For the French curator/art critic Nicolas Bourriaud, Angela Bulloch’s work typified a new movement: “relational art”. Technological and social ‘rules’ become physical objects – tables, light boxes and wall paintings. Alien environments are produced from the weird bits language and appliances that have become familiar – cameras and computer screen “pixels”, video games like Pong and movies including The Matrix and the Antonioni film Blow Up.
As a Londoner in the 1990s, the Canadian was nominated for the 1997 Turner Prize. Now based in Berlin, Bulloch told us how her new exhibition has distilled her 20-year career. A floor-to ceiling installation of specially-designed construction tables lit with yellow, health-giving “bio” light, REDUX mixed “pixel boxes” made from design objects and soundtracks from video games with Mae West-isms performed by a Swedish poet – activated by you, the viewer.
So this exhibition is called REDUX. Are you trying to distil something from your previous works?
To be honest, I just enjoy making new work. But to do that you have to deal with a language, so I decided to deal specifically with my own language of the last 20 years. A year ago I moved studios, so I was confronted with a lot of my storage. It had an important effect on me. This confrontation produced a kind of rethinking.
I want to ask you why you put rules on the wall: when I go to art exhibitions, I always want to touch stuff and pick it up and poke it. But I don’t think I’m supposed to do that. The gallery space comes with its own…
So, what behaviour do you expect of your visitors?
I don’t expect behaviour. I think the conditions of that are within people – I’m not telling people what to do.
Well, exhibitions don’t usually say don’t do this, don’t do that. But there’s this policeman inside…
Ah, but I didn’t put him there!
No, but you do put rules on the wall.
But does it make you believe or obey them less when they’re muddled up as I’ve done here?
A good question! I suppose whoever wrote those rules didn’t care if I could read them…
Oh, but I cared very much to disturb the legibility and to bring out some words rather than others!
The word “triangulation” definitely comes through.
Yes, triangulation is one – but there are little parts of other texts within that. Basically, it’s dealing with formal ideas and understanding concepts: it’s a way of thinking in formal terms while using forms – making a triangular painting, but using squares. But this text is an artwork, it’s a wall painting, and it’s a Rules piece also.
Triangulation here, is really about complex positions… anything from a GPS system, to a political spectrum or social-scientific one, or any system that’s kind of trigometrical, mathematical… All sorts of ideas that involve thinking outside the triangle, or the box, or whatever. Around the room, the works are triangulated, and it’s also about the relationship of the viewer: when you’re standing around you’re engaged with, or activating, the works.
Is there a kind of triangulation between viewer, work and artist?
Maybe there is now, because I’m here!
But you’re always there, even when you’re not here.
You seem to have ‘designed’ the space, or the environment of the gallery, very carefully.
This is third time I’ve done an exhibition in this space. It’s double height, so that’s a challenge. All the pieces go between the floor and the ceiling, or only from the ceiling, or only on the floor. It’s an exhibition of sculpture, but it’s vertical. There are also three different sound works, which are triggered differently.
Can you tell us how those sound triggers work?
One’s continuous and another works with a passive infrared. When you stand in front of the receptor, it gives power to the speaker. The voice track is spoken by the artist Karl Holmqvist. The texts you can hear are all things Mae West is fabled to have said.
There’s also a sound that’s turned off with a door switch. But that’s a fairly hidden piece of information, the door being a switch. It’s a kind of hidden knowledge, because it’s mainly only people who work at the gallery who go through that door. It adds an architectural element into the on and off-ness of the sound.
It’s an example of how your works make the viewer a part of the work.
I’ve done that in the past. In the early 90s I made a number of works that operated a certain kind of engagement with the body of the viewer. And with this exhibition in 2010, I’m referring to some of my earlier works.
Is it something you’re now moving away from?
In the beginning of 2000, I made a completely new series of work, using what I called Pixel Boxes. The first exhibition of those works was called Prototypes. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of research and development, technically and otherwise. I set up a production company. I’ve been working a lot with the idea of “progress”, which is pretty unusual within the history of the avant-garde.
It’s about technological progress, but also formalized progress – the idea of progress within a physical object. It’s a strange idea – that a pixel can be a physical object: it’s impossible because a pixel is really just a digital notion and not an object…
And yet, here they are: physical objects…
Right. In “RYB Manual Module”, for example, the colour of the pixel can be changed manually, but it’s very unpredictable, because I’m working with a combination of light in red, yellow and blue instead of red, green and blue [the three colours that make up white light].
Why the change?
Because it’s the subversion of a system! An additive colour system, but one that cannot produce white light, because it has the wrong colours to start with.
Are you trying to produce a specific effect on your audience with these environments they have to negotiate or become part of…
Yes. I’m trying to effect an engagement. That’s not to say I’m trying to make everybody feel self-conscious, but to realize the act of their own negotiation, yes. It’s a reflection of the process of observation, of perception. But then any art is, even if it’s not winking at you. You have to think about art. It doesn’t really exist unless you do.
REDUX | Through April 17