Interview by Caique Tizzi
Photographs by Pedro Jardim
Caique: You are both quite active in your home base – Sayeh is represented by Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran in Montreal and Virginie is involved in many initiatives, such as the artists run center PVPP in Allevard – why did you take the decision to work in Berlin, specially in the framework proposed at Agora?
Sayeh: Berlin is a city that compiles a large number of contemporary artists, it’s an extremely rich and creative environment. This environment allows me to connect easily to a new culture and I am looking forward to meeting new spectators for my work, and to see who actually offers a new perspective for my work and I find it always valuable.
Agora presented this collaborative frame and I find great the possibility to exchange with some other artist and enrich my process from this experience.
Virginie: The collaborative work interests me for the same reason, it just adds to your own practice. And Berlin is a cultural place, full of resources to create. My work is always in situ and this city provides many possibilities to be explored.
C. Sayeh, your practice has a strong political and social engagement and you use very specific symbols to refer to those issues. What in Berlin can activate and create new layers about the specific questions you raise?
S. My work is inspired by the political events of my country of origin, Iran, I am using this residency in Berlin for a better understanding of the political context for the arts here in Berlin. For me is always interesting to try to search for the dialogues and similarities between the place I am and the place I came from. It’s also very important to me the history of the passengers between Germany and Iran, and we live in our collective memory both in Iran and here the period of dictatorship, censorship and repression but in very different ways.
I grew up in an islamic environment and here it’s another…but also a dictatorship and it’s very interesting for me to analyse how the artists live and produce and raise their questions in this specific context and I am trying to connect my work with these matters.
C. Do you think what instigates you with your practice can be addressed universally?
S. Yes, I think many people in the world experience “dictatorship” in different levels. I think that the reason my work can touch other people, from other nationalities is the fact that it relates to our collective memory…it’s important to realize how people interact and treat each other in our society, we can not be insensible towards that.
That’s also the reason why I use for my work “ready-made” objects, I often use Lego pieces on my work and it’s super universal. Every child from everywhere saw Lego, that’s a way to connect with the spectator…
C. Virginie, you have a diverse and multidisciplinary practice, no matter what media you choose to work there is always a very clear proposition, related to the spaces you occupy. Can you explain to us your process and what are your first impressions here in Berlin? How do you think your work can be unfolded in this specific context of Berlin?
V. Indeed, my work is always contextualised in the place I am, that’s why I always like to work in a new place, the somewhere else means always new work to me. All the rooms, the cities and spaces where I am become a work space, I don’t have a personal space to work, I work everywhere. When I am somewhere I try to forget everything I know about the place, what I learned and what people told me about it. I wonder, I start building stories, looking at small details, it’s a challenge because every existence is a projection and we have an idea of everything and a certain consciousness. When we put yourself somewhere there are always things and we are always connecting things from what we have in our memories and I work trying to forget these things. They are what they are. Simply.I am an archaeologist.
And here in Berlin, it’s a place with a lot of history, my parents are polish so I can relate a lot to it, these traces of western and eastern worlds all mixed.. Berlin relates to me very personally, but I don’t even talk about it and I just feel it, look at people and collect things. I always say that it feels like being an extra-terrestrial, you arrive and that’s what it is and that’s how I like to work. As Paul Valerie says “all the past is here”. So with this premise in mind I create here with Sayeh an installation that is an image of our minds and perception. It´s nice because we share the same language, same codes but different ways to work.
Berlin is very difficult to get, there are lots of things at the same time, the project is about capturing all these particularities of the city.
C. You both have just arrived to start your collaborative residency at Agora. Where do you think your practices overlap? What are the strategies of work you are using to conceptualise the final project? What are the challenges of this work?
S. We both studied at the french school, so our codes, visual vocabularies are very similar. In France, the art school teach us how to be sensible to things and your surrounding and how society is affected. The first point we overlap is that we both share the same way to look at society, and the other point is that our ways to express it are quite close, we are both working with installations, maps, connecting different references through these forms.
V. But for me when you make an installation you are in the space, but when you draw a map, you are out, you overview it…you create a distance with the world. But we explain together our world with a distance. And the way Sayeh works with small scale, it´s in between installation and drawing. I am really happy to share this vision and this work with her.
C. You both found your common ground to work collaboratively smoothly. Can you explain to us how it has happened? And what is the project that you are presenting at Agora?
S. Our collaboration started when we looked at each other´s work from our websites back home when we were selected to be part of this residency. At this point, we could find many common points on our work. And we started to discuss how to feed each other´s practice and we decided to combine both of our main interests and it turned to be a “map-installation”. So the title of the work is in french “Carte Commune” (Common Map) which is a work in progress that we add everyday things that we are producing or collecting here…video, drawings, photos, etc. It´s a sort of a cartographic work, Virginie will be more engaged on the mapping and I will be busier adding the political aspects. So together we try to show our perception of Berlin and how it manifests and changes daily…so it´s a collection of both of our worlds. I am adding texts, words and little sculptures made of plasticine.
V. Yes, and I collect wood, board, pieces, photograph people, stones from the streets and I write the date and the place I found them and add to the installation. So everyday I walk around and I draw with these fragments my route.
C. So this piece is a visual dialogue…
S. Yes, exactly.
V. That´s why we chose this title.
S. But it´s also about the spectator, how one can have a position and interact with this dialogue.
We also chose three colours to make our piece – yellow, red and black – the German flag…it´s very important to frame our creation to work with these colours, the political colours of the place we are.
“Carte Commune” by Sayeh Sarfaraz and Virginie Piotrowski
23rd October 2013
From 7pm – 11pm at Agora Top Floor