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Walter Hugo And Zoniel

In Conversation with
Stephanie Bailey
Miami, 2 December 2014
Image: Walter Hugo & Zoniel, Courtesy Gazelli Art House
Image: Walter Hugo & Zoniel, Courtesy Gazelli Art House

The Physical Possibility of Inspiring Imagination in the Mind of Somebody Living

is a site specific installation by British artists Walter Hugo & Zoniel that will be presented during Miami Art Week 2014 until December 7. The project is located in an empty home in Little Haiti, Miami. Every evening as the sun sets, the shutters of this house will open to reveal illuminated tanks playing host to some one hundred jellyfish.

As described in the project statement, the psychedelic display is intended to create a surrealist presence so as to intrigue and inspire local residents and passers by. The project opened without announcement so as to allow local interest and ownership of the project to develop naturally.

As part of the project, Gazelli Art House will live-stream a video from within the tanks at SELECT MIAMI, where viewers will be able to see through the tanks into the streets of the Miami suburb, thus producing what the project statement describes as “a virtual corridor between the two previously disparate sites.”

In this interview, Walter Hugo and Zoniel discuss the project, which was originally produced for the Liverpool Biennial in 2014.

The Physical Possibility of Inspiring Imagination in the Mind of Somebody Living was originally produced for the Liverpool Biennial in 2014. Could you talk about how the idea for the project came about and how it was both presented and received in Liverpool?

The idea came about from contemplating what we could possibly create that would make someone stop on their street and be inspired or taken out of their own environment by primarily utilising the aesthetics of beauty to generate a state of wonderment.

In Liverpool we built the installation in a semi-derelict commercial warehouse, which had a metal shutter on the front. Each night the shutter would anonymously open to reveal a giant jellyfish tank inside. The piece was incredibly well received by both the art community who had come for the Liverpool Biennial and the local community.

News of the installation went pretty viral: we had thousands of people coming to view it in situ and many more online and the reflection piece in Gazelli. It was quite overwhelming how positive people were on the street about the piece, they were very happy to have it in their neighborhood, locals wanted to have it there full time. Some nights there were 100 people outside the shutter just waiting for it to open and be there for that reveal. Many local people didn’t even know that the Biennial art fair was going on or hadn’t even heard of it, so the installation actually formed a positive connection with those individuals and the art fair.

After Liverpool, you then decided to present this in different parts of the world for the next year: did these projects come to fruition? If so, how did each of these iterations differ, if at all?

This is actually the second of a few sites we are planning on housing the installation throughout the course of a year. Having it here in Miami we have a totally different relationship with the city, and so we chose to highlight different aspects of it, putting it in a strictly residential environment. Little Haiti is known for having a strong community again with some flagrant stories of too, it is close to the Design District but doesn’t have any direct ties to the Art Fairs.

We are now planning the piece to be displayed during the Venice Biennale, which will have a different format again to emphasize different connections, with the installation in another location (outside of Italy).

For each of these iterations we are trying to consider the local communities and how it may be of interest and interact with them and what would be an inspiration to connect to. One of our focuses throughout is to put the installation in areas, which rarely would be chosen for a large scale piece of public art where people will relate to it.

With the Miami installation, can you talk about how you decided on locating The Physical Possibility of Inspiring Imagination in the Mind of Somebody Living in Little Haiti and how you found the space within which to produce it?

Walter and I spent a lot of time researching areas and dealing with locals, looking up properties until we found somewhere that we thought was right. As we said earlier, Little Haiti has a strong community base. That combined with its physical placement, which is close to the Design District, (an area which will be saturated with art activity during the Art Week), is what drew us here.  The house that the installation is in looks incredibly well kept and ‘perfect’ from the sidewalk. It has this lovely little winding path and trimmed lawn out front, and that’s what we wanted to juxtapose the surrealism of the jellyfish against. This is somewhere people might not normally give a second look because it was all in perfect order.

Does presenting this project during an art fair hold any significance for you in terms of how you conceptualised this specific version of the project?

Absolutely. For each incarnation, the fact that there is an art fair going on is intrinsic to the piece of work. One of the key concepts is that the installation goes through a series of stages. The first stage is when someone discovers the work on their own, passing on the street and seeing this piece of surrealism. The second stage is a person who visits the installation having heard about it from someone who has seen it as an oddity or a piece of art. The third stage is when the art fair is on and people come to visit the work as an art installation. Each of these stages can all be happening at the same time and yet they all affect the way we each relate to the art work.

How does this project as a whole build on your practice and its intentions and approaches?

The piece in Liverpool was a new direction for our practice, though the key themes of the work are things we have always been interested in and feature in previous works. The success of the project in Liverpool has allowed us to build further in this direction with future large-scale public art pieces in the pipeline now. We are particularly interested in creating these pieces, which have an element of public participation and play upon the rules of perception and the themes of connectivity and inspiration. Some of the future works we have planned do this by connecting different locations with art installations going on simultaneously, others focus strictly upon the immediate environment. They all have an element of performance, sculpture, interaction and film within them.

This installation has really piqued our interest in this medium. We are pretty much overflowing with ideas for new works and we are looking forward to realising much more work in this format in the future.—[O]

A live-stread of the video featuring the installation will also be viewable at www.gazelliarthouse.com from December 01, 2014 onwards.

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