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Here's your chance to read comments, reviews and ideas arising out of this year's Biennial posted by specially commissioned writers, critics and theorists. The Writing Live Fellows have been generously supported by Arts Council England.

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12/02/07 06:45:21 am
Interview between Carlos Amorales and Rachel Lois Clapham, New York 15 November 2007

Carlos Amorales, Spider Web Stage (negative), 2006-2007. Courtesy of the artist and Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York/Paris.

Carlos Amorales??™ Spider Galaxy is a 400-piece sculpture resembling a spider??™s web that is the site for an ongoing performance by a lone dancer, accompanied by a subsonic sound composition by Julien Lede transmitted through the sculpture itself. Spider Galaxy adds to Amorales??™ oeuvre of ritualistic performance projects and animations, including Amorales vs. Amorales, which involved professional wrestlers and was exhibited at the Tate Modern in London and at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, amongst other venues.

Rachel Lois Clapham (RLC): Can you tell me what happened in your studio with regards to Spider Galaxy?

Carlos Amorales (CA): In my practice I build structures for other people to work in, like the record label I set up ???Nuevos Ricos??™, then I invite other people such as bands, artists and graphic designers, to be involved in that structure. It??™s the same in my studio. I collaborate with three of four people at any one time. Various people do graphic design, draw, research software or write. Together we build an archive of digital images which I use in different ways. Working in this way means I can create the conditions for something to happen within the limits of my own practise. Spider Galaxy really illustrates that way of working, that collaborative process that happens in my studio. I literally constructed a stage and asked a dancer (Galia Eibenschutz), musician (Julien Lede) and choreographer (Eri Eibenschutz) to develop their work on it.

RLC: What currently binds all these different ways of working?

CA: Thematically, it is Fantasy - whether it is inherited fantasy, myth or the clich?© of Fantasy - how it operates; how we rationalise it or don??™t. Essentially I want to unpick how we relate to the clich?© of Fantasy in its own specific language. That is why the digital archive is very important. It contains all these different pictorial elements, tools to make a fantasy story. My other main concern is analysing the process of doing artistic work. That??™s why I work across many different formats and within various institutions - both within the art-world (in galleries and museums) and outside it (in Wrestling or the music industry). I like to test the ways in which I can work within those different environments and how the specific audiences??™ interact. I do see all these things as part of my practice but at the same time, with the record label Nuevos Ricos, it??™s not like I??™m declaring it ???art??™.

RLC: What is the significance of the dancers??™ costume in Spider Galaxy?

CA: The bird shape for the costume comes from my archive. It is the combination of an image of a bird mixed with the pattern of a spider web and the grid-like structure of a Samurai Warriors??™ armour. I wanted to abstract the costume, to make it more open as an image, and if I had used a spider as reference point it would be too obvious.

RLC: Why have Spider Galaxy in the atrium at 590 Madison? - was it the fact that there are trees and real birds inside that space?

CA: The birds flying inside the space was a pure coincidence. The most important thing was to find a mixture of public and private space. I wanted Spider Galaxy to occupy a space that wasn??™t specialised like a Theatre or a gallery, but that wasn??™t directly on the street. The key element of public space is to creating a spectacle that is not overly theatrical; where the work is not so much about creating a show for people to turn up, be seated and laugh at. Having Spider Galaxy in the atrium public plaza area meant that some people travelled directly to see it and the passing public might enjoy it, but then again they might not look at or even notice it. I like that mix. It also means that people can stumble upon the work without meaning to.

RLC: What is the significance of the sound in Spider Galaxy?

CA: For many years the musician Julien Lede and I have been collaborating, he is a part of Nuevos Ricos. The sound he made for Spider Galaxy was quite simple, with really low bass and really high pitched sound at opposite ends of the sound spectrum. There was no rhythm in the sound so that the dancer could move independently, according to her own natural or bodily logic, that way her moves might look stranger. The sound was also designed to match the physicality of the space; the spider web has a built-in seated space for the audience as well as the dancer. This highlights the audience??™s physical interaction with the work, it brings them in. The vibration the audience feels moving through them heightens the fact that they are implicated in the work. The bass moving through the stage is also an analogy of the movements that a spider uses to track food on its web.

RLC: I looked away when the dancer was coming onto the stage. When I looked back all I saw was an inhuman looking bird form perched on the side of the stage; it was very still, moving only when it was breathing. It looked really unfamiliar and was quite a disturbing moment. The thing that came to mind was the Uncanny. In what way does this aspect of primal fear operate in your work?

CA: I think you were really lucky. The fact that you looked away and suddenly something had appeared like that is an important moment in the piece for me. I??™m jealous of that experience because I know the story from the beginning, but that??™s a moment I really like: when you don??™t know if the dancer is an object or a human or what is about to happen. For me, Spider Galaxy has a lot of tension and the idea was to really slow that moment of anticipation and unfamiliarity down, to prolong it so the audience would have to wait a long time to realise what it was, before Galia starts dancing. That??™s another way in which Spider Galaxy plays with the audience??™s expectations of being ???entertained??™.

I would say a notion of the uncanny: attraction and at the same time repulsion, is very important to my work and is built into the aesthetics. Beauty can have this dual element, it can be attractive yet really scare people. Aztec art is beautiful but it has that same air of strangeness, I think because we know so little about it, yet the images are quite commonplace. It??™s important to me not to make anything nightmarish or gothic though, that would be reduce the work to the level of gimmick. Instead what I want is to try to work with the spaces I can??™t grab. I try to find something in beauty. The Uncanny is perhaps not a psychological narrative in my work, rather it is built into its material form. It is a way to perceive the graphic forms I use.

RLC: How do you think of Spider Galaxy when there is no dancer?

CA: I displayed the spider web stage itself, with no dancers, as an installation ???Spider Web Negative??™ in Milton Keynes Gallery in 2006. So the work does have an important function in the atrium space without the dancer. There are deliberately no signs to say you cannot touch or climb on the spider web when there is no-one there, whether they are staff, dancer or audience; it is a stage ready for anyone who wants to interact with it. Sometimes people do step on it or play with it, which is important. In that sense the installation, the empty spiders??™ web, has an element of performance waiting to happen. It??™s also an invitation to perform, which can be quite alienating or frightening because you??™re not sure how you are implicated, or what you might be expected to do. With this invitation to perform Spider Galaxy is passive yet equally quite aggressive.

RLC: Perhaps for the people who stand on the empty spider web stage their uncertainty is ???When is the spider going to come and eat me??™?

CA: Or ???Am I the spider???™...

RLC: Spider Galaxy is a Performa Commission. Performa Commissions usually represent a shift of some kind in an artist??™s practise with regard to working live. You have worked live before, why do you feel you were commissioned by Performa?

CA: I stopped doing live performance after the wrestling and Devil Dance projects about 5 years ago so Spider Galaxy does represent a shift for me, quite a big one, as it is my first live work since I quit performance. It was a big step for me to come away from that kind of work but I wanted to change something in my practise at that point. Spider Galaxy is very different from what I have done before. I really wanted to depart from previous work, which was much more entertaining and ???popular??™, the audience knew exactly how to react to it. Of course, there are similarities in Spider Galaxy; the idea of the stage remains the same as in the wrestling or Devil Dance. But other aspects are totally in another direction. Spider Galaxy is against the idea of entertaining. It is slow, more demanding of its audience and not so immediately translatable. The design of the work, a certain graphic Bauhaus feel, is also more developed. It??™s that deliberate shift of direction and the fact that the previous performances were made in my late twenties, whereas Spider Galaxy comes at a time when I am in my late 30??™s, which makes this work feel more mature.

RLC: If Spider Galaxy represents a change in your relationship to live performance, does this mean you will begin to make live work again?

CA: I don??™t know. Performance is such a burden. When you make studio work you are in a private space. The moment you exhibit or show someone the work is of course public, but when you finish it, it stays finished and static. In my current exhibition ???Black Cloud??™ at Yvonne Lambert Gallery - I installed the work, then I left it and only return every now and again to check on it or fix the odd bit. I can release myself away from the work. The problem with performance is you carry it everywhere in your daily life, and it??™s so intense. Even though I no longer perform in my work myself ??“ I am only directing or behind the scenes in Spider Galaxy - the tension is still huge. I don??™t think I could cope with making it regularly as the main outlet of my expression.

Rachel Lois Clapham

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