urbanTension 02

Interview with Erik van Lieshout


museum in progress: You realized an image for the project URBAN TENSION. Please tell us about the ideas that lead to the piece?

Erik van Lieshout: A lot of images come to mind when thinking about the urban. The urban is outside. It 's my street, it is the space between home and far away, between my TV and the Near East, the USA, South Africa etc. It is the commercial space between supernational companies and my Turkish foodist, the space between my home and my girl friend's house. The urban is the anonymous world of people who want to get out and the places you know by heart. In my piece I combine images. The main figures in television, especially the bad, the evil, the counterparts, the modern and real draculas, who as we learn on TV and in the newspapers threaten everything that is our reality: which is eating, searching for sex and go shopping. I show them in connection with these activities. I paint and draw them. I know them well, we all know how they look like, they are like brands, you know them by heart. The connections I make seem to be absurd, but they are right.

mip: Can you tell us about the relationship of your work and the experience of tension in urban space?

EvL: Tension is friction, excitement, danger, charge, it is the situation before explosion. There is a lot of control, supervision, surveillance, but also a lot of anonymity, freedom, diversity in urban space. A lot of my work takes place in urban space. My videos are shot in Rotterdam, Ghana or Berlin. We get important experience from TV and in my piece for urban tension I transfer these collective images of personalities that represent the repressed aggressive to the street. Bin Laden, Pim Fortuyn or Haider are personnel of the media world. They create tension in multifacceted ways. I take them resp. their images into my studio, let them be themselves and get them out on the street again. Blown up as they like it. In the area of sex and shopping, culture and collective. 

mip: What kind of effects do you expect, what sort of reception by the viewer /reader /passerby? 

EvL: People will probably be irritated by the expressive drawings of the morally bad and ugly. They know some of the people I drew, others not. We are forced to think about Bin Laden in a certain way. His image appears in very specific contexts, always accompanied by a 'NO'. It is difficult for us not to think about him as a terrorist, but to imagine that he goes shopping. "Shop New York" to comfort the city. Shopping is forgetting.

mip: How important is it for artist to act politically? 

EvL: I can only talk about me and I think that everything I make is political.

mip: What is art able to effect in this context? 

EvL: Art has the power to get into the urban space, to infiltrate, irritate, shock, make laugh, slow down the pace, make visible and counteract the naturalisation of the change of power of the urban space. It is a big necessity to act as an individual in the space that gets more and more collective, one logo, one body: subjective expression vs. superrepression.

mip: In our days artists act as sociologists and social workers, as barkeepers and photoreporters, as scientists for communication – how would you define your role in this respect?

EvL: As an artist I touch a lot of these disciplines. I grow grass and offer smoking, I worked with kids from Holland, Morocco and Ghana. But I am not a social worker neither is Thomas Hirschhorn in his fabulous Bataille Monument in Kassel. Artists have a different perspective. they follow different aims than people in other jobs.

mip: Which part plays the audience for a kind of art which is totally involved in everyday life?

EvL: Art comes out of everyday life, concentrates parts and images of it. Art jumps back into everyday life or lands in a museum, a concentrated field which is preconditioned for a more aware reception.

mip: Has the visual art become an "involuntary discipline" (cfr B. Vanbderlinden/B. Sterling)? Is it therefore that the visual arts are tending to give up their own cultural space, often referring to or mixing up with other disciplines such as architecture and urbanism?

EvL: I have not given up, believe me, and others either. I don't need to cooperate with architects and designers and musicians and dancers and urbanists and sociologists and actors and filmmakers. I also don't reject that. But I am free to do what I want. I am a visual artists and I like to exhibit in white cubes like museums and kunstvereine, in the net, in the street in the desert. I don't mind. There is energy everywhere.

mip: museum in progress is a network which wants to popularize the art just like the agit prop movements of the avant gardes. Today however it is important to make a firm distinction between "popular" popularity" and populist/ populism" How would you define populism?

EvL: Haider is a populist, cultural deputees are populist, Pim Fortuyn was populist. museum in progress is populist? I felt myself working as a populist making drawings of Pim Fortuyn. Do you want to popularize? you want to get out to the people. Cultural deputees who have no ideas about what is going on and only think of gaining more power, who have no idea about quality about radicality, they want to popularize. Main aim: colourful and pretty and if possible artists from all continents and all disciplines. This ends up in artistry. A lot of what is understood under "culture" is a mediocre mixture of the different disciplines, different colours. Total Balance.