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Artists in Residence

 The New York-based video and performance artist Erica Magrey (born 1977) is working from January until June in the iaab exchange studio in Riehen. The iaab provides seven studios in the Basel region to foreign artists, and provides artists from the region with residency studios in 13 partner countries. The iaab is funded by both Basel kantons, and by Riehen, Lörrach and Freiburg, as well as the Christoph Merian Foundation (Project Management).

Erica Magrey - People After the 'Morgenstreich'

Erica Magrey having a dress rehearsal in her iaab studio.

Jörg: You came from Brooklyn, New York directly to Riehen. Was it a culture shock?

Magrey: I had to acclimatise. A few days after my arrival I went to an event at the Beyeler Museum. I thought, cool, I'll dress up for the occasion. I chose a floor-length outfit from the sixties, not exactly inconspicuous. I felt impossibly out of place. That's when I realised that I have to temper myself a bit here. It's common in New York to wear crazy clothes. This seems to be different in Riehen.

Jörg: You're involved a lot with fancy dress. For your alter-ego Metalmags, a young woman in your videos and performances who wanders through the science fiction worlds of the sixties and seventies, you create the outfits yourself. What can you tell me about the pieces hanging here?

Magrey: When I first arrived in Basel, I explored the fabric shops in order to buy material for my costumes. But the fabrics that I had in mind didn't exist in Basel. During my search for gold spandex, I was asked again and again what I needed it for. It would, at most, be used for Shrove Tuesday (the beginning of carnival) in Basel. Of course I was very curious to see the Shrove Tuesday celebrations and wanted to take part in them. That was obvious, as dressing up is part of my work. But when I did more research I thought, okay, perhaps it's better to simply observe for now. Shrove Tuesday in Basel seems to be organised by insiders. After the 'Morgenstreich', I beleived I had an idea of how people here were. Everything so neat and organised! Unbelievable! But interesting.

Jörg: Has your work changed since you arrived in January?

Magrey: The stay in Riehen has influenced my handling of patterns and colours. Everything has converged with the rust brown of the Medieval city. I made some dresses out of sheets from the Brockenhaus (second-hand shop). My work is made of bed covers that Baslers have given away.

Jörg: Why the fictional character Metalmags ?

Magrey: I often need this character to do things that I wouldn't do otherwise. Before I developed Metalmags I experimented with another alter ego. I found a necklace in a second hand shop bearing the name Lois. I liked the name so I started wearing the necklace. For example, when I wasn't sure whether I should buy a crazy shirt or not, I thought to myself, "Okay, Lois would buy it!" So I always had an excuse.

Jörg: Maybe it would be good if we all had an alter ego.

Magrey: Yes, maybe.

Jörg: What advantages does your alter ego have for you otherwise?

Magrey: I can embody a strongly inspiring woman with it. Metalmags appeared for the first time in a music project. Her visual representation developed as I began to make videos. With this character I can bring all my interests together. Music, dance, video, model making, role-playing, fancy dress, stories and science fiction.

Jörg: Why are you interested in science fiction from the seventies?

Magrey: It's not only the aesthetics that fascinate me but also the life-affirming , forward-thinking, naïve idea that technology can save us all. From an extra-terrestrial perspective the differences between the individual cultures appear to be dissolved. To be united as part of humankind, to be lost in space is a beautiful idea.

Jörg:: This idea is understood universally. How did the Swiss react to your work?

Magrey: I became aware of how strongly my videos refer to American television. The Swiss audience can't make many connections because they don't know these shows. TV seems to be generally less popular in Switzerland. As a result, people don't know how to classify the videos. I've shown my work in different places. In galleries, as performances, on TV. I love the idea that somebody is lounging on their sofa at 4 am and my music video is in the living room flickering on TV. In this way my work makes contact with a non-art audience.

Jörg: Who will your next audience be?

Magrey: I'm planning a performance in New York for the summer. I'm going to wear a costume I developed in Switzerland. The colours of the pieces I made here compared to the ones I made in New York are less gaudy and formally clearer. They remind me of figures from Oskar Schlemmer or the Bauhaus. This circular dress for example, where only arms, head and legs are poking out, leaves little freedom of movement. Through limitations, new conditions for my performances are generated. That interests me.

To mark the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the Christoph Merian Foundation, a tent with a video jukebox with work by iaab artists will tour through Basel, 20th - 26th June and 15th - 21st August

This interview is published with the support of the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia Moving Words for the Swiss advancement of translation.

Translation: Paul Harper

Deutsche Version


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Ausgabe 6  2011
Autor/in Andrina Jörg
Künstler/in Erica Magrey
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