interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster was among the first collaborators of Purple magazine, when it was founded in 1992. She’s best known for her films and installation projects, which draw people into a psychically quiet space as much like reading as looking, and always engaging the associated memories of contemporary living. She works with every kind of medium and situation, from architecture to books — lots of books — which she displays in rows and piles as enticing as Hansel’s breadcrumbs to pick up. She’s also designed a house, boutiques for Balenciaga, stage sets for French musician Alain Bashung, has co-written a science fiction book, and thrives in an ever-expanding field of interests and endeavours. Because we’ve known her for so long, we asked her to lead us through her panoramic view of art and life. She’s worked in Europe, the US, and Asia and divides her time equally between Rio de Janeiro and Paris.
OLIVIER ZAHM — To start, let’s take a panoramic look at your experience in the world and in the world of art, since they run together and are always running into each other in your work. Where shall we begin?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — I’d like to begin far, far away, out in space with the stars, where we will all certainly be going one day.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What is space for you?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — For me it is the beginning and end of the world. I have often imagined that one of the ways of not dying — the dream of eternity — would be to leave Earth. In Mission to Mars, there’s one great shot where one of the cosmonauts gets lost in space, giving the impression that he will never really die, just continue to orbit forever. When I’m 90, I wouldn’t mind getting on a flight to Mars or experimenting with a trip into the galaxy or an unending spatial migration!
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is this a scientific hypothesis for you or an artist’s vision?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — There is a recent scientific development that I am interested in: the discovery of an exoplanet [an extra-solar planet located outside our solar system]. Astronomers are looking for them and they’re finding them! One of the domains of astronomy consists of looking for planets that may resemble Earth as “reserve” planets for us and therefore possible destinations. For a long time we focused on the stars, because we did not have instruments to detect other planets. There is an oceanic planet that’s just been found, covered entirely with bodies of water. One like in the film Waterworld. In fact it exists — a planet covered with deep, deep oceans.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Why start with space when speaking of your experiences in the world?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — If I think about the world, of Earth, I must situate it in space and time, here and elsewhere, the present and the future — and they all run together.
OLIVIER ZAHM — When looking at the stars on a summer night?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Absolutely. But I’m also a reader of science fiction. Each planet we discover represents the possibility of a new world, a complete change in universes and environments, a “multiverse” as opposed to a universe. A book that comes to mind fairly often is Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short texts on the exploration of Mars, reflecting 1950s California. At the same time, the spatial field is a fertile one because it’s the only one left in which we can project and imagine new possibilities, new worlds.
OLIVIER ZAHM — The hypothesis of a new world as well as the probable destruction of the world we live in?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, and we are now asking questions about the finite nature of the world and its possible destruction, and, at the same time, the completely human impulse toward exodus, travel, discovery, and moving from place to place. We do not necessarily associate this with the idea of destruction, yet there is the likely destruction of Earth, which Man will probably flee, deserting it if he can. And the destruction of the environment that Man will perpetrate in space by reproducing this original violence of conquest. It’s like the story of the scientist who must disturb his own area of study.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What is it that fascinates you about The Martian Chronicles? It’s obsessed you for so long.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, and I was very happy to see it adapted recently for TV. It’s a series of short, poetic texts about life in 2000-something. The way Bradbury describes the Martian culture evokes a strong empathy in me, and since it will be decimated by the arrival of the Earthlings, our empathy goes toward the Martians. It shows a consciousness of the ravages of colonialism. He may even have been thinking about our relationship to the different Indian cultures.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It seems the Spanish arrived in cities that were completely deserted, because the diseases they transmitted had preceded them. They never had to fight because there was no one left in the cities when they got there.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — It’s also the case in The Martian Chronicles; the Earthlings bring a virus that wipes out almost all the Martians. There are all these different interactions until, little by little, some of the Earthlings become Martians out of empathy. That’s the ending. The original Martians have disappeared, but the Earthlings have become Martians, culturally and internally. Spatial exploration is somewhat monstrous, even if it is fascinating — the idea that there is a scientific rover currently collecting information on Mars itself. But there may be other forms of life there, which we might not detect, because they are chemically different, but which are nonetheless being disturbed by this machine running around without asking questions. Indeed, the Earthlings are not questioning at all the fact that it might be a problem installing themselves on another planet, that it might be the repetition of violence that has been perpetrated so many times. The original violence of the first occupation is still ongoing — I think I like this book because it goes back and forth like this so much.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a form of intrusion, which you avoid when you travel and have your exhibitions abroad.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, I agree, some kinds of travel really are intrusive — you’re disturbing the environment. I’ve always tried to be present without causing a disturbance.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s the paradox of the ethnologist who’s the only foreigner in the population he studies. This projection toward other planets is mentally stimulating, but it happens by sacrificing Earth.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Or by creating tension with civilizations or life forms we cannot detect.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But can you worry about these completely hypothetical life forms when we aren’t even taking care of those living here?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, the extraordinary biodiversity we are beginning to lose. For sure. This is where we realize that Man is the greatest possible predator: he’s managed to destroy the world.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So do you think we’ve reached the point of no return, as is suggested by the interior monologue of a child in the 2009 film Noreturn, and which is seen in your work: “In this dream, it is endless/we have gone beyond the point of no return/we stay there in front of the screens/as if we were in a gigantic airplane/traveling without a destination.” You think there is no escape but escape?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — No, I’m not saying that; it’s the film that said that…
OLIVIER ZAHM — For example, Peter Sloterdijk in The Infinite Mobilization is quite pessimistic. He thinks we have gone beyond imminent catastrophe and are now in a catastrophe. So are we going from catastrophe to catastrophe without learning anything, without deducing the important truths, the information necessary to correct this unending mobilization?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — And they’ll multiply. For the moment we are dealing with one catastrophe at a time, but soon there will be several at the same time, and things are going to get more difficult. I don’t know if you’ve read that airplane turbulence will soon go up between 10 percent and 40 percent because of climate change. But that’s only one phenomenon. There are many others that will make things more and more difficult for those living on Earth.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s Fukushima: the combination of a natural and nuclear catastrophe.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — The meeting of a state-of-the-art scientific culture with the forces of nature.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s what we call a mega-earthquake. A terrestrial plate that breaks in several points which are connected. It isn’t a single earthquake, it’s several, creating a line of fractures.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — It’s like what happened in New Orleans in 2005: a massive flood in an overbuilt environment. Without being completely dystopian, I think we’re going toward that, a multiplication of uninhabitable or mostly destroyed zones.
OLIVIER ZAHM — With overconsumption and the explosion in population growth, emerging countries do not change their modus operandi.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — In 2050 it’s going to be difficult, that’s for sure! And those who run this world are not in the least aware of this problem. Even if there are a few people for whom this is a priority, the principal “religion” is always growth, chasing money. Sometimes I say to myself, “As long as so many mathematicians and scientists choose to work on Wall Street or for giant corporations, as long as so many skills are hijacked by profit-seekers and those who prefer to think of something else, this can only end very badly.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — Radioactive waste is buried in certain zones in Russia, but there is no administration left now that remembers where. They’ve lost track of the contaminated zones. And the decay in our societies will mean the loss of control over technologies that were once put in place by these same societies.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Our aging nuclear reactors make accidents more and more likely. And now we have these two zones, Chernobyl and Fukushima. There will soon be three, four, five — it’s inevitable. Since they are profit-driven, they’re dropping the number of technicians. And if you read the investigations of Fukushima, you realize it’s because of the profit motive that we discount the idea of danger.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you envision the Earth’s future?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — I’m extremely pessimistic when thinking about this decay. The only thing I imagine might be if there was suddenly and historically a brand new “religion,” meaning that somehow a new value system would be presented, something stronger than our current personal interests, which would transform our internal urges and drives. An ensemble of convictions and necessities which would prevail over our sterile comfort, technological one-upmanship and the masses of propaganda vaunting a semi-luxury that has become ever so banal.
OLIVIER ZAHM — If we were to cut our electricity usage by a third, it wouldn’t really change our lives that much.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — No it wouldn’t — and they did just that in Japan. They were forced to reduce their electricity consumption and it wasn’t all that difficult. But it’s not just that. I think it is the idealization of a lifestyle that chases creature comforts, traveling, the materialistic consumerism with which we are all obsessed.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What Sloterdijk said, which is quite depressing, is that a catastrophe is no longer a lesson in catastrophe in the etymological sense — we no longer learn anything from a catastrophe but just move directly toward the next one. This is disturbing, that we learn nothing.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, it’s as if you were inside the cockpit of a plane with all the alarms and sirens going — and nobody’s paying attention. There are other imperatives: we gotta get this video game to work!
OLIVIER ZAHM — But fostering greater consciousness doesn’t work. Change is accomplished through fear. And fear isn’t strong enough. It’s not like it isn’t there.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, because we live in overprotected environments in which awareness of change is marginal.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Maybe you have to have circled the globe many times to fully realize how fragile our system is.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes. And to have empathy. The catastrophe in Japan still traumatizes me. It seems as if that country should represent the future, but now it is a sign of regression. When we went to Japan in 1985, it was the future, the cutting edge of our technical civilization. Now it’s completely dystopian. Japan’s best chance would be to totally eliminate all its nuclear reactors and become a completely experimental terrain, letting everyone come to the islands, creating a heterotopy (meaning spaces which function in non-hegemonic conditions of otherness, neither here nor there, simultaneously physical and mental). Except that the national protection of their culture renders this impossible — something that is both beautiful and tragic. I have a Japanese friend who said that the real problem is the aging of the population, meaning that for future decades it is likely that the elections will be won by conservatives. There is apparently no hope for any other possibility. You could have an amazing political entity in Japan, and it would never get anywhere because of the demographics and the aging conservative population. Japan was for me a real stepping-off point, a renewing of spatial thought, our relationship to space, to beauty, things, objects. For example, their definition of luxury can be a broken bowl. Their idea of beauty is so sophisticated, it’s quite poignant.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You are one of the few artists to speak about climate change.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — I am extremely sensitive to climate, to its problems. This is perhaps why I go so often to Rio, like Nietzsche thinking he would feel better if he traveled to the Mediterranean … you can “tropicalize” yourself, fertilize yourself and your work in a different weather environment. It can have an effect on attitudes, ideas, even intentions. It gives you different intensities.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What did you find in Rio?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — It’s like turning the music up really high, to maximum climatic intensity. I saw it in contrast, as a marker or a revelation. There was the modernist architecture that at the time I had only seen in temperate zones. All of a sudden, I found it implanted in a tropical climate with a much more invasive vegetation, transforming and eroding — this is the interesting side of climatic extremes, the fact that they can retransform people, attitudes, shapes. It is already present in books by J. G. Ballard, who is constantly placing his characters in situations involving serious drought, floods and other climatic violence, where they must ask themselves whether to stay or to leave, how they are going to handle this climatic intensity.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I would say that you have been, like the entire generation of artists that grew up in the postmodernity of the ’80s, drawn to this return to pure architecture.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — It isn’t really a return; it’s where I grew up — it shaped my relationship to space. In the middle of the ’90s, they still said that Brasilia was mere blocks of concrete, to be avoided at all costs, when they were criticizing Le Corbusier.
OLIVIER ZAHM — In 2000, all of a sudden, with tropical space, you set modernity against a different future, another evolution, a kind of contamination by the vegetation or the climate. A way of relaunching your utopia?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, it’s modernity pushed a step further, a completely different language. This is why I like talking with Philippe Rahm. He’s one of the architects who is really above and beyond the whole build-construct-object-appearance schtick, who himself pushes modernity in the sense that he works with scientific data and narrative images at a much less sculptural, objectified level. So in Rio, I felt it was ultra-fertile from that point of view…
OLIVIER ZAHM — That there was a future in modernity?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes. And as it must deal with something powerful, it becomes more alive, more tolerable, less isolated and prison-like. That’s how I began seeing things in terms of combinations, of environments…
OLIVIER ZAHM — You called it “tropicalization.” What does mean?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — I always resist defining what it means, because it’s too simple. In fact one of the good things about the word is that it cannot easily be defined, beyond the obvious inclusion of the word “tropical.” There are two ideas that obsess me: first metabolization, meaning the way we rearrange perceptions, whether it be in film, books, characters, or conversations. It’s happening all the time. The idea of tropicalization is one of the possibilities in metabolization. Its fertility, the power of a new consciousness, something that has its own urges, its own growth, organic and expressive.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Could we tropicalize the suburbs of Paris?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, but it would be way too simple just to stick palm trees everywhere and pretend we were tropicalizing it. There are zones on Earth where you feel that the unconscious is more powerful — zones that are not so dark, where the intensities are not yet completely tweaked for digitalization or for pure profit. Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, a Colombian philosopher who teaches in London, has postulated that the South American continent, because of its ultra-dense political history, is a reservoir of possibilities for being together, of different collective function, since the United States has maintained distance. There have been new political developments in many different countries. It’s more interesting to me than the evolution of the market in Asia or the United States, a country obsessed with control.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But the destruction of the Amazon is a real problem: that area is the lungs of our planet.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, for sure. Brazil needs to be exemplary in this area. Especially since it is not an ultra-militarized country.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s talk about the architect Lina Bo Bardi, who’s had a great influence on you.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — One day someone told me about a book about her; it was during the ’90s. I wanted to go see her work! She came from Italy after WWII and began building, including the glass house in São Paulo. Then she and her husband, the historian Pietro Maria Bardi, worked together conceiving MASP, the Art Museum of São Paulo, and then so much in Salvador — without ever imposing a “regionalist” architecture. It’s an architecture that integrates a local feeling without going back into the past. She’s the first female architect working on this scale. I think that Brazil is the country for such possibilities and that Lina would not have had the same future in Italy.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is she a pioneer of your point of view?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What is it that you love so much in Brazil?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — The modern architecture, but also their literature and film, the hybridization of modernity, which was too strong in the ’20s and then metamorphosed with the context; it’s extremely stimulating for me. I think of Lina Bo Bardi, and of course, Oscar Niemeyer, who really impressed me. And also architects like Sergio Bernardes, who designed those beach emergency stations in Copacabana — little pavilions that, when seen from above, look a little like women’s vaginas. There’s an extraordinary reservoir of creative architectural ideas. But I also like transversal artists, unclassifiable, like Flavio de Carvalho, who was an architect as well as a performance artist in the ’50s. There was one piece where he walked backward in a religious procession in the streets of São Paulo. He’s a little like a Kiesler, a trans-artist, who goes from psychoanalysis to architecture, who took a long time to be noticed, because he didn’t use one of the dominant languages like painting or sculpture, but in the end did 10 times more work than someone who concentrated on a single discipline. Brazil has a lot of cross-disciplinary artists.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you get out of living part of the year there?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Living in a country like Brazil, which did not go through WWI or WWII — it’s very different. The neighborhood where I live is one that has never known war and has never been destroyed. It just evolves. It’s like a competing, parallel reality that has developed in a different way using similar concepts. There’s a park downstairs, which I’ve filmed, a formal garden à la française that is never perfect because the shrubbery is just too thick. When they try making it into French topiary, the branches stick out and grow sideways…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s go back to your panorama and travel backward toward Europe. Are there still things that interest you there?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Sure, which is how I can spend time in Europe. I feel as if I’m time traveling. I go back into the past. I explore the layers. For example, I went to see all the châteaux of King Ludwig II in Linderhof, Bavaria. I realize that Ludwig’s grotto, the one I saw in Visconti’s 1972 film Ludwig — is in fact an anticipation of art that I love, environments in which you can move around. When I was inside these buildings, I realized how ultra-narrative they are, based on stories about Wagner, Louis XIV, the blue grotto of Capri, even fairytales. They’re a weird foreshadowing of contemporary theme parks, and it is no coincidence that they are a top source of revenue in Bavaria. Ludwig totally anticipated the possibilities in architecture: narrative and staging. So when I found myself in the grotto, I experienced a deep emotion. I understood that the art that interested me is one into which you enter and which transforms you profoundly, because it is on a certain scale, because it integrates the story, music, lighting… I’ve always had trouble finding my genealogy in art history, but that’s where it is. In wide, panoramic concepts that integrate story and text.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So Europe represents time travel for you?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes. One of my European excitements consists of exploring the pre-modern period in depth. I’m going toward the 18th century; there are ways of transforming yourself this profoundly through climate, geography, the environment, and time. You can take little time trips that can really affect you — which does not mean I’m only interested in Europe’s past… There is a place in Mexico where three cultures meet. It fascinates me. There are ruins of pre-Columbian temples, a church dating back to the Spanish Conquest, and then there are buildings from the ’60s. It’s a true palimpsest of time. So I’m drilling into the past, finding things that fascinate me as much as those I found in space.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you think about Paris?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Paris is very 19th century; it’s the Opéra, the Palais Garnier, it’s Haussmann (the French urban planner who rebuilt Paris in the 1860s) — everything I have hated for so long. But it’s also a city with a homogeneity that prefigures some of our new cities. It’s completely crazy that at this scale there is such architectural homogeneity. You don’t find this except in Brasilia or in the new planned cities, such as Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh, where a single model was multiplied. Anyway, lately I’ve been going a lot to the opera, because it’s a form that is completely decadent, yet it has so many tangled-up, dimensional possibilities. Philippe Rahm and I had the idea of a spectral La Bohème, which we would set in Haussmann’s Paris of 1860.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Film was the flagship form for your generation of artists, not the opera.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, the visual vocabulary of film, the possibility of thinking about recording, representation, the story, the whole thing. But right now opera interests me as live spectacle and in going flat out à la Georges Bataille, giving it all in the moment for one performance. So for working on something like that, Paris isn’t so bad. There’s all this data.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Does that mean you’re not part of contemporary Paris, but of historical Paris?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, the one we explored with Tristan Bera in Belle Comme Le Jour (Beautiful as the Day), between the Rue de Rivoli, the Régina, and the Louvre. I feel a desire to know the Paris of the future, but I don’t believe in it too much, to tell the truth. There’s the museum, the Centre Pompidou, a few blocks here and there. And I don’t know what’s going to happen with Les Halles … which brings us back to the Situationist slide.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your exhibitions have something to do with Situationism — they can be seen as situations, downward drifting, a moment of experimentation.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Completely. When I saw the recent Guy Debord exhibition at the Grande Bibliothèque, I realized how much it had truly touched me. I remembered that one of the most important books when I was at the Beaux-Arts, was Guy Debord’s La Société du Spectacle (The Society of Spectacle). These books were already out in 1970, and in this exhibition I rediscovered how much I was shaped by them, how they’re my M.O., my vocabulary. The same way I can say that the fact that I grew up in a modern neighborhood totally changed my sense of beauty, I think that reading those books definitively changed my relationship to art.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Art as experience and not as representation?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, as a moment, a situation, not an object or a finished thing. When you see this exhibit, you understand where you come from.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I was quite surprised when I saw this very good documentary on Rem Koolhaas, to learn that he had been influenced by Constant Nieuwenhuys, who was a disciple of Guy Debord — and that his redefining of urban architecture (New Babylon) derived from the importance of urbanism for the Situationists.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, and there is a maquette by Constant in the exhibition, and you see that all of a sudden they are considering integrating the urban dimension, not only that of the gallery or the museum. It’s a whole other level of experience, and I identified with it so much. It had been a long time since I had looked again at any of their texts. That’s why I had not realized how much they had affected me. In the exhibition there are all their reading lists, the war game that I had never seen up close. There are also texts and hilarious letters, all their exchanges with the CoBra group. It’s a magnificent hybridization.
OLIVIER ZAHM — When you’re staging a work, how does that work link to the Situationists?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — I don’t think all the spectators need to see the same thing. On the contrary, I think of the piece I did in 2009 for Performa in New York, where we were waiting for spectators who’d been sent elsewhere, where the performance itself was about the parallel time in which the audience couldn’t find the entrance to the theater. It was about exploring. What is great — when you allow yourself to drift, to slide — is that the journey itself is the performance… It’s almost the invention of the work en route. One of the ideas for the thing in New York was to say that the path you chose to go to the performance was more important, more promising than what was going to happen onstage in the hall, centered and framed for performance — you could not be more in situ than that!
OLIVIER ZAHM — I like that you recognize this, because it’s true that it had a major influence and in a way has more or less disappeared.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — I was lucky to have been one of the youngest occupiers of the University in Strasbourg, where my parents were studying when the Situationists were there. I heard this from my parents, it’s part of the family legend. Something beautiful happened with the publication of a book about the poverty in the student world. Graphically it was incredible; there’s nothing there that isn’t essential — anticipating conceptual art in an unexpected way.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Which brings us to the importance of books in your world panorama.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Exactly. A writer who I’m obsessed with is the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño — 2666 and The Savage Detectives. Bolaño was a friend of Enrique Vila-Matas, the great Spanish novelist, with whom I’ve had many exchanges since 2007. We “contaminate” each other deeply. Bolaño was born in Chile, but he went to Mexico because of Pinochet. He was first a poet, writing extremely radical poetry. Later, during the ’80s, he went to Barcelona, eking out a living as a campground custodian and writing a major book, one of the most important books today, at the level of a J.G. Ballard or a Franz Kafka. He was the kind of writer who gave you a contemporary perspective on the world and allowed you to identify aesthetic, representative moments of renewal.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How would you define this turning point?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — In the manner of Vila-Matas, each book is like a library of the world. Bolaño integrated the use of quotes and references — of course nowadays there are so many novels written using Google, delivering a certain amount of researched information — in the way Borges did it: literature that did not ignore certain amounts of reflection, thought, history, world politics, producing nearly realistic narrative environments, such that you did not feel the limits in the storytelling. With Bolaño I felt that this metabolization was perfect, speaking of a world where in the end there is no dissociation between that which is organic, artificial, and cultural. His novels were massive, and he apparently wrote them in longhand in notebooks, with his own drawings — we got to see them in a Barcelona exhibition, an absolutely panoramic literature. Sometimes when I’m in Rio, sitting on the terrace, and I see the surroundings: the cable car, Sugarloaf Mountain, the boats coming in, the airplanes landing in Santos Dumont, I think of Bolaño and his novels, 2666 and The Savage Detectives.
OLIVIER ZAHM — A vision is created, in stories with narration?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Oh yes, there are stories and characters. The books are easy to read. It may be experimental literature, but unlike other 20th-century experimental writing, Bolaño is completely accessible to the reader. But there is a construction, a density, and editing, which means it can only happen now.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Like Céline when he describes arriving in New York or in Africa? Céline can be read by everyone, yet at the time he created a completely contemporary landscape.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — That’s what Bolaño did, revitalizing our ideas about representation; he would include visual poems and drawings. There’s a whole new literature developing, half-graphic, half-written. And in the opera, this is one of the directions that interests me. In fact, when we are reworking this interview later, I would love to include some non-written moments and events. The other day I happened to see the text I wrote for Purple, which I sort of exploded graphically — it made me laugh. I had worked so hard on it, writing and rewriting it, and in the end I blew it all up.
OLIVIER ZAHM — 1927, what is that?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — It’s a panoramic novel I want to write, my dream book — I have lots of elements on 1927. It will be the most difficult, ultimate creation. At the same time, I love the idea of extended literature, the possibility of writing that is not limited to texts and books. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve achieved a hybridization between literature and space, which has produced its own forms. So it makes sense that my installation in the park in Münster is called A Münster Novel, that there are all these spaces for reading.
OLIVIER ZAHM — We should talk about parks. The Park was Philippe Sollers’ first novel — what a beautiful title.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — I ordered it the other day because for some reason I’ve never read it… A park is a model. Like film — I was able to identify what a park is, its rules. As in Sloterdijk’s ideas about the Human Park and the theme park, these moments that are “domesticated” yet exteriorized, outside — but which leave open the possibilities of an opposing exterior. When I created my Chambre en Ville (A Room in the City), this empty room where the only objects are a clock radio, a telephone, a newspaper — it was just before everything went digital — it was already a room informed by its exterior. And in counterpoint to that room, I could only see something outside, the park.
OLIVIER ZAHM — All your pieces are related to parks.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — After creating the rooms, it became my other model. The Desert Park in Inhotim, in Brazil, is quite Ballardian: it’s a collection of modernist bus shelters in a desertified section of tropical forest — a completely Ballardian situation. The bus stops are like mini-modernist pavilions, set down in the middle of nowhere over a bed of white desert sand. There are books there, too, all made of concrete. There are some benches; it’s a sort of observatory à la Caspar David Friedrich. There’s a sort of romanticism, a tension between the person looking and what he sees. This desert park is a way to present that tension, because you may be standing inside this arid bit of landscape, but you’re facing the jungle.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s an observatory as well as a space for waiting.
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Yes, waiting for a bus, which will, of course, never come. And it’s a tropical forest made into a desert, which is the worst thing that could happen. The entire park of Inhotim consists of pavilions and sculptures. So this work was like a reduced, dystopian, Situationist model, where the pavillions have become bus stops and the forest is gone.
OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s nothing left?
DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER — Nothing.
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