Aleksandra Mir

Interview with Aleksandra Mir

By Valentina Sansone
Flashart, #260, Milan, October 2006

Valentina Sansone: Let’s start from your recent museum exhibition at Kunsthaus Zurich, 'Switzerland and Other Islands' (August 18 - October 8). You made 32 drawings on the subject of Island. How did this idea start and develop?

Aleksandra Mir: I have been drawing naïve cartography for about 4 years. The first series called The World from Above (2003-4) took a simple birds eyes view on our planet. I was interested in zooming in at random sites, some that had a loaded political meaning (Gaza Strip), next to others that seemed completely neutralized (Central Park). The second series, Church of Sharpie (2005), is a series of very large drawings (7x5m) exclusively about the USA. The aesthetic developed to include current and historical slogans, references to popular culture. This year, I have focused my ideas about territory on islands; political, geographical and mythological, as a way to navigate around and understand what borders and isolation are all about. The current show was conceived on the urban jungle island of Manhattan, produced on the fertile island of Sicily, and exhibited at the political island of Switzerland.

In both your works The Big Umbrella (2004) or First Woman on the Moon (1999), seem to me a type of poetical fiction. You create your own dimension to live in, a sort of socialist world. What can you tell me about it?

Yes, it is true you could see both these works as the creation of social microcosms. I was born in communist Poland (1967), grew up the in the heyday of socialist Sweden ('70s), saw its road to privatization ('80s) and have spent the last 15 years living in American capitalism. I have no illusions about any of these systems, but I find it interesting to create situations in which alternative systems of living and relating to people can be tried out. These games never last more than a day though. The presumed "democracy" of my simulated moon landing where I had ten bulldozers create a landscape of craters on a beach in Holland and where everyone was invited to celebrate their access to the "moon", was but a 10 hour event. After this we had an agreement with the local authorities to flatten the landscape and clean up after ourselves. It is a little bit like creating a revolution, only to have your mother screaming from the window that you should stop playing and come home because the dinner is ready.

In First woman on the Moon, the documentary video shows a group of female astronauts arriving on the moon. Further, the title of your show at Kunsthalle St. Gallen in 2003 was “Welcome back to Earth”. This year you are creating Gravity a monumental rocket sculpture in London out of garbage. Why do planes and outer space attract you?

Global events in popular culture such as the moon landing, the development of a mass aviation culture, the future of the space program, etc, have massive influence on how we live and perceive ourselves in the world. To contribute to these grand narratives as an artist means that I can attempt to formally mimic their orchestration, play and make believe, but in a scale of David vs. Goliath, also reveal my vulnerability and incompetence, speaking for all those narratives in the backwater of utopia that typically remain untold.

First Woman on the Moon was originally conceived in 1999 for the 30th anniversary of the original moon landing, in order to beat JFK to his word of 'Putting a man on the moon and bringing him back safely to earth before the end of the decade (the '60s)'. I wanted to put a woman on the moon before the end of the millennium, knowing very well this wasn't going to happen. My woman only climbed a sand dune on a beach in Holland, but everyone who was there joined in on the fantasy for a day. Likewise, the ambitious construction of a space rocket out of mere junk, entitled Gravity and that in effect is going nowhere, is metaphorically speaking about what holds us back, rather than articulating any real intention to go.

The Living and Loving project is a series of biographies about so far 3 different characters: D. C., an art school security guard (2002), Zoe Stillpass, a collectors’ daughter (2004), and Mitchell Wright, an art student (2006). Did you meet all the three of them? Are their life stories fiction or reality?

The biographies is an ongoing series of publications that I have developed with my friend, London based curator and art critic Polly Staple. The subjects are all real people that I have met under various circumstances and spent extended time interviewing. Polly and I then edit the stories and make the layouts. We print 5-10.000 copies each time, all that are given away fro free, so to stick to our intention of "disseminating one ordinary man/woman's extraordinary life to the widest public possible'. Every time we have to find a new production model and the labor involved means we can only put a new issue out every second year. So far, all our subjects have been young American's so what we effectively believe we are doing, is investigating young America for ourselves. 'Young', because we think the complexity and self-reflexivity of a young life is greatly underestimated, and 'America', because its politics and poetics simply concern us all. Furthermore, the accumulated effect of presenting the voices of people who all act in the periphery of the art world, a security guard, a collector's daughter, a student, is that we also like to challenge the status quo of authority in our own field, i.e. the field of art; who and what makes it.

You are defined as a real “activist”. How do you explain this sociological attitude in certain works such as “Che and Concorde” (2003-2006), or “Movimiento Organizado” (2004)?

I never call myself an activist. I think this would be an insult to people who on a daily basis devote their lives to political causes. I am primarily a visual and performative artist, interested in language and images. As far as my politics, I am only trying to get through my day. I am not organized in any way and I am often creating too much trouble for myself to be reliable as an agent for anybody else's mission. What interests me more than anything, are the paradoxes of living a conscious life. “Che and Concorde” is a work about the lost potency of past revolutions, and how their images carry both the potential for new forms of transformation, and the corruption of their original intent. “Movimiento Organizado” (Organized Movement) is a film about finding political meaning in the daily choreography of my own body's movements. It is easy to forget how infused with culture we actually are, probably down to the level of atoms.

Could you tell me something about your studio residency program in Palermo?

I moved to Palermo in December last year after 15 years in New York. On one hand I don't feel the change is very dramatic since a big portion of my daily practice was always based on phone and email communication with people from all over the world. This hasn't changed. Life in Palermo is however much more intimate, relaxed and cheap, allowing me a big apartment with a guest studio. I am using these qualities to offer other artists a place to stay for shorter or longer times, to produce their work or just to hang out. I am a strong believer of the fact that artists never take vacations, even when they seem relaxed, so this brings about new qualities of interaction that I feel have gone lost in the ultra-professionalized art world where one mostly meet people on the run. Here, I can have a world class artist sleep in my guest room without leaving the house for days, and they may have nothing immediate to prove for it, but this is a fundamental quality of art making I would like to promote.