Julian Opie: I am always referring to the world, to things that seem poignant to me and then try to synthesize or make my version of these things. Not with individual, specific objects but more as an example of something. So anything you can think of: a house, a traffic light, a tram, a car, all of these things are one example of the system. When you get to it, you read the largest system as well. Obviously when you are looking at a car, you are not only reading a Ford Escort, there's millions variations, different colors. You can have a relationship with this one object. But by looking at it, you have this wider relationship, which is then connected to other things. This somehow seems to me a more real type of object. On the one hand I wanted to go further with this, on the other hand I was frustrated about the relationship between works and exhibitions. I still want to go further, not making the exhibition separate from the work. Not to make site-specific installations. Thinking of someone arriving at the show and realizing that this only exists because of the situation seems slightly wrong to me. I want something which has some elements of that but is not completely like that. So I try to build not just one work that you can see as one possibility of a system, but a whole system of works.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: The immediate impact of your work has to do with the "pictographic" quality of the actual elements in the gallery. Any relation can be established between the different elements in the exhibition itself, but then also with the outer space, with the space just in front of the window, with the mental space, i.e. with the concepts you have about these elements.
Opie: Yeah. I did a show in Bern with Ulrich Loock. He wrote that the sculptures were like machines for looking. I really liked this idea. It is like setting up a complicated kind of laboratory situation so that you can look. None of the elements are important in itself although they have to be right in some way. In the end all that you have is this contraption you've made. So it's important, but more about the kind of way of looking, a very active, communicative activity. That has always been my idea of clarity, readability, i.e. means that looking becomes less a matter to see why somebody made these decisions or even to judge whether something is good or beautiful, but a matter of reading. This kind of looking which is maybe like the kind of looking you do when you look inside a plug and you decide which wire is going where.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: In your work, there is no conceptual interiority which has to be grasped by some sort of difficult mental operation. On the contrary, the work enables us to establish relations between surfacesÉ
Opie: Using your eyes, I guess in a lot of ways is about surface. You interpret an interior, but you cannot actually see it. And all the works I make are 99% surface. The interior is not really in question. In that sense they function like drawings or paintings, really much more than sculptures. And although I tend to accept to be called a sculptor, it doesn't seem very useful or accurate. But if you think of it, in terms of image or drawing, then that explains why it is possible to use computer images, painting on the wall or on the wooden box. It is just a matter of the way you put the image. The car needs to be out here, in that sense it becomes three-dimensional. You saw these buildings in Tours, three-dimensional in that situation, but they can then become two-dimensional in the system.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: You are using trees, housings, cars, and other images. Is the car always part of these different situations?
Opie: Since I began this project I was thinking a lot how close I want to go to narrative. It is obvious that in any exhibition situation you set up a narrative and you can chose how much you want to control it. Narrative for me is not something you write down, because it's always already there. So, any exhibition has this kind of narrative, the narrative can be: How much does this work cost? It can be quite separate from the exhibition. When you walk in here there is obviously much more of a narrative. The cars have a very strong narrative, because they are basically body containers. You as a body coming in . . . you don't drive in here, you walk in here, and you know what to do with a car you get inside it and go. One's relationship to a car tends to be that you project yourself inside it and then go. Like you see an aeroplane that is high, you somehow project yourself into it, and look back down on yourself. So the car seems to act quite well as sort of the narrator like in a novel, the singer in the song, that will take you, then, through the rest of the exhibition.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: Since the car is the only image that is almost sized as in reality, it may function as a reference point within the different situations.
Opie: I made this whole world I have been creating in a sense scaled to the viewer who is coming in. But I think that the car being maybe the real scale means that everything else is in a way off-scaled. The car as a narrator would make sense. You are in the car and everything else becomes scaleless and it doesn't matter if you see a mountain or a tree in a car, it makes no difference, because the tree is close and the mountain is far. It is like film I think: The two heads kissing are very big for emotional reasons, not because the heads are big.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: In your work there are always series of almost identical objects. As a viewer you start comparing and, then, are immersed in a constant kind of shifting, you shift all the time while being in this world. Your reference before was the outer world, but that seems to me to be just one part in a whole logic of shifting . . .
Opie: This is a nice way of telling it. In any kind of factual sense one of these buildings is enough. I can make the point, but by offering a number of options you keep the process of looking. For me of course it is hard . . . I have been painting these [the buidlings] for days, I can only glimpse at any possibility what it is really like to come in here and actually just look at it. But I can imagine that it is possible that there is a kind of timing involved in terms of looking and noticing differences. By the time you have been through these various processes, checking which car model it is, checking what building is from what period, which you like, you've kind of done it. The process of seeing the exhibition was an act, I fantasize it as a kind of active one and therefore kind of fast. Not that it is over quickly. Maybe an experience of looking, rather than me having made something and presenting it as something to be pondered on or admired or rejected. The danger of course is a kind of a roller-coaster-ride situation. It is a question of balance, of making the installation so that the narrative is possible but doesn't become dominant. There should be a balance between a conventional presentation: six large paintings on the wall and two sculptures in the space.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: The elements you create have a certain simplicity, clarity, but they are not really symbols . . .
Opie: One of the elements I am balancing is the degree to which something is generic and the degree to which something is specific. For instance, a real car: I don't think I could use this because it is too specific and then you have specificness: Whose car is this? How much does it cost? Do I want this car? All these questions would come in. And yet, if it is totally a symbol for a car. In terms of cars, you get to a point where you can't symbolize any further: when you symbolize a car as a hatch-back, you rule out sedans. There are some cars, and you see them on the street, usually it is an old sedan car, which have to changed eventually, because they don't look right anymore. Like telephones nobody uses anymore. They have lost their relationship to experience. Children will never use that telephone, although they will recognize the symbol. When it becomes only a symbol, it no longer seems to be useful to me. There is this double relation.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli:The car being close to its real dimension still remains an object, and I am able to oversee it. Therefore it becomes more conducive for me to focus, by way of looking, on imagination; from the reality of things to an imaginative, relational thinking about what is there. It makes it easy to like "fly" over the objects.
Opie: That's interesting. Certainly the scale of all the objects has very much to do with the level of your eyes and the fact that everybody seeing any exhibition is going to be standing up. I always assume that. That to me makes a big difference. You've got like eye-level, and then you have got paintings on the wall which allow you a higher, but final level, so in a sense it is "composition". I suppose this is what you are describing. That is the kind of prerogative of the artist, to frame and to compose a world which in fact, in reality doesn't conform. It is picturesque, which is non-stressful. The landscape is laid with a tree here and you a don't have to go somewhere else to see it properly. Painters compose the world without changing it very much, but composing it for the viewer. And I am sort of in a three-dimensional sense composing pictures.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: For me this has some similiarities with dreams as well. When you dream there can be a strong awareness of your body, strong feelings as well, but at the same time the body is not where you see it. It's a process of thinking in which bodily experience is important but at the same time the body seems to be sort of "floating."
Opie: It is interesting that in dreams it is not you that becomes dispersed. It is the world. You stay fairly static, but you are in fact in bed. The world becomes a series of scenes or situations. A wall can disappear or a scene can disappear and you are somewhere else. But it is not that you float I think, it is more like dreaming that the world floating passes you.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: As I walked into your show in Tours I immediately thought: "I have already seen it, that was quick" and I wondered "Will there be more to it?" After a while I thought I would love to picknick there.
Opie: That's nice. Part of the desire to make a kind of pyramid of experience is this desire to make exhibitions in a way that you make work. You see individual work that is maybe sort of the bottom of the pyramid. And then you "build" towards the top by bringing them in together. When you come in here it is like it all. You can immediately see what the elements are and what is happening. But then you can jump down a little bit and chose one of the works. For me there are not parts of this installation that I have been working on as an individual project, so that you can kind of shift out. It is actually quite similar to how the computer is organized, which is: you have these opening files, you can leave your document files where you have all of your work, you then click open files. Although the big document file on the screen is still open, it is for the moment covered by the file you are looking at. So you can look at the same scene, enter and then retract back to the full scene that sense of the scene, exhibition as scene, you can kind of focus both visually and mentally. In that sense it is important that all the buildings have their own history, that they are their own work, that each one is a painting.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: I noticed in the catalogue of the Hayward Gallery that your working-method includes a lot of out-door-photographs. I cannot think of your work solely linked to the notion of the studio, of the closed space, but of you as somebody who constantly observes, takes notes . . . It is like an exchange between the world and yourself.
Opie: A friend of mine described a certain mode of looking as travelling. I think I would relate it in a way to happiness where you are open to noticing. I can walk out of the studio a hundred times and then one time I notice the sky or the way the sky hits the buildings, and at other times it is simply my street which I have to walk down. That kind of difference you cannot really organize, but I generally find travelling, possibly travelling at speed, stimulating. The travelling generally has a tendency to create that kind of relationship, because your relationship to the world becomes less utilitarian. You are left with the visual impression of what you are seeing . . .
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: Lawrence Weiner states that his work is about the relationship of people to objects and objects to objects, which is a fairly good description of an important part of your work.
Opie: Interesting . . . He is not someone I would ever think of particularly to make a relationship to, but actually there is something in the way in which his work physically happens. He can be very much in control of the physical activity of moving and reading. This is very important. There is knowledge he conjures up and then you move to another one. This is very subtle, very orchestrated. Not only in terms of images or words but in terms of how they are put together.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: . . . it triggers a phenomenological sequence: reality can be actualized with every kind of phenomenon you may encounter. It may be an object, it may be something flat, something voluminous, some form of density or kinds of modalities . . .
Opie: But with words one is more aware of the degree to which you hold in your head images of things. That is the only way you can really carry a word whereas with images and objects it is a little bit different. Also you read it and carry memories of it, plus associations, but then you superpose that on the thing, unlike a word. You've actually got a physical presence.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: Recently you discovered the gallery advertising. Why are you interested in advertising?
Opie: I don't know, I feel like extending the project, into any available medium. I came along and found there was this art gallery system I didn't know it existed when I was at art school. I recognized that it existed, I guess I adjusted to it sort of organically. I'd do something different, if there were no museums or galleries. The gallery phoned me: What you want to write on the advert? So I spent the next few days designing the advert as a way of extending what I feel to be the work. It also gives me a way of extending a system into . . . in front of people's eyes, which I also recognize as intrusive in a sense, kind of vulgar, but I hope they hit the right note.
Kurjakovic & Lämmli: You said "organically", when you were trying to explain how you grasp different areas that surround you and become part of your system. This is the way you use catalogues. Think of the Kunsthalle catalogue in Bern, where you used a very specific form, linked to narrative comics. That's how you deal with the world, without being distressed about the so-called overflow of information, at the same you react to it and to make it real and visible, to experience it what you called energy and happiness.
Opie: I think so. I see an element of patheticness in it, in the sense that it's
pathetic for an individual to enter this arena, but pathetic in a potentially
interesting way. There is something pathetic about almost everybody. In the sense that
they can only function as an individual which is simply too small a unit to really
count, and even many people function on an important level individually. It always
strikes me as bizarre but we all have to remain as individuals however important we
get, we are still functioning as an individual and in that sense it is kind of
pathetic. Just the fact that people die is a final verification of that and how
pathetic that is. We can't stop that process. And so I try in a certain sense to
compete with the kind of processes that I recognize as being in place, like
advertising, publishing. It does provide me with a way of working, but it also, I
think, recognizes within itself its kind of patheticness, that it mimicks, it competes
on a kind of looser basis. In the same way that I am involved with town-planning, with car-production. There is a kind of humor in that.
Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.