An Interview With Alexander F. Rikka
by Nathan Frederick Garden
Alexander F. Rikka’s current exhibition in New York is, unquestionably, the single most bewildering art event in living memory. We could try to pin it down with words like ‘travesty’, ‘lunacy’, ‘demented’, ‘farcical’, but none of these even come close to capturing the scale of the incongruity, weirdness, and, frankly, failure of the exhibition. In the weeks which have passed since its opening, an overwhelming sense of melancholy and disappointment has gripped the art world and, indeed, the thousands who saw the exhibition. This is a pivotal and (despite the massive critical and journalistic industry for ridiculing Rikka which seems to have grown up overnight) crucial and serious moment in art. Indeed, the art world itself seems to be at a standstill until we can work out what actually happened in Rikka’s head, what is actually in the exhibition which Rikka has given us, and why has all this happened to him in the subsequent weeks?
Our culture correspondent, Jonathan Golding, met Alexander in his Manhattan apartment, which he also uses as his studio and workshop, to hopefully decipher the exhibition and its aftermath, and seems to ask ‘Is Rikka just a big fish in a small pond, or is he a sinking stone?’
JG: You have made one of the biggest financial losses in the history of Modern Art, as far as we can define that period of time, you have lost your grant from all the artist’s council and associations you were funded by, the tour this exhibition was supposed to undertake has been cancelled, except for the auction you yourself planned at the end, which has been shifted to a much smaller venue, and the period of display in the gallery it currently occupies has been halved by the curator. Phew! You’re not in an enviable position, I’m afraid!
AR: Geez! Tell me something I don’t know! [Laughs] Yeah, it’s a pickle alright.
JG: So, these drawbacks... Have they phased you? You know, you seem quite, uhh, if I may say so, quite smug actually, quite satisfied with how the exhibition went and, of course, its aftermath.
AR: Thank you. I am. [Laughs]
JG: Why so?
AR: Well, regardless of what anyone else sees in these works, I see in each and every one of them, resolutions to aesthetic, formal-poetic, aesthetic-poetic, sensorial, sensorial-aesthetic, sensorial-poetic... and, uh, other artistic blockades I have been assaulting throughout my whole career. The works I have exhibited are answers to the dilemmas and quandaries of art that the human race has tried to untangle since the birth of art itself. I have finally done the leg-work and resolved the problems everyone ever talked about.
AR: I firmly believe so. I have led the way. Only answers and clarity are available for me and the entire art world from here on in.
JG: And what are these answers you have found? Can you articulate them for me?
AR: Well, they are answers which elude language, I’m afraid: to find the answers to art, you must experience my art. I cannot simply tell you.
JG: Hmm, but that’s the thing, you see? Because, well, because your art is, apparently, so obscure and...
AR: Go on.
JG: Unusual, may I say, well, no one read the answers: no one got the messages you were trying to convey.
AR: Well, I guess that is, for many, tough.
JG: Right... So you won’t explain these answers?
AR: I have. I have already explained them. They are currently in the gallery.
JG: Well, okay, what if, instead of explaining the answers, you help to explain the works in which these answers dwell?
AR: Yes. That is reasonable.
JG: Okay. Well, could you tell us about them?
AR: I’d love to. What you see in the gallery is a refined collage of works of formal and sensorial stimuli, arranged in a system which at once undermines and innovates any and all obsolete format residue of expression and artistic endeavour and which navigates this at once precarious and hopeful equilibrium of not necessarily either conjoined or severed conceptual elements by revolving from gateways to psychic sensations with the supplement of bodily conveyance and reception, to the frontiers of form and entity to address the melding fields of vitality and torpor, extremity and calm, the tussle and chasm between symbol and object, presence and absence, purity and dilution, where we finally stand giddily on the edge of where art and life can only glimpse each other over a schism, yet flirt to either entwine or clash, thus either perfecting that morphing and malleability of art or summoning the cataclysm which shall end both art and life, thus addressing that dilemma of spatial and psychological consumption of art, be it to render that medium dissonant and inept by its very essence, or for the practitioner to expose unto himself the virtues of that application, or, indeed, to banish art itself and strip any element of its senses, poetics, its form as both apparition and terrestrial, and to perhaps reduce any given feature of life or art, which being only a prop to life, to its minimum in terms of form and both relevance and resonance within life: which, being a dilemma, is unsolvable!
JG: Are you saying that the answer to art... if I’ve understood that correctly- that last bit- is that art is unsolvable, and is a dilemma?
AR: No. I think you have missed the point totally.
JG: Alright. Hmm. Well, are you suggesting that, because of your works, art and life are both going to end?
AR: I might have mentioned it.
JG: So are these works the signal for a rupture, so to speak, or an apocalypse of art? Are you saying art has to take the same quantum leap you say your art has in order for life to survive?
AR: Could be. Then again, I could be saying nothing of the sort. Although I have definitely hoisted the colours of either a new era or the end of all things.
JG: I don’t- I can’t understand. You believe these works- your works have achieved this?
JG: Well, that’s interesting because, well, now that they have been exhibited, and they have been experienced, and they have been seen as you wanted them to... Well nothing’s happened, has it?
JG: You know? Nothing except for your career has been... I’m trying not to rub salt in the wound here, uh... [Laughs nervously.]
AR: No, no: I think I see where you’re coming from. Go on.
JG: Well, your career has, for the foreseeable future, uh, ended. Right?
AR: To some extent.
JG: But what about the results you think your work should have had? You know, where is this ‘apocalypse’? Where is the... whatever? You know? Where are these huge results you expected? And why did this, the down-slope, happen instead?
AR: Well, you’re really asking two questions there. You see, my career slump, the uh, the loss of funds and support, and the uh-
JG: The catastrophe.
AR: Yeah: those things were all premeditated. I planned the whole thing. It was always my intention for this downfall to happen. I gauged the art world perfectly, manipulated the climate of expectation and reason, and played on what everyone expected of me to produce what I did. I didn’t fall: I dived.
JG: You... I can’t believe I’m hearing this... You actually wanted this to happen?
AR: Yes. Of course I did. It was the logical destination and, indeed, the destiny of these works that they should be received so, and that their creator should be so ostracised and criticised. The only thing which could match the sublimity of my achievements, in terms of scale, wonder, efficiency and longevity, would be the horrendous equivalent of their reception. You see, I believe in yin and yang, and that these works could not be complete were they not thought of as they are. They needed this reaction for them to finally attain that perfection I know they possess.
JG: You think that these works are better because everyone thinks they’re dire?
AR: Yes. It is logical. They could not survive if it hadn’t been for this brilliant pre-emptive vision of mine that they would be slated.
JG: That’s... That is... I honestly don’t know. That’s a very unusual view to take of this kind of reaction to something which seems like your life’s work.
AR: Yes, they are my life’s work, and my works are unique, and immune to the negative resonance of such slander. They possess qualities which elevate them above anything created before, and are certainly not phased by some tut-tuts in magazines and newspapers.
JG: But, this is maybe the thing I’d like to drive at. Many people seem to have an issue with this... uh... umm, feature of your work which you yourself term its ‘uniqueness’, and, elsewhere, you have called it the ‘distortion of conventional poetics’: you know, your description: but which others often, and loudly, describe as something else.
AR: Hmm, yes. My art, I guess is not for the faint-hearted, nor for the intellectually stagnant, I suppose. Nor is it applicable to criticism of the run-of-the-mill contemporary art critic. My work transcends, I believe, feeble adjectives and description. To understand and to communicate orally about my artistic achievements, and indeed my own artistic language, you need a new language of academia and criticism: the old forms will not do. My work is pushing the boundaries of both the scope of art itself, and the language used to discuss them.
JG: I see. So you wouldn’t be phased, then, if I read to you some of the thoughts people had of your latest show?
AR: Well, maybe not-
JG: Things which were written in ‘conventional language’, as you might put it...
AR: I see... And what have the drones been saying? You see, people who can only talk about art have no right to criticise someone like me, although I am, I thoroughly believe, one of a kind. They don’t have a right to apply their petty language and attach it to my work like leeches.
JG: Well, in your latest exhibition you were described as having, in your technique within your mediums I mean, “A total ineptitude”- this is a quote from a review, by the way: all of these are. From different reviews. Yeah, “A total ineptitude to create a successful and visually effective composition”, “An inherent void of any grasp or aptitude for your medium”, “An apparent contempt”-
AR: May I just-
JG: Just a minute more: “An apparent contempt for any valuable artistic practice”, “An ambition to thwart one’s own diversity and progress, achievement and skill” “no clue”, the attention-seeking, direction-less show-boating of a paper ball-throwing upper-class brat”... Do you want me to go on?
AR: No, that’s enough.
JG: Because I could.
AR: No, no. There’s fine.
JG: What do you think of these verdicts of your work? All written in the ‘old’ language... English.
AR: Ahh... Whose comments are those?
JG: Well, the first... three are full-time writers and critics, the rest are from the comments book in the gallery.
AR: Och! One must not fuss over the opinions of the uninformed! Pish-posh! They clearly didn’t understand the works they were confronted with: you see, they want something they can just sigh and look at. They clearly weren’t bright enough to grapple with my ideas.
JG: But isn’t that your responsibility?
JG: Well, as the artist, you’re making an exhibition for the public, some of whom may not, like yourself, be as up on artistic theory and art history as you are. Don’t you have a responsibility to them to make your art, you know-
AR: I’m unsure...
JG: Shouldn’t you rise to the challenge- your responsibility, even- to, uh, keep your own concepts and ideas... Yes?
AR: Yes. Of course.
JG: But keep those ideas accessible to the masses? You know, you said yourself: the ideas were lost on everybody! Don’t you owe it to yourself to convey yourself successfully?
AR: But I think I have conveyed myself successfully.
JG: You do?
JG: How so?
AR: Well, I understand them.
JG: So... so you’ve conveyed yourself successfully to yourself?
JG: But you’re missing the point.
AR: No I’m not.
JG: Well, okay, then, what is the point?
JG: Of your work.
AR: The point of my work... What is the point of any art work? Is it just amusement? Should art be inspiring the people?
JG: Well, I would argue that your work hasn’t inspired or amused anybody. Like I say, even the well-read and the critics didn’t like anything they saw, or any aspect of the exhibition.
AR: But amusement and the other thing aren’t the point.
JG: But you said-
AR: I was just asking questions. And I think, frankly, you went off on a bit of a tangent there.
JG: Look, I asked a question, and you just asked more questions: you need to give me an answer. What is the point of your work? What was the point of this exhibition which, I think you’ll agree, went down like a lead balloon?
AR: Well, aren’t questions just as good an answer in this case?
AR: Can’t questions be just as revealing about my inner processes and concerns?
JG: Not so far, no.
AR: Well, you have missed the point.