Aleksandra Mir

Interview - Aleksandra Mir

M Publication, Vol 03, Frankfurt, 2004
By Kimberly Lloyd

Kimberly Lloyd: As the editor you have put together the book "Corporate Mentality" which documents the emergence of recent practices within a cultural sphere occupied by both business and art. What were you looking for initially? What attracted your attention to this subject?

Aleksandra Mir: I had been keeping an archive of ephemera relating to these practices for about five years before the idea of making a book came up. It was a very informal collection of things that I had seen, heard about, gathered or helped document while being around people who I thought were doing really important work. As my drawers were filling up, it also became apparent how frail a lot of this matter actually is, often positioned in between tangible entities, subversive, ephemeral or so invisible so that it escapes the attention of the art world proper. I could see a huge gap forming between what had the strength to make it into shows, institutions, art history, and the things that really interested me. I showed the material to Caroline Schneider, the publisher of Lukas and Sternberg and she basically gave me carte blanche to further the research and develop the material into a book. It has been an extremely idiosyncratic journey. I spent two more years doing more focussed and active research around works that were new to me as well. I looked for strategies that could demonstrate some sort of ingenuity to the subject and that had an original trajectory. I included people who had made a singular important contribution to this field of inquiry but never saw themselves as artists. Or, they were artists but had dropped out at some point. Or, they were practicing but the work had fallen through the cracks because they more or less had positioned it that way. Even in cases where the practitioner would be famous and very active on the scene, I could find some of the more interesting aspects of their work being overlooked. So I would sneak backstage or go back and ask the same questions again and again until the answers revealed a depth that an art review is would never be able to capture. So, in satisfying this curiosity I have put together a book I wanted to read myself, reflecting on the practices of my peers who have been formative to me as an artist. You could say I have written my own history of that recent art which has informed and validated my own thinking.

What does the phrase "Corporate Mentality" actually imply?

First time I heard the expression it was used as insult. Someone criticized an artist for having sold out to the extent that his thought process was now completely integral to a corporate logic. The book, with all its varied and even opposing positions in this regard, demonstrates a flow between freedom and obedience, between resistance and surrender. I have avoided taking a moral stand in favor of storytelling. The emphasis is in the descriptive details and the narration of factual events. As an archived compilation of political strategies, I hope that the whole project in some way does echo our time.

Consumers have nowadays more knowledge about marketing and all kinds of sales instruments then they did a decade ago. So companies can no longer rely on classic marketing tactics because these strategies are foreseeable. They have sought for art and cultural activities for improving their images and have found out that these engagements with art and culture produced inestimable surplus value for the company. Should culture be instrumentalized as a marketing tool?

Everyone is probably savvier nowadays. Marketers, consumers, artists and activists know more about how culture works and how it can be instrumentalized in their favor. The relation between them has also been highlighted to a higher degree. The interdependencies are laid bare; resistance needs to be more and more sophisticated. One and the same person is able to walk in and out of varying scenarios, assuming various roles in the drama, for real of for fictive reasons. The picture appears more complex and interesting than ever. "Corporate Mentality" documents some of the battlefield of the past decade. This is also the reason the book is constructed as a series of case studies where you can follow the detailed orchestrations, experimentation, trails and errors and evaluations of actual processes, described by the practitioners themselves, as opposed to a slew of preconceived and authoritative theory on the subject. Personally I have no theory at all. I am just trying to go through my day. I used to work uptown corporate jobs to support my downtown artistic practice. It took me only 15 minutes to move between them, so the book has grown out of this predicament as well. I take no moral position in regards to how other people resolve theirs. I put this book together because I was curious about the subject and my time, but it is not necessarily my job to have fully understood it or to be equipped to give advice.

"Doing good and letting others talk about it" is a strategy described in the book by the BMW Group who prefer to engage artists do a lot and engage in cultural movements so people talk good about BMW. What do you think?

Svetlana Heger and Plamen Dejanoff's artistsic alianace with The BMW group is one of the most controversial and well known projects in the book. Plenty of people have commented and been involved in the discussion already. I was interested in having the person who negotiated the relationship between the artists and the company speak freely and at any length they saw fit. So it is Christiane Zentgraf, the Head of the Cultural Communications Unit at BMW who narrates her personal experience through the whole process. There are ins and outs, highs and lows, as well as lots of continuous confusion between her, the company, the artists, which shows that even on the most authoritative level, this project has to be seen as an experiment at best, performed by a few rather cooky individuals who dare to try it out.I find that extremely interesting.

You were commissioned for the project "Plane Landing" by Compton Verney, with the support of The Arts Council of England. What was your experience while on that assignment? What was the goal of this joint project?

"Plane Landing" is a helium inflatable jet plane, tethered to the ground as if frozen in a permanent state of landing. It was first launched at the grounds of Compton Verney, an English country estate but it will eventually tour around the world to offset a variety of cliché landscapes; California desert, Manhattan Skyline, Swiss Mountains and so on. The project reflects on the landscape tradition in art, leisure, technology and travel, subject matter that is personally relevant to me. It is also a highly advanced piece of aviation and ballooning technology which was developed by a world leading balloon manufacturer in Bristol. So I have involved a range of collaborators into this project. The complexity involved in staging a work at this scale and over two years of production leading up to one single weekend event is immense. The companies employed and the art institutions you mention have their own goals in producing art, ours was a lucky convergence. And with a production team of a total 25 people, I have to assume that every individual involved brings his personal motivations to the work. I am not even aware of them all.

Do you have a corporate mission for the company "Aleksandra Mir"?

Formally there is no company with that name, but I admit to being a brand, sort of. The mission for myself would probably be "Emancipation".

Please elaborate a little more on how you see this brand now and in the future.

When I started making artwork I came from a DYI artist run collective non-profit end of things. I was interested in the tradition of intervention, drifting, performance, ephemera, and publishing. I still am. I first learned about cultural production from friends who were in local rock'n roll bands and non-profit theatre groups in my hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden where I grew up. I didn't expect anything from the art market and started to work very late with my galleries in NY, London and Paris. Only the last two years of my 15 years of practice I have developed relationships with galleries, museums and the art market but I still don't depend on it. I still use the basic entrepreneurial skills I had learned from earlier practices: How to do something from nothing, how to drum up resources on sheer enthusiasm, how to find exchange values in everything from favors, swaps to corporate sponsorships, how to execute a ton of various tasks single handedly. Nowadays I think all my work still relies on that complexity. I will work on a big corporate commission one-day and a zero budget ephemeral project with my friends the next. I always have one foot in the art world and the other in the real world. Certain material output has made it into the market while other things evade it. There is no clear-cut formula ever of what will happen, but there is a steady continuum in this incoherence. So you can always rely on my brands unreliability!

You have initiated projects such as "First Woman on Moon" and played on warfare, a rather male dominated field with your "Pink Tank". Is this emancipation and liberation to you?

Taking time to think and play is always liberating. But the way I use classic emancipatory strategies is more complicated. I always project both my desires to be involved in these historical narratives (Feminism, Peace Movements, Labour Strikes, ,etc) and my doubts about their mechanics and outcomes. I am not organized in any way, my story is always personal. Even if I do believe women in general deserve better lives and more power than they have, and this is certainly a main subject of discussion between me and my friends, it is hard for me to identify myself as a feminist in a collective or coherent sense. I wouldn¹t be getting hate mail from feminist organizations if I was. This happened for example during the "First Woman on The Moon" where I conflated gender politics with imperialism by raising the American flag to mimic the original event as closely as possible. I think I am creating too much trouble even for myself to be reliable as a political agent for anyone else's mission.