A meeting with Portuguese curator Sílvia Guerra at the Paris art fair, FIAC
Silvia Guerra is the artistic director of Lab’Bel, the artistic laboratory of the group Bel (created in 2010), a foundation supported by the family owning the French cheese company La Vache qui Rit (itself established back in 1921). Since its founding, Silvia Guerra is responsible for the artistic program, composed of different series of projects and exhibitions held in local and international contexts, group shows, thematic shows but also the ‘collector’s box’ – a Vache qui Rit cheese box designed every year anew by a contemporary artist in a limited edition. The stock of collection boxes is available at the usual selling points, but also at the prestigious art fair in Paris, the FIAC, like an agent of intrusion questioning the status and value of the ‘art object’. This year the Collector Box #6 was designed by Daniel Buren, while previous editions were made by Karin Sander (2018), Wim Delvoy (2017), Jonathan Monk (2016), Thomas Bayrle (2015), Hans Peter Feldmann (2014). The versatile nature of the box is sliding conceptual art with the witty humour historically characterising the label, into various contexts from high art to the supermarket. Available, consumable, the box becomes nevertheless an abstract object – especially in this year’s edition of Daniel Buren, who turns it into a stripe or a construction module.
Marta Jecu – Could you please introduce the label in a few words?
Silvia Guerra – I work as a commissioner and artistic director at Lab’Bel, an artistic laboratory of the Bel group, subsidized by the Bel group’s family (not by the industry). The family that runs the company has always been associated with art. As a matter of fact, Vache qui Rit was a logo created by the illustrator Benjamin Rabier. During the war years, the Vache qui Rit was a joke that French soldiers told to German soldiers. They said: “you have “Valkyrie”, we have “vachkyrie”. And Benjamin Rabier created the icon that was appropriated by various artists. For example, Wim Delvoy has a massive collection of Vache qui Rit labels, including the work About the Origin of Species made exclusively with the labels.
The foundation has a collection and does travelling exhibitions because it does not have a site for that purpose. We are welcomed by other institutions: French monuments, libraries and European projects. We have made a series dedicated to modernist architectures, where a project was made in Barcelona, at the Mies van der Rohe pavilion, then at La Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and, in 2017, at the Maison Louis Carré, near Paris. Then, we did another series entitled Metaphoria: the first exhibition was in Guimarães, the second was in Athens and the third was in Paris at Le Centquatre-Paris (104) last year.
MJ – The project 435 Ponti and qualche scorciatoia, made in 2019 with David Horvitz in Venice, was also part of a series?
SG – Yes, it is part of a series developed in Venice, with projects for the city’s public spaces. They attempt to be the opposite version of a biennial’s gravitas. The idea is to create invisible projects, trying to reach the Venetians and the people who visit this tourist swarm. The biennial machine is widely used from the point of view of transport and investment. Our project is the opposite: we only invite an artist to work with what exists in Venice. For an American from Los Angeles, the number of bridges in the city is a curiosity. In Venice, there are 435 bridges and the project was the result of David Horvitz’s ambition to cross the 435 bridges in one night, like a samurai. I also tried that, but in several days.
And, on each bridge that the artist passed by, as in the tales of Hansel and Gretel, he put an artichoke flower to mark his passage. Afterwards, Horvitz developed his own map of the city, of the bridges. He appropriated the two-dimensional city of Venice, getting to know places and collaborating with the Venetians. For example, with the local Alaska ice cream parlor, he made an ice cream with Adriatic seawater during the biennial, in reference to seawater and immigration.
MJ – Was it edible?
SG – Yes, the artist believes in the biological theories that say that we come from the sea and have saltwater inside our bodies. When we put saltwater back into our bodies, it’s like going back to the beginning: to the first cells, to the sea. It’s this project’s cornerstone.
But David Horvitz has other projects. For example, he made a poem that he printed on paper to wrap sweets in the bakery shop. When people buy something, the poem Tu Neblina is printed on the wrapping paper. This project is also a tribute to Stravinsky, who is buried in the cemetery in Venice. David Horvitz, when visiting some churches in Venice, said: “they have wonderful organs, beautiful seventeenth-century organs, and I would love it if the children of Venice could go to the churches to play the organ”. In his project 3 Easy Pieces #2, he works with the pieces that Stravinsky created for his own children to learn to play the piano (a waltz, a polka and a march). We asked Veneto’s regional responsible for organ tuning to adapt these simple three piano pieces for the organ. We invited children aged 6 and 7, who play the piano, to the church of San Rocco to play Stravinsky’s three pieces.
MJ – Could you also talk about the Collectors’ Box, presented today at the FIAC?
SG – The idea came about six years ago, with the aim of creating a link between an artist who already has a widely recognised career and an internationally renowned work. The 24-triangle cheese box is a means of creating a small work of art, explaining conceptual art to children at home. It’s a way of sharing art. This year, Daniel Buren was responsible for it, whose production was difficult due to the dimensions of the coloured bands attached to the boxes (the 8.7-centimeter band), which ended up being glued manually by an association of disabled people. These artists see this as a bit of a jest. They like La Vache qui Rit and have fun with it.
MJ – Where will the collection of all the boxes be displayed?
SG – This collection was created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of La Vache qui Rit in 2021. And there are already several museum collections that have it. For example, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseilles and other German museums. We hope to be able to exhibit them in their entirety in 2021 and invite artists to other works.
By Marta Jecu