We Play Around with the Myth of CoBrA

Kasper Akhøj and Tamar Guimãraes are participating in the group show curated by Katerina Gregos in the Belgian Pavilion. We met them for an afternoon drink.

Kasper Akhøj and Tamar Guimãraes. Foto: Maria Kjær Themsen.
Kasper Akhøj and Tamar Guimãraes. Foto: Maria Kjær Themsen.

The group show Personne et les autres in the Belgian Pavilion breaks with the nationalist structure of the Biennale and presents a group of international artists. The show is grounded in research-based practices that explore questions of colonial modernity, and includes references to the movements of Dada, CoBrA and the Situationist International. In 2013 Kasper Akhøj and Tamar Guimãraes participated in Massimiliano Gioni’s The Encyclopedic Palace. For the Belgian Pavilion the artists have made a new work that revolves around the art movement CoBrA, and specifically one African member of the group, who has been marginalized in the story of the movement.

Can you tell me about the work you present in the Belgian Pavilion?

Tamar Guimarães: It is a fable in five parts. The fables involve anonymous characters and fabulous creatures, manifesting different attitudes and changing perceptions of the encounter between Western and non-Western modes of thought and acknowledging the desire for renewal implied by this encounter.

Kasper Akhøj: In this way, we play around with the myth of CoBrA as an art group, by literally taking the myth of the animal cobra as a starting point.

TA: The South African artist Ernest Mancoba was part of CoBrA in the beginning. But Mancoba was unwilling to embody the link to ‘primitive Africa’ that CoBrA might have expected from him and therefore his presence and production became ‘unreadable’. Little by little both he and Sonja Ferlov were sidelined in the group, and nearly erased from its history.

What have been the greatest highlights in Venice so far?

KA: The Angola Pavilion threw a hell of a party last night! Good music, Afro electro stuff, inside a very beautiful Pallazzo.

TG: Yes, It was inside the musical conservatoire.

KA: And then I really like the Irish Pavilion. It is a dear old friend who is showing there, and he is a fantastic storyteller with a low key humour. It is light, but interesting.

TG: Yes, light but profound!

TG and KA: And we really like Danh Vo’s installation!

TG: I was very impressed by it before the installation was finalized too. I liked the sensual disorder – the lemon tree was inside the building still, there were medieval carvings scattered around – there were punctums everywhere. And all this was part of the sacred and profane junction that the work evokes.

What are you going to do when you come home from Venice?

TG: First, look after urgent stuff that were left aside while installing! And then I’m working on a script for our next film. It is actually a follow up on the film we showed in the last Venice Biennial.  I’m also preparing a solo show in September, in Switzerland.

KA: I’m going straight back to work on my Statement in Art Basel this summer. I’m showing a series of concrete, brutalist sculptures. And then I have to prepare a solo exhibition in NMNM in Monaco, opening this autumn…

TG: Ah yes, and then I have a solo project at the Reina Sofia in Madrid next year.