Fall 2010: v.06 n.02: Dynamic Coupling
In the Summer 2010 a group of six artists who barely knew each other embarked on a journey to Chernobyl, to develop a secretive “Plan C.” The story is not clear at all, and it will probably never be. They came from different parts of Europe and the US, and they had an appointment. Nobody knew about their final destination, nobody knew about Plan C. They told friends vague stories about “entering The Zone” and “throwing metal nuts”. They had one thing in common: an obsession for Tarkovsky’s 1979 movie Stalker. What happened after is still a secret. See project documentation at: www.PlanC.cc/project.html
How much time do you spend together? Do you live together or share a studio, or do you just get together to work on projects as they come up?
EM: We’re always together, we live together, work together, sleep together. Actually, Franco cannot stay alone, he’d freak out.
When you are working on something do you schedule structured time together in a physical space, or meet online, or is it more organic than that?
All of the above.
Do you keep your personal/professional lives separate, or have they become seamless and indistinct? Is this okay?
FM: Our personal and professional lives are totally indistinct. Like having ideas while sleeping, or making love when you’re supposed to be working.
Can you, or do you, turn off your research/studio practice(s)?
EM: We don’t have a studio, just laptops. We work wherever we are, so it’s hard to turn them off.
When and how did you meet each other and under what circumstances?
We met in Madrid in ’94, while backpacking around Europe by train.
At what point did you start making work together?
Immediately. We started stealing pieces of art from the works of our favorite artists all around the US and Europe.
Was there a growing period, when you had to get a feel for each other’s process/priorities, learn how to communicate – or did you click right away?
FM: There was no growing. We immediately quit what we were doing independently and began working on things together. Before knowing each other Eva was a graffiti writer and I was playing in a Skinhead band. Had I not met her, god knows where I would have ended up. I was lucky.
Do you gravitate towards roles in your practice – based on strengths, or personality, or skills? Or is every project a different kind of adventure?
We are interchangeable and every project is a big question mark.
How do you generate the concepts you work with? Do you draw, write, photograph, or do any sort of regular background practice? Is this a shared thing?
FM: I cannot draw, nor sculpt nor paint nor shoot video. I’m not even very creative in fact. So we watch a lot of movies, read novels and talk, a lot.
How do you make choices and negotiate decisions about what direction to take with projects?
EM: Franco wakes up at night trying to convince me he just had a genius idea. Most of the times they are super dumb ideas, but once in a while there’s an okay one. If he can convince me, we’ll do it; otherwise we drop it. And the same is for me: I must convince him. And it’s harder than you’d think. We’re way more critical towards each other than towards the others.
Does your collaboration ever involve more people? If no, why not? If yes, then when and how does that work?
FM: Absolutely, our best friends are pretty amazing characters and most of our ideas come from hanging out with them. Now for example: tomorrow we’re leaving for Chernobyl, for a rather weird project, together with four friends of ours. The whole idea came from a bar in Barcelona, where Eva got really drunk with machine artist Ryan Doyle, and saying how great it’d be to go to Chernobyl together in the future. And here we’re now, leaving. She had just met Doyle that same night.
Will you describe a project that didn’t work out or you didn’t follow through on? Can you describe something that you couldn’t agree on or you didn’t feel like you were both “into?”
EM: There is plenty of them and they are the best ones to me, the most radical ones, the ones we didn’t dare to do. Once we wanted to spy on a person online for an entire year. We started collecting private information, emails, photos, invitations to weddings and birthdays . . . but never finished the project. Every now and then we have a look to what this person is doing, after all these years. I know it’s a bit sick.
Do you make your own work in addition to the collaborative work, and what sort of need does this fill?
FM: Eva cannot drive, so I do all the driving, but I don’t know where to go, ‘cause I have zero sense of orientation, while she’s a kind of living GPS. Everything else is done pretty much by both.
What are the strengths in working collaboratively and what are the challenges in working collaboratively?
FM: I wouldn’t really know what to do alone, so no way.
What sort of theory, cultural circumstances, or life scenarios influence or inform your decision to work collaboratively? Would you say that your collaboration is philosophically driven, or more pragmatic?
FM: Honestly I don’t know since I never worked alone. We were either part of some artist group or punk band or graffiti crew or mysterious conspiracy network like Luther Blissett, or we were the two of us. We don’t function alone.
If you teach, how does collaborative practice inform the way you facilitate student projects and teach studio courses?
FM: I don’t know any alternative. I really don’t understand how people can work not collaboratively. How does it work? You sit in your desk and start thinking? I need people around all the time.
If you teach, do you co-teach? If you do co-teach, how has that been received by the students, and how has this been received in the academic institutions you have worked with?
EM: When we give lectures we always stress the fact that we are part of a broader network. People help us, and we love getting involved in friends’ projects, be it distributing copies of the fake New York Times or going to some Brooklyn rooftop to hang billboards or god knows what. But it doesn’t begin with the decision of working collaboratively per se; it starts with a precise goal that needs help, and then people get involved because they like the idea.
Please point to us at a project or projects you would like to describe. Include links or attach files. If relevant, share with us a sense of the collaborative back-and-forth that may have gone into planning and making the work.
This is United We Stand, an advertisement campaign for a non-existent movie. It’s very hard and kind of boring to hang posters alone; it is much better doing it with friends.
And if you get arrested you have somebody taking a nice picture:
Eva and Franco Mattes are the Brooklyn-based artist-provocateurs behind the infamous website 0100101110101101.org. Since meeting in Madrid in 1994 they have never separated, and live a nomadic life throughout Europe and the US.
Among the pioneers of the Net Art movement, they are renowned for their masterful subversion of public media. Over the last fifteen years, the Mattes have manipulated video games, Internet technologies, feature films and street advertising to reveal truths concealed by contemporary society. They have created media facades believable enough to elicit embarrassing reactions from governments, the public and the art world, and they have orchestrated several unpredictable mass performances, staged outside art spaces and have involved unwitting audiences in scenarios that mingle truth and falsehood to the point of being indistinguishable. They caught the mainstream art world with its pants down with the invention of Darko Maver: this reclusive, radical artist achieved cult status and was featured in the Venice Biennale before turning out to be pure fiction. Their unusual performances include affixing fake architectural heritage plaques (An Ordinary Building, 2006), rolling out a media campaign for a non-existent action movie (United We Stand, 2005) and even convincing the people of Vienna that Nike had purchased the city’s historic Karlsplatz and was about to rename it Nikeplatz (Nike Ground, 2003). Their art has been featured at the Venice Biennale (2001), the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2001), Manifesta, Frankfurt (2002) and in various venues worldwide, including the New Museum, New York (2005), Collection Lambert, Avignon (2006), Performa, New York (2007 and 2009) and PS1, New York (2010).