Together with her host Dr. Josephin Varnholt, a senior relationship manager at Bank Julius Bär, Georgia Sagri developed a new work for the European biennale Manifesta 11. Out of this exchange arose two identical structures exhibited at Bank Julius Bär and at Löwenbräukunst. In this second part of the interview Georgia Sagri kindly agreed to give at the Institute of Art History, she talks about the process which led to an artwork focusing on a person rather than a profession.
The conversation with Georgia Sagri took place at the Institute of Art History, University of Zurich on May 26th 2016. The following second part of the interview was conducted by Elena Grignoli.
Since you were talking about awareness, do you like to make people aware of the conventions within they move?
Yes, I guess this happens in my work, but this is not particularly my intention. I do not want to bother people with my work. [Laughs.] I’m not thinking that way. Sometimes it happens that people feel uncomfortable with my work. But this is not the aim of the work.
You have chosen to work with the bank Julius Bär for Manifesta 11. Why did you pick the business of banking and finance?
I had three options. What I was really clear about was that I wanted to work with a female professional. The three options that I proposed were either a banker, or some profession including physical hardship, or a care worker. And to my surprise the curatorial group told me that none of the other artists had asked to work with a banker – which surprised me a lot, since we are in Zurich. I assume that no one wanted to touch this profession because it was too obvious. So this was one of the reasons why I got more intrigued. Then, one of the antecedent meetings of Manifesta took place at Julius Bär, where I met by chance Dr. Josephin Varnholt, my later host. We did not have arranged an appointment, but we got on well and I decided to work with her.
So after you decided to work with Dr. Josephin Varnholt, was it really a co-work?
No, it was not a co-work. It was not a co-work because the character of a profession maintains its integrity. She is a banker, she has her working time and the time that she invested in engaging with me was extraordinary. Not everybody would spend time on an art project besides having to do your own work. But she wanted it and she was interested. I found her also interesting – so we started working. The work was not working – regarding how the piece will be, it was more an exchange of two individuals with different experiences, coming from different backgrounds, trying to figure out a certain type of connection or friendship. I did not want to ‹produce› something with Josephin, neither did I have an exact plan. I did have an idea of a structure, but my aim was to go beyond understanding professions as a building of identity. Because I did not want to see Josephin as a banker, I really had to meet Josephin as Josephin. So we had meetings and we were just discussing about general things. Things like her family. It was more a private meeting. This is why I did not allow the Manifesta filming-team to record our discussions. I did not want these conversations to be part of the video that is going to be shown at the «Pavillon of Reflections».
This is funny. You tried to get to know Josephin as a person, although according to the theme of Manifesta, you should have found out more about the business of a banker?
Well, that would have been very stereotypical! She would have been the banker from Zurich and me the artist from Greece. And then what would we have talked about? About the financial crisis? There are so many occasions to play out stereotypes. Is there time and space where we can actually reveal who we are? We had so little time for our project. I did not want to waste any time by talking about financial crisis. That would be so insane.
[Laughs.] I agree.
Also, there is not only her and me. There is the piece as a third dimension which cannot be controlled by her nor by me. The piece is something between us, which is going to speak with its own parameters. Me as an artist, I have to hold the context, so that the piece does not fall apart. But still I have to allow a little bit of openness.
So the artwork has its own existence?
Yes, it has its own existence. I will even exhibit two identical pieces: one at Julius Bär, the other at LUMA. I do not want the outcome of the artwork to be affected by given structures of any institution – be it security restrictions at the bank or display issues in the Löwenbräu. The piece shall be uninfluenced by institutions and therefore identical at both places. The structure looks like one of these places outside of the city or outside a building with ephemeral ceilings, where people can gather. So it looks like a rebuilt structure. And to the sides of this structure, there are signs which connect to the conversations between Josephin and me revealed in the script. The form of this structure came about through the desire to find away between stereotypes; it is not exactly a building and also not an alternative way of living – but it can be a living, it has this potential.
How was your work with Christian Jankowski? Did you know him before?
I did not know him. I’m not sure why he invited me, since I heard that he knows personally most other artists he invited. The preparation of this biennale was not the most pleasant situation for me. I mean, you have to work with an organization that has to protect its integrity, its face as a company, then with a curator who is an artist and has certain fixations and ideas regarding his role within the concept, then you have artists who are coming here to do their work and produce under very particular conditions. All the participating artists have to find out individually how to deal with this situation, they have to find their own way to articulate, to analyze, to include this situation into their work – or to pretend that it does not exist. We work under uncertain conditions, we do not know whether we will get the budget that was allocated for every work of art at the beginning. So I cannot pay the people that worked for me as generously as I would have liked to, I have no flexibility. I do not like it when other people have to work under bad conditions just because it is required that artists do not spend much money.
Having some experience with other large-scale exhibitions and being aware of the challenges and potential problems of this particular Manifesta – why did you decide to contribute to this biennale?
Precisely because of this context: Jankowski as a curator, the fact that Manifesta takes place in Zurich – which is a very strange thing already –, the speculation of the curatorial parameters that being an artist is a kind of role; it is very intriguing for me to involve with that, because I try to dismantle these stereotypes. Aside from that, the issue of ‹work› has been part of many other projects of mine.
Georgia Sagri’s Documentary of Behavioral Currencies is on view at LUMA Löwenbräukunst until September 18. Its identical counterpart can be visited at Bank Julius Bär (Bahnhofstrasse 36, 8001 Zurich) on June 30, July 28, August 25 and September 15 from 5pm to 6pm. Visit also Up State (Flüelastrasse 54, 8047 Zurich).