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Red Regatta | Independent public art project in collaboration with Associazione Vela al Terzo and Magazzino Italian Art | Melissa McGill©
THE ICE ON FIRE #Shoplifter

ERUPTION #BizhanBassiri

In this 28th issue, CULTURAMA continues its investigations off the beaten track in the distant strata of the Venice Biennale.

For more information on an article, click on the corresponding images
Shoplifter in her installation CHROMO SAPIENS, the Icelandic pavilion | Venice Biennale 2019 | Curator: Birta Guðjónsdóttir | Photo. Elísabet Davíðsdóttir | Shoplifter©

Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir a.k.a Shoplifter

Eric of MA'A*: When I first discovered your Art in 2004, I was especially intrigued by the sculptured hairstyles, their eccentricity, the overall mastership of the compositions based on the traditions of XIXth century basketry. I then decided to follow your work. How did you start using hair as your artistic material?

Shoplifter: I started to really experiment creatively with my own hair as a teenager in the '80s, changing my hairstyle frequently and coming up with hairdos that my hairdresser couldn't even realize, they were so outlandish sometimes. It wasn't until I moved to New York that I started to seriously work with hair as a creative medium. I did a performance called "The Human Hair Sculptress" where I used gel and coloured hairspray to create wild hairstyles on guests at the opening. I then paraded and gave the hairdos a lot of explaining in context to what I and the volunteers had discussed while manipulating their hair into a sculptural expression. I later became obsessed with XVIth century memory flowers. I had acquired one as a young woman in Iceland but it took its time to become a true inspiration in my work.

CHROMO SAPIENS, the Icelandic pavilion | Venice Biennale 2019 | Curator: Birta Guðjónsdóttir | Photo. Elísabet Davíðsdóttir | Shoplifter©

Eric: When you started, what message did you associate with hair? Did it change over the years?

Shoplifter: Human vanity has been a great influence on me as I consider it first and foremost a positive force of creativity. I'm continuously inspired by our desire to beautify ourselves and our hair plays a major role in our search for identity and modern tribal belonging. I continue to find new meaning in this mesmerizing fibre, both natural and synthetic, and the reasons for using it as art material is ever evolving. It is a comment on mass production, humanity, colour therapy and so much more.

Nervescape V | Queensland Art Gallery, Australia | Shoplifter©

Eric: What encounters, professional or not, were the most important for you during the last twenty years of your career?

I've been very inspired and energized by various collaborations that have brought me back to the studio with new ways of creating art with hair and other materials as well. It's very rewarding to work with like-minded creative people and it often takes my artwork out of the holiness of the museum or gallery, into everyday life.

For example, my collaboration with Björk on her album Medúlla, my capsule collection for & Other Stories, various other fashion-related projects with VPL, Edda Guðmundsdóttir and Chromat, to name a few. Then, the collaboration with Nico Muhly at the Kitchen in NY was a great one as well as the window installation at MoMA in collaboration with assume vivid astro focus. All of these have helped me to expand on my work for different reasons that have been extremely influential on how I create.
Modem restaurant window | Installation at the MoMA | Shoplifter© & a.v.a.f©

Eric: What are your impressions on the Venice Biennale 2019? Could you accomplish your installation as planned, without difficulties?

Shoplifter: The Biennale is a great platform where the temperature of art is taken every two years, even though it's a bit outdated — or a rather warped reality — to have artists representing countries in this day and age when globalization and immigration are thankfully confusing the boundaries of nationality. At the Venice Biennale, it becomes the format, the framework for the presentations and this year we see a lot of artwork that addresses exactly those issues and problems in modern society.

We are aware of the negative madness of extreme nationalism; continuous horrifying racism, still prevailing in this supposed age of enlightenment and information, makes you question what it will take for these issues to one day finally become obsolete. But the format of national pavilions does bring about the discussion of what is a nationality, which is in itself an urgent topic that we are all confronted with. It's intriguing to see how this Biennale survives such changes from the past, through pre-globalization and the computer era, to our present day where identity and nationality carry different meanings and are not so easily defined. That in itself makes it relevant and an intriguing event. The Venice Biennale is its own animal, it's simultaneously a solo and group show. Yet technically, it's a pop-up show as Iceland does not have a permanent space so there's no infrastructure to work with. Everything within the given space has to be built from scratch and in the most difficult setting of all, in Venice, a city surrounded by water. Due to transport limitations, everything becomes a major operation. This project was a great undertaking and it took me over a year to realize the vision I had for CHROMO SAPIENS. Regardless of any challenge I met along the way, this has been the most rewarding project of my career. I managed to fully execute what I had in mind when I set out on this journey. And I am extremely proud of that.

« I have to re-create the universe every morning when I wake up. And kill it in the evening. » Björk

+infos: Official site | | Venice Biennale 2019

Nervescape VII | National Gallery of Iceland | Photo. Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir | Shoplifter©
Nervescape VIII | With music performance by Högni Egilsson | Kiasma Gallery | Photos. Petri Virtanen | Shoplifter©

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Bizhan Bassiri's Portrait | Photo. Mahhnaz Sahhaf©

Bizhan Bassiri

Eric of MA'A*: "The Fall of the Meteorites", one of your first projects, came to life in 1979 when you visited Vesuvius. This event has fascinated you to the point of influencing your Art and philosophy of life. How did it make you enter that "magmatic condition as if it were blood circulating through your veins"?

Bizhan Bassiri: The magmatic thought, the one that sustains me, originates in the late seventies, in an unexpected place, at a sudden hour. Everything happened in one moment — I was knocked out by a meteorite and sucked in by the infinite genesis where the emptiness of human life appeared to me. Since then, I remain the witness of an unprecedented phenomenon.
Projected out of time, suspended in space, I did not ask myself the question of slowing down or accelerating, there was only this moment of grace that preceded the revelation; the moment when, putting my feet on the crater's surface for the first time, I felt a force invade me. The magma's everlasting vitality flooded my veins to the point of exploding my brain.
TAPESH, the Iranian pavilion | Venice Biennale 2017 | Curator: Majid Mollanoruzi | Bizhan Bassiri©
I am now the guest of this temple: a place where fantasies take shape and stones come alive. The theoretical corpus of magmatic thought was born in 1986. It is a philosophy with a double level of reading. The first is a poetic, imaginary flow, in inverted time. The second is a meditation, an extension of reason, a timeless ode. The fusion of these two facets remains a constant process, slow and infinite.
VEGLIA | RISO, Palermo | Bizhan Bassiri©
Eric: Many of your installations present pure mixtures of non-contrastual colours: blue and gold, red and black, gold and white, red and gold. These color associations are considered sublime and universal. Do you believe that playing with the colour palette is nowadays superfluous, even nonessential?

Bizhan: The material takes precedence over color, as it expresses the living forces of nature, without restraint. Yellow is sulfur, pure gold, bronze mirror. Black is ivory, smoke, burned machine oil. White is plaster, titanium, statuary marble dust. Red is cadmium pigment, Fiat tractor hydraulic oil. Blue is cobalt, depths of the sea.
NOOR | MACRO Testaccio, Rome | Bizhan Bassiri©
Eric: What projects are you preparing for the future?

Bizhan: A lot of things are happening In the near future. In this field of possibilities, I follow my own vision. I try not to get lost in the impasse of thought, and thus, I continue my way through this fragile life. 
Eric: How would you describe the genesis of your artistic work?

Bizhan: Intuition is the starting point of any creative process. In our world, the work of Art and its existence itself are a meteorite that comes from the cosmos and does not belong to the Earth, but appears to it, spontaneously and naturally.
VEGLIA | RISO, Palermo | Bizhan Bassiri©

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, XIXth century | Pierre-Jacques Volaire©
Björk's instrumental dress | A. McQueen, B. Dress & Shoplifter©
A harmonic hairdo | Photocollage | Shoplifter©
The last moments of the ill-fated Pompeiians, frozen forever in plaster | Archaeological Park of Pompeii©