Q&A: Alternatives – Thierry Geoffroy (part 2)

THIS IS PART 2 of the Q&A ‘Alternatives’ interview with Thierry Geoffroy. You can read Part 1 here.

Critical Run VeniceQ&A icon 03 (70)You have turned jogging into an art form. How does the Critical Run work?

I prefer the word ‘running’. Jogging sounds a bit too leisurely.

Critical Run is an Art Format for criticism; it is a stimulating, debating and sweating format where we debate while we run. It’s an embodied metaphor; an absorption of what we feel we should do in a world at the edge of an abyss. It is not a run away from the abyss but a run for solutions. It is a way to energize the debate in an emergency. We cannot remain sedentary.

Why not?

Debate is dying due to apathy: too much sofa, too much loneliness and too many people sitting in conferences. In the beginning, Critical Run was called the Artists’ Run. But nobody was participating. Typically, artists and art people are negatively biased against running. And artists who do run, don’t do it as artists, but incognito. Running is somehow considered demeaning to art; not suitably dignified. The interjection RUN! is insulting to them. It is insulting to their works. They get more outraged by hearing the word ‘run’ than hearing about death caused by injustice.

Fortunately, having investing considerable effort in hyping the run; having beautiful-looking lead runners; persuading with elaborate rhetoric and flattery; pointing to the originality of the project and the potential benefit to future careers; even to art historical necessity; Critical Run finally succeeded.

CR Stockholm 1What is a typical Critical Run like?

Critical Run mostly happens on bridges and lasts about 20 minutes.

There is a precise point of departure (POD) and corresponding point of arrival (POA), each with symbolic and contextual implications, like a POD from the parliament to a POA at a police station. Critical Run can also happen backwards (recession, regression, repression); it can happen in a cemetery (if the theme is death or apathy); it suits any idea of movement. Even so, some artists, because of back problems, knee problems, feet problems, digestion problems, tooth problems, shampoo problems … participate on their bike. I accept this. Art Formats are not designed for elite troops. It is certainly not an easy task to run and debate simultaneously.

Running makes the runner pant. Sentences are short; syntax staccato, criticism stammering. This would be embarrassing at an international conference, but in Critical Run, it is the point. Words, thoughts, statements, ideas, reasoning, questions have to be concise. In an emergency, long empty statements would be disastrous. Critical Run is a method to extract precious statements. Debates can evolve in the run. Like emergencies, they cannot be planned.

Critical Runs do not need much in the way of logistics. They can take place in many different parts of the world.[1]

Facebook 2I follow, and greatly appreciate, your regular posts online. How has the advent of Social Media changed your practice?

In 2012, the Sprengel Museum in Hannover showed a project called ‘I Created FaceBook’. This aimed to show how, since 1988, I was working with photography and changing status to gather groups of people to interact socially in a collective act of introspection. I was using radio to do this in 1988, now it is internet.

However, I consider social media as a threat.

Why?

Well they are not only spying on us and controlling us, but they are also educating us and our children. Just ask yourself what motivates them; deep down, what do they want?

I would say that the established contemporary arts system in the West stands on three pillars: the museum, the commercial gallery and the art biennale. What are your views on these three institutions?

Museums have good potential. I like them, but they lack a place for ultra-contemporary art: art that is in time – pertinent art. Most museums operate with a delay.

Commercial galleries have the honesty to be called what they are. Honesty is a good thing.

Biennales are dangerous.

In what way?

Biennales are dangerous when the police beat-up junkies to accelerate the gentrification process; when they push aside the poor population; when they talk about ecology while helping their sponsors to sell more cars. Biennales are dangerous when they stimulate weapon production and sales. Biennales are dangerous when they use artists as a means to their own ends. Biennales are dangerous every time they lie. Biennales are dangerous when they present apathetic piles that put the intellect to sleep.

It is sad because a biennale could be a unique chance to gather intellectuals to develop views together. I really like biennial events when they have within them a potential for debate. But art biennales often misuse the work of artists and set out to fool us instead.

Naive Blue Helmet  2You mention weapon production. You had something to say about that in relation to Documenta 13 in Kassel.

Yes: ‘The Next Documenta Should be Curated by a Tank’. This is a long work and I cannot adequately give you a simple resume here. But readers can visit this link which describes the art project I developed as my response to this issue.

[The issue being that Documenta 13 took the theme of ‘Collapse and Recovery’, but never once addressed the fact that some 2000 people are working in the armaments industry in Kassel, designing and producing weapons such as tanks that are specifically intended for firing at urban riots and selling them to the highest bidder.]

One of the formats you have devised for yourself is ‘The Biennalist’. What is a Biennalist and how does the format work in practice?

The Biennalist is an Art Format created to comment directly on Biennales and other large-scale managed cultural events, while they are happening. Those events often promote themselves with themes and media statements that fake their true aims. The Biennalist takes the thematic of a biennale very seriously, testing it for its truthfulness and in the process testing the patience of the biennale on its own territory. For decades, artists have questioned the canvas, pigment, the museum and, since 1989, we have questioned biennales.

Sometimes, the Biennalist collaborates with the artists of the Emergency Room providing burning content that cannot wait … today! before it is too late. The Biennalist can also activate other Art Formats: Penetration, Critical Run, Rumour Art, Fight Debate, Slow Dance and so on …

There is no good Biennale without the Biennalist!

before and afterMore generally, what are your views on the exhibition as the primary format and mechanism for engaging with visual art?

Well, IKEA does good exhibitions … and relational art. I am told that to exhibit is ‘to give to be seen’; showing. So, why not?

But if the goal is to sell more weapons or beer, it is better not to exhibit. I am more interest in training the ‘awareness muscle’. Exhibiting has to be connected with some kind of effort. The exhibition-as-entertainment is as dangerous as most main-stream television.

In the end, the question for me is: by making/consuming art, have we become better human beings? If it has just been entertainment, we have not move of one millimetre.

I am for coming together, the better to care of each other.

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[1]  Critical Runs have already happened in New York, Athens, Paris, Istanbul, Napoli, Barcelona, Stockholm, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Siberia …

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THIS IS PART 2 of the Q&A ‘Alternatives’ interview with Thierry Geoffroy. You can read Part 1 here.

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Images (from the top):
Critical Run to run debate the question: ‘What Are the Emergencies Today?’ Venice Biennale 2011
Critical Run to run debate the question: ‘Are Critics Critical?’ Moderna Museet, Stockholm 2009
Thierry Geoffroy ‘Facebook Educates You That Your Life Is Not Yours Anymore’ 2013
Thierry Geoffroy ‘Self Censure / the Documenta trash “Why Kabul?”’ 2012
Before and After: The Biennalist at Documenta 13. (Right) the front page of KunstHart magazine’s Documenta special issue. It was shortly after this photo was made that the tent was removed by the Documenta organisers (left).   

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  • The majority of the texts on this site are by Alasdair Foster and represent his opinions. However, in order to facilitate a useful diversity of views, some texts have been invited from artists and colleagues around the world, while others appear as independent comments. These opinions and comments are not necessarily those of Alasdair Foster or Cultural Development Consulting (CDC). All data and information on this site is provided on an as-is basis. While every effort is made to be as thorough as possible, neither Alasdair Foster nor CDC make representations as to accuracy, completeness, currency, suitability or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.
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