Ivan Murzin was already concerned during the first lockdown last March to continue making and especially showing art. He developed the mobile exhibition institution Sisyphus Museum, which he can wheel around the city with changing miniature exhibitions. There, the Frankfurt-based artist shows his own newly produced works. In the interview with our writer Louisa Behr, the Städelschule graduate tells her what this institution is all about and why he prefers cocoa in chili sin carne than in pudding.
Louisa Behr The Sisyphus Museum seems to be in between a small-scale museum and an art in public space-project. How do you refer to the term “museum” in this context?
Ivan Murzin You are right, it is both. On the one hand, it is an exhibition in itself and on the other hand, it is a performative act of rolling the museum through the city during lockdown. When viewers bump into the museum and look inside, they can see a relatively conventional show, just on a smaller scale.
LB You intentionally call it a museum – why “Sisyphus” and why “museum”?
IM When galleries, off-spaces, and museums were closed, and everything suddenly stopped, I decided to build a mobile institution and to set up exhibitions. It was essential to continue my artistic practice and to react to the closures productively. Like Sisyphus, who is pushing the rock, the museum continues to show art. Another reason is that I like to re-read Albert Camus essay The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) during tough times. He writes about the “absurd life”, and one of the protagonists of this described life is an artist. That is where the name Sisyphus Museum derived from.
LB It sounds like the process of exhibition making has also changed in that context. Was it the logical consequence for you during the first lockdown to create a possibility to let exhibitions and art continue to happen in a different frame?
IM Making an exhibition in an established institution usually takes a lot of time, resources and involves many people. It can take months, sometimes years. The last year with all the changes demanded a response in another time frame. At Sisyphus Museum, an exhibition can be executed much faster and thus reflect on present-day changes. In short: it can be truly contemporary. I had the initial idea, sharpened it, and gave it a chance. The first rides worked quite well, so I continued. This, again, triggered new ideas and I focused on different aspects of the new way of life, which we had to face. So, after some time, the museum turned into the main project of 2020 for me.
LB So, you reacted quite quickly to the changes we had to face in our everyday lives whereas a lot of people first had to process what it meant for the arts that exhibitions and museums were not accessible anymore. How did you experience presenting art outside of established institutions and in public space?
IM In my situation, processing the situation and developing the project went hand in hand. Presenting art outside is a different thing than in institutions. Most visitors of the Sisyphus Museum come by chance, they did not purposely come to see the show. The Sisyphus Museum does not have a fixed route or even opening hours, it depends on the weather situation, on my schedule and simply if I want to go to the public with the museum today. Just imagine, you are walking the same route from home to the grocery shop as usual, and accidentally encounter a strange mobile art institution with an exhibition. Let’s say the show is about the history of frying pans and the paradoxes of materials. Additionally, it is negotiating the cultural aspect of pans in the present time, while focusing on the impact of ordinary tools on people in a – due to the pandemic – shrank world. After this interaction, you might revisit this experience whenever you have a pan in your hand. I like those turning points of the project.
LB You were referring to the last exhibition at Sisyphus Museum, ‘Between fire & fare’. I like what you said about the turning points of the project. I was wondering if you see yourself as an artist creating a large-scale project consisting of many small ones, or also to some extent as a curator who is compiling exhibitions?
IM In the long term yes, you can see most of my works as a part of a large-scale project. Not only the works, but my personal life is partly mixed into those projects as well. I would describe it as a journey with hundreds of elements, which lead up to a whole rhizome. The developing process is based on my personal circumstances and experiences. So, my compilations are inextricably intertwined with my life and my own journey as an artist. Meanwhile, I compile works for concrete exhibitions, sometimes deconstruct them, or add them as new sequences to one of my projects. Everything can be a material for an artwork, and, again, an artwork can be material for a bigger artwork.
LB In this sense, do you mean a rhizome made up of all your projects or one that describes the projects standing on their own?
IM Each project is self-contained. At the same time, when you look, so to speak, from above, you can see how some parts of one project interlace with parts of others. For example, the most recent project ‘Between fire & fare’ is linked to the ‘Eduard Teachev’ story I made five years ago. Elsewhere, my project about the Halligen islands offers a different perspective on the same questions, which I posed with the project ‘A world without latitude and longitude’ (2018), which is about the Siberian landscape. A jumping dolphin in one of the Sisyphus Museum’s exhibition responds to the online version of Copenhagen Photo Festival, which I am part of. Each new project has some connections with an old one. The rhizome thus describes this totality and interrelation of all my works that have been formed and form in the course of my life.
LB I also noticed that each exhibition contains different media, for example photographs, sculptures or video. What role does the connection of these different media play for you?
IM In the beginning, photography was a great medium to fulfil my desire to understand and respond to the world around me and to the circumstances, which affect us. After a while, I began to reach the limits of the photographic medium because I could not realize certain ideas with it. So instead of squeezing and compromising the ideas into one medium, I started experiments in different fields and methods. And after years of practice, I collected a quite satisfying toolkit of varying media for my practice. Plus, you should remember that each medium has its own history.
LB What do you mean by that?
IM Materials behave individually and have associative backgrounds. This hodgepodge of tools and their meanings allows me to feel very flexible for each new project. At first glance, some works look wildly different from each other. Nevertheless, they are connected through topics, which touch me again and again. There are hundreds of riddles, hidden messages, and hints connecting works with each other and thus permeate the projects.
LB Sisyphus Museum is also full of these kinds of hidden messages. You once told me that humour is a kind of method within your artistic practise. Much like spices for a meal – they give it that particular kick, but it is still the combination of all ingredients that makes the meal whole. What role does humour play in your artistic practice?
IM Indeed, the whole combination is essential. When humour stands alone, it is only a joke. But you do not eat just cumin alone, it is part of the whole bunch of ingredients in your pot. It is the same with artworks: we have discourses, experience, visuality, statements, available resources, politics, humour, timing, circumstances – a lot of different components, and I like this kind of polyphony in my works. Another aspect is the nature of humour. I see it as a sibling of poetry, they both do not have rational roots, but both give artworks their uniqueness. As I mentioned earlier, humour can be a turning point, but so can poetry. Still, many of my works, in fact, do not have these “humour spices”. They come with a periodicity, when I feel it is necessary, or else when I cannot resist including them. What a delight to drag someone inside your work with humour, allowing them to experience the other levels of meaning! A short notice about taste: I prefer humour in artworks more like cacao in chili sin carne rather than cocoa in pudding.
LB I see, you prefer the spices that seem unconventional but are the essential twist to the meal! Now a last organizational question: Soon a retrospective of the Sisyphus Museum will open at Frankfurt’s basis. Will this be a final presentation of the project?
IM It is kind of wrap-up, where you can see the whole project: all chapters, which were shown in the city during the year in the Sisyphus Museum. Many texts, but also archival materials such as photos and videos from the happenings, a museum depository of the artworks, which were made within the project, but were never shown outside, and a few more surprises. So, visitors can dig inside these multi-layered materials. I am preparing this show together with a curator and a friend of mine, Olga Inozemtceva-Appel. The opening date is not clear, but the good thing is that I still have a few more ideas to realize within the Sisyphus Museum, and now I have time for it.
This article was first published in its German translation on gallerytalk.net on 28 January 2021.
Ivan Murzin is an artist based in Frankfurt am Main Germany. His work was shown in various museum exhibitions and festivals such as 'The Censored Exhibition' at Copenhagen Photo Festival (2020), 'Air Conditioned' at Städel Museum in (2019), 'Plat(t)form 2019 at Fotomuseum Winterthur (2019), 'Youth uniforms of Moscow' at Museum of Moscow (2019), 'Eduard Teachev: retrospective and new works' at Opelvillen Rüsselsheim (2018). Full disclosure, Ivan Murzin was also included in two exhibitions curated by PASSE-AVANT titled 'Chambers: A User's Manual' (2016 + 2017).