Square with Concentric Circles
Udine (I), Ultra
June ― September 2014
English text not available
Udine (I), Ultra
June ― September 2014
English text not available
Udine (I), Business Meets Art
English text not available
Villacaccia di Lestizza (I), Colonos
Agoust — October 2013
Incontinence pads under the Harley Davidson Saddle
A conversation with the artist
Chris, where does your passion for such an unusual material as cardboard come from?
I graduated in fine arts at the university of Bristol with a dissertation on public art. During the course I used essentially traditional materials such as stone, metal etc. I had used cardboard to make a satirical cow during the Mad Cow disease crisis, but the first opportunity I had to exhibit any work made in cardboard was in San Benedetto del Tronto. At the time I chose the material because it was a practical solution to making a piece quickly, but over time I refined the techniques, the artistic approach and the linguistic scope of cardboard.
In what way?
Think for example of the typewriter: an object made with the container of another object, preserving its memory but no longer any use for actually writing with. I don’t consider just the reproduction of a pre-existing object, but rather a way to analyse the intrinsic properties connected to its use. The fact that it is such an unpretentious, immediate material lets you consider the more philosophical and immaterial aspects of objects.
I have noticed a change in recent years in the reasoning behind your choice of subjects. My impression is that at the beginning of your career there was a clear interest for iconography and mimesis, with an anti-rhetorical approach, since cardboard allowed you strip them of the allure the real objects had. Then you attention moved on to other things…
In the beginning I also chose objects for their narrative potential, for their ability to tell a story. I often included a human figure, so it was like dealing with the relationship between the person and the object. There was a person on the Vespa, by the typewriter or the television, elements that conveyed or suggest a story. The research then gradually shifted to the objects themselves, they would be looked at as if you were seeing the object for the first time because of their bewildering displacement caused by the material. A sort of “fiction” triggered by the unexpected material draws the attention to the shapes and details. Using a real metal coffee maker does not awaken any curiosity, but if you see it made in cardboard your attention is drawn to the smallest details. That’s how I portray the allure of an object.
Do you only choose objects you like?
I think so. You need to really love an object if you’re then going to measure, re-draw and re-design it to reproduce it in a different material from the original. You must be drawn by the object, or perhaps just to a detail of its construction, or be curious to know what thinking lay behind its design.
Is your work not craft?
Of course a part of it is! The manual work is the physical expression of what I do. I spend thousand of hours in my studio making attempts or creating the (final model of) my works. I still find it an interesting activity, never banal.
Did you ever have to admit defeat, for example for the fragility of the material?
Of course. it took me three years of failed attempts to make the bikes, the wheels and spokes of the first ones couldn’t carry the weight. I only found the right technique after many failed attempts. I think I have achieved a technical skill that allows me to take on any challenge. However, after bicycles, motorbikes and cars, I don’t think I would be interested in making a bus!
Is there an element of precariousness in this process where you transform an object from its normal state? Doesn’t it highlight the fragility of things?
I think there is a kind of hybrid between presence and non-presence. In actual fact the viewer relates to my sculpture exactly as they would with the real object. When they try to touch the keys of the typewriter they expect them to move and expect to hear the metallic clicking sound. It is as if people want to re-discover the things around them. The fragility belongs to anyone who thinks they don’t have anything else to find out.
In your latest works you are no longer making simple objects, even if they do have a story behind them. Instead you have chosen artworks as your models. I wonder if you have become less interested in objects and have started looking elsewhere…
I found myself at a point where I was questioning the meaning of the object. I had always prepared an exhibition as a kind of dialogue between objects, particularly at a symbolic level. There was a common thread which tied them together, a kind of narrative system in which there were roles and parts to play. However I began to be less interested in operating within this closed system where an artwork has a meaning only within those objective parameters. As such I started looking elsewhere, trying to find subjects which conveyed iconographic meanings with a social, religious, spiritual or political depth.
Like the Lenin statue…
Sure, that piece, a bit like the equestrian statue that went before it, has a particular interior aspect because it brings together the iconography of the Russian leader together with a gesture that could almost remind you of a regular guy hailing a taxi. Generally speaking the representation of a political figure leads you to wonder who that person really was, what their life was like, how they acted. This dimension of the public and the intimate together is even more marked in the lives of the saints. Since the first days of the church they have been marked out as exemplary figures, people to try and imitate. Reproducing the figure of a statue which has been created to serve a religious use naturally adds an element to the way it functions. I am also interested in analysing the physical construction of the original works to try and understand the techniques behind them, and as a part of this my artworks are not exact replicas of statues…
They are not identical copies of existing statues, rather they are the sum of different elements: I often combine the stylistic choices of several artists to create a kind of hybrid. By looking at many different approaches to representation you can start to understand the formal logic which defines the styles. It is an analysis starting from solutions which have already been used and a way of understanding what makes an artwork Gothic or Baroque in formal terms: in the flesh of the sculpture, in the folds of the gowns or the decoration of the architectural framework, rather than just from an aesthetic analysis.
Have you ever made a sculpture without having a pre-existing model? Just making it up from scratch?
No. The logic behind the work is always tied to an object and the fact that it has a function which determines the choice of technique and material used to make it. Things that don’t exist don’t really interest me; I prefer to investigate the choices others have made before me. There is a story to discover in the way things are made. I am attracted to things that are manufactured, whether they are artworks or design objects. I’m not saying I’d never use other materials like clay or wood instead of cardboard to analyse reality. However I feel that cardboard is irrevocably tied to the object and the poetry of its existence.
What about those who find a more political reading to your work? I was thinking about the churches made with condom boxes…
I generally try to find objects which become cold, distilled. Things which have a kind of intrinsic seriousness. By its nature cardboard tends to be desecrating, it tends to takes the weightiness out. However using condom boxes gives an ironic emphasis to the work, it is simply a counterpoint, another reading. Perhaps the fact that the church is so small is the important fact. You can read the works as you see best. It’s just like the saddle on the Harley Davidson which is made out of boxes for incontinence pads, the ones for geriatrics…
Udine (I), Casa Cavazzini Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
May — June 2013
Try walking in my shoes, with a stone under your toes
Going for a wee with a stone in my shoes
I am not in any way a well-mannered gentleman, nor am I a snooty stickler for etiquette. And I’m certainly not a socialite dandy. And yet I had never taken my shoes off in a museum before, or urinated in an artwork, worried that a museum guard might catch me red handed. Whilst you might not doubt that I have recently done the first, but you are probably incredulous about the latter. On the other hand, as the philosopher Gorgias warned us “the deceiver is more honest than the non-deceiver, and the deceived is wiser than the non-deceived”. However I don’t write fiction, and these are not mere flights of fancy: Ivan Moudov made me experience all of these. If I was a child caught with his hands in the sweet jar, I would say “it’s all Ivan’s fault”.
Many of his works were intended to make the “emancipated spectator”  accept and confront completely unexpected provocations in a museum context, like in the instances of Stones or the pissoir of Already Made 3.
In Stones, the pebble-covered courtyard of Casa Cavazzini is surprisingly yielding, and people walking on it find themselves sinking ten centimetres into the gravel. Layers of foam rubber were placed under the pebbles to give the viewer an experience that is at first disconcerting and then funny. The experience overturns the long established topological assumptions about the consistency of the surface we walk on, with the trivial effect of finding your shoes full of stones (which many visitors, me included, removed by taking their shoes off and shaking them out).
In Already Made 3 Moudov installed a signed copy of Duchamp’s Fontaine – to which he added a round demijohn to collect fluids – in a 1930’s bathroom which is part of the tour of Casa Cavazzini. The bathroom can be seen but not used by visitors, and the work is in front of a real pissoir which bears all the signs of having been used, as witnessed by the presence of liquid in the transparent bottle. The viewer wonders whether the artwork has actually been used by someone before them or if the artist wants them to believe it was, but most of all they want to use the art work, hoping not to be seen by the museum guards. The sophisticated viewer finds themselves wanting to push the boundaries of their reserve and break the rules of the museum by urinating in the pissoir, adding their urine to that which they think is already contained there… unless they are caught. The game being played is one of expectations and rules, and the opportunities the viewer has to break them and do something they are subtly driven to do. The deception is also supported by the fact that the viewer is caught unawares in a situation which is on the borderline of plausibility: reality and the artwork (fiction by its very nature) overlap, making the viewer the weakest link.
The majority of Moudov’s works share a sharp analysis of power relationships between people and generally accepted conventions. Artists often want to challenge abstract rules or habits that regulate a certain aspect of life. An example might be urinating inside a museum, but it could also be the right of way on a roundabout in One Hour Priority or the possibility of freely entering or exiting a room in a building. Moudov takes these rules and habits to the extreme, or to being deliberately broken, in order to reap unexpected personal advantages.
It is in this sense that the work of the Bulgarian artist is political, as it seeks to reveal the human need to challenge or sidestep anyone with even the slightest power, as well as the possibility for an individual to exploit the rules that should be shared and respected by everyone, in an unexpected and opportunistic way. 
The viewer is screwed
One of the most intriguing qualities of Moudov’s work is that of exploding the codes that define the normal (i.e. habitual and shared) relationship between viewer and artwork. The Bulgarian artist sets in motion a process and invites the viewer – who is unaware of what it might be – to take part in it. Traditionally the viewer only has the right to express an aesthetic (or possibly political or social) judgment of the artwork, but this process breaks with that tradition. For example, watching the artwork made up of stolen fragments of other artworks (Fragments), or a video where a theft is being committed (like that at IAC, in Lyon) is not all that different from being the lookout during a robbery or being an accessory to a theft. Provocatively, Moudov does not inform the viewer that they are becoming an accomplice to an offence, thus making their involvement completely involuntary. The viewer is therefore not only a passive element, as they would be in front of a television, where a very low level of participation with the contents of the broadcast are required. Rather they find themselves in the embarrassing role of accomplice, or possibly even becoming the formal- if unwitting- instigator of the crime.
A priori and totally independent of whether he has the viewer’s consent or not, the artist unilaterally renegotiates the relationship between viewer and artwork, in a way that makes any opposition impossible. The viewer inevitably finds themselves framed in the dual role of end-user and commissioner (or instigator). In such a circumstance, accepting or rejecting, praising or criticizing the artist’s actions has very little point, as the spectator is in effect, and in spite of themselves, called upon to witness a process which is perfectly designed to frame him. Doubt about the legality of Moudov’s actions, the legitimacy of appropriating the works of colleagues, or the legal or ethical issues that might arise from such actions, are all pointless. After viewing the artwork, the viewer is quite clearly screwed (just like in police movies).
In first person
Nineteen Problems, Eighteen Paintings is a rearrangement of artworks and a performance that Moudov devised specifically for Casa Cavazzini. In this he hung works from the museum’s collection in the museum project room, to cover and temporarily hide the many elements that constitute a visual disturbance in the room. During the inauguration Moudov temporarily repositioned the artworks in their intended positions, giving them an ironically mimetic function: they are meant to hide imperfections of the space from the viewer. However, the paintings are hung at heights, and in ways, that differ from the traditional exhibiting criteria in museums (a further breach of a well established rule), and as such the viewer sees them as peculiar, disconcerting presences.
As well as cleverly bringing an extra function to the works in the collection, the artist also takes on the role of activator or reagent, directly intervening himself, before then letting the artworks be repositioned in a more traditional arrangement.
Moudov chooses to use himself to measure his own art, in a role reminiscent of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. We can see this in the video Performing Time, where he stands for a whole day measuring the passing of the minutes without the help of any time-measuring devices, performing the function of eyewitness to the flowing of time. The extremities of his body touch the borders of that which can be known, of the world that can be touched and understood. The difference is that Moudov uses the circle that surrounds him to play hula-hoop.
 Gorgias, fragment B 23 DK, published in H.S. Harris, The Reign of the Whirlwind, 1999, p. 325, see here.
 J. Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, Verso, London and New York, 2009.
 Curiously this aspect is a metaphor for the market and modern capitalist society, where a law which seems (or was intended) to be fair and reasonable does not in fact stop an individual from profiting at the cost of others.