Q/A Barbara Steiner

 Photo: Walther Le Kon

What was most important about 90s art?

The impromptu nature of it all. It was about playing a kind of game with rules that could be broken at any time. In 1994, I curated the exhibition “Lost Paradise” at Kunstraum Wien, which included Jeremy Deller, Liam Gillick, Christine Hill, Irene & Christine Hohenbüchler, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno, Jeanette Schulz, Rirkrit Tiravanija and others. The works “began” at different times, reacted to one another, incorporated chance happenings, wandered out of the exhibition, and ended after a number of hours, days or weeks – for example when the funding ran out. Ultimately, it was a chain of events that also integrated objects. There was no precise schedule, just some starting points and a loosely defined framework, which gave the exhibition a highly ephemeral quality and also led to some permanent shifts.

Liam Gillick’s Lost Paradise Information Service had the playful levity that was so characteristic of the time. This work was a freewheeling “parallel activity” that constantly crossed paths with other channels of information (mine included), and remained pretty fragmentary throughout. Among other things, Liam designed 25 different exhibition titles that he printed out on sheets of A4 coloured paper and hung in the windows. He faxed handwritten messages from various places, spent an entire day with a single interested visitor, and used other projects he had during the run of show to talk about “Lost Paradise”. He once wrote, “I am not sure where the talks will take place.” At some point Jorge Pardo decided to make an orange Pedestal for Liam Gillick, a tongue-in-cheek way of putting the artist up on a pedestal. Liam, in turn, actually spent some time sleeping on the orange disc.

I’ve singled out Liam’s work here because it so clearly illustrates how the situation has changed. In 2014, his piece was reactivated by students at the École du Magasin in Grenoble, where his process-driven, spare work, which posed more questions than answers, was transformed into three flawlessly designed posters and a Skype account under the name LostParadiseInformationService. The flow of information had become more consistent and the focus had turned to “education strategies”. I found this reactivation of the work quite exciting for how it basically translated the work into the present. Hardly anybody actually saw “Lost Paradise”. Today, pictures of Gillick sleeping would be posted online immediately.

Translated by Isobel Flett 

Barbara Steiner is a curator, writer and publisher. She was director of the Stiftung Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig from 2001 to 2011. In October 2015, she is taking up a post as professor of curatorial cultures at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst in Leipzig.