; distribution; tourist economies; truth; authenticity; representation; water as a symbol for globalisation; water as the constitution of our bodies; water as determining the borders of our national geographies; water as carrier and distributor of pollution; water as language; Venice as extended out to the world’s oceans, rivers, lakes and ponds; Venice in every molecule of the rain.
You work a lot with archives – what is it about them that attracts you?
The concentration of information.
Your work shows a pronounced interest in news media and in typography. Would you ever want to set up and edit a magazine yourself?
I have been working with graphics, print and publishing since I was a child, long before I even knew what art was. I made my own magazine when I was about ten. It dealt with the concerns of a female ten-year-old and only came out in one handmade copy that circulated between readers in the classroom. I loved the idea of talking about my and my friends’ day, of organising information, creating pictures, copy and layouts. The sensual physicality of ink and paper, the way pagination and folds work. I enjoy the systems of distribution and the accessibility of print; that holds a lot of power for me. About 30 percent of my practice today still takes the form of printed matter.
Tell me about living and working in Sicily – is there a community of artists there?
I never searched for an art community I searched for a real location with many different people in it. Changing cultures is good for an artist. The shock forces you to look closer while artistic licence gives you the privilege to romanticise, a combination which I find to be very productive. Despite the huge effort to move, learn a language and form new relations, I happily change cultures like others change knickers. Living in Palermo has been like a four-year-long headstand for me, mainly in regards to my newfound understanding of provinciality. Some capital-city mentalities are more narrow-minded and politically stuck-up than that of a chaotic village life. In Palermo, they say that a red traffic light is not an imperative but a suggestion. You negotiate it. So this is a place of daily and vivid debate which never goes stale. I travel a lot regardless, and they now tell me in Milan that I have a Sicilian accent. I am very much enjoying the sheer politics of that.