Gianna Murazzo: Lucas Ihlein

in

Event for Touristic Sites: an interview with Lucas Ihlein by Gianna Murazzo

Gianna Murazzo: I really like the idea of those t-shirts of yours! I think I remember seeing a few of them at some other art site - are they the same ones?

Lucas Ihlein: Yep, you can see 'em at www.pica.org.au
and on adelaide indymedia too...
adelaide.indymedia.org

GM: If you'll allow me, I'll write a few thoughts i got from that project of yours ...
the choice of a message which seems so simple, written in red ink on white t-shirts (direct, simple colours) - combined with these very public "touristic" spaces - and photographed so "frontally" in this way - is a great idea ... there's no obfuscating of the subject matter, no hiding behind metaphor or allusion, no real need to evoke art-historical references (apart from fluxus and happenings ... which were/are similar in sensibility - interaction, and directness)...

LI: Sure ... it's a deliberate desire to bring together those local sites where international tourists go (or are told to go by their guidebooks), and offensive messages about the countries where they come from ... because usually in these "touristic sites" they are only greeted with the most polite and obsequious forms of false hospitality, presumably to squeeze an extra buck outta them... I want to bring what's underlying to the surface, the resentments and hostilities which nations feel for each other, and which have often been created (and also suppressed) out of that equation of tourism=money ... all of which you can easily do if you've got nothing to lose, if you aren't trying to make cash from those visitors ...

GM: ...this taking of a country's identity to "ironise" it, annul it, because those red texts bring to the surface the banality and ignorance which hides beneath every generalisation we breathe...

LI: Right!

GM: There's also, in the event for touristic sites,, a sense of "universality" (as much as there can ever be): a desire to include as many people as possible ... remember the old one-liner "I'm not prejudiced, I hate everybody!" ... the way that folks of all nations can rummage through and find a joke about their home nation ... i imagine people would actually be disappointed if you didn't have a shirt for their country! ... but then more deeply, and going beyond the satirical aspects of the project, you do have a desire, don't you, to meet people from as many different places as possible, to go a bit further than our normal comfortable positions when meeting foreign tourists... i can also see in those public spaces a comic desire to tell stories, to get closer to people, not only because we all already know that the phrases "all the Spanish are lazy" and "all Libyans are terrorists" etc etc are blatant untruths ... in all of this there is some kind of imprint of personality, an imprint of something of a national people - that if a person is born in one place rather than another, there are consequences to be had (that's obvious) ...

LI: Absolutely. I've always thought that jokes are serious things... the seriousness of the tourist's laughter or anger in this case is that there are disturbing truths that lie beneath the jokes... everyone loves relating the national stereotypes to their own travel experiences, adding their bit of evidence to the stereotype, while at the same time declaring that of course the stereotype is false, it has to be... and it's those travel stories that I love, standing there in those public spaces hearing someone's banal post-card story of how the French treated them rudely when they were in Paris in '84 or whatever... it's as "genuine" an experience of the place for them, as visiting the Eiffel tower, and tourists love it...

GM: That's what I like about the event for touristic sites - although it has a darker underbelly, on the surface it's so light-hearted - these days contemporary art, to squeeze some kind of emotional response from by-now jaded art-gallery-visitors (blasted each day with ever more falsely-emotional visual crap) needs to SHOCK! and often what it proposes is so heavy, heavy in the sense of ... full of suffering, suffering and awkwardness, which sometimes is great, I'm not saying it isn't ... but so many times its just puffs of smoke to let you know you're getting near a fire - nothing but signs pointing to emotional triggers - rather than a situation which makes for a real interactive experience for people, you know what i mean?

LI: Exactly. But that's a problem for contemporary art, not my problem... curators and galleries want product, rather than experience or phenomenon... they need to have their stimulus served up in recognisable forms, filtered through "artworks" or texts ... and in general they're too busy to get out on the street and actually experience the city in a less mediated way...

GM: In fact, curators are often too busy to even go and look at art in galleries - they read catalogues from the safety of their own offices, and arrange to look at artist's slides - their research thus even further removed from "real" experience ...

LI: Right... when I do the event for touristic sites, (and it's happened now in 6 cities - Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Berlin), often the interaction is completely outside the sphere of "art" ... and that's great, its an end in itself ... people who wear the shirts and take photos are nearly always confused by the event, too - it seems to have no commercial underpinning ("what, you're not charging me to participate??"), and it doesn't look like "art", so what is it? which leaves it open for the interactions to be real and immediate and to some extent, the event ends up being much less self-important than gallery art often is - it has to be, as it's completely reliant on those unpredictable, conversational elements...