Interviewed in Ljubljana on 4 June 2016
Boris Groys is a philosopher, art critic, curator and media theorist who made perhaps the greatest single contribution to the re-evaluation of underappreciated and misunderstood East European modern and contemporary art. He made his first international impact with his book The Total Art of Stalinism in the nineties which became one of the most controversial works on the Soviet avant-garde and its relation to Stalin’s project of socialist realism. In the last years he has been focusing on philosophy proper while continuing with curatorial projects and writing about East European post-socialist art. Groys is the curator of the 8th Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana which he entitled Beyond the Globe. The exhibition thematizes Cosmos as an artistic inspiration as well as a way of coming to terms to what Groys names Cosmic Anxiety. We held our conversation a day after the opening of the Triennial and after the tour of the exhibition where Boris Groys took the public through the story of his re-evaluation of Slovenian and international art in light of this last frontier.
ORIS — When theorists and philosophers are asked about architecture, they usually point out that they are not architects or that architecture is not really within their field of expertise. This is interesting to me since similar comments are rarely heard about paintings, sculptures or other works of art – those had been and are still often used as points of reference for theoretical discussions. They seem to retain a degree of universal relevance which the theoretical relation to architecture seems to be lacking. My question would in light of this be twofold: how do you relate yourself and your work to architecture and what do you think about this inherent problem or distance in thematizing architecture within theory and art?
Boris Groys — Well, it depends on how you define architecture – are you talking about architecture within the frame of art and exhibitions or about general architecture as well?
ORIS — Both – since art is commonly written about not only in relation to itself, but also as an allegory of a philosophical point or an illustration of a theoretical concept, I find the prevailing theoretical silence when it comes to architecture an intriguing subject.
Boris Groys — Let us begin with what you said at the beginning. When you talk about art, you talk about a picture – but one picture is not a unit in art. A unit is an installation rather than an individual picture. An individual picture was an art unit in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, but is not anymore. If you go into a museum of contemporary art, you immediately see that every space is filled with sculptures, paintings, photographs, captions, text… I want to say that a contemporary museum is not that far from Facebook – you have a page with all these elements. That means that, for contemporary art, it is impossible to release an individual object, an individual artwork from the installation. This means that it is impossible to separate the artwork from the installation space. Therefore, contemporary art is substantially dependent on the architecture – very substantially indeed. If you walk through different museums and look at them professionally, you immediately see that a lot of artistic projects cannot be realized in them simply because of architecture. I used to organize my exhibitions when bigger budgets were still available, in Germany for example, in a way that I completely rebuilt the installation space, I created a little of my own architecture. Look at the most successful museum buildings like Tate Modern in London; the majority of the European and even American museums were not built as museums but are mostly industrial spaces turned into museums and exhibition spaces. The same can be said about former spaces for industrial exhibitions that are now successfully turned into art spaces.