Stefano Boeri: Let’s start from the notion of editing. What is interesting in this show in Milan [organized by Trussardi Foundation] is the fact that you are using editing not only as a device in filmmaking, but also as a way to arrange the work in the exhibition space. Your show is a perceptual experience in a place that is a sequence of connected spaces. Just like watching a movie.
Anri Sala: I think I was absorbed by the idea of space soon after I started installing different works together in one larger space. When I work I start by creating a reality that I’ll be shooting. I also need to create a strong physical reality at the end with the projection. Do I need to build a box every time I want to install a projection? Does it need to be black? Is a black box a good enough reality? The way each film or video embraces space has certain qualities and handicaps, and it’s interesting to work with those limits. The first time I worked with space in this way was in Paris at the Musée d’art moderne (2003). I think I went the furthest in this respect with the show in Warsaw [Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, 2005] in a place bigger than here, in a museum space inside a castle. I worked a lot with controlling lighting and the viewer’s path.
SB: Were you also using monitors in that case?
AS: It was mainly projections, but also one monitor and some lighting. I also used a window as a light projector to filter the outdoor light. But the main work consisted of working with the floor by building slopes that would make you feel the gravity of your body differently each time you walked towards another projection.
SB: In this current exhibition I like the idea of the pathway.
AS: Yes, the idea of the pathway interests me each time I work with a space. For instance here in Circolo Filologico, you can see Long Sorrow twice during the parcours, and each time from a different level, and what interests me is the spontaneous editing between the movement in the film and the movement of the audience in the space. There is a lot of work done in the space that you don’t actually see because when you work with a space which is not neutral, like this one [the old building of the Circolo Filologico Milanese] you don’t only highlight the details of interest, but you also hide what you are not interested in. There is a lot of work here that isn’t immediately apparent.
SB: In a way you have made a site-specific work.
AS: In a way. I am not interested in the site-specificness of the location where the film is shot, but I am interested in making the show feel like a site-specific project. My feeling is that when you’re invited to make a show in a space, you should make it in such a way that your work or intervention invites the space back.
SB: Somehow you are creating an irreversible distance between you and the movie sphere. It seems that you are abandoning the idea of the cinema, of the projection, while at a certain point in your life you were close to the idea of working as a filmmaker. Now you are totally on another side, is this true?
AS: I never worked with film in a classical sense… I came from a painting background. What you sense as an approach towards cinema actually was a way to move away from what was art for me, because at some point, while I was still in Albania, I got fed up with all that was related to art. This is also why I started to get more and more interested in filmmaking.
SB: Was that a way to reduce the subjectivity, the arbitrary nature of the process, its authorship?
AS: Exactly. I got fed up with the instant gesture, the signature. There can be gesture too with the moving image, because I think there is always a gesture, but you don’t have this authorial gesture in the same way that you have it when you paint or draw. I appreciate the intermediary service of the camera as a go-between, a mediator between me and what’s around. It’s a way of seeing things that remains subjective and personal yet without involving a bodily gesture as a signature. Of course the use of the camera can be very physical too. When I was shooting the horse piece [Time after Time, 2003] for example, I remember finding a pace between my breathing and the use of the focus ring on the camera.
SB: But when you use the video camera it acts as an interface that is working between you and the subject of your gaze.
AS: Yes, and also the editing has the same function.
SB: Editing also allows you the possibility to change your shoots, to interpret and re-edit their sequence.
AS: Sometimes the editing can be even more creative than the actual shooting because in the editing process you have more time to get away from predictable ways of seeing things. Sometimes it is interesting to work on inefficient shoots because it brings you to unexpected solutions.
SB: Do you edit yourself or do you work with other editors?
AS: I start editing myself in order to bring the whole thing to a point where it’s ready to dialogue with the editor, who is not only someone proficient with the technical details, but someone who has the right critical distance from the filmed material.
SB: Is Long Sorrow film or digital video?
AS: It’s film. But projected as HD video… I am not obsessed with choosing between film and video.
SB: Is it a matter of aesthetics?
AS: Partially, but I am more interested in the aesthetics that come with the reality that you shoot, rather than the aesthetics of the support. How you modify, isolate, shape up, highlight or even create that piece of reality that will be recorded, calls for aesthetic choices before you even start shooting.
SB: So, you don’t care about the resolution of the images? Take the man in the church [Uomoduomo, 2001] for instance…
AS: It’s video….
SB: But it’s a very high quality one.
AS: Not really, it was shot with the first generation of the small DV cameras, which bring their own texture and quality to the image. I think it fits Uomoduomo better than HD video or film. It goes well with its voyeuristic and “by chance” nature.
SB: The problem is how to be straightforward using a certain tool without hiding it.
AS: The tool is a part of the process. One thing, which I like a lot with video or filmmaking and the projects that I am doing, is the preparation and production part of it. I like the idea that you have to negotiate with many obstacles, necessities. You have very tough moments with people, like I’ve occasionally had with the musician in Long Sorrow. It’s very close to life.
SB: You select things from who or what’s available around you…
AS: No, sometimes you have to find them far away. But what is important is that at the end everything and every detail seem necessary and irreplaceable: whether they were highly difficult, complex, sophisticated, or whether simple, cheap, available, done.
SB: What is the relationship between the characters of your videos and the space where they act? Long Sorrow takes place in Berlin. Why?
AS: My initial idea was to show something that at the beginning of the video you couldn’t tell what exactly it was, something left in the window. Then you start to realize that this ‘something’ is someone and that the music in the film is not just film music. Someone who looked like something behind the window plays the music. The film produces its own soundtrack through its protagonist. I imagined the musician to be black, although there was no objective reason behind that. I thought all these things without thinking specifically of Berlin, until I found the window in Berlin. I immediately liked the window and its view. Then eventually I learned about the view, the neighborhood, its architecture, which was built all from the ground up in the 1970s and has a very controversial history. Although it was conceived by praised architects of that time, shortly after it was built it was considered a ghetto. In Berlin there are few black people, so I was glad that Jemeel Moondoc, the black musician, isn’t the average local face. I liked that the presence in such a context of a ‘foreign body,’ like Jemeel, would resist an obvious contextual reading of the piece.
SB: Also the man in the church is someone you found by chance?
AS: Yes, completely.
SB: Now you are living in Berlin, but before you have been living in Paris. Why did you move to Berlin?
AS: I went to Paris in ’96 because I wanted to leave Albania after I finished my studies there and travel in a bigger world where I could see more and feel more. Edi Rama was in Paris and he helped me cope there in the beginning. Paris, especially if you go there as a student, is a very generous place. As for Berlin, where I live now… I do not speak German. I do speak a few languages so it’s not that I cannot learn a new language, but so far I’m not trying to learn German because I like to keep this vacuum between me and the city.