A new exhibition space will soon open in Copenhagen. AYE-AYE is a tiny institution, a rigorous conceptuality, or an artist-driven experiment whose head office is located in a small room at Overgaden vacated by the institute’s current director, Rhea Dall.
The people behind the project are artists Nina Beier and Simon Dybbroe Møller, who have now, after many years abroad, moved their lives and practices back to Denmark. Acting as a parasite or an appendix to existing institutions – beginning with Overgaden – AYE-AYE constitutes an attempt at reducing, clarifying and challenging what may the most basic, structuring principle of any exhibition: the juxtaposition. ‘Aye-aye’ is an affirmative exclamation and the name of a special kind of lemur, but it is also a phonetic play with a doubling of the pronoun ‘I’ in English.
AYE-AYE exhibitions are based on a completely pared-back model: each exhibition contains two objects and a soundtrack circulating the room, indicating ways of entering the condensed meeting. For example, the first exhibition – opening on 1 July – will feature a work by the Greenlandic-Danish artist Pia Arke set against fleischsteine (meat stones) on loan from a dedicated collector in Germany. Several Danish and international artists are in the pipeline for AYE-AYE’s two-year exhibition program, but Beier and Dybbroe Møller are keeping the names firmly under wraps, ready to spring on the world at the right moment.
What’s the underlying idea behind AYE-AYE’s quite tight concept?
The idea is that by establishing a firm dogma for the entire series of exhibitions, they become a single, vast collective exhibition over time, while of course each event is its own little thing each time. It makes everything potentially really exciting, because with such structural limitations, the smallest difference can be just the thing that makes something come to life. We haven’t reinvented the haiku or anything, but when you strip away all the admin of making large exhibitions, it frees up time to think about the very basics of the meetings between objects. To really look at things, view them under a microscope.
Do you apply a sharp distinction between the categories of the objects exhibited? ‘Art’ versus ‘things’, for example?
No. Many of the exhibits are going to have the format you outline because there is something inherently interesting in the clash between art and thing, but it is not an unbreakable principle. There may be exhibits that possess the qualities of works of art, but we also plan to make exhibitions with two objects that do not carry the label ‘artwork’ – just as we may at some point juxtapose two works of art.
So it’s more about levelling out established hierarchies in terms of how we experience objects in general? What a work of art or an art experience can be?
We expect several things, including that the work of art may be ‘pulled down’ to the level of the thing, or that the thing is ‘raised up’ to become art. That the two labels are going to flip back and forth, influencing each other. But we are also interested in honing the experience of how ‘art’ and ‘things’ can share the same essence, the same being. That something second-hand we’ve bought through the classified ads isn’t necessarily so very different from a work of art we borrow from a museum. And many of the works of art AYE-AYE is going to exhibit are also just things that someone has given a title. All exhibitions have a kind of headline, but the project is not a masterminded programme; of course, some aspects are settled in advance, but a lot can be changed along the way. Ideally, it should be a sandbox rather than a straitjacket. The first show might be a bit like learning to ride a bike, but at some point you get better at it. Then you can start doing tricks.
Why at Overgaden? Why not in some obscure cellar on the outskirts of Copenhagen?
For several reasons. First of all, we plan to regularly borrow objects from established institutions, and they appreciate our displaying the objects in an art gallery equipped with security systems, alarms, and so on. We would probably have felt quite at home in a cellar or garage, but in such a setting it wouldn’t be possible to do what we want to do.
So is Aye-Aye actually an institution?
It’s either a small institution or maybe – although that sounds really tacky – a kind of laboratory. In many ways, the project would like to conduct fundamental research on how to make exhibitions. One of the most basic exhibition principles is probably juxtaposition, the combination of things, and here we try to show that in its smallest, most condensed form. It’s not because we’re interested in running some binary programme, but hopefully there’s something exciting about things being allowed to hit each other really hard as carriers of meaning. Of course, the fact that there are only these two things, their particular collision, is anxiety-provoking, but also really cool. Maybe AYE-AYE is an attempt to take works out of their comfort zones; we want to avoid contextualising them to death. Perhaps a sense of texture can emerge more clearly in a work if it is set free of the kind of context that, for example, a focus on an artist’s origins and history can create.
Is the project a kind of institutional critique?
It’s institutional experimentation, perhaps. We try to place ourselves somewhere new, somewhere in the exhibition landscape that feels uninhabited. Speaking of not being in a garage, AYE-AYE is neither an artist-driven project space showing all our friends, nor an institutional space run by a curator; it tries, perhaps a little awkwardly, to settle somewhere in between the two. We only exhibit works that already exist, which have had a different context, giving them a pre-existing narrative. The commissioned, new work of art is probably the purest point in the life of a work of art. From that point on, it becomes instrumentalised in all sorts of ways and can end up in exhibitions called ‘art and porn’, ‘art and sports’, ‘art and gold’. Works of art are used to being utilised in that way, and perhaps AYE-AYE is an attempt to ultimately instrumentalise things by placing them within tiny, one-to-one conversations. Of course, we hope that the artists and the works we invite have trust and confidence in those conversations.
Do you think that trust might be predicated on the fact that you are artists before you are curators?
There is certainly a shift when the work, the thing, always stands alone, entering into a relationship with just one other object. That way, it might be lifted up and out of the claws of communication, of the edifying voice of education and presentation. But of course we also think that the interesting thing about the work is the addition of a voice-over track in the space in an effort to make something clearer: where the thinking about things happens. There is no single, definitive narrative, but the soundtrack can pull something forward and out of the objects, not necessarily with the ambition of exposing everything, rather with a desire to show some possible paths ahead. Preferably, several pathways rather than just one.
At the end of the day, an artist-run project space in Copenhagen is not exactly a novelty. Why do you want to set up one at all?
We have both worked and exhibited as artists for many years now, having – as artists do – our heads up our own backsides, totally obsessed with our own practices. It turns out that we have some common interests which often deal with found objects. You could call the project “the good object” because in many ways we want to explore that precise question: What is a good object? What can be both specific and general at the same time, what can have metaphorical potential and at the same time be extremely material? Maybe it’s also an attempt to ask: Aren’t we currently living in a culture where everyone is always just sampling, taking things and putting them together? All objects drag their histories with them into the space. Boris Groys speaks about how the new is always what looks like something that used to be, but is a little different. Something has to be fundamentally identical and fundamentally different at the same time. Jesus was the new thing. But you cannot make a new car.