Beijing, May 2011 - ‘Reality, Actions’ is the first solo exhibition in China by Spanish artist collective Bestué Vives. Projected dynamically around Magician Space are five video pieces dating from different moments in the artists’ career. The earliest of these is Acciones en Casa (Actions at Home, 2005), in which a series of 100 'micro-actions' are performed by the artists themselves in Marc Bestué’s apartment in Barcelona. Each action is introduced with a modest caption giving it a number and a literal title, such as '6. fountain in sink'.
Actions at Home introduces the core characteristics of Bestué Vives’ creative practice, which are variously expanded and developed in the later works on exhibition. Satirical, sharp, surreal, the work is rooted firmly in the settings and substance of daily life. Through their actions, which unfold consecutively and without hierarchy, the artists aim to intervene in reality. In Bestué Vives’ performances, the conventional and material identity of the surroundings, situations and objects occupying everyday space and time is subject to experiment and alteration. Their work makes sometimes-overt reference to other movements and artists such as Viennese Actionism and Bruce Nauman; in the words of curator Biljana Ciric, 'these historical references …act as a kind of framing device for 20th and 21st century artistic practices [and]…different working methodologies.' The results are abstract, refreshing, absurd and inventive – apt to communicate directly with the audience.
Minutes before the opening of their solo exhibition, David and Marc climbed the stairs to the little upper room at Magician Space to talk about about their work with Iona Whittaker, ArtSlant's contributor in Beijing. The following are excerpts from the conversation; for simplicity's sake, their answers are recorded as the combined voice of the collective, which is the artists' shared creative channel.
(Image: Bestue Vives, Encargos Dificiles 15, Video still. Courtesy of the artists)
Iona Whittaker: What inspires you and what are your creative concerns?
Bestué Vives: The word 'inspiration' is very difficult because of course we are not 'high art' in Barcelona; we very much like conceptual art of the ‘70s, Spanish artists of the ’70s and ‘80s, ‘90s, and at the same time we really like popular culture, films, architecture. And in terms of expression, the point is that our subjects are those that everyone is interested in -- daily life. The title of this show is more or less an answer to the question of our creative concerns. Most of our works are related to reality or have to do with intervening directly in reality; another kind of work is more surrealist or takes the form of actions between reality and fiction, or an object, for example. It’s intensity for us, the intensity of the moment. It creates an experience: just choose something and play with it for a moment or for ten minutes.
IW: You have been working as a team since 2002. How do you work together?
BV: It’s difficult to separate our roles. Normally we work with a lot of dialogue; we prepare work together and make it together. When we have more or less a framework we begin to write lists, share ideas and brainstorm, and then we refine the idea.
IW: What is attractive to you about the medium of performance?
BV: It’s the importance of the moment and the possibility of presence in the instant. For us, when you have an idea, it is better that it is there and that it then disappears. If it remains there it becomes a stone, an object; it begins to decay. We like to make something and finish it in the moment, because if not, the object will decay. We understand the issue of art as a communication issue, and the most important thing is the people, the audience. And then you have to think not in complicated terms, but just about stating ideas directly to achieve this communication with people.
Image: Bestue Vives, Acciones en Casa 66. Jugarse la vida, 2005, Video still. Courtesy of the artists
IW: You are Spanish artists in China for the opening of this exhibition. Is there anything particularly Spanish or Barcelonian about your work?
BV: Well, there is the poster design (the striped background is the colours of Barca football team)! We are very strong supporters of Barcelona’s team. We watched the last two big matches on TV in Shanghai. But the poster is just a joke. There are a lot of elements from Spain and from our culture in our work. In Catalonia, there are a lot of examples of making something out of nothing. In the past it was a very poor country, and people would make buildings with nothing, for example. One of the most typical images you have in your mind about Gaudi is everything having been made with little found pieces of ceramic. It is the metaphysics of rubbish, found objects, and taking advantage of the available materials that surround you. This is something that is very common in Catalan behaviour. Normally people say Madrid is the ‘king’, that it’s more bourgeois, and that Catalonia is poorer, but cleverer perhaps, and more resourceful, with rich artistic traditions. I think we began in that way. The most important thing is not to make something very nice and highly finished; we just have something in our heads and we put it out there. It’s not only a Spanish or Catalan influence because in the ‘60s and ‘70s there was Arte Povera and other artists who are not only Spanish.
IW: Do you feel that Beijing could be an inspiring place for you?
BV: It is difficult to know after just a week, but maybe we would like to stay longer, to come again and stay one or two months. The hutongs are fantastic, but I prefer Shanghai and its big avenues where you can walk.
IW: Your performances and actions are very humorous. Why is humour so important?
BV: It’s a tool of communication. We don’t try to make people laugh, but we sometimes use it so as not to be ‘too much’ for the audience, to let them relax.
IW: Do you feel unusual in this sense?
BV: In Spain this is not very common as there is a lot of serious work. But for us it is difficult to work with humour because it’s very dangerous, and people don’t trust you if you try too much. But again, it’s just a tool.
IW: You have mentioned surrealism; series like Actions at Home (2005, which includes an action where a flower pot is carried from the hallway upstairs to a balcony and a vase is toppled from a shelf, releasing a dove which flies out of the window) certainly include a surrealist element. Is this something you often and actively try to create in your work? Or is it an unintended result?
BV: Sometimes our work needs to have a real presence and sometimes we need something else.
IW: Why is it so important also to involve the audience in your work?
BV: For us the most important thing is the audience. If the audience is not important, why make art and exhibitions? Exhibitions are for the audience. When we go to museums and we see artists’ videos, they can be very boring; there are interesting videos, but they are maybe fifty, a hundred minutes long. You can learn a lot from them, but if you have a free afternoon to do something, maybe you would prefer not to go and watch them. It is difficult to watch fifty minutes of Bill Viola. This is not because of the art, but because as a society and as humans we are bombarded with images. Our art is the same: a lot of actions, a lot of elements shown in quick succession. We think that the way to do something against this speed of encounter with so many images in life is not to be boring, but to try to seduce a little bit. Trying to do something more or less the same, but slightly different.
Image: Bestue Vives, Proteo, 2009, Video still, Courtesy of the artists
IW: Your work is noticeably low-tech and is not highly finished. If it was highly finished, what kind of effect do you think that would have? Why do you choose this low-tech mode?
BV: It’s not so much that we choose this low-tech mode -- it’s the moment we are living in now. This is just how things come about. We make objects as best we can; this not-highly-finished style isn’t deliberate, for example in Proteo (2009). If we could have done something better, we would have done; if it was possible to make that work so that you couldn’t perceive the transformations at all, we would have done; but as it is, it’s the best we could do. The costume was very heavy. We worked with a dancer, and at the time it was complicated because we were asking him to act like a motorbike! It was not easy for him to understand! And for Story of a Scorpion in Love (2007), we had very good production. Perhaps the puppets don’t look like expensive things, but everything works perfectly.
IW: A lot of your performances are recorded in Marc’s apartment. Is there anything significant for you about making work in your own house, your own personal space?
BV: It was easier. And at the same time we found that this apartment was great because we could lift things and move them around. We don’t need to create scenery or fake situations because we simply work with reality, our reality. And afterwards we sleep in the same place. We make a sculpture and then we sleep near it or we make something else.
IW: What are you working on now?
BV: We’re working on a new exhibition, ‘Encargos Dificiles’, in our gallery in Barcelona. Now we are busy with that. In one month David will also publish a book about architecture in Spain.
IW: What are your hopes for the future of your creative practice?
BV: It’s difficult for us because we are young but we began when we were twenty years old; we don’t know the future, but suppose it will be the same, to keep going. We hope that next year our work will still be interesting for people and that we can still work together and feel that we are doing our best, and have a sense that our work is being shown. We are not afraid of the future. If we begin to make bad works, we will decide to leave it! If Barca wins the final, it would be a good future. Spain will be happy and we would have…the solution!
ArtSlant would like to thank Bestué Vives for their assistance in making this interview possible.
David Bestué (b1980) and Marc Vives (b1978) are young artists from Barcelona. They first collaborated as art students, and have been working together since 2002. Since their first exhibition, ‘Ja, ja!’ at the Civic Centre in Saint Andreu, Barcelona in 2003, their video and performance art has been widely shown internationally, including at ‘Making Worlds’ at the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009). Solo exhibitions include ‘Carte Blanche to Bestué Vives’ at Gallery Crèvecoeur, Paris (2010) and ‘The Cave’, a project at ARCO 2008. Bestué Vives live in Barcelona where they are currently working on a new project, ‘Encargos Dificiles’ (‘Difficult Tasks’), for exhibition at Galeria Estrany - De la Mota.
Interview conducted between Iona Whittaker, David Bestué and Marc Vives on 7th May 2011 before the opening of ‘Reality, Actions’, a multi-channel video installation on show at Magician Space, Beijing, until 26th June.