The Artist Comparing Contemporary Politics to Sinking Ships

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Fondazione Prada_The Boat is Leaking_5
View of the exhibition The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied.Photography Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti, Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Francesca Gavin speaks to artist Anna Viebrock, whose work is currently on display as part of a collaborative exhibition at Fondazione Prada's Venice palazzo

When the Fondazione Prada opened their second space in a Venetian palazzo in 2013, it quickly became a mecca for the art world. Its current show The Boat Is Leaking. The Captain Lied. is a statement on our stormy contemporary existence, created through a collaboration between curator Udo Kittleman, photographic artist Thomas Demand, filmmaker Alexander Kluge and stage and costume artist Anna Viebrock.

Viebrock’s work is hard to ignore, her take on space and exhibition design so exciting that it is almost impossible to accept the simplicity of a white cube ever again. Taking a break from her current project, which was created in response to the Fukushima disaster and is showing at the opera Pique Dame in Stuttgart, Viebrock discusses the exhibition and the weirdness of Angelo Morbelli’s paintings which lie at the heart of a show about politics and imagination in equal measure.

On moving beyond the stage...
“From the beginning I liked the idea that people could be actors and walk through the set. Also that they would be allowed to touch everything, open doors to choose where to go. The idea of going through a palace like a labyrinth. In the room with the theatre you can experience this elementarily. If you come to this room from the Backyard Room, you suddenly find yourself on the stage, that means you will be recognised by the other visitors, who come through another door as actors and they, standing below the stage, are the spectators. Then you can change roles. If you want you can also start using the stage as a performer…”

On playing with entrance and exit...
“I liked to bring these marble door openings of the original palazzo, which are normally about three metres high, to a ‘normal’ measurement. I am a great fan of Jaques Tati and there was a picture of his film Playtime where clerks sit and work in very small and low boxes. For the entrance into the Piano Nobile, I thought it would be nice to get up the stairs and then stay in a little corridor like in a small bureau, and you do not know which door to take. If you want to use the right hand door, which most people choose, there is no door handle. It is meant to be a little bit Kafka-like but also playful. The question ‘What is behind the next door?’ is quite theatrical, and gives a certain suspense.”

On politics and the leaking boat...
“The theme of shipwreck appears very often in the work of Alexander Kluge, literally and as a metaphor. Meaning not only the sinking of a ship, but also other great declines and the doomed state of the world. He suggested we read the book Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer (Shipwreck with Spectators) by Hans Blumenberg. The author takes us through different aspects of the metaphor of shipwreck and makes us realise that we no longer can look at the shipwrecks from the safe distance as in the past, but we are all inside the same boat now. If people come through this entrance with the main door closed, they have to decide which door to take: Remain or Leave. This of course refers to the political situation in Europe, but you can also read it as a metaphor.”

On her working processes...
“I really like to find places and objects to inspire me for my sets. I see myself as a flâneur, and I enjoy walking and looking around and finding things. Sometimes I feel like a hunter, when I find something, a place, a house, which tells me a lot about history, atmosphere. I take pictures of these places often without having a plan, what to use them for. Often later I recall these pictures and I use them for a set – a little bit like an archaeologist.”

On the paintings of Angelo Morbelli...
“For me the painter Morbelli gets more and more interesting, especially how he is developing his ‘divisionistic’ painting style in the later versions of his favourite theme – the old people in a yellow room in a hospice. I can comprehend that a painter likes the atmosphere of a space and uses it more often as a setting – I did this with the Volksbühne in Berlin. If you see all the paintings one after another, it is like the frames of a film or a story about time. First there are many men, then a few, then there is nearly no one left.”

The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied is showing at Fondazione Prada, Venice until November 26, 2017.