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?

Nothing. 

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

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