DECEMBER 2003/JANUARY 2004

Aleksandra Mir

[ARTIST]

“I LITERALLY GO TO THE OPPOSITE END OF THE WORLD, TO THE MOST EXOTIC FARAWAY PLACES I POSSIBLY CAN, ONLY TO FIND THE CLOSEST THINGS TO ME WHEN I GET THERE. I TRY TO MAKE THAT TENSION ALMOST STUPIDLY OVERT IN MY PROJECTS, ALMOST RIDICULOUSLY SO.”
Firsts on the Moon, 1999:
Woman
Black Man
German
Champagne
Kids
Mario Testino

In 1999 on a Dutch beach, Aleksandra Mir constructed a lunar landscape out of sand, erected an American flag on the highest peak, and declared herself “The First Woman on the Moon.” The year before, in Norway, Mir teamed up with a local unemployment agency and showed a series of Hollywood disaster films, running them only during work hours, for the city’s unemployed. In Denmark in 1996, she set up twenty-six speakers in a town square and broadcast the sound of men whistling as women walked by. Earlier this year, she proposed the building of an exact-scale replica of Stonehenge, only a few miles from the original site. Unlike the first, “Stonehenge II” would offer full access to visitors—down to a “Stonehenge” soccer team that would use the rocks as goalposts.

Certainly the aforementioned productions are not spun from the mind of an artist particularly comfortable working within the safe confines of traditional art practices. In fact, Aleksandra Mir could be accused of not practicing safe art at all. While much of the New York art community is still hermetically limited to the boundaries of white gallery walls, this thirty-six-year old Polish-born Swedish citizen (who currently lives in Manhattan) seems to go out of her way to destroy the convention that good art is made by an artist in one space and delivered to a quiet viewing public in another. Mir’s work is disruptive and ever-evolving; audience reactions are often just as crucial as the initial piece itself. And, best of all, her work refuses to stick to national borders, observe the codes, follow the peace, comb its hair, and keep to itself.

Mir operates in the school of anthropology. She researches like a social scientist and travels the planet doing fieldwork for a single production. Probably her most famous series of works, “Hello,” has thus far been made seven times, and each of them could be considered ongoing. “Hello” is a photographic daisy chain that links people of all walks of life and times and circumstances together, shot-by-shot. In one photo we get Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner. In the next, John Warner and George W. Bush. Then George W. Bush–Bush Senior, Bush Senior–Björn Borg, until eventually a snowman is linked to the Duke of Windsor to Ursula Andress to an anonymous child vacationing in Switzerland to possibly you yourself. (Look out for Mir’s “Hello” at this spring’s Whitney Biennial where she will link founder Gloria Vanderbult Whitney to pop star Whitney Houston.)

In another work, Mir has made it her role to give names to all the streets in Tokyo, collecting lists from friends and colleagues, and applying them to a Tokyo map. The project will only be considered complete when actual street signs of her Western appellations are put up and you and I are on vacation looking for the Mori Art Museum on a boulevard called “Sweet Black Angel.” There is an old adage that says culture works best when we don’t know it’s working at all. If that is so, Mir drills holes in the world around us and exposes the conventions, hidden rules, and social politics behind everything from Stonehenge to the Concorde to Neil Armstrong’s walk across the Moon.

—Christopher Bollen

I. HELLO

THE BELIEVER: You were born in Poland, right?

ALEKSANDRA MIR: Yes, I was.

STRANGER: [Approaching table] Hey, man, I overheard that you’re a writer. This is Johnny Valiant [points to beefy peroxide-haired male friend, then hands out flyer for one-man show]. He’s a former wrestler. He’s got a one-man show. You should write about him. [Exits]

BLVR: Thanks.

AM: [Laughs] This starts very well. Yes, I was born in Poland in 1967 and was raised in Sweden. I’m a Swedish citizen.

BLVR: How did you get from Poland to Sweden to New York?

AM: I moved to Sweden with my parents in 1972 when I was five years old. After high school, I wanted to work in publishing, so I first studied media and communications in my hometown of Gothenburg. In 1989 I came to New York to go to the School of Visual Arts. Then, after two years, I switched over to the New School for Social Research and did cultural anthropology in the graduate school there.

BLVR: Those three disciplines make sense when considering your work. But when you first switched to anthropology, did you have any intention of continuing in art or was that out the window?

AM: Really the moment I decided I wanted to do art seriously, I left art school. I wanted to be with people who were interested in the same things I was: popular culture. I was a lousy academic. I spent most of my time in the cafeteria. But I met fantastic people from all kinds of fields; law, medicine, history, and they eventually dispersed all over the world to do their fieldwork. I liked the way these people committed to the long term in a sincere, visionary way. Their projects weren’t about “next season.” They were ten-year commitments. They were lifestyle choices that had traditions of fieldwork built into them—moving around, living on location, discipline, a real rigor for research. It was also a very troubled moment in anthropology, which made it very exciting.

BLVR: How was it troubled?

AM: For a discipline that was born out of colonialism, it is a dilemma how to continue now. Everyone seemed nervous about what they were doing, trying to figure out the new ethical approach to their subjects. I wouldn’t say the anthropologists were making art, but they were definitely justifying their practices with very personal reasoning, passion, and they were also experimenting with form. There was a sense of trying to be as sincere as possible, whether you were investigating something far away from you or very close.

BLVR: Your work is definitely more anthropological than most traditional art practices. Your pieces are “projects” rather than “objects.” Are the things you’ve chosen to investigate far away from you or very close?

AM: It’s really a bridge between the two. I find myself doing fieldwork physically, in the tradition of anthropology. I literally go to the opposite end of the world, to the most exotic faraway places I possibly can, only to find the closest things to me when I get there. I try to make that tension almost stupidly overt in my projects, almost ridiculously so. I keep coming back to the same obvious points again and again.

BLVR: So much of your work is about that kind of travel and making bridges. Take “Hello” (2000–ongoing), your photographic chains. Each segment of the chain is a photograph of two people. But, when linked with each proceeding picture, those two-person connections go in limitless, unforeseen directions.

AM: It’s a six-degrees-of-separation style photo chain, and because it’s photo-based, it’s also an investigation of the very nature of photography. I use found photography from every imaginable source: historical, recent, professional, amateur, political in intent or not. I work with a huge pool of information.

BLVR: And you’ve done “Hello” several times, and each time it’s connected to the specific city or environment in which you start, correct?

AM: I’ve done it in seven cities around the world so far. The logic is to connect all of these seemingly random lives together, person by person. But between the two pictures there might be a gap of forty years. There’s a time element. There could be a black-and-white studio photograph of you as a baby and then in the next, a color snapshot of you as an adult. It edits your life down to two images, which is really horrendously crude. But that’s all you get. With that editorial decision, I have tremendous manipulative power. For instance, I cut out Bridget Bardot’s whole career, because I have a picture of her as a teenager and then as an old woman, with nothing of her as the sex symbol we know from cinema. So “Hello” fucks with fame as well, because fame is so relative to its moment and place. That’s another thing “Hello” does. It equalizes everyone in the piece. Andy Warhol is two steps from this anonymous Icelandic family who was on vacation in L.A. once. During a Tom Jones book-signing the family attended, Jones held up the baby for the camera. So, it’s Icelandic baby–Tom Jones; Tom Jones–Liza Minelli; Liza Minelli–Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol, the father of celebrity cool, is undermined by just being another guy in the sea of events, you know.

BLVR: But you must start with one person and go from there. Otherwise it must be chaos. It could go anywhere. Is there a starting point?

AM: No. “Hello” is always presented as a linear narrative, a singular chain, sometimes in a loop. But the reality of making it is that connections are naturally sprawling all over the place, so I am free to edit any way I want. In a way I am saying the nation-state doesn’t exist, borders don’t exist, you can try going anywhere. It is a kind of pre-Internet consensus I always had in me. But it is very much based on real people’s actual holidays, marriages, and relationships, which, aside from the big migratory schemes, are quite serious motivating factors in where people end up doing what they do. They fall in love. They take jobs. They go on vacation and meet other people. I follow these intimate connections of strangers and, surprise!, end up finding even myself in the work at some point.

BLVR: But how do you finally organize it all in one strain? There must be constant dead ends.

AM: I am continuously working on it and occasionally report back in an exhibition of anywhere from three to 333 images—that’s the longest chain I’ve done. “Hello” is pseudoscience. The only smart way to read it is not to believe in it, not to trust it, or to put yourself in it and imagine what’s out there that you haven’t been told or seen. It’s interactive because people come back and bring in their photos and say, “I know where this could go. We could take it that way.” Next thing I know, I’m visiting their grandma. It’s a lot like running an airport. You have to be aware of what’s coming and going and watch for crashes, which, in this case, are lucky circumstances.

II.NAMING TOKYO

BLVR: “Hello” is ongoing, like so many of your works. There is no ultimated stage or final product. In another current work, “Naming Tokyo” (2003-ongoing), you are literally naming all of the streets in Tokyo.

AM: There are ends, occasionally, with projects. That happens. But they are natural dead ends. It’s usually the outside situation that demands an ending. I never really settle for one. I think the optimal artwork is in constant circulation with the world around itself. Seeing your work go into storage in an art museum is obviously a tragedy of any cultural product—which doesn’t mean I am anti-institutional. “Naming Tokyo” kicked off at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in June, and it’s going to travel to various art institutions for years to come. Every time it is shown, I’m developing the research and involving more and more people in it. The final conclusion of the work would eventually be to put up street signs in Tokyo with my names on them.

BLVR: There are countless streets in Tokyo, so you could go on forever. How many are you collecting? I’m sure you haven’t gotten to them all.

AM: One part of the project now is to expand on the city itself. But another is to figure out how these names can become used and indispensable to culture. This can be tricky, since my point is also to give Tokyo street names from Western sources only.

BLVR: At first, when I looked at the list of street names your friends have generated, they seem totally random. Artist Jeremy Blake picked Rolling Stones album titles. Artist Christian Holstad did names of lady Black Panther leaders. Craig Kalpakjian did the Moon’s seas. Completely random, right? But when you matched the names to streets in Tokyo, you deliberately fit names to locations. You put “Death” as the road that runs by the cemetery. “Exile on Main Street” is in the area where Tokyo first opened up trade routes in 1867. You placed the Black Panthers in the administrative sector. “Kathleen Cleaver” runs by the Ministry of Justice. These names make sense.

AM: Yes, and it’s important to know that I’ve never been to Tokyo. For two weeks I read every guidebook on the city available in New York. I studied not Tokyo but the guidebooks. I have to take those sources very seriously, as seriously as someone would take physical Tokyo. It’s a city that has been bombed and rebuilt, destroyed and reemerged. There are so many levels of ruins there that you can decide on what level you want to work. I’ve decided to work on the guidebook level [laughs]. That’s my reality. Mapping it out is one thing. But then I thought about how this system could come into being. You can imagine a totalitarian dictatorship coming in and saying, “This is the new order. There are the new streets.” I don’t think that’s going to be my way.

BLVR: So how do you propose getting people to use your names?

AM: First we decided to distribute these maps as freebies, so there are 10,000 maps floating around in Paris right now. Probably half of them are trashed, the rest sitting in people’s bathrooms as jokes.

BLVR: And hopefully a few French tourists in Tokyo right now are looking for “the Sea of Tranquility.”

AM: Hopefully. And the next step would be to put out a guidebook with all of the McDonald’s, art museums, and tourist destinations marked with my street names. I realized at some point that the answer is in how language itself works, by virtue of cross-reference. People agree on what things are called and what they refer to. That is my service as well—giving them names to use.

BLVR: We talked about colonialism before. Have you gotten any negative responses from the citizens of Tokyo who are appalled that you are naming the streets for them?

AM: Because I’m so extremely well prepared for negative response, I’ve taken precautions. There is already a discussion on the Internet about this, on whether this is a colonialist act. Of course there is a logic to Tokyo already. You can find your way around and you don’t need my Western street names. But when I launched this in Paris, I asked the organizers to arrange for me an official handover ceremony with Japanese diplomats, just to cover my back. There are Mr. and Mrs. Odaka, General Directors for “La Maison de la Culture du Japon,” and I’m there like, “Here’s your new Tokyo map,” and they loved it. So I think my diplomatic channels are clear. If anyone has a problem they can complain to their Japanese representatives in Paris. Of course, I’d welcome protest. Good criticism is hard to find.

BLVR: It’s rather democratic in a way. You are allowing multiple players in on the project.

AM: Yeah, there is an email address on the map, where you can propose streets to add. I’m really trying to use the broadest public understanding of Tokyo that I can. One of my favorite contributions is by Teresa Duncan, a screenwriter from L.A. She made up fake Japanese names, and, when she gave it to me, said, “This represents my misapprehension and total ignorance of Japanese.” Art collector Andy Stillpass, a former car dealer, wanted to celebrate the Detroit car industry by sending me the complete lineup of the 2003 Chevrolet models. I put his names around Tokyo’s Toyota Amlux, the world’s largest automotive showroom. Maybe that’s two cultures shaking hands, maybe not.

III. WERE YOU USING
THE EXACT SAME KIND
OF ROCK AS STONEHENGE?

BLVR: You’ve had public projects in the past that you proposed, but unfortunately never came to fruition. For example, “Skyscraper” (1998), a sculpture—to be erected on Secretary’s Day—of office filing cabinets stacked on top of each other towering up to the sky. Or “CityForest” (1997), New York’s tossed-away Christmas trees, after the holidays, collected and replanted in a public park.

AM: They still exist as collages, models, or prototypes, but it’s just the nature of public work. You can’t always get what you want.

BLVR: You tried to get all of them constructed, though. You were going to make a wildflower meadow in an impoverished Glasgow neighborhood undergoing redevelopment (“Wildflower Meadow,” 2001). But because you said that one of the several intended uses of the meadow would be to serve as a place for teenagers to go to have sex, it was immediately banned from the roster.

AM: My purpose isn’t to be confrontational. My purpose is to find out about the world and play myself against it to the extent that it is even conceivable. I’ve had work cancelled by the New York fire brigade. I can take the rejection. And you revisit those projects later on and see how you’ve changed, how the project has changed, how society has changed.

BLVR: Your works are interesting that way, because built-in to the situation of how you present them is the immediate public reaction. You’ve done a lot of work with replicas, for example, which I’m sure unnerved a lot of people’s taste for the authentic. You’re working on building “Stonehenge II” (1998–ongoing), a replica of Stonehenge only a few miles from the original Stonehenge site. It’s like those caves in Lascaux, France, famous for their ancient cave paintings. The tourists tramping through the caves have ruined the paintings, so nearby they constructed fake caves with fake paintings for all the tourists to visit as if they were the real thing.

AM: The Stonehenge proposal got a lot of interesting criticism. One of the best—or worst—said something like, “Go home to Las Vegas.” I think this project could possibly be realized at a very late part of my career. Right now, I don’t have the authority, the budget, the credibility.

BLVR: Were you using the exact same kind of rock as Stonehenge?

AM: Oh no, it’s just some fiberglass look-alike. But I don’t have the access. I want them to be really close to each other. I knew when I tried to pursue it and follow those channels that it would be doubtful. But the pursuit itself is really important in deciding what culture is and what it is worth. I’m completely uninterested in the origins of Stonehenge. I don’t care about the real story behind it or whether it should be saved or not. What I’m interested in is this: in the Victorian era, you could go there as an early cultural tourist and you were given a chisel to chip off a bit of the stones and take it with you. That’s what you did in Victorian times. Stonehenge had an aura but it was also just stone. Then in the sixties, it became a great hedonistic, hippie, druid, rock-n-roll party site. There are amazing pictures of people up on the stones going wild and that’s the image I recreated for my model of the project: full access to everyone. I even invented a Stonehenge soccer team that uses spaces between the stones as goals. But now, since the eighties, you have this super-concerned English Heritage task force saying, “Oh my god, we have a special thing of value here and we need to protect it for future generations by any means possible. We have to try to make it look the way we think it should have looked. And the visitor’s center goes over there.” I think the motivation for that is a combination of scientific interest, mysticism, sentimentality, national pride, and just as well another version of opportunism in making this attraction last for the future tourism industry. But there is a reality to this idea that heritage should be protected at all costs. People get upset when Baghdad, the “Cradle of Civilization” is burning, or when the Buddhas in Afghanistan are falling. These are real concerns.

BLVR: Culture wants to save its icons of the past for its future. Aren’t those your concerns at all?

AM: Well, looking pragmatically, I don’t have an emotional tie to these things such that I think they are more important than anything else I see around me. The idea of their being old doesn’t really justify anything to me. Of course I can have a simple reaction of sympathy and sorrow to destruction. But you also know that you can’t have new things if you don’t occasionally destroy the old. That’s something you’re really not allowed to say because things are often destroyed according to particular power relations so it means taking a stand in those cases, which I am not really interested in doing either. I think I am simply interested in looking.

IV. A MOON THAT WENT UP AND
DOWN IN A SINGLE DAY

BLVR: You did another project relating to replicas and travel. You remade the Moon in “The First Woman on the Moon” (1999). You created a Moon crater from sand on a Dutch beach and stuck an American flag at its peak. Didn’t you even have a conspiracy theorist come in and talk about how the original Moon landing was all a Hollywood creation?

AM: This all happened in stages. A lot of projects are sparked by contemporary events. This project happened to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the original Moon landing, which took place in 1969. I was invited by Casco Projects, a tiny nonprofit organization in Holland, to do something site-specific, and I chose the beaches as the site and the summer of 1999 to do it. I wanted, in some way, to comment on the politics of locations as such. Dutch beaches were known to me as man-made territories, as part of various land reclamation projects. But I was also interested in the media reality of the Moon landing. I wanted to use that event as a measure of time, to see what had happened in those thirty years—which happens to be my lifetime as well. I was born in 1967 and I remember seeing the Moon landing on TV when I was two. All those things were in play. Then it became a big production. It took five months to gather up the goodwill and make it happen. I mean, it was really a zero-budget production. It’s a joke. We made it on nothing, and eventually we pulled in fifty volunteers, two municipalities, a steel factory, and three TV stations. It became a megaproduction that looked like Hollywood. We had a small office that we used as a communication center, sending press releases all over the world saying this is going to happen, the first woman is going to land on the Moon. It was a conscious way of trying to match the media reality of the Moon landings that only twelve people in the world have actually experienced. For everybody else, it’s become a mediated reality. So I wanted to work on that level as well and very consciously invited the media, a strategy that was hugely criticized in Holland for flirting and catering to the press. The art world’s spectacle-complex was brought out in the open.

BLVR: But using the media was your whole point all along.

AM: Right, and when you are making an actual point about it you have to play the game fully. I’m neither shy nor impressed by media and press. It’s just another industry to me. My response to the criticism was, “I work with a steel factory. Why can’t I work with the media?”

BLVR: How did you make the Moon?

AM: We had scouted for one of the widest beaches in Europe, a 300m2 stretch of sand even at high tide. When the bulldozers came in, I had only a coffee meeting with the guys the same morning and made a sketch in the sand. I showed them what a crater looked like, a pile with a hole in it, and said, “Can you build this?” They went out and improvised the Moon according to their own ideas of what their machines could do.

BLVR: So it was also kind of a Smithson-like earth work?

AM: Yes and no. I think I was mocking all sorts of power, but it was all pathetic. I’d made this entire Moon landscape that had to be taken down by the end of the day. That was the agreement with the local authorities. So at sunset, I climbed up on the biggest mountain and put down the American flag, and then everybody was welcome to come up onto the Moon. People climbed up and said, “I’m the first black man,” and “I’m the first German,” and so on. We popped a bottle of champagne, posed and gave interviews, signed autographs for the kids. Then the Moon was flattened out for the night, and everything went back to normal again, not leaving a trace but the images everyone had made for themselves. Beach-goers. The art world. The press. Even Mario Testino was there to shoot it for himself. So this Moon landing exists as numerous points of views, all equally valid.

BLVR: It’s a reenvisioning of the first landing with a far less homogeneous cast of characters.

AM: And for the last four years, it’s been touring as a video documentary around art institutions. Initially, I tried to reengage with the material and do something live alongside the documentary. When we showed it in New York, we billed it around the idea of conspiracy theory, which is one theme in the work, the theory that the original Moon landing was faked. That’s not my theory, but it’s a prevalent one. We invited a conspiracy theorist to talk about the evidence for this. I wasn’t really after proof, but the beautiful point of doing it was so we could then compare the two videos on aesthetic grounds. We could compare them both as performances, as media images. This theorist then told me I should send my tape to Neil Armstrong and Arthur C. Clarke [who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey], and I did and got replies from them both. I think for me to have shown these two men my work is where the work falls back on its origin, where my being two years old watching Neil Armstrong step on the Moon goes full circle. He sent me an email again this summer, and I tried to meet him when I visited Cincinnati but he was out of town.

BLVR: Cincinnati! That’s where I’m from. He lives in Cincinnati?

AM: Yes.

BLVR: You’d think I’d know that Neil Armstrong lives in my hometown.

AM: Well, he’s there, and he sends emails, it’s so incredibly nice—and real. And then, you know, a lot of people have used that Moon-landing video for their own purposes. It instantly went to some feminist-art conference. But I also got hate mail from some organizations saying it was outrageous and proving the impotence of women. I’ve gotten all kinds of reactions and it’s been used in so many different ways.

BLVR: It’s like your early piece, “Pick Up (oh baby!)” (1997). Some feminists must have found your use of men whistling awful, others subversive.

AM: And that’s fine. I’m depending on other people to take the work and run. And if they run in so many directions, they sort of cancel each other out. So the meaning is always open. I guess for me the ending of “First Woman on the Moon” has occurred now that Mr. Armstrong has acknowledged it. It was never really meant as a piss on him. It was a way of saying: ME TOO! And his seeing the humor in it, in not saying, “You are just doing art and I did the real thing,” but really connecting back, is amazing. On some level he connected. I still want to meet him to find out how.

V. WE’VE LOST THE FUTURE

BLVR: Not all of your work ends up with a famous name. You’ve also done work based on rather anonymous “ordinary” characters. You published a biography, for example, about the entire life of a security guard you met in San Francisco.

AM: You pick people, and they pick you sometimes. It’s especially great to connect with people you think you have nothing in common with. I was just in Iceland for three weeks and I hitchhiked around the glacier. It’s kind of safe and lame to do that there, but I love the randomness of the meetings. And it’s something intense in hitchhiking. Let me digress. There is a whole science these days to dating. All of these tools to figure out who you are, and whom you should be with, and what to do to make that happen. I find that completely insipid and exhausting. The more interesting option is to put yourself out in a completely open way and be able to speak to anybody without being cynical. To figure out how you can use each other even for a moment, without abusing each other, but having a point and getting the most out of a situation, and also figuring out very quickly what the rules are for that. There’s a hitchhiking courtesy. You get to go somewhere and they expect you to talk about yourself. How do you explain yourself quickly to a stranger you will never see again? Why would anybody care? Still, it works beautifully.

BLVR: That’s what’s fascinating about hitchhiking. You’re getting a ride from them, but you’re expected to perform in return. It’s not a free ride. They want a ride from you too.

AM: I find that liberating. Some of these encounters have lasting effects in my work, like “The Biography of Donald Cappy” (2002) that you mention, it was a bit like hitchhiking. He’s a person I probably would not have normally had many reasons to spend much time with. But circumstances brought us together. I was at a residency at the CCAC [California College of Arts and Crafts] in San Francisco doing a “Hello” there when I thought someone was breaking into my room. I had to report it to the head of security, who happened to be Donald. I stayed on campus and kept running into him while doing the visual research, and I found out he was also a bouncer at a nightclub. So I thought he must have a lot of pictures of famous people from the club. He showed me into the back office where he kept all these photo albums. It was an entire life of photographs. I found this life. He had been a punk, a marine, adopted, foster homes, lots of women, an incredible life, which he kept meticulous track of in photographs. I found amazing visuals. For “Hello” I only needed two images. But here was a whole life that inverted “Hello.”

BLVR: Right, instead of using this guy as one link in a million, you blew up his whole life instead, investigating every part of it.

AM: I told Donald that we should make a book. I went back, interviewed him like a journalist, and finally the next summer published it in England by my friend, Polly Staple, who ran Cubitt, a small nonprofit there. We got public funding and printed 5,000 copies that were disseminated all over for free. Everyone in the street can be a good subject for a biography. Take that idea, channel it, and distribute it as widely as possible. Put them in a supermarket. Give it to friends. We sent 100 to New Zealand. Donald’s private life reached out. Just as he, and I, wanted.

BLVR: Your biggest project right now is your “Plane Landing” (2003-ongoing). You made an exact model of a passenger jet plane made out of a helium balloon that floats just about the ground.

AM: I wanted to contribute to the landscape tradition in art. By now I guess we are comfortable with the thought that man has been everywhere or affected everything in nature. I think the wildest wildlife you can find these days is in Chernobyl, where wolves are running around breeding quite well in the nuclear disaster zones. The first people who entered ten years after the bang were apparently a group of biologists who passionately wanted to study the new flora on this semi-virginal land. Many of them died of cancer soon afterwards. National parks, zoos, protected areas, polluted seas—using the whole world as a readymade, I thought about it as a stage set. To activate a stage set you need a drama, an actor to offset it. The plane as an object has been a huge effort to make. It is a sculpture, a technological invention, a piece of aviation culture. But really, it only exists to be inserted into a variety of landscapes, to be a catalyst, to offset them. The balloon, when fully blown up, depicts a plane frozen in a permanent state of landing. I am trying to make this thing stand still, floating in the air. This defeats so many principles of sculpture, ballooning, and aviation. They told me for two years, “No, you can’t do this,” and finally Cameron Balloons in Bristol did it. The perfect balloon is a sphere. We built a cross. A plane is designed to carry 5,000 tons of steel. We filled it with helium. Everything is in conflict with itself, but it works! I then set up the same plane against a number of different landscapes—countryside, skyline, desert—that became comparable and exchangeable. I find that when my own body is surrounded by such environments, they are so huge and convincing, but with the fake plane in the foreground, they fall back on themselves as postcards.

BLVR: It’s a strange work when so many people are especially terrified of planes and flying right now.

AM: This year happens to be the centennial of powered flight. From the Wright Brothers’ historic achievement at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903, to today’s jet, that’s a pretty quick century. The moment right now, it’s a tragically regressive time we live in, you know. We just grounded the Concorde. Where’s the future? We’ve lost the future. It’s like we don’t even have a need of the future in a way that the last century was all about it. The space program caused so much future-thinking in culture. People who couldn’t go to the Moon were building space-fantasy chairs and corsets and hairdos and anything that they could put their hands on.

BLVR: When I was a kid, if someone asked me, “Do you think people will live on the Moon in your lifetime?” I would have said yes, hands down. Today, not a chance.

AM: I’m very jealous of an era where people were inventing something so beautiful as the Concorde and thinking that’s the next step. I’m jealous of an era when people thought, “Let’s finally go to the Moon.” How insane is it to think like that? Cold War or not, somebody had to believe that could work, then the propaganda, and then people went, probably for the hell of it.

BLVR: The future isn’t as optimistic as it once was, so people don’t aestheticize it like they once did. It’s not looked at so sanitarily, so neat and clean.

AM: I’ve made a poster at home. You know the iconic image of Che Guevara, the black and red graphic of his face? I think it’s the perfect graphic, the best graphic ever made. I cut a Concorde out and put it over his head so it’s Che looking up and the Concorde going by. Both are dead, maybe obsolete. How can two once so powerful ideas relate back to us in a productive way now? Maybe by not expecting too much from them but by gently following their trails. You know, it just occurred to me that we started on the idea of going as far away as possible to find what’s the closest thing to you, and then we ended up talking about Neil Armstrong living in your hometown.

Christopher Bollen is a sometime art critic, sometime magazine writer, sometime editor. He lives in New York and is writing his first novel—something to do with Ohio, politics, and reptiles, if that’s possible.

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