” Le Cercle Fermé” Luxembourg Pavilion
Venue: Ca’ del Duca, 3052 Corte Del Duca Sforza
Artists: Martine Feipel & Jean Bechameil
Curator: Kevin Muhlen, Jo Kox
Anybody interested in the work of Martine Feipel & Jean Bechameil soon realises that the notion of space is central to it. This is also the case in the artwork presented for the 2011 Venice Biennale. The observer is presented with a single idea: the obvious necessity of finding a new type of space. At the root of their work is an awareness that sensorial perception has physiological limits – and that our conception of space is historically dated. Henceforth, in the wake of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, it is a case of trying to go beyond the limit of a place to find a new one. This comes down to thinking about the meaning of the limit and the meaning of space which is mainly the result of tradition. The important thing is not to overstep or transgress the law by crossing the limit but to ‘‘open’’ a space at the very heart of the former space.
This opening does not create new space to occupy, but rather a sort of pocket hidden inside the old meaning of the limit. It is about an opening in space according to the principle of slippage. This internal slippage and the recreation of space always implies the destruction of an institution. The meaning of the word “space” is profoundly destabilised. In this, our two artists are very topical because the management of space is in crisis. This space we think of as living space is simultaneously a space of action, orientation and communication. The development of science and technology, the erosion of particular visions of the world and traditional value systems, the structural crisis of the economy and the exacerbation of the issue of logic question a traditional conception of space and management that only thinks in terms of fields of competence and is obsessed with the constraints of growth and valorisation. We live in a period of mutation in which past models of orientation and action no longer work. Certainly, the situation still seems open, but we lack concepts of action capable of responding to the ecological crisis and the crisis of civilisation we are currently experiencing without endangering democracy, human rights and the physical necessities of life. Today, there is no doubt that it is more urgent than ever to consider any reflection on the question of space as a work of civilisation, as a remodelling of civilisation. Modifying the everyday completely remodels our world, and that is what this is all about. The artwork can be understood on various different levels that touch as much on philosophy as on art history or society.
Luxembourg Pavilion Interview: Martine Feipel and Jean Bechameil
Line Magazine: I thoroughly enjoyed your pavilion and the accompanying texts; both struck me as extremely rigorous and multi-layered. How long did it take for you to conceive of the pavilion in situ? Was the design finalised and executed exactly to plan, or did it continue to develop organically as you were installing it?
Martine Feipel and Jean Bechameil: When we conceived the project ‘le cercle fermé’, we had a deadline to follow and worked very intensively on it in a sort of state of urgency, it came out in a very direct and fresh way.
We had a precise idea of the general plan of the installation and its logic in the succession of the different rooms and about the lecture that we wanted to give to the work as a whole.
During the realisation and the setting of the work we took some freedom in the spatial arrangement of the different elements, but by trying to keep coherence to the original idea we had.
Line: When René Kockelkorn [curator and writer of an introductory text] talks about the decline of particular visions of the world in reference to what the pavilion represents, he states:
“The development of science and technology, the erosion of particular visions of the world and traditional value systems, the structural crisis of the economy and the exacerbation of the issue of logic question a traditional conception of space and management that only thinks in terms of fields of competence and is obsessed with the constraints of growth and valorisation.”
What is meant here by “the exacerbation of the issue of logic”?
Feipel & Bechameil: In his introduction to the structural crises of conception of spatial management René Kockelkorn certainly wanted to speak in particularity about the logic, a logic which intends to be very functional, understandable and readable, and in the believe of doing well, this logic has his own limits. It is a logic through deduction and which in moments of chaos responds with practical solutions to all the problems and come to an end of it, where this solutions reach their limits.
Line: When Paul Virilio [author of another introductory text] says “…the 20th century was marked by two concepts – destruction and deconstruction…” do you mean Derridean deconstruction? If so,
Why do you think its import is absent for this century?
Feipel & Bechameil: The new manifests of the millennium does not anymore question so much the shape of cities and urbanism but the way of the connecting networks. It is a desorientation of the individual inside a network that make up the new modernity. Mankind was convinced of being carried by a flow, but he is lost in a network. In that respect the questioning and theories of the 20th century turn out being dated, because they situate the individual at the center of the society, while the societies got connected to a network of which they ignore the limits or the end of it.
Line: Where do you see the artistic practice of the Luxembourg pavilion in relation to Bernard Tschumi, Peter Eisenmann and Daniel Libeskind’s architectural responses to Derridean deconstruction?
Feipel & Bechameil: According to Derrida, readings of texts are best carried out when working with classical narrative structures. Any architectural deconstructivism requires the existence of a particular archetypal construction, a strongly – established conventional expectation to play flexibly against. (Derrida, Of Grammatology)
By starting from an archetypal house, architects like Tschumi, Eisenmann and Libeskin altered its massing, spatial envelopes, planes and other expectations in a playful subversion, an act of ‘’de’’ construction.
In this way we certainly relate to those architects, because we start off from an context, a classical structure, which is here the typical venitien flat, to ‘break up’ its volumes, its shapes and its meaning in a playful subversion and in an act of ‘de’ construction as well. It is the ‘opening up’ or ‘breaking free’ of a space within its traditional space; an opening that revels a hidden soul enclosed in the original space.
Our installation is called ‘le cercle fermé’ because we thought that the spaces of Ca del Duca and its circular way of walking through it had something to do with Venise and with the space itself. It is picking up this circularity that we tried to de-construct the circularity by a geometry that encloses the circle into an exploration of new possibilities. By basing our project on the context of the space and the city and its meanings, and by ‘de’structuring the main elements on which it relies, we tried to unfold the space of this apartment into new possibilities.
Line: When René Kockelkorn said of the pavilion:
“It is like a counter-image to veduta painting, which perpetuates and glorifies the historical image. They [the artists] show us the Leggenda nera, the dark side.”
I understood the first part to mean that the work is meant to explore the ongoing abstract process of history – that of constant flux and indeterminacy.
But the Leggenda nera of the second sentence refers to two very specific historical theories. One refers to Venice (that it’s own decadence and debaucheries were the cause of its downfall) and the other to the Spanish Inquisition (that the brutality of the inquisition was emphasized by protestant scholars to discredit Catholicism).
How does the work reconcile these two statements?
Feipel & Bechameil: René opposes two ways of speaking about venise: the ‘verduta’ which glorifies the city and its history and he refers to the ‘leggenda nera’ as way to show the dark side of it.
Venice is very much a city of representation and image (‘fronts’ that seem unpenetrable). Venice embodies this ambiguity about it, through history is been on one hand a city opened to the world from Augsburg to Constantinoble, keeping up a flowering commerce with neighboring countries and showing its richness and glories, but on the other hand having a profound distrust in his neighbors and cultivating a tradition of secret of its commerce and politics. In order to keep the secrets of its transactions it was able to arrest or ban those tempted to revel them.
The architecture of the city; the palaces and grandiose churches testify of the political, military and economical power and wealth of the time.
Julian Juderias speaks about the ‘Leggenda nera’ to criticize Spain’s inquisition and brutality to persecute the protestants in the XVII century.
René uses this term not to speak about the inquisition in Spain, but to speak about our way of representing the society and city of Venice and the way we situated our work toward the context in which it takes place. A vision that reveals the flip-side of the coin and not the glorifying image. Revealing its cracks, fragility and weakness
Our work is somehow reflecting the cities and its society, and the way of cultivating a tradition of secret and a way of hiding behind its fronts. You get locked in this space, withholding the secrets and guided around the spaces (doors you can not open, reflection of spaces you can not access) without revealing itself completely.
Line: I found the architectural rendering of the current state of flux, destabilisation and globalisation extremely acute, but in the accompanying texts there is a noticeable abstinence from making any value judgements on the worldview you are representing.
Do you or the artists have any personal opinion on what you describe and articulate in the work, do you think the current situation is – to put it crudely – a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing?
Feipel & Bechameil: We think that the current situation is reflected in our work, it’s a moment of crisis and disorientation on a economic, political, ideology and social level throughout the world. We believe it’s a very rich and intense moment of de-structuration and uncertainty it leads to new solutions and ways of thinking and dealing with problems.
Through our work we don’t want to state a dogma of our beliefs for people to follow and we don’t intend to make judgment on the current situation. We rather prefer to loosen up structures and to experiment. We offer the visitor to share a physical and mental experience we us.
Line: Did you have any reservations with making something so aesthetically enjoyable? Did you ever worry that visitors might wonder through and only enjoy it superficially, but miss all the hard work you’ve put in with the theory?
Feipel & Bechameil: Our main concern was to realise a work meaningful to us, the fact that it can be aesthetically enjoyable, we don’t take it as a discredit. The work can be received at different levels, which we consider as a quality. We want to share an experience generously with people.
We wish to keep the work open and loose, and to let people in. It’s for people to make their own story out of it and to discover it and deepen it. It has been very much structured and thought by us, but we think it is a good thing that it does not reveal this effort through heaviness, but people can just take from it what they want. (without having the feeling of being left out, if it gets to complex)
Line: On a similar theme, what process do the artists go through when extrapolating works and ideas from other texts and writers? Do you have an idea for a piece, then go hunting around for texts on a similar theme, or do pieces evolve from reading a text?
Feipel & Bechameil: To start with there is a vision or a sense for something that is meaningful for us that we want to express and that art allows us to do so. Thoughts and theory that we came along over the years, and that excite us and theories we turn inside out in our heads are present when we conceive the project. They flow naturally into our work.
When we work out the installation more concretly, we decided partly intuitively but also guided by this ideas and vision we have in mind. The theory and the visual/practical aspect of things evolve in parallel.
Then we look things up again and search around the issues that occupy our mind. With René we had a close relationship where we discuss our ideas and where he brought his references to the work.
Line: Finally, beyond Derrida, have any other writers or artists had such a marked impact on your works?
Feipel & Bechameil: The universe of Jorge Luis Borges and its way of constructing and describing mental and physical spaces of infinity and derivations of the reality certainly influenced our work.
The work of Gordon Matta-Clark and its way of breaking up existing structures and buildings is since a long time been very important to us. Gaston Bachelard, Anthony Vidler, Piranesi..etc