Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev with Natalie King
16th Biennale of Sydney, Revolutions – Forms That Turn
June – September 2008
Interview with Artistic Director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
Natalie King: Can you expand on your theme of ‘turning upside down’ from an aesthetic, psychological and political perspective?
CCB: Basically, it’s a question of changing perspectives; looking at things from a different point of view. One of the most obvious ways of looking at something from a different point of view is to turn it upside down. Sometimes when you change your point of view, new avenues and new possibilities appear, and we are in a particular period of society worldwide where changing point of view is actually very hard; because the media tends to direct the way points of view should be held, and are to be held. It’s actually a quite difficult question to answer without any examples. I think the most typical example in art would be Marcel Duchamp turning the urinal upside down, so turning upside down can mean to change the function. You de-functionalise the object as an aesthetic strategy removing the use value of something. If you cannot read a landscape that’s been turned upside down as a landscape, you are removing the use value of the figurative aspect of the landscape. On the one hand it becomes abstract but on the other hand it becomes surreal. Surrealism as we all know was a space where politics, psychoanalysis and aesthetics merged, as a form of radical subversion in western art history – Andre Breton and so on. That’s what I mean by turning upside down in a broader sense; it doesn’t mean only a literal turning upside down but shifting points of view, changing perspective. And of course removing the normal functioning role, so turning something upside down politically might mean for example breaking a machine in a factory, as the Luddites would do. It means acting in a way that disrupts the functioning of productive society.
NK: How did you arrive at this particular concept for the Sydney Biennale and what are its local resonances?