Filipa Ramos: “Diversions” largely revolves around the logics and aesthetics of sports, and this led me to realise the importance of games and play in your work. What attracts you to them?
Céline: You also set sports in play and games—one plays volleyball, plays the piano, and also plays chess or hide-and-seek. The verb remains the same while we don’t necessarily think of these activities in the same category. Except that for most people, they take place outside the time of work. I started looking at play because I was looking for the opposite of work, if such a thing is possible: how to imagine time outside labour. I also thought of play as summoning an intimate encounter with form, with objects. In volleyball the ball is held, squeezed, thrown; playing music entails a really physical handling of an instrument, like playing chess. The way playing requires this corporal hold is precisely what’s usually forbidden from cultural objects, from art. You can’t touch those but in exceptional circumstances (such as ‘handling’ collection), yet they are supposed to touch you.
Céline Condorelli, Limits To Play (Badmington, Basketball, Football, Pétanque), 2022. Vinyl. 500 x 340 x 290 cm. Unique
FR: I never thought of it until now, in Portuguese there’s the difference between playing for fun (brincar, which comes from vinculum, to bond) and playing for sports (jogar, from iocor, to amuse oneself), as if the former was a social activity and the latter a quest for pleasure.
This exhibition stands in the triangulation between leisure, enjoyment and exception, considering how these activities invent and follow their own rules, also thinking of how people and objects relate to one another: how they may be approached, touched and manipulated.
From your extensive research on play, which has a lot of declinations—from conceiving playgrounds to creating installations that activate specific games (such as spinning tops), to recreating the graphic spatializations of sports—what are the core formal, material and also ideological elements that made their way into this body of work?
CC: I don’t usually understand what I’m doing in relation to formal or material cores—I need to figure out the right medium every time in relation to the task at hand. Clarity emerges for me from what needs to be done, the actions I demand from the work and ideas I am working with. There is something of a collective, distributed self, which doesn’t necessarily correspond to me. Of course this is also something I seek through extensive collaborations and dialogues with others. But some things remain, perhaps in relationship to your question, such as the refusal of a certain elitism and the exclusionary nature of the art system, the idea of including non-discursive, material and direct understandings of the built environment as valid aesthetic experiences in their own right (so that the kids throwing themselves onto a climbing structure have as valid an encounter with an artefact as an art historian studying it through photographs). This desire to include other ways of seeing and doing, and in this way expand our own notions of knowledge, and culture, is very much at the centre of your practice, and I have learnt a lot from you in this regard. What does the relationship between leisure and culture mean to you?
FR: Your question makes me think about the notion of “free time”, often associated with leisure and culture, and to wonder what its antonym could be. Confined time? Trapped time? Arrested time? Any of these options is telling of the perception of labour as a forceful, imposed and unpleasant duty.
Under such optics, leisure and culture appear as luxuries, things that may only happen if and when you can “afford” to “spend” time by “consuming” culture. Brrrr. It’s horrible when we perceive how the road to leisure and culture can be paved by economical and financial terms that define who has, and who has not, access to rest, experience and memory.
But if on the one hand the relationship between leisure and culture is often associated with privilege, on the other hand, it also leads us to freedom and pleasure, which is where things start to get more interesting, because their huge emancipatory potential is revealed. Can we help to create a world in which privilege means something that is special not for a few but for all? In which leisure is not the opposite but rather an important part of labour? In which culture is not what opposes labour and leisure but what weaves them together? I trust so. It’s what gives sense to being here, doing what we do.
And in relation to this comes, almost inevitably, a question about your work process. How do you manage, for instance, to take an artistic practice seriously while remaining playful about games or, vice-versa, to take games seriously while remaining playful about art?
Céline Condorelli, 1920 (Football), 2022. One colour silkscreen on glass, inkjet on 100% cotton paper. 42,5 x 60 cm. Unique
CC: You’ve just outlined the contradictions and complexities haunting contemporary culture and its position in society. Depressing in many ways, but also important to understand as this is the place in which we work. I think culture is a serious matter, or to quote Marco Scotini, “culture is not a patisserie, a place to go and buy meringue”. However I don’t think cultural encounters need to feel like a punishment, and drive audiences further away than they already are…
My work process is filled with attempts and contradictions, big questions and small tricks, but I’m not interested in riddles, or being difficult; I’m interested in changing social relations, in making things visible. So the work process develops from ideas, positions and politics in order to try and make them into aesthetically precise experiences, so visually compelling as to pull people into them whether they are interested in the issues or not. There are many valid ways of being pulled, which goes back to the earlier answer, whether one decides to bathe in the feeling of an installation or dive into a specific discourse, and when I get it right, it means being pulled into a discourse one has never been part of, which is both pleasurable and expansive.
Céline Condorelli, 1926 (Marathon), 2022. One colour silkscreen on glass, inkjet on 100% cotton paper. 60 x 42,5 cm. Unique
Céline Condorelli, 1956 (Badmington), 2022. One colour silkscreen on glass, inkjet on 100% cotton paper. 42,5 x 60 cm. Unique
Céline Condorelli, 1977 (Pétanque), 2022. One colour silkscreen on glass, inkjet on 100% cotton paper. 42,5 x 60 cm. Unique
FR: While doing so, your practice is often collaborative, and it has been so for many years, both in the making of single artworks and in the development of projects where the artistic and the curatorial are brought together. How do you see the collaborative aspect of your work in relation to these attempts at making people think about the intentions and preoccupations that are at the core of it?
Céline Condorelli, Brise-Soleil, 2020. Textile, rope, wood, rock. Variable dimensions. Ed. 3 + 1 AP
CC: I went back to what we wrote under the headline “collaborating” in the Eastside Projects Manual, Draft 5, February 2012, so exactly 10 years ago. I still stand by it and cannot remember how it was written and with how many of us, which seems appropriate. It reads like this: We believe in working collaboratively towards change. Collaboration is based on mutual dependence, it is unpredictable, precarious, fragile. It is driven by individuals through the desire to multiply their potential to overcome scarcity or inequality in a way they cannot alone.
FR: It’s nice that you go back to the foundations of Eastside Projects, a declination of Support Structure, the collaborative project you and Gavin Wade ran from 2003 to 2009. Phase 1: In support of Art (2003) provided a display system and art storage for people to curate exhibitions for one day, every day, at London’s Chisenhale Gallery. While highlighting the importance of logistic and structural support, the project also relied on a sort of game-logic, in which you had to respond to certain materials, spaces, objects and rules, to achieve your aims. In parallel, in Phase 2: In support of Corporations (2004), you brought elementary school children to the Economist Plaza, inviting them to point out their needs and desires to improve the working and rest areas, highlighting the importance of playfulness and wellbeing in such a corporate space. This to suggest that elements of playfulness and games have manifested themselves at different stages of your artistic history, often as ways of speaking about and activating process of social transformation. What kinds of features that define competitive sports are you interested in debating here?
Céline Condorelli, 1921 (Basketball), 2022. One colour silkscreen on glass, inkjet on 100% cotton paper. 60 x 42,5 cm. Unique