Paris In her installations, sculptures and drawings, the Paris-based artist Tatiana Trouvé tackles the uncertain boundaries of fiction and reality, the mental and the physical, and explores notions of time, space and memory. Her breakthrough work was Bureau d’Activités Implicites (Bureau of Implicit Activities), or B.A.I., an open-ended project begun in 1997 and developed over a decade, and which she now considers dormant. Drawing on the often frustrating experiences of establishing herself as a professional artist, she conceived the large-scale installation as a structure in which she might place her accumulated drawings and projects for works as yet unrealized, as well as give some form of visibility to her search for support as an artist. B.A.I. consists of 13 “modules” of various sizes and forms, shown sometimes as a whole and at other times in smaller clusters. Each is devoted to a different aspect of Trouvé’s life. At the heart of B.A.I. is the Reminiscence Module (1999), a mirrored cylinder whose surface reflects the other modules, among them the Administrative Module (1997-2002), a construction akin to an office cubicle, which contains a perpetually expanding archive of administrative documents (grant applications, résumés, rejection and acceptance letters) and office supplies (staples, rubber bands, stamps). Trouvé’s passports and identity cards are displayed along the module’s exterior.
In 2000 Trouvé undertook a series of miniature installations developed from B.A.I. titled “Polders,” the Dutch term for land reclaimed from water. These consist of familiar and yet somehow cryptic objects—desks and chairs, gym equipment, video surveillance cameras, mirrors, etc., made of metal, Plexiglas, rubber and other materials—realized at half their normal size. In 2007 Trouvé began to make isolated sculptures—generally linear abstractions—and to create enigmatic, carefully lit rooms, often displayed behind glass, again containing familiar-looking items made of various materials. The objects—bed frames and other furnishings, exercise machines, shoes, doors, etc.—have an unsettling psychological effect, and, although they contain no figures, the rooms suggest the potential for a human presence.
Born in 1968 in Cosenza, Italy, to an Italian mother and a French father, Trouvé spent her early childhood in Orco Feglino, Italy, and lived from age eight to 15 in Dakar, Senegal. She graduated from the National School of Fine Art at the Villa Arson, Nice, in 1989, and relocated to the Netherlands in 1990 for a two-year residency at the artist-run Ateliers 63 in Haarlem. She moved back to Italy in 1993 and settled in Paris two years later. In 2003 she showed at CAPC Bordeaux and participated in the Venice Biennale. Trouvé had a solo exhibition in 2007 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and the same year she made a site-specific installation for “Think with the Senses—Feel with the Mind,” organized by Robert Storr at the Venice Biennale. (Trouvé and I worked together there, as I was assisting Storr on the show.) Also in 2007, she received the Marcel Duchamp Prize, which led to her solo show “4 between 2 and 3” (2008) at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
More recently, Trouvé has been producing a body of work that ties together her interests in sculpture, architecture and drawing. For her recent exhibition at the Migros Museum in Zurich [Nov. 21, 2009-Feb. 21, 2010], she produced site-specific sculptures, installations and her first wall drawings. Prior to that she had been making medium-size works on paper in graphite, often combined with collage, depicting spare modernist interiors. Called “Envelopments,” her large-scale, pencil-and-collage wall drawings blend images of domestic settings with urban or natural landscapes. For the drawings in Zurich, she embedded copper filaments (which she also used in her earlier, smaller drawings) in the wall and extended them to the floor, where she placed large rocks.
I met Trouvé at her Paris studio on Oct. 20, 2009, as she was preparing for two major exhibitions, the one at the Migros Museum and another at Kunsthaus Graz, Austria (which opened Feb. 6). Later this month, she makes her solo New York debut at Gagosian Gallery. We spoke in Italian, which I have translated into English.
Francesca Pietropaolo Perhaps we could start by talking about the Bureau d’Activités Implicites or B.A.I., which was conceived as an open work intended to evolve over time. What is time, for you?
Tatiana Trouvé Time is the theme underlying all my work. It’s hard to know what time is, but I don’t think I would work with it so much otherwise. The only thing we know for sure about time is how to calculate it. I like to think of it as a material, a formless space with which you can play, do different things.
FP B.A.I. captures the time of your life as an artist.Through your accumulation of materials, your creation of an archive, etc., is there an attempt to suggest a time regained? There seem to be multiple layers of time rather than a linear evolution from the past to the present and future.
TT I was interested in working on the recovery of time, and of things that are never really considered constructive, or part of a productive activity. Like when you are waiting for your turn in line, or for a bus, an appointment, a phone call. All this, which is an enormous amount of time in our lives, is regarded as non-time, as something wasted. This isn’t so obvious. I believe these waiting moments are quite productive. In this waiting time there is a construction of the self, of the subject. And I also realized that the unconscious has no time, or an immeasurable time. So in my Bureau I started playing with all these different aspects of time. Back then, I had just arrived in France and I was looking for a job.
FP So you were waiting to find a job, and you turned this waiting time into something creative.
TT Not only was I waiting to find a job, but I lacked the economic means to work as an artist. I did not have enough money to rent a studio. My job search took all my time, and that took time away from my work as an artist. I asked myself if an artist could be an artist when he/she has neither a studio nor works of art. From what moment is an artist an artist? Was the fact that I knew I was an artist enough? And what could I invent in this, a completely invisible space? So I began to play with forms of temporality. I tried to recover moments of my life to make something of them, including the time invested in finding a job and sending out résumés filled with all the things one should have done in a lifetime. I created curricula vitae with everything I could have never done in my life: I was Chinese, I was a black man; I was 15 years old again, or 40, 60; I was a doctor, etc. I invented other jobs, other studies—in short, other identities. I started to have a thousand possible existences. It was really a form of projection into other lives, and into time. But, also, it was a means of taking a journey back through all my readings, all my projects, even all the rejections I had received. All these materials constituted the Bureau d’Activités Implicites, a blend of my artistic projects and the quotidian experiences in my life.
FP You call the structural elements of the Bureau modules. There is a close relationship between sculpture and architecture in your work. Do the modules express a desire to give a structure, in some way, to the disorder, the chaos of life?
TT I, too, asked myself this question. I explained these modules to myself as a kind of architecture of aridity, as if I were trying to create walls to keep the desert from advancing. And I tried to give a form to things that were formless, since my various projects, letters, even the titles of works had never seen the light of day. My modules finally allowed these materials to exist, be presented and stir the viewer’s desire to actually consult them. I built them in order to finally give a space to things that, in our inner selves, can have huge spaces, but have no form outside.