Questionnaire: Alfredo Jaar

Q. What is art for? A. Nietzsche said that life without music would be a mistake. A life without art would be unlivable. Art is life.

Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mamma Roma, 1962, film still. Courtesy Intra Films

Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mamma Roma, 1962, film still. Courtesy Intra Films

Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mamma Roma, 1962, film still. Courtesy Intra Films

What images keep you company in the space where you work?

Generally none. I need a blank space. No visual noise. I distrust images – at least since my experience in Rwanda where, with my work The Rwanda Project (1994–2000), I tried to make sense of the massacre of one million people in the face of the world’s indifference. I prefer to create images myself, and then only if I have to.

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

4’33” (1952) by John Cage. Context is everything, and what a poetic way to express it!

If you could live with only one piece of art what would it be?

Socle du Monde (Base of the World, 1961) by Piero Manzoni.

What do you wish you knew?

I became an artist because I do not understand the world. Everything I know I learned from being an artist. And I am still learning. I wish I knew more of everything.

What should stay the same?


What should change?

Politics. Our politicians have transformed politics into garbage. They have corrupted it, and they have insulted it. Politics has to be reinvented. A new generation of politicians will have to do it.

What is your favourite title of an art work?

Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project (1970). It is a two-part work by my friend Cildo Meireles, an extraordinary piece created during the military dictatorship in Brazil. All great art does exactly what that title says: it inserts itself in the world, which is a network of ideological circuits.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

I am an artist, an architect and a filmmaker because I could never make up my mind. If I had to change, I would probably be a musician.

What music are you listening to?

Nicolas Jaar, Space is Only Noise (2011); PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (2011); Tinariwen, Tassili (2011); Femi Kuti, Africa for Africa (2010); Carminho, Fado (2009); Mariza, Fado Tradicional (2010); and Bonga, Angola 72 (1972).

What are you reading?

On my bedside table right now are: Edward Said, A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation (2010); Malkit Shoshan, Atlas of the Conflict: Israel – Palestine (2010); Giorgio Galli, Pasolini: comunista dissidente (Pasolini: Communist Dissident, 2010); and, from the Moderna Museet’s ‘Time & Place’ series, Rio de Janeiro 1956–64 and Milano–Torino 1958–68 (both 2008).

What do you like the look of?

The look of the unknown; unknown cities, with unknown people, speaking an unknown language. I like exploring them, getting lost in them, learning from them.

is an artist, architect and filmmaker who lives and works in New York, USA. He is developing new projects for the 2012 European Capital of Culture, Guimarães in Portugal, and for the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica in Spain. A major retrospective of his work opens in June 2012 at four institutions in Berlin, Germany: the Neue Nationalgalerie; Berlinische Galerie; Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst e.V.; and the Alte Nationalgalerie.

Issue 143

First published in Issue 143

Nov - Dec 2011

Most Read

Ei Arakawa work stolen from Skulptur Projekte Münster; Richard Mosse arrested; three men charged over counterfeit...
Lisson Gallery, London, UK
Coinciding with Refugee Week, and her film Hear Her Singing screening at the Southbank Centre, the artist shares some...
Gilda Williams visits the first edition of the ARoS Triennial in Aarhus, Denmark
The Haitian Revolution as a lesson in corporate leadership and meeting the 'prophet of the Anthropocene': what to read...
Creative Time launches series of protest flags; photographer Khadija Saye reported as a victim of London's Grenfell...
A recent retrospective at the Museo Ettore Fico in Turin establishes the overlooked importance of a ‘total artist’
The third edition of the London performance festival makes the case for collective action in an age of political...
A past winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize, Zoe Pilger on the books and experiences that have influenced her as a writer
A guide to the best projects included in Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017
For the first in a series of our editors’ initial impressions from documenta 14 Kassel, Pablo Larios on the Neue...
Art sees itself as facing a crisis of legitimation – can this account for claims to 'authenticity' being made in shows...

An interview with the late artist on the unique classification system he devised to organize his books
The independent curator on 25 years in the arts

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2017

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017