Four years after premiering his performance art piece Constantinople Kaleidoscope live at Tate, Argentinean born artist Pablo Bronstein is returning to reinvent the Duveen galleries at Tate Britain. His large-scale installation, Historical Dances in an Antique Setting, will also include daily performances.
Bronstein uses architectural design and drawing to engage with the grandiose and imperial past of the built environment and this preoccupation with form frequently extends into his live work.
You are fascinated by architecture that is often missed …
Yes. It can be missed, but it also can be desperate to be noticed. I’m a fan of the Charing Cross Station enlargement by Terry Farrell, and I love the MI5 building. They are very, very, very unfashionable buildings, but everybody knows them. One thing I like about architecture is its attempt at aspiration, its desperation. I’m not excited by good-quality, decent, sophisticated buildings. I like buildings that want to be seen as better than they are, not trying to be good design, trying to be loud design. I’m not a fan of integrity.
What new building in London attracts you?
I’m interested in the work of Caruso St John. Also I’ve seen the new design for Tate Britain, which I’m very excited by. I like the ornamentation, the gratuitousness of the project. Tate Modern is good at getting us to believe in its integrity and its power and its importance.
But that is post facto. When they were building Tate Modern, people laughed at the idea.
The importance of a building like Tate Modern is that it has a lot of accumulated knowledge. When I go to the Tate Modern, I feel at home there. I know I’m being catered to. I feel like my class, my financial status, have been taken into account. I’m being pandered to. Certain decorative tricks are employed: the high doorways, the wooden floors, the off-white walls, the remnants of industrial landscape. Lots of those things are post-’80s middle class.
Before architecture took your fancy, it wasn’t reflected within the contemporary art world. You brought it to public notice through dance and performance. Would it have worked as art by itself?
I think so. The thing that was difficult at first was to contextualise the old-fashioned-looking drawings. There was a fear that those drawings could be misread as extremely conservative. Building up a context around them was crucial for their perception as contemporary art. The performances were a part of that. My feeling is that if it looks too much like art then it probably isn’t art. My work might seem reactionary on the surface, but in terms of how it infiltrates and relates to things, it can be complicated.
So you are saying that your art is attempting not to be like art?
It is art, it behaves like art, but it doesn’t often look like contemporary art. In the architecture world, people are interested in my work. There’s been a lot of press about me and I’ve collaborated a lot with architects who’ve sought me out. But the dance world couldn’t give a fuck. My work is very current. I mean, I think that my way of working is a contemporary way of working. I started working directly with Nicky Verber, my gallerist, so I never had this problem of trying to find a dealer. I never had to toe the line, and therefore I did what I wanted to do, thank God. Other artists like Spartacus Chetwynd came out at the same time in the same way. We all made pretty weird work.
What you do really has no need for a studio, does it?
So you’ve effectively never had one.
I’ve always worked from home. I loathe studios. I think they are scams. You pay huge amounts of money to rent them and you get a horrible little concrete room with no windows. Yes, I’d love to have a huge room to wander round in, but what I actually need are tables to do my drawings on. Everything else is extra.
When did you become interested in architecture?
My parents have kept drawings of mine from when I was four or five that are similar in essence to the drawings I’m doing now: obsessive architectural drawings, castles where I would do all of the bricks, one by one by one. More than anything, I’m interested in how architecture looks on paper or in how paper can make it come alive. I’m an immigrant; I was born in Argentina. I lived in a modern flat in Buenos Aires; then I found myself in a very old house in London. My grandmother’s house in Buenos Aires was spectacular and classical and grandiose; the house we moved to in London was small and in a horrible neighbourhood. Perhaps that sense of loss … I’m not sure … or a sense of wanting to escape, or an aspiration to bigger things …
What would you like to be remembered for?
How about as one of the world’s greatest collectors of eighteenth-century silver? To be remembered for something totally disconnected from art would be great.
This text is an extract from Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and their Studios published by Thames & Hudson, edited by Hossein Amirsadeghi. Copyright Transglobe Publishing.
Visit Pablo Bronstein: Historical Dances in an Antique setting from 26 April – 9 October 2016 at Tate Britain for free.