Aleksandra Mir

The Big Umbrella

The Big Umbrella - Interview with Aleksandra Mir, ReadBABY SurfBABY, Amsterdam, 2004
By Sharifa Jamaldin

Hello Aleksandra, I think your ideas are just wonderful.

Thank You.

I have a few questions for the article: answer as you wish.


What are you trying to express in your art?

I am processing my daily encounters with the world.

Are you interested in cityscapes?

Yes, very much. Cities make for great ready made stage sets that you can walk around and perform in. As soon as you leave your house and go out in public, a play begins. Comparing old photographs of different people in their various cities has always seemed as fantastic gateways of imagination to me.

Do you like art to large scale?

Large is nice, especially if you are a girl. Large art is not necessarily better than small art, but being small myself, I get a lot of satisfaction out of being able to pull of artwork at a very large scale. The success of this mostly comes down to having the necessary administrative skills, but I think that Large art is still generally associated with big men, muscle and power, so it is nice to play myself against that myth by simply being a really good secretary to myself.

Why did you make a large umbrella?

I was interested in using The Big Umbrella as a catalyst for interrogating people's relationship to the weather in various communities around the world. The work is a sculpture, a prop for a performance, and also a functional and recognizable element of daily life that everyone normally relates to in a very natural way. The scale obviously throws all of this off, so the familiar become fantastic, and the fantastic can shed a lot of light on the familiar.

Did you walk around with it for just a day or several weeks.

The idea from the start was to travel with it and take it around to various places in the world where it rains and so that a narrative is formed around its journey. The story began in France in October 2003 where I spent 3 days walking around with the umbrella in Paris and in the French countryside. In January 2004 I was invited to come to London and the second chapter of the story was written there. More trips are in planning.

Did it work properly, or like all umbrellas, would it flip over in the wind?

It works exactly as a good quality English men's umbrella. The manufacturers put in 6 months of research to get every detail right. So yes, in very strong wind it could flip over and break. It is not a problem art-wise, If this would happen, I would still exhibit it as sculpture — of a broken umbrella — but I am trying to avoid it from happening in public. On my last shoot I put myself in a rainstorm on London Bridge at 9am with 10.000 other commuters crossing over like a big army. I was truly terrified I would kill someone.

What was the most intriguing moment using the umbrella?

Seeing it finished for the first time after waiting for it for 18 months was an important day of course. But then there have been many magical moments of interaction with people and those continue to happen and surprise me continuously. When passing through a park in London, I was approached by some dog walkers who needed help to get down their dog's toy ball that was stuck up high in a tree. They completely ignored me or my umbrella, they just needed help to get the ball down! It was great to be able to assist with that and to find a new use for the umbrella.

You had it specially made, are you willing to share with us approximately how much it cost to make it.

The research, development and construction, it total around $10.000. My gallery in Paris, Jousse enterprise, originally funded it. Other institution, like the Serpentine gallery in London are funding the photo shots and travel of it locally. It takes a lot of people's commitment to make this happen.

Are you planning to take it anywhere else.

Yes. Many more places to come. I'd like to bring it with me on every trip I make, like a real umbrella. But it is not really up to me right now. The pragmatics of actually doing it demands that other people get involved as well.

Are you interested in exhibiting the umbrella at our gallery in Amsterdam?

If you can provide the right context and support structure for the Amsterdam chapter of the story to be written, yes absolutely.

The 48 hour Underground art project, seems really radical — would you disappear only for 48 hours? Have you tried it yet?

I did already, I disappeared on December 13, 2003 at 00:00 and reappeared 48 hours later. It was one of the most rewarding projects I have ever made. The rumors of what I supposedly was doing still circulate and are becoming more and more inventive, so it has proven a perfect piece of conceptual art, produced in other people's heads — while I got a break. I'll repeat it every year as long as I live.

What other projects are you working on?

Many different things, always. You can follow my work online:

Many thanks for your time.
with high regards,

You're welcome.