Augustas Serapinas: “The life is not flat, there is not just critique”

Augustas Serapinas' contribution to the 6th Moscow Biennale is a work with forgotten or hidden places within the building and its walls. He is working on constructing a tea-room that is made of leftovers and located behind Qiu Zhijie’s painting.

— Augustas, you seem to be the most invisible participant of this show, there is no indication how one could find your contribution to the Biennale. Your presence here seems to dissolve in the “processual” character of the project. Does your work have at least a title?

— I have a title, which I’ve come up with yesterday evening: ‘Behind the Third World’. It comes directly from the Chinese artist’s painting ‘The map of the Third World’ [Serapinas’ work can be found behind the huge painting by Qiu Zhijie — editor’s note].

— As the Biennale website states, you “invalidate bureaucratic orders and institutional purposes set for the object you are working with.” Did you find any parallels between the structure of “totalitarian” Soviet architecture and the system of international Biennale of contemporary art?

— Any organisation as a structure needs to perform certain functions and manage, without organisation it would be chaotic.

— Ok, then what do you think about political implications of the chosen venue of the 6th Moscow Biennale?

— I’ve noticed one thing: you can’t touch the walls here, that’s the rule, probably because they found the fresco with erased face of Stalin [last year during the reconstruction of the pavilion a huge bas-relief was found with Stalin’s profile erased as early as 1956 — editor’s note]. Maybe it is not the answer to the question, but I heard that Russian politicians want to rethink Stalin’s legacy. This process could affect fresco’s restoration and his head potentially could reappear on the wall.

— What were your discoveries?

— When I came here, there were scaffolding and all these things around. I found the buzz before the beginning of the Biennale, all the workers were in such a rush. Everyone was very concentrated on one’s work. It was very beautiful. After a while I’ve gotten interested in the Biennale architectural scaffolding construction and I saw the possibility to go behind an artwork.

— On the site of the Biennale you make works out of leftovers. This process reminds me of saprophytes or saprotrophs that feed on the dead or decayed organic matter left after other species. Do you think you are establishing such relationships with the artists that surround you?

— That is the key. All the things that appear, they appear very organically. I work with two workers who were initially on the construction of this site before. Materials that I used for my construction are actual leftovers that were left from the Biennale installation process. I mean that these things that I make, could have possibly happened here. It is something that comes, it grows from itself, it is immanent, closed in itself. It appears in this place, at this time, and then starts to unfold.

— Could your work be considered a commentary on the “socially necessary labour time” input to use Marx’s famous formulation — that is somehow mystified in the Biennale and hidden behind the intellectual and artistic aura?

— For me, construction workers are very important, without them nothing would happen, likewise it could not happen without curators. Of course, it is harder to change curators than workers, because there are more of the former, but in general they are equally important as curators, artists, or coordinators. I’m not criticising something, I’m just showing their importance. We are trying to talk, to establish a certain connection by simply doing something together. They understand it differently, and it is very interesting. It is important to establish connection with them. I’m not sure where are you leading with this question…

— I’m leading you to the old notion of institutional critique.

— Yes, it is institutional critique, but if you are criticising it directly like this: “Look, there are some workers there,” it is too banal, I am not interested in that. I prefer to work more elegantly involving other aspects, because life is not flat, there is not just critique. In every case there are other elements such as human relationships, political background, collective memory even architecture or music could affect a certain situation. Every case is unique.

— Regarding your project that you realised at the Warsaw market Hala Mirowska, you said that your work is anthropological. In what way your current project could be called anthropological?

— It is not directed toward one purpose. All connections come out of need and interest. On the one hand, I could be cynical, on the other I could be respectful. If you like playing basketball and I like playing basketball we start to talk and go around it, we have a possibility to establish a certain connection. This whole situation interests me: from the building to the workers.

— In your works you find some secret interstitial spaces, lacunas, and hard-to-access spaces. Why do you think these spaces are interesting to expose and to occupy?

— The space itself has a possibility. When there is a new space, there is a new possibility. Also every space has a certain specificity, for example: one is very dark and cold, it fits for limited kinds of activity. I am interested in that. What kind of activity you can do in relation to specific space and specific time? This is where my interest comes from. When I occupy a certain place, it determines my response to it.