Louise Winter speaks to artist Beatriz Olabarrieta on Plot Bunny at NGCA, Sunderland.
1. How did you come up with the name Plot Bunny as the title for your show?
Because of the project I wanted to develop, I knew from the start that the word ‘plot’ had to be part of the title. After a while I came across an online app which does endless word combinations around a word that you choose. The word combination ‘plot bunny’ appeared and I got really excited without knowing what it meant. But when I found out, it felt spot on as a plot bunny is a story idea that refuses to go away until it is written.
2. For your exhibition, the main gallery space of the NGCA has been radically
opened- up (I use the word radical as I have never seen the space used in this way) by the decision to the remove all interior, dividing walls, that often make the gallery feel congested and warren-like. How important is this ‘hollowing out’ process for the reception of your work?
We have been talking a lot about how different might be the reception of the show depending whether you knew the space from before or not. The walls haven’t been removed for 10 years, and even before this, the shows at the NGCA tended to be total black-outs for video/sound installations. There hasn’t been another artist before (in 20yrs) that has tried to deal with the space as a ‘sculpture’ or material in itself or, let’s say, to work alongside it, to ‘collaborate with it’ or ‘become it’.
It is a particularly challenging and unforgiving exhibition space, no natural light, the theatrical/backstage type ceiling and quite a brownish plastic shiny odd floor. As well as a daily back and forth flow of workers from the Sunderland Council Planning Dept. accessing to their offices by a door at the back of the gallery.
It was a bit scary thinking of how to tackle all these ‘architectural’ idiosyncrasies, particularly as the walls only came down one week before the opening and also due to budgets and timescales, I was making all the works indeed! site-specifically, I mean, none of the objects or videos were made or tested at my studio beforehand. A lot of trust was placed on the technical team, who normally do the installs but not the actual fabrication of the pieces. So I can say it was a radical, risky and ‘hollowing’ intervention in many ways, not only physical.
3. The gallery text refers to your interest in exploring how language lives both inside and around objects, could you say a little more about this please?
This could take such long time to answer. Ummm, it seems it is only as soon as we have a name for something that a ‘thing’ starts existing – word ergo sum. Language structures reality and it is, in my opinion, our biggest institution. When it comes not only to art but other essential life and/or metaphysical concerns, I suffer from inarticulation -I say ‘suffer’ as if it was an illness!- but it is in way like being ill, (hahaha) sick of the need to find words to describe something!. Not being able ‘to say that something’ carries a strong feeling of disempowerment which I also find very exciting and fruitful. I am interested in that moment or movement when getting closer to being able to know and name something but never managing. Nothing can be fully comprehended or known, even mathematics is constantly changing. The story, narrative or ‘knowledge’ of my work is always slipping away and I accept the chase, turning it into one of my ‘making materials’.
4. A number of your video pieces show you writing and drawing on a series of black and white images which I suspect are images relating to some of your earlier works (?) If so, your interruption of these surfaces repurposes and recontextualises the material with the effect that meaning becomes fleeting or inherently mutable (just as the sculptural objects within the show are not autonomous or fixed) However, what I refer to as ‘meaning’ Martin Herbert refers to as the ‘re-siting of content’-is the displacing of content more appropriate way of talking about your works as opposed to the notion of meaning which implies something perhaps more fixed and intentional?
The images used in the videos don’t refer to previous works. They are images and drawings that have been (pre)informing my ideas about this specific show. I collect a lot of images but mostly I have avoided working visually with them as I used to believe ‘sculpture is all that is left once the image is gone’ and I was in a blind-mission to focus and understand material and/or sculpture in itself.
This is changing now and I hear the need to start letting images be physically part of the work. Here thinking out loud – I am wondering if images are a replacement for words in my work? Someone mentioned once overlaps with Joan Brossa – a spanish artist who was one of the founders of visual poetry in the 1940’s(…).
As Martin Herbert’s text exposes, I used to work in poor theater and at that time did a lot of writing- so it might well be that all these influences are starting to filter back in.
I am maybe also making more permeable work, or I have created now a material/sculptural language that can host, vessel, receive or ‘stage’ this ‘new old content’. Anyhow, it is not a pre-planned strategy, it is the work that leads the way ‘re-siting’ that unfolding content that you are referring to.
5. As I was walking in and around your show, meandering through videos mounted on mobile stations, precariously balanced objects and material propositions, I was reminded of Richard Serra’s Verb Lists-to cut, to drop, to knot…
Whereas for Serra these lists functioned as specific instructions for how to manipulate materials, I feel that for you, the use of language adds yet another layer of indeterminacy. This indeterminacy is taken further by your decision to invite writers and performers to create new works, as yet undefined, in direct response to Plot Bunny that will be performed at the end of the show’s run.
As these activities will be created in situ, they will inevitably be shaped by your work that will in turn be shaped by the performances. Why is this form of collaboration important to you to and how do you think it will alter the status of the show? (ie will it become a backdrop, a catalyst?) If at all?
They had mentioned Richard Serra before in relation to my work. I guess my work does deal with monumentality but ends up operating somehow as ‘the counterpart’ by being so fragile, precarious and disposable – a falling apart monument.
It is also true that the objects I make contain a lot of self-reflective actions like cutting, folding, piercing, bending, balancing, falling and coming up again. This is similar to grammatical or musical compositions, don’t you think?!. Exposing the way things are made or put together. Like all the information about the object is right there for one to be able to ‘read it’.
About collaboration or allowing other authors into the work – it feels like a rather natural path to take. When I worked in a theater company, it was all about being a part/role within the whole. There is no actor without lighting or voices without text and vice versa. The communication within the parts is key to making a good overall performance.
For this show, I think, I have been working a lot with this idea of parts/roles and totality. Currently the state of the show is dissected. Both the soundtrack and the script were live-made inside the space. During the opening, the musicians (Rhodri Davies and Shelly Knotts) recorded existing ‘noises’ from the room and mixed them with their own instrumental compositions.
While the writers were instead asked (during a writing workshop with Sunderland Holmside writers) to create an alter ego, someone that could potentially inhabit the exhibition space. So we could say that Plot Bunny is composed by 1. a stage currently divided into sculptures, 2. there is the soundtrack made of sounds from the room and 3. a script for 7 characters. Now these parts have to come together and collaborate with each other to become the whole.
Beatriz Olabarrieta’s Plot Bunny is on display at NGCA, Sunderland until 11 July 2015.
Images: Beatriz Olabarrieta, Plot Bunny, NGCA, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.