The question of how people live in the city or in nature is a constant recurring theme in Arne Quinze's work. Kjeld Kjeldsen, curator at the Louisiana Museum for Modern Art, is fascinated by the way he tries to answer this question. For the Living exposition, an exhibition focusing on the theme of housing in all of its aspects, the artist built My Home My House My Stilthouse.
AQ: With My Home My House My Stilthouse I investigate what "home" really means and I try to find my own position in it. As a child you build your first house by crawling under the table and covering it up with a blanket. In this way you get access to your first very own universe nobody is allowed to enter. In the next phase you grow up and you suddenly don't want to walk around naked anymore. This is another boundary people impose on themselves. They put on clothes in order to stop feeling vulnerable. In the following phase you actually build a real house, you put up walls around you. It's fascinating to see how buildings and cities are formed and how the planning of these is subject to an evolution throughout time as well as to an evolution between different cultures. Not only do people put up walls around them for protection, but they also want to create a certain distance between themselves and others. When laying out a garden, the first thing people do is putting up a fence around it in order to mark it off. That's why I overemphasize the scale of the fences forming part of the installation than they would be in real life. As soon as people possess something the term "mine" becomes extremely important in marking the ownership of their commodities. My Home, My Garden… The letters I write on my installation form a substantial part in underlining this principle, in one single sentence I scream out what's mine and what's not yours.
I got acquainted with your work for the first time via magazines under the form of Uchronia, a sculpture you made for the Burning Man festival (a yearly festival organized in the Nevada desert, USA). Shortly after that I visited you in Rouen during the construction of Camille. Then it became clear to me that you also put big installations in an urban context, a concept that perfectly harmonizes with the Living exposition. It is an exposition dealing with themes such as housing, accommodation and creating a home with crossovers between art, architecture and anthropology. Suddenly My Home My House My Stilthouse turned out to be a metaphor for everything that the exposition comprises, it is art, it is architecture, it asks questions and makes us think about how we live and organize housing. And so the discussion about what to do in the future starts. We return to the base, young architects investigate other ways to build than say ten years ago.
AQ: Exactly this development made me start constructing Stilthouses. In a certain sense they reflect the human existence possessing long legs being very fragile but they survive every situation and adjust to the circumstances and surroundings they are exposed to. Orange-red beams are integrated in the construction on purpose giving the sculptures even more human features. The primitive finishing work is intentionally as I expect to incite people to start dreaming about their lives themselves.
That is another focus point of this exposition, the dream you can have about living. Although this colour heavily contrasts with the green surroundings, it harmonizes with it at the same time. A dialogue originates between nature and sculpture.
AQ: Normally you're not allowed to touch the art in museums, but in this case you're supposed to walk through the various parts of the installation and touch it: you have to feel it. This small Secret Garden, and actually the entire installation, forms part of My Safe Garden, my secure space I create for myself. I got inspiration for My Safe Garden when I was asked to paint a series for an exposition as an ode to impressionism. When I was young and I laid my eyes upon the paintings of Claude Monet he made in his garden in Giverny, I was already excited back then and felt as if I was blown away into another universe. The more that I worked on this series, the more I lost myself in my thoughts and that is how I discovered my inner garden. Each and every one of us has a suchlike secret garden, even though it most often exists inside the head. This forms part of my soul and my fantasy, thoughts that others don't get hold of or can't take part in. That's why I place my garden in reality on a platform: nobody can enter.
You already use the urban space like that, you add something to it. But here in the museum you depart from another position, as one first needs to enter the museum to see the work.
AQ: The Louisiana Museum for Modern Art demonstrates how it should work for museums. I'm amazed about the daily number of people visiting, visitors are waiting in line to enter and the museum is not even located in the centre of a big city. Of course the other context plays a role here for my work. As a visitor you already know you will be confronted with art, but on the street the surprise effect of suddenly bumping into an artwork is at play. At the start of assembling constructions some people don't like what you're doing because you disturb their daily routine. Camille (Rouen, 2010) is a classic example of this unfavourable attitude. The bridge was closed off: no traffic could pass by for several months. In normal circumstances 40 percent of the daily traffic is led over that bridge. The more the structure made progress the more positive the attitude grew towards closing off the bridge for traffic indefinite. At the end of the construction process, the citizens were really looking forward to the opening. Not only the end result, but the entire process makes it worth while to build public installations. During the official opening I no longer consider the artwork as my own, at that moment I pass it on to the people. Temporary installations offer inhabitants the opportunity to dream about their city and to see it from another point of view: a reflection of the old against the new. According to me the same effect occurs in the context of a museum. The view of the garden is changed completely for couple of months. When I built the Cityscape (Brussels, 2007) I received a letter from an old lady one day telling me she finally met her neighbours by talking about the installation. When making a suchlike installation communication is the ultimate objective, people have to talk to one another.
On this location you make your own street with oversized fences that were built a lot smaller at first. Let me call it an entrance to the core structure of the installation. It means that visitors of the park already form part of the installation without them actually realizing it.
AQ: At the starting point of the installation I didn't expect to get this insight whereby it seemed necessary to make the fences as high as possible to emphasize the perception of entering private premises. Once you're standing in between those fences, you're drawn to the Stilthouse via a boulevard that looks quite fragile in contrast with the fences.
Do you remove everything after an exposition and reuse all the material?
AQ: This installation contains wooden beams we used for projects in Lebanon and Russia. Reusing material seems evident to me, even though I have to use new wood for bigger installations from time to time. In that case we use certified wood containing a label guaranteeing for every cut tree, a new one is planted. Besides that the unusable wood is recycled in wooden panels used on construction sites or for cupboards. You have to take your responsibility, it's not just about art but also about how we live, how we communicate, how we deal with nature. We have forgotten who we are and where we come from. What we experienced in Rouen exceeded expectations. Even the strongest opponents signed a petition to keep Camille as permanent installation on the day it was deconstructed. Despite the fact some constructions only remain for a limited period of time, they still have the ability to change the atmosphere, even after removal: an emptiness remains.
Today people are living in gated cities and gates communities. Do you see a link with your work when talking about safety and demarcation?
AQ: Housing is by definition not just one fact, it consists of a myriad of visions. Everyone thinks he or she has found the optimal modus vivendi but eventually we all are rooted in specific frameworks. I'm always curious as to how others define living.
The appropriation of a personal zone returns in a lot of your projects. When you're building a city you have to take into account you have to stay within a certain zone as well.
AQ: Uchronia (Nevada, 2006), the experiment we carried out in the desert, illustrates this zoning perfectly. For miles you can't find signs of borders, only the grand desert that completely surrounds you, an unbearable openness. As soon as you take a twig and carve in the sand you limit yourself. However, the unpleasant feeling disappears immediately because you're in your own small square, your piece of land in the wide desert. People need these axioms enabling them to feel good. Even though I have an open mind, I still fence off my own property as soon as I'm the sole owner of it. I need this protection and categorization: My Home My House. Have you ever seen the movie Dogville (director Lars Von Trier)? In that movie it's pointed out which zone belongs to whom by means of white lines only. This movie harmonizes with this exposition because the basis of this theme asks within which lines, zones, ... we live.
For this exposition we also selected two architects that work together, a Norwegian and a Finn. For their project they base themselves on the Scandinavian way of viewing architecture. Basic elements such as fire, water and light determine the core of their view on architecture. These basic elements vary depending on the place where you live. In the south you need shade and water to cool down, in the north you need light and fire to get warm.
AQ: People living in nature use more basic elements than people living in the city when it comes to constructing buildings. It stands without doubt that in nature you are directly confronted with those elements of nature and once in the city, people often forget that we're surrounded different living conditions. A lot of cities around the globe look the same although they're located on different continents. You find identical buildings or uniform streets. One can no longer detect differences, people put up concrete walls around them.
Climate involves big problems as well. Wherever we live, everyone wants to have the same climate conditions in their house. If you live in a colder zone, you need the heat to warm up your house. If you live in a warmer area, then you need cooling systems. This leads to the fact that we no longer think about the differences that occur in various zones and areas. We have to go back to the way it was and ask ourselves where the differences lie. From that point we have to depart in order to build and to find out how we want to live.
AQ: We live in closed-off spaces afraid of opening our windows and doors.
Kjeld Kjeldsen is curator at the Louisiana Museum for Modern Art and the driving force behind the Living Exhibition.