My art form is communication
Marco Evaristti’s art focuses on major, current subjects – and on subjects he finds are widely suppressed in our society. His works are performance art − confrontational, in the avant garde tradition. His intention is to transform people’s lives through his artistic practice. This means that the activity / performance connected to his work is often an intrinsic part of the work itself. It was the case when Evaristti climbed Mont Blanc as part of The Mont Rouge Project, 2007 ... when he – a Jew – became the blood brother of a Muslim by sharing blood in Goodbye Kiss, 2003 ... when he created paintings from heroine with addicts in Vesterbro in Copenhagen in Super Heroes, 2003 ... when he visited prisoner no. 000800 on death row in Texas in Five2Twelve, 2007-2008, ... etc.
The human body is in every way one of Evaristti’s main materials. He constantly draws attention to his own body – or to the bodies of others, including museum visitors’ bodies. For example, he himself had liposuction performed in Polpette al Grasso di Marco, 2006 ... offered visitors the opportunity to put one of their kidneys up for sale in Life Auction, 2012 ... and used the gold teeth of Jews from Auschwitz in Rolexgate, 2006.
Evaristti’s themes are often religious strife and inequality. Subjects that in our daytoday lives we perhaps tend to repress and suppress. He confronts us not only with the essential questions of our time, but also with our own personal reaction – or lack thereof – to them.
Evaristti takes the view that many of us spend our lives being voyeuristic moralists, usually focusing on petty problems. Evaristti sees the fact that his work involving veiltail goldfish in food blenders (Helena & El Pescador) at Trapholt in 2000 could lead to a major court case as an almost surreal symbol of the victory of this voyeuristic moral stance in our society. Instead Evaristti wants us to do battle with really major, global ethical dilemmas, such as: Why have the world’s major religions always fought each other? How can “life” be more or less valuable?
What solutions can we come up with? Evaristti wants to hold up a mirror to us and make us reconsider our stance on the subjects with which he presents us. In 2013 Marco Evaristti will turn 50, and in that connection Trapholt will put on a retrospective exhibition of a number of his most significant art projects. This book is published in connection with the exhibition, and the presentation of works of art is, as is the exhibition, organized in relation to a number of the overarching themes which Evaristti returns to again and again in this art. It is, however, important to keep in mind that Evaristti's works of art are most frequently multifaceted and spread over several of the themes at the same time.
The Conflict theme deals with the battle between religions. Evaristti juxtaposes various religions, confronting them with each other in situations where blood, hair, a kiss, and death are topics that both separate and unite them. With his Pink State Evaristti offers us Utopia where he invites us to enter a mindset based on respect for ourselves, for others and for nature. In Human Rights he invites us to ponder how it can be that a civilised country such as the USA − with which we in Denmark often identify – systematically kills murderers who have ended up on death row. What mechanisms does “the system” avail itself of to legitimise this? With his Body theme Evaristti very literally deals with bodies and our thoughts on whether our body is our personal subject or whether it is really basically an object that can be traded. Perhaps we cynically consider ourselves and our nearest and dearest subjects and everybody else objects?
The book is opened with three essays. The words of Karen Grøn (Master of Arts and museum inspector) place a number of Evaristti's works of art in the performative avantgarde art and test why their effect is so strong. Marco Evaristti wishes to create communication through his works of art. One of the key themes in his art is human rights and our way of living together. Jonas Christoffersen, director of the Institute for Human Rights, has been invited to give his "outside perspective" on Evaristti's art. Anna Karina Hofbauer, Master of Arts and doctor of philosophy in art history, has specialized in participatory art, and the works of Evaristti are a key example in her studies. Hofbauer contributes with an essay about art which actively involves the observer, and in particular focuses on Evaristti's Pink State project, as it was presented in a solo exhibition at Kunstraum
Dornbirn in 2005.
Marco Evaristti – a humanist in wolf’s clothing?
By Director Dr. jur. Jonas Christoffersen, The Danish Institute for Human Rights
I know a great deal about human rights and very little about art. When one does not know very much about a subject, in my case art, one will usually refrain from making public comments on the subject. But there is also an alluring freedom to disgrace oneself when shouldering the banner of ignorance.
So I will chance my luck and come straight out with it and say that Marco Evaristti is a great humanist. In Marco Evaristti’s world we encounter death and destruction, blood and body parts. But he is a humanist who, for reasons I cannot fathom, wears wolf’s clothing. The indignation and controversy in the wake of Evaristti’s works would never have been the same if the deep humanistic message had been conveyed by a humanist in sheep’s clothing. And art would not have had the same impact if it had dealt with people and love, life and intercourse, with superficial ease.
A life is woven from many threads. In Marco Evaristti’s case human rights run as a red thread through numerous works produced over many years. It will soon be 65 years since the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted by parliamentarians from large parts of the world. In 1948, in the ruins of the Second World War, politicians gathered around a common text that can also serve as the framework for my view of Marco Evaristti’s art:
“ All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
This is in all simplicity Article 1 of the Universal Declaration. It is meaningful to treat human beings as free, equal, dignified, reasonable and conscientious. And of course it makes sense to treat each other in a spirit of brotherhood. However, it is difficult to live up to the vision of the Universal Declaration. Marco Evaristti places his finger in the open wounds again and again. He probes the wounds so that darkness appears before our eyes and he then rubs salt in the wounds to force up to wake up and realise that we are living in an absurd world”.
Human beings live in their bodies. It is the framework for our lives. The most sacred of the sacred, for without a body there is no (earthly) life. Marco Evaristti challenges our perception of the body when with the work Polpette al grasso di Marco,2006 he asks whether we are able to decide on our own bodies. We are perhaps all familiar with the nursery rhyme: “I have caught a gnat. Melted the fat out of it/ The barrel here is big and thick, filled with its fat/Sew me a pair of boots right away, you can begin now/If I don’t have any money, you can take the fat from the barrel.” (Jeg har fanget mig en myg. Smeltet fedtet af den/Tønden her er stor og tyk, fyldt med fedtet fra den/Sy mig fluks et støvlepar, du kan straks begynde/Hvis jeg ingen penge har, får du fedt fra tønde) Marco Evaristti instead sings:
“I have sucked fat from the body. Warmed buns in it/The tin here is stupid and ugly, filled with fat and buns/Pay attention right now, you must pay for it/ If I am not an artist, you may have the fat from the tin.” (Jeg har suget fedt fra krop. Varmet boller i det/ Dåsen her er dum og grim, fyldt med fedt og boller/Giv mig straks opmærksomhed, du må betale for det/Hvis jeg ingen kunstner er, får du fedt fra dåsen).
With bold irony Evaristti writes himself into the ranks of the artists who sell themselves to the art-hungry public. And the boundary between art and language ceases to exist. Perhaps in order to challenge the transcendent and all-consuming demands of consumerism on the performer, but I also see it as a question as to whether we have the right to go the whole hog and sell our bodies. And whether we need to eat our own bodies? Is there something wrong with this, or are we just stumbling into dogmas that should be thrown out with the bath water?
The question becomes more difficult when we sell or give away our own body parts. With Life Auction, 2012 Evaristti casts the spotlight on organ donation, which can be the expression of the greatest love and the most violent exploitation. A person who voluntarily gives a body part to a close relative is performing a self-sacrificing act of love, something that we can of course all understand and appreciate. Who would not give a life-giving kidney to those who we love? But thousands of poor people have not other resort than to sell their kidneys, corneas and other essential body parts. And criminals steal body parts in order to sell them to people willing to pay for them, who are hopefully in good faith about the traffic.
With the work Last Fashion, 2008 the question of how can we take the lives of others is asked. Where does the human being stand when it creates and uses machines of death? The death penalty involves a dehumanisation, says Evaristti, for who is the person who participates in the organised killing of another human being. How can the executioners in the American prisons live with their consciences when they kill other human beings? They can only do this, says Evaristti, because every bit of humanism is peeled away from the person who is to be killed. The prisoner on Death Row is reduced to an object, a number, and the number bears his cross all the way to the burial site. Evaristti sets his watch to five-to-twelve and shouts: “Last chance for humanism – the slaughter of humans must end soon”, but his cries fall on deaf ears. The last death sentence was not carried out.
Human beings live in nature. With Pink State,2004- Evaristti creates a Utopia based on the motto “be good to yourself, others and nature”. But humans are also greedy and want to own nature. Whose world is it? How do we come to own land? How can we allow ourselves to own the world? The fundamental idea is that humans cannot own nature. That we cannot only colour an iceberg red and demand power over it. However, the human rights perspective does ask the question of whether this theory about the freedom of nature is completely tenable. As some people live in nature in a way that modern people do not comprehend. Indigenous peoples live in and by nature in their world, but their way of living is under threat from modern life. That is if they and their way of life have not already been eradicated. Indigenous peoples have not painted the earth red and this would certainly not have done them any good, but the question is whether or not indigenous peoples do not have a right to move around and live in nature in a way that others must respect?
On this basis one can ask whether the Danes are an indigenous people who have the right to define the culture in which they exist and that as a consequence others must adapt to the culture of the country. With God Save Denmark, 1998 Evaristti asks whether Denmark’s cultural heritage is able to stand being translated into other languages. What will it take to acquire a foreign culture? Is it enough to sing the song that we hear being sung in a piecemeal fashion, even if the song is unrecognisable? Can the Danish flag be formed in any way – is a white cross on a red background sufficient, or is there more to it? And what room do we have for the cultures wishes of others?
As if it were not enough to own nature and control culture, human beings have also demanded the incarnate dream of world domination. The dream of domination of nature, culture, humanity and other peoples. And if other peoples are not to the liking of the despot they can be eradicated. Genocide and ethnic cleansing were not invented in our time, but the Second World War opened our eyes to the abyss of inhumanity that can live in human beings. The Nazi death camps come to life in Rolexgate, 2006, where as in Last Fashion, which dealt with the death penalty, Evaristti sets his watch to five-to-twelve and shouts: “Last chance for humanism – the slaughter must now end soon”, but his cries fall on deaf ears. The Final Solution [SM1] was not completed. Rolexgate and Last Fashion draw parallels between the present day death penalty and the death camps of the past. The victims are reduced to numbered objects and the executioners are part of a neutralised system that focuses on objectives and not means. Also no comparison, I should remember to add.
People live by faith. But there is nothing else like faith that can bring people to the brink of war with each other. With Terrorialista, 2001 features a disarticulated body from a terror attack in Israel. But this could also have been many other locations in the world, where religion is the focal point for bloody conflicts inherited through generations. These rarely end in death camps and genocide, unless the atrocities are sufficient for Evaristti to broach the subject and ask: Why must we go to war with each other over land? Three Boxing Bags, 2010 filled with Jewish, Christian and Muslim hair raises the same question and gives us the opportunity to punch the group we hate.
The three monotheistic religions must be able to live side by side, Evaristti hopes naively in Forgive me, Helena, 2011. Evaristti returns to the goldfish that secured him a public breakthrough. The point would seem to be that we can go berserk over the sacrifice of a goldfish, while we turn a blind eye to global war, death and destruction. It is perhaps easier for Evaristti to ask goldfish for forgiveness than it is for the descendents of war and terror to forgive the perpetrators. But we must start somewhere in order to find faith in peace and love.
People live in communities. In communities between people. Between nations. In the bosom of the family. In partnership. Or just in community on the street while walking to work. All places in community with others. Our foodstuffs are produced by others. Processed by others. Are transported by others. Are prepared by others. And the same applies to clothes and furniture, the petrol in our cars and the electricity in our sockets. We live in communities everywhere, but it is difficult to keep the peace. “Brotherhood – Good Bye Kiss” (2003) could be the joining in love of the Jewish man and the Arab woman, but perhaps the woman has taken hold of the man's face in order to give him the kiss of death. In order to say goodbye – goodbye to life in the community. Evaristti seems to be asking the question: Can we live together in a spirit of brotherhood?
“ All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Is this Evaristti’s message? That we should all live together in a spirit of brotherhood?
The participation of the observer as an experiment in the art of Marco Evaristti
By Anna Karina Hofbauer
The installation Helena by Chilean-Danish Marco Evaristti was first put on display in the Trapholt Museum in Kolding, Denmark. Ten white Moulinex Optiblend 2000 Mixers stood on a perfectly normal table. Each blender was filled with water, and in these rather unusual aquariums orange-red swordtails were swimming around. The blenders were clearly connected to the power supply and could be activated, everything being arranged in full view to the public. There were no notices or directions attached to the equipment but as the power switches were in full view this was unnecessary. If anyone decided to press the yellow button, this would immediately kill the fish and turn the contents of the mixers into cold fish soup. In this way, the public was placed in the situation of being judges making life and death decisions. The absence of information about what should be done with the work on display in the exhibition did not leave Helena undisturbed for long. Soon after the exhibition opened a visitor pressed the button. Power was connected to the blenders for two days and over that period a total of 16 fish died. The power was then cut off by the police and the Director of the Museum at the time, Peter S. Meyer, was charged with cruelty to animals.
The installation exercised a special attraction and the enticing effect conflicted with our concepts of ethics and morality. If a visitor pressed the button he or she would become part of the interactive work but would probably also have gone beyond his or her self-set limits of behaviour. Probably, for most of the observers, the principal fact was that this was taking place in a museum and everything had to be in order – as the installation was set up and ready to use.
As to the reason why no notices or other forms of information were provided for the observers, Evaristti explained as follows: "The public knows that no work on display in a museum may be interfered with. Therefore, it is clear that the button should not be pressed". Evaristti went on to say,"It was a surprise to both Peter Meyer and me that some people pressed the button. I had not expected that."  Unofficially, I have later been told that the fact that the button was pressed can be attributed to the media present at the exhibition. The presence of TV crews, numerous photographers and journalists increased the level of agitation and incited the public audience to press the button in the hope that photographs could be taken of the public in action and of pureed fish. In other words, the fish soup was preprogrammed and the question remains open as to whether or not - without this prelude - the public would have opposed against the rules of the museum by starting the blender.
What was the essence of Helena, the installation which functioned optimally for only two days and what did the artist hope to achieve from the participation of the public in this work? As far as the artist was concerned, the idea of the Helena installation was to divide the visitors into three groups: "the sadist who pressed the button, the voyeur who loved to be a spectator and the moralist."  According to Evaristti several people pressed the button and took on themselves the responsibility for the death of the swordtails. The media and the public were described by the artist as voyeurs, the animal rights groups (as "Dyrenes Beskyttelse", the Danish society for the prevention of cruelty to animals) and the visitors who complained, he regarded as moralists. Evaristti saw the installation as an experiment in which he endeavoured through his work "to interpret reality by reality itself and not by a lie."  "The intention was to discover if a guest might defy the rules of the museum and press the button. The artist claimed:" There are these parallel thoughts between pressing the red button and the power of people to kill." The question of power, courage and the barrier-breaking could be associated with the following: "Here one sees the evil, the sadism, the animal instinct in us since we know that if we press the button there is a risk that the work of art will have effect." 
The work of art did function, but under quite precise conditions, and this made the analysis of the observers problematic, which says a great deal about the human psyche and the urge to stand in the limelight. If the media had not provoked those present to press the button in order to get a spectacular photograph for tomorrow's newspaper, it is not quite clear whether or not the public would have activated the blenders in the absence of written or verbal instructions. Helena would not have become a complete interactive work of art if the button had not been pressed. The total completion of the work occurred when an observer decided to press the button and take the opportunity to participate.
Six years later it was possible to experience Helena for the second time in Kunstraum Dornbirn, Austria, during the "Destroyed Worlds" exhibition. Just as in the Trapholt Museum there were ten blenders all clearly connected by leads to the power supply. In the case of this new exhibition and for the first time since the presentation in Kolding, Evaristti gave each fish a woman's name, and again on the opening day a fish, Stella, was killed. The other fish were only saved because the power supply was immediately turned off. The same day the remaining fish were kidnapped as a spontaneous artistic action by an anonymous local group of artists. Following a search action the fish were found the following morning in good condition in a local pond. However, during the night unknown persons entered the Kunstraum and destroyed the complete installation. The act of vandalism has never been solved.
There can be no doubt that Evaristti's work is politically motivated so, "[....] he acts and agitates without taking any account of the nominal boundaries set out by the media and politics.  At the same time the artist examines the phenomenon of power and, as in Helena, allows the observer to flirt with this in order to see just how far that public would go. In so doing, Evaristti casts his sharp eye upon the observers. In Helena the observer could assume the role of master of life and death without actually being challenged by the artist to do so.
And the central positioning of the observer is equally clear in Evaristti's work The Line of Fame. On June 10th 2004 a red carpet 1.6 km long was rolled out on the pedestrian street, Strøget, which runs for from the Town Hall Square (Rådhuspladsen), to Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen. A notice in Rådhuspladsen challenged the passers-by to walk on the red carpet and thus become and active part of the work of art. According to Evaristti, people felt important because in the manner of the boulevard press they were considered important. As in the tabloid press, they would be asked superficial questions such as "What are you wearing today?" Signs along the run of the red carpet invited, with clear reference to Andy Warhols´ famous statement, to "Realise your dreams here and enjoy your 15 minutes' of fame". Other notices explained the idea of the performing installation in a public setting, saying that any (more or less unwilling) member of the public could create his/her own work of art.
A comparable element of stage management which places the participants in the centre was to be found in Ilona Németh's Exhibition Room of 1998.
The sound and light is turned on as soon as the public steps on to the eight meter catwalk. A mirror at the far end permits the dimensions of the installation to be larger than life. The users once again find themselves in a momentary condition of enjoying fame.
A similar approach was taken at the Biennale in Venice in 2003 when German artist Carsten Höller caused a sensation when he used the theme of being famous by creating a catwalk in the shape of the letter Y. The installation was conceived as a tunnel and fitted with 960 light bulbs. This arrangement attracted the visitors to pass through a rotating sea of light having the effect of a mirror. Thus the public became, as in Evaristti´s work, the principal actors in the installation. The works by Evaristti, Némeths and Höller clearly play with the idea of the problem of a superficial society and the rapid passage of the moment which this produces. It all revolves, as established by Warhol, around the 15 minutes during which the human being feels like a star and can enjoy the fame. The problem is that, on one hand, the present reality shows show that millions of people clearly have a need for being seen, but on the other hand they also reveal that, in most cases, the "fame" can be described as ridiculous. Evaristti and Németh, therefore, push the public into the limelight, perhaps hoping that someone will think about the sense of being famous.
Pink State, 2005 Kunstraum Dornbirn
In 2005, within the walls of Kunstraum Dornbirn, Evaristti´s year-long and comprehensive project Pink State was given the possibility to unfold ver a longer period of time and in forms that invited the visitor to participate.
On the outside wall of the building, Evaristti had mounted a rose-coloured flag pole with the Pink State flag which, in addition to the words "Pink State", bears the symbol of the county, a pink elephant. In order to be admitted to Pink State visitors were asked to produce a valid passport or other valid travel documentation. Anyone who could not or did not wish to comply with this requirement would not be allowed by Evaristti to visit the territory created by him. In this way Evaristti adopted the precedent set by artists such as Santiago Sierra who only allowed visitors at the Biennale in Venice in 2003 to enter the Pavilion if they had a valid Spanish passport. These requirements equated to a form of exclusivity for these works of art.
The Thai artist Navin Rawanchaikul also used the concept of a state in his Paradiso di Navin - a part of his virtual State of Naviland which has yet to be realised – which was shown at the Biennale at Venice in 2011 and placed value on the unification of the Navins of this world. As a member of the public one passes through the entrance to the Paradisos to the "Naviland Checkpoint" where, reportedly, one can be provided with a passport. However the passport was not checked, and thus Navin's passport (as opposed to Evaristti's) became an empty dummy, and Paradiso di Navin was seen as a work without consequence.
In contrast to Sierra's installation, however, the Pink State was not reserved for the members of the public of a particular nationality but rather represented an open and free land to anyone who follows the guidelines. After being granted permission to enter having the passport stamped with a stamp depicting a rose-colored elephant the visitor was free to enter when the white- and pink striped barrier was raised, leading to a short passage through a pink cube. Here one could read the Declaration of Independence of Pink State, which had been handed over to the mayor of Dornbirn and the chancellor of Austria before the preview of the exhibition. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that as a result of the loss of "well-being, knowledge and happiness" in the Republic of Austria the independent state Pink State had been founded. The constitution of the new state contained lots of buzz-words such as "peace", "love" and "justice" and appointed Evaristti- under the name of PinkME – as the sovereign leader of the state. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were supported by a 17th Century poem found in the garden of the Villa Borghese in Rome and freely translated by Evaristti:
"In my capacity as PinkME I make known the following: whoever you are, if you are a free man and impartial, you need have no fear of the chains ofthe Law, you may go wherever you wish, you may enjoy whatever pleases you and you may depart when it suits you. God forbids the imposition of rigid laws. Here a friend may exercise free will by virtue of an honourable law. However should someone take pleasure in damaging with evil intent the golden laws of our fine way of life he should protect himself against the possibility that the angry PinkME may not observe the law of friendship."
The poem seems to refer to the artist's basic thoughts and the ideology of how a state should be. The ideology in the form of a humanistic poem urges the public to use their own free will so that they maybe lead on their way into the rose-tinted country.
Having passed through the rose-coloured cube, the visitor was welcomed by a grazing pink bronze elephant, the principal symbol of the state. Allowing one's glance to wander further over the constructed landscape this appeared to be forceful, fantastic and almost unrealistic: large quantities of different soils, stones, trees and bushes formed the ground structure of the landscape. Giant rocks and concrete slabs simulated mountain peaks. Stones and gravel of different sizes and different shades of grey and black covered the surface of the artificial space and together with other materials mutually generated a gigantic apparent landscape. Paths winded through the bushes and trees of the area and invited the visitors to explore. Perhaps at first glance this landscape appeared unrealistic and fantastic, but it indeed reflected solid realism, made up as it was of genuine soil, genuine stones, genuine rock fragments, genuine trees, bushes and grass. The use and implication of the genuine and real characterizes Evaristti's works of art.
The constructed natural area of Pink State consisted of materials from the elevated areas of Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. From these four states, Evaristti had created his own, personal territory. Having passed through this landscape one came to a pond of a respectable size (almost eight metres in diameter). The water in the pond had been turned red with a vegetable dye used for food colouring, the same colour which Evaristti had used in the real landscape and which was, according to a scientific study, unharming to nature.
The colouring "of nature" was first used by Evaristti in Greenland in 2004 when he coloured an iceberg red, and has since been followed by other large scale landscape transformations. In Pink State in Dornbirn the iceberg provided a backdrop to the installation printed on a pvc net fastened to the back wall, giving the impression that the water in the pond came from the red iceberg. On the bank of the pond, there were fishing rods which could be freely used by the public. In the pond there were in fact four types of fish, all taken from the Bodensee. In this way the public could, time and patience allowing, take an active part in the work of art, and perhaps even catch a fish for dinner. Apart from fishing one could also take on a game of boules and later relax in a tent.
The observers played an important and decisive role and became responsible – possibly without ever realizing this, but from the time when they handed over their passport, they became a part of the work of art. The work of art also lived on through the stamp in the passport – allowing the artist to mix his art with real life. Evaristti believes that when the observer begins to fish in the pond, reality is included in the exhibition room, and into the artificial world. The artist constantly seeks to "show reality through reality and not through a lie" in his works of art. But what is reality? And can it be described in a truthful way?
Both the iceberg and the patchwork landscape Pink State incorporate symbolically the question as to what territory is and to whom it belongs. As a temporary independent State, Pink State had a life of two months in Dornbirn. What characterizes the other Pink States that appear with Evaristti´s large scale landscape paintings, is the elusiveness. They simply do not exist for long. The idea lies in Evaristti´s concern that nature belongs to all of us. If we understand to share it.
Why pink? Who associates the colour pink with a state? Is pink found in any flag of an independent state, republic, federation or the like? No-one will associate this colour - usually the favourite choice for Barbie dolls, cake icing and the favourite colour of little girls - with a serious state. Naturally, there is no universal significance for a colour. So a reasonable question is: why did Evaristti decide to make his country pink? According to the artist it is a political statement, as the artist believes that the colour stands for all that is anti-middle-class and anarchy and represents the homosexuals and the world of make-love-not-war-LSD trips of the 1960s.  Pink State represents freedom, the equality of all nations as well as distinct humanistic values which do not seem to be respected today or lived-up to by any state today. Evaristti invited the visitors to participate in this state over a period of 2 months. The stamp in their passport remains as a reminder to the participants that in the Pink State they communicated, played, fished rested in the tent or on the meadow and/or simply walked through the landscape.
In recent years, Evaristti has maintained the principle and the challenge of participation. His work Boxing Bags, 2010 permitted direct and readily-available access to participation by all the visitors. Three boxing bags containing the hair of Muslims, Jews and Christians gave the visitors the opportunity to strike the one related to the religion they hated the most (if any) – and by association, to express perhaps a metaphoric hate for a whole people.
The work Life Auction, 2012 may appear to be extreme. It offers participation to a limited public. By asking "Are you poor? And do you have a spare healthy kidney?", the artist questions the trade in organs and the value assessment of these and the other people concerned in third countries such as India where poor people are often the victims of life-threatening organ theft. On posters mounted in public places in Copenhagen and on the web site www.lifeauction.dk the opportunity was presented for anyone to offer his or her kidney and have it auctioned off in order to obtain a considerable sum from the sale. To the astonishment of the artist there were a number of positive responses not only from people who wished to sell a kidney but also from others who greeted the initiative.
In his participative works as well as his sculptures and paintings Evaristti always works with the genuine. According to American philosopher John Dewey, the understanding of the genuineness/reality is something which rests upon an individual experience. The creative process and the reception process both have a forming and performing nature as, in the view of Dewey, reception is not quite the same as passivity. The participative works of Evaristti come about at the moment when the active person carries out something based on the object and with the object. By entering into a combination such co-operation becomes an experience. With each individual experience the aesthetic experience of the work of art creates a new work of art and, therefore, the artist generates spaces and opportunities to create potential works of art on several levels with the assistance of the participants. On the one hand these are active and on the other, they contain a creative reception.
 Helena & El Pescador is the correct title of the entire installation. Here, however, I focus on the part of the installation that invited the viewer to actively participate - the blender, Helena.
2 Helena was first staged in the Group Exhibition "Eyegoblack“ in the Trapholt Museum in Kolding, Denmark (10.02-30.04. 2000).
3 Three years after the exhibition, the charges against the Director of Trapholt Peter S. Meyer and the Museum were dropped. See: http://politiken.dk/kultur/ECE59478/trapholt-frifundet-for-blenderdrab/ (Stand 01.03.2012).
4 Dieter Buchhart and Anna Karina Hofbauer, „Sollen wir alle Menschen verklagen, die Meeresfrüchte essen?“, Kunstforum International, Vol.. 162, November-December 2002, Ruppichteroth 2002, P. 274.
5 Ibid., P. 274.
6 Ibid., P. 273.
7 Ibid., P. 273.
8Ibid., P. 273.
9 Ibid., P. 275.
10 Ibid., P. 277.
11 Dieter Buchhart and Anna Karina Hofbauer, "Marco Evaristti. Helena", in: Dieter Buchhart, Anna Karina Hofbauer and Hans Dünser, Zerstörte Welten und die Utopie der Rekonstruktion, Nürnberg 2006, P. 47.
12 Ibid. P. 47.
13 See http://jp.dk/indland/kbh/article351081.ece (Version 05.03.2012).
14 Dieter Buchhart and Anna Karina Hofbauer, „Sollen wir alle Menschen verklagen, die Meeresfrüchte essen?“, Kunstforum International, Bd. 162, November-December 2002, Ruppichteroth 2002, P. 273.
15 The author in conversation with Marco Evaristti, Dornbirn June 2005.
Marco Evaristti – why does he trouble us?
Karen Grøn, MA, MPM, Director of Trapholt
Marco Evaristti is known among the wider general public for a number of violent and thought-provoking works that in one way or another twist and distort political and ethical questions. A consistent element is the body as a material and the carrier of meaning. The following article examines how Marco Evaristti can be understood as a performance artist and why the ideas he uses provoke such strong reactions. Evaristti constantly challenges our customary notions about our bodies, social, ethical and religious dogma and it can be argued that Evaristti’s art thereby creates tangible cracks, which are perceived as being abject and disturbing.
Marco Evaristti and performance art
Marco Evaristti’s works are not traditional paintings or sculptures. It is more appropriate to compare him with international avant-garde performance art, which since the 1960s has eroded formal conventions and rational premises within modernist art. Performance art moves within many different areas and can generally be divided into four arenas, which concern themselves with identity/the body, temporality, rituals and social/political agendas respectively. A single work will often move between several areas at the same time. The actual concept of performance art has been in use from the 1960s, but the artistic practices has obvious forerunners all the way back to Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism, the early Bauhaus School, etc., which in retrospect it can be argued defined early performance art. We can therefore talk about an artistic movement with its roots extending all the way back to the start of the twentieth century.
Performance art has flourished greatly in the art scene in the USA from the 1960s and represents a confrontational and iconoclastic role in relation to institutionalised artistic practices, aesthetic traditions and social norms. Performance art also emerged in Denmark at the same time with artists such as Kirsten Justesen and Bjørn Nørgaard as important exponents. Much of performance art is based on a vision of art having a capacity to transform people’s lives on both the individual and the collective level.
Performance art as an artistic movement is a child of a strong political period in art, when artists were largely driven by their indignation over social and political subjects, which were processed through formal studies and bodily actions and functions, for example Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece from 1964 where the audience had to cut off her dress. Here the audience was faced with the situation that there is no performance art unless somebody performs the degrading act. At other times as physical acts that were recorded, for example when Chris Burden with his work Shoot, 1971 in 8 seconds of film documentation had his arm punctured by a rifle shot, or the documentation from Marina Abramovic´s work The Great Wall Walk, 1988, where she and her boyfriend walk towards each other from either end of the Great Wall of China. The body and its political content are similarly absolutely central elements in Marco Evaristti’s works, which contain Evaristti’s own body and those of the observer and other people as “material”, and which have been provoked by the social and political subjects that Evaristti wishes to thematise.
Marco Evaristti’s performative bodies
Evaristti tangibly uses his own body and in its most extreme version when he prepares canned meatballs by extracting fat from his own body in Polpette al Grasso di Marco, 2006, with a thinly-veiled reference to Manzoni’sMerda d´artista (Artist’s Shit) from 1961. Here Evaristti transcends the border between the person (subject) and the meal (object). The work contains specific social criticism of and comments on the current consumer culture in which we consume too much food, buy ourselves slimness by means of liposuctions and cannibalistically consume and buy artists’ products to give ourselves value. Marco Evaristti also sends his body out on exhausting and often perilous assignments where he puts his own life on the line in a journey to conquer territories by painting an iceberg, a mountain top, a desert and a frozen water fall red. With The Ice Cube Project, 2004, The Mont Rouge Project, 2007, The Arido Rosso Project 2007 and the most recent, The Red Crack Project, 2013, both the documentation of the act and the actual intervention in nature become the canvas onto which the artist unfolds himself.
The observer’s body and actions are thematised in a number of works where Evaristti establishes a framework, of which the observer can choose or decline to be a part. The observers can decide whether they wish to press a button to blend a fish, as occurred at Trapholt with the installation Helena & El Pescador, 2000, where Evaristti challenges the observer to see whether the observer is a sadist (presses the blender button), a voyeur (observes whether others press the blender button) or a moralist (scolds those who have pressed the button). In Monotheistic Summit, 2010, the observer can seat him or herself at a table on which are placed the Torah, the Bible and the Koran and participate in a dialogue about the relationship between these three major religions. If you like an extremely radical form of participation in a work of art, you could quite easily donate a kidney to be sold over a portal on the Internet and thereby take part in Life Auction, 2012.
The bodies of other people are expressed through body materials, actions and stories. In Boxing Bags, 2010, he uses three bags filled with hair from Christians, Jews and Muslims, placed in each their punch bags, which have to be nudged by visitors in order to progress through the exhibition. You are forced to choose which religion you wish to push to the side in order to continue. In Crash, 1995, he collects blood from road accident victims in Bangkok, which is applied to the canvas as an artistic element. In God Save Denmark, 1998, Evaristti has various foreigners singing the Danish national anthem on a video, after which the broken Danish soundtrack is written down as text in the white field of the Danish flag. Rolexgate, 2006, contains authentic gold fillings from Jews from Auschwitz and from Evaristti’s own Jewish grandmother. In Superheroes, 2003, Evaristti uses drug addicts to paint with heroin, almost just as Yves Klein did in 1960 when he used models as living paint brushes. Five-2-Twelve/Last Fasthion, 2008, is based on Gene Hathorn – prisoner 000800 on Death Row in Texas. Gene Hathorns’ life story, poetry and drawings comprise the material of the work, where a personal destiny becomes the material that Marco uses to thematise the absurdity of punishing murder with murder by means of a collection for Death Row, a video and accessories. Gene Hathorn has bequeathed his body to Marco Evaristti in his will. The agreement is that after Hathorn’s death, Evaristti will convert the body into fish food to be included in a future installation featuring an aquarium where visitors can feed the fish with the food prepared from Gene Hathorn’s dead body. However, subsequently, Gene Hathorn´s sentence was commuted to two life terms.
Bodies therefore feature in Marco Evaristti’s works on various levels. Evaristti places himself, his surroundings and his audience in situations and dilemmas where the norms, dogmas and prejudices that we lean on are ripped apart. Coherence and logic crack and many people feel uncomfortable with the confrontation.
Marco Evaristti’s abject element
Marco Evaristti’s works are characterised by great fascination, but also by disgust and discomfort. There is also the social and political agenda that twists through his works. But the very artistic physical intervention cuts much deeper that just political provocation. By using his own body and the bodies of others as materials in his works, Evaristti constantly prods at our notions and understanding of what is the subject and what is the object. Are we dealing with people or objects? Blood, hair, bodily fluids, etc. are all the same elements, which on the one hand stem from the individual subject, but on the other hand are objects in the wider world. Hair is beautiful when it is on a person’s head, but is not very beautiful when it has been cut off. Long, well-groomed nails are considered beautiful, but are loathed when they are clipped. Food is enticing and appetising when it is served, but is unappetising if after being chewed it is spat out. The term “Abject” is used to describe the phenomenon where we lose orientation and feel uncomfortable when confronted with materials and situations that explode wholeness and challenge our physical manifestation and reflection where we usually attempt to retain a perception of ourselves as being whole. The physical materials are like cracks in the wholeness. They disrupt our wholeness and self-image and destabilise us. But it is not only the physical boundaries that can be considered abject. Simon Taylor therefore argues that social actions and conventions are also so strong that any contravention of these can be seen as being abject, e.g. homophobia, where people with deeply-entrenched perceptions of gender perceive homosexuality as being loathsome.
From this perspective it may be possible to explain the strong and at times physical effect that Evaristti’s works have on the observer. They lie halfway between subject and object in a concrete sense as well as social conventions and contravention of these conventions in a social sense. Evaristti wants a social change and through his works he is able to pose some great questions to elements of life that we have accepted, probably because it is too difficult to address them. He uses abject intervention and in doing so he ensures that we cannot avoid reacting to what he wants us to react to.
Polpette al grasso di Marco, 2006 features classic abject elements in the form of fat that is extracted from Marco (subject), which is then transformed into food (object), whereupon it is possible to consume it and make it the subject again. Very few people will be able to make themselves eat this meal.
However, the abject also works at the religious level. Evaristti continually confronts Christianity, Judaism and Islam. He does this by physical acts where Jew kiss Palestinian in Goodbye Kiss, 2003 and in Forgive me Helena, 2011, where he allows fish in an aquarium feed from the Torah, the Bible and the Koran. Elements are therefore combined that conservative dogmatists and exponents of orthodoxy believe should be kept separate. For people with radical desires regarding separation between the religions this combining of religions must feel extremely disturbing. However, for those who do not have any particular relationship with religion, the works will not be particularly disturbing. It depends on the importance of the religion to the observer and the society in which the work is presented.
When Evaristti begins to broach subjects regarding the right to decide over life, the works will potentially affect a very large proportion of the audience who will perceive the works as being socially abject. There is a convention on human rights here that is so strong that when he challenges us about what is actually happening in the world, this creates physical reactions in a large proportion of the observers. We become physically uncomfortable (but also fascinated) when we look at Rolexgate, 2006 and feel that we are in Auschwitz, with the gold containing authentic gold teeth from dead Jews. There are thereby “Subjects” in the work (real, lived lives and destinies), where the beautiful gold moves from being just an object to being abject. When we behold the art project Five2Twelve/The Last Fashion, 2008 and watch the video Death Town, 2008 with animation of the Death Row prisoner Gene Hathorn’s own drawings and beautiful pop music to his texts, it dawns on us that this is not fiction. This is a human being who will be killed because he has killed and this is completely acceptable in the USA, to which Denmark affiliates and allies itself in many regards. Gene Hathorn/prisoner 000800 is abject in all ways. He is no longer the subject and not yet the object. He is in-between and everything that comes from him and around the art project is affected by the violent clash between the abject basis and the beauty of the project. We are initially drawn by its beauty but we then feel uneasiness and disgust when the content becomes apparent to us.
Marco Evaristti – a visionary firebrand
Marco Evaristti originally trained as an architect. He creates art, installations and performances that touch upon and disrupt our everyday assumptions about the coherence of life, ethics and norms. Through the years the works have attracted much debate, which is justified. But it would not be fair to talk about the works as being purely provocative art. Evaristti subscribes to an artistic avant-garde tradition with performance art and art that thematises the relationship between subject and object, carried by a vision of creating social change and a better world. The aim of the works is to create debate and even if the debate at times becomes a little shrill, we can say that Evaristti (as few other artists) has the ability to exploit the potential of art to create disturbing awareness and in this way potential social change to current problems.
 Brentano, Robyn; Georgia and Olivia 1994
 Houser, Craig; Jones, Leslie C; Taylor, Simon; Ben-Levi, Jack 1993
 Taylor 1993
Conflict: Religious strife
The relationship between Jews, Christians and Muslims is one of Marco Evaristti’s recurring themes. The religions are juxtaposed physically and metaphorically in his works. In Monotheistic Summit, 2010, a summit meeting between the religions is being prepared in a boxing ring. Terrorrialista, 2001, uses casts of both Jewish and Muslim body parts to make up one whole body. Boxing Bags, 2010, are three boxing bags filled with hair from, respectively, Jews, Muslims and Christians. Visitors must punch the bags in order to enter the next room, and Body Bags, 2009 – are three beautiful bronze casts of body bags symbolising that no matter which of the three religions we subscribe to, we shall all die. Goodbye Kiss, 2003, shows a Jewish man kissing a Muslim woman – as seen in classic, romantic photographs – but here presented with a suitcase full of the materials for a suicide bomb. Rolexgate, 2006, focuses on the holocaust and the inconceivable atrocities committed during World War II. Forgive me Helena, 2011, is the great atonement work displaying the Bible, the Koran and a Torah lying in an aquarium with water, sand, plants and goldfish. As time passes the great books will disintegrate, the fish will nibble at them, and they will become part of nature’s cycle.
Marco Evaristti himself subscribes to Buddhism. His personal background was informed by his Jewish upbringing in Catholic Chile and by living in Israel where he spent his youth from the age of 17. This means that the religious theme is also driven by Evaristti’s own life story and his search for explanations and solutions to the conflicts that have always played out around the great religions.
Utopia: Pink State
You must be good to yourself – You must be good to others – You must be good to nature
These are the first three rules in the constitution for Marco Evaristti’s Utopia: “Pink State”.
The background to this project is Evaristti’s thoughts on the fundamental questions: Who owns nature? How are we treating nature? How are we asserting our rights over nature? With his project Pink State Marco Evaristti wants to offer an alternative definition of what a state can and should be. Evaristti’s Pink State is not a classic, defined geographical territory but a state of mind – an approach to the world. His artistic approach is a type of landscape painting. But instead of creating classic landscape paintings with idealised depictions of nature – nature forms the canvas of the Pink State project – nature itself takes part in the work of art. Specifically, Evaristti has temporarily captured several territories which he has sprayed with red food colouring and photographed as Pink States. For who owns the top of a mountain, sand in the desert, an iceberg, a cloud or a waterfall? Risking life and limb, he has spray‑painted an iceberg in Greenland for his Ice Cube Project, 2004 ... the tip of Mont Blanc for The Mount Rouge Project, 2007 ... part of the Sahara Desert for The Arido Rosso Project, 2008 ... a cloud, Pink Cloud, 2008 ... and a frozen mountain waterfall at Hovden in Norway for The Red Crack Project, 2013.
A pink elephant is the logo for Pink States – a clear reference to the Indian elephant deity, Ganesha, symbolising eternal wisdom, blessedness, gentleness and strength. All weapons in Pink State have been emasculated, their barrels and blades replaced by elephant trunks.
Anybody can apply to become a citizen of Pink State by requesting and filling in an application form before being issued with a passport.
Human Rights: Who has the right to kill?
The purpose of The Last Fashion, 2008, and Five‑2‑Twelve, 2008, documenting the situation of the American death row prisoner, Gene Hathorn, is to examine the USA and the death penalty. Denmark tends to identify itself simultaneously with the USA – where the death penalty is legal – and with Human Rights − of which the death penalty is an infringement. Marco Evaristti is interested in the paradox between these two very different conceptions of the value of life.
For Evaristti, the paradox in this sentence is pivotal: “you shall not kill – but if you do, we will kill you”. The death penalty can be considered systematised and legitimised murder under the auspices of the state. The death penalty is legitimised by the system through the negation of any form of individuality or “human face” where prisoners are concerned. The prisoners on death row are anonymous and isolated – they are objects. Fashion is the complete opposite. Here clothes are a means of communication, visibly creating identity. Clothes can show who we are, where we come from, what we believe in. The Last Fashion hovers in the energised field between the individual, the anonymous and what is spelled out. Five‑2‑Twelve consists of documentation on and related to prisoner number 000800, Gene Hathorn. Through the display of drawings, photographs of cemeteries and an animation video, the death penalty is given a human face and dimension which the American prison system attempts to suppress.
The Body: Infringing bodily no‑go zones
Evaristti is constantly examining the relation between the body and its surroundings. What are our bodily no‑go zones, and why do we react so strongly when these are infringed? Is the body our subject or an object? In Life Auction, 2012, we are confronted with our ethical boundaries in relation to organ donation. Can it be right for us blindly to accept that poor people sell their organs – because they are from countries so distant and so poor that they can be defined by us as an “object mass” and need not concern us at a personal level? In Super Heroes, 2003, Evaristti focuses on a specific group of people close to us here in Denmark – our drug addicts. What mechanisms do we avail ourselves of in order to go about our own lives, knowing that there are people in Denmark who live hard lives on the street, desperate for drugs? Do we see them as an anonymous mass – an object – instead of a group of subjects, each with their personal tragedy − in order to avoid having to think about them on a daily basis? In Polpette al Grasso di Marco, 2006, Evaristti literally uses his own body in the most extreme way. After having undergone liposuction, he uses the fat from his body to prepare canned meat balls − with a clear reference to Manzoni’s “Merda d’artista” (artist’s canned excrement) from 1961. In this way Evaristti breaks down the barrier between the person (subject) and the meal (object).
Marco Evaristti’s merging of subject and object can be termed “abject”. The abject is what is in the zone between the self and its surroundings – blood, urine, excrement, vomit, nail clippings, etc. The things that are neither‑nor. Many people are uncomfortable with them, precisely because they are borderline between subject and object. This is the borderline that Evaristti spans.