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Most of your work involves addition and combination—adding one object to another—but in this piece you're taking something out rather than adding to it. Was that deliberate on your part?
Completely. We play with two things. With procedures, like cutting something, removing something, adding something, take something and invert it, twist it, bend it. For multiple reasons. Because it changes the way that you see that thing. It changes the function of the thing in question. It changes the understanding of it, it changes the meaning of it, and so these sorts of alterations are very important for us. As long as an object has a scale, volume, weight, function, use, name, it has been frozen in its potential and in what it can be doing, and that's good because then we can all understand what that thing is, how to use it, how to deal with it. We're interested in when that changes. We're interested in when you change the use and function of that form you recognize, you change the way that it looks, you change its use value. That's something that we do often. Transformation, in other words, is very important.
A lot of your works have a very sculptural element, but they also have to be activated by a performer, by a visitor; to what extent does this piece rely on a performer? Can it stand alone as a sculpture?
The work is a combination of sculpture and performance, so it's both. The performance happens for half an hour and then there's another half an hour in which the object stands still, silent, quiet in the space. And then somebody else comes and plays it, so it's important for us that the work has those two moments: the moment of the object being quiet and you can see it, you can see the procedure that has been done to it, you can see it as an object; and then you see it functioning. It's especially important because the work exists like this; you're not going to see a video of the work in a gallery, you're not going to see a photo of the work in a gallery, you're going to see the work functioning this way every time the work gets exhibited.
Can you describe the process that led to this piece? Did you begin with a specific idea? Was there an object that sent you on this route?
Sometimes we have ideas that are developed in a week and are completed like that. Sometimes we have ideas that take maybe two, three years because there's an aspect or component that's just not there yet, and we live with it, and work on it, and live with it until we find a solution or we find a way of completing the piece like a musician would complete a composition or a scientist would complete a formula. With this particular work we had the sculptural procedure determined way, way back. It was simple, cutting a hole through an instrument, which was a piano. And that was that. And then of course we came to: "Okay, well what piece of music are we going to play on it?" And so it took a long time. It couldn't be any piece of music, it had to be one very specific piece of music.
Then, when we were in Istanbul, we made the connection. At that time we were doing research about militarism, music and war. Specifically we were doing research on the Ottoman Empire and how, through wars between the Ottoman Empire and Vienna, music traveled. And so you have pianos being altered and being prepared, and they had bells in the pianos, they had pedals that when you pressed down a stick hit the piano from underneath like a drum. They have all these preparations and all these new tempos from Turkish and Ottoman music that were completely different from Western types of music. And then you see the influence of Ottoman music into Western classical music. So at that time we were doing all this research and then we find out that Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" has a Turkish march in it, in one of the sections that we play in this work. And of course Turkey's not part of the European Union, but "The Ode to Joy" is the anthem of the European Union. And somehow that paradox, that moment, is when we realized this is the perfect pieces of music for that reason, and also for its historical connotations and all the different uses and abuses of this piece of music because of what it represents, because of how it captured the collective imagination in terms of brotherhood and nationality and national pride and things like that. So it took about three years to find this piece of music.