Interview by Kordula fritz-Srbic, Month of Performance Art of Berlin (MPAB) 2013.

Sculptures made of earth, water, fire, air (pp. 77-83)

Kordula Fritze-Srbic: Your gesture of inviting curators to work with you as an artist questions the role of the curator, and I am happy to have been invited to this project, because right now I am working on a publication called The Perfect Curator, where I interview artists and curators about their idea of a “perfect” curator, and about the relationship between curators and artists. Through the slight fictional and sarcastic approach, it offers glances and potentialities of how the profession of curating, that has changed and evolved in the last decades, could develop in the future. How did you come to this idea inviting curators in a series? Is this way of collaborating an ideal way of working with curators, what were your expectations?

Nuno Vicente: Naturally I work in a direction that is very practical. I work with my hands,and that is why in this project I invite curators to work with me, people, that might like to think about what I am doing. What I am interested in the end, in Sculptures made of earth, fire, water, air, is to see the different overviews of my work. I was curious about curators because some years ago I thought of curators more as art-historians. I had the idea of a classical curator and, in this project, I understand that there are a lot of differences between curators through their backgrounds. You, for example, also have a background in performance and challenged me to do this work within the Month of Performance.

KFS: Yes, because we started to talk about the interaction you often have with the objects. And if you don’t think about performance in a traditional sense, but use the term performativity, that in theory recently has been widened out to many art spheres, it was expanded in reference to text, painting, and so on for example by the theoretician Erika Fichte-Lichter in Performativity. I think it is great to investigate this term through this project. This edition of Month of Performance is intensively discussing what performance is. Coming from this background myself, it is interesting to expand this form through performativity. This approach opens up new spaces and possibilities in terms of thinking and approaching art and also life.

How did you come up with the idea about the exhibition series Sculptures made of earth, water, fire, air? What was the starting point of the content?

NV: I wanted to take all my work together.The idea of bringing different curators was also a multi-overview of different perspectives of my practice. In a way, it is helping me to systematize and to use the dynamics as well. The question of «what is matter?» is very interesting for me and is very connected with this project. In the traditional vision of the title Sculptures made of earth, water, fire, air, if you keep dividing these four elements you will find that everything is made out of smaller particles and the idea of matter as something solid disappears. This project is special in a way, as it is the first time I am approaching an element so directly, in this case water.

KFS: You mentioned some books, that influenced these thoughts. Can you tell me something about these books you were reading?

NV: A few years ago I read The Quantum and the Lotus, that is a conversation between a Buddhist monk who was previously a successful scientist and a scientist born in Vietnam who comes from a Buddhist family. So both are very aware of each other’s domain and never really disagree: one gets the impression that the quest of science and contemplation can be very similar. When I was doing Water, I was reading the book Le monde s’est-il créé tout seul?, which is a series of interviews to different scientist

with different backgrounds about the origins of the universe. I was very much attached to the idea of matter when I put the pictures in the water. Because of reading the book, I had these thoughts in mind about particles, that everything is moving, that nothing is static, and everything being in a permanent decay. Even though we are not able to perceive this, to know it, makes you look at the world in a different way.

KFS: There is a longing for a connection or a encounter with the universe in your work. At the same time, the antagonism between the visible and the unseen is a constant in your work. In the last edition, for instance, an imprint of your hand through light. Considering the facts that everything is energy and nothing lasts forever, it could be approached as the same way as building a sculpture. Now your traces and the particles of your face are already flowing around Berlin and probably already much further.

NV: I am offering a picture of me to be erased by the water. It is very much about what we are already. We know that we have things within ourselves that are much older than our actual age. I like to do art through this perception, to remember that things are simply reorganized.

KFS: The inner process is as much part of the work as the object. This project is all around your presence. In the end, this presence is only shown through traces within space. It is the lack of presence that is present. I would like to talk about your actions and gestures in terms of rituals. Your actions are connected to a kind of symbolism. They create pictures in our minds, that are deeply rooted and refer almost to mythology or ancient cultures as washing your body. This has been performed in numerous cultures for a very long time, not only to clean the body but to clean the soul. Still today it is used as a ritual in many religious contexts as an act of purification. For example, the Islam includes washing of the face, arms, and feet before going to pray; in Christianity baptism is used for entering the religion; and in Hinduism an important part of purifying ritual is the bathing of the entire body, particularly in rivers considered holy, to just name a few.

NV: Yes, I think rituals put yourself in the presence of something that is bigger than you. People do this to connect to something bigger and somehow achieve some kind of consciousness of life, in order to understand it. In this sense, it is more or less what I am doing. I am searching for my own way of achieving my understanding of things, through actions or objects that are meaningful to me.

KFS: Would you consider yourself as a person who believes?

NV: I have found so far that if there is a reason to be here is probably for contemplative reasons. The recognition of beauty and the response to what surrounds us is something important to me. I think in this way I am very close to religion because I accept nature as it is and I feel fascinated about it. It is like putting pictures inside water knowing that they will disappear.

KFS: The experience during the process is as much important as the object to you. What I am interested in is the object when you are not in relation with it anymore.

NV: T hat i s often a problem f or m e. For example, if you think of a painting, the ending result is the painting, which it is there and it is present. My work is most of the time ephemeral or depending of a context, so when I am asked to show works I have already produced, I always have the feeling, looking back, that I have no work ― as if none of the things I have done could keep their presence.

KFS: How was the process during the project?

NV: It was nice to see it evolving. At the beginning it is always a feeling, the intuition of doing something, and than it becomes more and more concrete. The short texts I wrote for this work in my diary are a mixture of the time when I looked at myself inside the photoautomat machine, the four minutes waiting for the pictures to develop, watching people passing by, and putting them into the water. I have a sensorial memory of this mood.

KFS: Your work is often about the transformation of one thing to another and than maybe transforming its function or meaning by placing it somewhere else, for example turning a bird into stone and than putting it beside a tree, as you did in the Part III of these series.

NV: Usually I see myself as a sculptor, but that of course depends on how you define a sculpture. When I do this, it is because I believe a sculptor reorganizes matter; and this transformation of something into others really attracts me.

KFS: In Water the idea of transforming the material is an abstraction of physicality.

NV: I think there is some kind of poetry in it.

Kordula Fritz-Srbic / Nuno Vicente



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