Back in 2009, Berlin artists Ambra Pittoni and Paul-Flavien Enriquez-Sarano, otherwise known as Ze Coeupel, set up the multiform investigation agency S.A.V.E. – the acronym that stands for nothing. Their work, by contrary, stands for everything. It is an ongoing ‘interrogation’ project which aims to challenge individual passivity and encourage socio-political upheaval. After making an appearance at 48 Stunden Neukölln this month, they are now exhibiting at the Centre for Contemporary Art, in Warsaw, until the end of August.
The performance artists interrogate their participants with the aim of interrogating, too, the notion of reality. The tactic, they hope, will destabilise their interviewees so as to liberate dialogue from any predetermined social dynamic. Above all, their art aims to ask whether Berlin is really the artists’ paradise that it masquerades as.
Throughout the ongoing project, Ze Coeupel have collected a mass of engaging fictional material from their staged scenarios; pieces which include signed photos, bureaucratic documents and audio recordings. Why? Because attempting to raise issues which they see as significant for humanity involves not only acting as theorists – nor merely reacting against nor rejecting trends – but by building maps in the hope of fictionalising and documenting reality.
# Your work interrogates the notion of reality. In doing this, you often employ actual interrogation tactics. Is this aim with similar aims to Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt (his destabilising and alienating theatrical technique)?
Ambra: There is, for sure, the desire to insinuate doubts in everyday life. When I read or listen to the news, I have the impression that I would need to check different sources and, at the end, I would still doubt about the truth… It is within this contemporary chaos that we use S.A.V.E. to scare people, or to reassure them, depending on their positions. We build entire maps of actions which might manifest in public performance. But most of the time our actions are inscribed in daily life, they become our life, we dress as if we were bureaucrats and we think and act as if it was a real work.
Paul-Flavien: We use demagogy in order to transform the words, the alibis, in a completely unexpected way. It is a way to destabilise the person we have in front of us. In emptying the words, we can also renew and open the dialogue, liberating the interlocutor from certain predetermined behaviours and basic premises. It helps to deconstruct social acquired reflexes and a priori.
# What are the social aims of your art, if any? Do they relate to any particular aspect of society in Berlin?
Ambra: Personally, I do not see social aims in our art, but rather a way to do art in a social way – sharing, and inviting people to participate.
Paul-Flavien: Each S.A.V.E. is related to a territory but, even if we are based in Berlin – and therefore Berlin must certainly have influenced our work – we want to reflect in a broader scale. If we reflect on the artist condition in Berlin, the work is a broader reflection on the general condition and commitment of artists.
# Is your art very politicised?
Ambra: Again, I think we make art in a political way, but we do not make political art.
Paul-Flavien: Our work has a strong political aspect, but no militancy. We take position. We try to raise and discuss issues we consider as relevant for our time. Acting with and within the audience, we try to improve individual consciences. Paradoxically, fictionalizing reality we tend to create real contents. We work as mythologist, deconstructing simulacrums. That is totally political.
# Should art be politicised?
Ambra: If politicised means to be a party militant, I do not think this is the task of art today. Surely today’s political discourse is imbued with coarse and seems to have abandoned the ideals and faith of the electorate. People are treated like customers of a department store… In this sense, art can talk about things that are no longer being treated by politicians and bring to light significant values for humanity in general.
Paul-Flavien: I am convinced it is no more conceivable to produce art in a non-political way. Some would say that art is always politicised, no matter the form it takes. I believe – thinking about the recent events in Europe and in the world – that art must chose now a position in the public debate or it will only be considered as an extension of the ‘current’ or ‘old’ system. We cannot live and work as if nothing was about to change – perhaps radically. Artists are struggling to fit in the art world. We tend to forget that art must be an instrument of social and cultural upheaval. We cannot also act like our predecessors, as if we could only be the theorists of this upheaval. Almost everything has been already said, written, filmed, captured, shot. The post-war theorization, philosophers, sociologist, artists, have already laid all the foundations we need to understand what are dangers there and how to avoid them. We must continue to improve our knowledge and to spread it. Artists must now be real actors. I do not mean leaders, but real actors. Art must take a position.
# What are your views on gentrification in Berlin?
Ambra: Here, there is – I think – a crucial point about the roles of artists in this mechanism. Most of the artist community is poor, but they have a strong (sometimes unconscious) role in the urban development and rising real-estate prices.
Paul-Flavien: I, too, am not convinced that the fault is exclusively the authorities’. The lack of legal structure is certainly a major fact, but individual passivity and cynicism carry a part of the responsibility. Every little abdication we accept regarding the city or the country we live in contributes to the deterioration or the non-fulfilment of our aspirations. S.A.V.E. deals exactly with this issue; every time we take something for granted – space availability, prices, ideas, and convictions – we multiply contingencies…
Ambra: In a way, S.A.V.E. is an attempt to propose different ways to react and to raise issues through art. As the post-modern period is gone and, everything that Guy Debord and Andy Warhol anticipated has happened, I believe that it is no more possible to set only cynicism against the system. We must find alternative, sophisticated artistic practices, and means to produce knowledge.