Aleksandra Mir

Interview with Aleksandra Mir

By Heinrich Schmidt
Switzerland and Other Islands
Vernissage-TV, Kunsthaus Zurich, August 2006

Heinrich Schmidt: The series of drawings at the Kunsthaus Zurich is called Switzerland and Other Islands. What inspired this series?

Aleksandra Mir: I have been drawing naïve cartography for about 4 years. The first series called The World from Above (2003-04) 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.

What do you associate with Switzerland?

I have spent quite some time there so my personal experiences and my friendships are mainly defining it for me, all positive. I have exhibited at Kunsthalle St Gallen (2003) and did Statements in Basel (2004) so professionally it has been very valuable as well. In 2003 I spent 2 months working on a commission for Ringier in Zurich that involved research in their vast photographic archives, research that brought me deep into Swiss culture through visual historic sources, but also took me on trips and encounters with locals all around the country and whose life stories I involved in the work. This research however has nothing to do with the current show at Kunsthaus, which is almost the total inversion to the intimacy and specificity I developed in HELLO Ringier. In this show, Switzerland and Other Islands, "Switzerland" is used as a hypothesis, a point of departure to study more general phenomena from.

What do you associate with an island?

My research and the drawings I have produced for this show indicate a lot of contradictions: Isolation vs. The impossibility of any isolation at all, for example.

You travel a lot. What meaning have borders and boundaries for you?

Points of awareness, to be transcended.

The drawings are made by marker on paper. For your work The Church of Sharpie you used household markers, too. You obviously like the marker as drawing instrument. Why?

The marker is an unpretentious tool in my immediate environment, and in the environment of the general public. Using it as a fine art tool means getting immediate access to a vernacular present, which makes the work contemporary by default. I had been buying my art supplies in the same NYC art store for 15 years, from day one in art school when we got equipped with medium clichés such as charcoal and terpentine, all that messy stuff. When I last year finally asked for a large supply of my favorite marker, the Sharpie, the store manager cynically asked, "What, are you gonna put Sharpie drawings in a museum now?”, I said, "Yeah, actually, I am".

You seem to be fascinated by technology and science, especially interested in aerospace (your works First Woman on the Moon, Plane Landing, Gravity, Airplanes). Where does this come from?

From being a woman and traditionally having limited access to those fields.

Why is the Concorde the perfect plane?

It seems to me that the desires that produced it aimed for a certain kind of perfection, desires that were to a large degree accomplished through the graceful design and the speed of that plane. The fact that it got outdated and eventually crashed may possibly show the flipside of aiming to high, but for me, the Concorde is still a monument to a futuristic imagination that I think, perhaps nostalgically, is lost now.

Many of your works have an ephemeral character. On the other hand the documentation of the work is important to you. Is this a contradiction?

No, it is logical.

You run your own website. There is plenty of information on your website, which is great for anyone who wants to know about your work. This is still not very common among artists. Why is this important to you?

Self-publishing is an excellent complement to an ephemeral practice. The more I document and make information about my work freely available, the more independent I am and the more risks I can take in my actual projects.

You have a background in mass media and communications. Do you like to be in control of what is published about you?

I write a lot about my own work, mainly on the request of others, who need my statements and facts to back up their own articles by. Any intelligent writer will take these statements further and tell me something I don’t know about my own work myself already. I don’t care about good or bad reviews, I care about well-written and developed criticism, which is extremely rare to get. Most writers are lazy and simply like to quote, so I make sure the facts are correct and try to leave the rest wide open.

Did you write or edit your Wikepedia article?

No, I don’t know who writes those texts.

You didn't want the interview to be filmed. Why?

I like to answer to my interviews thoughtfully, and writing is the best way to formulate and present those thoughts. I don’t think a depiction of my physical persona would add anything, rather divert from it.

How important is it for an artist to be in control of his image?

I think it is less a question of control than of self-perseverance. Making a museum show at this scale means taking enormous amount of pressure from many people, across the institutional hierarchy, who are engaged in its productions. The last 10 years I have been involved in over 100 exhibitions. I have recently been doing everything from cleaning gallery floors, writing my own press releases, designing my own posters and lecturing at local art schools in association with an exhibition. This goes on top of producing the actual artwork, doing the research, raising production budgets, hiring and managing assistants, administrating the administrative help and preparing shipments. Additionally, being available for press goes without saying, since every cultural institution today is widely dependent on the media interest it can gather for itself. Replying to interviews like this one is the minimum what anyone working with me would expect from me. I don’t mind it. I have a very relaxed relationship to the media, having studied and worked in the field myself. But there is only so much one can offer. My personal cut off point goes at live TV, simple as that.

What do you think about grassroots journalism, web communities, remix culture, the "Web 2.0" stuff?

I don’t know the significance of the last 2 terms. I must be getting old.

"Mir proposes art as a tool of social improvement." If this statement is correct. How would this work?

I am not sure that statement is necessarily correct, or even if it may seem so, it gets way more complicated than that. I wish the writer had elaborated further.

Do you consider yourself as political artist?

Yes I do, but not more or less political than any other artist.