Belgium collaborative duo Martine Feipel and Jean Bechameil, of the acclaimed Luxembourg Pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale, take a break from installing their London show to discuss working as a partnership and their latest installation, A Thousand Years, on now at the University of the Arts London, Arts Gallery.
JOTTA: I wanted to ask you about the work you’ve created for this space. Were you responding to the space when you first created the installation?
MARTINE: Yes, the space we exhibited this work in at the originally was an art centre, but it used to be the house of the director of an Iron factory
JEAN: We wanted to make a piece that was like a dream about how the house could have been if we'd left it for 50 years.
JOTTA: So is there that same feeling of disorientation at this new location?
JEAN: Normally we create labyrinths and really work on the way they are walking through our installation, going deeper and deeper in it and suddenly they are a little bit lost in the installation. Here, it’s much more like they can play with the idea of something that just come through –
JOTTA: You really get that sense, it’s almost like a hurricane has been. Like something happened and then everybody left town.
MARTINE: It’s as if it took on another shape as time passed. I think it’s a lot about the passing of time. It’s also a little bit like a soft catastrophe. A gentle, silent catastrophe.... That’s also why we use this material that has this colour that’s a little bit dusty, everything is sort of the same colour. It makes it kind of unreal. At the same time it’s a real object, it’s real space – but it’s also like a fiction.
JEAN: So one day after or perhaps two days after you have seen it you have this souvenir: a very readable, very easy-to-reconstruct image. That’s the way we work, we really think that the way you remember an installation or some piece of art is not in colour.
JOTTA: Your installations often feature furniture, do you have an interest in furniture or object design?
MARTINE & JEAN: Not really. It’s not about designing things. If you start to make it about your history, it’s becomes like a script. We don't really want to provide a script for the room. We want people to imagine what could have happened there, like a crime scene. I’m exaggerating, but almost something like that - without a frame [of reference]. It's important not to be too explicit, it’s a story but it’s an open story. It’s more about evoking and giving hints than telling a story from A to Z.
JOTTA: Do you always work collaboratively?
MARTINE & JEAN: Yes, for four years now we’ve worked together. We just met and started inventing projects in our heads and then we went and realised them. It’s just something that came naturally and stayed like this because it fits. It’s the right way to work.
JOTTA: Does you each have roles that you gravitate towards naturally?
JEAN: Naturally, I’m lazy
MARTINE: – and I’m a very hard worker!
JEAN: But, you know when you work in partnerships you must really try to explain what you really think to your partner because sometimes for you it’s evident but for your partner it is not. It kind of makes you express instantly what you think and feel about it.
JOTTA: Are there any contemporary artists or artists from the past who you admire or draw influence from?
MARTINE: I really like Gordan Matte Clarke. We draw a lot of influence from reading books, like the description of spaces in books can give us ideas. I like fiction.
JEAN: Like in ‘1001 Nights’, the way it's a story within a story in a story, it’s something I really like. It’s not the fact that it's in Iraq, it’s not the geography. It’s the way they structure the story, the narrative.
MARTINE: I like Jorge Luis Borges, it’s really interesting the way he creates fictional places that couldn’t actually work in reality. It’s very inspiring.
See A Thousand Years at the University of the Arts London Arts Gallery from 12 July - 24 August