Pages like small carpets
An interview with Rainer Fuchs, curator and editor of the exhibition catalogue Hugo Canoilas: On the Extremes of Good and Evil (Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne, 2020)
Ines Gebetsroither: When you pick up the catalog Hugo Canoilas. On the Extremes of Good and Evil, the first thing you notice that it’s somewhat “limp,” and flimsy. The book is unusually large, thin, and rather the opposite of “compact” and “manageable.” Depicted on the cover is a corner of a room, in which a misshapen textile figure has been placed. It almost seems as if the association with “carpets” is intended with the book too.
Rainer Fuchs: That’s right. It was not designed to be a normal catalogue but rather an artist book that in its design and content allows a proximity to the work to emanate beyond the purely documentary and archival. Thus the large format, which also allows a playful interaction with the carpet theme within—that is, not simply illustrating motifs but lending the illustrations a motific character. In this way the individual pages and sheets are also not just backgrounds and substrates for images, rather they are images themselves. And because motifs of carpets can be seen, the pages appear like rugs, which the images, in turn, sit on.
IG: These “carpet pages” with full-page run-off images of surfaces that are not immediately definable—encrusted layers of paint, felt-like textile landscapes, and so on—partially form the background for illustrations of private interiors, taken from a rather strange perspective, with parquet or terrazzo flooring, furniture, shoes, but above all again with these amorphous figures. Why the focus on floors?
RF: Because the catalogue is not tied to simply documenting the exhibition, it embodies a kind of parallel universe to installative painting in the exhibition space. The cover shows a door, and as you leaf through, you open that door. Thus you “enter” the interior of the catalogue, an imaginary room in which the floors play a central role. That the focus is on the floors and carpets is to do with the intention of thematizing a modified form of spatial and real perception, one which alludes to an animal’s—a dog’s, for instance—field of vision, which is primarily directed toward the floor and downward. Concealed within is a critique of an anthropocentric view of the world that is solely directed toward human demands and values, which is responsible for many current catastrophic scenarios.
IG: It’s probably no coincidence that Hugo Canoilas’s installation at mumok extends across the floor of the entire exhibition area. On entering, you feel almost engulfed by it, by an amorphous mass. In your catalogue essay, you also suggest the term “tentacular” to describe your work process, alluding to the philosopher of science Donna Haraway. What do you mean by this?
RF: With “tentacular” Haraway means an interwovenness and interconnectedness of all creaturely being as the embodiment of an empathetic behavior that represents an alternative to the fatal logic of hierarchical power structures and modes of existence. She therefore talks also of the Chthulucene era—named after the tentacular form of a spider—which would have to supersede the Anthropocene era in order to counteract the present-day catastrophes that also threaten the future. Canoilas’s portrayals of tentacularly intertwined figures in glass and textile appear like kindred translations of Haraway’s notions in artworks relating to space and the object per se. Both characters indicate thought and action in sociopolitically sensitive ways.
IG: The book also contains written correspondence between Hugo Canoilas and the artist Elise Lammer. It talks about a performance by Lammer in “The Grotto,” Canoilas’s artificial cavern in the basement of his gallery in Lisbon. In it, a metamorphosis came about in which the performer transformed herself into a dog. What exactly happened there?
RF: Canoilas’s concept in “The Grotto” in Lisbon builds upon on communication and participation; he invites the public and friends to use his space, which is already marked out by a floor picture, in a creative way.
IG: Metamorphosis is also a theme here in mumok, for which a performance is also being planned … The catalogue also depicts dogs, or people dressed as dogs.
RF: The Viennese dog performance stems from that collaboration with Elise Lammer. The performance now being conceptualized for Vienna and choreographed by Elise and Julie Monot shows actors transformed into—i.e., dressed up as—dogs that move around the floor picture as their territory. They embody that empathetic play between the human and the animalistic that measures one’s individual identity via the respective cooperative interaction with the other. The fact that when a human has a dog, the dog also has a human, as Haraway once noted, means the insight into a state of being dependent on one another that identifies all self-aggrandizement over others as blindness. Metaphorically this fact refers to all processes of social action—meaning, also to humans’ interactions with each other. In our case, the art—in the form of the exhibition and catalogue—is the catalyst for the awareness of such connections.