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Venice Biennale 2009: interview with Aleksandra Mir

biennalelogoAleksandra Mir, born in Lubin, Poland, in 1967, she is now an US citizen but she currently lives in Palermo, Sicily. Aleksandra is going to exhibit her artworks in Venice at the 53rd Biennale of Art. Her artistic career began in 1995 and since then she has been working with several media such as photography, video, writing and she has made various noteworthy performances in Italy and all over the world. Her complete curriculum vitae can be seen on her official website together with her artworks and books which can be downloaded. Aleksandra kindly accepted to answer to our questions regarding her work and her exhibition in Venice. Many thanks to Edwige Cochois, Aleksandra Mir’s assistant, for her indispensable help.

For the Italian version of this interview, please click here.

Q. The first question is obviously: what are you going to show at the  Biennale?

A. I have printed 1 million fake postcards of Venice, entitled “VENEZIA (all places contain all others)“. The cards depict a range of waterways from around the world: frozen Nordic rivers, desert springs in Sahara, beaches in Miami, skylines of the shores of Sydney and Manhattan, lakes from German forests, the fountains of Paris.

The postcards are free giveaways to the public of the Biennale. You can take one home, or write them on the spot and send them out to your relations in the world through two Poste Italiane mailboxes that have been installed as part of the work and that will be emptied daily by an actual postman.

Aleksandra Mir: "VENEZIA (all places contain all others)"

Aleksandra Mir: “VENEZIA (all places contain all others)”

I have been interested in: Demography. Ephemera. Distribution. Tourist economies. Truth. Authenticity.  Representation. Water as a symbol for globalization. Water as the constitution of our bodies. Water as determining the borders of our national geographies. Water as carrier and distributor of pollution. Water as language. Venice as extended out to the world’s oceans, rivers, lakes and ponds. Venice in every molecule of the rain.

Q. In an interview with Brian Sherwin (no more available, May 2014) you said that your most important exhibition was in 1996 in Copenhagen because of its dynamism and freedom. What do you feel might be the result of exposing at the Biennale, in such a sacred and revered place for contemporary Art but at the same time a place where the artist’s creativity may be bound and influenced by this (over?)exposure?

A. I don’t feel that exposure itself is a danger. The artist is really not so relevant here and one’s persona can easily be managed. I have for example completely limited the PR around me and do very few interviews like this one, mainly because of my limitation of time and that it easily gets repetitive and boring. These are simple administrative measures that one can easily control.

It always comes down to the work though. If the work and the production apparatus set up for it can handle the pressure or not, this is what matters. The management and logistics around printing, shipping and distributing 1 million postcards which weighs 13 tonnes and arrives to Venice on 3 truckloads is an immense undertaking for everyone involved. I can only be grateful that the work has been accepted by the organizers of the show. And yes, this Biennale feels just as fun, risky and experimental as that initial show in Copenhagen did for me then. To be honest, I have no idea of what is going to happen.


Aleksandra Mir: Triumph

Q. Can you tell a name of a classic artist that has guided you through your artistic education?

A. ‘Classic’ for me would be the both humble and fiercly political American 60-70s: Fluxus, Allan Kaprow, Eleanor Antin, Vito Acconci, Hannah Wilke, Ray Johnson, et al. These were the first artists I looked at in art school in New York in the early 90s.

Q. And what about a contemporary artist?

A. Whether I relate to individual works or not, my contemporaries are my most influential teachers. With all the egos that abound, I still believe each generation is involved in a collective project to depict their own time. I am very proud of mine.

Q. Picasso said: “Painting is an offensive and defensive instrument of war against the enemy”. Who do you think is the enemy today? If there is any, of course…

A. I don’t know. Only that my own enemy is always my own complacency and ignorance, my inclination to be lazy and to accept receive wisdom without further investigation or curiosity. Any anger is therefore best directed inwards, to kickstart the machinery and to make things truly happen and change. Anything else would seem like misguided frustration outwards and towards a purely invisible enemy — the first sign of insanity.

Q. Now let’s talk a little about your artworks. I found ‘Living & Loving’ you and Polly Staple’ biographies of “ordinary people” very impressive, how did they originate?

A. See: (Sorry, the link doesn’t work anymore)


Aleksandra Mir & Lisa Anne Auerbach: Marzarama

Q. ‘Marzarama‘, 2008, your performance with Lisa Anne Auerbach where you repaired with marzipan the broken noses, fingers and hands of various antique sculptures at the Gallery of plaster casts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples. Was this a homage or a debunking act?

A. It could work both ways. It was a very difficult project to realize. We finally managed to squeeze it through the loophole of ambiguity thanks to the very wonderful Professor and expert restorer Augusto Giuffredi who runs the Gipsoteca, loved the idea and let us loose in his newly restored gallery of priceless cast.

Q. You have been the curator of Donna/Woman an art show with Laboratorio Saccardi in Palermo; you have worked with 16 assistants in ‘The Church of Sharpie’,  and finally you often collaborate Polly Staple and with Lisa Anne Auerbach: it seems that collaboration plays a fundamental role for you.

A. Yes, I like people.

Q. Do you think that feminism is still relevant? Your work ‘The first Woman on the Moon’, 1999, can it be considered as a feminist work? How much does politic count in your work?


Aleksandra Mir: First woman on the Moon

A. Of course. Maybe. A lot.

But the work is open-ended. I received both congratulatory telegrams from Australian gender studies departments, as well as hate mail from American feminists who opposed my conflation of gender issues with imperialism (The use of the American flag in Holland). I also received severe protests from the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, contesting NASA’s monopoly on space travel, and saying that my work was showing the mere impotence of regular people’s capacity for space travel, as I wasn’t really intending to ‘go anywhere’ but muck around in the sands. I get all sorts of readings and that is my point, keeping the ball in the air. If the work can serve you in any way and you can kick the ball further, it is relevant.

Q. Now it has been 3 years that you have been living in Italy: can you tell us something good and something bad about our Country?

A. Not really, for I don’t perceive myself as living in Italy. I moved to Palermo for its very specific qualities and by now I am a local here, but only here. I have a normal life, dealing with personal relationships, traffic, weather, TV, and bureaucracies, for good and for bad, like anybody, anywhere else.

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