Thursday, April 12, 2012

Alex Martinis Roe

Alex Martinis Roe’s practice involves bringing forth settings that allow viewers and participants to encounter contemporary challenges embedded within feminist histories.

You are quoted to have said ‘that it is more important to do feminism than be feminist…’[1] Can you expand on this?

When I said that I was thinking about useful attitudes toward participation in feminism as a collective politics. If feminism is collective through a culture of practices rather than because of a common identification – i.e. she practices a range of feminisms, rather than she is feminist – it places an emphasis on the relevance of diverse feminist projects to all sorts of people who need not have a common identity. I am interested in feminism because it is concerned with the feminine, which is a specific relationship to language, and the female sex, which is a specific embodiment. I think that a collective politics concerned with the feminine and the female can be a radical challenge to the violence of dominant language and power structures, if relations between participants are formed as-with-through an evolving language of difference among us.

Alex Martinis Roe, A Box for Vertical Relations, Acrylic glass, twenty-four borrowed library books by female authors who have had interpersonal and/or textual relations to the authors either side of her in the stack, 2012.  Image are courtesy of the artist.
Can you talk about the background behind your work Free Associations (2010) in which you had participants write with white chalk on white chalkboards, guaranteeing privacy, for the duration of 20 minutes?

The title of the work is the well-known psychoanalytic speech practice undertaken by the analysand, who agrees and attempts to say whatever comes into her/his mind in the psychoanalysis session. I have a desire to know, acknowledge and engage ethically (an ethics of sexual difference—of specificity) with each person who encounters my work. When I facilitated Free Associations I wanted to make art objects that provided a space for the participants’ own languages in their experience of my work. I also wanted to make some monochrome abstractions where any aura around my authorship was utterly dissipated and the significance of the marks on the surfaces were foregrounded as contingent upon my audience. These encounters took place in a public gallery so that this kind of specific engagement could itself be exhibited, but exhibited as a refusal to make a spectacle of individuality. As each iteration of the work required that there be five scheduled participants in order for the piece to go ahead, the participants are only ever visible to other museum visitors as a group of five people doing the same activity.

I can picture the experience for the participants to be quite powerful because of the engagement between the private and public. What kind of reaction did you get from the participants after their 20 minutes ended?

Most people commented on a kind of oscillation in their experience between being aware of their role as a performer for other gallery visitors and immersion in the task. Most participants stayed and talked to one another about their experiences after the 20 minutes. I found this easy formation of a group very interesting. Most people said they felt able to immerse themselves in the task because there were others doing it too.

 Alex Martinis Roe, A Genealogical Encounter Among Carla Cruz, Jodi Dean and ‘The Three Marias’, Video projection of a recorded online video conversation between one of the artist’s interlocutors, Portuguese artist Carla Cruz, and one of Cruz’s authorial influences, North American political theorist Jodi Dean. The video is edited in consultation with Cruz and Dean and is exhibited with their consent, 23:33, 2011-2012. Image are courtesy of the artist.

You recently completed a residency at Artspace in Sydney; can you tell us about your time there?

I arrived during that very quiet time in summer when everyone has left the city, so I spent the first part of my residency doing some research in an art history library for the slideshow I made for the exhibition. As the city came back to life, it was time to install my exhibition, which was a large scale sound installation activated by performance-narrations of the slideshow to visitors one at a time. 

The slideshow is called Feminist and Feminine Appropriations of Abstract Art and is made up of twenty-one abstractions of famous abstract works. I erased all but the simple geometric outlines of works by artists who had appropriated masculinist abstract aesthetics, and then the works they had appropriated. I invited each visitor to the gallery to sit on a chair beside my desk and then proceeded to narrate the name of the artist, the title of each slide and its original date, all the while marking the time of the encounter with Hanne Darboven’s non-writing loops on a ream of computer paper. My desk was amplified using contact microphones and the sound projected through a massive speaker stack at the entrance to the space. Following the narration I asked the visitor for her/his name and wrote it at the bottom of the sheet of paper I had been marking. At the end of each day of performance-narrations, I pinned the still-connected sheets of marked paper to the wall. 

Around the opening of the exhibition I met some very interesting Sydney artists and curators, with whom I feel we now have an ongoing conversation and I also had some very enriching encounters with colleagues from around Australia and New Zealand who came to visit. 

 Alex Martinis Roe, non-writing histories, installation view, Artspace, Sydney, 2012. Photo: Silversalt photography. Image are courtesy of the artist.
You now live and work in Berlin, what brought you and keeps you there?

I like Berlin because it is a place I can do my work. My work is about conversation and exchange. I find that Berlin is not a city that jumps out at me and steals my attention away from my work – I can concentrate here – but it’s also a place where I can see a lot of different kinds of artwork and encounter different ideas. Here I am in conversation with other artists, creative practitioners, thinkers and writers who are engaged in projects and questions that are parallel and/or fascinating to my own. I just had an exhibition here that closed on Monday at a space called Bibliothekswohnung and the way people engaged with my exhibition is exactly what I hope for. The gallery, like many in Berlin, is in an apartment and its format is very much modelled on the Enlightenment salons. Most people who came spent time with the work and then also stayed to talk about it and engage in conversation with others.

Who inspires you?

Right now, Rahel Varnhagen, a Jewish salonière in Berlin in the late 1700s and early 1800s. And the people who engage in my projects! I just edited a recording of a conversation I set up between Portuguese artist Carla Cruz and North American political theorist Jodi Dean and I just keep finding more in it.

What are you looking forward to within the next 12 months?

This week I’m going to Utrecht to do a masterclass with artist, psychoanalyst and philosopher Bracha Ettinger, with whom I did a workshop in 2010. I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in her ideas again and to spending time with some people I am working with there. 

 Alex Martinis Roe, non-writing histories, installation detail, Artspace, Sydney, 2012. Photo: Silversalt photography. Image are courtesy of the artist.

[1] Alexie Glass, ‘Extimacy: A new generation of feminism’ in Art and Australia (Spring 2009)