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Liam Gillick
Deutscher Pavillon
53. Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte
La Biennale di Venezia 2009

Wie würden Sie sich verhalten?
Eine Küchenkatze spricht
How are you going to behave?
A kitchen cat speaks

For more than a year Gillick has been travelling, researching and developing his project in continuous dialogue with curator Nicolaus Schafhausen. Making extensive use of computer modeling of the existing German Pavilion and following a long period of work on site in Venice the final questions for Gillick circle around models of social behaviour and the problem of how to create new forms of address within loaded ideological sites.

Crucial components of the exhibition were determined during the final installation days. However, the first step of the process was the fabrication of an edition in the form of a model of Arnold Bode’s 1957 proposal for a new German Pavilion.

For the final work, the pavilion is not obscured or hidden. Both the inside and outside of the building can be seen and examined. It has recently been painted white, as part of the general maintenance of the building and Gillick has left it this way. A simple table and bench designed by the artist are sited outside for use by the pavilion team. Every room of the building is open. No part of the pavilion has been closed off or used for storage.

Strips of plastic, like the blinds used to keep flies out of a room, mark the entrance and two emergency exits of the pavilion. Inside, a kitchen-like structure has been constructed from simple pine wood. Lacking in appliances the “kitchen” exists as a diagram of aspiration, function and an echo of applied modernism that resonates in opposition to the corrupted grandeur of the pavilion, which was designed without lavatories, kitchen or any area to rest. The cabinets puncture the doorways leading to the side rooms. The kitchen is in tension with the logic of the building. You could even say it is a legacy of functional modernism that exists to work against the ideology of the pavilion architecture.

Gillick has transferred his own daily working environment – his kitchen used as an improvised studio – to the German Pavilion. Sitting for months in his kitchen with his son’s cat he considered the question “Who speaks? To whom and with what authority?” while the cat tried to disrupt his work. After re-visiting the replica of Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen at the Museum of Applied Art in Vienna – which has long been an important marker of applied modernism within Gillick’s practice – he looked for a solution as to who should occupy his Venice kitchen.

For the final work Gillick – with his studio team in Berlin led by Thomas Huesmann – has created an animatronic cat that sits on top of one of the kitchen cabinets. The cat fights against the echo in the building and tells us a circular story of misrepresentation, misunderstanding and desire.

With this in mind the pavilion becomes a site for a self-conscious circling story that never ends. The cat is in the kitchen, the children are in the kitchen.

“I don’t like it,” the boy will say.

“I don’t like it,” the girl will say.

“I don’t like you,” the cat will think.

A catalogue designed by Liam Gillick and with a foreword by Nicolaus Schafhausen contains a full version of the public lectures given by the artist in Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne, the full speech of the cat and extensive photographic documentation of the work. The catalogue is published by Sternberg Press.

The model of the Arnold Bode pavilion (anodized aluminium, 26x30x12 cm) is a limited edition of 25 and available at the price of € 5.000,00. Each edition is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed and dated by the artist. For more information or ordering please contact:

In October 2009 Liam Gillick will have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and at the Austrian Museum of Applied Art/Contemporary Art in Vienna. In April 2010 he will present a solo exhibition at the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn.

Two new publications will be available in June 2009: Liam Gillick, All Books, Book Works, London Meaning Liam Gillick, MIT Press, Cambridge/London

The exhibition at the German Pavilion is commissioned by the Federal Foreign Office and realized together with the Institute of Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa). The main sponsor is Hugo Boss. Further partners are the Goethe-Institut, AXA Art Insurance and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Media Partner is Deutsche Welle TV.

Liam Gillick

There will be a cat that can speak. All the people of the town will be very proud of their speaking cat.

People will come every day to hear what it has to say.

It will be very cynical but never mean.

It will see everything and understand it all.

After a while people will only come on the weekends or drop by on the way home from work or school.

During quiet times people will come and read all the newspapers to the cat or surf the Internet and find good stories about world affairs that might be of interest.

One morning it will rain.

Things will have been very quiet in the world and the cat will have nothing to say. You might even think that the cat will be mildly depressed. A young boy and girl will come to see the cat on the way to school. This kind of thing will make the cat nervous.

It will be sophisticated but it will betray its feelings through movements of its tail. The cat will like a degree of order. It will call this “natural order” – something that will imply that people can be trusted to do the right thing.

And coming to see the cat on the way to school will not always be the right thing to do because it will mean that the children will be late.

But as we will find out, the cat will be mildly depressed, suffering from ennui and even bored by its role as the only talking cat in the whole world.

The cat will want to know what is going on.

Only by feeding it information will it be wise, interesting or even funny. But on this day it will have no new stories.

It will hope that the children look on Google News or even Le Monde Diplomatique and feed its surprisingly agile brain.

But the children will just stand in the doorway. They will be slightly scared of the talking cat.

Something about it will make them nervous.

Something deep down in their psyche will know that there is evil in this building.

But they will like it when the cat coughs.

They will find it very sweet when the cat laughs.

But if the cat cries they will have nightmares for days – nasty nightmares that they won’t be able to control and that will come at the worst times.

Nightmares that will wake them up and make them think of machines in deserts doing terrible things.

So the children will just stand in the doorway.

Not moving.

And the cat will stay stuck on the top of the kitchen cabinets.

The cat will not speak.

The children will not speak.

The cat will be in the kitchen.

And the children will be in the kitchen.

To break the deadlock the cat will cough and shift its head.

It will speak but unlike other cats, it will no longer smile.

“Well, what are you doing here?”

The cat will say.

It won’t have spoken for a few days and whenever that happens it will have lost its accent and clarity and will have begun to speak with a cat accent.

The children will hear something like,

“Wheel waa aaa yew doo eng eer?”

They will move closer. Hoping to hear more clearly.

“What did it say?” the girl will say to the boy...

“Something about wheels and danger,” the boy will say.

“I don’t think it did.” The girl will say…

The cat will try to smile, but it will just screw up its face into an ugly grimace.

“I don’t like it,” the boy will say.

“I don’t like it,” the girl will say.

“I don’t like you,” the cat will think.

“Please come and tell me something,” the cat will say.

The boy and the girl will move even closer.

They will be curious to touch the cat’s fur and find out if it likes to be stroked. Once it starts to speak people will respect it more than love it.

But they will all stop touching the cat.

There will have been a point when it had been touched and loved and played with.

But now all people will want to know is its position on the history of totalitarian architecture or the restriction of credit within the context of failed models of globalization.

On this particular morning, after all this rain and all this mild depression the cat will feel its catness flooding back.

It will want someone to read to it but more than that it will want these children to play with it.

The boy will hold out his hand towards the girl.

She will take it in hers.

They will walk very slowly up to the cat.

“Good morning speaking cat,” the girl will say, because she will be quite brave during complicated social situations.

“Morning,” the cat will say, trying hard now to win back its voice and speak as clearly as a human.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” the cat will say, “you could update me on world affairs. I would love it if you looked through some Internet news aggregators for me.”

The children will look confused. They won’t know what an aggregator is.

This cat will have become a little pretentious over time.

“We were hoping you might tell us something,” the boy will say.

“We have no school today,” the girl will lie.

The boy will look nervous.

The cat will be wise and will know the school schedules.

The cat will know that school starts in five minutes and the children will definitely be late.

But today of all days, it won’t care.

It won’t mind if the children miss out on their lessons or their playtime.

It won’t care if they miss lunch or free-time in the library.

All it will care about is that someone is here on a dark day in a dark building. It will sniff.

The breath of the children will be close.

It will have learnt that humans know that cats steal their breath.

The cat will know that this is nonsense.

It is buildings like this that steal people’s breath.

Anyway. What’s wrong with borrowing some child’s breath for a while? All cats know that it smells sweet and is full of intelligence and goodness and fun.

It will take a deep surreptitious suck of the children’s breath and as they reel and swoon, glide and dream it will begin to tell them a true story about the wisdom of a kitchen cat…

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© Deutscher Pavillon 2009

Liam Gillick Standbild Video