Lang & Baumann, Confort # 3, KBB Barcelona, Spain, 2005. Photography by L & B.
Sigismond de Vajay is a multifaceted character: artist, curator, book editor and founder of the KBB independent art space. His work has been recognized within the cultural scene for decades. Celebrated, and sometimes misunderstood, de Vajay is brave enough to be simultaneously involved in multiple and challenging projects. His indefatigable personality along with his strong commitment he is at the forefront of KBB in Buenos Aires while working on various projects on the side. With a good sense of humor and an interesting perspective to share, he told us his point of view on some of the issues that keep him entertained.
Years ago you embarked on the KBB project in Barcelona. It had a cold reception in Cataluña among a crowd within an art scene not precisely open to new initiatives.
I think this happens anywhere. It’s not easy to start something powerful when you are not originally from that place. It’s natural; it takes time to be part of something. Sadly, what matters the most is your CV or the number of years in the business. This is the reason why companies are tempted to claim on their brand the statement “since 19..” in order to convey an image of trust and reliability to the public. Not long ago, during the first decade of this century, Barcelona felt provincial in some ways. Many galleries would only represent Catalan or Spanish artists. Meanwhile, the KBB was created to do the opposite. I would guess this was not acclaimed and I can understand it. Barcelona underwent big changes as it opened to a much wider scene. Perhaps it’s still a bit provincial in terms of contemporary art, but it experienced new ways of attracting audience. KBB was like a breathe of fresh air in this little art family affair that Barcelona was encountering.
You relocated your work to Buenos Aires. What is the outcome of this move? How do you develop KBB’s scope of work?
In 2009, KBB reshaped the project by opening a new branch in Buenos Aires. It then became a new center of activities. Coincidentally, this happened a few months before the economic crises hit Spain, which lasted several years. Argentina was in a better shape back then. Although the crisis came a few years later, there was no strategy behind in moving KBB to Latin America. It occurred naturally. There was not a plan, and perhaps not even a decision to do so. The big change in opening KBB in Buenos Aires was that there is no public space or benefactors. We don’t have a program for every month’s events or host artists the same way we did in Barcelona. We started more as an office that provides content to institutions, exhibitions, conferences, concerts, and so on. We focus our work on the editing by publishing a great deal of books from Argentinian artists such as Jorge Macchi, Adrian Villar Rojas, Guillermo Kuitca, Luciana Lamothe, Matias Duville, to name a few and from other countries. We also organize concerts, art installations, and produce art exhibitions in Argentina and abroad.
You have maintained your career as an artist and as a curator, as well as publish books. How do you manage to balance these simultaneously?
This is the most difficult question to answer! It’s very hard to find the right equilibrium between these different tasks. These require fundraising and collectors. It’s time consuming, but after so many years of doing these you find a way to manage without falling apart. There are times when you put more energy into some projects and others where you have to let them aside. Not long ago, I’ve dedicated about twenty percent of my time on book publishing, very little in curating, and for the most part on my own production as an artist. It was very different at KBB in Barcelona years earlier. I had many curatorial projects, no editing and almost no personal time to work on my art. I guess this had a correlation between the space that was public and needed a program, my energy and age, as well as the dynamics of the city. It’s hard to say what brings you to do one thing or the other.
You have been publishing books for a long time, from Toit du Monde to Of Bridges & Borders. What do you see as the current challenges on art publishing in the editorial world?
This is true. I’ve been editing art books since 2002. In the beginning, I was more modest in my skills but with time I felt more confident. Today, KBB is a relevant contemporary art publisher in Argentina. We have almost twenty books that have consolidated us. Although we are very small, we do more than just publish books. We are a cultural non-profit, and we have participated in other areas related to art and culture. Personally, I find that book editing is a very nice way to make art more accessible to a larger crowd. However, it is difficult to be economically sustainable. This is our biggest challenge.
What is your proposal and concept behind Of Bridges & Borders?
Of Bridges & Borders is one of those projects you probably do only once or twice in a lifetime. It started as a book project published by JRP|Ringier from Zurich in 2009 with the participation of thirty-three mid career international artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn, Chris Burden, Liam Gillick, Elmgreen & Dragset, Tomás Saraceno, Carsten Nicolai, Santiago Sierra and Carlos Amorales. Up until 2010, we did a crazy launch tour in thirteen countries and in twenty-three cities around Europe and Latin America. We presented this book together with music performances, institutional talks, workshops, small pop-up shows and parties. In 2011, this turned into an five-act exhibition throughout different institutions in Buenos Aires: the Museum of Modern Art, PROA, CCEBA and two outdoor projects; one is a performance and the other one is public art work, which are still on view in the city. In 2013, we did a new project with the participation of twenty artists in Valparaiso, Chile. Their works were presented in the city’s public space. Among these interventions we produced an important site-specific project with Ai Weiwei. A year later, a second publication was released with the participation of eighteen artists, architects, philosophers, sociologists, writers and researchers. It was quite an important project in terms of capturing a specific era of the global climate. In some years from now this could become a cult project as it was done in a very organic way. Coincidentally, this was developed in a particular time that was twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A long time ago you worked on a project titled New Order, intended for an exhibition. Perhaps this is the time to carry this project forward?
I remember…. This was in 2006, a few years before Of Bridges & Borders. It was more radical in a way. I wanted this to take place in Geneva, but everything surrounding this project went against it. It was difficult to get resources; empty spaces where to make this happen, sponsors, support from the city, etc. I liked this project because the idea behind this was to invite various curators from my generation to participate in it. Some of the curators were from eastern countries that presented new artists proposals. This was fresh and exciting! Back then, I was young and not able to find the right means to execute this. I didn’t have enough courage to push forward. I was too shy, too lazy, or maybe not so convinced about it. I ended up dropping it. I have to admit it was one of the few projects I dropped. Maybe this is the right moment to do it, but I became more romantic and poetic as well. This could lead me into cultivating new interests, new themes and new paradigms.
Today’s society is perceived as disoriented. Is art a mirror of our current critical times?
There is more than one art world. There is the creative one, the commercial one, and the intellectual one, and one that is a blend of everything. It’s difficult to deal with the art market as well as genuine art, in addition to artists, galleries, museums, cities, governments, and so on. However, art and culture have always struggled with these variables. There are various strategies that can be carried out to make a project reach its goal. Art needs to deal with all these different issues, and at the same time reflect these situations in various ways. Art takes inspiration on everyday life and how the world looks today. Some of the art out there are a clear reflection of the confusing times we live in.
Do you still consider exhibitions as necessary? How do you evaluate the current means of investigation that prevail in the artistic scene?
Indeed, exhibitions are much needed. At times the format may not be the best, but the idea is to bring artists or works of one specific artist together, and show them to the public in an institution. This is part of the educational concept. It can be done differently. New forms of presentations are slowly being experimented. On one hand, I think the classical ways of presenting art can be perfectly adapted to certain works, and they should hold onto this. On the other hand, I believe there should be a way to reach a much bigger audience through art, especially by using social media and public spaces in cities. This means communicating new ideas to the public. Public spaces are very interesting to work with. I feel more enthusiastic working on this kind of project. It’s another avenue to reach a larger audience.
If art had to serve one purpose, what do you think is the most efficient one in our current times? Are artists, in general, capacitated to be useful?
Art and artists are the lungs of society. Art should always transmit a strong message to the viewer. It has a fundamental function, and this is what makes it strong and respectful. It hasn’t changed in the past centuries. We need to use new tools to make sure we reach audiences. Art needs to follow the time it was made in and adapt itself to new vocabularies. Artist should be today’s messengers, inventors, thinkers, free speakers, and useful society linkers with a great touch of poetry. Of course we are useful! There is nothing more boring than a city with no culture and no art.
Sigismond de Vajay, The Sphinx, Les Halles, Porrentruy, Switzerland, 2014. Photography by Géraud Siegenthaler.
Lang & Baumann, Spiral # 3, Of Bridges & Borders, Valparaiso, Chile, 2013. Photography by L&B.
Fabrice Gygi, Conjunto de tres piezas, Of Bridges & Borders, Valparaiso, Chile, 2013. Photography by KBB staff.
Guillermo Kuitca, Collected Drawings 1971-2017. Photography by Gian Paolo Minelli.
Guillermo Kuitca, Collected Drawings 1971-2017. Photography by Gian Paolo Minelli.
Proa Foundation Library with work of Lang & Baumann, Beautiful Steps #6, Of Bridges & Borders, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2011. Photography by Jorge Miño.
Photography by Ezequiel Hilbert.
KBB’s upcoming activities:
Gimena Macri’s exhibition at Galeria Pasto. April 12 through May 19, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
You can find Sigismond de Vajay in Art Lima, KBB Stand P4. April 19 through April 22, 2018. Lima, Peru
April 19 - Panel discussion: Publishing as an art form and curatorial support.
April 22 - Dialogue between Ishmael Randal Weeks and Sigismond de Vajay.
Newly published books:
Collected Drawings (1971-2017), Guillermo Kuitca
El amor imperfecto, Gimena Macri
Unreachable Empires, Sigismond de Vajay
For more information visit www.kbb.org.es