23 Jan Interview with Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei is co-curator of the exhibition “Uninspired Architecture: Public Space and Public Memory in Albania,” also contributing two works. His video work “Rrezik (after Bruce Andrews),” based on the poem “Danger Risk Hazard Jeopardy Peril” and commissioned by co-curator Marco Mazzi is a complement to the publication Relational Syntax (2011), deals with the relation between poetry as risk taking in language and monumental sculpture as risk taking in public space. The four photographs of “On the Road to a New New (after Bas Jan Ader)” form the documentation of an intervention in the public space of Tirana, during which Van Gerven Oei repainted three pyramids across the Lana.
Department of Eagles: You are mainly active as a writer and editor. How did you arrive at making these two art works?
Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei: Well as you already indicated, the first work was a commission by Marco Mazzi. He had invited all authors that had contributed to Relational Syntax to produce a video work as a complement to their text. All works would then be exhibited together with the publication. I don’t think I would normally have produced a video work by myself. But I liked the challenge of making a video work that somehow would engage the thematics that comes up in my text, entitled “‘I am Like the Unicorn’: Desiring Language.” Toward the end of that text I partially quote Bruce Andrews’s poem. I really love that poem, it is incredibly forceful and somehow captured very well the relation I have with language, and the “raw material” or maybe of sculptural aspect of poetry is very clear in it, so it felt logical to depart from sculpture in terms of visual image for the video. When you talk about public sculpture in Albania you almost always arrive at the visual language of social realism, apart from the very few contemporary examples, most of which are a disaster. So I decided to juxtapose the Andrews poem with several scenes relating to public sculpture in Tirana: the absent statue of Enver Hoxha, the “stored” and covered sculptures of Lenin and Stalin behind the National Gallery, where a mother used to live with her daughter, the nearly abandoned foundry with a buste of Hoxha and the large Stalin that used to stand at Skënderbeg square and later at Kombinat (both have moved in the meantime to behind the National Gallery), and the three primary-colored pyramids across the Lana. As a kind of joke, to see how far it would go, I sent the video to the Tirana International Film Festival. I didn’t hear anything from them, until a day before the opening I found out I had been programmed on the opening night. It was shown sandwiched between two rather conventional arthousy movies and a lot of people left while there was this voice of Bruce Andrews reading this enormous concatenation of words, it was actually quite amusing.
The four photographs documenting the repainting of these three pyramids is again derivative of the video work. In the video their color ends up filling different parts of the screen, interrupting the other images, in the intervention I repaint them in their original colors. The documentation is however quite minimal; it only shows a progression of blue, yellow, and red. Somehow this feels like a really “Dutch” work to me, both the title and progression of colors refer to a work of Bas Jan Ader, “On the Road to a New Neo-Plasticism,” which takes place on the road toward a light house that was of particular importance as a subject in Piet Mondriaan’s early paintings. At the same time, these three pyramids recall the many pyramid forms in Albania, most notably Enver Hoxha’s pyramid, but of course also the pyramid schemes from 1997, even though they most probably placed during Edi Rama’s time as major as part of his renewal/repainting of Tirana. So these pyramids, which no one ever seems to notice, have become for me somehow a symbol that ties my Dutch origins with my life in Tirana.
DoE: How do you see the relation between your written work and your art work?
VWJvGO: In my current research I’m busy with the practice of philology, commentary, etymology, and other practices that deal with language on a formal basis. But I am also very interested in the idea that certain philological or poetical techniques that come from a practice of reading and writing could work onto or transform other practices such as film or sculpture. Commentaries, footnotes, indices, captions – I really wonder what their material forms could be. I think that Marco’s invitation to make a video as a complement to a text triggered this in me, and I would certainly like to explore this more. In any case, most of my early art work, which I made in the years after I left the Royal Art Academy, was very much focused on texts. So for me it’s like a natural development.
DoE: How did you select the works for this exhibition?
VWJvGO: As I said the entire idea of the exhibition got changed. Some of the authors did not produce their video’s and Marco had started to work on a new publication containing pictures he took in Albania during a residency at the Department of Eagles, and we also worked together on a book of poetry of the American poet A. Staley Groves. So we started toying with this idea of a book exhibition in which ideas of language and sculpture played an important role, and then we started adding other work, and the concept again changed. Diego Cossentino, with whom we had worked for the documentation of the “Pedagogies of Disaster” conference proposed to do a series of interviews with Albanian immigrants in Florence, and then there were other works that naturally linked to that such as the interventions by Pim van der Heiden and Ag relating to socialist realist sculpture in Tirana, Armando Lulaj’s intervention “NEVER” and Iva Lulashi’s paintings of photographs from the communist period. My idea is that this exhibition is a sort of try-out for a larger-scale exhibition on the heritage of socialist realist art in Albania and the possibilities for some type of contemporary socialist realism, but this is for the future.