About the Artists

Spanish-born artists David Bestué (b. 1980) and Marc Vives (b. 1978) both live and work in Barcelona, Spain. Through their work in video, theater, and photography, Bestué and Vives explore an absurdity in the ludicrous actions and objects of everyday life. Bestué-Vives exhibited their video Proteo in the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2009. They are represented by the Galeria Estrany-de la Mota in Barcelona.

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Shane Brennan, Curatorial Assistant, interviews Bestué-Vives (David Bestué and Marc Vives)

May 2010

How did your collaborative working relationship begin, and how has it changed over the years?

B-V: We began to work together in the frame of the university. That was nine years ago. In the beginning, we were free, unconscious, and full of energy. Now, we have more responsibilities and some of these things have changed. In several cases, in a good way.

Can you speak a little about how your idea for Ralf & Jeanette originated and evolved? What struck or inspired you most about the environment, and what challenges did you see facing you in creating an artwork there?

B-V: When Creative Time asked us to do a performance in Times Square we immediately thought: How is it possible to do something here, where every second there’re thousands of things, feelings, and thoughts happening at the same time? How can one do something that does not become invisible in a split second?

In Times Square, there are lots of different kinds of people walking, waiting, working, shouting to attract attention—strange people, lights, screens, messages, ads… At the same time, we couldn’t imagine a spectacular show there. It doesn’t fit. The place itself is the show. All of these ideas were in our heads while we visited the site, and after several visits we finally decided to do something that could be seen as a situation that could naturally happen there—something camouflaged.

Then, the idea was to create a casual meeting. Two actors that have never met before would perform a play. The story was a lighthearted comedy, but condensed: they fall in love, make a future together, and separate—all in ten minutes. The audience and passers-by could only follow the story by reading subtitles on the MTV screen above them that was synchronized with the performance. People could try to find the two actors based on their gestures, but they appeared to be just a common couple meeting in the street.

How does this project fit into your larger body of work?

B-V: In Ralf & Jeanette—the title of the work is the real names of the two actors in the performance—we brought together several concerns we have been investigating. One of these is the creation of invisible or conceptual situations: something that you can experience by being handed a piece of paper with some explanatory text, or because it is described to you verbally, or because there’s some kind of documentary material showing what happened. Last year in Casa Encendida, Madrid, we did an action that consisted of a piece of paper inside the exhibition space that said, “some workers of the institution wear red underclothes.”

The second concern is text. We often use text, and in several cases, including Actions in the Body or The Story of the Falling in Love Scorpion, we created a script. We’re very interested in the relationship between text and reality, and how meaning can shift in relation to this.

The third concern is the original setting of the work, which began when we started to work in public space making little installations in the city, such as secret performances—sometimes completely spontaneous ones. One of the main subjects of our work is to make things with the “real,” with our surroundings. For example, at MACBA we’re showing copies of 60 letters that we sent some months ago to different addressees in our home city of Barcelona. The goal with this project was try to do something inside people’s homes. The letters were signed by us, and included: complaints to a construction company, a love letter to a friend’s mother, and a revenge note to someone. Sometimes the letters asked for a little gesture in return, and sometimes they just asked questions.

Why have you chosen to refer to your projects as actions?

B-V: To us, the term “action” means gesture, as opposed to “intervention,” which is more like to do something or to change something. Our interests are always centered around how to work with reality—to leave something in a different place, to change little elements—and in the action’s “action” you can understand all of these things. The action is just a fact, rather than a means for transforming its surroundings.

In Acciones in Mataró, you made a series of 48 discrete interventions into the spaces of the city, while Actions in the Body was an intimate investigation into the spatial relationships produced by the human body. The Times Square performance seemed to blend this interest in the urban and the human—in that the project was, at once, on the scale of the city (utilizing a huge digital billboard) and on the human scale of two people who meet, share a few minutes of their lives, and move on. How would you characterize the scale of Ralf & Jeanette?

B-V: In Mataró, the audience was very, very small. The actions were for just one or two people at a time to witness. In Times Square, people didn’t pay much attention to the actors because they were just a “common” couple in the street. But some pedestrians wanted to enter into the game of the performance by following the text on the screen. At this point, it begins what you call “the spatial relationships produced by the human body.” In this way, we create a private connection between every potential member of the audience and the work.

Can you talk a little about the role that humor plays in the development of your projects?

B-V: Humor is not a thing that we actively seek. But at times it’s very useful in order to save a difficult situation or to create a bond with someone… just like in life. Sometimes it’s something more like a nervous laugh than real humor. Our sense of humor doesn’t always work. The tricks we use to relax or intensify a piece are not universals—not everything works like it does in your head. Sometimes people laugh during a part we want to be very serious and vice versa. One example is when you work with actors and you realize that an action or text isn’t just inherently fun or serious—when they act, they can completely transform the sense of a role or text. There’re a lot of elements to adjust to get the right level of attention, the right pace.

In your previous actions, the majority are instigated by you, the artists. What led you to work with actors for this piece, and how did it change your relationship to the environment and the work?

B-V: In the past we’ve worked under very precise situations and contexts: a place or a subject that someone else has given to us—such as the opportunity to do something in Times Square, or the work we did in Federico García Lorca’s house in a project curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist. Sometimes working inside others’ ideas or spaces is easier because it gives you some freedom in your choices, because you’re inside something bigger.

We like to work with little contexts—places that we can control. In Times Square, we needed to create a little universe inside that big universe—a couple talking and having feelings—something everyone could relate to.

I’m interested in the roles that control and chance play in your work. For me, the action for Times Square was a delicate balance between a scripted performance and a situation that was open to unpredictable mutations via the chaotic activity of Times Square. How much did you want to leave up to chance, and how did the work change from your original expectations?

B-V: We actually like to control, as much as possible, everything that will happen in an action. And yet there is always this tension between thinking and doing in our work, because this is the mandatory distance which art must constantly negotiate. We are used to taking risks. We don’t want to repeat ourselves. We try to talk about the things that are changing around us, and it’s necessary to aspire to do something “new.” Of course, we have a subjective perspective and don’t want to make things that always refer back to us. We know that failure is always a possibility in the next work, the next step, but at the same time, we learn from this failure and move forward.