Conversation with
Adva Zakai:
I am all words

Keren Detton: "Un coup de dés" [A Throw of the Dice] is a website aiming at showing the diversity of practices in art centres in France. For Le Quartier, I wanted to propose something specific that would reflect its activities (art production, art education, publishing), while being experimental at the same time. I wanted to talk with you because you created three performances as part of the exhibition "Papier avec Lune", curated by Géraldine Longueville in Le Quartier in 2010, where your idea was to embody the exhibition itself using your body, movements, and a text you wrote. Standing in one corner and touching the walls, you redirected the public's attention to the building and the design of the space; you shed light on the collective aspect of art and the interactions between the curator, the artists, the visitors; and you played on the temporality of the exhibition using a living form. Your focus was the exhibition as a process keeping different possibilities open: becoming the exhibition framework (the art centre/the director of the space in the piece Opening), becoming one process/object (the written correspondence/the letters as artefacts in Performing letter from a letter) and eventually becoming the public (actor/spectator in How I ended up in this position). First of all, I would like to ask you to comment on the experience of "becoming the art centre", and I would like to ask you to use this new platform – the website – to follow the experience.

Adva Zakai: In "Papier avec Lune", Geraldine gathered artworks that existed before the exhibition started and continued developing after it ended. Some of the works lived simultaneously inside and outside the exhibition context. The exhibition itself was only there to shed light on a step in the process of each of the works. The idea was that simply because all these processes were brought together in the same space for a certain time, the development of each would become part of the development of the others. They turned into a living organism for 3 months. The series of solos was a response to this situation. The aim in this series was to bring my body/movement, my biography and the exhibition situation (artworks, space, visitors, director) into interaction. I wanted to impose co-dependency on them and have one reflected in the other. I searched for meeting points with different elements in the exhibition and once I found them, each solo developed into a shared journey. In all three solos, language was somehow the link between these different structures. This allowed for double or even triple meanings, so the viewer could almost choose which path to follow out of several paths developing simultaneously.

KD: I find the parallel between this work and curating practice interesting, because I also think that curating an exhibition has to deal with co-dependency.

AZ: Yes, this artistic context enables links between fields and ideas that otherwise might not meet. It’s interesting to see what happens to the perception of ourselves and our environment while establishing new relations between frames of references.

KD: The artistic context of the art centre allows for pushing certain limits, creating a space where theory and practice can meet.Here, you worked mainly with the physicality of the dance and the weight of the objects, using the art centre's furniture and its walls. Opening is a solo where you stand on a table in a corner of the exhibition space. Your hands touch the walls, and very slowly you raise one leg. While you’re trying to keep a balance, you tell a story which could be your biography, the history of the space or the story of the director. So there was a tactile approach which made this presence a physical experience.

AZ: True. I needed the walls to support my movement, the movement was needed in order to talk about the space and the space was used in order to reflect on my life. A movement made me shake, but was also a metaphor for something else. The objects in the exhibition were not only matter, but also an extension of a thought, a concept to reflect on. My biography was not there as a confession but as material, as tangible as the walls and the body and the objects. Textures and functions mixed with each other and created (at least I hope so) a physical experience with a twist...

KD: And at the same time there was something very intimate, very personal. I think that when you “become the exhibition” you do more than incarnate it - you "incorporate" it. The definition of incorporation is "to unite intimately". With your performances, the visitors really feel this merging of public and private space.

AZ: The intimacy probably stems from the awkwardness of this melange, which confronts both me and the public with logics we are unfamiliar with. A back-bending movement was a filter for talking about a letter, the exhibition space was my body, and talking to the public about my relationship with them was actually an analysis of my relationship with the table that was standing on my body... We had to constantly redefine our relation to all the elements. Maybe there is something revelatory about this confrontation that generates intimacy among those who share the experience. Of course there is also an intimate feeling because in this series of works my personal life is always one of the structures involved.

KD: After you devised these three solos at Le Quartier, you presented them on different occasions. Could you tell more about the last presentation at Z33 and why you thought of ending the series at that time?

AZ: When I performed the first solo at Le Quartier, you insisted that I should do it standing on a table, so I would be visible. At first it felt like a compromise, but soon after, that table became a guiding thread for the three works. It started as a stage I performed on, then it became a second performer and in the third piece it was a part of my body. It was logical to create a work that emancipated the table from me – that let it perform without me. And this made sense as a last episode: one of us was gone, the co-dependency was broken. I wrote the story, a description of my relationship with the table until that point. In a way you could understand it as a relationship one can have with a human being. Or more precisely, a relationship with an object determined by a human perception. A similar approach to the one the three solos are based on. That story was glued under the table, so if you entered the exhibition, you wouldn’t notice it was there. The guardians in the show were actually performers. They introduced the visitors to objects and their stories. They appropriated my story and the solos with the table and built their own relationship with the object. I really thought this was the last phase of this project. But then, your proposal came for “Un coup de dés” – this series refused “to die”.

KD: The table was designed by Nicolas Floc'h for Le Quartier as part of our library furniture and he developed it as modular elements… I like this piece of furniture because it completely fits the idea of an art centre that can adjust to all kinds of practices. You used it as a stage and then a prop for the performance, but I never thought it could be used outside of Le Quartier. Why did you choose to keep it?

AZ: There was an act of appropriation in giving this table the status of an artwork. This exhibition at Z33, curated by Åbäke, was titled "All the Knives" and it revealed the fact that Maki, one of the curators, collected different bits and pieces in his wallet (mainly flyers, invitation cards, a piece of paper he got from a taxi driver and so on). Each item carried a story that belonged to different temporalities and spaces. In informal situations, he developed the habit of opening up his wallet and asking people to choose something, then he would tell a story that would lead to something else. So his curatorial idea (as I perceived it), was to think of the exhibition space as a wallet: a place with items that might not seem special or artistic, but once you become aware of them, they can open up a situation that goes way beyond their familiar function. In this context, it became obvious to me: I had to show the table! Maki used to call his wallet "The Knife", for different reasons. One of the reasons that appealed to me is that in the old days you wouldn't leave the house without a knife, either to protect yourself or to hunt or to cut something for food. But that was before we needed wallets to do all of that. So now the wallet replaces the knife, the wallet is the knife! I liked the idea that there is a man with a knife and a woman with a table in the exhibition. Both objects are loaded with significance and the exhibition context completely cancelled out their utilitarian value.

KD: After several variations on the solos – they were alternately an exhibition ("Papier avec Lune"), an object (a table) and a play in a theatre – I'm now inviting you to pursue the project of "becoming an art centre", but within the virtual space of Internet. Do you already know what your approach will be: embodying the institution, playing on personification of the site, or accentuating the never-ending nature of the project?

AZ: Your proposal is a challenge: before that I could have the art centre reflected in my body (and vice versa) because they were both present. My body can't enter the virtual space and my movement isn't conditioned by it. There are lots of similarities between virtual space and an art centre: they both facilitate links between distant ideas, as well as between interfaces and viewers. It will be interesting to explore this aspect on this platform. But how to link the body to this is an intriguing question. What does it mean to create a performance for the Internet? Thinking back on the process that we've discussed in this interview, the only possible space for the next episode is the virtual one. First the series left Le Quartier and was performed in other spaces, then the performer left the series and only the table was left, and now even the table is back to its daily function in the Le Quartier bookstore. So the work can keep existing in another temporality and another space where no walls, no flesh and blood performers and no tangible objects belong…