Asad Raza

An evolving exhibition, inspired by caves devoted to the worship of the Greek god, Pan

Credit: Plastiques Photography. Courtesy of Plastiques Photography/Frieze.

Credit: Plastiques Photography. Courtesy of Plastiques Photography/Frieze.

Through a door at the back of the Frieze London bookshop, Asad Raza will create an evolving exhibition inspired by the caves of worship of the Greek god Pan. The space will feature environmental alterations and performative interactions with visitors in a developing mise-en-scène.

Asad Raza produces exhibitions as experiences with temporal, dramaturgical components. He recently contributed to the projects A stroll through a fun palace (2014) in the Venice Architecture Biennale, and Solaris Chronicles (2014) for LUMA Arles. Raza co-created the dramaturgy for Philippe Parreno’s H{N)YPN(Y}OSIS (2015) at Park Avenue Armory in New York, and he has produced many exhibitions with Tino Sehgal, including presentations at the Roman Agora, Athens (2014), Tate Modern, London (2012), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010). In 2013, Raza co-programmed the exhibition ‘Mayfield Depot’ for the Manchester International Festival. In 2015 he created an experimental school as part of the 2015 Ljubljana Graphic Art Biennial.

Frieze Projects is a non-profit programme of artists’ commissions realised annually at Frieze London and supported by the LUMA Foundation.

Additional support for Frieze Projects is provided by Arts Council England.

A conversation between Asad Raza and Frieze Projects curator Nicola Lees

Nicola Lees: We talked early on about the importance of rituals and your work on Pan as an excavation of some of the ancient rituals that surrounded the worship of this underground god. Do you want to use this as a way to hint at what might happen in the space at Frieze?

Asad Raza: I went to some caves near Ephesus in Turkey recently, and I was struck by how caves of worship are often placed so well in the landscape—a lot of Greek temples have this kind of emplacement too. Like the Acropolis, they are sited with amazing prospects and require a journey. They use the landscape itself as part of the meaning production. Caves were generally places of rituals, of confrontation with the sublime, but very little direct interaction. If exhibitions are one of the rituals of the secular age, sometimes they lack something like intimacy or accompaniment, something that touches you directly. So, if this project composes new rituals they should have some of that. Also, ancient and religious rituals were non-specialised, whereas in our time we tend to break everything— from knowledge to aesthetic experience— down into smaller and smaller areas of expertise. What a contemporary ritual should do in my opinion, which past rituals have generally done, is to approach people immanently rather than on the basis of prior knowledge or familiarity.

NL: Can you say something about your project in Athens last year and how this experience motivated your research into Pan?

AR: Five years ago I visited Athens for the first time—where we first met—and it gave me the idea to make an exhibition of Tino Sehgal’s work outdoors at the ancient Agora. Last summer, with the help of the Neon Foundation, we made that happen and I spent a few months in Greece. While I was there, I visited Marathon, where Pan was worshipped in a cave three thousand years ago. I had been interested in Pan for a while, but after that I was intrigued by the contrast between him and the Olympian gods—Pan is frustrated, not powerful; close to the biosphere, not floating high above it; part animal rather than superhuman. He doesn’t transform his environment, but inhabits it. In Christianity and Islam, he was transmuted into Satan.

NL: In Bruno Latour’s Making Things Public (2005) there is a section called ‘The Great God Pan is Dead.’ Does that point us towards a contemporary reading of Pan?

AR: There’s a contrast there. Latour argues against a concept of nature as a holistic totality, which I agree with completely, but he uses Pan as shorthand for an outdated understanding of nature as a possibly frightening, separate ontology. I guess that’s because it’s holistically gathered into an anthropomorphic figure. For me, Pan is more of a personified articulation of the embeddedness of humans inside a context of non-human animals, plants, matter, forces, etc.—what Latour would call “compostionism”—and also a reminder that humans are not alone in control of the composition. Pan was a way of dealing with that fact, which we are coming to grips with again today. He was associated with the fear that can descend when you are on your own in the forest that, in mythology was attributed to Pan being disturbed in his slumber. That’s where the word ‘panic’ comes from.

NL: For the 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana, you worked on a form of experimental school. Many of the attributes that you brought to this pedagogical project will have some loose parallels with the project at Frieze. Can you see links between the two projects?

AR: One main link would be that the school attempts to function even as visitors to the Biennial can enter and leave at any time. A question my collaborators on the school and I tried to ask was, can you produce a working pedagogy with this condition? How can people be learning and teaching even while the task of introducing and engaging new visitors to the space is going on? It’s a matter of splitting the classical seminar room or space of encounter into different stages, sequences or nodes. That’s something you see if you go to Delphi or to a Hindu temple complex. There are lots of different spaces of interaction where people can engage in different ways and for different lengths of time, like exhibitions, shopping malls and festivals. They aren’t controlled spaces like a seminar room, but more like a series of campfires where people can come into contact with each other. Some physical anthropologists think that humans developed these big brains once they started cooking and that they developed social lives because they had to gather around fires for the moment of cooking rather than foraging separately. Tubers, apparently, were important because when cooked they had lots of calories. Cooking fires played that socializing purpose and later I wonder if ceremonial fires were lit in caves to produce this new sociality too.

NL: The access to your project at Frieze is through the bookshop Koenig Books. It is a hidden space. Why did you choose to position the project in this way?

AR: It’s maybe not so much that it’s hidden as that I wanted you to pass through the bookstore to get to the space. It comes from a feeling that we have to re-encounter various parts of the past in a more embodied way. I used to think of antiquity as something you experience through texts, but now I am interested in trying to reach it in another way. So the thought that the visitor who wanders into the space has just been through the bookstore appeals to me.

NL: Sou Fujimoto believes that there are two types of architecture; either a cave or a nest. A cave is an existing structure that we adapt for habitation, while we build a nest from scratch. What does it mean to build a cave in the context of Frieze?

AR: I guess I’m interested in caves because they’re not just completely found spaces, they’re usually transformed by inhabitation. They are spaces of encounter and also shelter. They are often shared with animals. The fair is very successful at creating a Cartesian space inside a temporary architecture, and I wanted to suggest a found place. An in-between space: a version of antiquity that isn’t a ‘Western’ place or a place of rational contemplation. One that plays into the associations of caves with metaphysical illusions—which I am not a believer in. Special thanks to Ian Rodger and The Royal Parks for the Horse Chesnut tree Natural Cork Flooring provided by Granorte.