Studio International

Published 01/01/1976

Mario Merz

An interview by Caroline Tisdall

This 1976 interview will be part of the exhibition Desire for Freedom. Art in Europe since 1945
17 October 2012–10 February 2013
Palazzo Reale, Milan
15 March–2 June 2013
Musée d'art contemporain Kumu, Tallinn
28 June–29 September 2013
Contemporary Art Museum, Cracow
18 October 2013– 26 January 2014

Caroline Tisdall: You say you are sick of being identified with Fibonacci and his number sequence, but let's begin there all the same. How did you, as a contemporary artist, become involved with the organic numerical progression laid out by a medieval Italian mathematician?

Mario Merz: I came across it quite simply in a book, and as I looked at it I became aware that this progression had a meaning that was applicable beyond the progression itself, that it was not merely a mathematical process, but had a meaning in terms of the idea of proliferation. What is the meaning of proliferation, the proliferation of men, or houses or machines, of life or mass? Maybe we should ask that question, rather than reacting in an expressionist way, or saying: Well, yes, proliferation is a fact, and what shall we do?

Proliferation has destroyed a certain balance which existed before. The proliferation of capital has itself provoked wars and enormous destruction. Above all where day-to-day life is concerned. So I said to myself: This is a progression, and because it is an elementary progression it is absolutely clear that proliferation is contained within it, and demonstrated with great simplicity. It's not a multiplication, but the proliferation of a single unit. In the past it was easier to relate a single unit to an organism or a whole, and to a mentality. But in our times the relationship between the single unit and the general mentality can only be rediscovered in this principle of proliferation.

I saw that it was possible to use Fibonacci's progression as a linear method, and to apply it rather than simply describe it. It could particularly be applied and used against a philosophy in which mass is seen to exist a priori. It could be used analytically to distinguish between the single unit and the mass, rather than taking mass in itself as an all-absorbing organism.

CT: You mean the capitalist concept of mass?

MM: The mechanism of capitalism exists and is hidden, but an analysis of capital demonstrates that all it consists of is small sums. Capitalism is in reality a sum. Instead of being the union of single units, it is a sum. And in moments of social and economic crisis this can be seen much more clearly. The same applies to countries, which are nothing more than the totality made up of all the single units or people who live in them.

CT: So your criticism is of a form of human philosophy, which is divorced from other forms of life and growth, where the single unit can always be related to the whole.

MM: I can give an example. One day we went up into the mountains above Lake Garda. There were 2,000 sheep on the slopes. Now one sheep is in itself just one sheep, while 2,000 sheep are a capital. So much so that the owners had built a road to bring water up for the sheep. There was no spring up there and it was worth keeping them grazing there all the summer. But they couldn't carry water up on their shoulders, so they resolved the problem by making a simple calculation: it was worth their while to spend money on a road for transporting water, and that's what they did. This is an example of capital in which the single sheep units are absorbed by the number of sheep. The current situation of the sheep is contained within that 2,000: I, for example, am no longer able to see sheep as a single unit in itself. I can analyse everything about the sheep, but if I don't analyse the sheep in the context of the others…

CT: So Fibonacci becomes a corrective to a negative way of thinking?

MM: I wanted to get away from the idea of positive and negative: it simply is a reality. I wanted to avoid analysing situations simply in terms of slogans which diminish things to social positives or negatives, like saying I prefer communists, or I prefer liberals, etc. That all becomes annoying because in fact any analysis of life, or of what life is, can only show us that deep down inside there is neither positive nor negative: there's just a reality which we can't do without. Nowadays, for instance, if you want to make your own kind of private clothing you can do as you want, but in reality all you are doing is using a material that is predetermined by consensus, and this consensus does everything.

CT: Would you say that was true in the field of ideas too?

MM: I wouldn't draw a dividing line between left and right, because it is a reality that is of as much use to the right as to the left. The Nazis, for instance, used everyone: 70 million people to make a war. They didn't use a spectacular, personal or individual idea: they used 70 million people – a mass – and threw it against another mass. And that's why I say that an analysis is neither positive nor negative. Strange phenomena take place: when the mass moves it creates destruction.
You can feel, for instance, that great cities like London are losing their value. There was a time when they represented a form of concentration: people were drawn to London because it was a centre, a pulsing heart. Now the heart itself is asphyxiated because the real capitals are elsewhere. The manoeuvres go on here, and there's still room for them, but far less than before. A city like this becomes a tourist city.

CT: Tourism too is an example of mass movement.

MM: Yes, it's an example of mass, and of the relative movement of people: the surplus of the mass which, instead of staying at home, ends up by travelling. If you look at a wall you will see that the bricks laid one on top of another form the wall, and that the wall is a whole formed by one brick on another. My idea in using the igloo on the other hand was to place the maximum number of individual constructive elements in the minimum space possible. The elements varied from little bags of earth to small cushions as at the Venice Biennale in 1972, but the main interest lay in placing a maximum of elements in a minimal space, the sphere being the form that renders the maximum of space. The igloo is a semisphere placed on the earth – it would be quite unreal to place it anywhere else because it is to be seen as a constructive form, a housing form. The Eskimos can create houses from blocks of ice, and houses that are warm inside: closed spaces that relate to open spaces.

CT: The relationship between form and space is a theme that you have explored in many variations, isn't it? It often seems to deal with the contrast between spherical or curved form and the straight line.

MM: Yes, that's true. Take bricks for instance. Since the time of the Etruscans architects have built great domes and vaults, starting with huge blocks of tufo. With a brick you can build a vault just as medieval peasants did, but the brick itself is straight and elementary. It demonstrates that a vault is a derivative of a preceding number that was an elementary number: an elementary number is a straight, flat number, while the vault is a derivative of this flat number. This gives constructive possibilities that go beyond symbolic representation. It is in itself a constructional and analytic fact, and construction is always analytic. That's the basis of the igloo, whether it's made of cushions, or bags of earth, or glass.

CT: And the igloos built of broken glass?

MM: For me the broken glass means the material itself, and the importance of the material, rather than its relationship to measurable space. A sheet of glass two metres square is one thing: it's measurable. A sheet of broken glass is almost impossible to measure. How do you measure the broken part? But the fact that it fills a space demonstrates how material itself has an impact value, how it fills space. Think of a house that is bombed. The house comes down, but the material stays, and so, in an abstract sense, you could say that you could build it all over again.

CT: That's what they say in Belfast.

MM: There you are: in reality nothing is destroyed the material is there.

CT: But the glass igloos introduce another factor: the transparency of materials and the ambiguity of internal and external space.

MM: If you cover an igloo with non-transparent material, your action implies the isolation of a space. If you make it transparent the internal space, which still exists, is brought into a greater visual relationship with external space. When I made the earth igloo I placed neon on its surface. But nothing is added to the broken glass igloos because the exposition is clear: it is simply this fact of transparency, the fact that inside and outside are the same.

CT: What is the intention with the latest igloos (at the ICA)* in which branches of wood run right through the glass walls?

MM: The branches exist in both internal and external space: vegetable life runs through internal space just as it does through external space.
What is the igloo really? It is the most simple form possible, the most elementary way possible to evaluate a three-dimensional space.

CT: And therefore it is the equivalent of a numerical structure?

MM: Yes, that's true. In fact I remember the calculations we had to make as to how many bags of earth we needed to complete the igloo. They were elementary calculations, but necessary ones. In fact the Eskimos know exactly how many blocks of ice they have to cut to make an igloo: a certain numerical quantity.

CT: Is it the circumference they calculate?

MM: Yes, the more you increase this circumference, the more the number increases. The interesting thing about the number is that it is a variable. You can establish a component, and index, and then the index of the quantity will vary. But if you establish the number, then the size will vary. So an index is always variable, and this is the natural relativity of process contained within the numerical process. A number is always relative because it doesn't mean anything. It only acquires meaning if it refers to something, like tables and their relationships one to another. The number must apply to a physical body, to a dimension, to a tangible fact, otherwise the number itself becomes completely abstract. As a mathematician you can use the number in itself, but as a human being you can't.

CT: Can you tell me whether Fibonacci applied his sequence to something concrete?

MM: Fibonacci's proliferation of numbers came from his biological rather than mathematical studies, which were practical rather than abstract. It's not altogether certain how it came about, but the book he wrote in 1202 put his experiments into a scientific framework. He had made extensive observation of rabbits, pairing them off and recording the numbers in which they reproduced. In fact he was anticipating the cellular reproduction studies of modern biological chemistry, instead of using mathematics in the abstract sense.

Our modern concept of currency, for instance, is an example of the Carthesian abstraction of mathematics in which abstraction is taken even further. Currency represents units of exchange of a highly abstracted nature. You can't say that 2,000 sheep represent an abstract number, because where would you physically put 2,000 sheep? You wouldn't know where to put them, but you can tuck £2,000 in a drawer, and that's the difference.

In Fibonacci's time this abstract sense of what we now call mathematics did not exist. But it does seem that he moved towards both a form of clarification and abstraction through the adoption of Arabic numbers, which were quicker and more expressive than the Roman system. He had been taken prisoner by Arab pirates and taken to Algeria. There he managed to move into the court circles where he learnt the numerical system of the Arab philosophers. So it was he who brought the abstract possibilities of the new system to Italy to replace the old matchstick signs of the Romans. The old lateral form of Roman calculation made way for the speed of mathematical calculation as invented by the Arabs.

CT: Exactly the same thing happened in music when the Arab system of musical notation spread out from the Arab universities in Spain to replace the old lateral structure.

MM: Yes, and brought with it greater expressive potential. So the phenomenon becomes more interesting because it is more abstract. In his book Fibonacci describes the way in which biological laws manifest themselves. I've never been very involved with biology in a scientific way, but feel strongly the way in which biological fact relates to the sense of the single unit. One sheep is a single unit, but a quantity is an abstraction of this single unit. In reality it is the single unit that conditions the quantity.

CT: Could you put that in the context of your own work?

MM: You could take the series in bars and pubs. This space, the bar, represents a physical spatial reality, as well as a temporal one, and into it a certain number of people can be introduced. These people give a unity to the number as it increases, and they consumed a certain number of glasses of beer: a certain number of abstractions of capital you could say, but the number remained describable, and that is why we did the work in a bar.

CT: That's the series done first of all in a canteen in Naples and then in Turin and here in London when you showed with Jack Wendler?

MM: Yes. As you see, the whole is presented as a physical whole and confronted with the quantity of people who can do the same thing. So the number becomes the description of the gradation of quantity.

This is continued in the series based on the idea of the table. The big jump came when I actually made the tables. It was the change from a description of what already existed to the actual realization of an environment. I removed the idea of the bar or canteen as a setting, made the tables and added another new step: I dragged in a phenomenon of art since the tables themselves at a certain point do become real tables.

CT: But at that stage were they ‘art’?

MM: Yes they were: and they were tables, absolute tables. I realized them in New York and filled the Weber Gallery with them. I made the tables from one for a single person to one that could accommodate 34 people, and so the total of those people would have been 89: the total of the quantity of each table, 89 people in that space. Then I felt I couldn't do any more because making those tables was a tremendous jolt with reality. So much so that in order to express the same thing quickly you can take a piece of paper and make a little drawing of it, precisely to avoid that jolt with reality.
Then in Berlin, when tables had been used for a meal in 1973, I didn't know what to do with them or where to put them: they became like the stuff people abandon on pavements, and Weber too is at a loss over what to do with them: he can't sell them because they take up an enormous space.

Anyway, this jolt with reality was so terrible that I said to myself: art is really a phenomenon that absorbs the jolt, softens the blow. It's true: think for instance of a medieval town, built with such enormous effort on the part of a whole community. Then along comes a painter and reduces the whole thing onto a little panel: he gets everything onto a tiny piece of wood. He softens the blow, and that's the first bourgeois phenomenon. And then of course it becomes capital. Since the real table exists, I can substitute the representation. I can put that in my suitcase, but not the real thing.

CT: But the use of representation rather than the reality gives you more than simply physical possibilities of transportation and so on. While the reality of the table is the reality of the table, its representation opens up a whole spectrum of manipulations.

MM: Exactly and had to confront the question of what is the table, and how to represent it. So I chose the most elementary and clearest possible method: I used the two-colour system, horizontal and vertical colour in which the horizontal is the plane or surface of the table, and the vertical is its support.

CT: That is the system used by the Italian primitives up to Giotto.

MM: Yes, instead of using a system, which involved atmosphere, air and light, they used colour to distinguish between one thing and another. The colour of clothing, for instance, refers less to the real colour such clothing might have than to the difference between the clothing and the clock tower: just to avoid confusion.

CT: In other words, that was a language already independent of reality.

MM: Yes and in fact it becomes a structural and cultural language because it is independent.

CT: In much the same way as the number systems.

MM: Numbers are independent of reality itself, they are a means of recounting reality, of counting reality, and in that sense colour systems resemble numbers.

CT: There's a parallel too in your use of words, isn't there? When for instance you use words like 'straight' or 'curved' to describe reality or the world, as in one of the igloos shown at the ICA in September.

MM: There the words refer to reality because it is a philosophical condition. We know that any space, even a small one, relates to a curve, but to reach this conclusion in reality involves a factual mathematical operation, as well as practical and imaginative factors.

CT: But your tables have to be straight, not curved?

MM: I wanted to make the most objectivized table possible, without bringing in any abstract cultural games. The table is a basic human discovery and instrument. It is a square or rectangle in which the spaces are determined by the quantity of space occupied by each person. I calculated 50 centimetres per person as a standard measure, and in the huge painting at the Round House in London this measure became the real dimension of the painting: it gave the scale just as in reality. I didn't represent the people, but I represented the space that a person occupies, so the first table is 50 centimetres square and the sequence follows proportionally.

CT: So this large painting is a two-dimensional representation of the tables you actually constructed, as opposed to the other series of paintings in which the tables are the representation of the idea of tables arranged in spirals and so on, and do not follow the standard dimension of 50 centimetres.

MM: I was trying to create a relationship between the space of the canvas and real space. The space of the canvas is unreal, but the spatial measurement is real. The question is: Is it possible to make a canvas of this kind? In reality it is possible.

CT: This marks something of a change in your work, doesn't it? Usually in the past you have started from something that already exists, physically in the world, like the people in the bar or the canteen, and applied the sequence to that.
In a sense the work that resulted was a document of reality.

MM: Not quite. Yesterday I went with Jack Wendler to the bar where I did that piece, and the bar has changed. It's been modernized, they've taken down a partition wall and made it bigger. It's not the same bar, even the people are different. And so that series of photographs is a frozen reality. Of course it's a document, but instead of being reality itself, it's a document of reality.

Think of life today: we are all strangled by the impossibility of observing reality. Just think that in the streets of these great cities you can see thousands of people every day. You see them, but they all pass by and nothing remains. Our sense of number becomes completely irrational. We feel that there are a lot of people, but we can't observe them, just the number. Mathematics is fantastic in this way. The whole of mathematics is based on a trick: you only have to learn the trick to master it. There have been times when I have represented work quite differently. I once did three or four paintings, not more: a representation of those who use oxyacetylene welders. The canvas presented a hand holding the flame as if it was a kind of object. I couldn't represent the oxyacetylene flame of course, so it was a kind of flame that emerged from the hand of a person. For me that meant an interest in an argument, rather than the description of a landscape: the extraction of work from its surroundings.

CT: When did you do that?

MM: 1953-4. I have one at home, and they were once shown in a small gallery in Turin. Perhaps they were not interesting in themselves as work, more as an alternative to taking painting as the piece, or as total abstraction — like painting a canvas completely red or white which doesn't interest me at all. My concern has always been with phenomena that related to reality itself, so the representation of someone repairing a tram at night with an oxyacetylene flame seemed more relevant to me than sitting in a studio thinking of one colour or another.

When it comes to it you have to remake everything, whether you are Leonardo or a 19th-century French painter, and it's all to do with the analysis of reality, much more than is recognized. You can talk about colour and light and the colour of light, but when it comes down to it colour, light and everything the painter uses are at the service of analysis rather than being themselves. This is the context in which even just four mathematical numbers are interesting, because they give an analysis, and I recognize now that that is what impressed me. The number that expands instead of repeating itself … If you repeat a beat, it ends up as being a psychological repetition. But if you use a number in expansion it's quite different. Take the big painting at the Round House: you couldn't do a bigger painting than that because it would be useless, it would be psychologically repetitive, but up to the point to which I took it, it is possible. In fact you can see that it was surprisingly possible to find a space to hang it in: a bigger space than that would be hard to find, so the result was that the space coincided with the reality of the representation. This is a good conversation – at last I can explain a few things. It annoys me when they say: He uses numbers to make paintings and objects. It's true of course, but it's not true because the number in itself means nothing. The same goes for painting: it's more than the abstract painter's two metres of canvas.

CT: That's why you were careful to put the alligator object in the ICA exhibition between the large canvases there, as a kind of reminder that they were nothing to do with abstraction, and to get that farmyard feeling. There's quite a contrast between that and the hard, mechanical feeling of neon that you have used for years.
How did that come about?

MM: The first time I used neon was on the earth igloo. I wanted a contrast between the natural phenomenon of earth and something logical, structural and if possible technical. Take for instance the photographs of the piece we did in the pub here in London. I could have indicated the sequence in three different ways.

I could have omitted the numbers altogether, and said, OK, the numbers are already in the photograph, but it would have been difficult to understand. Or I could simply have written the numbers by each photograph. But I wanted to emphasise that this was an unrepeatable thing, and the light of the neon tubes states that clearly, much more so than handwritten ones. The neon fossilizes it, technological light fossilizes everything. And so it becomes an explicit declaration: the thing is trapped. It's almost a negative thing, and particularly clear when neon is placed with the alligator or iguana. How vulgar the numbers are in comparison with the alligator. The elegance, subtlety and fineness of the animal makes the vulgarity of those numbers all the more visible.

CT: Do you think a tendency towards a certain kind of distance is beginning to appear in your work? I mean the use of glass particularly. It seems to be less intuitive and intimate than your use of earth and little hand-stitched bags and so on.

MM: No, oh no. Broken glass is like a friend for me, not an enemy or stranger. It can of course be a weapon, and it can annoy people too. It's strange how terribly annoying people find this broken glass.

CT: Architecture and habitable space have always interested you, haven't they, whether in the form of the igloo as a model for living or the tables as a functional module.

MM: Yes, what I'd like to do now is a form of architecture, particularly since architecture is defined by capital. Architects are caught up in capital too and don't seem to understand anything at all. My idea was that an involvement in architecture today would have to mean complete disentanglement from capital at any level, and this would apply as much to the making of a box as to the building of a skyscraper. So I want to find an open space, open in the sense that it is not occupied by capital. In this space I want to build a number of tables, since the table is the first basic formulation of the architectonic principle. I would use these tables as space, as human and not capitalistic organization. Capital is the definition of a space. A wall is the definition of space: with a wall you close off one space from another, or from the outside. So take away the wall and replace it with something that is directly visible: the table. The series of tables becomes a construction that is in itself visible. I want to move this table from the interior to the exterior. I want to consider it as a primary architectonic element rather than as a sculpture in the open: just an architectonic element. And starting from that point I want to ask some questions about architecture and about the nature of space, in the architectonic, not the abstract sense of the word. Inhabitable space.

There's a chance I may be able to do it in Australia: we'll have to see what spaces there are not absorbed by capital! Here in Europe space is always measurable with money. There in Australia I'm not so sure. Anyway there it seems there are spaces that are not accountable to capital and private owners: open spaces. I'd like to use the tufo of Australia, and use it as the material for creating an architecture, the most elementary form of architecture. Then I could ask the questions that are not yet formulated. I can't formulate them now because that wall would go up again. But the idea is to build these tables and to go there with a van and find out what kind of space that could be in relation to the business of architectonics.

CT: Working in an open space like that, how would you establish your measure?

MM: I would use the measure that I applied to the tables when I made them: 70 cm elevation, 50 cm square per person. So the first table is 70 cm high and 50 cm square, and the largest, for 55 people, is 70 cm high and about 9 by 11 metres.

CT: How do you decide when to stop? In a wide open space it would become the problem of the limits of freedom wouldn't it?

MM: I had thought of taking it up to 55 people: the kind of space I have already experienced. I wouldn't use the same perishable tables of course. They'd have to resist outdoor conditions. My aim is to create an architecture that starts from the inside and works outwards. The problem of architecture in other words is this: there was a river, and the river was the water carrier – the life element. So towns grew up by the rivers. The formation and the shaping of these towns provided the definition of the spaces in which people lived. Some were based on large spaces, some on small, and that gives the nature of the particular town, but the spaces were determined by the division of the land. Think, for instance, of Flemish space: little houses barely over two metres high in which the space is minimal and even the furniture too. That's the phenomenon of Flemish architecture, of those peasants who came together to work, and who clustered around those huge churches which were, you could say, the community centres. And the smaller a house is the warmer and more intimate it is. But the whole process grew and proliferated to such an extent that these towns exploded into the country, and the measure was lost.

Now you get cities like Turin that are completely out of proportion and where 200,000 people work in the city but live outside it. And no Corbusier can make a city human. It has been tried, but the results were just formalist variations.

CT: It seems that there is a possibility of applying a system like Fibonacci to the main problem of such cities: the way in which the single unit relates to the whole is after all the key to human or humane living, and is exactly the relationship that we have lost. But Fibonacci can quickly progress into vast numbers, and our problem is to know when to stop, firstly, and then how to decentralize.

MM: Capital absorbs an enormous number of people of course, but the effects of it are not just social. They are human and psychological. Take the field of work. In a small community it makes sense, and a sense of enjoyment. If they are happy people can work up to, say, 16 hours a day. But with the unhappiness of today they are finished after two hours. Why? Because all the energy is absorbed from outside, by external factors. The noise, the stopping and starting. Then the form of capital that uses technological means rationalizes it: we give you the possibility of reducing from 6 working days a week to 5 then 4 then 3, it says.

CT: So what would you propose in the spectrum between your small Flemish scale and your wide open Australian desert?

MM: Flemish space was fantastic as far as it went, because it was a balance between space itself and the realization of space according to what life then could be. Now we feel that this balance is no longer there, nor is that life. So I want to tear down those walls. I want to say: the wall no longer exists. This division of one space from another is no longer of interest. Walls are no longer of interest, and paintings too for that reason have not much sense either.

I did those canvases as part of a cultural reality, but it's not a thing that interests me in the total sense. What really interests me is visible space without divisions, the fact, for instance, that you can create a unity that passes from a table for one single person to a table for 55 through intermediary stages. That for me demonstrates clearly that you can progress to relationships with greater or smaller numbers of people, up to a certain limit perhaps. Now if you have an organization like that, you can organize a kind of life that could be more interesting than the kind of life we lead today, and more rewarding. The kind of division we have serves a form of expansion. But in reality there is no relationship between small and great unities, or the relationships that do exist are irrational. And the bigger they are the more tragic are the internal explosions that this irrationality provokes.

CT: They also provoke an even greater division between the single units: the hardening of society into rigid little boxes both physical and mental. And that in fact is the mechanism that society has devised for punishment: prisons formed of closed and minimal space.

MM: That's exactly the concept of punishment. The Indian reserves were just such an invention of society to enclose even whole populations in small spaces. And architecture as we know it has to be understood for what it is: it has always been the most visible expression of a culture.

CT: Have you ever related the closed space of architecture as we know it to the notion of the nuclear family for instance?

MM: Yes, all these phenomena are related, and they all have to be analysed. Sometimes they seem like realities and turn out not to be. It's the same thing as this business of open space: does it exist or doesn't it? I'll have to try it out before I decide. The same goes for the idea of the family: it's a bourgeois idea based on the transferral of capital from father to son. The patriarch needed an enormous quantity of strong arms and applied them to more open spaces. Then when capital itself was no longer a physical thing to be worked on, the needs changed. The family became smaller and more isolated. The normal family in Turin now is a closed family, but the younger generation want a more open situation, a higher concept of community: the nucleus need no longer be so absolute.

We cannot yet understand new social relationships because we live in a way that is still conditioned more architectonically than culturally. Today for instance there is more space for culture through books: the space that opens up through books is greater, cultural journeys in that sense are greater, while real and physical space is more restricted. And the problem of restriction is clearest in architecture: the roots of the problem are physically visible, and the effect is restrictive absorption, the opposite of cultural expansion and liberation.

CT: And art for you retains this liberating potential?

MM: I have thought a lot about art as divulgation, as a spreader of ideas that could be sensitive to, say, the culture of books or elementary philosophical culture. But the essential thing is to reach a physical form. This doesn't contradict the philosophical interest: we must find a physical and objectivized form for what we lack, objectivize ourselves, if you like.

I do feel that even art that supports the power structure does ultimately have a democratizing effect on it. In a way, that is the problem of architecture: architecture as art. By that I mean the visibility of art and not the contemplation of it: the passage from art as contemplation to art as visibility, and I see this as involving architecture. The problem there of course is that architecture as it is used is a realization of capital, whereas it should be the opposite. Let me give an example: in Venice, just opposite the station, there is a church with a copper dome, an 18th-century church that has been used for years by young people arriving in Venice without money and nowhere to go. They slept in sleeping bags in there because it was open, deconsecrated. Then there came a moment when society said: No, this space must be closed. It was a place where you could meet and sleep. Now it is closed, and inside there is nothing. It is a space that is completely and absurdly closed.

CT: The same as and yet the opposite of your Indian reserves.

MM: I've heard that they have all become alcoholics, a race in decline. They don't know what to do, so they just carry on drinking.

(Translated by Caroline Tisdall from an interview held in London on 4 September 1975.)

*Merz's exhibition at the ICA, London, was held in September-October 1975.