Interview: Gotscho

published on 4 August 2004

Artist Gotscho speaks with Isabel Best about his career and his collaboration with the house of Emanuel Ungaro.

Artist Gotscho speaks with Isabel Best about his career and his collaboration with the house of Emanuel Ungaro.

Isabel Best: How did you get to where you are as an artist now?

Gotscho: I started out working in theatre, movies and fashion and for a number of years I crossed these three worlds. I worked primarily as an assistant, and as a result I wasn't really in a position that allowed me to make people look at me directly. It was as if I was in the shadows, the background of all these worlds. ??It was difficult for me, particularly in the fashion world, to deal with all these other personalities, even if I adored them. I had to leave them, and more than that, I had to leave the body of my life. I went inside myself. ??I needed to deal with everything that was fascinating me in fashion, theatre and the movies, but without the actresses, the models, the cameramen, the soundmen... So I took what surrounded people and ended up playing this game with clothes, furniture, décor, lighting; things that are an essential part of our daily life and the games we play in life, whether they're social or political games, or games connected with desire. ??Sometimes it's so hard, the feeling of being totally apart. But I have to work this way. When I'm in the process of working on a show or a film, I love to be involved with many people around me. But I also need to be lonely for a long, distant time.

IB: In your installations, it sounds like you are using these elements almost as a form of stage set, to create situations. Everything present, including the clothes, is used to reveal something about the actors - or people - who are absent.

G: Ultimately I'm trying to talk about this world by removing that which is essential, by which I mean people-us. So even though these things have such a large presence in my work, I'm not actually talking about the fashion, the furniture, the décor. I use these things as my vocabulary to talk about us.

IB: I suppose you are also saying we are defined by the objects around us, our possessions. In your view do we also use them to assert our identities?

G: So many people are crazy about brands, and they feel they are totally identified by what they are wearing. When they have a bag by Chanel or a pair of shoes by Fendi they feel they are a living extension of that brand.

IB: And those brands would presumably like to encourage them to think this way too?

G: Yes, that's why I'm working with the big couture brands, because they are so powerful in this part of the world. If you look at other cultures where women are submitting themselves to a life behind the veil, I think you can find an exact equivalent to the power of the brand. For us so many people are submitting their life to the brands, to fashion, to the look.

Someone like Galliano is paid to design beautiful things and to create the image that surrounds these products. There is an entire company working to this end, selling this dream. But if you look at some of my work, you can see that I'm at the very end of the commercial process. When I work with Dior, I might use some gowns, some shoes, whatever it might be, but there is no more Miss Nicole Kidman to wear the gown, there is no more fabulous catwalk show; there is no more magazine shoot with the supermodel. I'm there at the end when there are no more people to live inside the house with its sofas designed by so and so and its armchairs designed by such and such.

So that's what I mean when I say I discovered this process of subtraction wouldn't be so easy, because it's very close to death, in a certain way. And although absence is not necessarily death, for some people absent bodies would suggest that.

IB: Could you describe for us the way in which you work?

G: I'm at my most satisfied when you cannot see what it is that I have made possible. I try to make my work invisible. For example with 'Dos à Dos', this piece where the back of the gown is intricately woven into the back of the chair, people don't see anything! They look at it again and again and see nothing, and I'm happy with that. And it's only finally when they look at it a fourth time, perhaps, that they can see it because it's so well made. It took one month to create 'Dos à Dos'. We had to re-do it four times until it was perfect.

But I am very respectful of the work of the other artists I collaborate with. I never 'hurt' whatever it is I am using. Even a vase, a piece of clothing, a chair. I never disturb anything.

IB: So you have someone creating the work for you - you are never personally involved?

G: I'm never directly involved in creating something. I'm unable to use myself.

IB: You're very much the absent artist, then...

G: Oh yes, I'm totally the conceptual artist! But seriously, it's also a part of the work, like being the director of a movie. Because I cannot do this work myself.

That's the reason why I am using the designers and brands and the different elements made by so many talented people who in a way are living the definition of the period I am living in. Finally it's these people I collaborate with who give the work its identity. I'm just, you know, 'dancing', with some of these elements to make my own film, my own play, my own art series involving all these identities but never hurting them. But creating something which has an additional meaning.

Here we are talking about absence in your work, but in real life you are very 'present'. There are many people who know about you through the series of Nan Goldin portraits which appeared in I'll Be Your Mirror. How did those portraits come about? And how do you think they impact on your audience's view of your work? Because in those pictures you have a very strong presence, not least with your body-builder's physique.

To be honest I don't think there is a relationship between my work and the fact that I am a close friend of Nan's. She shoots me all the time and has published some of the pictures.

As you know, I decided to use some of the pictures she took of me for the 'Dressed Photographs' series I did in 1996. Certainly the power of the art of Nan and her personality helped me when I was working on this series. The fact that these pictures were made by Nan made it a proposition that was impossible to refuse for the generation of fashion designers that I was talking to, because they all knew Nan Goldin's work. So on that level, I don't think how I appeared within those pictures was so important. But her portraits were very important for me with what I was trying to accomplish at that point. But after that series I don't think our relationship had the same significance with regards to my own work, when I started working with designers on other projects. Of course people knew about our close friendship, but that wasn't the reason why there might or might not be a budget for an exhibition in a museum or anything on that level. I love Nan and I love her work, but I think I have to go my way, the way I need to. She's part of my world but just a part of it.

I think Nan and I have one person in common in our stories, which is Gilles Dusein, who was a famous photographic gallerist before he died of AIDS. He was the first to show Nan's work concerning AIDS and HIV. It was through Gilles that Nan and I met, and there is probably something which is a part of death which also forms part of the attachment between Nan and myself. And we are both talking about death in our own different ways, so maybe he is our 'Liaison Dangereux'.

Whenever people look at my work my dream is that they project themselves inside the piece, like a game of spectator and actor.

IB: How did the Ungaro collaboration come about in 'Solo GOTSCHO/UNGARO'?

G: The piece itself came about through an exhibition, which took place at the Grand Foyer de l'Opera Comique in Paris. It was a one-week exhibition with this installation which was on display throughout that week. I had initially wanted to work with other designers but the exhibition had already been announced and it had to take place; I didn't have the luxury of time.

Although I knew his work I didn't have a personal connection with Emanuel Ungaro; I didn't approach him personally. It was a mutual friend of ours who set up the first meeting. He loved my work and immediately agreed to work on the project.

He opened a series of sitting rooms in Avenue Montaigne and he introduced me to the atelier for the evening gown. I showed him drawings for the project and he just drew the skirt how he imagined it. Initially I was not really satisfied but it wasn't a problem. I'm not a fashion critic, and it's not my role to comment on what I like or dislike. If someone like Ungaro agrees to work with me, I try to respect what he's proposing, to involve it in the work. So I said OK. And then 100 metres of silk taffeta and 200 metres of silk tulle were used and the skirt was created in Avenue Montaigne.

IB: So it was designed and created specifically for this project?

G: Yes, and when it was finished it was taken to the Grand Foyer de l'Opera Comique where the Bösendorfer Grand Piano was waiting for it. And the skirt fitted the piano perfectly.

IB: So it was very much a collaborative process working with Ungaro?

G: Well, you know, he drew the skirt, and then it was his atelier that created it.

But when I am involved in a project I take the opportunity at that moment to be with the people I am working with, not somewhere alone in an office. I love to work with people. When I was working in fashion I preferred to spend more time in the ateliers, with the people who were creating things, than in the studio with the clients.

So with 'Solo GOTSCHO/UNGARO' I would go every day to the Avenue Montaigne where there would be endless 'fittings', and quite often they would have to begin all over again. Because I cannot be satisfied until something is perfect, when I can be sure that people will see exactly what I want them to see.

IB: How did the film come about?

G: After the opening I decided I wanted to make a movie. A French company called Transatlantic Video expressed interest in helping to create the film, but we had to work without a budget. Of course, this wasn't what I would initially have wanted, but in the end I was very happy with the result. I directed all the filming and then edited it and then finally I had to also think about the sound.

It took me a long time to find what I wanted. Eventually I realised it had to be an orchestra tuning its instruments before a concert. When the film comes to an end, the orchestra has finished tuning its instruments, and is ready to start playing. I love that idea; because perhaps life can also begin.

IB: Could absence also have a positive aspect in your work, then? As you say, an initial reaction to your work would suggest that it is about death. It's not hard to find metaphors that support that in the film. And there are plenty of unnerving elements, such as the surface of the grand piano where you might expect to see the 'viewer's' reflection, but instead there is only a beautifully polished void.

G: But I think the film is also very sexual. Because you have this huge, black, grand piano coming out of the white, female gown like a penis. Which is disturbing, totally. But for me, this sexual part of the work also means life, because sexuality is life.

In England you have a very talented young writer called Will Self, who wrote a novel called How the Dead Live, which is all about how we can imagine 'life' after we're dead, and I love this fascinating idea. But usually when you're dead you have no more sexual relations! And in a certain way I am also trying to make that possible, because all these objects are dead. I made a sort of 'multiplication' with a skirt and a piano and this multiplication is supposed to also talk about you, the audience. So absence probably can also be positive because it creates a possibility for the viewer to involve him or herself in the work.

Whenever people look at my work my dream is that they project themselves inside the piece, like a game of spectator and actor. The observer remains spectator, but somewhere in his mind, his body is also inside the situation he is looking at.

IB: What projects are you working on at the moment?

G: I'm currently working on the Christmas windows for Galeries Lafayette. It's amazing, you can find so many things there-TVs, fragrance-whatever you want. It's perfect material for me because it's a such a temple of consumerism. And as we are under the culture of commercialization and of creation, these are themes that I feel very comfortable working with.

I would really like to explore this relationship between commerce and culture in greater depth, so I hope the windows will mark the beginning of a more long-term collaboration.

As you may know the Galeries Lafayette are now connected now with the Musée des Arts Decoratifs. They have just become a majority shareholder of a company called Artcodif, which owns the store belonging to the Musée des Arts Decoratifs on the Rue de Rivoli. This means they have the rights to make editions of the museum's entire collection, which is incredible. To have access to such a wonderful collection of gowns, of furniture... Well, it would be a dream for me to be able to work with that.

Beyond that I'm also working on plans to export my show 'XXIèmeCIEL made in Japan', which took place earlier this year at the Musée des Arts Asiatiques in Nice. The title is a joke because in French I am making a pun with the word 'siècle' - meaning century - and 'ciel' which means heaven. For the Japanese the sky is very important, so I wanted to title it 'twenty first heaven made in Japan'.

It's the result of a collaboration I did with four Japanese designers; Comme des Garcons, Junya Watanabe, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. It's the first time that there has been an exhibition with all these designers together. They had always refused to be exhibited together and certainly didn't subscribe to the idea of being part of a collective Japanese 'school'. The museum in Nice had been trying for about four years to persuade these designers to do a show, and finally it approached me, knowing I already had a relationship with Rei Kawakubo, to see if I could help. So, because of my involvement Rei finally said 'yes', and because Rei said yes, Junya Watanabe said 'yes' and then Yohji Yamamoto said 'yes' and so you have it...

I'm working with a French curator, Paméla Golbin from the Musée de la Mode at the Louvre, and freelance American curator, Patricia Mears, who was formerly at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. When the exhibition goes on tour in the US and Japan towards the end of 2005 an in early 2006, it will be shown in contemporary art spaces, not fashion museums, because the designers themselves are all very much involved in the art world. And finally I am also an artist, not a fashion designer.

But having said that I am working with these two curators, you must understand that in terms of the art direction of the show, it is totally my concept, totally under my control. So in a sense you could say I am the curator too.

IB: So you're Gotscho the curator, the set designer, the artist, the film director, the couture designer... How would you define what you do?

G: So many things are mixed now. With my project with Galeries Lafayette I'm as much a curator as I am an artist. It's ridiculous to say I'm just a businessman. But you can call me a businessman. After all, that's what enables me to do these things!

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