Observations I make in this world and the boundaries I seek to push are thebuilding blocks of my work.I create an opportunity to communicate with theaudience and provide a platform to think together through my performances thatare aiming to question our individual and social existence. In this way myperformances are passing beyond my personal perspective and interpretations furthermore they become a part of each spectator’s individual experience. A painting, a sculpture or a video can become a bridge between the audience andthe creator.
As a contemporary fine artist and sculptor, I primarily create three dimensional works of art. My practice is inspired often by our natural and urban surroundings, and how they can directly resemble and mirror our physical and psychological characteristics, traits, persona and behaviour. Throughout my emerging and extensive body of work, I use variants of shape, scale, texture, form and colour to give a unique environment to a space. I find that material choice is also an essential visual and metaphorical aspect of a successful work of art, the medium of my work speaks just as high as the appearance, ultimately allowing another contextual layer of depth to an artwork.
The subject of the work is process, limitation, restriction and repetition. Restricting myself to only certain materials and a strict, repetitive mark-making action, I deliberately control the painfully slow progression of the surfaces.The mark is a horizontal line, the most direct I know.The substrate is paper.Binders are limited to oil and cold wax.Materials are restricted to ivory black pigment, graphite and charcoal.The physical process is the monotonous repetitive movement of making lines by bending over paper laid flat and moving my paint mixtures across the surface over and over,
Johanna Baschke, born 1990 in Cologne, Germany, is a photographer and video artist based in Bielefeld and Brussels. 2017 she finished her bachelor studies of Cultural Applied Science at the Universität Hildesheim. Currently she is doing her masters in photography at the FH Bielefeld. She went abroad to study photography at the LUCA school of Arts in Brussels, Belgium and film studies in Trondheim, Norway. During a social year she has been living in Salé, Morocco. Since 2010 she worked for film productions as director of photography and producer, amongst others for the documentary “Arabic circus” (2015) and the short movie “East” (2015).
I construct free standing and wall based three dimensional sculptures using a combination of contemporary & traditional materials. From casting with plaster of Paris to thermoforming with industrial materials including acrylic sheet & EPS (polystyrene). My materials & process is continually evolving.My latest 2020 wall based sculptures are constructed using a subtractive process whereby I hand cut dozens of geometric shapes from sheets of EPS. These ‘building blocks’ are then treated in much the same way a stonemason constructs a wall. “Trapped, somewhere within the unorganised pile of shapes sitting in front of me lie the seeds of my next sculpture.”
Stanimir Enchev is an artist graduated from the National Academy of Theater and Film Arts in Bulgaria. He is involved in performance, video art, has participated in international dance platforms, creates streets art events, has published a book of poetry. There is one own exhibition. Creates luminous sculptures using mainly natural materials. Wood, stone, string, and others. His works represent an extraordinary view of the modern world, combining irony, gentle tranquility and raw depth.
My name is David Isakson. I weld and join materials to make humorous deconstructions out of everyday objects. My art is an outsider deconstruction that blurs the classical distinction between the outside and inside worlds, between thoughts and feelings.I am a small time operator. I find meaning in the contrast between opposite poles. Self/Other, desire/fear, asleep/awake, inside/outside. My work is an effort to balance my schizophrenic mind and aging human body. I use the internet to collect the marginal, the cast off, and the otherwise useless and I reuse this collection in my studio.
My audiovisual work is hybrid New Media artworks based on Live Visuals. The aim of the projects is to create Generative Images in real time, with various techniques and Artistic Media such as Generative Art, Music Visualization, Virtual Reality, Depth Cameras and Synthesizers. The art works, in their final form, are presented as video screenings, prints, original drawings and live audiovisual performances. The problematic of the interaction between image and sound is dominant in the art work. It consists of audiovisual works that explore the possibilities of live video screening and real-time music visualization.
Text, urban landscapes and out of focus images show up regularly in my work as the aesthetic vocabulary I employ to explore themes of urban poverty, the home and memory. The languagebased work, rooted in critique, considers the connections between the personal, the political and the aesthetic, while subverting the systems of power that make some lives visible and others not. With a practice anchored in photography, I reimagine the urban ghetto I have known as home as a space of poetic revelation, transforming the housing projects from structures of oppression into sites of ecstatic reverie and resistance.
Hello Cameron and welcome to ART Habens. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to invite our readers to visit https://www.instagram.com/cameron_lings_ and we would start this interview with a couple of questions about your background. You have a solid formal training and after having earned your studies at the North Lindsey College, you nurtured your education with a BA in Fine Art, that you are currently pursuing at MIMA School of Art/Teesside University: how did those formative years influence your evolution as an artist? Moreover, how does your cultural substratum direct the direction of your current artistic research?
Cameron Lings: Firstly, thank you to ART Habens for your time and consideration in showing interest in my practice. I greatly value the opportunity to share my work with yourselves, and to talk around my early-artistic career, thank you!
I would like to begin prior to my time in college, as my initial career aspirations still exist within an ever-presence of my practice today. At first, I strived for an engineeringbased apprenticeship, where I excelled, especially with hands-on tasks alongside scientific and mathematical reasoning. I attended a University Technical College, where I studied a broad range of industrial practice, this consisted of installing electronics, structural construction, technical drawing and further many more disciplines. This however, was short lived.
Soon into these studies, I re-imagined my career. This began with my valuable time spent at North Lindsey College, where I completed my Foundation Diploma in Art and Design, alongside an A-Level in English Literature and Language. Here I made the most of in-personCameron Lings (photo by Ikuko Tsuchiya)
influences, this early studying platform made me aware of the pathways successful artists have taken. It also put my own work into perspective. Here, exploration and experimentation were decisive factors throughout the handful of years I spent at college. I started by leaning towards a design/illustration-based practice, however the spatially intriguing realm of sculpture was something I couldn’t help but favour. By admiring the stance of sculpture in the realm of the 3rd dimension, offered new and exciting challenges to me, that 2D works often struggled to satisfy.
My studies in English Literature and Language, were also vital in my more theoretical artistic development. Examining the extensive usage of symbolism in poetry, allowed my conceptual understanding of colour, material and matter to widen tremendously. Looking back, I recognise just how important these lessons were, as they now act as the backbone to the success of my work.
The MIMA School of Art and Design, has greatly further opened my understanding of diverse contemporary practice. Here my sculptural work has undergone trial-and-error, fine-tuning and the pushing of the physical and conceptual limitations. This is what has led to the diverse and visually broad range of artwork, in which I put before myself today. Critical conversation between myself, peers and staff, have fuelled my evolution as a contemporary arts practitioner, backed by my desire to improve and further ambition to succeed.
Themes that commonly surface throughout my work, originate from my own environmental observations. My hometown, Scunthorpe, is known for its steel-making industry, but is yet surrounded by rural woods and farmland.
Innately, I have recognised distinctive landscape-based contrasts between our manmade world and our natural environment. Subtly, my work questions our variants of an imbalance, bringing into account the contrasts of both worlds, forever asking where the line is drawn, and re-drawn.
For this special edition of ART Habens we have selected Cell and Turbine, a couple of stimulating artworks that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article and that have at once captured our attention for the way you use your visual language in a strategic way to counter-balance subjectivity, to invite the viewers to question the relationship between man-made world and natural environment. When walking our readers through your usual setup and process, would you tell us how do you usually develop your initial idea for your artworks? Do you create your works gesturally, instinctively? Or do you methodically transpose geometric schemes?
Cameron Lings: More often than not, I pursue a methodical approach when creating my artworks, however that is not to say that instinctive works never surface. ‘Turbine’ and ‘Cell’ are both examples of how pre-planned structures exist among free flowing gesturally made forms.
Throughout my more successful works, concept and material choice co-exist in a handin-hand manner. These factors are mostly determined, and contextually justified, prior to construction. The language of sculpture I find is often written between the lines, regardless of design, form and shape, material choice provides an obvious, yet still underlying, layer of conceptual depth. This I find further captures the audience’s attention, as not only the visual side of the work can justify its
context, but its means of being, also stands its ground.
Having knowledge of differing materials, techniques and methods, lead to more elaborate designs being executed. When creating sculptural works, problem solving also comes into the agenda, which often requires creative yet methodical means of overcoming dilemmas. However often these may be frustrating, they always lead to further sparks of interest, to continue exploration in
contemporary sculpture. Something that certainty will not bore me any time soon!
Regardless of methodical construction and logistics: design comes first. I find it important to not restrict myself prior to creating the idea. I believe almost any design can be created in a physical form, and to do so, requires creative means of building, in order to accommodate an ambitious idea. When starting from scratch, the idea must be free flowing in order to reach its peak. It is only then, that questions should
arise regarding theoretical, physical and financial obstacles, in which solutions should be found, in order to ensure the perfect design, remains as ‘in-tact’ as possible.
We really appreciate the way your choice of materials provide your works with metaphorical aspects, eliciting response in the spectatorship: New York City based photographer and sculptor Zoe Leonard once stated, "the objects that we leave behind hold the marks and the sign of our use: like archeological findings, they reveal so much about us". We’d love to ask you about the qualities of the materials that you include — or that you plan to include — in your artworks: in particular, how important is for you to use materials rich of metaphorical properties in order to create such allegorical images? (Here we have reserved space for Northerner and Refuse, that if you like you can mention in your answer, as well)
Cameron Lings: As I have found, material choice alone is enough to separate strong from weak pieces of work. This makes this singular factor a very dependable variant, it can make an artwork greatly respectable when executed correctly. Symbolism makes its appearance frequently throughout my work, and material choice helps deliver further contextual references through the means of an artwork. From a visual standpoint too, combining specific materials often peaks interest in those observing it, especially when consisting of materials that may not often be typically perceived amongst one another.
When developing the context of an artwork, I find it important to realise the ideology in question, in its most accurate and justifiable means possible. Material choice joins composition, scale, orientation, surface finishes and even the methods of
construction, when backing the metaphorical references behind the original design. Quality of a material alone can act as a powerful metaphoric element, so long as it is rightfully justified.
‘Northerner’ and ‘Refuse’ are prominent examples of how each of these elements are considered and realised within a resulting sculpture. Although both possess differing backgrounds and messages, materials such as wood and iron are put to use not only for their structural properties, but their conceptual strengths too.
With their unique multilayered visual quality, your artworks — as the interesting Natural Build — highlight contours of known reality in an unknown world, to invite the viewers to look inside of what appear to be seen, rather than its surface, providing the spectatorship with freedom to realize their own perception. Austrian Art historian Ernst Gombrich once remarked the importance of providing a space for the viewers to project onto, so that they can actively participate in the creation of the illusion: how important is for you to trigger the viewers' imagination in order to address them to elaborate personal interpretations? In particular, how open would you like your works to be understood?
Cameron Lings: My usage of multi-layering visualities, symbolism and material/medium, often spark variants of understandings, still however, these localise around singular subjects throughout my work. I tend to discover the overall concept of a piece is widely understood, resulting from its delivery and portrayal of a thematic statement. When the background and persona of an individual, within an audience, is brought into the equation, they are prompted to ask themselves: ‘How does this art piece relate to
my world?’ The answer is constructed from personal factors, they themselves reference from their own environments.
Because of this, audiences are drawn to differing traits within my practice. Symbolism returns to the query, personal inferences lead to contrasting ideas around details, often
beckoning discussion. From these observations, it interests me as to how a singular form can trigger responses between spectators, and furthermore, what captivates their attention.
Regardless of personal interpretation, opinions all orbit around an alike, intended message.
When creating the work my intentions are to produce a representation of a contemporary statement, in its most accurate, stimulating and visually intriguing means possible. The fact people pick up on multi-layered symbolism is rewarding for me. My intentions of implying a singular focal theme, whilst touching upon others alongside, result in educating the
audience in a process of discovery.
As you have remarked in your artist's statement, your practice is often inspired by your natural and urban surroundings, and how they can directly resemble and mirror our physical and psychological characteristics, traits, persona and behaviour: how does your
everyday life's experience fuel your artistic research?
Cameron Lings: Admiring the unaccounted and unnoticed details that exist arounds us, act as distinctive elements of inspiration that appear throughout my practice. I believe that being observant and open to elements, is a
successful, historically traditional means of research, yet ironically, relevant and contemporary to a present space. Questioning existing knowledge and portrayals of objects, lead to the interesting visual results that my practice consists of. Once again, context of a material, form or subject is re-formatted, to justify a certain topic of interest. This originates
from its pre-existing portrayal, more often than not: the environment it originates from and is associated with.
Wider fields of research, anything other than my own personal present, are also considered. Being aware of greater issues, nationally and abroad, can inspire responsive pieces of their own to emerge. This can go on, to back conceptual referencing, which takes recognition and understanding of art piece beyond the local world. Its significance can become even more relevant elsewhere.
We have appreciated the way you combine reminders to reality — as anthropomorphic shape in Open — with such unique abstract visual qualities that marks out Unit. Scottish visual artist Peter Doig once remarked that even the most realistic works of art are derived more from within the head than from what's out there in front of us: how do you consider the relationship between reality and imagination, playing within your artistic production?
Cameron Lings: References to our reality appear commonly through my work. This is carried out often through means of a statement or message, referring backward to research. Re-imagining our reality, is a process that results in many of my artworks, as my experience of the imagination and our actuality, is depicted in a way that allows us to re-think our own familiar states.
In my own opinion, the existence of our imagination, is a reserved reality, that is real only to one’s self. It is the release and realisation of an idea, that rewards it to be actual.
Every piece of art I create, exists within the mind prior to its realisation. I introduce
method into my practice, in order to achieve the reality of my imagination. Commonly this introduces stages of design, development and construction to a starting point. It’s almost ironic, how these stages create challenges. Where the imagination must be reused, in order to prevent the possibility of reality being out of reach, if unsuccessful, it we be reduced to remain only as an idea.
Matters such as global warming, industrialisation and pollution all feature thematically through your works. Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once stated, "artists's role differs depending on which part of the world they’re in": does your artistic research respond to a particular cultural moment? In particular, as an artist who sapiently uses the personal to address the political, do you think that artists can raise awareness to an evergrowing audience on topical issues in our globalised age?
Cameron Lings: Variations of different works, often brush upon culturally diverse artistic movements, and conceptually, what they once stood for. What draws my interest often are the contemporary combination of the styles of these periods. This, I believe, makes us re-think the context of today’s society, when compared to our broad geographical and historical setting. It also questions the stance and morals of such styles within our current political climate, and how the subject of time has taken its toll upon them.
Art has always acted as a political ‘chess piece,’ when played correctly, can captivate audiences globally. It has been recognised to become more than a political tool however, but a reminder; providing not only a message but a visual statement, used often to depict current agendas. Weather it be supportive praise, or controversial attention, art has always stood its
ground globally. The role of the artist is rarely a politician-but is that of a messenger. Proclaiming what simply exists, in a manner that frees the mind of the population to question, appreciate and absorb the world around them. Art will forever diversify with a
changing setting, endlessly addressing the local and global frame of our lives.
Research is an important factor throughout your more recent, emergent practice. The
subject, ‘Time’, also appears commonly throughout your current artistic production, and we have particularly appreciated the way you pratice highlights the Ariadne's thread that links Art to Science, bringing together conceptual, biological and mathematical based data. How do you consider the relationship between artistic research and scientific method? In particular, how does in your opinion could art be used to explain science and vice versa?
Cameron Lings: The ‘hand-in-hand’ relationship, between Art and Science, has forever existed throughout our history. Methods of understanding and discovering scientific breakthroughs, often are displayed in visual-artistic manners. The development of science has also reflected heavily upon the arts, this has become more-so apparent in recent decades, with technology and the internet hatching new means of exploration and execution.
Works of mine that use data, are prompted by the process of re-imagining how we present and read information. Vast research becomes a great resource, when trying to conduct a visual format from it. One that is captivating, intriguing and aesthetically pleasing, create challenges for me; especially when trying to honour the data as accurately, and all-round best means, as possible. By doing this I aim for a sceptical and unfamiliar audience (regarding contemporary art as a whole) to re-think how something completely abstract, can become relatable, personal and subjective.
How do you consider the nature of your relationship with your audience? Direct relationship with the viewers in a physical context is definetely the most important one, in order to snatch the spirit of a work of Art. However, as the move of Art from traditional
gallery spaces, to street and especially to the online realm — as Instagram — increases: how would in your opinion change the relationship with a globalised audience?
Cameron Lings: As most of my works are driven by a message, idea or concept, I find it is crucial that the impact of the artwork should reach as far out as possible. Every artist aims to find an audience, for their work to flourish, the internet opens the possibilities for artists to find themselves outside their local location. This acts as a tool, that has allowed the surfacing of multitudes of talented individuals, diversifying the world of todays contemporary practices.
The online realm has become pivotal in terms of how contemporary art is perceived. Often, I find that the atmosphere of the ‘white box’ gallery spaces can be intimidating to those who haven’t studied an artistic discipline, almost appearing as a hostile foreign space, reserved for the elite alone to understand. With thanks to the internet, contemporary art is much more accessible and accepted, there is no doubt about that. Creative practitioners are finding their feet all over the world with thanks to the internet. Still in its early years however, I believe the relationship between internetbased technologies and the arts, will blossom, and become ever-more substantial, in the near future.
We have really appreciated the originality of your artistic production and before leaving this stimulating conversation we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for sharing your thoughts, Cameron. What projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
Cameron Lings: Currently, my practice is
focused around the theme of ‘Time.’ Six months of extensive research, will back a resulting exhibition, featuring a singular 12ft long wooden organic, yet industrial-esque form. Immersing this, will be over 100 visual aspects of my collected data. This will present the correlations and contrasts between individual theories, behind our present and past understanding of time. Biological, physical, astrological and hypothetical means of data have been gathered and categorised. Resulting from this, will structure an eye-opening collection of how our typical means of measuring time, is far more paradoxical than initially it is perceived to be. Design, composition, material, and the structure of the sculpture, is directly influenced by the information which will surround it. This Is due to be unveiled at the MIMA School of Art and Design Degree Show, in May 2020.
Alongside this, separate bodies of work are also in development. I continue to explore recurring themes throughout my work, testing the limits of how accurately data can be represented, through visual experimentation.
With regards to the future, I would love to push my practice into the public realm. Working with individuals, groups and communities in realising a public art scheme, is something that I strive for. The prospect of site-specific response-based projects excite me too and would exhibit opportunities I would leap at. Ultimately, my practice will continue to develop and change with my own life. I am one to be recognised as ambitious and determined with my practice, so regardless of what the future determines for me, my practice will never stop realising itself.Cameron Lings
Hello Magda and welcome to ART Habens. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to invite our readers to visit https://www.instagram.com/magdaparasidis and we would start this interview with a couple of questions about your background. You have a solid formal training and you hold a degree in Art History from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University and you later nurtured your education in Jewelry Design: how did those formative years and your cultural substratum influence your evolution as an artist? Moreover, how does your career as a designer in the New York fashion scene - and with your own label - help you to develop your attitude to experiment?
Magda Parasidis: My aesthetic has certainly been shaped and driven by being raised in a public housing project in Queens, NY, and growing up in New York City in the 80’s and 90’s. When I left the US to study design in Milan in 2000, I found myself constantly using urban references in my jewelry design work and my visual communication, whether it be thick chains or three-finger rings, bricks or chain-link fences. This is largely what I’m known for and you can see it in my fashion photography and design work for Holy Harlot and Gwen Stefani’s LAMB. Although my visual language has been complicated and nuanced over time, a street aesthetic - and the politics it implies- guides my work whether in fashion or in art.
Your artistic production combines personal aesthetics with such a unique conceptual approach. We have been particularly impressed with your use of B/W and out of focus images in a strategic way to counterbalance subjectivity and offering an array of meanings. The body of works that we have selected for this special edition of ART Habens — and that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductoryMagda Parasidis
pages of this article — has at once captured our attention for the way you explored the point of convergence between text and image, to invite the viewers to question the evocative power of symbols and places: when walking our readers through your usual setup and process, would you tell us how do you develop your initial ideas?
Magda Parasidis: I started photographing the housing projects in Astoria, Queens when I was 15, so the concepts in my work are ones that I’ve carried for a long time. In fact, the Ghosts in Sunlight series actually began with a roll of film that dates to 1993. I found an amazing contact sheet from when I was a teenager of the buildings and the power plant across from the projects, along with some self-portraits. The way I found to make sense of my personal poverty and my sense of place then was to take photographs from my bedroom window. And I continue making these photographs as my consciousness of how my family’s experience is deeply interconnected with the structures that keep entire urban communities subjugated and isolated from opportunity, largely on the basis of race and ethnicity and fueled by poverty.
We have really appreciated the vibrancy of thoughtful ambience that marks out your artworks, and that — working on both a subconscious and a conscious level — gives rise to such epiphanic experience in the viewers, who are invited to discover reverie into the images of structures usually associate with the idea of oppression: how did you structure your process in order to achieve such brilliant results on the visual aspect? And what was your choice of lens and lighting?
Magda Parasidis: I love the urban landscape and all that it evokes. It’s essential that we offer counter -narratives about the ghetto, about it’s
people and their brilliance, along with the systems of power that are actually responsible for their marginalization. It’s with
a love ethic that my work explores the ways in which the projects are sites of dignity, of possibility and of art production, despite
inaccurate stereotypes. Some of the most radical and politically conscious cultural workers come from urban communities such
as mine. Queens is the Mecca of the global cultural force that is hip hop, with all its branches including street art and fashion. So I
situate myself among the legacy of art and culture workers coming out of poor urban communities.
As far as lenses and lighting, I work very simply. I don’t even consider myself a photographer, although it’s a medium I rely on. One of the intuitions I followed in this project to evoke the dreamlike qualities of memory has been to photograph at night. The images are out of focus and rely on the surveillance lights that are suspended from buildings themselves for lighting. I used the original CanonT60 film camera and a digital Nikon.
With its strong politically engaged commitment, your text based images inquire into the themes of “the politics of poverty and the mechanisms of marginalization”, and urge the viewers to question “the emotional response to the ideas of race, class and difference.” Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once stated, "the artist’s role differs depending on which part of the world you’re in. It depends on the political system you’re living under": as an artist particularly interested in “stimulating sensitivity and social responsiveness”, what could be in your opinion the role of artists in our contemporary age? In particular, do you think that artists can raise awareness to an evergrowing audience on topical issues that affect our globalized and ever-changing society?
Magda Parasidis: I think art and artists are ever-more essential voices in the world. We’re in a moment where our capacity to imagine a world beyond the dominant neo-liberal ideology needs nurturing. Art holds this privileged position of being able to operate outside certain systems.
When I look at something sublime, something clearly created out of love and intuition, like the work of Agnes Martin or Mark Bradford, it is a lifeline to the possibility of the sublime in
all of us. But I also think that all visual culture is political and spiritual. Our choice of what we depict and what we consume makes a political statement whether or not we take on that responsibility willingly. The kinds of
selfies we take and share, the language we use to express ourselves, the music and entertainment we consume - all of these shape who we are and what kinds of ideas we support.
We have appreciated the way you draw from the specificity of the urban environment, as in the struggling Ghetto Sunshine and Watching. Your artistic production is derived from your “specificity as a once poor urban
American constructing an understanding of place as an immigrant in the context of public housing”: how do you consider the role of memory playing within your artistic research and how does everyday life's
experience fuel your artistic research? In particular, does your artistic research respond to a particular cultural moment?
Magda Parasidis: The art I make is certainly
based on my experiences of the past, but it felt ever more urgent when I was able to leave public housing and construct a life for myself and my family in a Midwest American suburb. I find it astonishing that enclaves of
opportunity and advantage could so thoroughly distance themselves from neighboring communities in need. And the distance I’m referring to is not only about geographic proximity, but is a distance of
political engagement, concern and of resource sharing. So it seems to me that keeping oneself isolated in abundance is being complicit with dominance-based hierarchies that consider huge segments of
the population as “other”. Being an immigrant and having lived half my life in public housing makes me an emissary of sorts, because I’m in the unique position of using my narrative as a bridge.
We have really appreciated the way your artworks embody an interface between realism and imagination. With their stimulating ambivalent visual identity that you sapiently achieve through “the precision of language and the imprecision of form”, your artworks are marked out with such recurrent dreamlike quality. Scottish painter Peter Doig once remarked that even the most realistic paintings are derived more from within the head than from what's out there in front of us: how do you consider the relationship between reality and imagination playing within your work?
Magda Parasidis: The tension of imagination and reality is definitely present in the work, and in my process. For me to arrive at art, whether looking at it or making it, is to distance myself from the head and abide in the heart. I had to travel to the places of emotion and memory that held the information I needed to do the work of imagination. It’s from the encounter of the realties of living as a poor person and the intuitions it ignited that I arrived at the work. My questions are all about this tension:
What does home in the projects feel like?
What does it feel like to be under constant surveillance?
What does it feel like to have notices of what is prohibited plastered on the doors, hallways and buildings of your home?
What does it feel like to see surveillance lights, fences and videocameras on your home?
What does it feel like to be afraid that the governmental aid you receive could be taken away?
What does it feel like to hear the rhetoric that we’re poor because we are lazy or incompetent, or morally lacking?
What does it feel like to see your mother working 12 hours a day and still not make a living wage?
And most importantly, what does it feel like to uncover your own voice and tell your own story?
As you have remarked in your artist's statement, “the imprecision of the images you create is important as a sort of moral aesthetic, as if seeing in and out of focus could be a social and spiritual exercise to sharpen our awareness”. In this sense, your artworks seem to invite the viewers to look inside of what appear to be seen, rather than its surface, providing the spectatorship with freedom to realize their own perception. Austrian Art historian Ernst Gombrich once remarked the importance of providing a space for the viewers to project onto, so that they can actively participate in the creation of the illusion: how important is for you to trigger the viewers' imagination in order to address them to elaborate personal interpretations? In particular, how open would you like your works to be understood?
Magda Parasidis: Our interactions with art are so personal and private. I can talk about my work and hope that it is vital enough to evoke emotion, but the experience of the viewer with a work of art is a privileged space of intimacy where I don’t pretend to make any demands.
Your artworks have often short still explanatory titles, as , that allow you to clarify the message while maintaining the element of ambiguity, as in Exxageration and in the aforesaid Ghetto Sunshine: how
do you go about naming your work ? In particular, is important for you to tell something that might walk the viewers through their visual experience?
Magda Parasidis: There are concepts, and
words in particular, that needed to be present in Ghosts in Sunlight. In making the work, I found myself meditating on the photographs and the text would just sort of appear and attach itself to certain images. It’s been a really miraculous and joyful process. It was important to accurately name my intuitions as I cultivated my own personal political consciousness around poverty. Throughout the making of the series, I became ultrasensitive to language and the importance of the words we use. I wanted to explore and understand the mechanisms of language as power. Language can oppress and stereotype, but it can also be in service of resistance and creating narratives of liberation.
You are going to have a solo exhibition at Otterbein University: how do you consider the participatory nature of your relationship with your audience? Direct relationship with the audience in a physical is definitely the most important one, in order to snatch the spirit of a work of Art. However, as the move of Art from traditional gallery spaces, to street and especially to the online realm — as Instagram — increases : how would in your opinion change the relationship with a globalized audience?
Magda Parasidis: Being with art is about immediacy and emotion and is profoundly personal whether you’re experiencing it in a gallery, on the street or online. I think it’s about being in intimate contact with yourself in response to that which moves you, so whether that happens in the Otterbein University Miller Galley or on https://www.instagram.com/magdaparasidis , is inconsequential. That being said, some of my most profound moments, when I got to know parts of myself that weren’t activated
in other areas of everyday life, have happened in front of art in museums and galleries. Those are powerfully enriching personal experiences that we then take out into the world with us. There’s no doubt that we’re all in need of beauty and poetry, and the capacity to imagine a world not based on commodification and consumption but on compassion and community - global community, human community.
We have really appreciated the originality of your artistic production and before leaving this stimulating conversation we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for sharing your thoughts, Magda. What projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
Magda Parasidis: I’m working on an essay that explores the concepts in Ghosts in Sunlight through personal narrative and critique. It may turn into a text to accompany an artist’s book or simply a document that synthesizes the ideas and research I’ve been investigating.
In my studio practice, I’m making collage photographs using all the elements of the visual language I developed while making Ghosts. It feels like a new but connected direction. I’m hoping that my next project will be in Greece. I’d like to photograph the urban spaces and neighborhoods where Greek citizens have mobilized with immigrants and refugees to create horizontally-organized communities.
interview by , curator and curator
Hello Johanna and welcome to ART Habens. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to invite our readers to visit https://johannabaschke.de and we would start this interview with a couple of questions about your background. You have a solid formal training and after your studies in Cultural Applied Science at the Universität Hildesheim you nurtured your education with a Master in Photography that you are currently pursuing in Bielefeld: how did those formative years influence your evolution as a visual artist? Moreover, how does your cultural substratum due your experience as director of photography and producer direct your current artistic research?
Johanna Baschke: First of all, thank you very much for this interview and hello to all ArtHabens readers.
Those formative years that you mentioned gave me the freedom and the opportunity to experience many different fields of art. I had the chance to explore literature, film, theatre, photography and at the same time I would have to look at everything from a theoretical point of view. I always had a big interest in photography. I got my first camera when I was a kid; it was a promotional gift from a curtain company. But when I came to Hildesheim I got to know that there were many ways of expressing oneself. At one point I wanted to write a novel, but I had to realize that I was not patient enough for that. At another point I wanted to become a director of photography, what I did for a while, but back then I didn’t have enough self confidence to get
along in the film business. I worked in production as well as in montage. It is very helpful to experience making a film from different angles. This also applies to art in general, which is why I am glad that I had all those opportunities. Maybe I should try making music as a next step, even though my grandmother told me long ago, that I lacked the talent of singing. In our society, also in the art scene, stringency in the career and a strongly developed own style seem to beJohanna Baschke
important. It is an example of how a capitalistic logic permeates the whole life. What I have learned by not forcing myself to walk on a straight path, to not always finish what I started (whatever that means) is that in the end one also arrives somewhere and it is mostly a happier place.
But above all, the highest impact that my studies and everything that goes with it had was that I got to meet many interesting and challenging people who made me question seemingly given structures, the world and myself.
The body of works that we have selected for this special edition of ART Habens —and that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article — has at once captured our attention for the way it highlights the spacial synchronization between urban architecture and social patterns, as well as the way the images that you capture counterbalance subjectivity and offers an array of meanings to the viewers: when walking our readers through your usual setup and process, would you tell us how do you develop your ideas?
Johanna Baschke: I am, of course, focusing on topics that I am concerned with at the very moment. It can be something small that catches my attention or a book I am reading or both in combination. When I see or read something that inspires me, I take notes. A while ago I was writing those kinds of things in a notebook – a black, tatty one, like an artist cliché – now I write myself a message, maybe the contemporary, the 2020 artist cliché.
In general I would say that I don’t have a specific
headland, 2018 digital Fine Art print, 20x20cm, colour, on alu-dibond
digital Fine Art print, 20x20cm, colour, on alu-dibond
process that I repeat for every project, which is probably perceptible when one looks at my works.
They are all very different, which is the case be-
cause I am very easily inspired and influenced by my surroundings and because my interests and my focus are wide ranged. This might be an outcome of the fastened world
digital Fine Art print, 20x20cm, colour, on alu-dibond
and all the opportunities it offers or it’s just my personal volatility.
I am very interested in how society constructs
social norms and social structures and how they are mirrored or embodied in space, in bodies, in everything. How norms and structures are put into practice is a very subconscious process
digital Fine Art print, 20x20cm, colour, on alu-dibond
which is why I like to reflect on those things for myself and for my artistic practice. I often take myself as a test subject, also because I think that I should speak and act for myself, not for others.
A lot develops spontaneously, but there is a process of reflection before every project: Who am I in my social context, in society, what shapes me, what makes me feel, act or think the way I do?
We have appreciated the way give me a reason features such rigorous approach to the grammar of body language, as well as the way absence highlights the tension between the body and its surroundings. New York City based artist Lydia Dona once stated that in order to make art today one has to reevaluate the conceptual language behind the mechanism of art making itself: your works seem to be laboriously structured to pursue such powerfully thoughtful visual impact: what was your working schedule like? Did you carefully plan each shot? In particular, how do you consider the role of chance and improvisation playing within your creative process?
Johanna Baschke: I love lists. And I like to organize and plan. But there is always a big part in everything which cannot be planned and shouldn’t be planned. For “absence” for instance, I scheduled, measured and sketched everything beforehand very precisely but in the end the outcome looks very different from what I intended in the first place. To shoot the images of the persons I built a little photo studio in the atelier the artist Ulli Bömmelmann and invited friends and family to be my models. I ended up also photographing the people living in the building next to the atelier, which was my luck. While doing the composing afterwards I also had to realize that there were so many better ways to do it than the way I planned it. I hadn’t done big composings before, so I actually had no clue what I was doing. But thanks to friends and to the internet I was finally able to do, what I didn’t know before was what I wanted to do.
In the case of “give me a reason” I first used myself as a stand in and spent time alone in the
studio testing poses. I also read a lot about body language, about the gendered portrayal of male or female characters in advertisement and media, about how body language is used in politics. And I studied images of so called “strong women” and discovered a hybridization of “male” gestures of dominance and “female” gestures of servility. It is a mix of poses that one is not really used to see and that can be irritating. It is a bit similar to the depiction of the garçonne from the 1920s. Anyway, this was really interesting to me. Especially to try those kind of positions out myself. I can recommend this to everyone. It was astonishing to see how different it felt taking up a pose that I was not used to. Not only because some of the “female” positions are just impossible to do with a human body that has all the bones it is supposed to have, but also because I would suddenly feel much more powerful when I was for example sitting with my legs spread or leaning with my extended arm to a wall. I realized that I never really knew how it felt to take up space.
For your headland series you have drawn heavily from the peculiar specifics of Cabo Polonio's environment and we have highly appreciated the way your works highligt such insightful resonance with the idea of freedom: how did you select the specific locations and how do they affect your creative process?
Johanna Baschke: Uruguay is a small country popular for its beaches, its exemplary use of renewable energies, for the legalization of marijuana and for the progressive left politics of the former president “El Pepe” José Mujica. Tourists that travel to Uruguay nearly only move at the seaside. Cabo Polonio is a small village at the coast, placed in a protected nature reserve and
digital Fine Art print, 20x20cm, colour, on alu-dibond
on a rocky plateau, surrounded by water and sea lions. People there live mostly without electricity; a lot of houses are built out of waste and tourism ﬂourishes. I think that society can partly be seen through its buildings and constructions. We are located in spaces that, consciously and unconsciously, separate and unite us. We move on paths which were built by others and determine our options. (Which is also serving discrimination in many ways.) Cabo Polonio lies on a
headland, remote and not reachable with a car. Travelers expect a spectacle of “nativeness” and “freedom”. The small houses are spread over the hills, none distracting the other. Other than in the city the people there construct and shape the structures themselves.
But everything depending on what tourism demands. The village, the charm of the missing electricity, the remoteness, the feeling of inde-
pendency seem like a theater play. With “headland” I wanted to capture the atmosphere of the village aside from the high season, when the paths in between the houses are not crowded with backpackers. With the reduced images of the houses I was trying to let the architectural structures speak for themselves. I selected them by walking around and liking what I saw. I was, as well, one of those tourists who expected a specific atmosphere in this village. The houses in
Cabo Polonio actually provoked feelings of freedom and nativeness in me, because I was not used to the lack of normed structures. It was my eurocentristic gaze. As the quote of the American writer Anaïs Nin says: „We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”.
Another interesting work of yours that has particualarly impressed us and that we would like to introduce to our readers is entitled MO-
MENTS, a stimulating project whose trailer can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/335577529 and that challenges the viewers to deconstruct gender norms. We have really appreciated the way it highlights the personal struggle handling social pressure and the pain ‘we’ put ourselves through: how does your everyday life's experience fuel your artistic research? In particular, do you think that your being a woman provides your artistic research with some special value?
is my first video installation and a project that is very personal. I collected moments from my everyday life, my past and my present, where I realized through a process of reflection, these actions, thoughts or feelings are somewhat influenced by ideas of gender; in the way that I try to resist a female stereotype as well as acting according to it. That’s pretty logical, because everything we do, we do it inside the discourse. But it is still very
interesting to see. The outcome is a text which lists moments in a repetitive manner, moments like this: “The moment when a man tells me I shouldn’t carry so much and I therefore carry even more. The moment when I masturbate to the idea of a woman dominating a man. The moment when I am happy that I never was a girl who loved horses. The moment when I wait for a message instead of writing one. The moment when I googled how to do the perfect blow job.
The moment when I realize that I started to eat less after getting rejected by a man.” The question that I ask myself through this work is how does being a cis-woman effect my everyday life and how does the idea of a binary gender system in general affect my everyday life. And the answer is much more than I think it does. It limits me much more than I think, it demands much more than I think and it hurts much more than I think. And this even though that I am a lucky
person and the gender I think to feel happens to be the gender people read into me. So, in a way, my ‘being’ a woman does affect my artistic research, because everything is affected by gender and gender norms, even if I would prefer to say that it is completely arbitrary. In my opinion society doesn’t need a binary gender system; there doesn’t need to be a gender disposition at all, since it is a suppressive social construct. But ‘we’ are not at this point. Yet. Gender happens in the head, not between the legs. So the goal for now needs to be the resolution of binarity and heteronormative paradigms, to therefore reach equality for all gender. This wish of mine fuels my artistic research and this work gives me a feeling of empowerment.
Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once remarked that "the artist’s role differs depending on which part of the world you’re in. It depends on the political system you’re living under": does your artistic research respond to a particular cultural moment? Moreover, what could be in your opinion the role of artists in our unstable, everchanging contemporary age?
Johanna Baschke: First of all the geographical part of the world I am living in is highly influential to the possibilities I have. I am privileged in several ways, by being born in Germany, by being white, by not being handicapped by society, by feeling according to the gender society reads into me and by my parents who are wealthy enough to afford a good life and education for me. This means that I had the chance to study, to study what I wanted to, to go abroad when I wanted to, to cross borders, when I wanted to, to question political systems without being punished for it, to go to contemporary art exhibitions which question society or politics. All these
4-canal video installation, loop, 12 min, color, HD video 4:3
possibilities had an influence on me and on my artistic work. Above all I would say that the responsibility of an artist, as well as of every other human being is to reflect upon their privileges. For me art is a process of reflection that one shares with the recipients. Language, especially visual language, is something that ‘we’ share. It can be the access to other people’s similar experiences or access to a new reflection process. Of course visual language is also limited in the way that there can be misunderstandings, misinterpretation or just different point of views. But it is important to discuss, to reflect upon and to share.
We have really appreciated the allegorical quality that marks out your artworks, and we have been particularly impressed with the way your absence series resonates to the notion of non lieu — elaborated by French anthropologist Marc Augè — for the way it seems to stimulate the viewer’s psyche, working on both a subconscious and a conscious level. How important is for you to trigger the viewers' imagination in order to address them to elaborate personal interpretations? In particular, how open would you like your works to be understood?
Johanna Baschke: As I stated before, I want to trigger a process of reflection. To me, my work is my personal point of view, but it has to be open enough for recipients to relate to and to develop their own point of view. I think trigger is an important word for this process. When I was reading Marc Augés “non-lieu” I couldn’t directly relate to it. It felt very abstract to me, especially because he writes a lot about malls, to which I nearly never go to. But when I was taking the subway in Cologne after reading the book I suddenly noticed my surroundings much
more. I noticed how there were many people but everybody was also alone, I noticed how, because everybody was waiting, nobody was really present and I noticed how absurd the colors of the stations suddenly seemed; far too cheerful for the atmosphere. As if the architects wanted to contrast the atmosphere to make Marc Augés point. So Augés book triggered me to go through his process of reflection, but in my way of doing it. This is what I want my work to be, a suggestion to deal with a topic, a feeling, an idea that is important to me. It is not my intention to tell the recipients what to see or how to grasp a work.
Provocatively, German photographer Thomas Ruff stated once that "nowadays you don't have to paint to be an artist. You can use photography in a realistic way". What is your opinion about the importance of photography in the contemporary scene?
Johanna Baschke: I think that there are different mediums to express things in different ways and everybody chooses a tool or tools that are best for him*her. Photography has in a way its special role because in everyday life ‘we’ see an overload of photographic images that are used to visualize a text, to make us buy something, to draw our attention to something, to manipulate. This is why from my point of view, in a contemporary art scene, working with photography has a specific importance. Why take pictures in a world where trillions of pictures are taken every day? Precisely for this reason.
There are technical developments which make an involvement with gaze, with alleged reality and with artistic aspirations more important. In every camera there are supporting techniques.
A photographer has many invisible digital or analog assistants, and the more “evolved” a camera gets, the more the apparatus takes over. One example is analog film material, which was based on being white, which made (makes) white people also privileged in photographic and filmic images. The Artificial Intelligence based photography is the one we know from smartphones. This AI changes what we expect from photographs. Apple and Samsung start to put
more and more lenses in their smartphone cameras, to afterwards generate an AI-based depth of field. When you see a photographer, like me, working with a big, heavy camera there is more to it than nostalgia. It is about the controllability of technologies and the sovereignty and self determination of the artistic view.
You are an established artist and over the years you have had group and solo shows including
your recent show at Sint-Lukasgalerie, in Brussels: how do you consider the participatory nature of your relationship with your audience?
Direct relationship with the audience in a physical is definetely the most important one, in order to snatch the spirit of a work of Art.
However, as the move of Art from traditional gallery spaces, to street and especially to the online realm — as Instagram — increases : how would in your opinion change the relationship
with a globalised audience?
Johanna Baschke: I have to admit that I just started to use instagram and that I don’t really know how to handle this medium. But I understood enough to know, that followers seem to be important, so please follow me: https://www.instagram.com/johannabaschke
I also see, that the art world, the market, the
scene change less rapidly than the society and the technologized world.
As you stated before, exhibitions, galleries etc. are still the most important way of spreading work for an artist.
But I think that the globalization of the audience can be a chance, for artists as well as for curators. It could democratize the scene. But of course it’s not as easy as this and there are many hurdles to clear.
We have really appreciated the originality of your artistic production and before leaving this stimulating conversation we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for sharing your thoughts, Johanna. What projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
Johanna Baschke: I am currently working on
two projects. One is called “Männern schenkt man keine Blumen” which means “you don’t give flowers to men” and it deals with the topic of gender, which is, as you can see, important to me. Once one is in the process of reflection, it is difficult to get out of it and to stop realizing how many things in everyday life are influenced by social constructions and norms. This project is focusing on the part that capitalism and industries are playing in shaping ideas of gender. It is kind of a humoristic look on the gender-market. I am working with video as well as with photographic images and collages.
The other project I am working on is called “Do you remember, grandma?”. It is a study on the feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia is a very fluid and unclear feeling of history, an uncritical longing for the past, for grandmothers apple pie, for the simplicity of life, for naturalness. The project is in a way also dealing with capitalism and industries, because the market discovered the concept of nostalgia. They call it retro. Retro does have a connection to the past, but it happens in the present. Retro made nostalgia marketable. I look at this market with my camera: rusty mirrors, wooden boxes that look like they are old but they are not, meat or vegetables from old species; but also events like reenactments or middle age markets. At the same time I look in peoples cellars, in dusty boxes where feelings are being conserved. I am looking at the diffuse feeling of nostalgia, as well as its marketing strategies.
And then, there are many more ideas that want to be followed. Thank you very much for this conversation and this opportunity. And I wish everybody a good day.
Hello Jon and welcome to ART Habens. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to invite our readers to visit http://jon-thomas.com and we would start this interview with a couple of questions about your background. You have a solid formal training and you hold a BA (Hons) in 3-Dimensional Design, that you received from the Sheffield Hallam University: how did those formative years influence your evolution as an artist? Moreover, how does your cultural substratum due to your travels studying the architecture of ancient civilizations address the direction of your current artistic research?
Jon Thomas: Hello & thank you for your interest in my work. To properly understand my art it's important you know a little about the journey I have taken before I started sculpting in 2017.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go but I think I ended up where I needed to be” Douglas Adams.
Studying 3-Dimensional design at Sheffield Hallam university was both a blessing and a curse. With hindsight I was just too young & immature to really fully appreciate all that the course offered. I struggled with model making but never had any problem coming up with ideas. The only object I ever made that I liked over the three years was a lighting sculpture in the final year. Four blocks of piped silicone stacked on top of
each other with a fluorescent tube down the middle. I named the piece ‘DADA’.
I used to travel to the Psalter Lane campus on the bus with my friend Amanda Craggs from my halls of residence. At the campus doors each day she would turn left to go up to fine art and I would turn right to the design dept. Our side of the ageing campus was filled full of machines, workshops and had an open studio space for technicalJon Thomas
drawing boards. Fine Art was just room after room full of open empty space.
The first time that I had experienced any sort of contemporary art was when I visited Mandy in her part of the campus. I had my first real glimpse of half finished sculptures and paintings hidden behind drapes of polythene. It all frightened the life out of me if I’m being honest. Art was something I really did not understand at the time.
I skipped quite a few of the lectures during my three years at that university. But I can without any difficulty remember my favourite lecture which leads directly on to my work today & the second part of your question. The lecture centered around classic architecture and the gravitational forces that affected ancient buildings. The professor whose name I have long since forgotten used this set of well worn wooden geometric blocks to articulate visually how cathedral walls were constructed. And how features like flying buttresses were built to prevent walls collapsing. His lecture was a breath of fresh air. It was fascinating & stood out for me at the time. It indirectly ignited an interest in ancient buildings & architecture.
After leaving university in the early 90’s I found myself working in web design. Later during this period and in need of a break from it all I embarked upon a twelve month trip backpacking around the world. The first place at the very top of my long list of places to visit & explore was the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico and its collection of ancient Mayan stone structures. I spent months exploring other sites & civilisations across Mexico, Central America and South East Asia before returning to the UK.
In the beginning, (2020), 60 x 40 x 17 cm
Six by four (2020), 45 x 60 x 17 cm
This period of travel & exploration would turn out later to be very important. The journey to these places was a challenge. Smothered by vines and surrounded on all sides by thick jungle, I felt like I was in a scene from an Indiana Jones film, it was a magical experience. I remember sitting at the very top of one of the tallest buildings watching the sun go down. Looking out across the jungle canopy, howler monkeys calling to each other over the treetops. At the time (2004) I had no idea these ruins and their influence would hold so much power over me & my work some sixteen years later.
The body of works that we have selected for this special edition of ART Habens —and that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article — has at once captured our attention for the way you use your visual language in a strategic way to counter-balance subjectivity, to invite the viewers to question the relationship between the pattern and form. When walking our readers through your usual setup and process, would you tell us how do you usually develop your initial idea for your artworks? Do you create your works gesturally, instinctively? Or do you methodically transpose geometric schemes?
Jon Thomas: Since 2017 I have been searching for a medium & system which suited my style of working. After spending years in web design I was used to seeing my ideas take shape quickly. So I explored different techniques with which I could work at pace.
When I started working with plaster & casting in the beginning I would use pieces of EPS (polystyrene) in my moulds. I never really
thought about using EPS as the main part of my work until three years later.
In 2019 I began pushing harder & asking more questions from my work and process. In response everything started to turn a corner. My process now seems to have evolved into a more laid back & instinctive approach. I hadn't thought this was possible, as I'm not the most patient, but somehow I ground out a way forward.
My most recent wall based works (pictured) start with no preliminary sketches. In fact I
do my sketching and initial groundwork in three dimensions using pre-cut geometric blocks. These blocks are propped up and balanced against my studio walls. Sometimes only the outer dimensions of the overall sculpture are set before I begin working. Other times it will depend on the dimensions of the polystyrene I have found at my local recycling centre.
These geometric blocks form the basis of the underlying structure. Pure geometric shapes hold a peculiar power. I can cut, shape and arrange dozens
of these blocks in a matter of minutes. They will also readily accept paint and plaster. Polystyrene is such a versatile material. My garage, studio and house are stuffed full of
random bits. And there is also the added feel good factor of reusing the polystyrene which is usually discarded and rarely recycled.
When I'm happy with the feel of the entire piece I will glue the blocks to their plywood board. I then start to apply varying amounts of plaster and paint. The addition of plaster onto the polystyrene surface is a new development in the process.
The gaps which separate and define the original parts of the whole object are important. More important than the object's surface. So I'm mindful not to lose these sections during this stage. I want you to see the whole object and then notice its individual parts, this is very important. I also want viewers to see what the piece is made of.
Painting is one of the final steps & surprisingly it has turned out to be one of my favourite parts. I'm certainly not a painter and struggle with paint & colour. However for me painting signifies the end of all other available options. After I apply several coats of paint I then usually (if it's to go on the wall) wrap the entire piece in an acrylic sheet.
We really appreciate the way you recontextualize industrial materials, eliciting response in the spectatorship: New York City based photographer and sculptor Zoe Leonard once stated, "the objects that we leave behind hold the marks and the sign of our use: like archeological findings, they reveal so much about us".
We’d love to ask you about the qualities of the materials that you include — or that you plan to include — in your artworks: in particular, how important is for you to use materials with a past life in order to create works of art that speak for themselves?
In the shape of things to come (2019), 63 x 23 x 5cm
Jon Thomas: I enjoy working with the old and the new, materials that have contrasting values. I feel at home exploring this area and
enjoy the aesthetic that these contrasts bring to the table. The hard clean lines of the man made up against the soft tactile nature of traditional plaster of Paris. There is a balancing act which I am exploring. I like to present materials in an open and straightforward manner.
Naturally occuring materials like plaster help connect & anchor the piece to earth. Industrial man made materials like EPS & sheet materials have more of an anonymous aesthetic. They already have a particular purpose in mind, they are not weighed down by the past. If a piece is to be successful I have to find the right balance
I have learned from university to utilise all available materials. I already have plans to work with non-ferrous sheet metals. I have lots of work ahead & look forward to exploring the power that these new materials will bring. I haven't really pushed reflective materials yet other than acrylic sheet. As things develop further it is my intention to make larger wall based & free standing sculptures. I would really like to cover an entire wall or room with my blocks. Any large space where I could cut, install and stack my jungle of large blocks would make me happy!
Your works are mostly monochrome, still they feature accurate choice of tones, whose nuances create tension and dynamics.
How did you come about settling on your color palette? And how much does your own psychological make-up determine the nuances of tones that you decide to include in your artworks?
Jon Thomas: Colour, make no mistake is a challenge for me and I do not use it lightly. At
the moment I am focusing on purely monochromatic colour schemes. A reduced palette and vocabulary suit the way in which I want my forms to communicate.
Different colour schemes might very well help to open up new avenues in the future but I am in no hurry. For me the overall form takes precedence over any one colour.
As you have mentioned, colour helps define areas of spatial tonality & harmony, this allows the eye to rest. These contrasting pockets where light and dark congregate resonate with the correct amount of natural light.
When I'm focused on arranging the blocks during the beginning of the process. I will search for the form within the structure. I know it's there, I just need to move enough blocks around to discover it. When I find t<he one thing I'm looking for buried within, it’s usually a subconscious connection or an abstract form that somehow I recognise. It may be something I have seen or experienced that particular day. The important part is to recognise it when it’s staring back at you, at this point I stop.
For me sculpting is an opportunity to fully explore my past, present & future. To try to connect my feelings and emotions and to try to make sense of this world. If I can communicate something that I feel is worthwhile in my own particular style then great.
Scottish visual artist Peter Doig once remarked that even the most realistic works of art are derived more from within the head than from what's out there in front of us: how do you consider the relationship
between reality and imagination, playing within your artistic production? In particular, how does your everyday life's experience fuel your artistic research?
Jon Thomas: Research has shown that reality and imagination flow in different directions inside the brain. I would like to mention the allegory of the cave from Plato’s work ‘Republic’ here as it is relevant. I found the subject of universal forms and our own perceived reality fascinating. It really helped to make sense of a lot of questions I had at the time.
The foundations of my art are built upon the fundamental relationship between man and the worlds around him. The blocks I use in my sculpture are physical things, they are real and we would expect them to behave in a certain way. Whilst I stack and lean these blocks against my studio wall, something is transmitted & stored between these blocks and myself during the process, some form of power. Something similar to what I experienced whilst exploring in the jungle. They are not just blocks, they represent much more than that.
I am an avid collector of all kinds of books. As a young boy who was brought up on a farm I would devour books on fictional worlds like J.R.R Tolkien. At Christmas my mother (who is a watercolour artist) would buy me books on mysteries and the supernatural. I would spend hours reading and staring at these pictures imagining myself there. These books were instrumental in shaping my inquisitive mind. They opened doors into new worlds where for a short time I could be transported. I read stories about Egypt, its pyramids, King Tutankhamun, Easter Island.
All these subjects I now realise included some form of ancient architecture.
With their unique multilayered visual quality, your artworks seem to invite the viewers to look inside of what appear to be seen, rather than its surface, providing the spectatorship with freedom to realize their own perception. Austrian Art historian Ernst Gombrich once remarked the importance of providing a space for the viewers to project onto: how important is for you to trigger the viewers' imagination in order to address them to elaborate personal interpretations? In particular, how open would you like your works to be understood?
Jon Thomas: My work is as open as I feel it needs it to be at that particular moment in time. Each artwork takes exactly what it needs from me, some more than others. My sculptures are akin to vessels, they store my thoughts and feelings.
Art is not an aesthetic operation, this is what I could not grasp all those years ago standing in the Fine art department at university. “If you know exactly what you are going to do, what’s the good of doing it? There’s no interest in something you know already. It's much better to do something else.”Pablo Picasso
The space you talk about in my sculpture is very important. This is not something I set out to achieve, it sort of happens that way. A lot of what you see in my art comes directly from my own personality.
“Forcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of restraint that liberates invention. It obliges you to make a kind of progress
that you can't even imagine in advance.”Pablo Picasso
As for creating a space for people to project on, I find this topic fascinating. If what I make resonates with the viewer and allows them to pause & connect to something else somewhere else then I have succeeded. One of my favourite artists does this for me.
Mark Rothko’s work is inspirational, his late period of colour field paintings have this special dimensionality. They push and pull without forcing you to focus on any particular message. His colours are there as a sort of signpost in space. His interest & research in ancient mythology, form, space and colour resonates with me. There are other artists that have also influenced my work. The master himself Picasso and not forgetting my favourite sculptor Brancusi.
As you have remarked once, you will look to combine EPS and the more traditional plaster of Paris: how do you consider the relationship tradition and contemporariness?
Jon Thomas: Each material has a specific function and a place within my process, there is no hierarchy. Each material is treated the same, if it’s useful has the correct quality and serves a purpose I will use it. Most materials come loaded with preconceived values attached to them, traditional or contemporary. I like to play with these contrasting values like I do with the building blocks.
Until recently (March 2020) I have only ever painted the EPS blocks. This latest piece I am working on right now however is covered in plaster. The polystyrene, that the piece includes, I found at the local recycling site
and it was a very soft type. So I had little option but to cover it in plaster which helps strengthen the surface.
Over the years your artworks have been showcased in several occasions, including your recent participation to Mirabilia in Matera and your upcoming participation to a group show in at andgallery, in Edinburgh, showcasing work concerned with structural and three- dimensional explorations. How do you consider the nature of your relationship with your audience? Direct relationship with the viewers in a physical context is definetely the most important one, in order to snatch the spirit of a work of Art. However, as the move of Art from traditional gallery spaces, to street and especially to the online realm — as Instagram — increases: how would in your opinion change the relationship with a globalised audience?
Jon Thomas: I have been involved with the web industry since the beginning in the early 1990’s. I've been busy developing ecommerce businesses for more than twenty years. I have seen for myself the growth & power of the internet as a money making machine. There can be no doubt that the internet will play its part in the future of art. But as you have pointed out viewing art is a very social & physical function.
Photos can only convey so much power particularly for sculpture. Physical places with spaces and walls are still essential. At the moment I want to work with like minded galleries and curators, I want to build and develop strong relationships. It’s still early days for me but I'm in this for the long term. The traditional route for generations of
artists before me is still the direction I want to take.
We have really appreciated the originality of your artistic production and before leaving this stimulating conversation we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for sharing your thoughts, Jon. What projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
Jon Thomas: At the moment I am enjoying learning more about the ancient Egyptians. I recently visited King Tutankhamun's exhibition at the Saatchi gallery in London which was magnificent. Seeing sculpture, some produced more than 4,000 years ago was exhilarating. This visit will probably influence my work for the next ten years!
One day I hope to travel to Egypt and experience the power of the pyramids and ancient buildings for myself. I have dreamt for a long time how this would make me feel.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity. I have enjoyed answering your questions and have found the entire process cathartic. For now I will continue to develop my work and look forward to further opportunities to connect people with it. To see more of my current development work, follow me on Instagram:
Hello Roanne and welcome to ART Habens. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to invite our readers to visit and we
would start this interview with a couple of questions about your background. You have a solid formal training: you hold a Bachelor of Arts in Drawing and Painting, and after having earned your Post Graduate Diploma in Painting, you nurtured your education with a Master of Arts in Contemporary European Fine Art, that you received from the Winchester School of Art, in Barcelona: how did those formative years — as well as your 18 years of professional practice — influence your evolution as an artist?
Roanne O'Donnell: I’m delighted to be with you.
That’s right. I took one of the most traditional routes. It was right for me at seveteen. I studied Drawing and Painting, at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA).
It was founded in the 1760’s and followed the academic structure of The École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and I wanted to learn fundamental skills and submerge myself in the history of the craft. We studied anatomy from life models and classic casts of Roman and Greek sculptures, head-life, drawing and painting techniques, and materials. Our Art Humanities, which included highly entertaining Tableau Vivant,
was modelled after Gombrich, and stopped at “The Triumph of Modernism”. With this conservative teaching, contemporary art was disregarded, so I was sceptical of it. It took studying for my Masters in Contemporary European Fine Art in Barcelona to understand that the fundamental skills I learnt served me well in my practice but are not necessary for other art forms. I believe that ECA is nowRoanne O'Donnell Roanne O'Donnell
internationally renowned for offering a broad education. As I said, I’m proud to be a part of it at that time.
I moved to Norway in 1999 and parallel to my studio practice lectured in art history, theory and drawing and painting at Nordland kunstog filmfagskole. Ultimately I became the Director of the North Norwegian Gallery of Art, Galleri NordNorge, in Harstad, 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where I spent eighteen years. As a curator, it has very rewarding to bring contemporary and historical art to the public, as well as give exposure to other established and emerging artists.
Marked out with such unique visual identity, the body of works that we have selected for this special edition of ART Habens —and that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article has at once captured our attention for the way you use your visual language in a strategic way to counter-balance subjectivity, offering an array of meanings. When walking our readers through your usual setup and process, would you tell us how do you usually develop your initial idea for your artworks? Do you create your works gesturally, instinctively? In particular, how do you consider the role of chance and improvisation playing within your work as an artist?
Roanne O'Donnell: The essence of the work is basic; a simple gesture to make a mark. A gesture repeated over twenty years. The initial idea began a long time before that, though, and the development of the work has
been a slow, gradual continuation stemming from that initial idea. So for thirty years, I have never experienced receiving inspiration for a departure from that initial idea for my work, which was AWE.
Out on a drawing day in Edinburgh I looked up. I remember it vividly. It was the first time I observed the magnificence of Edinburgh architecture; St. John’s Church from the Johnston Terrace side, close to the Castle. I wondered at the construction of it and my thought was ‘How can men dedicate their whole lives to sculpting, hewing and building such an incredible monument and I’m complaining of the bitter wind, freezing hands and struggling to draw it. So I began a study into the design, form, the stone, the effect of light, the use of construction materials and the use of my materials. I drew and painted buildings figuratively; first Gothic Revival of the city’s Old Town, then the geometric patterns of the Georgian façades in the New Town, ultimately commissioned by the Scottish Office to paint their headquarters, St. Andrews House.
Over the next ten years, I gradually I focused in on the buildings’ surfaces, on parts of the structure and eventually on one specific façade of dirty limestone, which had been hewn with horizontal serrations. I was making large monochrome drawings of surface areas as small as a few centimetres square. But still, I was making representational, figurative
work, being true to colour, tone and texture; a literal depiction of the surface. These works, however, removed from their context, were read as abstract.
In 1997 I took this dichotomy with me to Barcelona. Separated from my subject, in a different city, with different architecture, different stone I continued with the motif,
dependent only on my memory of it. I had to do a great deal of work to realise that the architectural subject had dissolved and was no longer relevant. I had hung on to it purely
as a vehicle for investing a horizontal, monochromatic line. My only reference now was a mark, which became the reference for another mark and so on and so on.
My studio practice is mechanical. My process is calculated. I work on one layer in one sitting, irrespective of scale, as a surface tells the whole story of its making and if I stop it
shows. So many factors dictate the result of the surface that to rest for more than a short length of time breaks continuity and the image is split into however many parts I
stopped for. Does that make sense? So no telephone, no visitors. I could probably stop for a fag, but I don’t smoke! Factors such as how the paint is mixed and the rhythm of my
gesture, the speed of my movement; with aggression or gently, heavy or light pressure are all factors. Yes, the work is gestural, but I use gestural as a manner of movement, not as
a genre. It is formed by way of how I stand, my rhythm, the tempo, the angles of my arm, how my hand grips the brush or utensil; if I flick, stroke, cut or push.
Instinct? Yes! Instinct is inherent and if I use it honestly and truthfully, with the experience I’ve gained, it’s the great mix for the chance and improvisation necessary for the work’s
evolution; in my case tiny chances and tiny improvisations. Limitation, restriction and repetition are precisely what afford variation. Duplication is impossible; each mark has it’s own identity. Infinite identities. That is how my work develops. Ironically, the tighter I bind myself the greater the differences and that keeps me fascinated. I’m in love with my work. I move on from one work to the next feeling it as beautiful. Paul Gaugin is believed to have said that there are two sorts of beauty "... One is the result of instinct, the other of study. A combination of the two, with the resulting modifications, brings with it a very complicated richness...”
Your artworks feature such subtle nuances, and we have particularly appreciated the way they create such enigmatic patterns, communicating tension and dynamics. How does your own psychological make-up determine the nuances of tones that you decide to include in an artwork and in particular, how do you develop your textures in order to achieve such brilliant results?
Roanne O'Donnell: Brilliant results? That is wonderful. Thank you. The nuances of tone in the materials are spellbinding to me. During the making, I have an immediate aesthetic response to each mark or series of marks and take only seconds in deciding to keep or re-make. I look at form, impasto fat or translucent lean. This response is as basic as a like or dislike for the marks’ value and its relationship to those made before and beside. If I make a mark I’m unhappy with I
scrape it away and re-make it. When I work my face can be as close as a few centimetres from the surface, observing and absorbing each mark as it is made, lifting my eyes to enjoy the emptiness in front or re-assess the marks behind.
Do you notice that I’m avoiding your question?!
As you have remarked in your artist's statement, you draw a lot from the experience of the coal miners in your family working underground, and the first part of your Surface Work series is a homage to the manual labour of these men, who repeated their laborious, monotonous, restricted movements digging in the confined space and darkness of the deepest coal mine in The Glencraig Colliery, Scotland: how does this aspect of your cultural substratum — as well as your everyday life's experience — fuel your artistic research?
Roanne O'Donnell: My history is behind, around and always with me. I’m from a hard working-class Irish and Scottish family of miners and am giving SURFACE WORK series to them as a gift, acknowledging that they collectively gave me all the tools I need to have a privileged life, be who and where I am, doing what I do. Although this is a deeply personal reflection with a sincere desire to celebrate them. There is no sentiment. A miner’s work was too brutal for that and they don't deserve it.
SURFACE WORK paintings are not portraits of any family members or an interpretation of
the mines. The materials don’t represent the coal or dust, nor the oil the sweat, but a viewer can easily imagine all of these associations is what the work is about. It isn’t. The physical process, however, is similar to the hewing process. Repetition. Restriction. Limitation. Again, it is not why I do it. I think of it, but the process is why I do it.
The only body of work I have made in the past twenty years, which is a direct response to mining, not about mining, but a response, is a limited subproject of SURFACE WORK, which I titled BURNISHED SURFACE and for which I used the frottage method. I have repeated the tradition among the miners in Fife of rubbing coal dust into the skin on their spine, but only as a tool to remember them by and an as an armature to explore this technique. Again using repetition, restriction on materials and gesture, I rub charcoal into paper and burnish the surface with my hand.
We’d love to ask you about the qualities of the materials that you include — or that you plan to include — in your artworks: in particular, in a related series you made a surface of cement to use as a template for frottage. you rub and burnish crushed pigments in variations of charcoal on charcoal, graphite on charcoal, charcoal on graphite, graphite on graphite: how important is for you to use materials rich of metaphorical properties in order to create such allegorical artworks?
Roanne O'Donnell: Do the works really cause you to think of them as allegorical? I don’t intend them to be, but natural materials that
are dug up, snapped off, scraped off or crushed out, and which have a relatively low monetary value, can also have, as you say, such immensely rich metaphorical properties. Universal. As a Roman catholic I was brought up with references and symbolism; sacramental oil, palm ash for penance and redemption, but they are omissible in my choice of materials, which I use because they simply give me what I need. They play their part in the chance we spoke of earlier. The charcoal gives variations on tone, hew and density depending on the properties of that specific twig from that specific tree. The same with graphite. Every oil has its property depending on the source and how it is treated.
Turpentine can be pure or dirty and everything in between. A hive of bees make wax according to a formula but each hive produces wax with its own subtle nuances. This is truly beautiful!
With their unique multilayered visual quality, your artworks highlight contours of known reality in an unknown world and seem to invite the viewers to look inside of what appear to be seen, rather than its surface, providing the spectatorship with freedom to realize their own perception. Austrian Art historian Ernst Gombrich once remarked the importance of providing a space for the viewers to project onto, so that they can actively participate in the creation of the illusion: how important is for you to trigger the viewers' imagination in order to address them to elaborate personal interpretations? In particular,
graphite and cold wax on paper, 58x42 cm, 2017
how open would you like your works to be understood?
Roanne O'Donnell: I love your questions.
I’m not trying to create an illusion and although I have respect for an individual’s interpretation, I am not interested in whether or not the surface triggers their imagination. The work is entirely theirs, no right or wrong, and they are free to speculate, interpret and let the work take them in any direction. We will all find meaning or forms, which do or don’t exist in work. Because I refer to the latest body as a homage to mining, people are triggered to find references to mining, but it’s not important to me that they invent or perceive beyond my intention.
What is important is how people understand it or react to it. If they read the work as I intend depends on their fluency in art as language. Their response to the aesthetic is also interesting. Do they see and enjoy the lusciousness of the surface as I see and enjoy.
The most important for me, however, is how the viewer reacts to the surface physiologically and emotionally. One collector, who bought a large work, told me that he stands in front of it every morning to begin his day in a place of calm. A man at a vernissage said that he was moving around the gallery trying to hide to avoid it looking at him. Someone else had to leave an exhibition quickly as the work made her eyes hurt. Now, that one is particularly interesting. May I ask
you a question? Have you ever experienced visual overkill, where there is just too much movement, colour or information from something that it hurts to look at it? I’m curious as to just how much the eyes can stand. My larger works give the effect from a distance of being a flat plane, but due to the multitude of lines, it’s possible to experience a disturbance, almost a sensation of movement. Quite perturbing. As you move closer the surface becomes apparent, and when even closer, your eyes cannot rest. There is just too much going on. As I said, some experience it as an immersion into calm. For many, it is disturbing and exhausting. I call that the Red Shoes effect as in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale.
Your artworks have a very distinct visual identity and you often create large canvas, that provide the viewers with such an immersive visual experience: how do the dimensions of your canvass affect your workflow?
Roanne O'Donnell: Are you reading my mind?
I’m actually preparing for a series of paintings, each of six metres in length, one metre twenty wide. I want to take repetition as far as I physically can and so this, I hope, will allow me to investigate that. I paint bending over a flat surface, which is about the hight of a desk, often putting strain on my back. So one 6m long work in one sitting...how will that feel? How long will it take? I can’t stop until each layer is complete and one layer of 3 metres can take many hours. It will be like running a marathon. I’ll
have to have flasks of coffee, energy drinks, sandwiches and a tube of Deep Heat.
Scottish painter Peter Doig once remarked that even the most realistic paintings are derived more from within the head than from what's out there in front of us, how do you consider the relationship between reality and imagination, playing within your artistic production?
Roanne O'Donnell: I don’t believe there is any relationship between imagination and reality in my work, because I don’t imagine during the process. I don’t even envisage how it will be beyond the tonal depth it will have due to the ivory black, graphite or charcoal I choose. A work grows “geometrically-organically” (I can’t think of another way to describe that) and exists by way of repetitive production. Of course, there is reality and the reality is: “it is what it is”. Have you heard about the philosophy student who gained a First Class Honours in a minute? In his final exam he read the question “Is this a question?” and wrote “If this is a question, then this is the answer.” Then got up and left.
You are an established artist and over the years your artworks have been internationally exhibited, including your recent solo show in Antigua Cine, Montejaque, Spain: how do you consider the nature of your relationship with your audience? Direct relationship with the viewers in a physical context is definetely the most important one, in order to snatch the spirit of a work of Art. However, as the move of Art from traditional gallery spaces, to street and especially to the online realm
— as Instagram https://www.instagram.com/roanneodonnella rtist — increases: how would in your opinion change the relationship with a globalised audience?
Roanne O'Donnell: For me, the interaction with an audience in a gallery or studio is critical. I watch and I listen for the viewers’ contact and dialogue with the work, and their scrutiny of the surface. Not what they imagine but, as I said, how they understand and feel. These opportunities are limited, so I treat them as treasures.
Your question is so on point. We are able to reach a global audience with websites, online galleries and social media, but the viewer is reliant on photographs or video. As my larger work is so difficult to photograph in its entirety, I have to take detail shots, so the viewer cannot experience the whole. There is so much lost. The physiological and emotional reactions cannot be truly experienced. I am looking into virtual reality imaging, funnily enough, to see whether or not I can achieve a truer illustration. You have assessed the work and gleamed so much from it, but do you feel you have experienced it, only being able to respond to reproductions? I think in my case, social media is a useful tool for exposure, but not much more. Do you think I’m correct in that? I’ll do a poll on Facebook!
We have really appreciated the originality of your artistic production and before leaving this stimulating conversation we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for
work in progress, graphite and cold wax on paper, 150x80 cm, 2020
sharing your thoughts, Roanne. What projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
Roanne O'Donnell: Regarding the Surface Work series, I’m in conversation with The National Mining Museum of Scotland for possibilities in presenting the work. It’s very early stages, so we’ll see. I intend to show the homage with this installation and continue leaving that period of development as the gift it was intended to be. So, I’m
working towards that series of large paintings, which I hope to begin by early April. I’ll be researching spaces to show it and how it will be shown is going to be challenging. It’s exciting.
ART Habens! Thank you again for reading and appreciating the work and inviting me to this conversation. I’ve loved it.
Hello David and welcome to ART Habens. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to start this interview with a couple of questions about your background. Are there any experiences that did influence your evolution as an artist? Moreover, how does your cultural substratum direct the direction of your current artistic research?
David Isakson: In 1996 I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Just before that I was at the Centre Pompidou doing research at the library. I was essentially photocopying advertisements in French catalogs from the early 1900’s. At the same time Centre Pompidou was having a Joseph Beuys retrospective. I didn’t have enough money to pay to get into the exhibition so I saw what I could on the escalator to the library. From what I can remember there were banners everywhere with pictures of Beuys and the quote ‘everyone is an artist’. I thought that must include me. Another major influence was the death of my father, an art history professor, a few years ago. I started using taxidermy bird wings in my work as a memento of his passing. He was my introduction to art. I’m not exactly sure what a cultural substratum is. I’ll have to look that up.
The body of works that we have selected for this special edition of ART Habensand that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article - has at once impressed us for the way you use your visual language
in a strategic way to counter-balance subjectivity, to offer to the viewers an array of meanings in the contrast between opposite poles. When walking our readers through your usual setup and process, would you tell us how do you usually develop your initial idea for your artworks? Do you create your works gesturally, instinctively? Or do you methodically transpose geometric schemes?David Isakson
David Isakson: When I was a kid, I couldn't tell the difference between the left and the right, opposite poles. I had to look down at my feet, and then the shape of my feet would somehow indicate the difference. This is how I look at the dialectic-left/right, open/closed, life/death, sacred/profane, dialogic/monologic, democrat/republican, good/evil, desire/fear, awake/asleep etc. This is how I approach meaning, both gesturally and geometrically. Geometrically, I work a lot with concepts from the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. It just seems like it’s structure seems to appear almost automatically in my work. It is more an impression at this point. I also have a physical structure or geometry from the materials that I will use, texture, form, shape, stuff that I have scavenged from the internet. I do a quick sketch on my phone usually late at night right before I fall asleep, in a hypnagogic state.
When I wake up I have already begun to deconstruct the physical idea from the sketch, I usually come up with the title at this time. I am using the poetry of structure and the title as a strategy to address what I see as problems or inconsistencies in the current world text, or culture, as I understand it, in my limited way. Sometimes it is political, other times I am using puns, or homonyms like I learned from my brief reading of Derrida. In the studio it is almost purely gestural. It is mark making, but instead of using charcoal or paint, I use power tools, a drill, a grinder, and a welding machine. I am very focused on my breathing and movement as I work. It is an extension of my daily meditation process. This is how I tell my
left from my right. I don’t really think of any audience per se except for anyone who is around my studio when I am working, but often there is no one there except me. It is my dialogue with myself,
that becomes a dialogue for the viewer. It is a polarity within me that comments on a polarity outside of me. Of course, when I am planning the structure of a piece I am often doing that for a specific exhibition,
so I am aware of the juror, in the case of a juried show, and any kind of intentional theme or concept that the work will be exhibited in.
In your works you often include found objects from daily life: how does your everyday life's experience fuel your artistic research?
David Isakson: I am interested in objects because of their function. My questioning of objects is based on their materiality, their texture, their weight, how much I will be able to integrate them into a work. Can they be welded to other objects, or drilled into to be mounted on a frame or a support. I am also interested in the usefulness of an object. I am questioning its efficiency. but also, as I will elaborate later, on its being in the world, how something that seemed like high technology, is now almost obsolete. It is the fickleness of our culture. Our fascination with the new. Take an Instamatic camera, once a popular piece of hardware, has been reduced to one of many apps on a mobile phone. Photographic film seemed so state of the art, even in my lifetime, now most pictures are digital. I am commenting on the movement of things through a culture. I see my objects sometimes, as placeholders for the title, like a collection of objects that stand in for a concept, a metaphor, or a cultural critique. I understand objects by their use. If I want a table in my room, I build a table. If I want a lamp on that table, I build a lamp, but objects have another almost spiritual aspect. In a lot of tribal cultures objects of art represent a connection to a spiritual
power. A mask may represent an animal deity, a certain kind of chair, like an Ashanti stool gives power to a person who sits on it. It gives power but it also represents their power. That is why the stool is tipped over if it’s owner is not sitting on it, so no one else will interrupt that connection. Often I am using objects that are broken or stripped of their original spiritual power or purpose, then reimagined in a new context. This gives some of the work a kind of existential presence. It is like when I was talking about studio practice as a metaphor for spiritual existence or meditation, a kind of being in the world. I can best liken it to the process I am in now. I wrote the answers to the questions by hand in a notebook. I find that this is the best way for me to write with meaning. I try to form each letter as beautifully as I can, then I type these letters into my desktop, it is part of a now almost historical transition from analog to digital.
With their unique multilayered visual quality, your artworks — as the interesting SACRE COURT — highlight contours of known reality in an unknown world, to invite the viewers to look inside of what appear to be seen, rather than its surface, providing the spectatorship to elaborate meaning in the contrast between opposite poles. Austrian Art historian Ernst Gombrich once remarked the importance of providing a space for the viewers to project onto: how important is for you to trigger the viewers' imagination in order to address them to elaborate personal interpretations? In particular, how open
would you like your works to be understood?
David Isakson: In SACRE COURT I was watching TV about Michael Cohen, and Trump’s cohorts being indicted and I wanted to access that channel, that mediation. I’ve always been interested in court reporting so I went looking for court stenography machines that I could use in the work.Instead of making a purely
political work like my piece NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION, or the humorous IMPEACHMENT, I wanted to make a spiritual piece about the existential nature of machines stripped of their purpose. Around the same time I remembered seeing a circular fluorescent bulb in someone's kitchen in NYC many years ago. I went looking for the bulbs. When I lit them up they looked like halos,
SO I LIVE WITH MY MOTHER IS THAT AN AUTOMATIC DEAL BREAKER, or LIGHT SENSE AND REGISTRATION 27 x 13 x 18
the use of a halo is to represent the sacred, in French sacre, or spiritual aspect of a person. I thought about putting a halo over a machine. I also combined wooden machine parts from a piano and an antelope skull for beauty. I use antelope horns because of their uniqueness, their grace and speed, and a kind of honesty, I don’t know how else to put it.. I use antelope horns from South Africa, animals that have been killed for food, not for sport. I wanted to contrast that with American court proceedings. When I went to create the object situation I had a red lamp socket I had already painted. It reminded me of a heart, or coeur in French so I played with the homonym. I put metal housing around it, like the wreath of thorns around the sacred heart. In known reality in the end it’s a lamp. You can put it on your table. I am interested in this idea of the Austrian, Gombrich even though I don’t know his work. I quite literally want the user not only to project his or her own meaning onto the work. I want them to participate or interact with the work. Pretty much every work I make is either a lamp or a kinetic piece. In the case of the lamp the participation is purely binary, on or off. Where with a kinetic piece like A ONE TIME KIND OF THING with the thick cut pork chops, or AFRO PICK-TURE, the participation is much more analog, where the user determines the speed and direction as they turn the crank and move the object. Sometimes I call these prayer wheels.
We really appreciate the way your choice of unconventional materials —as antiquated technology, typewriters, telephone parts, stereoscope viewers, and
antique drills, violins, piano parts, animal bones, and adding machines — provides your works with metaphorical aspects, eliciting response in the spectatorship: New York City based photographer and sculptor Zoe Leonard once stated, "the objects that we leave behind hold the marks and the sign of our use: like archeological findings, they reveal so much about us". We’d love to ask you about the qualities of the materials that you include — or that you plan to include — in your artworks: in particular, how important is for you to use materials rich of metaphorical properties in order to create such allegorical artworks?
David Isakson: I agree with this completely. My first solo show and my facebook presence was, or are titled relics of the civilization of myself. I almost experience it as a colonization of my primitive self. Not to overcode this too much, but these ideas of the self as something that can be colonized or gentrified are interesting. As much as we are bodies we are cities, and maps, architecture. As we age our pasts are written all over us and the objects we use. I see that you have included BURN CYCLE REGISTER here. I made it in part for an exhibition about the Woolsey wildfire that happened here in Southern California where I live. The flames came within 20 yards of my house and studio, there was a good chance that all of the objects we are talking about now would have been incinerated. Well the metal would probably be intact, as well as the bone, but the wood and the plastic would all be gone. So after the fire I wanted to reterritorialize my studio. I made a
functional Hibachi out of an old National cash register and a stainless steel bucket. I fitted it with grills and vents. It works, I cook on it.
With their unique visual identity, your artworks are marked out with such powerful narrative drive that marks out your artworks: how do you consider the role of humour in your practice?
David Isakson: I think the narrative drive comes from the way that the titles address the structure. As I may have mentioned before I sometimes see the object as a placeholder or sign for the title. This is especially evident in the small, often binary sculptures like DEATH TO WARHOL. It’s a joke about life and death and Warhol and his cans of soup. It’s a pistol grip and a can opener.
As you have remarked in your artist's statement, your art is an outsider deconstruction that blurs the classical distinction between the inside and outside worlds, thought and feeling. Scottish visual artist Peter Doig once remarked that even the most realistic works of art are derived more from within the head than from what's out there in front of us: how do you consider the relationship between reality and imagination, playing within your artistic production?
David Isakson: There was a joke circulating when I was in high school, something like, ‘That’s the thing about mental illness, it’s all in your head.” I’ll have to check out Doig’s work. This has all been an education for me answering these questions.
We sometimes tend to ignore the fact that a work of art is a three-dimensional, physical, artefact: how do you consider the relation between the abstract nature of the concepts that you explore in your artistic research and the physical aspect of your daily practice as an artist?
David Isakson: I just put on my reading glasses to read the small text of your question on my phone, and the glasses are a three dimensional object, they have a purpose. I see objects as a manifestation of function even if the function is to inspire or entertain. The concepts and ideas I work with are very much the same. Ideas like Einstein’s Relativity or the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, both of which I study, are useful. The internet is a tricky example of something made up of ideas. The ideas on the internet, essentially an intellectual structure in the way it functions as a kind of a global hypertext. Its structure is conceptual, even two dimensional, but the reality of it is physical. I have mixed feelings about Plato, but in a way the internet is very Platonic. The physical structures it represents participate in Ideas of their own creation. I do a search for bird wings, one of my favorite materials since the death of my father, and I get lists of bird wings of different kinds, some on the list are actual wings, while others may be a three dimensional trinket made to look like a bird wing, or just a photograph, or drawing .Despite mentioning Plato, there are no absolutes. Sculpture seems like a very physical discipline.
How do you consider the nature of your relationship with your audience? Direct relationship with the viewers in a physical
context is definitely the most important one, in order to snatch the spirit of a work of Art. However, as the move of Art from traditional gallery spaces, to street and especially to the online realm — as Instagram — increases: how would in your opinion change the relationship with a globalised audience?
David Isakson: I don’t really think of an audience per se, but I do try to establish some kind of a meaningful relationship to the people who interact with my art. Whether it is a short 3D conversation in a gallery, or a 2D picture of my work on the internet. I try to make the experience as meaningful as I can. I try to be honest and transparent, like I tried to do with these questions. The people who buy my sculptures are generally people who have had a physical experience of my work, but they are also people who I have built a relationship with, through conversation, over time. I think the same rule of thumb applies on the internet. It’s about relationship and context building. It’s not about how many likes you get on instagram as much as the comments you get, or people who follow your work. In a global sense I am an extremely small time operator. But I take pride in my work. I sold a piece with an antique 1930’s telephone and antelope horns to a couple. It was called ON THE HORN, an old time expression for being on the phone. They loved it. It was featured prominently in their home, but the home was destroyed by the Woolsey fire, everything was lost, everything. They had insurance and are still rebuilding as we speak. I told them I would give them another sculpture of their choice.. It was a token but it made them
happy. I think the husband, a Kabbalist, might select one of the four sculptures I have made with broken accordions, like RAPID FIRE EXTINGUISHER or THE HOLLOW COST OF LIVING.. He played accordion as a youth so it would have a meaning for him. Of course he’ll probably have to ask his wife. I tell everyone that if anything goes wrong with the sculptures I will either fix them or replace them entirely, as was the case with the lovely Woolsey Fire couple.
We have really appreciated the originality of your artistic production and before leaving this stimulating conversation we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for sharing your thoughts, David. What projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
David Isakson: I currently have a local museum exhibition pending. I hope that happens. I’m working on an online collaboration with a LA performance artist.There will be an online gallery show on ZOOM.I’d like to exhibit internationally. That’s something I really haven’t done since I lived in Amsterdam. Actually it kind of depends on the global political climate, maybe i’ll be expanding into 3D with more installations, or becoming more mobile, and working more with 2D collage or video on my phone. It depends on what kind of footprint I’ll have. Most of all I’d like to continue to find useful solutions to the questions this job asks me.
Hello Thomas and welcome to ART Habens. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to invite our readers to visit https://vimeo.com/thomasvallianatos and we would start this interview with a couple of questions about your background. You have a solid formal training and after your studies in Painting you nurtured your education with a postgraduate degree in Digital Arts and an Art Teaching Degree, that you received from the Athens School of Fine Arts: how did those formative years influence your evolution as a visual artist? Moreover, how does your cultural substratum due to your experience as a freelancer in animation and comic art direct your current artistic research?
Thomas Valianatos: My studies in academic painting and digital arts as well, as my experience as a professional cartoonist and animator helped me to find my expressive means and to study my technical tools that were usually digital.
So, in my recent work, i apply all that i have learned and assimilated over the years: My optical perception of designing 2d & 3d images, the tradition of the particular style of pop culture but also its unique humorous content, mainly from the themes of comic book art and animation. Another characteristic of pop art is the continuous imprinting and reproduction of an original form or design figure that is pervasive in my last work, both visually and constructively, using contemporary artistic
mediums such as generative art.
For this special edition of ART Habens we have selected Trumptard, a stimulating new media art project based on live visuals that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article and that can be viewed in its entirety at https://vimeo.com/showcase/5847495. What has at once captured our attention of your works is the way you sapiently combine visuals and sound in such strategic way, inKsenia Dermenzhi
order to proide the viewers with an array of meanings: when walking our readers through your usual setup and process, would you tell us how do you develop your ideas?
Thomas Valianatos: The rules of birth of an artistic idea is independent of the rules used to compose it, as a final artistic product. It is based on the human soul which is why we call it inspiration and comes from nowhere, like a thunder. I always start with a simple "scheme" that can be an idea or a simplistic form and i end up developing it with continuous improvements according to the technological tools and expressive mediums i have at my disposal. In this particular work, the live sound “drives” the final form of the work, because the sound has bi- directional relationship with the image and affects the latter in its dynamic imprint, as a movement and as an artistic structure. By simple means, the aim here, is to try to achieve a desired visual effect through some parameters of live sound, such as its timbre and amplitude, elements that distort the quality of my image in real time and give it movement. I name this kind of work, experimental audioreactive live visuals.
New York City based artist Lydia Dona once stated that in order to make art today one has to reevaluate the conceptual language behind the mechanism of art making itself: your works seem to be laboriously structured to pursue such powerfully thoughtful visual impact: what was your working schedule like? In particular, how do you consider the role of chance and improvisation playing within your creative process?
Thomas Valianatos: Α mistake that many artists do is to imitate other artists or other
styles. Basically, if you going to imitate something, identify yourself in the same universal need for artistic creation.
We all rely on our artistic instincts, and i believe the production of the art is more intuitive, than intellectual. That is what I call
the main mechanism that weaves a work of art. As a practical artist, I start first with the general idea and afterwards i reach the individual thing, the detail. I think, it is an evolutionary practice that is based on trial and error and develops itself during the artwork process. It is the same mechanism
used to acquire any empirical knowledge. So, the changes and the back and forths in my work, I would say is the norm.
Sound plays a crucial role in your practice and we have appreciated the way the soundtrack provides the footage Fake News
Dance with such an enigmatic and a bit unsettling atmosphere. According to media theorist Marshall McLuhan there is a 'sense bias' that affects Western societies favoring visual logic, a shift that occurred with the advent of modern alphabet as the eye became more essential than ear. How do
you consider the role of sound within your artistic process?
Thomas Valianatos: I wouldn't call it “sense bias” as it conflicts with the impartiality that viewers watch an artwork, something that Kant also talked about, in terms of
aesthetics. I would call it an expectation, or "mental predisposition", a psychological state that refers to all the confirmation or contradiction of what we are accustomed to seeing and expecting from a work, based on an established culture or style. According to this mood we have learned to understand
and accept a work of art whether it belongs to our visual or auditory senses. I find that my work is based on a recent relative tradition (Vjing, audiovisual performance and live visuals in real time) that exists at least 20 years. There is also the tradition of musical visualization and experimental cinema (expanded cinema) that is even older. Despite my personal experimentation in image-to-sound interaction, i think the artistic result does not overwhelm the viewer, as the latter can now accept such experimentation effects. For example, relevant experiments on the aesthetic interpretation of color and shape based on sound have been begun by Wassily Kandinsky and Oskar Fischinger, many many years ago.
Your practice is marked out with such unique hybrid approach and deviates from traditional videomaking to question the unbalanced relationship between everyday life's experience and the digital realm, and as you have remarked once, you make New media Art because this kind of art deals with technology and it has many opportunities in expression field. Especially in relation to modern digital technologies, what is your point about the evolution of visual arts in the contemporary art? In particular, how is in your opinion technology affecting the consumption of art?
Thomas Valianatos: Let's start with the assumption that although an artist creates a work by himself, he does it, first and foremost for the others. Art is first and foremost a social phenomenon. The artist wants to show his work to as many people as possible. At this point, technology plays a catalytic role. For example, today's artist is able to even show the process of his/her
work live, in real time through eg.: social media. Sometimes you don't even need a mediator to exhibit, for example, the artist exhibits his/her work online on his/her blog. On the other hand, the globalization and the accumulation of such artistic information prevent the viewer from adequately standing or understanding an artwork.
In "Audioreactive Totem In VR" you explored the boundaries of digital painting within the use of brushes in Virtual Reality. We have been deeply fascinated with general idea behind this project and we have appreciated the way you have successfully recontextualized in a whole new light the idea of painting. How did you conceive this stimulating idea and what were the most challenging aspect of this project?
Thomas Valianatos: Indeed, digital painting in a Virtual Reality environment is a new field for the contemporary artist. It is particularly interesting because it is done manually in the physical space and requires greater effort and tension. I think this way of making art is suitable to me, because it helps me with my expression, an expression that refers to the directed dynamic intensities that go from my movement behaviour, something like a kind of dance. I’m painting no longer on a 2d plane that can be a classical canvas or computer screen, but in the physical space. On the other hand, the technology is still new and there are some practical technical problems such as eg.: VR glasses’ screen resolution that make it difficult to produce an artistic project for toο long in the virtual environment, without the necessary breaks.
We have really appreciated the way your artworks establish such a channel of communication between the reality from
which you draw, and the subconscious sphere. To quote Max Ernst's word, every normal human being has an inexhaustible store of buried images in his subconscious and into his inner world: it is merely a matter of voyaging into the unconscious, to bring pure and unadulterated found objects to light. How important is for you to show the Ariadne's thread that links the inner world and the outside reality, as you effectively achieved in Trumptard?
Thomas Valianatos: Because I always worked with my instinct and intuition in all artistic mediums, i think it wasn't particularly difficult to do this. After all, conscious and unconscious for an artist doesn't matter because it's the same thing. The most difficult point, regardless of expressive medium, is to translate your original idea into form and shape. Abstract schemes will always emerge from the "unconscious" field but the magic of artistic action, the mystery if you will, is to obtain the final art form. So for me, besides emerging subconscious ideas, the tool itself, which also defines my artistic style or aesthetics, has great value, too.
It goes without saying that your artistic production draws from topical themes that affect our contemporary age. Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once remarked that "the artist’s role differs depending on which part of the world you’re in. It depends on the political system you’re living under": does your artistic research respond to a particular cultural moment? Moreover, what could be in your opinion the role of artists in our unstable, everchanging contemporary age?
Thomas Valianatos: I dοn't believe so much in the cultural influence of creating a work of
art. Obviously, culture and traddition have an influence in your artistic style because you rely on them, but I think the secret for all artists in all cultures and seasons is what we call artistic instinct. It is universal and is not affected by technological tools, expressive means or cultural norms, not so much, at least. It is an element inherent in the artist and this distinguishes him/her from someone who is not an artist. It is the driving force for creation. As for the role of the contemporary artist in such an unstable environment, I think that, for many years, he/she has ceased to believe in the eternity of his/her work and they are more interested in playing a social rather than aesthetic role.
The artistic statement of today's work is, i think, a political statement (by broader sense), at the same time. It affects not only the viewers' senses but also their ideas.
Over the years your artworks have been presented at various international festivals and art exhibitions: how do you consider the participatory nature of your relationship with your audience? Direct relationship with the audience in a physica wayl is definetely the most important one, in order to snatch the spirit of a work of Art. However, as the move of Art from traditional gallery spaces, to street and especially to the online realm — as Instagram — increases : how would in your opinion change the relationship with a globalised audience?
Thomas Valianatos: I think the relationship doesn't change so much and the rules of communication are pretty much the same. I mean, that you can also get feedback from viewers or artists on social media, in a matter of seconds and this is great for my artistic prοgress. (you can also visit my instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/thomasvalianatos. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated). At
the same time, communication is exhausted in a virtual aesthetic world, as is the internet world. So you can't understand the reactions of others well enough, to help you continue or change your work based on these criteria. But it is a magic thing to be able to exhibit yourself around the globe and communicate with remote people in such a short space of time. However all this stuff is an evolving field and I cannot come to a clear conclusion, yet. It's definitely something crucial to art's evolution itself.
We have really appreciated the originality of your artistic production and before leaving this stimulating conversation we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for sharing your thoughts, Thomas. What projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
Thomas Valianatos: I am currently in a more "analogue" phase of my work, as I paint with a variety of physical tools and read a lot of books. At the same time, I am constantly experimenting with live visuals and VR. Of course, I'm still in the search of my next project, which I have no idea what it will be. The most solid thing I can talk about, is probably the work "Paintscapes-Alienscapes", which has evolved from 2016 to the present and refers to the aesthetics of nature's fractal patterns and integrates analogue and digital media just like "Trumptard” project. This is what I'm working on right now, using physical materials like water colors imported in a VR world: (You can watch an example, in this link: https://vimeo.com/401639263).
An interview by , curator and curator
Hello Stanimir and welcome to ART Habens. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would start this interview with a couple of questions about your background. You have a solid formal training and you graduated from the National Academy of Theater and Film Arts in Bulgaria: how did those formative years influence your evolution as a visual artist? Moreover, how does your cultural substratum direct your current artistic research?
Stanimir Enchev: I completed my art education at a time when a cultural and civilizational history of Bulgaria was issuing its death rattles. The mice had already left the ship and we listened and learned from the orders of the captain, who, because of the unbearable loneliness and broken dreams, was always drunk and stood in pathetic postures. The strong wind of change carried his words and we saw only his lips move, we thought that these were the prayers of a sage.
You are a versatile artist: your practice encompasses sculpture, performance, video art, dance and you also createed streets art events and you published a book of poetry: what does address you to such cross-disciplinary approach to art making?
Stanimir Enchev: In our cultural tradition,
art was to rethink the past and present. And then we haved the opportunity to inject the future into our present. We started imitating the "west."We were literally taking outside schematics and applying them in our reality. We were released from liability. We were happy to defame our past. We focused mainly on form. The form can have many interpretations. This was paradise for us.
At first, I liked this form game, but quickly got bored. I felt like I was chewing cardboard. To my delight, the remains of the old broken ship were still visible. Some talented groups had made interesting vessels out of the wreckage. And they skilfully sweep the huge ocean waves. I carry in my little pierced trough, in addition to my shadow, my desire to capture the gestus. I drop my fishing line to the depths of the theater, to the poetic reefs, through the storm of performances, to the islands of the visual arts. The gestus is my Leviathan. I'm in his belly and there's a huge storm outside. I think it's a deluge. Bulgaria, Europe and the whole world are flooded with foam.
Color bubbles that are constantly bursting and appearing new. It is moist and dark in Leviathan's belly. I'm fine. It's a little lonely. I can look through his eyes. I can see that there is one Leviathan in each colored bubble. Probably someone lives in their bellieThe historical cycle did not give my generation the opportunity to be great at something, so we have the freedom to fail at everything. I do my work in different creative fields and I feel that I am creating a single overall image. The traces of my life are the work I create and will leave behind. This is the fear of falling into the abyss. And the audacity of the blind who believes.
The body of works that we have selected for this special edition of ART Habens — and that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of
this article — has at once captured our attention for the way it counter-balances subjectivity and offers an array of meanings to the viewers: when walking our readers through your usual setup and process, would you tell us how do you develop your ideas? In particular, are your works created gesturally, instinctively? Or do you methodically transpose geometric schemes?
Stanimir Enchev: From my works involving people, I like those in which I have been able to find and retain the character of particular people and to add my idea and these two worlds to coexist. When I use words, I try to make the word retain its independence and through its unique form, sound and meaning make it part of my idea.
When I create my sculptural constructions, my materials are like actors who have to play certain roles. And these roles would only be full-blooded if the materials retain their unique history and substance. The whole process is a game of intuition and rationale, of boldness and humility, of form and meaning. Through my aesthetics, I create, some acceptable balance between them.
We really appreciate the way your choice of natural and unconventional materials provides your sculptures with such allegorical features, — as the interesting Motherfracking earth eliciting — eliciting response in the spectatorship: New York City based photographer and sculptor Zoe
Leonard once stated, "the objects that we leave behind hold the marks and the sign of our use: like archeological findings, they reveal so much about us". We’d love to ask you about the qualities of the materials that you include — or that you plan to include — in your artworks: in particular, how important is for you to use materials rich of metaphorical properties in order to create such allegorical artworks, that invite the viewers to investigate the traces left by time?
Stanimir Enchev: The ideas are broken wings of angels. Sometimes I happen to find some wing. I install it on my spirit, and by waving it, I try to separate my body from the earth, from matter. I try to focus my work on something specific, following my personal excitement. I follow with half an eye, the mainstream, but I don't care much. The natural and organic processes of life, the light tremors, the paradoxes, the energies, God, pauses, silence, lacks, muscles and the circulatory system of being, are the things that concern me most.
Most often, my work "Motherfracing Eart" is perceived as some kind of alarm or signal against some problem or injustice. The truth is that this work was not designed in this way. I do not recognize myself as a green activist or anti-globalist. I try to use politics as material, but I don't do politics myself. I arrange the pieces of the common puzzle with faith and with some archetypal
knowledge that all things are parts of a whole, and we have lost the connections between those parts. It is these connections that are gestures, that I try to capture, even though it is a wind chase. Because my gesture also needs a gesture. But it happened to me that my gesture would give rise to another gesture, to cause someone to do it. Then I'm almost happy.
With their unique multilayered feature on the visual and conceptual aspects, your artworks provide the spectatorship with freedom to realize their own perception: how important is for you to trigger the viewers' imagination in order to address them to elaborate personal interpretations? In particular, how open would you like your works to be understood?
Stanimir Enchev: Through all my creative activities, I try to compensate for the immense loneliness in which I live, in which the human being is immersed. These are my attempts at talking. And in my growing up as an artist, I try to reduce the monologue and make it more of a dialogue. We now live in a period of ego praise. Nobody wants to listen, everyone wants to talk. Without meaning, what will be said. This creates even greater loneliness. I call my work style "creative silence." This is not some kind of minimalism. It is an active silence that respects the viewer. He respects his intelligence and ability to play, to trust himself. It allows him to be naive because
I'm naive too. There are no fools in this game and no one can be humiliated. He can only feel his fossil.
You draw a lot from contemporary imagery and your work entitled
Facebook reflects such captivating irony: how do you consider the role of humour playing within your artistic practice?
Stanimir Enchev: I think life is very funny. I myself am a very comical image. A
pretentious, not very talented, not very ambitious white man from Eastern Europe who went hunting for the Holy Spirit. What can be expected from this? ...! With my work I try to normalize this striving for extremes. I am the most ....
Not to comment or condemn it, but just to live it, to create it.
What is special about me is that I am nothing special. This is my Facebook. In my mind the beautiful does not scream.
Another interesting work of yours that has particularly impressed us and that we would like to introduce to our readers is entitled Electra, a stimulating work inspired by the homonymous song by Arild Andersen and Savina Yanatou. As you have remarked once, Electra is a gesture to a woman who does not want to play by the rules built by a man, does not descend into his battles, nor seeks revenge and revanchism. Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once remarked that "the artist’s role differs depending on which part of the world you’re in. It depends on the political system you’re living under": does your artistic research respond to a particular cultural moment? Moreover, what could be in your opinion the role of artists in our unstable, everchanging contemporary age?
Stanimir Enchev: We have a popular saying that says: "The Bulgarian has been doing so much from so little, so fast, from so long time, that he has learned to do everything from nothing." This skill can still be found in some poor houses where the whole lifestyle is made up of second-hand materials that have changed their function. Interestingly, this creativity is not only utilitarian, but also aesthetic. There is almost nothing thrown in there because it may ever be needed. And I keep piles of things that came out of my regular use. These things have accumulated experience and bear the marks of time. I still have such piles of words, sounds and chants, memory for people who are no longer among us. From these piles of
artifacts, I try to construct sensations, and thus store them, and convey them over time, because it is experience, knowledge, color, content, meaning. This orthodox way of being is conservative. He relies on the tradition, on his past, on his previous experience. In such a world, a woman's place is under intense strain. Above the saucepans, on the bed and between the dirty pants of the kids. My Electra, talk about the woman beyond her body, the woman who is not a means. She's not a mother, she's not a lover, she's not a sister. She is not recognized by shes usual functionality.
We have really appreciated the way Hub and Silence blaster invite the viewers to question the tension between the realm of natural world and man-made devices: as a sculpture who sapiently mixes natural elements with artifacts, how do you consider the tension between Man and Nature?
Stanimir Enchev: My city is in the backyard of the Black Sea. And the songs of water and wind have always been part of my personal folklore. I envy the silence of the stones.
Over the years your artworks have been showcased in several occasions, both in Bulgaria and in London: how do you consider the participatory nature of your relationship with your audience? Direct relationship with the audience in a physical is definetely the most important one, in order to snatch the spirit of a work of Art. However, as the move of Art from traditional gallery spaces, to street and
especially to the online realm increases : how would in your opinion change the relationship with a globalised audience?
Stanimir Enchev: This is my favorite part. The things I do are very contextual. They are a subjective reaction, at a particular moment and in a specific mental and physical location. These works of mine balance my personal being, keeping him from crashing into the dark abyss. There in this world, in this little circle around me, these works of mine seem natural and somehow normal, because they satisfy a specific lack. But taken out of this context, they start playing completely different games. Me too. I'm starting to wonder if these games are mine or they are completely standalone. When that feeling that my work has an independent life is very strong, then I feel ecstatic, then I feel creative, then 2 + 2 is not equal to 4, then the question of the meaning of everything disappears.
In this global madhouse, many artists have to be managers themselves and advertise themselves. In this case I have huge resistances. How can a person who puts all his or her power and energy to know himself and wander through his private secrets and dark corners then be able to honestly say something nice about himself. This is an oxymoron. My experience shows that I am not a successful manager. I can't find the strength to do that. In fact, I'm not being paid the price I have to take from my conscience.
Even if it means I will remain a provincial artist forever.
We have really appreciated the originality of your artistic production and before leaving this stimulating conversation we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for sharing your thoughts, Stanimir. What projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
Stanimir Enchev: Thank you, team at Art Habens Magazine, for this interview and for the professional work you do. I have a project on my coat hanger, which has been hanging for the second year. His working title is Environmental Porn. These are photos and short texts. The body, parallel realities, profiles, boundaries, publicity, personal space, shell, essence. For some unclear reasons this project, I do not want to share it yet.
I am currently preparing a new exhibition of "creative silence". These are again structures, sculptures, something like a continuation of my previous works. I think some of them have become very interesting. There will be an added sound to each of the designs, which I work with a very interesting person. There is still an unfinished storybook in my suitcase and a great desire to do theater.
An interview by , curator and curator
Hello Tuna and welcome to ART Habens. Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to introduce you to our readers with a couple of questions regarding your background. Are there any experiences that did particularly inform your current practice? Moreover, does your cultural background inform the way you relate yourself to art making in general?
Tuna Tunaboylu: If I need to tell about one specific experience, I can’t think of any other story than my spontaneous trip to Berlin. I met a girl in Amsterdam when I was younger and she went back to Berlin after we spent three days together. While I was still feeling the excitement of those three days, she gave me a call and invited me to watch her performance in Berlin. I told her that I was not sure, but after an hour I bought a direct bus ticket to Berlin without even telling her. When I arrived there, it was -16 degrees and it was raining, as if Zeus was having a middle age crisis. After I witnessed all these bad conditions, I decided to call her, but of course, she didn’t answer. I spent a day by myself and went to the gallery she was supposed to perform at. In the very same evening, there was a couple performing about the painful loss of their child. The father figure was drinking a mix of vodka and milk from a baby’s bottle, while he was
pumping his penis with a penis pump. During that time the mother figure was slowly breaking the skull of a baby skeleton. In that moment, I realized how magical the art of performance was. I was asking myself, “How something can be this much surreal and real at the same time?” To be honest, I can only remember one or two moments that made me this excited and inspired… When ITuna Tunaboylu
returned back to Amsterdam, there was no other choice than doing a performance, and I executed “Are We What?” with Manfredi Coppolecchia.
Of course I can’t deny the influence of my cultural background on my identity and personality. Looking from a Freudian perspective, your character develops in the first 5 years of your life. Therefor it is obvious that my art is influenced by my cultural background since it is coming out of me. But this is not directly related to my practice. As an artist I am aiming to speak about universal facts and connect with a bigger spectrum of audience. During my artistic development, I realized that there is a huge gap between art and people. Most of the artists are producing to exhibit in museums, galleries or art fairs. For this reason, they always communicate with the same group of society. My goal is to reduce this gap as much as I can and create a platform to think together with people all around the world, no matter their background or their social class.
The body of works that we have selected for this special edition of ART Habens and that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article has at once captured our attention for your insightful exploration of the individual and social existence, counterbalancing subjectivity and offering an array of meanings to the viewers: when walking our readers through your usual process,
would you tell us how do you develop your ideas?
Tuna Tunaboylu: I can give a very specific answer to this question because most of the time I create with my instincts from my
coincidental experiences. I am not the biggest thinker you can ever meet, otherwise I wouldn’t dare to close my eyes for 30 days and live without seeing. But I can easily say that I am a great ‘feeler’ and a dedicated ‘doer’. This is why for the moment there
have been only 2 different ways to develop my ideas towards executing a performance:
Site specific. When I walk in to a space I see the details and realize the potential beauties of the space. This gives me a better way to
express my feelings and interact with the audience in a specific way that can only happen in that space and in that moment. For example, before I executed my last performance “Are We Not There Yet?”, I observed the extremely wide stairs and
imagined the scene of myself rolling down the stairs for 3 hours, while everybody passes by.
Coincidences of the everyday. I believe that life is very fluid and the best way to live it, is
giving a direction to this fluidity through our experiences. To this respect I assume that coincidences are great moments to reflect on yourself and give a guidance to your fluid journey. For instance, one day I was in the metro with a blind lady and accidentally we
got down in the same station. When I was watching her, I couldn’t help myself from asking how would it be to live without seeing. And this big urge of looking for an answer led me to close my eyes for a month. To give another example, once I went to London for a while to visit my now exgirlfriend. The day after I went there, she was busy with her work and I was looking for something to do. At that time, I realized all of her doors were making a lot of noise. I felt like being nice and went around the city to find WD-40. When she came back all the doors were working as new. Soon after she asked me to leave London. Being asked to leave the place in which you just repaired all the doors does not feel like a coincidence?
Again, when I came back to Amsterdam, I executed a performance called “I Think You Should Leave” about it.
We have appreciated the way I Close My Eyes mixes the ordinary and the surreal: how do you consider the relationship between reality and imagination playing within your work? And how does everyday life's experience fuel your artistic research?
Tuna Tunaboylu: As artists we imagine and then create to bring something to reality, no?
I see artists as the connection between imagination and reality. In this case, what I mean by “artist” is not a person who puts a sculpture or a painting in a white room. I believe every creator is an artist. Art is only a way of thinking and expressing, there is no
need to create this phenomenon to distinguish some of us from the rest of society. A cook is an artist, a computer scientist is an artist, a mother is a great artist. What can be a more magical art work then imagining of a human being and bringing it to life from your vagina? Not only me, but everybody who creates has an ultimate role between reality and imagination.
I feel like I talked enough about the relation between my everyday life’s experience and my work in the second question.
The performative and the physical act of art plays a relevant role in your work, and we have appreciated the way your artworks convey sense of freedom. New York City based artist Lydia Dona once stated that in order to make art today one has to reevaluate the conceptual language behind the mechanism of art making itself: do you conceive your works gesturally, instinctively? Or do you methodically transpose schemes? In particular, how do you consider the role of chance and improvisation playing within your creative process?
Tuna Tunaboylu: With all due respect to Lydia Dona, I do not understand nor agree with what I think I understood from her statement. I don’t make a schematic analysis from a distance; I immerse in it physically and spiritually at the best of my capabilities. In my opinion, when there is repetition there is no creation. Mechanisms and strategies can’t
be applied to all similar situations. Artists are not mechanisms, artists are the operators.
Performances are always happening in the moment, and for that reason, many
performers can’t prepare so much in advance. You can have a view on the event, but the atmosphere, the audience, feelings you exchange, and the energy flowing is not something you can predict beforehand. The
only thing you can do before, is trying to prepare yourself mentally and physically.
Your performances involve the audience in a dreamlike and heightened visual
experience: are you interested in providing your performance with an allegorical quality that reflect human condition?
It very much depends on the performance.
I believe “I Closed My Eyes” was my most literal work. I can also say that “I Think You Should Leave” is very much literal. But the rest of my work certainly have a lot of allegorical quality. I like to give some elements to the viewers, and
of course these elements are symbols, allegories. I don’t want to cook the recipe for them. I just want to give them a taste of the ingredients and expect some kind of reading from the audience.
Your performances creates a bridge between the audience and their individual egos, conscious identity and the outer world: in a certain sense, your artworks seem to stimulate the viewer’s psyche and consequently works on both a subconscious and a conscious level: how important is for you to trigger the viewers' imagination in order to address them to elaborate personal interpretations? In particular, how open would you like your works to be understood?
Tuna Tunaboylu: I am an artist, not a dictator. I don’t tell what should be understood from my work and I shouldn’t. People can get whatever they want from my work. I am just creating a platform to feel and think together and it is up to the audience to decide what to feel or think.
I try to leave performances open for interpretations as much as I can, even though there is always a story and a concept behind them. I can’t dictate exactly what I want them to read from my work, I am only responsible with the creation of the work, not for deciding what the viewer needs to learn.
Many artists express the ideas that they explore through representations of the body and by using their own bodies in their creative processes. German visual artist Gerhard Richter once underlined that "it is always only a matter of seeing: the physical act is unavoidable": how do you consider the relation between the ideas that you aim to
communicate to your audience and the physical act of creating your artworks?
Tuna Tunaboylu: I believe that the body and soul are not separate and they are linked within our mind, As human beings we feel with our souls, think with our mind and execute with our body. The process of creation can’t be done without one of these tools. During my performances, I feel like there is always an intense exchange of emotions between me and the viewers. What I feel in my soul reflects to my body and most of the time the audience can read it quite easily, which makes them feel a similar feeling in a certain level. This is because I bring reality with my body. I remember, one of the viewers start crying in the moment I opened my eyes in front of them, because it was extremely intense and real for me. And she was able to absorb it through my body.
As you have remarked in your artist's statement, your performances are passing beyond your experience and they become a part of each spectator’s individual experience: how do you consider the participatory nature of your relationship with your audience? Direct relationship with the audience in a physical way is definitely the most important one, in order to snatch the spirit of a work of Art. However, as the move of Art from traditional gallery spaces, to street and especially to the online realm — as Instagram — increases, how would in
your opinion change the relationship with a globalised audience?
Tuna Tunaboylu: As a performance artist having a direct communication is always my
priority. There is always a huge difference between sharing the same space with me and trying to watch what I did in another space and time from a screen. I was born with a gift, the gift of constant urge of
creating and expressing. It is my debt to this planet to create and express in the best way I can.
And that way is to have an explicit connection.
I believe that art can’t be trapped or directed to a certain platform. As I mentioned before, it is a way of thinking and expressing. But the existing of art is a matter of realization, Art exists as long as there is someone aware of it.
Yes, there is traditional ways of interacting with art like museum and galleries. Yes, these traditional ways are swiftly changing and transforming in to an online realm. And I think this change is affecting art in a bad way, it
increases the gap between art and people, by promoting this phenomenon of “artist”. It looks beautiful, unreachable and admiring. But the truth is it is inside everyone and it is only a matter of realizing this. Personally, I
am not a talented person, and I don’t have to be talented to be an artist. There is this idea in people that you should born as Leonardo Da Vinci to be a great artist, but it is not true. You can develop your own way of selfexpression, and become John Johnson or Salmon Salmonowski or whatever your name is. The only thing you need is passion.
We have really appreciated the originality of your artistic production and before leaving this stimulating conversation we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for sharing your thoughts, Tuna. What projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
Tuna Tunaboylu: First of all, I would like to thank you for providing me this platform and all the compliments. To be able be who I am, I should constantly explore many feelings and expend my vision. The day I stop transforming will be the day I die.
Hopefully I can’t predict the future and my future interests. Otherwise I would be predictable and boring. One of the only things I know about myself is that I am the opposite of boring.
And that is the only thing I do not want to change.