Sylvielin's Blog

Interview with Anri Sala

Posted in Interviews with Artists by sylvielin on May 3, 2010

‘Long Sorrow’, video installation by Anri Sala. Courtesy : Galerie Chantal Crousel.

“I am interested in things told through images but not always through languages. I tend to replace language as the most popular means of telling. When images tell things, they can always keep an ambiguity. I am also interested in how music can be narrative. It has a way of dealing with meaning which differs from that of language. Music can resist meaning.”
 —- Anri Sala (extract from the interview)

About Anri Sala
Born 1974 in TiranaAlbania. Based in Berlin. Postgraduate Studies in film directing in Le Fresnoy, Studio National des Arts ContemporainsTourcoing, France, 1998-2000and Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifsvideo)(Paris, 1996-98.
His film/video works waver between documentary and fiction, or cinema and art, often setting forth an ambiguity at once beyond and beneath interpretations, poetic and distancedArena2001, Time after Time2003)). They represent a penetrating sensibility to both visual/audio and conscious levels. Apart from these more implicit works, in works directly relating to social issuesIntervista-Finding the Words1998, Dammi i colori/Give Me the Paints2003)), criticism is rendered in a silenced and intangible manner.
His solo exhibitions include the 34th International Film Festival Rotterdam ‘Artist in Focus’2005, ARC Musée d’Art Moderne ‘Entre Chien et Loup’2004, the Art Institute of Chicago ’Now I See’2004, De Appel ‘Unlimited nl-4’Amsterdam, 2000. Group exhibitions include the 4th Berlin Biennale ‘Of Mice and Men’2006, Vision du Réel Film Festival ‘Reprocessing Reality’Nyon, Switzerland, 2005, the 4th Taipei Biennial ‘Do You Believe in Reality’Taipei, Taiwan, 2004, Tate Modern ‘Time Zones’London, the 8th Istanbul Biennale ‘Poetic Justice’2003, Manifesta 42002, Biennale di VeneziaYoung Artist Prize, 2001. (text by Sylvie Lin)
Interview with Anri Sala

Q  At first you did painting when studying art in Albania.
A  In the high school I did painting and drawing, and then fresco in the academy. Actually, around the age of ten, I started serious painting with elder friends who were students of art academy. I said “serious with painting” because at the time in Albania, only registered artist or art student would get oil colors. A kid could only use watercolors or oil pastels. At that age one could paint quite freely. But when I went to school, certain painting styles became forbidden, like all art from post-impressionism and onbeside social realism. Since there was no space for big gestures, we could easily end up being similar. So I was very attentive to the details in painting. It was the only way to distinguish my work from the others’.
While painting, we observed the surroundings attentively : you looked at a tree or an apple and drew in a unique manner. It wasn’t political, but visual. In my early twenties, magazines and books started entering the country. Suddenly, everything was possible. It was almost a ridiculous period : people started to paint like expressionist or surrealistic without a thoughtful understanding, just to show they could do what had been forbidden. This short transitional period seems to me as dangerous as the all years of dictatorship in terms of understanding yourself as an artist.
Following that period, I started to be interested in things behind the painting, further in photography, objects and installation, and later in video. At some point I lost interest in painting because of its personal gesture which is difficult to be unaware of. So I had doubts in how the personal comes in painting through the gesture. I wanted to have a longer process between seeing and representing. Video and film offer me a possibility for such a process. There can be gesture in video or filmmaking too, but it’s different from the one that comes with painting or drawing.

Q  Do you mean that in painting, the medium or the technique is so immediate to the artist? Like you are holding the brush in hand…
A   Exactly.


Q   Then you came to France attending an art school or a film school?
A   Art school, first at ENSAD in Paris, where I practiced some photography and animation, but mainly video and sound. Then in Le Fresnoy in Lille, where I got more interested in cinema and filmmaking. Once in France, very soon I made the film Intervista with my mother. Some regard it as a documentary, but when I worked on it, I didn’t have anything definite. It’s simply starting from the found footage, finding the people and questioning my mother about all those things. It was natural. I thought things would become clear as I proceeded. Yet the point was that I felt a necessity to do certain things. With a project, I don’t tend to answer myself in advance about what it will be. I prefer to do it like if it were the first time.
Now even if I have more filming experience, I still work like this. I think the thought of making a film leads to a final product which we do everything to achieve, whereas I prefer to find answers, during the process, for questions like: ‘am I doing something whose final result is the film’, or ‘am I doing something that the film is part of it’, or ‘am I doing something which the film is only documenting’. The question comes at a certain point and sometimes the answer can be multiple. It also depends on the nature of the project. Sometimes you want to create a reality, which doesn’t exist in the existing reality, so it’s up to you to create it. Then you make a film, which will maybe document this reality, or maybe needs this new reality to be represented in the film. Is it the film or the reality the final goal? Is the film the only aim of that reality, or is it only one of the ‘stations’ in which such reality is represented?

Q  Your work often represents a characteristic between the artificial and chance. In making a work, do you collect original sources randomly and develop them, or follow a rough script?

A    It depends. But I welcome chance in my work. But you can’t just stand and wait, but have to go and find chance. I have the impression that people think there’s more chance than there really is in my works. Indeed, there is chance, but not as much as people think. I like to shoot chance and make it look designed. I also like to make mis-en-scène of chance or produce something that at the end looks like happening by chance. I like the moment when chance turns into necessity, and necessity looks like chance.

'Time after Time', video by Anri Sala. Courtesy : Galerie Chantal Crousel.

Q  In such a process, you are following a vague line, like the scene in Ghostgames where two girls chase the crabs.

A   At the very beginning there was no chance at all. I had a clear idea and contacted marine scientists over the worldincluding Taiwan, to find out where to find the ghost crabs. I learned that it depends on the season, the moon, the low or high tides, and the moment of production. I worked very closely with a professor, Dan Rittchof. Finally I shot on an island belonging to the Duke University in the U.S. I went with the team, I had to shoot and everything had to work. I also had to scientifically calculate everything. Even so, you still don’t know how the crabs, being the actors and the protagonists, would react. This is to create an infrastructure and let chance move in.

Q  So your projects are rather like evolving at the same time of creating?

A   They have to. I need the moment when something changes the production of the idea and does even question the idea.

Q  Would you talk about your concept of narrative represented in images?

A   I am interested in things told through images but not always through languages. I tend to replace language as the most popular means of telling. When images tell things, they can always keep an ambiguity. I am also interested in how music can be narrative. It has a way of dealing with meaning which differs from that of language. Music can resist meaning.

Q  You ever mentioned that ‘sound is incomplete music’.

A   I believe sound is like music not yet cut, like when music is still open. I worked with a free jazz musician for Long Sorrow2005. I like free jazz music in that it starts from a theme but progressively leaves it, going around it in cycles but always further, until the moment when a sudden improvisation entirely eliminates the earlier structure of the melody. It becomes sound. I like when noise travels between music, sound and then music again, moving from narrative to total abstractness, like sound can be.

  We often see dark ambiances in your works. But in Now I See and Mixed Behaviour, the light is used to make a visual contrast. The uses of light have their metaphorical functions. In Làk-kat, the darkness can imply the gray area between languages in the course of translation or learning, the disappearing Wolof language, or the situation of the colonized. Any conscious idea in the approaches of light?

A    I am aware of how light participates in my works and in each project. I think light is what makes us see. I like to put and see things ‘in a new light’; literally put a whole situation under a new light. I also work with lighting in the exhibition space. In the show Entre chien et loupBetween dog and wolf2004at ARC in Paris, a certain light was applied to the whole exhibition space. It was like a twilight situation. You couldn’t see well where the space ended and where the edges or the rooms were. It also related to the idiom ‘entre chien et loup’ : the moment of the day when you can’t tell a dog from a wolf. I tend to keep things ambiguous because in life they are. Light shouldn’t elucidate things or make them clear. It comes to render their ambiguousness visible.

Q  In Mixed Behaviour, it gives the impression that almost the DJ is not only mixing the music but also the fireworks in the sky. We see a parallel approach between mixing music and mixing images.

A    …with mixed feelings. The DJ hijacks the sky and manipulates the fireworks; with the help of his music. But there are moments when his music cannot control the sky, or him control his music. Then the sky is free to go on its own again and the DJ is vulnerable again. There is need and desire to control the situation but also the impossibility to do so.

Q  Is there some allusion to war as well?

A    The exploding green sky of Tirana may look like the green sky over another city not especially on the New Year’s Eve. It also comes from my personal experience. Why I did this setup and invited the DJ friend to play from the roof was also to solve a problem we share. We can’t stand the New Year’s Eve because of the fireworks. It reminds us of 1997 when there were a lot of shooting during the whole year, including the New Year’s Eve. People would shoot and nobody would know, since in the middle of all the noise, you could not tell a firecracker from a gunshot. So firework reminds me of violence.

'Now I See' by Anri Sala. Courtesy : Galerie Chantal Crousel.

Q  You started to use 35mm film in Now I See2004. Does it mean you are going to change medium for your future works?

A    Each time I work on a project, I ask myself which medium I need to use. In Now I See, the choice to use 35mm goes together with other choices and decisions for that film. There is a concert in the film, but I don’t want it to sound just like any concert. Since there were many instruments and four guys moving around, we recorded sound in about sixteen channels simultaneously with as many microphones. I worked with someone who used to record concert, asking him to place the microphone unusually. Normally there is a known position for the microphone to record the guitarist playing. But we put it at a different distance from the guitar to change its experience. It’s the same for almost all the other instruments. Consequently the experience wasn’t exactly like a concert recording. It’s also the same with the choice of 35mm film. If filming pop music makes it a video clip, I wanted it to look more like theater sound vise and film image vise. So I brought in the idea of using 35mm film.

Q  Would you say your works are political?

A   It depends on what you call political. For some people, political means something limited, and then I say no. For others, political could be very broad. The perception of things is important to my work and me : not only the intellectual perception but also the physical. Now is this political? I think yes. But is this political-political? I don’t think so. For example in Tirana where I was born, it’s not only a political mess but also a mess of buildings and architecture. Finally one day a building proposed by a good architect is built. It immediately proposes a new space around and a new relation with the other existing buildings, the city. To me this building becomes extremely political. Whereas the messy architecture surrounding it has been the immediate result of decades of politics and yet is not political at all; it’s drowsy instead.

Interview made in 2006 in Paris for the exhibition Altered State ( curated by Amy Cheng held in Taipei ) in which the artist took part. Chinese version was published in the catalogue of the exhibition and in ARTCO monthly ( Taiwan ), July 2006, pp. 148-150.

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4 Responses

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  1. annhowington said, on May 6, 2012 at 2:33 am

    “For example in Tirana where I was born, it’s not only a political mess but also a mess of buildings and architecture.” I am using this quote in a paper.

    • sylvielin said, on December 9, 2012 at 4:15 am

      Dear Ms. Ann Howington,

      Thank you for quoting from my interview with Sala.
      I published some more interview recently and they’re also related to social-political issues. You’re welcome to check them.

      Sincerely, Sylvie Lin

  2. […] Interview with Anri Sala […]

    • sylvielin said, on December 9, 2012 at 4:14 am

      Thanks for the re-publication. I published some more interviews recently; you’re welcome to check them.

      Sincerely, Sylvie Lin

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