Lara Jensen Mark Neville. Douglas Hart. Connie Lim. Mike Cahill The TechnĂŞ Revolution. Bloomberg New Contemporaries
Lara Jensen photographed by
P C A I
N H A E L A
reative Director NA AFONSO ditor VA PELÁEZ anaging Editor INH NGUYEN hotography Director LEXANDRA UHART ditorial Assistant OSHUA BRADWELL BIGAIL YUE WANG LICE HUGHES riters ESC BUNYARD RLA COLLINS EIKE DEMPSTER ADELAINE HANSON LEANOR KIRBY ATE JIXIN ZHANG INH NGUYEN ICOLE SCHIVARDI EREMIAH TAYLER LEX TAYLOR ATYANA WOLFMAN UZANNE ZHANG ACK WYNN ashion Editor ANIA FAROUKI raphics & Web Design NA AFONSO NNA FERRY ommercial Department VAN CORDOBA USTINA ŠUMINAITE BIGAIL YUE WANG ssistant Photography AULA CHARLES akeup Artist ONSTANZA OYARZÚN edia & Communications AULA AFONSO NDRÉS AFONSO OM GOSLING IA JOHANSSON OHAMED MAHAYNI AVID RAWLINS AMIE STEEP
Published in London by RAU Studio London National and international distribution by Central Books General enquiries firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions email@example.com Advertising media.department@roomsmagazine Thanks to our beautiful team and great artists of ROOMS 15 Special thanks to: Linh, Suzanne, Alexandra, Alice, Abigail, Jesc and Nate for going that extra mile. And the rest of the gang, David, Moha, Tania, Heike, Jez and Mr Gosling, you’re always so cool. James LT for your believe and patience. Silvia Bombardin, Los Pelaez, Robert Dempster, Patri Lacoru, Sabs, Amyra, Fra and Fran! Pauli, Luci, Isa, Andrés, Isabel, Ernesto. Big hug to Justina and little sister, we miss you already :’) ©RAU Ltd. London All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission of the publisher. The information and images, contained in this magazine, are materials supplied to the publisher by the artists and contributors. Opinions and images expressed in this magazine’s contents are those of the author. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, Rooms Art Uncovered Ltd. does not under any circumstances accept responsibility for any errors or omissions. ISSN: 2046-5505 Issue 15 – 2014 roomsmagazine.com 16 ROOMS
reakable The Ultimate Manual for Creative Survival Art exists because life somehow isn’t enough, because somehow there is more out there for us, because somehow the great is always behind a wall that seems so high at the time, but quickly dissolves into foam the moment we decide to look over it. In a society that is ever-changing at an incredible speed and where everything is replaced by the new and the even more new, what role does Art get to play? How do we incorporate Art into our lives and use it as an effective tool to challenge our personal, social or political aims? We always talk about changing times, breaking barriers, but what happens when we invite Art into that equation? ROOMS 15 sets out to explore the way creatives use, breathe and live Art the way no one else does, to break walls, to move forward, to push and be pushed, and ultimately to break down barriers that would remain otherwise immovable. Destruction and breaking are, after all, forms of creation – this is where this issue stands, between the brink of collapse and the beginning of restoration. We spoke to artists, photographers, filmmakers, writers, designers and musicians about the ways in which Art had became their saviour at some point in their lives, about how the defiant need to smash down concrete blocks of normalised ideologies felt more and more urgent, about how we’re all creatures of strong desires, and how that inevitably translates into the works these people produce. In doing so, ROOMS reveals another facet of humankind, the one that is more vulnerable, yet more intent and fiery in using Art as a creative tool to explore great challenges.
At times like this, the ultimate power of Art is its ability to pry our eyes open, to transcend time and tell a message – of the self, of a community, or of a world. The stories we hear from our featured artists resonate with us; the act of pushing oneself and the world through art has a certain inherent boldness that is fascinating. At times cathartic, at times necessary, producing creative work is the only way to remain sane…
ROOMS stepped in to document that journey. With the breaking apart comes the unrestrained, the dangerous, the inflammable, the passionate and the courageous. In opening these pages, we ask you to be what all the featured creative people in ROOMS 15 are being – be brave.
By Suzanne Zhang
Caves of wonders, visual delights, factories of dreams, predators of emotions, merciless provocateurs. Enter Art.
The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship
We Enter Sacred Ground
No Borders No Boundaries
Why Do You Do What You Do?
The Cover Artist Uncovered
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The Objects of Our Lives Furniture exists so that we can live better. Its main function is support. Beyond that, furniture, specifically furniture design, is also an artistic endeavour. Like sculpture, furniture design is an art that occupies space. Yet what makes it stand apart is that itâ€™s intimate. Intimacy is that which connects to the body, and furniture does just that by connecting directly to the human body. It exists to revolve around our lives. When we come across a new piece of furniture, it suggests to us the potentiality of home. We see comfort in the aesthetics of its form and matter. With furniture, there is always an interaction going on. Those who embark on the path of furniture design are concerned with how we live. ROOMS 15 enters the studios of craftsmen whose works revolve around the creation of better living.
Photography by Alexandra Words by Linh
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Laetitia de Allegri With a strong focus on graphics, Laetitia de Allegri also specialises in pattern, texture and colour. Her products pull you in with their pop of vibrant colours and ceramic durability. As well as freelancing, she has worked on projects at Universal Design Studio and Barber Osgerby. She is also in collaboration with Eva Feldkamp under the name of de Allegri/ Feldkamp, which was founded in April 2013.
Duffy London With furnitures inspired by Nietzsche and Voltaire, Duffy London certainly has serious philosophy injected into its design. Starting with its humble beginning in a kitchen in 2002, founder Christopher Duffy has established a righteous company within the design world. Duffy London creates conceptual and illusory pieces that are eco-sustainable as well as handmade, displaying conscious manufacturing at its finest.
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Gavin Coyle Based in East London, Gavin Coyle makes furnitures which are both endearing and humble. Beautifully crafted, as well as finely polished, the other salient feature of its design is the lucidity of lightness. From tables and chairs to mirrors and trinkets, Gavin Coyle works to the needs of his clients by producing objects with strong emotional connections.
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Made by Charlie McKenzie Candid and jocular, Made by Charlie McKenzieâ€™s bespoke goods are brimming with personalities. From appropriating Barbie to make lamps and witty signs, to geometric brass tables, McKenzieâ€™s designs are perfect for those who love a bit of fun.
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Phillips Design Studio Working on a number of high end projects, Phillips Design Studio is known for its luxurious pieces made for contemporary life. Furnitures such as the LUNA range, consisting of concrete tops, will make a formidable presence in anyoneâ€™s home. The range is already receiving hype and will be the first from the company to exhibit at the London Design Festival 2014.
Bloomberg Aspirations: Words by
A Contemporary New Generation New Contemporaries, the leading UK organisation supporting emerging artists from British Art Schools, has announced its selection of young artists for 2014. Providing a platform for critical thought and innovative, thought-provoking pieces of art, the New Contemporaries is the prestigious collective of 55 recent fine art graduates whose work tours the country on a national level.
ROOMS spoke to Bloomberg New Contemporariesâ€™ director, Kirsty Ogg, about the importance of giving these young artists a voice and a platform for their practice to be shown, as the current atmosphere of the art world is one of ferocious competition. We also sat down with our own selection from the New Contemporaries: Jesc Bunyard, Frances Williams, MKLK and Alice Hartley. While different in their approach and their practice, all of them share the common passion and drive to be innovative while at the same time working to retain their artistic integrity.
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The following pages are an inquisitive dive into the minds of talented multi-disciplinary artists. Ones to watch, we guarantee you.
I do what I do because I believe art is important and can have a profound influence on people’s lives and on society as a whole. Initially, I studied fine art practice and became involved in Transmission, an important artist-run space in Glasgow. Gradually, making exhibitions took over from making art. Independently curated shows have included working with artists such as Spartacus Chetwynd, Karen Kilimnik, Mike Nelson, Thomas Schütte, David Shrigley and Cathy Wilkes. I have also worked with emerging and mid-career artists, as former Director of The Showroom for ten years, and as Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery. As someone who also teaches on the MFA Curating programme at Goldsmiths, I believe that curation is hugely important. It allows scholarship into practice, encourages new forms of exhibition making and knowledge exchange between artist, curator, and audience. As with fine art practice, it is a constantly evolving field.
Bloomberg New Contemporaries is an exhibition by open submission. Each year a panel of selectors are invited to review all applications electronically over a very intense five-day period. A shortlist of artists is then drawn up and each are invited to send actual works for consideration. The panel then makes their final decision on the artists and works. This year’s selectors are Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Enrico David and Goshka Macuga. Bloomberg New Contemporaries aims to be as open and democratic as possible, so we are open to all uses of media and approaches to making work. The selectors also look at the work ‘blind,’ in that they don’t have any of the artist’s details other than the statement that the artists have provided about the work.
This year, there is a great diverse range of work in the show – from moving image and performance to more traditional approaches such as printmaking. All the artists from the show push at social and political barriers in some way. Language and narrative are present, as is the body, and how it is represented, which makes this year’s show quite a figurative exhibition in many ways. Artists such as MKLK are dealing with representations of the body, women in particular, in relation to pornography and the ‘pornification’ of our culture in quite a different way, which can be quite confrontational. Alice Hartley, while using printmaking, refers to billboards and the urban environment. Her work We’re All Very Disappointed will be pasted onto a four metre-high wall as visitors enter the exhibition space at World Museum in Liverpool. Frances Williams is working with a performance-related practice across the mediums of moving image, video and performance and installation as a means to investigate the space between ‘looking away’ and ‘paying attention’. For Williams, the performance becomes a tool to
investigate the idea of being out of time, as demonstrated in her work Ting and Tang: anachronism (1). Jesc Bunyard also works with performance. The piece selected, Photo Piece, explores the relationship between the spectator, environments and perceptual responses to stimuli such as colour and music. We will be showing video documentation from 2012 from Photo Piece at the World Museum in Liverpool, in which the performers were members of The Angel Orchestra, who improvised using Jesc’s photograms as visual scores. It was projected onto a large screen for both performers and audience to see, and we are aiming to restage this work at the ICA in London in November.
Bloomberg New Contemporaries’ aim is to offer a platform and opportunities to encourage artists to keep creating. Ever since I was appointed Director in 2013, I have looked at New Contemporaries’ strengths in providing a platform for work emerging out of UK art schools, the peer networking opportunity we can provide and the role that it plays in talent development. Over the coming years we will be building on these core elements to ensure artists are supported and encouraged to keep practicing in those crucial first years out of art school. The general atmosphere of the contemporary art world is currently incredibly competitive. Younger artists definitely have to be more switched on and professional than they were when I was graduating. In that same light, things have changed and become more difficult from when I studied in the late 1980s; we live in politically charged times, and I don’t just mean how that plays out in terms of world events, but that there are very real issues for people studying art now in terms of how they operate and survive both during and post-art school. I feel like there is a new generation of contemporary artists who have a very distinct style and ethos too, and ultimately that is what keeps things alive.
The Bloomberg New Contemporaries opens at the World Museum in Liverpool on the 20th September 2014 and runs to the end of the Liverpool Biennial on the 26th October 2014. The show then moves to ICA, London between 26th November’14 and 25th January’15 next year.
Kirsty Ogg, Director of Bloomberg New Contemporaries London/UK
We're All Very Disappointed
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Alice Hartley’s work is one that is, before anything else, brave. How else does one characterise art that is so personal, yet so distant and voracious at the same time? Chosen for this year’s prestigious Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibitions, Hartley’s work is made up of fragments of texts and meanings sprawled across infinitely big canvases. The British artist’s roots certainly played a role in the unconventional sizes of her works. Having grown up in a village near the South Downs in Hampshire, she initially began to “think about making things big or using scale in an effective way”, whereupon she would reflect on “silence, echoes, ripples and space in language and image”.
Hartley’s work is a synthesis of fragmentation and recontextualisation, and sits atop a new wave of contemporary artists, who, in the face of the everchanging nature of culture, “are slowing the pace down, taking a step back to observe for that little bit longer”. Unapologetic yet still shy in an unrestrained way, her work encompasses the notion that language and meanings are ubiquitous yet relative to everyone. When taken out of context, the spirit of a sentence adjusts itself to the person. As such, through the use of snippets of sentences and quotes, Hartley “highlights the past and addresses it in a new way” in order to “make the viewer and [herself] look at the words in a different way”, before admitting she has no fear of looking back.
A play on poetry that started with self-awareness and an uneasiness to really say what she wanted to say, Hartley’s work started unfolding through the years as she “kept notes of things that [she] had heard and wanted to hold onto”. Is Art fuelled by a fear of oblivion? She recalls an incident, where she was in a lecture at the Royal College of Art, London, and “heard an artist talk about his work and part of the sentence was time is short, be ready”.
I wrote it down immediately, I don’t really remember much else from that lecture, but that phrase really stuck with me”. Already then, she was aware of how language affects people, having shown snippets of conversation to peers and getting strong disparate reactions. One thing that shows through Hartley’s work is a maturity in style and an unrelenting evolution on the play on form – she admits herself that knowing when to leave off is vital for an artist: “I’m learning about how important execution is, it’s good to be loud and brash but only if it’s relevant. Some things need space and minimal structure”. The chosen piece for the New Contemporaries, We're All Very Disappointed (2013), is one of her strongest and boldest. It was created using mono screen printing, a form that Hartley has been working with for a few years and which doesn’t forgive: “You can be very expressive and bold whilst having a very flat finish from the screen printing – once you’ve made the mark on the screen, that’s it!” Not only does Hartley play with the execution of it,
but she also plays with its composition, as colour is one thing she is particular about. There is a definite flesh-y, carnal resonance to it that perhaps stems from the personal voice of the artist trying to pave its way onto the canvas. “I try to be as honest as possible in my work, at times I have used it to voice the unspoken” – the politics of the self are, after all, the politics of everyday life.
Questioning the world that surrounds us is a necessity, but questioning ourselves even more so. The artworks of Hartley do so and bring forth the sudden anxiety that no one really sees and understands things the way we do individually, which is where Art comes in and offers a lending hand, astutely reminding us that nothing and yet everything is collective. Art has a way of painting the human self in its amorphous form, and Hartley’s work does exactly so using a voice that is intelligent and curious in a sentimental, tender way.
I think I apologise too much for things and I’m trying to do less so in my art
Ting and Tang: anachronisms (1) Stills from video
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Frances Williams is a London-born artist whose body of work focuses on exploring how performance and visual artworks come together as being ‘out of time’. Halfway through her PhD in Fine Art at Falmouth University, she is working on the idea of ‘looking away’ and how time comes into practice in the art world. In doing so, she creates installation pieces that are between the brink of collapse and the beginning of restoration.
In relation to the mediums Williams employs (such as performance, moving images and installations), she argues that they are merely the most usual ways she makes art, before commenting on the “important potential these mediums have to capture something without being instrumental or controlling what the essence of the outcome may be”. As such, her work floats on a transient sphere that remains immune to predetermined results – the art becomes autonomous. Aside from her general quirkiness – she describes herself as a mixture between Anthea Turner in her step aerobic days and Deirdre Rachid, Williams is rigorous in her approach to explore the notion of ‘looking away’ that is suggested by Giorgio Agamben, the Italian philosopher. Thus in her exploration, she focuses on the idea of “not looking at the light but the darkness”, which could be “the seemingly inept, the clumsy”. In that sense, Williams is preoccupied with the unspoken rules of restrictions that emerge from “normative modes of doing something well”. Part of her research includes an interest in the abstract concept of “slippage from a secure point that occurs when one looks away in relation to an artwork and how it manifests itself on a visceral level”. Does Art still matter if no one looks at it? As such, theories of disjointedness and being ‘out of time’ become apparent as her work takes on a bigger, more important place in the exploration of time and audience dynamics.
Her chosen work for the New Contemporaries, Ting & Tang: anachronisms (1), “engages with present day conditions from the position of a fictitious historicising distance”, taking on a critical stance rather than solely comic or crazy. The inspiration behind this piece was the performance of mirror images. The idea came about
after Williams saw works by Nicolas Provost, promptly pushing her to come up with the concept of twins or duos performing together to achieve that effect (as demonstrated by the name of the piece). In doing so, she experimented with all sorts of costumes and props, as well as different textures for the visuals: 8mm film, video and digital effects like animating hair on the lens. Not concerned with the materiality of media, her work brings about the “dynamic oscillation” between two performers who have to look away from one another.
There is a certain air of both voyeurism and immersion that emanates from Williams’ work. When asked about it, she argues that if both are present at the same time, one could perhaps “see something else in between – like a rupture”. Working with performance and duos presents themes such as authenticity or repetition, although neither can be accurate as long as the piece goes on. Williams’ art thus becomes a reflection on audience interactivity and the ways in which it relates to works of art that are spontaneous. In relation to the selection of artists selected by Bloomberg, Williams argues that the freshness and unselfconsciousness of contemporary artists nowadays is made possible by the fact that the space allowed by art school “isn’t necessarily cramped by other more commercial concerns at that stage”. The artist’s work is definitely one that isn’t stained by commercial concerns as it takes on a theoretical approach to the issues that relate to performance. Williams’ Ting & Tang: anachronisms (1) piece for the New Contemporaries is innovative in its isolation of time – the result is an archive of “being looked at” and “not being looked at”, in which the lines between audience and performers become increasingly blurred.
My answer to being ‘out of time’ is in relation to my ineptitude in dancing well, playing guitar and roller skating.
Man Eater, 2013
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MKLK is amongst the most adroit observers of our visual culture in which women are persistently the objects of desire of a predominantly masculine environment. The British artist, whose moving image work Man Eater (2013) has been chosen as part of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries, describes with singular precision the condition of the female form in a culture of patriarchal voyeurism. A direct visual echo of the male gaze within society, MKLK’s work is the relentless exploration of the static nature of female representation: how they are produced, interpreted and consumed. Hidden under the pseudonym MKLK, the artist states: “I’m really just another person who has a creative disposition for reflecting what they observe within society”. In turn, the question of anonymity, especially gender-wise, begs the question of interpretation and puts a mirror in front of the audience’s own face: do we view works of art differently if we know how the artist is gendered? MKLK’s art hits the audience in this very confrontational way, while at the same time exploring the concept of fragmentation within the female form. In uncovering such a topic, MKLK’s art inevitably draws upon theories of desire and sex, which poses the question of whether all art must resolve around the self. In that light, MKLK reflects that “the premise of most actions/ outcomes in life are a result of cause and effect, which gravitate around the concept of desire and loss. Why would the viewing, participation and the collection of Art be far from that shore?” MKLK’s work is one that finds its place amongst a culture that compulsively documents and creates everything in the hopes of delivering a shared experience. Thus Man Eater is a ten minute long video of a woman slowly emerging from a curtain of black, shiny strings attached to her head, contorting herself around them and going back and forth between the initial foetal, plant-like position and the inviting, standing figure that reaches
out to the audience. The video’s quality lies in its surprise effect – the plant like figure moves and shifts into endless positions, playing with shiny strings that are actually pornographic/fetish VHS film, as revealed by the artist. The entire time, the face of the woman is covered in an effort to reflect on the identity of a person when it is stripped bare of its identifiable characteristics. As such, MKLK explains that the “individual commands an increased potential to morph into somebody who is less encoded and is viewed as a collective rather than an individual”. In that sense, the crux of Man Eater resides, as MKLK claims, in the words of Roland Barthes: ‘The staging of an appearance as disappearance’. In breaking socio-political barriers, MKLK’s work is one that inexorably rests upon the pivot of human experience, one that is deeply anchored in contemporary methods – so very characteristic of a new generation of contemporary artists. In the Single(s) series, MKLK considers the “subconscious and supposed normative state of psychological distancing, in turn reflecting the role of women as a visual spectacle for a masculine culture”. A firm advocate that art is subjective, the artist’s intentions are “only to reflect and highlight what [MKLK] believes to be true within society, beyond that, the audience brings their own interpretation based upon their experiences”. Subsequently, MKLK’s art is linked to choice, time and experience, or rather the transcendental point at which the original intentions ignite the capacity for reflection within the audience.
Man Eater is a triumph over the senses, a riot over the male gaze, and an absurdly innovative piece that delves into the darkness of a patriarchal gaze to deliver an unflinching, honest dissection of the social and sexual psyche.
Art is predominantly an instigator; it is the individual that would indulge the thought in order to shape an outcome
Photo Piece, 2013 Untitled C-Type Photogram, 2013
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Jesc Bunyard is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work focuses on the interaction between colour, music and the audience. Chosen for this year’s renowned Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Bunyard’s video documentation performance entitled Photo Piece combines the aesthetics of art while immersing the spectator in a sonic, textured dimension.
Greatly influenced by her time at Goldsmiths, Bunyard began to work as an interdisciplinary artist when she came to the realisation that the medium she worked in did not have the power to restrict her. Initially viewing both sound and photography as disparate entities, she eventually set out to explore their immersive status using videos, installations and C-Type Photograms. Her featured installation performance, Photo Piece, took place during a traditional classical concert held by the Angel Orchestra and directed by Peter Fender. The members of the orchestra then improvised a score to Bunyard’s piece, which consisted of her photograms and photographs – a surprising twist for the audience who did not know what to expect when faced with this “intervention within traditional spectatorship and classical music”. In that sense, the complexity of Bunyard’s work lies in her decision to embrace and question the potential of photography above the traditional framed image.
Bunyard’s fascination with the immersive “arose out of a personal preference with art”, after she experienced Rothko’s Seagram Murals and started reflecting on “modes of spectatorship and what makes them passive or active”. As such, her recent artworks blur the confines between sound and visual while astutely placing her audience in the midst of it all, deeply interwoven with “the idea that the accompanying sound of a still image animates it and gives it a temporal factor”. For her final degree show, Bunyard projected Photograms onto a fabric screen accompanied by a soundtrack, explaining that, “through sound and projection the visual image crosses a boundary and the still becomes animated and sculptural”.
Sound exists in another dimension to the visual. It exists around the listener, filling the space in an almost sculptural way.
Likening her photogram practice to that of a painter’s, Bunyard explains that the process is pure photography: “the photogram enables the maker to see the photographic process in action as you shine light onto light sensitive paper, often using objects such as magnifying glasses to create coloured imprints on paper”. Bunyard’s work is fresh in the sense that she prefers to “leave a lot of [her] processes to the imagination” as she believes the work exists when the viewer sees it. After all, isn’t Art a child that grows up and talks back at you, living its own autonomous life? There is a certain calmness and serenity that emanates from Bunyard’s work, perhaps in part due to the fact that most of her process is quite instinctive, yet carefully thought out. When organising scores of photogram projections, she curates it in a way that colours either change gradually or all at once, from reds and oranges to sudden bright purples.
“The spirit of contemporary art is quite overtly political – sometimes just to be argumentative”, which is something Bunyard doesn’t always agree with, stating that although some of her work may be political, she doesn’t see herself as a political artist. In discussing the spirit and nature of contemporary art, she asks, “Why can’t I be relevant by not being relevant?”After all, what is not said becomes pertinent precisely for what it doesn’t say, and in that scope Bunyard’s art poses more questions than answers.
Currently exploring the mechanics of cinema, she is toying with the idea of a “malfunction” art piece: a sudden, weird film of 20-50 seconds that appears in the midst of a trailer at the cinema. Like Photo Piece, it’s a play on unexpected intervention, a theme that comes to life through the multidisciplinary form, quite present amongst the selected works of the New Contemporaries. A triumphant coup over spectatorship and its expectations, Bunyard’s work isolates and explores the intrinsic value of the visual language of sound and immersion with crushing tenderness.
Bankers at Boujis Nightclub, 2011 c-type print, 118cm x 151cm ÂŠMark Neville, courtesy of the artist and Alan Cristea Gallery
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Alan Cristea Gallery presents:
Neville Subverting the Fourth Wall
Mark Neville is a London-based artist whose socially driven practice includes film, photography, and targeted book dissemination. Neville works very closely with his subjects and for this reason often refers to his work as collaborative. He spends time living with close-knit communities all over the world who are facing difficult circumstances in their day-to-day lives, investigating how his art can effect real change. In 2012 he was commissioned by the New York Times Magazine to document the stark differences in London society and subcultures, and subsequently lived amongst contrasting communities in the industrial heartland of the US, creating work under commission by the Andy Warhol Museum. It is from these two commissions that his photographic series Here is London and Braddock/Sewickley were conceived. For the first time, works from both these series will be on display side-by-side at his forthcoming exhibition titled London/Pittsburgh, at the Alan Cristea Gallery in London, 20 November 2014 to 24 January 2015.
Edgar Thomson Street Mill, 2012 c-type print, ÂŠMark Neville, courtesy of the artist and Alan Cristea Gallery
Suzanne Zhang Mark Neville, the renowned lens-based visual artist, puts his work at the intersection of art, documentary and socio-political intervention. His work first came to prominence in 2005 with the Port Glasgow Project, in which he astutely turns book publishing and photo-documentary into a social commentary. Combining visual pieces and non-traditional book publishing, Nevilleâ€™s work is a brave exploration of what humans do best: life and the disparities between them. Unrestrained, his projects possess a certain refusal to adhere to any conventions that might compromise independent thought and in turn can take on their own autonomous voice, becoming accusatory of the issues some of us so often neglect. The artist is interested in exploring communities and their intersectional difficulties, subsequently setting his work on a bigger, more sociological scope. Nominated in 2012 for a Pulitzer Prize for a commission by the New York Times Magazine, Neville is now about to show London/Pittsburgh at the Alan Cristea Gallery, a scrutinous eye over the uncomfortable social truths of race and class. ROOMS sat down with him in his studio to talk political action and documentary photography as a practice.
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Mark, how did you initially become interested in film and photography? I first started making photographs about ten years ago but it wasn’t until my project called Port Glasgow that I really started thinking about photography in a very serious way. That started because I had just moved to Glasgow, I wasn’t getting anywhere in my career and suddenly, to my amazement, was awarded a commission for this project on the west coast of Scotland. The concept was a book of photographs of every single house in Port Glasgow, with each 8000 of them getting a free copy. The book would not be commercially available, which disrupts the way glossy coffee table books endlessly end up in the houses of English white middleclass people like me and never on the coffee tables of the people represented in the book! Port Glasgow is a very gritty, fascinating community, so I obviously stood out as soon as I started working, but the community was so welcoming and open. It really gave me a taste for taking photographs and exploring the ethics of photography – who is the audience? The project also disrupted the idea of recipients of the book, as they were distributed for free by the local community football team. What did the art world think about this?
They were blissfully unaware of my work and to my amazement, when the books were finally delivered, they suddenly became interested! When you say “Fuck You, you can’t have my book”, they actually want it! However, I wasn’t really interested in what they thought generally, the most exciting thing is always the response from the local communities. From that moment on I have always tried to make my audience someone else other than the art world. You travelled quite a bit for your projects, how and in what ways do the cities affect the scope of your photography?
They define it. With each project I try to ask a particular question about social documentary practice and how that relates to representation and art. With Port Glasgow it was about the class system, how we’re fed images according to hierarchy without even knowing it. With Deeds not Words, it was about the toxic waste and whether art can change government policy or not. I sent out the book of photographs to 433 local councils in the
UK, attaching scientific, medical and practical information on toxic waste disposal. I got five emails back initially, but we then staged an exhibition around it with a manifesto that will be presented to parliament next year. The project was also featured on Channel 4, so slowly but surely it’s beginning to have a sociopolitical impact. Do you believe that artists have a duty to be political, especially in photojournalism?
Not necessarily, for instance I enjoy Matisse’s cut-outs. There is a space and role for non-political art but I personally think it’s integral and essential for me to be political. Albert Camus said: “As soon as I’m only a writer, I cease to be a writer”, by which he said that first and foremost he is a social, political human being. I feel like I’m the same, I’m a human living entity who thinks about things and hopefully that translates into my work.
I don’t think it’s enough to just put photographs on a wall in a commercial space, I like to see work that goes beyond the gallery walls
and impacts on issues and asks questions on social documentary practice. One of the ways in which I concoct these questions is by looking at particular communities – questions will arise from their experience. Does the question of authenticity pose itself in your practice?
There is no such thing as truth, only representations of it. A photograph is not the truth. Framing is choosing. I think there is an interesting question when it comes to my work because ostensibly I am not choreographing anything, I’m not telling people where to stand or pose. Quite often, even though I’m visible, people don’t really care that I’m there. They don’t really play with the camera. The resulting images do appear to be ‘fly on the wall’ to a certain extent. Tell me more about your upcoming show, London/ Pittsburgh.
This is London was commissioned by the New York Times, and since it was my first time working for a newspaper or magazine which had control over my work, I thought I would make the images more explicit and more aggressive to compensate for that. I think they were initially quite apprehensive about how gritty and cynical the images were, but that’s London!
Kids at Somerford Grove Adventure Playground, Tottenham, put out the barbeque fire, 2011 c-type print ÂŠMark Neville, courtesy of the artist and Alan Cristea Gallery
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I tried to photograph people in a historically undetermined way – sometimes you have to look at it twice to figure out when the picture was taken. I tried to specifically reference photographers who looked at Britain undergoing recession in the 70s and 80s to suggest that the same economic and social forces that were fucking Britain then are still doing it now.
Right after that, I had an invitation from the Andy Warhol Museum to work on Pittsburgh. Somehow these two bodies of work became linked in my mind. The distribution of wealth in the UK is very much class-wise, and in America it’s more divided along racial differences. It’s quite shocking I have to say. I stayed in two different suburbs of Pittsburgh, Braddock and Sewickley. How did these local communities, often times very different from you, react to your presence?
They were incredibly hospitable and I made friends! I remember one street in Pittsburgh was particularly rough, I would walk there every morning at 9.30 with my camera along this group of guys drinking beer and smoking crack. I nodded at them first, the next day I said hello, then I went over and started chatting to them. I eventually ended up going for a beer with one of them, an ex-veteran! After a while they asked if I wanted to take their photographs. That’s often how I work, by developing relationships first. Sticking your camera into someone’s face is quite intruding and it’s often not the best way to get a good photo. What was your creative process then?
In Pittsburgh, it was about the contrast between the black community and the white community, between privilege and poverty. It was terribly divided along social lines so I’m trying to examine this idea of inequality and how the division of wealth is getting bigger especially in America. I’m also making a book for the exhibition that we’re sending out to a targeted audience with a cover letter addressing minimum wage. Let’s talk about your work in Afghanistan, which is being shown at the Imperial War Museum now.
I have been quite vocal about my disappointment and grief for how the whole thing happened. I was initially commissioned by an organisation called Firstsite in Colchester in conjunction with the Imperial War
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Museum. I had never thought about going to a war zone but the more I thought about it the more intrigued I was. I remember my grandpa when he came back from the war; he was very aggressive and used to photograph everything. I wanted to make work on the site in Helmand, edit back in London and exhibit immediately. There was nothing when I came back, the financial support had dried up and I had nowhere to show the work. It was crushing after going through two months in a war zone and even being shot at. I wasn’t offered any debrief or counselling when I got back and had a terrible crash – adjusting to civilian life was difficult. The whole situation was also exacerbated by the lack of platform to talk about the issues. It wasn’t even about my ego, I simply thought the work said important things that weren’t being said. It’s now being shown at the Imperial War Museum after three years; it feels like a very long journey. I found out it was quite common amongst photojournalists in the war zone to have their work edited out or misrepresented to sell newspapers. The sense of hopelessness I felt when my work wasn’t being shown was quite common apparently. There is a strong sense of PTSD too, and it’s different from what soldiers experience, not that they have it easy. They train with their mates, work with their mates
and hopefully come back with their mates. Artists, photojournalists, war correspondents, they go there alone – the whole idea of adjustment and disorder is much more extreme. Susan Sontag said in her early work :“photography cuts sympathy”.
That’s an important point that also draws on representations of war. It’s very very true. The reason why you stay good friends with people who have shared war experiences is that it’s so unlike anything else in life. Once you go through it, it affects everything. You can’t communicate it, partly due to this distance. It’s part of the whole ethics of sending an artist to a war zone. People who send you there are generally middle-class curators from a cushioned academic world, so removed from the technicalities of war that they can’t possibly imagine what it’s like. I couldn’t imagine what it was like either. There is a huge gulf between the realities of war and our protected privileged view of it; there needs to be a massive shift in the way we talk about conflict. My experience of it was so far removed from what the media portrayed, I will never get over that and it’s an important issue that is very particular to me.
Somerford Grove Adventure Playground in Tottenham, 2011 c-type print, 118cm x 151cm ©Mark Neville, courtesy of the artist and Alan Cristea Gallery
What are you working on at the moment? I’m in the very early stages of collaborating with an author called Gwen Sasse, she’s an expert on Eastern European politics and culture and we’re trying to do something on Ukraine. I’m also working on a project about teenage pregnancy in the UK, as we have the highest rate in Europe. I’m going to take some photographs and I’ll be working with a sociologist. I think teenage pregnancy goes deeper than economic reasons, I think it’s about wanting to give and receive love and if you come from a broken home and you’ve never had love, having a baby is something infinitely appealing.
Robertson Words by
Artist and curator Paul Robertson is probably best known in the art world for two things: The Periodic Table of Bowie, which was created for V&A’s David Bowie Is exhibition and curating the programme at Summerhall in Edinburgh. Summerhall is located at the site of the former Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh and is the largest privately owned museum in Europe, which programmes its own spaces. Summerhall has displayed work by Fiona Banner, Carolee Schneeman, Susan Hiller and Gregor Schneider. The venue also displays emerging talent and plays a part in the Edinburgh Festival. (In fact I was surprised that Summerhall isn’t high up in the list of venues to visit in the UK, it should be!) Robertson has had a fairly diverse career path. Originally starting off in science, before going into politics and now arts. Here he interviews two of the most understated, and yet unapologetically unorthodox Scottish artists, Rachel MacLean and Kevin Harman. I spoke with him to find out more about his practice and whether his previous careers influence his artistic one.
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You’ve had quite an eclectic career path. Do you view your past careers completely separate to your visual arts one?
In many ways I’ve had three separate careers, but I always thought I was still a scientist. I originally trained as a psychologist doing a science degree. When I find a new piece, the first thing I consider is ‘what’s it about’. I’m usually drawn to the conceptual and the underlying meaning. I apply what I think is a scientific method to that, considering a deeply analytical view of ‘why is this here’ and ‘what does it do’. Of course, you can get it wrong, it can
mean something entirely different, but I think it’s an interesting way of considering art.
I’ve worked here, at Summerhall, as a curator for three years. From the moment we started here, I didn’t really differentiate between other aspects of culture. In the Phenotype Genotype exhibition the works are alongside scientific and historical materials, photographs and cultural documents. I don’t really see a break between the continuum
of culture that is art, history, literature, all the way through to what is now regarded as visual arts and plastic arts. It should be remembered that Surrealism and Dadaism were effectively literary movements long before they were actually the motive force for painters and other artists. In that sense I think everything is linked. How did you become a curator? How did your path shift from neurophysiology to art? Was there a sudden shift or a click that said: “This is what I want to do”?
When I came to Edinburgh, there were no jobs at all. I ended up working behind the scenes with the Labour Party in Scotland. I probably was forced out of politics by a major scandal. I’d been working, essentially writing and designing the leaflets for elections. I would produce the vast majority of MP’s materials for election. There are very strict limits on how much money can be spent in an election under the Representation of the People Act. It’s a serious piece of legislation, as it stops electoral fraud in order to promote democracy. There were allegations made that the Labour Party had spent too much money in the byelection for Mohammad Sarwar, who was the first Muslim MP in Britain. I was interviewed five times by the police fraud squad, always as a witness – they didn’t suggest at anytime I
Paul Robertson and Gregor Schneider at Summerhall © Peter Dibdin
had done anything wrong, but I had done the printing, which was one of the expenses. I refused to talk to the newspapers: one, it was client confidentiality and two, they were only out to damage people. It wasn’t for me to decide whether the Labour Party had done the right thing or not. I was essentially isolated. It’s the way that politics works, and I sort of accept this. They didn’t want anything I did to affect future elections, so I had to do something else. I was already collecting art and I started selling a few things. I really put a lot of work in, within four or five years my tastes had entirely changed. I’m now very interested in conceptual art and Fluxus. I have collected a lot of Dada and Surrealism. I’m drawn to the more difficult. I love Arte Povera. I’m actually more drawn to sculpture and installations than I am to painting.
a little bit more depth to it than just putting names randomly on a shape.
I find shows that are often heavily curator-led, can be too philosophical or too theoretical. It can be quite hard for somebody coming in from the outside, as a viewer or a critic to find a way into the show.
You have interviewed a selection of your favourite artists, why do these artists stand out to you?
I’ve got a slight tendency to dislike curation that is really about the curator showing off their own knowledge. I don’t think that’s what it’s about. If you want to do that be the artist not the curator.
I completely agree with that. We bring shows and people in all the time. We’re trying to do something radical here. I think if Summerhall was in Paris, Amsterdam or Berlin it would be world famous. We’ve made a mark but because we’re seen as being in the regions, or on the periphery of Europe, in some ways it can be difficult. As well as a curator you’re also an artist. What concepts do you work with?
I’m very interested in Pseudoscience. I have used some of the structures of science to make work. I have made some periodic tables; the one for art is quite a large structuring device of how to look at the different genres of art. I’m not the first person to make work using it as a structure. Periodic Tables particularly interest me because of the structure. There are ten families in the original periodic table, and the elements in each of those families behave similarly, because of where, if you ignore quantum mechanics, the electrons sit in the shells. I find that quite interesting as a way of structuring the names. In the David Bowie table , for example, there is a section on music, which is the main section in the middle where you might find the most common elements; these are all the musical influences of Bowie. If you look closely, for example, The Spiders From Mars are all around the center point, which you can imagine Bowie as being. As you go further away the influences are not as strong. There is 54 ROOMS T he Beginning Of A Beaut if ul Fr iendship
So what attracted you to Bowie?
They [The V&A] contacted me because they knew I had done periodic tables and I was already musing over Bowie. Culturally, he’s turned out to be one of the most important British persons ever to exist. I find the fact that he is chameleon-like and always on the crest of a wave of culture a continually fascinating thing.
I feel that Kevin Harman is one of the most committed artists I know. He lives the life he works. To raise money himself, he works in a charity shop doing quite a hard job. Kevin is one of the most considered artists. I have seen him sit in a room and look at a piece of art for an hour and then make comments about it – he is very thoughtful. Kevin comes from a very working class background. He was brought up in Edinburgh, in Wester Hailes, which is an area of societal need. If you live in Wester Hailes, it’s not the easiest of upbringings.
There are no trees or bushes, everything is very flat. Kevin’s work is, I don’t think he knows this, but it’s all about where he came from and what he would have been had he not been successful as an artist. He is most famous for smashing the window of the Collective Gallery as an artwork. Much to their shame, I believe, they prosecuted him, so Kevin has a record. He also stole the welcome mats of the well-to-do residents of Morningside. He then invited everybody whose mat he stole to the exhibition, with all their mats hung on the wall. He’s a very good communicator; he can explain the work to people and why he does it.
In my first year at Summerhall I took a selection of work by young artists, who had never exhibited abroad before. Everyone had three works in the exhibition at Philadelphia. Kevin only gave me two works, so the night before I left, Kevin came to me and said, “I’ve got the third work”. He showed me a big green bag and on it was written: “Baggage handlers are idiots” and “I hate baggage handlers”. When you looked inside the bag, there was a 24kg
rock. He told me that I had to take that on the plane and I had to check it in and then go exhibit it with all the baggage handling documents and stickers. When I got to Philadelphia they were waiting for me. My bag and Kevin’s bag were sitting off the carousel and there were two members of Homeland Security waiting for me. I was interviewed for an hour and they told me they were going to deport me. They were looking up Harman’s CV online and I told them the story, but they couldn’t understand this was an artwork. I remember one of them said to me: “Why are you smiling all the time?” They wanted me to be upset. After an hour I said to them: “Why am I here? What law have I broken?” The guy went out of the door and came back and said: “There is lichen on the stone, you’re breaking the agricultural rule, bringing foreign matter into the country” – I just looked at him. He went away and another two minutes he came back and said “OK, you can go”. The next day the bag was on a plinth. Kevin rang me up and asked what happened. He roared with laughter.
Deluxx Fluxx Arcade by Faile & Bast
Resounding by Susan Hiller
Rachel MacLean is an astonishing video artist. She made a thing called LolCats, which I showed at Summerhall. She played every part in the movie herself. For somebody who is just out of art college the works are seamless. She’s slightly influenced by Matthew Barney, but her works are much more than Pop candy pieces. She works with found audio to mix, match and cut up. The works are looking at religion and, of late, politics. The works she showed recently at the CCA in Glasgow were fantastic and I’m very keen to work with her again. She will, without doubt, be known internationally. What’s next for you?
I want to work more internationally. I’ve been working with Michael Nyman, as co-producer I’ve put on three shows with him. We’re going to have a show, called NYman with a Movie Camera which is based on the original Dziga Vertov 1920’s silent movie. Michael has redone the movie using his own footage, from his own life. It’s shown on twelve simultaneous video projection screens with a soundtrack he wrote. It’s astonishing. We’ve shown it in Miami and in Zona Maco, Mexico and it’s going to Boston soon. It was meant to go to Kiev, but sadly events overtook that. I would very much like to take Scottish artists abroad more, and other artists as well. Curating isn’t hard, but it takes a lot of organization.
There’s an anger there. A vindictiveness. Art stops that dead.
So when did you first realise you were an artist? Well when I was young I would use drawing to reduce anxiety. If I had a problem in my life I would pick up a pencil and draw. I loved it. And I not only loved it but it made time go faster. It was escapist. So if for example I knew Santa was five days away then I would pick up a pencil and then Santa would only be one day away: Xmas would be here all the quicker. And for me time didn’t exist – you drew things and you coloured in and you didn’t go over the lines. It was that fucking simple. So do you go over the lines now?
Nah, do I fuck. I still respect those lines.
But you don’t socially. You don’t technically in your work. You see I’ve had this theory ever since I met you that your work is all about what you would have been if you had not been an artist. I mean you come from Edinburgh’s Wester Hailes and you and I know that’s not the easiest of places to grow up. It can be that you grow up good there but you can also grow up bad and it strikes me that if you look at your work then they are works that are about vandalism, works about working with your hands, works that glorify working class jobs and the daily experience of the people of such localities.
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Well if I didn’t have the capacity to make art, then what would I be? I really think I’d probably be in jail. I’d probably be this outer-Edinburgh entity who did nothing much in my life. But I wake up in the morning and I have instead this absolute luxury of having the chance to make artwork. I can sculpt, mould, paint or make situations and if I didn’t have that then I would be quite a different person. I would be bad. Really you have a badness in you?
Absolutely. There’s an anger there. A vindictiveness. Art stops that dead. My anger is at the manipulation by the upper classes of the people I come from. Why, for instance, is there a private school? Take for example George Heriots (a private school) and you have Wester Hailes Community School which is a state school. Why would you ever send your kids to Heriots? Because it’s better. Essentially the people who do this, who can afford this, are a gang, a scene. Just like the gangs where I come from only with money and, supposedly, taste. And at times I’m part of it of course, as I take part in an art world alongside such people. So in the work Love thy Neighbour you went to Bruntsfield (one of Edinburgh’s most middle class districts) and stole their front door mats. Was that a minor act of class revenge?
I just wanted to remind people that they were part of a community. I wanted to create a common crisis in the area so I took their doormats. Now these objects are part of people’s domains, part of their personality. Most people are secure in their caves, in their spaces but there is this little thing sitting outside which is part of their character. It may be something that you wipe your feet on, that collects the residue of whatever enters your home but also it might be a flag, a welcome sign, a leopard skin print or clever joke all on the matting. It says something about you. So by stealing them it not only attacks their smug sense of security but brings them together against a common enemy. And I wanted to create that common purpose. So I laid all the matts down in a gallery space in a long fivewide path and invited the owners to come and get them back. By such a prominent siting in the centre of the gallery it was also unavoidably interactive as the owners had to walk all over them to get their own carpet back. And what was their reaction?
Well they called me an arrogant sod, they called me this, they called me that. And they said: “I spoke to my neighbour and they said you are a bastard for doing this”. And I asked: “So when did you last talk to your neighbours?” And they said: “Well I’d never really spoken to them before”. So by creating one common enemy I built this new communality of spirit in an area where little existed before. So let’s extend this question of your use of, if not vandalism, at least provocation and discuss the work Brick where you went to the Collective Gallery here in Edinburgh and smashed their window. Well at art school you are told that these are the structures of the art world – here are the organisations, here are the dealers, here are the galleries. And the inference is that I should pay homage to that and be part of that structure. Great. But no, I didn’t and still don’t like it.
I know why I do what I do and it’s not to be only part of that. There’s a way you are meant to go about all this art career; showing work, getting validation, getting critical response. Brick was a piece of institutional critique. The act of smashing the window in the gallery was a most beautiful act, a basic artistic and aesthetic act – the transformation from one thing to another. The Collective Gallery was a conceptual art gallery funded by the government which promotes artists just like me and tries to promote debate and radicalism.
So I thought here’s a project just for you and just fucking deal with it. And it was never meant to be detrimental to the people who ran the gallery or who showed in it – I had had connections with them in the past too after all. But I knew it would challenge them; I was going to smash a window and then immediately replace it with another window (my brother, a glazer, had put in the original window and he was at the performance with the means to make everything good as new). I told them I was going to do it, I didn’t ask their permission and in fact they asked me not to do it. By simply taking the step of smashing the window I neutered their control over the space. They told me in advance I wasn’t allowed to smash their window. But I did anyway. As an artist I took control and they were my pallet, they were my canvas. I was going to mould and manipulate them AS the artwork. So they phoned the police. Why? Because they wanted the power to control the art. There was a systemto exhibit in that gallery – you had to apply and send in a project that
was judged. I hadn’t gone through that process so I could not be controlled. The work wasn’t about that specific gallery, but more about the way art is kept safe and sequestered but they still prosecuted me.
So you ended up in court and you were found guilty of breach of the peace. Yes, and I didn’t mind. I had prepared well in advance and consulted lawyers – I knew that was a likely outcome. I regularly use lawyers in my work. I think now we can talk about your most recent project: The Absinthe Bar. That was done without permission, and it was, shall we say, an installation far from the strict letter of the law. For three weeks you created what might only be described as an illegal drinking den that allowed smoking, had a confession box upstairs (with the confessions shown live in an Icelandic gallery); one night had a tattooist in where people who had been drinking had small ink works done and a butchery demonstration on another night by your father, as well as a clown night on the final evening where everyone had to be
dressed and made up as clowns to be allowed in. This is just a laddish joke isn’t it? Where’s the intellectual validity in all that? Well I create works, which I like to think are luscious, such as my paintings and plastic works, but then I alternatively and mostly create works which are more situational and participatory. So I made this bar, which I wanted to be a place where interesting people could get around a table and talk. A place where it wasn’t £4 a pint or you only spoke to someone you didn’t know outside while having a fag – I wanted to create a social painting. I like parties and I like chat and the best part of art is the chat. We all know what it is like to go and see a great painting (it gets the goosebumps going) but what about all the other stuff, the social engagement stuff? Does that really get the goosebumps up? This was a conceptual artwork and unlike the usual conceptual art, which is offered in a sterile environment – this was radically different. I would argue that play IS very radical, and ignored in much of art. The Situationists and the COBRA artists identified play as an avant-garde force and a means to undermine society’s drive to enslavement of the masses. Was this experiment in that tradition?
Of course, and I wanted to get away from elitist environments for art. I am a general public sort of person and by doing things like this bar you end up with a dialogue with members of the public who usually run away from art. It is anarchic and educating. It cost me thousands of pounds to put on and I’ve not recouped that money by any means, but I am glad that I did it nonetheless. I think it was a great piece of work. Let’s quickly discuss the skip works.
I take over a skip on a Friday and slowly empty it of all of the contents. Then I slowly place all of the bits back in a manner that creates an aesthetic sculpture out of what was previously random. Throughout the weekend people stop me and ask what am I doing. It is important to me that I explain it to them and that I listen to their views. On the Sunday evening when the work is finished I invite all of the passers-by who spoke to me to an ‘opening’ where over a beer we all do what people at all art openings do: socialise. On the Monday I sometimes come back and spy on the workies when they return to find this transformed
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thing that they left in such a mess at the beginning of the weekend. The reactions are priceless.
Finally 24/7. You spent 24 hours solid in Asda having walked into the store wearing only boxer shorts and after buying your ‘uniform’ of shirt and trousers and shoes from George proceeded to buy over £4,000 of goods which you shipped by taxi to a pop-up gallery space and later made 150 different works from the haul. The works were eventually auctioned after a two week exhibition.
Ever since I was at art school I was told ‘you can’t do that, you can’t do this’. I don’t accept that. I think that you can be either part of the culture or not and I want to be at the heart of culture. 24/7 was for me one of my more successful projects and I am still proud of it. I chose the ASDA near to Wester Hailes for the project. When the store manager asked me what I was doing once the security eventually clocked me (after several hours may I say) I told him: “I am artistic”, just as my lawyer suggested I say. The manager probably misheard and thought I said: “I am autistic”, but they left me alone after that and even helped me a little by giving me the security camera video recording of me wandering around the store for the 24 hours.
MacLean You start using yourself as the subject matter as it seems the most obvious way to create work.
So Rachel, I asked Kevin Harman the same question: when did you first realise you were an artist? [Laughs] I think I always wanted to be an artist, at least from when I was really young I wanted to be an artist, but I still don’t quite feel like one yet. Being an artist is a weird feeling especially when your career is always financially unstable you always can’t quite say “I am an artist”, especially if you have to do other jobs to support yourself. I guess at one level I have always made art and on another I’m not quite sure what I am. Oh you are an artist… How old are you now, 26? And the work you are creating is very mature; the work at
Glasgow’s CCA called Happy & Glorious is a large and somewhat complex two-screen installation and it can carry a very large space. Well OK, you may feel a little fraudulent at times but your work is mostly in video. How did you end up getting into that aspect of contemporary art? Even when I was very young I was really into shooting stuff. I had a wee camcorder which I was obsessed with, then when I got a little older I got into drawing and painting. I actually studied Drawing and Painting but I’ve been more into video since then – I guess it’s an odd route into the moving image. That said I rather think green screen is a half-way house between collage and animation and a sort of painting. So for me video art seems to be a lot like mixing a lot of mediums together.
Well the films seem very painterly; the colour palette is really candy-coloured, even garish. I think your parents never took you to Disneyland when you were young. No. My Mom and Dad never did take me to Disneyland. But in truth I have a mild aversion to the whole Disney thing, rightly so perhaps – but I also watched a lot of Disney too! I liked dressing up also but then a lot of kids do anyway, that was another reason I got into home video and things. I liked dressing up, it’s an extension of play from when you were wee.
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You are self-reliant in the way you work. You play every part in these complex and engaging films with casts of tens of characters. How did that emerge? That was again from just messing about at college. You start using yourself as the subject matter as it seems the most obvious way to create work. Then I started to realise there was something interesting in that whole idea of only using myself, especially with green screen where duplicating characters is an obvious next step. I make these worlds which seem to be populated by a vast number of characters, but really it’s just you. I thought it was not just interesting, but a little absurd to make these works in such a way.
So the basic process is, I assume, is that you firstly build an auditory tape from found sources. I start by collecting together a number of sources or reference points and try to sort them into some sort of narrative even if it is kind of abstract. I then spend a lot of time editing that sound track. Pretty much once the audio is locked down it is just fitting characters into that, creating costumes and getting an idea of how it is going to look. Then it is the shoot, by then I am pretty certain I know how everything is going to run. Then it’s just the edit afterwards which is actually the time consuming bit. It must take terabytes of storage and be a hugely complex process?
Well it’s really fun getting stuff back from a shoot and deciding on what goes where, what the background will look like and some of that is like painting – it’s the point where there may be a sort of relaxing quality to the process, I think. But when you are close to a deadline it’s quite stressful because these are complex editing tasks… I’m wrong, it’s not relaxing at all!
Massacre of The Innocents
I have never seen anyone who lip-synchs as well as you do. Oh well, I just have a lot of experience in this one very limited area of lip-synching.
In terms of artistic influences, Cindy Sherman and Matthew Barney are the most obvious ones. Both take on roles in their works, become different characters. Both are fascinated with transformation of humans and things also? Is this important in your work, is it a critique on the characters you play? Yes I’ve always been very interested in Cindy Sherman and my interest in her is, in part, an interest in her feminist critique and the way our identities are based on how we project ourselves externally. And also something in the way she clearly has fun in the way she reveals her own personal identity as something quite unfixed.
I think almost all of the characters I create are somehow stereotypes and are really all surfacelevel avatars almost. They are never deep or real, always ‘surface’. Well brands are essentially all ‘surface’ aren’t they? In one of your earlier works LolCats in part you parody Starbucks in the iconography you use. In other works you consider celebrity culture. So does your own obsession with the ‘surface’ mirror that shallowness?
Well more recent works are more like satires. But I hope it’s more than satire. For instance in the Happy & Glorious work I was quite interested in looking at how the splitscreen installation altered the perception of the work, especially in terms of looking at class and class identity, taking visual stereotypes and sort of messing with them. There is also a sense of absurdity in the whole thing as well. Are you aware of the work of Ryan Trecartin, it’s similar to your work in some ways; the sort of babble, the media mix up, the cutting up of these audio segments... but it all seems so over hectic to me sometimes. You are a woman of the internet age, are you happy with this rapid offering of information? Or should we all strive to be able to watch Matthew Barney’s five hour River of Fundament work without complaining? Well I think Ryan Trecartin’s work has got that MTV vacant-ness down to a tee and I think a lot of what I like about it is from having watched a lot of MTV Cribs and that really, really fast editing style. But at the same time they are quite long and hard to sit through because they are so intense, they throw things in your face to the point where they challenge you a great deal. And strangely, also as a result, challenges the short attention span that we assume people have today. A lot of my work does reference internet culture and music videos but I don’t know if I entirely buy into the idea of the short attention span generation. Would you say you are a political artist? Yeah. Yes I think so.
Well we are currently both living in Scotland during this maelstrom of political debate (the Independence Referendum) and I think you and I are on opposite sides of the issue. I think your attention has moved from the earlier works which deal with the surface trappings of capitalism (and to some extent religion) and are now more about the role that class plays in personal relationships. You are also examining the influence of perceived nationhood on personal behaviour. Is that quite a deliberate shift in interest? Well I guess my degree show and much of the work I did before that was also dealing with the question of what is ‘Scottishness’? Specifically the sort of tourist vision of
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Scotland that is thrust on everyone up here. I think a lot of it just came from walking up and down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh where there is a sort of visual culture that surrounds Scotland and for many defines how tourists and our own population see Scotland.
I left that theme behind for a while but when the SNP victory happened then Scottishness became something which was much more politicised than it had seemed when I was at college. I came back to the earlier themes of my work to consider what historical and semi-historical notions of Scottishness gave to our people.
I wanted to explore those issues but certainly not as propaganda. I wanted to examine the sort of grey areas and absurdities of nationalism full-stop – be it Scottish or be it British nationalism.
Does the use of two split screens mirror some sort of schism, some sort of dialectic in that politics? Happy & Glorious is essentially a retelling of the Prince and the Pauper. It seems to me this is an important work in your cannon. Are you really trying to keep it a balanced view of the debate? It depends. But with the Scottish Independence issue I would like to try to keep it balanced, not as some sort of bland neutrality but balanced in the sense of showing the weaknesses in the position of both sides. The work also deals with arguments over social inequality and a critique of the class system. I didn’t want that bit to seem quite so balanced! [Laughs] So what is next?
Well I am making a video for Channel 4’s Random Acts broadcasts which is commissioned by Film London. It’s just a three minute video.
Is this the future of all video art? We sell out to Channel 4 and make music videos? I’m teasing you, but isn’t there some financial pressure to do these things rather than pure art?
Skin and Bones
I believe the Channel 4 work IS art – it is using television as a medium for art. I think there is an odd notion that making music videos is selling out, which given that there is very little money left in the music industry is a bit absurd. On the contrary, I think music videos are a fantastic medium and an art form in and of themselves. They reach a really wide audience and can set up interesting collaborations between artists/filmmakers and musicians, which might otherwise not come about.
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Raindance Film Festival
Cahill The Science of Believing
We are thrilled to be opening the 2014 edition of the Raindance Film Festival with Mike Cahill's latest film I Origins, a film of staggering beauty, insight and imagination. In his follow up to Another Earth, he once again shows a knack for picking topics that are hovering in our universal subconscious.
Suzanne Ballantyne, Head of Programming at Raindance Film Festival, London RAINDANCE.ORG
ABIGAIL YUE WANG By the time you turn to this page, our recent world has been battling a spreading disease, lost a comedy icon, witnessed pendulums between sieges and ceasefires while the rest of us try to gather sense out of the everyday automation that we call jobs. It does seem that we are in a time in which existential solutions are as long overdue as peace for nations. So by all means we look up into the infinite stars and down into the two-fist-size heart, seeking clues from both the outer and the inner. To probe the vast but necessary ‘whys’, Mike Cahill’s third feature film I Origins details what may happen when our scientific will is challenged by the spiritual call, whether the path to a world larger than we know could be right in front of our eyes, or rather, could be, our eyes.
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Glad to have I Origins in London, as what should be considered a metaphysical thriller. A large proportion of European cinema lingers on existential matters, considering your admiration of Krzysztof Kieślowski, what does it mean to you to bring I Origins to Europe? It’s wonderful for you to say that, I feel very lucky and very at home in Europe. The sensibility I’ve had in filmmaking is mostly inspired by European filmmakers. They look at cinema as an art form, an emotional transmission device as opposed to a popcorn-selling device.
Another Earth and I Origins prompt conversations about self, universe, multiplicity and spirituality. What’s the most tantalizing discussion you’ve had about I Origins so far? Hah, someone came up to me and said, “Everything in this film is real”. And I said, “No, it’s fiction but based in reality”. And they said, “No, it’s real”. [Laughs] That was my favourite conversation.
You once referred to an island civilization that lived right above some dinosaur footprints without knowing their significance. In I Origins you question what if the eyes are the ‘dinosaur footprints’ of our time and that our lack of understanding will eventually be dissolved by science. How has Richard Dawkins’ studies inspired you and the journey of the eye? I’m a huge lover of science. The ‘dinosaur footprints’ is an analogy in that, throughout history we’ve had myths of dragons, so intuitively we know ‘something was up’. But it wasn’t until science became capable to give us a
whole new understanding of humanity. Richard Dawkins is important in our culture as a scientist and a provocateur, who thinks religion is dangerous. Michael Pitt’s character is really inspired by how Dawkins cares about the theory of eye evolution in order to disprove creationism. Has Richard Dawkins’ theory gone as far as in the film, in which he published books on the eye evolution?
Yes absolutely. The thing about evolution is that it happens in single mutations over single generations, which is why creationists use the eye as proof of God. Because the eye is so complex that if it evolves backwards even one step it ceases to have a function. So Dawkins proposed a way back in the 80s that could have very well created this evolution. The experiments seen in the film are real experiments taking place in labs today in the US. Interesting how you imagined having Dawkins meet the spirituality of the film. Has the course of making this film in return confronted your previous beliefs in any ways? Or has it fortified your vision?
I think of myself as scientific-minded but I also sincerely believe that there are more than just tables and chairs. Maybe the movie just gives a greater depth to these arguments. For me, the indicative of what I believe is when Sofi says that a worm has only two senses, giving it a third to perceive light very logically follows that, while humans have five senses and by no means are they limits.
There could be a sixth or seventh. So that could mean that a world inaccessible to us might be influential to our accessible world. That’s how you explain coincidence and signals. I think there’s a metaphysical side that we don’t have the sensual perception to experience fully. We could be all connected in a way that we can’t see or touch, but we know there’s something intuitively true about that. Yes I agree. As you mentioned, Sofi, portrayed by Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, is quite a marvel in the film.
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presence needs to linger in the frames that she does not inhabit. To do that it takes someone who can make quite an impression.
Aside from being a perfect casting choice, Àstrid’s eyes also bear a genetic mutation that causes beautiful multicolour patterns in the iris, which is exactly how you envisioned Sofi’s eyes should be like. What serendipity. Yes. It was one of those moments when you say, “Alright, the universe is making it work for us” [laughs]. It is quite the metaphysical dimension interacting with ours and helping us out. This case as an example, do you think filmmaking itself is in fact a work of spiritual wonders?
Brit Marling in I Origins
That’s a beautiful way to put it. Yes! I think Bergman would feel the same. You’re dealing with energies and ethereal qualities and intuitions. It’s directing, casting, as well as a massive team who are all artists in one particular way. Art operates almost like a lightning rod channelling this great ego beyond you as a person. It is much of a spiritual experience, you’re not working so logically. Then I have a follow-up: do you think that it also relies on the scientific trial-and-error?
Yes too. I like to go into a film with a lot of theories about what might or might not work. You can try and discard them just as lab experiments and I encourage that. We were trying contact lenses for
the little girl’s eyes but they looked ridiculous. We also tried recreating the New York hallway in India with identical layout so that the composition triggers the subconscious déjà vu. Like a scientist, we test, explore, fail, but without showing anybody the failed results. Only show things that work. [Laughs]
Talking about human error, from Another Earth to I Origins, you continue to ask how it takes personal calamities to unveil a world larger than the individuals. We are always seduced by beauty in tragedies, so do you think your films respond to this fatal fascination in our culture? I think we are both incredibly lazy and ambitious as a species. It is only those moments of incredible disruption that shake us out of our everyday lives, and can really motivate new manners of thinking in our civilization.
Somehow we are this paradox. The narratives of Another Earth and I Origins are born from tragedy, but are also responses to tragedy. From there we seek to consult comfort and make life a little bit better. Michael Pitt portrays a biologist who is quite different from stereotypical scientists in cinema. Is this your original plan, or is it because Michael has his way of perfecting any persona, as always?
This is interesting. My family is made of scientists and for those I met, I think of them as rock stars. Their pursuit of knowledge, understanding human condition is beyond material. Western culture has somehow unfortunately put material winnings as the pinnacle
of achievement and it’s a bad thing to teach in our culture. Put me at a dinner table with half scientists and half artists in the room and it will be the most thrilling and nourishing. As an actor Michael is incredibly badass. I think of him as that equivalent of a rock star. For Michael, the work he portrays matters. I’m curious if one day science has the ability to fathom the unexplainable of today, if what we consider ‘spiritual’ can be deciphered into facts of atoms, would it still be astonishing for you?
I would just be like, “Alright”. That’s my expectation, I would not be surprised. Imagine if we could genetically modify every human to have an alternate sense, that would give us a total new insight to the world. It really comes down to discovering a dimension that we don’t have access to. Meeting scientists when you worked for National Geographic in the early days inspired your inquisitiveness in the cosmos and science.
Michael Pitt and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey in I Origins
Though you didn’t actually go to film school, do you feel your work in fact benefits from the removal of institutional construct? I wasn’t pursuing filmmaking in my studies formally, but I probably have read more books on filmmaking than what was taught in film school. I think when you’re in a film school environment, everybody is trying to distinguish themselves as the nail that sticks out while all other nails are hammered in. In a way I think that’s counterproductive for finding your own voice. If you don’t need to compare, you’re really doing an inward explanation to find a voice truthful to
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you and what you care about. We all are capable of uttering profound truths, it’s within us. You don’t have to go outward to find it. Every single person, 7 billions of us, can tell something insightful about the human experience, you just have to get deeply quiet to uncover something. You and Brit Marling (star and co-writer of Another Earth and star of I Origins) have been working together over a decade now, has the way you collaborate evolved over time?
The best part about the years is that we have the deep trust and mutual admiration for each other as an artist. In this film her character Karen is the flip side of the same coin of Sofi; she’s a romantic yet a scientist; she’s the second choice but really the first choice. She prioritizes and suppresses, not allowing the vulnerability to rule her. I wanted to write a character that’s very difficult to life, and because we have such a long standing creative collaboration, I trust her. You’d want to find those people in life and work with them forever. Michael Pitt now is someone like that for me.
Michael Pitt and Brit Marling in I Origins
There are many silent and non-verbal moments in your films. How do you maintain that visual momentum in the story? If I’m struck by the profundity in an emotion I would build stories around it. Cinema is a semantic, syntactic device to communicate emotions. Visuals are in service of that. It’s its own domain like an alternate sense. In Another Earth, wide shots of the singular earth and main character, small in the frame, can make you feel the emptiness in the space and how we yearn for connection. For I Origins, it’s that sense of familiarity when looking into someone’s eyes. The visuals will start to tell you what they should be.
After three features, what do you think being a film director entails? I think cleverness will not last, an idea needs to sustain you long enough. It takes a great deal of stamina, passion and sincerity. That which you obsess over is what you should make a film about. It should be the thing that you still talk about with your friends at 6 o’clock in the morning.
With so many vast ideas between fact and faith drawn out, I feel there is yet a lot more to say than one film. Is I Origins only a taster in the bigger picture? Yeah, like you said I have five or six films sitting in my head and my computer. I don’t think of it as work, but pure purpose and pleasure. I would continue to tackle some of the bigger existential questions as we all have. Thematically, I think I’m already at the place I want to be.
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The intention of my work is to glorify the beauty and form of classic machines from past decades, set in events celebrating the sights, sounds and emotions. Isolating a moment, the speed or capturing the interaction between driver, mechanic and machine. These shots are then graded using a cinematic aesthetic. The fragile, priceless vintage machinery pared with incredibly brave men and women, still competing in historic racing events often with no additional safety equipment from the period they were designed.
Peter Aylward peteraylward.co.uk UK
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Outlook ÂŠ Photo by Marc Sethi
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Kim Byungkwan kimbyungkwan.com Korea
I am trying to bring out strangeness from familiarity (visual habit). Everything there is out there in this world, more or less, provides familiar vision. This familiar vision can be replaced as habit and creates comfort. However it shuts down all the other possibilities. It stops us from having adventures and checking out the wonders out there. My work is trying to destroy and reconstruct this habitual vision so that our vision can be expanded to other images. I think Breakable is very important code in history of art, which can be said of the movement of re-construction by breaking the existing art formula. For me Breakable is a door which can close by itself to shut out the world, or open wide to remove the borders of in and out. The difference between a closed door (Un-breakable) and open door (Breakable) is the attitude when facing something new.
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I have always been obsessed with neatness, clean lines and the geometrical appearance of things. My work explores our relationship with the urban environment and how we interact with it. My pictures highlight the dramatic contrast between the urban background and the small but important presence of human life, with its unique visual characteristics. In our crowded world and with ever-increasing population numbers, solitary moments are becoming harder to imagine and my photographs capture the lone figure in a moment of silence.
Rupert Vandervell rupertvandervell.co.uk UK
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Omar Aqil behance.net/omaraqil Pakistan This project is basically based on cultural characters (ETHOS) I tried to experiment with using alphabets; in each alphabet I have created an impression of a particular culture by using some abstract shapes. I have used American Natives for their colourful and vibrant outfit. The second one is Egyptian Pharaohs which are the most inspiring; their persona for using GOLD is the key part of this whole visual. The third one is a Japanese Samurai, which are famous for their exceptional outfit. And last the Greek Kings. Breakable? Nothing is Impossible.
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Sound Design: Ah! Kosmos & Producer: Erdem Dilbaz (Nerdworking)
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Can Büyükberber canbuyukberber.com TURKEY
For the last couple of years, I’ve been working on architectural projection mapping projects and audio/ visual performances which led me to focus on the relationship between media and architecture, especially bringing my computational design approaches of virtual world into physical space. With inspiration from parametric architecture and generative art aesthetics, I began to create sculptural forms with an aim to augment their surface with animated visuals in real world to visualize the possibilities of morphogenesis. Unfold Series is an ongoing form experiment, a preliminary study toward this direction. My goal with this study is to create audio/visual installations with large scale applications of these forms for an immersive experience. The word breakable reminds me of the fragile process between the imagining and executing. I think it's a conundrum. While you have to let yourself completely free from the boundaries of inspiration moments, it's really hard to discipline yourself later on, to bring those ideas into the world. It seems like a breakable dialogue between two brain hemispheres.
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Ash Thorp ashthorp.com US
I am still feeling things out creatively and enjoying playing in the realm of honest creativity as much as possible, whether it be directing a film, writing, drawing, designing. My personal work is an attempt to reconnect with my child self and satisfy those honest first efforts that got me into this field in the beginning. My Lost Boy project is a selfish goal to just create the things that inspired me growing up. My films and other projects have other larger spectrum goals that are built to create thoughts or ideas in others and ignite curiosity in the viewer.
I personally think of art as a form of communication. Itâ€™s the unspoken, spoken art form that we as humans use to connect with others good and bad. Art is the vessel but the driver is the creator.
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As an artist, I look for interesting patterns, colours and textures that evoke nature and organic substances. I attempt to balance this through interesting design components such as geometric shapes and typography. I work to elevate my mentality and hopefully people who view the artwork as well. Breakable? The disintegration of fragile things.
Ari Weinkle ariweinkle.com US
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Osborne Macharia k63studio.com Kenya I would describe my work simply as Art inspired by what I see around on a day to day basis â€“ the way I tell my story is a bit different. Africa is a place with tons of stories that are untold or not well documented and my passion is bringing these stories to life through my eyes. Having come from an Architectural background, I think this has helped me see patterns and symmetry in objects, places and subjects. Breakable; I think of Defiance, Justifiable rebellion, Pace setting and defying the standards. This is something I personally feel and identify with. This has been my struggle the entire year. Whenever I meet clients, agency folk and producers, trying to explain my work and why I do it in a certain way has been a battle. I guess people are used to doing things in a certain way that has worked for them and has made them look ordinary, but when it comes to being Extraordinary, thatâ€™s when the journey starts. Breaking apart and doing things differently make a statement and have an impact in the long run. As creatives we have to keep evolving in our content and carrying your audience with us as well.
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_blank is an empty room for you. Express yourself however you want. Tell us about you. Write it. Draw it. Be crazy. And when you're done, take a picture of it and send it to us, so we can share it with the world. 104 ROOMS
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Miko Spinelli Fashion, Music Artist and Founder of
WDYDWYD? I have a fashion and lifestyle brand and I also produce and write music. I am the founder, creative/ managing director and designer of my own fashion label, named Miko Spinelli. I mainly do jackets for men and women. My team and I are now working on a new collection, which will comprise of complete looks, both for a men’s and women’s range. Lots of ideas I kept only in sketchbooks will now finally become a reality.
I have always been very creative and lively. As a youth I made my own t-shirts, drawing or spray-painting them, using masking technique. During summer time my cousins and I were designing, making and then selling bracelets on the beach front in Italy. When I was 13 I began to play guitar and formed my first band. Since then I had five years of intense playing with bands, doing many live gigs around Italy.
After my high school period and music experience I came to London and graduated in Architecture and Design. I then took a step back from social conditioning and expectations, by reflecting more on what I really wanted to follow and pursue. I had so many visions and ideas I wanted to realise, with the ultimate goal of contributing positively to our society and world. I searched for possible manufacturers that could help me, but it wasn’t easy, because I didn’t have the money or the experience. I never stopped wishing to see my ideas materialised, so tried to find tailors that could help me make some garments for reasonable prices, even asking my grandmother to sew for me. What made me realise my ideas were resonating with other people was wearing my own first clothing experiments out in the streets or at parties and seeing people’s 110 ROOMS W hy Do You Do W hat You Do?
reactions. I had people stopping me, asking about the garment I made. This was an incredible feeling which made me believe more in my ideas.
At the time I was pursuing one of the things I love the most: music. I was an electronic music producer, DJ and party promoter in London and also
Being in touch with music is somehow being in touch with fashion as well. in Milano.
I have always been interested in researching new trends, looking around me to see what people wear, to then create my own blend of styles. I never lost my fashion inspirations, even during my DJ years and gigs, which turned out to be a perfect stage to again showcase my fashion ideas. Straight after my second music experience as an electronic music producer, DJ and party promoter, I decided to begin with an accessory I love the most: hats and caps. I continued with my manufacturer research until I found a man to help me. I began designing baseball and flat-visor caps, using different sorts of fabrics, mainly African or Indian, with strong patterns and lots of colours. Once the first caps arrived from the factory it was an instant success, and I had to make new ones straight after.
I then felt the need to move to a more substantial garment: the jacket. I found the manufacturer, this time with a bit more confidence. As soon as the jacket was ready I went out in it straight away. The amount of people that stopped me was incredible, and this moment once more confirmed that maybe my ideas weren’t that bad. So I made more jackets and gave them to shops. Vogue picked them up and asked me to write an article. You can imagine how happy that made me. And from there on I’ve experienced
constant escalation and growth. I’ve had lots of barriers to overcome. The first was the language and moving to a new country. Coming to London, knowing only one person who left after two weeks, was not an easy thing, but my excitement and ambition helped me get through it. I’ve come to realise barriers are mainly created by us, in our mind. The external reality is a reflection of our own internal one. By fixing ourselves within, the outside will
We live in an ocean of infinite possibilities and we are the only masters of our own reality.
Many things inspire me. Black music and cultures in all forms. Tribal, ancient cultures and traditions. Urban culture. Vibrant cities. Ancient mystical knowledge. Spiritual Masters, Wizards and Alchemists. Food and nutrition. Yoga, meditation, Martial Arts and fitness. Nature. Books and learning new things. Natural/ Eco/Low-Impact architecture and design. Natural cures and remedies. Food as medicine. Free/quantum energy. Conscious movements around the world, exploring new ways and techniques to live selfsufficiently and free ourselves out of the grid and the system. Lawful rebellion. Sovereign, free men.
There is a need for One Consciousness encompassing diverse beliefs, while at the same time respecting them and cherishing their cultural diversity and heritage. The wake-up call is here, and we need to take control and give power back to the people. I would never compromise my art and visions and the possibility to make our world a better place.
Interview by Linh Nguyen
Cymon Eckel Co-Founder of
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Forge & Co
WDYDWYD? My first venue-based project was the bar Riki-Tik in Soho. This was 1992. Believe it or not, it’s that recently that the UK was a desert for great eating and drinking experiences, unless you could afford fine dining. We found a hole in the ground in Bateman Street. We were told that we were mad, it was going to be expensive, torturous, and the rent was too high – they were correct, but that place became the epicentre for anyone or anything exciting in Soho right then. The regulars are now some of the biggest names in British culture, fashion and music, let alone the stars of that time. Art is the main area of modern culture that inspires me within my work. It’s always been art and design. I started out as a carpenter; I had an industrial accident, and ended up going back to study as a furniture designer. Art was not something that my education had featured; a new world opened up and I was totally intoxicated by the new ideas and thinking that art can
Ever since then I just look and stare.
Forge & Co, my latest creative workspace, started with the building and the architecture. Most of my projects start in the same manner: I come across an undervalued or difficult site that most people steer away from, then develop an idea that fits that site and excites me. This is the spark.
Shoreditch has a unique vibe. It’s almost like the commerce and industry of 100 years ago left behind a scent. Albeit now dressed up in art, fashion and music, which are essentially the industries that re-lit the fire in Shoreditch’s boiler room. In practical terms it really is about the architecture, the buildings and somewhere being at one stage undervalued, providing opportunity. Despite Forge & Co being a social space as well as a creative workplace, there are no reported distractions. There’s no loud music, there’s a productive hum all around the space, and it’s full of chat and smiles. We have house rules but they are based upon mutual respect, I think dictating rules would be indicative of an unruly space and we’re certainly not that. I think Shoreditch has done enough to carve a permanent residence within the city’s art scene. It is also a unique place geographically: the City, West End, North, and East London are all a stone’s throw away. There will be other epicentres over time... I am not totally convinced that anything will rival the Shoreditch and East London explosion in the next 10-15 years. My previous projects are all based on subsequent experiences, they all have social aspects, they have always been design-based and very ‘human’. Boy’s Own was a spectacularly enjoyable project, Riki-Tik was very, very satisfying, Vapour was a conceptual breakthrough, The Griffin feels like home, XOYO was an accomplishment, Forge & Co is a grown up project. I love all of them. There have been others but these
are the stand out moments. Once I start down a path, my passion for that project builds and builds,
I am very hungry for ideas and new energy.
I’m motivated by work, but it’s not specifically a money thing. I cannot keep still. Looking towards a new place and fresh ideas are paramount, that’s what inspires me. My personality is part of my career. I have to reach out to all kinds of people, constantly communicating. Very simply, what keeps me motivated and inspired towards work is finding new things at the most unexpected time. It’s almost a childlike pleasure. I call it stone flipping – you never know what’s under the next one. I would encourage people to be perpetually positive and not to worry. Compromise is not capitulation, it’s a positive thing, it’s not a particularly youthful trait, but it is, in essence, just a differing perspective. To embark on this kind of work you will need people, partners, help and a network, to be open, work on distinct communications and messages – then the right people will find you.
I don’t really celebrate my success. People and friends celebrate it for me, anecdotally or by being there, shaking one’s hand and letting you know what they think. Apart from my children and having a wonderful partner, my greatest achievement has got to be the resonance that my projects seem to achieve. Zeitgeist is a strong term… but I manage to get the timing right.
Interview by Eleanor Kirby
Beefthang Creative Director at
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From top to bottom: Beefthang, Ash/Photographer and Howl/Director Silent Whisper Bag
Team at GFIRMG [Guerrilla Foundation for International Recon Media Group] From top to bottom: York/ Film, Bug /Film, Gregory/Music and Astrid/Head Designer
WDYDWYD? We are an experimental team trained in numerous disciplines, involving architecture, coding, design, music compositions, motion picture, patternmaking, photography and so forth. We exercise our abilities together to form something new which is completely different from what we are familiar with. Our inspiration derives from aspects we've experienced growing up in different regions of the world and strangely enough our experiences are synchronized somehow. It makes it easier for us to inject it into our design since we are on the same frequency and it responds well with the people coming from the early 80s and 90s.
My first interaction with computers began during the 5th
grade of elementary school. Soon enough, I started to forge lunch cards to acquire free lunches by using my cousin's GeniScan GS-4500 handscanner and my parent's HP Deskjet 500 printer. Luckily for me, the lunch cards I inconspicuously laminated and wrapped with packaging tape lying available at the local Kmart department store went undistinguished in the eyes of the lunch lady punching the cards. Thankfully, digital art steered me towards a slightly brighter and much less illicit path while I was growing up towards my teens doing freelance work for BBS (Bulletin Board System) boards on my 9600 baud modem, a time where baseball cocaine scandals unravelled in the late 80s, the Reagan administration was still in power, and not many families kept personal computers in their household. I believe this pinpoints the time when my interest in digital art prompted me to endeavour as a graphic designer. Work is more autonomous since I reside in California, so it's much harder to establish the 116 ROOMS W hy Do You Do W hat You Do?
communication of my ideas over LINEchat. Our members are scattered in different sectors of the world such as Canada, Japan, United Kingdom and Taiwan. Many of our designers are inactive due to schooling and other variables. So I fill in for 100% of the graphic work, which I don't mind at all but it gets very overwhelming considering the amount of projects we are involved in. I’ve learned to condition myself to run off of 2- 4 hours of sleep to accommodate. We are interested in the arts, politics, society and global issues. We are not however interested in the augmentations dictated by trends and commerce. We always strive to remain faithful to ourselves, our abilities and our ideals without compromising due to monetary reasons. We devote ourselves to sharpening our technique and learning new methods and I think that makes us different from other creative groups. Our motto is: CRÉATEURS SANS LIMITES which translate to "Creators Without Limits". The GFIRMG takes quite a lot of
aesthetic, culture and atmosphere from the Sci-Fi movies of the 80s. interest in the
There are numerous principles that have derived from the way people simulated futuristic techniques in the past. We find it intriguing in observing the contradiction between the ‘vintage’ era's scientific imagination and the ‘current’ one which we experience today. Outer Scale is a visual project that is set to provide the concept of the brand to our audiences by expressing our ideals through various experimental ways of media and ultimately to achieve a revolutionary realm we intend to create.
I would say our most daring print would be EYE 11 - Louder than Silence. This product is a collaboration between EYES & SINS and a menswear online-store EVERGREEN CONSIGNMENT. As the words ‘Louder than Silence’ are an oxymoron and give off thoughts of contradiction, we emphasize this analogy by choosing the styles of protest art and anarchist aesthetics for our inspiration. GFIRMG is trying to keep the genuineness of the digital world by bringing back digital art and video forms of the 80s, but also by combining modern and futuristic elements. So I would say GFIRMG
a balance between the old, new and upcoming by establishing an
attempts to hold
equilibrium. Short films, pc games, and installation art are one of a few things we plan to achieve for next year.
I feel the secret to art direction is simply a consistent point of view and concept. GFRIMG's visual language is a crossover between shaping traditional and digital elements. Computers are important to the designer, but have their limitations. An organic and physical approach with the combination of digital manipulation gives our work an enormous quality of expression and creativity. Learn to love solitude, become a sponge for knowledge and never let your abilities go to waste, are a few things I would advise to aspiring creative directors.
Interview by Alice Hughes
From top to bottom: GFIRMG Operation Procedure Manual, EYES & SINS film still and Silent Whisper Bag
WDYDWYD? Kieran and I didn’t used to DJ together because we played very different music. Then we played back to back at a few parties and it just kind of went from there. There’s a different spontaneous energy when you play back to back. When we started we felt that the club scene had stagnated a bit with so many iconic venues such as The End, The Key and The Cross closing.
So we started doing parties in unusual locations such as
warehouses, rooftops, streets, boats and railway arches. People really enjoyed it – it built from there and we’ve stuck with it. We have always tried to book a variety of artists for our shows. Sometimes techno, sometimes disco, sometimes live artists. Just whatever sound we think will suit the venue or time of year, plus whatever we’re into at the time. We both have an eclectic music taste so we try to be representative of this with our programming.
Being able to make a career of playing music to people is a wonderful thing and we feel very lucky to be doing it. We did a small roof party in Dalston. The roof could only fit 200 and about 1000 turned up. The hype was great. We’ve seen everything. Good crowds, bad crowds. People we’ve really connected with, and of course people we haven’t. When we played at Secret Garden Party last year a few people took their clothes off, then all of a sudden everyone started taking their
Playing to a bunch of crazy naked people was memorable!
There is huge competition now as there are so many DJs. Nowadays production is paramount. It’s nearly impossible to make it as a DJ now without your own music, so my advice would be get Logic or Ableton!
Over the years as a promoter we’ve faced lots of obstacles, but the most consistent has been the loss of venues. We’ve always tried to use interesting off location venues but as a result we have often run into problems with the venue losing the licence days before the event. Having to find a new venue in a few days can be a nightmare but it is something we’ve had to deal with for years, especially as the police have tightened up on venue owners.
When we’ve had bad shows and not sold enough tickets, we’ve doubted our brand and programming at times, but we’ve always bounced back. DJing is easier, there’s less stress than when you’re promoting the show yourself. There are times when I think it’d be nice to have a secure job, one where you could switch your phone off on a Friday and not worry about anything until Monday. But in reality I’d get bored within no time if that was the case. My brother and I work in music and food so it doesn’t feel like work to us – we’re immersed in it 100% of the time.
Interview by Nate Jixin Zhang 118 ROOMS W hy Do You Do W hat You Do?
Danny & Kieran Clancy DJs & Founders of
120 ROOMS W hy Do You Do W hat You Do?
Michael Baumgarten Still Life Photographer
WDYDWYD? Back in theatre school, I started taking pictures of the ensemble I was working with, the set, the performances and from that, my passion for photography began as I was spending more and more time in the darkroom rather than rehearsing on stage. I eventually dropped out of theatre school as I knew photography was the perfect tool and art medium for me to express myself visually. I always loved visual and performing arts from video to sculpture and image making, so I was sure that I wanted to work in that kind of direction. My time at theatre school encouraged my love of staged photography. It could be a subject, the make-up, different objects and the stage settings that I found inspiring early on. When I tried paving my way through the photography industry, I had to make a lot of sacrifices to achieve the success I have today. I moved to Paris in 1993 and quickly understood that fashion was the perfect umbrella under which I
could reunite all the things I am looking at. My first flat in the city was practically a squat and I ended up living there for quite a while. With all that goes with it, poor electricity kept switching on and off, and there was no heating in the winter. I would always have people come over saying how romantic the flat was lit only by candle light. Thinking about it now it was actually a lot of fun. I think a lot of my creativity stemmed from that chaos.
I have lived in a sort of PhotoStudio-Lab-Pro-House for some years, the bathroom was turned into a darkroom, the living room stuffed with props, particularly great when you cross those rooms at night. It was a quite intense atmosphere for a while. But a good place to continuously create and experiment with fresh concepts. Frankly, I just produced non-stop, and therefore had no space left in my head to ask myself, what’s the perfect career plan? So I just followed my intuition, which did not let me down and perhaps helped me break down the barriers (without actually being aware of them). My luck began to change when I had my first meeting with Franca Sozzani in Milan where she commissioned me five stories on that very day. I guess that will be an impossible number to beat.
I always remember seeing my first ever published photograph and feeling the best high ever – it was right on
the cover. I almost fainted when I saw the magazine on the newsstand. In the recent seasons, I’ve focused on beauty photography and I love the fact myself and the subject are a team which tries to create a visual together. With my work, a number of inspirations drive me such as streetlife, the Paris club scene, other magazines and different genres of music. I am a kid of the 80s so it was natural to try out all the relevant looks on myself, most of the time with astonishing effects. Still to this day, the occurrences of people’s everyday lives and what’s happening on the street is the driving force behind my work. I’m fortunate enough to be able to travel a lot, whether it’s business or pleasure, and these trips allow me to become more inspired from the goings on around the world and feed my love in discovering new things. This year in Bangkok and Seoul I came across a lot of subjects who gave me great inspiration to input plenty of new ideas and energy. And of course, observing the world through the internet can create a lot of inspiration. With all this said, the greatest influence of my work to
I want my audience to be entertained
date is living in Paris.
and I think it’s important for me to show what is beautiful in my eyes through my photography.
Interview by Jack Wynn 122 ROOMS W hy Do You Do W hat You Do?
Spiros Halaris Art Director & Illustrator
124 ROOMS W hy Do You Do W hat You Do?
WDYDWYD? My professional career started with me working almost solely as an illustrator for a few years. I then worked as a freelance art director or visual designer for various creative agencies and clients, and this later prepared me to take on bigger projects and campaigns with my own creative studio. Now as a multidisciplinary illustrator and art director, my work ranges from the creative direction process of projects to the execution and the final product, be it in print or digital. Skills are required in almost all of the creative fields with an expertise in some, and there are always news skills added on the way. There’s always time to acquire a new skill – you just have to say ‘yes’ and figure it out later. For me it has always been an ongoing process of forming a visual trace in my work. I would say that there is a specific visual aesthetic or sophistication that follows the work through the years but overall it changes and evolves as I do. Now if I had to describe this ‘trace’, I
spiroshalaris.com UK | US
Initially, creative platforms such as Behance were of great help and I was able to expose my work to a worldwide audience. As I released more and more work online, clients and contacts approached me and this is how things started. Now I have some agents and a studio partner in London who handles all our direct client accounts, while I am in New York dealing with our clients here and expanding our network. At the same time, though, I am still using the platforms I used as a student to update my work and spread it – it’s the power of the web and the key opportunity for your work to reach audiences all around the world. When it comes to my personal work, I wouldn’t say that I ever encountered many barriers in order to achieve even the most daring vision I had in mind. On the other hand, as a creative in
the most exhausting and difficult barrier is when your vision would say that it is a mixture of clashes with what you are chic edits, raw materials and asked to do or create. That’s an inevitable barrier when you are visual stimulation. dealing with a commercial project, I don’t think there has been a ‘eureka’ moment in my professional career so far; it has been more of an organic process involving a lot of work, determination and a little bit of luck. The most important element has been the people and colleagues I have carefully selected to have next to me and my motto of ‘work hard / play harder’. Oh and ‘be nice’ helps too.
the industry, I would say that
but it could also work as a great push and challenge to discover new things about your abilities and visions.
I try to have a rule
of finishing whatever piece I am starting no matter what the outcome is inbetween. All the other rules are there to be broken. Education is crucial and knowledge of various kinds has a significant power. Some people may say you need to go to a prestigious university to be a creative or an illustrator – in my experience you don’t. You need to be ready to work your ass off, be smart, be patient and let your work, from the beginning of your career to the following stages, speak for you. There’s nothing worse than the waffle baffle of mediocrity.
London is beautiful and New York is ecstatic. I find both cities equally fascinating and interesting in their own way and I have the pleasure to work a lot in both. They differ a lot culturally and industry-wise, but there are also a lot of similarities in the design and communication industries that help make the transition between the two easier. But most of the time my projects have a different audience and this dictates different challenges and approaches anyway. The new platform we are launching is the Atelier Parfum and you can visit it to view all the perfume illustrations we have created over the years and the new ones that are coming – atelierparfum.tumblr.com
Interview by Nate Jixin Zhang
WDYDWYD? I’m a London-based mixed media artist, knitwear designer, founder of fashion label Lana Siberie. If you have made the decision to speak, selecting what you want to say and choosing which words to say it with – that is art. In some cases silence is the answer, like my project O, which has set me off on a three-year journey of finding truth. Transition, development and ability to work with so many people have opened my eyes to the fact that imposed silence can’t show truth about anyone. Silence can only be desired and creating a context for it would have been a much better way to find what I was looking for instead of enforcing it. It’s the project that has definitely impacted me the most.
The three indoor works in Presence of Absence were also a turning point in relation to my photographic practice, this was when I came to a realisation that a picture will not suffice or doesn’t necessarily complete it for me. My approach to practice was never analytical from the start; it is based on a feeling and allowing things to enter your life without clearly understanding its full meaning. Later that realisation comes right into you. Something similar happens in The Other Half, my collection of the first frames of each film roll; you see only half way or you do not see at all and only later will you realise what it is/was. Each roll was the start of a new journey and evolved different thinking every time or rather no thinking as it is a prerogative of the mind, when it is not with the mind you take a
The world is dual
picture. ; so it would be true to say that every new beginning is an end to something and vice versa. The compilation of these beginnings finds themselves allied in this abstraction. 126 ROOMS W hy Do You Do W hat You Do?
lanasiberie.com iuliafilipovscaia.com UK
Now that my practice has moved on to mixed media, I have started to literally use found or gifted natural elements like dried flowers, seeds, leaves, stems, shells to create collaged work.
divine. The power and the beauty
it possesses are endless. Take art history and works of the masters, what can better describe a mood or a state of a being, town or country than a landscape? I grew up experiencing extreme natural phenomena: in Siberia it can get to -40C or even -60C. The further my practice evolves the bigger Nature’s place in it.
For instance, The Eject is a fairy tale, nostalgic medium format sceneries. For me it raises a question, whether there really was a childhood in Siberia as I left at ten and have never been back since. I must admit I am absolutely in love with Mirniy, the town of my birth. I even designed a young, unisex line for this SS15 season IF for Lana Siberie (a fashion label we have with my mother Lana), which is themed around Mirniy and its diamond mine. This is where the fascination of gemstones stems from in The Mineral Man. The idea of the ground being impregnated with these colourful treasures – the alchemy of it, the curing qualities of minerals and how a different combination of similar materials can create various structures are magic to me. Vesting these characters with different mineral heads is an attempt to create a portrait. Minerals are what make these human conditions crystal clear. Look out for the book Mixology out in October by publisher Index Book as it will feature some of The Mineral Man studies. In Lana Siberie, our first and second readyto-wear echo The Mineral Man as well. Nature is an endless vessel of ideas and inspiration to us.
Fashion is just another way of communication. It is a blessing to travel and spend time learning about the world. It’s a way of education and expansion of knowledge and understanding of other cultures. It is an ultimate worldly game you want to play. If you take your ideas closer to your subjects geographically you gain direct access and ability to reach depth you might not get to from your studio. The challenge I have now is gallery representations. Like my designs, my art works also look for the right home to go to. As they say, new conceptions are in fact new ways of seeing old conceptions. Hence, if through parallels, metaphors and new aesthetic language, those who are reminded of long-known truths can relate or start to ask questions, my work here is done. Take The Mineral Man; we forget that minerals are alive. By marrying them with a human body I am manifesting that we are Whole.
“Pleasure” and “Eternity” are two of the words in my artist statement. It is mainly about the pleasure of joy and happiness brought to you by things you do. It can be so easy to get caught in the moment and work can look daunting, but by turning it into a game of enjoyment you will be then present during every moment of it and personally, it is the way, the way to eternity through the things you do unconditionally. Having said that, I would have changed it. There is simply no need for the questions in the statement (“Why? What? When? How? What for?”). All the answers are within us.
Interview by Abigail Yue Wang
Iulia Filipovscaia Artist, Curator & Designer at
Antonio Guerrero Words by
Painting is my language, is my voice, is my vision. My work is my eternal quest for freedom, peace and harmony and a defining voice against human oppression.
Conmigo o en mi contra Mixed media on canvas 83" x 102" 2010 ÂŠ MC Peuser Photography
Painting Your Way to Freedom
ntonio Guerrero sees his art as a mouthpiece that inspires change. Influenced by the works of painters Matisse, Dali and Chagall as well as authors Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Cortázar, Borges, and Faulkner, his art presents a distinct visual language. Guerrero uses elements and influences as varied as ancient Egyptian art, imagery from the Sumerian culture, tapestry from the Middle Ages, avant-garde art, modern expressionism, as well as his own experiences to shape his unique personal voice. This voice has been the root for much philosophical musing on behalf of the artist, who continues to grapple with its existence and the dilemma surrounding the innate characteristics of a personal language. How personal can it be without being private and elusive to the public? And if it is public, how personal can the language be? Guerrero ponders philosophical ideas, investigates topics like migration, courage, love, repression, pain, anxiety, and tragedy and uses his art as a vehicle to explore and understand humanity at large as well as himself, his spirituality and moral selfdevelopment, which, in his eyes, “represent the greatest human struggle”. Born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1968 and based in Miami Beach, Florida, Guerrero’s personal journey shapes his art profoundly and informs his subject matter. Guerrero grew up under the Castro regime in Cuba, was drafted into the army and deployed to fight in the Ethiopian War and, after returning to Cuba in 1988, secretly designed and built a raft to leave the island. After being lost at sea for five days, the artist and two others were rescued and started a new life in Miami.
El encuentro 1992 Mixed media on heavy paper (Cotton) 60"x 60" ©2014
Experiences of Cuba, migration and exile are all central to Guerrero’s work. “Marxist ideology and cultural repression have been barriers not only in my life,” says the artist, “they have been barriers for every Cuban. Personally, I found in my art not only refuge but a tool to manage and crack that absurdity”. Guerrero’s paintings are not straightforward examinations of the Cuban experience though. His knowledge of art history, literature and philosophy also have a strong bearing on his art and his works are ripe with historical and literary references. He allows often opposing ideas and visuals as well as conceptual components to meet on the canvas, thereby creating multi-layered narratives. Realistic and fantastical elements meet, and the contemporary world full of technology encounters colonial times in works that draw inspiration simultaneously from surrealism, fauvism and neo-expressionism.
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‘Self-esteem and self-confidence are my new devices that I have learned to protect’
What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘breakable’? First of all I think of my art, what I should call a personal level. All my art is defined as an internal pathway to represent my inner world, to cope with my own anguish in a philosophical sense. Secondly, I would consider art as a social institution. So, ‘breakable’ is a substantial part of the underlying art problem and history of art, modernism, avantgarde of 20th Century, and realism. I am not interested in becoming a conceptual artist in a ‘mannerist’ fashion such as Duchamp, Kossuth, or Weiner. My concept requires a craftsmanship, big time. Summing up, ‘breakable’ is related to affection. Any time when you have a party at home, friends have the bad habit to break glasses, whether it is expensive wine or a cheap, sweet Jack Daniel. How do you target obstacles in life or in society through your art and creativity? Art not only functions as a delight or pleasure. It is also an object to question, and simultaneously, a questioning object, an inquiring artefact. That’s my target: overcoming social problems through
Emigrando en la noche II Mixed media on heavy paper (Cotton) 60"x 60" ÂŠ2014
representation. My Cuban experience led me to use my art as an accurate instrument to interpret life issues, and to find the best way to deal with them. My artwork is my ammunition to recapture what happened with communist ideology during my early life under
Castroâ€™s dictatorship. My main concern with art is the amazing, wide spectrum of possible outcomes I have at hand to implement and orchestrate an aesthetic answer to most internal human problems. Do you see your art as a vehicle to break down social, political or personal barriers? Definitely. Art is not only contemplation. It helps to scrutinise reality. My art is intended to transfigure social questioning into critically personal aesthetic and visual examination. I am so concerned with external
Escapando en la noche Mixed media on heavy paper (Cotton) 42"x 56" ©2013
issues that impact the life of people that I think of my artwork as a main building block of a personal, intimate way of reasoning and creativity. I try to overcome any bias, pre-considerations and general prejudice. Art is always positive and it is progressive as well. It is the best weapon sensitive human beings have to make a better life and society. How does place inform your art? My dictum “Live your dream” is not a dogma. Rather it is a guideline to see some path on the horizon. We have to pursue our dreams. My artwork is an attempt to realize that. Throughout my life I have been influenced by context. No artist at all is separated from his environment. Even primitive man was totally influenced by his context. More recently, after having learned of the big literature of Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough I have been working on his concept of ‘prehistoric sympathetic magic’. 132 ROOMS No Borders No Boundar ies
‘I learned how ideologies destroy human lives’
Can you tell us more about your escape from Cuba? Tragedy is not an exclusive issue to Mediterranean ancient culture. We Cubans have our own Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid that is a happy end in foreign land. Without previous seamen experience a group of friends launched into the sea at night. When we were on the open sea, we felt scared of lightning and thunder. It was a calm night and we clearly saw a bunch of fish, an astonishing experience.
I had a terrifying, frightening, chilling, petrifying, intense moment when a big white shark surrounded our raft. Hallucinatory experiences happened as well, while we saw bizarre lights surface over the sea. The Cuban experience in Miami is quite unique. How was the transition from Cuba to the US? We left Cuba to be reborn in another land. Indeed, we reinvented ourselves in the United States. The communist experience in Cuba left spiritual scars in our lives. I have attempted to reconcile with myself, not in entangled oddly Sartrean dialectics. I prefer to be simpler, be a better human being, and feel open sensations of beauty, freedom, and peace. Self-esteem and self-confidence are my new devices that I have learned to protect. Ownership of real valuable spiritual things is my main premise. You are the founder of The Cuban Art Project. Can you tell us more about the project? It is an ‘actualised’ dream. Alongside my wife Leticia del Monte, we were daydreaming about this project some years ago. Now it is real, tangible. We can say we are working
on something real. The main intention has been to promote particularly the work of Cuban artists around the world. That premise includes introducing our work into public contexts through exhibitions, performances, and educational programs. Our project promotes artists from different regions of Cuba, different interests, and different ways of creating art. We promote iconographic works of Alejandro Mazon, or expressionist Antonio ‘Asik’ Alonso. We launched Floyd, whose artwork represents a sort of ‘bad painting’, ‘New Yorkian,’ expressionist style. We are honoured to count on the participation of renowned Cuban artists such as Cosme Proenza. More recently we have extended our project to China, since we are interested in being promoted in the Asian market. How have your experiences in Ethiopia and of war influenced you and how did these experiences shape your artistic vision? At almost 18 years old, I was drafted. The Ethiopia experience was unique in a double sense, tragic and amazing. I found myself witnessing and facing a
totally new, strange, odd, and weird environment. It was my first time on a huge continent. At that time I had no idea how much that influenced my life. It really did and consequently transformed myself when I was ready to create a piece of art. All my imaginary world of strange animistic creatures, partially animal and partially human beings, are a result of my encounter with foreign non-Westernised cultures and religions. War defined me. Human tragedy is a universal issue. Violence could destroy the best human civilization. I learned how ideologies destroy human lives. That’s why my art tries to reflect this and reconcile good and evil in a positive way. Who do you base the protagonists in your artistic narratives on? Characters inside Cuban culture extrapolated to conspicuous scenes of dreaming, love, and surrealist circumstances. What do you love most about Miami? Landscape and sunset. Despite its beautiful and enchanted Caribbean environment, Miami is transforming into a huge high-tech city. In the next few years this will be a very competitive place even for artists. Urban context defines social practice, as does our decision to transform the context of where we currently live. What do you enjoy the most when not working on your art? I live very close to the sea. When I can separate from the canvas and when I need not to think at all, not even of my art, or when I want to clarify an idea, I go to the beach. Swimming there makes me feel free and ready to continue. Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects you would like to share? Yes, definitely. This October, I will hold a solo show at Jorge Mendez Gallery in Palm Springs, California. Other upcoming exhibitions are on the agenda. I never stop working. Art is my passion, the ultimate barrier of defence I have to be ‘unbreakable’.
Suzanne Zhang Photography by Alexandra Uhart Words by
Create a Little Tenderness 134 ROOMS No Borders No Boundar ies
Douglas Hart The music business is more about abstraction, but I guess I want it to be more about the human spirit.
‘Being in a band is like being in a gang. When you step out of it you feel very exposed’
ember of the legendary 80s rock band The Jesus & Mary Chain, Douglas Hart is a man who has seen it all. After years of memorable gigs, Hart moved on to being a music video director, working with the likes of My Bloody Valentine, The Stone Roses, Babyshambles, Pete Doherty and The Horrors. Aside from working in the music industry, Hart also writes and directs his own films – his debut short film Long Distance Information finished first place at the Soho Short Festival. The film, which explores the strained relationship between a father and son, is all sorts of genius – subtle in the emotional shift that depicts the crushing, uncanny accuracy of awkward small talk within a family setting; humorous in its ending twist. Aside from that, Hart talks about culture in a refreshing way, all the while lauding it and criticizing it. ROOMS met up with him for tea in a rooftop café to discuss universal family stories, crazy gigs and his album Psychocandy turning 30 this year.
Douglas, you are first and foremost the renowned bassist of legendary Rock band The Jesus & Mary Chain. You then transitioned to being a music video director; can you tell me more about this? When I was 13, I fell in love with music but also with culture. It’s quite telling that when I got a record advance, I ran out and bought a Super 8 instead of a nice guitar. When I was with my band, I would meet other bands and shoot them with my Super 8. The first one was My Bloody Valentine, who asked me to make a video for them. I guess I was the only one that had a camera, and I never really thought about it. As much as being in a band was a creative enterprise, there weren’t too many creative possibilities for me as I wasn’t writing the songs but just playing them. It was scary to leave music for video; being in a band is like being in a gang. When you step out of it you feel very exposed. There are many similarities between film and music, but when you want to shoot there is a collaborative entity, an intensity that drives you. You grew up in a small village in Scotland right? How was the transition to being a Rock Star? I grew up in a small village outside Glasgow, when they cleared all the slums and moved people out in the countryside. It was a great place to be a little kid but when you turned 14 you wanted to leave. That was really important because it gave us a real thirst and appetite for things beyond our setting. We were really into cinema but we couldn’t really see any films except on TV or VHS. You get a drive from that atmosphere and when you come to a place like London you go out every day and every night. What was the atmosphere like back when you were playing? When we first came out the world was a place full of much more contrast so it was a certain section of society that was horrified by us. We looked very different; we would appear on a TV show and stand out. Now it’s less of a contrast. I remember reading that you were banned from your record label because you caused quite some trouble on your first day there! Yes, people were really horrified by us and some people started rioting at our concerts. It really was an incredible moment and time. We used to be very antagonistic – we would play for only ten minutes at concerts, and when the audience got used to that we would play two hours! I think it’s an element in music that goes back to the Sex Pistols. I don’t know if it’s here so much now, it’s definitely harder
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to shock. There’s not much of a step forward in music. It’s the same in cinema, sixty years is about enough for things to go and come around, not to say that there isn’t anything new and explosive. Is there an inherently British identity in terms of music? Yes I think so, even until recently. Independent music is a thing that existed primarily in Britain for a long time, but it’s such an international world, things can develop in Glasgow or London. Now everyone looks and sounds the same – when we started that wasn’t quite the case. How do you retain your artistic integrity when you’re famous? Not everyone can. If you keep that obsession (and most people do) then you’re always looking for new things. There is a natural unquenchable thirst for culture. You get people like David Bowie, who is like the king, and every few years he does something new, for me that’s enough. Not all bands are like that. You see things coming around too, just like in fashion, and especially since we’ve been doing things so fast we are running out of things, so everything becomes cyclical. Young kids want to get back to
non-digital videos, so I have been working on a lot of VHS and Super 8 films. Do you also draw from past trends? You will always try and emulate that one thing that inspired you. When I tried experimental film, I was about 13 and was looking at works from Marcel Duchamp, Hans Richter, experimenting with abstract expressionism in film and the way the materiality of the medium mattered. If it was film you could see the edge of it, if it was a video you could see the grain of it. I fell in love with that and it’s something I definitely keep coming back to. Yes, one of the videos for The Horrors was very much like that… Yes, very grainy and with different layouts. In that video, I shot off a T and re-shot off a TV and put magnets on it. It’s a next level of distortion, it’s quite organic, and you can’t really control it. I guess it adds an element of charm to it. Charm is really missing from digital work because it is so precise all the time; it’s missing the element of almost organic chance. A lot of the things we love when creating are mistakes.
Still from Sea Within A Sea, The Horrors
What is your creative process when directing a music video? I prefer when it’s all about collaboration, meet the band, share references, trade visual images and inspiration. It doesn’t always work that way, at times you get sent a song and a brief. I like meeting people, these artists also have a general aesthetic of their own song, which I think is important to take on board. You wrote and directed Long Distance Information. I love the tagline, Dad always said not to talk to strangers. But you’ve got to phone home sometimes. It’s based on a personal story. I left home when I was 17-18 to be in a band, which horrified my parents, especially after they had heard us play. My mother kind of came to terms with it but my father never really did. Whenever I would call home in the following years, he would pass the phone to my mother immediately. One Christmas I thought I would make an effort to break the cycle. I had a painful monosyllabic small talk with my dad, like “How’s the weather?”, “Happy Christmas Dad”, “Happy Christmas Son”. We were talking but not saying anything. After five minutes, when I was thinking that I have a terrible relationship with my father, he said, “I’ll pass you to your sister…” I don’t have a sister! It was the wrong number! I must have dialled someone two streets down. That’s what the film is based on. I sent the script to Peter Mullan, who makes films too. He got back to me three days later with a four-word
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letter: “Fucking count me in”. He was very supportive, very encouraging. I’ve shown the film in different locations, and there’s always someone who says to me, “I have the same relationship with my father!” Did you call the right number afterwards? I did, and because of the strained relationship with my dad I couldn’t joke about it. So I had the same conversation twice on Christmas day. Wow! In that light, is all art biographical? Yes, absolutely. You can’t escape it, especially with abstract art. It’s putting your feelings in that moment, everything is biographical I guess. Was Long Distance Information cathartic for you? Yes, this film was very cathartic. Even on the day of the shooting, Peter Mullan kind of became my father and I was getting shivers on the back of my neck. Everyone has felt like a stranger to his or her family at some point. Are you ever truly satisfied with the work you produce? I’m not comparing myself to Orson Welles or John Ford but I think both of them said that once they finished a film they wouldn’t watch it for five years because they knew it took that long to remain objective. Even then after five years I don’t know! Do you watch your own music videos? No, not very often. I love the process so much that when I finish it I get depressed, I get a come down! So I have to get on to the next one. Once you’ve done it you just want to keep going and improving. What are you obsessed with music-wise? Taiwanese folk music. They have this very strange rhythmic way of singing, very unlike European music, it’s very emotional. They sing about loneliness, a mother missing her daughter; it goes to the heart of music. Music stripped down to its simplest form. Perhaps the older you get the more you want to simplify things. It’s possible but very hard. That’s my current obsession I would say, simplicity and purity but that might change in a few years! What do you find more cathartic, music or film? Playing music, physically. You gain some peace from it, you’re focused; it’s physical and mental at the same time. What’s the perfect song when it’s 4AM? Sunday Morning by the Velvet Underground.
‘A lot of the things we love when creating are mistakes’ Your album Psychocandy turns 30 next year! How do you feel about that? It makes me feel very old! The band still plays and they’re going to go out and play. Bobby Gillespie and myself are not going to do anything. Sometimes it’s better not to go towards the past, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I feel good about it though, it’s been 30 years and people are still listening to it! There is no better success than that. I always think fondly of it, I can’t believe it’s been 30 years. What is the strongest emotional response you’ve felt in front of a piece of art? I went to see the Vincent Van Gogh portrait after he had cut his ear off at the Courtauld Institute. I don’t think I was in a very stable place emotionally; I had a total breakdown and started crying. There in his face was the epitome of all sense of loss, of yourself… The staff were nice and gave me a cup of tea. I think they call it Stendhal Syndrome. I also cry a lot during films. What are the main themes you try to incorporate in you work? The music business is more about abstraction, but I guess I want it to be more about the human spirit. As I get older, my recent thing is really just a sense of humanity. Also, the texture of the film. Especially in light of the world’s horror, you must respond with a kind of human warmth. Is your work political? Personal politics are everywhere, but tenderness and compassion are political too. When things go too badly in the world it’s important to go the complete opposite way and march with tenderness. Maybe that’s as much as you can do. Even tenderness can be political when it’s against the prevailing culture. Deepest fear that keeps you up at night? Many things, I’m a worrier – take your pick.
Kate Simko Words by
I © iTunes Festival, London 2014
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t’s a beautiful day in North Staffordshire as I’m looking ahead to calling Kate Simko just before she gets on a flight. Will she be cranky? How many times will she yawn? Are my questions just flaccid enough to be dismissed in one word answers? Kate Simko is in Chicago about to get on the 9:30am flight to New York and I’m barely out of the shower. When you consider that Chicago is six hours behind us, that’s a damning verdict on my day. On about the third ring, my fears allay as the Windy City DJ sounds infinitely more chipper than I do as she discusses her father’s love of classical music, collaborations with Chilean brothers Pier and Andrés Bucci as
well as rearranging the London Electronic Orchestra's shows to audiences as varied as those who saw them in Rooms 34 and 41 at London’s National Gallery, London, or the iTunes Festival. Kate instantly shows that her work, if you can call being a world famous DJ work, is her driving passion as she nonchalantly speaks of catching the three-hour flight to New York so that she can be in the studio by 1:30. By contrast, I did the school run this afternoon for my sister. Kate Simko’s life is more glamorous than mine. She is intensely humble about what she’s producing right now, though. Before I can think of my next line she praises her producer for his part in what she’s making. I’m happy, I really like this guy. It’s just there’s so much editing to do and, y’know, having two people there and a big monitor to run some midis through and get shit done. Currently engaged in so many things, it’s hard to nail her down to one aspect. It’s her work with the London Electronic Orchestra [LEO] that piques my interest. In typical fashion, she speaks of the enormous scale of this project with a tone that suggests the challenge is the best part. It’s the first LEO E.P. so that’s what I’m working on right now. It’s so overwhelming and there’s like 11 strings, harp, microphone, flute, baritone saxophone all in one song and trying to make it all mix with the electronics. It’s crazy. Eleven strings. Remember that track you made on GarageBand that you wanted to show all your mates? That doesn’t even come close to LEO. To make a sweeping understatement, it’s an ambitious project aiming to create a hybrid of classical and electronic music. While we’re making understatements, Simko has assembled a talented posse of musicians to help her realise this. To borrow from Marcus Barnes’ piece in the Independent’s Arts section, the LEO has included Kamila Bydlowska (violin), Nadine Galea (violin), Katherine Clarke (viola), Deni Teo (cello), Claire Wickes (flute), Valeria Kurbatova (harp), Nina Harries (bass) and Zach Schwartz (baritone saxophone). “Their energy was infectious and each performance
scintillating”, Barnes said of the National Gallery performance that evening. While a performance of eight musicians plus Simko would have been terrific, she’s aware of the pitfalls that this can face when attempting to put all the pieces into the same jigsaw. There’s just so many moving parts and there’s so many players with trying to make it meet the electronics. I’m just trying to make them tasteful and punchy next to the classical parts, too. It’s all coming together, I’m always looking over my shoulder because there’s a million little details. With anything that attempts such a bold take on genres as diverse as classical and dance, there’s always a chance that what you’re attempting may not be well received or even just outright loathed by purists from either end of the sonic spectrum. The reality couldn’t be further removed from this. The LEO has been gaining positive reviews for what they’re attempting to create. Even with just five days’ notice, Simko & Co. were able to rock the iTunes festival using three violins, a cello and a harp all without adjusting a single thing from their set with Boiler Rooms. The remarkable musicianship of the LEO could be demonstrated in their sets regularly being one seamless piece of music. Flowing and elegant transitions mean that, while it is an extended track, there are no abrupt stopping points between songs. Unless, of course, there’s a power cut. There’s no breaks between the songs, it wasn’t just listening to music. It was around 122bpm the whole way through with seamless transition, just like a normal electronic music live set, basically. I was happy to bring it to that kind of place. I like both, I’m happy to have both, but I was glad to adapt the LEO stuff the first time. While the compositions for the LEO are a relatively recent development, her passion and grounding in music is not. Kate tells me about how, from the age of just five years old, she was having piano lessons for 45 minutes a day. Her father, an avid classical music fan,
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placed such importance on the ability to play an instrument that her practice would regularly come before her schoolwork. There was no choice there, no like “Hmm, let me see…” My brother and I weren’t allowed to play with our friends and we had limited TV, we weren’t allowed to just sit in front of the TV anyways. I had to practice 45 minutes of piano from the age of five before I could do anything, really. I think I did piano before my homework, even. Evidently, his paternal feeling to nurture the burgeoning musical talent of his children has paid dividends. Not only is Kate an internationally recognised DJ, her brother is now a guitarist after having a lesser interest than Kate in the ivories. Her father’s dedication to Kate’s development is compounded in a single anecdote from her piano tutor: My piano teacher always commented that my father was the only parent of all of her students that came in, after my lesson, every single week and asked; how it went, what we could work on, etc. He always did that. I didn’t mind, it’s like if you’re gonna spend your time on something and somebody’s older than you, more accomplished and can help you. If he didn’t care, I never would have gotten that good. As a child, it’s easy to confuse this interest as being overbearing, or even pushy, but, reflective and humble, Simko acknowledges that it was her father’s faith in the arts that pushed her talents to become what they are today. From her established musical base, attending a particularly exclusive course at Northwestern University in her home state of Illinois allowed her to augment the talent she had. A lot of Simko’s base skills as a DJ can be traced back to using what we now would think of as pretty archaic machines. That’s literally how I learned, it was Logic and ProTools back then. I genuinely learned sound synthesis through those old machines. I remember having quizzes where they would say, “If you took a triangle wave and put it through this…” We had to describe, in words, what it would sound like. Her progression then lead her to South America and a fruitful time in Chile where she collaborated heavily with the Bucci brothers while forming Detalles with Andrés. Interestingly, while learning in Chile, the Bucci’s were listening to a lot of European
‘I think I did piano before my homework, even’
dance music. Andrés had spent time in Berlin and Pier was frequently travelling between Europe and Chile, it was inevitable that this would have had a profound effect on her. For Simko, it wasn’t about trying to replicate the sound of Chicago house. Her time in Chile gave her the chance to think about her music uninhibited by any potential constraints that the sound of her hometown might have had on her. With those songs, if I didn’t collaborate with Andrés, I don’t think I ever would have finished them. When you’re just starting it seems so weird. It was good, he was more experienced and
he was like, “The song is done. Next song”. Before I knew it, we had an album. We put it together and it didn’t really sound like anything else. I burned the CDs myself and hand wrote, in pen, the track names with my email address on and sent it to tons of labels and Traum signed us from the CD I sent! Pretty DIY. You gotta start somewhere. Everyone starts from nowhere but that was cool, being in Chile with Andrés definitely helped me push forward and make it happen. It’s fascinating to see that her energy and willingness to take a chance has been a prominent feature of what she has set out to do. While moving to Chile sounds like an adventure, few would be willing to remove themselves from the comfort of their homes and relocate there. Even fewer would be willing to send out demo CDs while based in South America. For now, Simko is working with the LEO while finishing a myriad other projects. She is close to finishing an album with Tevo Howard, a week away at the time of writing. If you want to keep Kate happy, be her peer, buy her a coffee or just make yourself available on the phone.
Patterns of the Unseen
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os Angeles-based photographer Felix Salazar takes documentary photography to a new level, taking an up-close look at the radiant lives that surround us all, whether human, animal, or even microscopic. Plunging his camera deep into the vegetation of his aquarium tank, he brings back radiant colours and textures found in mysterious underworlds that, surprisingly, aren’t too remote from the lives on the ground. Through his human, generous lens, one gets the feeling of a certain presence that is rendered especially acute by the warmth that emanates from his black and white photographs. Genuine moments of tenderness, grief and laughter fall under the scope of Salazar’s work, whose creative process is to identify patterns in his work, and then work according to them. Photography is, after all, an individual’s idiosyncratic interpretation of the world. However, in Salazar’s work it resembles our own perspective – perhaps because at the core, we are all documenters of the mundane, which, once personal, feels extraordinary. ROOMS sat down with the photographer to discuss daily life and the digital revolution.
Felix Salazar Words by Suzanne Zhang
The barriers that create the most resistance in my work are mostly all imaginary. Insecurity and lack of confidence, all based out of fear, were barriers that I faced. At one point I stopped caring about what I thought others would think.
Hello Felix, you are a composer and photographer based in Los Angeles, California. How did everything start for you? It started early; I must have been in elementary school. I grew up in Los Angeles, and the neighbourhoods
around me weren’t the safest in the city. For this reason my parents sheltered us. My brother and I grew up
creating and using our imaginations quite a lot to pass the time. We were surrounded by art growing up. Our uncle collected pre-Columbian art and paintings by
Rufino Tamayo. The art was always there and it must
have influenced us. There was never any effort made by our parents to encourage us to pursue art as a means of survival. They came from poor families and being first generation immigrants to a new country, I believe they felt art was a luxury that was too risky. Of course my
brother and I grew up and now work in the arts and are constantly creating. We definitely absorbed something having all that great art around us.
I agree with both.
Regarding the unseen, I believe we should all
be aware of what is ‘out there’, outside of what
our senses can perceive.
Our technology obviously gives us the ability to
explore other worlds,
large and small. This is
important to me because it gives us an understanding of our place in nature. The camera is a tool that can
be used by scientists and artists to communicate this placement.
What is the strongest emotional
I remember my first camera was a 110-film camera,
insects. I found it fascinating but my interest faded away
art, whether film,
which was pretty cheap. It was attached to a toy
have ever felt in
when I discovered music. I pursued this, eventually
microscope, which I used to photograph plants and
getting a graduate degree in composition at Cal Arts in
front of a piece of
California. Photography was always a hobby though
I recently visited Mike
increased I acquired work. Now, it is my primary source
piece that took my breath
and I continued to learn through out the years. I
continued purchasing gear and eventually as my skill of income.
I love the macro-reef-dwellers series. Can you tell us more about how it all came to life?
I use a Canon 5d Mark II and have an underwater
enclosure as well. I have photographed in Hawaii and off the California coast primarily. The photos in this
particular series were photographed in my own salt-
water aquarium, where over time I cultivated various species of coral.
Kelley’s retrospective at
MOCA in Los Angeles. The away was titled: Endless
Morphing Flow of Common Decorative Motifs. It consisted of many
pieces of jewelry and
buttons all laid out in very methodical patterns. I think the
I am quite fond of documentaries about the
a kind of power
unseen, underwater worlds and am always
over his audience,
amazed at how the camera can bring out
in a sense he
these vivid images. In that sense, the camera’s
makes them see
role is to shed light on the unseen – do you
what he sees. Do
agree or do you think it should shed light on
you try and give
what is seen?
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your photographs autonomous lives or do you speak through them? I do speak through them but everyone will experience the photo via their own reality, which is of course
different from mine. We are all human so there might be some similarities. I realize that I have a knack for seeing patterns that are not always obvious at first
glance. I want to try and highlight these patterns that
I see in hopes that others find out that there are many ways to see the same scene or object.
‘I believe we should all be aware of what is ‘out there’, outside of what our senses can perceive’
148 ROOMS No Borders No Boundar ies
What is your creative process when starting a
films have played
I have two approaches. One is to think of the series ahead
to look back at all the random photos I have taken and I
What do you
that I must have subconsciously been working on. I then
think we’re going?
of time and work at it and the other to just take as many
important role in
notice patterns. Some patterns are more prominent and I
make of that, and
photos of many things, all the time. Once a year I like
begin sorting them. Before I know it I see a series emerge
where do you
further develop the series from there.
To me, a good photograph is a combination of many
content, people can do
What makes good photography? Is there even such a thing as a good photograph?
things, composition, lighting, subject, etc. What pushes one photograph from good to great is timing. When
seemingly unexpected circumstances seem to magically create harmony and they happened to be captured in a
photograph, that is what makes it great for me. I realize that with practice we can train ourselves to anticipate these moments and be ready for them, to either
experience them or capture them in a photo. Henri Cartier-Bresson was great at this.
Which photograph of yours has had the most impact on you from a personal level?
I have a photo in my portfolio of my pet parrot opening its wings while staring at a painting that my friend Pamela Henderson made. The painting has a bird in mid flight
technology gives us the
ability to easily produce it on very low budgets
and still maintain high quality. This takes out
the middle man and the
politics that are involved in the industries of old.
We can communicate our
messages more efficiently
and economically. Because of this we have the
potential to rapidly create real change in society.
I really like the
opening its wings. I like to think that my parrot saw
took of the man
so much personality in her. The timing was perfect.
that painting and recognized herself in it and then tried
imitating the wing flapping. I love that little bird and I see
with the colourful turban in your
In light of recent events (Gaza, Ferguson,
the story behind
Ukraine, etc), to what extent do you
believe that photography has a duty towards mankind? It has the ability to freeze time and space and put the
viewer there with the photographer. The viewer could be around the world or 30 years in the future and they will have some information of what it might have been like to be there. We hopefully use this documentation to learn from and makes us better people, to avoid mistakes and make positive changes.
People talk about our decade as the one of ‘digital revolution’… I think it’s more about a ‘visual communication revolution’, especially politically speaking – photography and
That photo is from a
shoot I did for the World Festival of Sacred Music Los Angeles, in 2008.
His name is Ghazi Khan Manganiyar. He is from
Rajasthan, India and sings in the group Rupayan.
Interesting story about him, he wrote a song
decades ago and then years later found out
that it had become a huge
Tell me more about the candid shots in
Bollywood movie sensation.
your portfolio. An underlying theme is
He did not receive any royalties nor credits
for it though, which is
everyday life, so how does photography come into place?
unfortunate. In preparation
I always have my camera around and I like to
moustache – he carries
natural and not posed. The photos always come out
for the photo, he took quite some time perfecting his around that little pink mirror just for this.
To what extent do you think art has a mission to break
document my experiences, loved ones, and travels. I find it a fun challenge to catch moments that are
the best when they are candid and the person does
not know a camera is pointed at them. Everyday life
can be captured and represented honestly in this way. Is digital manipulation a strong component of your work? What do you make of it and
people who use it; does photography have a
be it social,
duty in telling the truth?
political or simply personal? Artistry changes society and people, it moves us
forward. Art is a universal and efficient form of
communication and if done well can change not only
the artist but also society. What kind of barriers do you face in your practice? The barriers that create
Digital manipulation done tastefully isn’t bad at
all. We all colour correct and fix exposure etc. If
manipulating a photo will remove distractions that somehow hinder the impact of the artist’s message
then all the better. For me, digital manipulation is a form of art in itself and has to be done in a manner where the viewer doesn’t notice it has taken place. On the other hand, it depends on one’s role. If a
photographer is a true documenter of events and
history, then they probably live by a code of ethics where they would only fix exposure, colour and camera errors.
Picasso said: ‘Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist’.
the most resistance in
Most definitely, learning the mechanics of the
and lack of confidence,
are mastered then one gains the confidence in
my work are mostly all imaginary. Insecurity
all based out of fear, were barriers that I faced. At
one point I stopped caring about what I thought
camera itself and post processing like a pro, is the
first that comes to my mind. When these processes knowing that they can do whatever they put their mind to.
others would think and
came to realize that the
majority of people around me are very supportive
and positive. The fear and how this fear motivates
people is very irrational.
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Photo of Meena Murugesan performing in Sheetal Gandhi's I Am You
What lies next for you? I am currently working on photographing high-end
automobiles and finishing up some collages made out of
all the classical guitars I have shot â€“ which is over 600. I am also involved in a few musical groups, a new electric guitar quartet, which is an offshoot of my established
electric guitar octet, Los Angeles Electric 8, and also a very technical progressive rock band, FeatherWolf.
Liam Young Koen Vanmechelen Memo Akten
IV Silk Factory Herd by Liam Young
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The Technê Revolution Words by
The word technology stems from the word technê meaning ‘craftsmanship’ or ‘art’ in Ancient Greek. It is undeniable that art takes on many forms, changing over time that now our tools are more mechanical than ‘natural’. However, if art’s purpose is to transcend social constructs, then using technology means embracing its transcendentalism. Technology is not something beyond us, nor does it stand apart as the other; it is a human activity that we use to help us achieve our goals. ROOMS spoke to three daring artists that are revolutionising the way we see and use technology, by combining it with art in order to break down habituated perceptions. It's loud. It's electric. It's powerful. Who says we have to be constrained? Liam Young, Koen Vanmechelen and Memo Akten certainly aren’t.
Testing the Future Urban Tectonic, concept art by Daniel Dociu for Under Tomorrows Sky brief
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Liam Young How do you enable an audience to become more activated in making their own future? It really centers on testing implications of emerging technologies.
iam Young describes his practice as a think tank, due to his project-based method of working. Young is an architect, but donâ€™t expect to find him sat behind a desk at an architectural firm. Working within two strands: Tomorrow's Thoughts Today and, with Kate Davies, Unknown Fields Division, Young explores possible futures and the future of architecture and technology. Often working within collaboration, with anyone from Science Fiction writers to the legendary John Cale, Young aims to bring the public closer to new technologies whilst imagining where these technologies could take us.
I spoke to Liam Young to find out more about his work and his thoughts on the future of architecture and digital technology. What potential do you think art has to break down boundaries and are you trying to break down any barriers within your own work? Our practice is an arts practice but it’s also a design practice. We use techniques from filmmaking and fiction to tell stories about emerging technologies. What we’re trying to do is explore possible futures and investigate applications of technology separate from the traditional narrative that we’re fed. We’re trying to develop a series of strategies and a way of imagining what the future could be, so that the public can more be informed and activated. They can take their own future, rather than having their futures thrust upon them from various commercial and economic interests. That’s what we’re trying to explore through the work, how do you enable an audience to become more activated in making their own future? It really centers on testing implications of emerging technologies.
Our current project is a large performance for the Barbican in London. We’re creating a flock of drones that will be performing in collaboration with John Cale. We’re flying drones in choreographic formation above the heads of 1500 people each night to original compositions. We’re trying to shift the conversation about drone technology from the dominant militarized application to one of exploring what the other potentials for these technologies might be. How can drones become cultural objects? How might we start to relate to them differently? The project is really trying to break down the mystery around these technologies. There’s so much about it being hidden behind military classification: they fly at certain altitudes; you can’t see their mission plans. They’re not part of the dominant media narrative about the wars that are going on, they’re doing covert strikes. How can we break down that very distant relationship to these technologies and how can we bring drones right up close and personal with the public? We’re actually having them fly over people’s heads and you can come so close to them that you can feel the air on your face that the propellers generate. They’re no longer these objects that people hear buzzing across the horizon in Pakistan. You can actually start to develop a much 156 ROOMS No Borders No Boundar ies
‘I exaggerate those emerging trends and play them out as possible speculative scenarios and future fictions’
more intimate connection with them. Therefore, you can start to be in position where you can take ownership over those technologies and make your own decisions about them. Whether or not they are potentially positive, productive things. There’s been a lot of interest recently in drones, especially drone photographs, and with robots. I read an article this morning that said Harvard has demonstrated the Kilobots, which are tiny robots able to act as a collective or swarm and that they have achieved the hive mind. What impact do these technologies have on art and do you see these as the future of digital technology? I think drone technology’s impact on ordinary life is actually far more exciting and interesting than their impact on art. That’s really our interest: the seeds of technology that are going to be everywhere. I see a time very soon when drones are as ubiquitous as pigeons in the city. It’s already starting to be talked about, primarily for marketing reasons, at
the moment, as delivery drones, that can deliver our pizzas. We did a project called Electronic Countermeasures, where we put Wi-Fi routers on board drones and they would broadcast and pirate Internet signal or a file-sharing platform. We talked about it as kind of a flying pirate bay that would drift through the air and people could log on and upload files and share information. Google and Facebook have bought high-level flying autonomous drone companies; they are exploring their applications to deliver a large-scale Internet
network to areas that don’t have fibre optic cable. I think that they will become increasingly used everywhere. There will be drones making sure people aren’t parking on a double yellow line; there will be drones monitoring congestion charge. There will be drone pets, we can set a drone to follow us if we’re walking home from the station late at night through a sketchy area, the drone could have a big spotlight behind us to follow us home and
keep us safe. I can imagine drones that have birdsong loaded on board, like an old school relaxation tape; they drift through the city broadcasting music or public announcements. I think that it’s a technology which will soon be everywhere, in the same way that the laptop or personal computer started out its life as military technology, the drone will soon make that transition from the military into the public. What does Unknown Fields Division explore and aim to achieve? The two parts of my practice are Tomorrows Thoughts Today, which is an urban futures think tank. So we do the drone project that I was talking about, and we do speculative visions of possible futures. That practice is informed by Unknown Fields Division, which is a research studio that I run with Kate Davies here in London. We go out into the world exploring the weak signals of possible futures and then in my own practice Tomorrows Thoughts Today I exaggerate those signals. I exaggerate those emerging trends and play them out as possible speculative scenarios and future fictions.
Liam Young flying drone at Virgin Galactic Spaceport By © Pete Woodhead
Unknown Fields is really playing on this kind of clichéd quote from William Gibson about the future, which is: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”. If that was true then you could actually travel out into the world and find where those pockets of the future are. We travel around looking for where these emerging trends are playing out. One expedition we went to far north of Alaska, for us in London climate change is something of the future, something that will potentially happen to us if we’re not careful about our emissions and change the way that we’re doing things. In far north Alaska climate change has already arrived, they’re already having to change their hunting patterns, because the whale migration has changed, some villages are already falling into the sea because the ice is melting and changing, and the coast line is eroding. You can actually go out and see first hand how people are starting to adapt and respond to the change in climate, which is threatening the way of life. You’ve travelled to some interesting places, have you any favourites? The expedition we did recently, we talked about it as travelling along the supply chains of technology. All of the things we talk about in our practice: mobile technology, drones, laptops, tablets, all of this stuff which is fundamentally changing the way we live, the way we exist in cities and the way we relate to one another. We wanted to explore where these technologies 158 ROOMS No Borders No Boundar ies
‘What we’re seeing happening now is that digital technology is changing what a city is’
begin their life. This world of technology has extraordinary physical implications that stretch across the planet. We travelled from the high street here in London, where you can go to the Apple Store and buy your iPhone, iPad or laptop and then we travelled on board a cargo ship all the way back to the mega ports in Asia, where all those goods are shipped out to us, then we travelled to the ship building yard where the ships are made. We travelled to factory floor where all these technologies are assembled and put together by hundreds of thousands of very cheap Chinese labourers; we travelled through
the dormitories where they live. We travelled to the wholesale market where people buy all these goods and distribute them. We then travelled to the refinery plant and then ultimately to the mineral mine, to massive holes in the ground, the massive scars across the landscape, in Mongolia where 97% of the world’s rarest mineral actually comes from. This is where our world of mobile devices and technology actually begins its life, in a hole in the ground. This is the shadow that our contemporary city casts across the planet. That’s a story that’s not told. Unknown Fields is really about revealing these forgotten landscapes that lie behind the scenes of modern living. What do you think the future is for digital technology and architecture? I’m trained as an architect, very traditionally. For the most part I have moved substantially away from all of that. Purely because I saw the changes happening in architecture forced upon it by technology. Architecture used to be one of the key players in the formation of the city, cities used to be defined by the buildings, road networks, parks, public spaces. What we’re seeing happening now is that digital technology is changing what a city is. Now the dominant forces that define a city, for the most part, exist beyond the physical spectrum. They are Wi-Fi hotspots, they’re GPS orientations. The traditional notion of the designer or architect who creates and shapes physical buildings needs to evolve. I can see architecture and design, as a discipline, becoming much more diverse. We’re going to have architect programmers, architect strategists, architect coders, architect technologists, where it’s just as worthwhile to design a building in digital space, or to design a building that you only can see through Google Glass, to design digital architecture that doesn’t actually have a physical footprint. What’s next for you? Have you got any upcoming projects you can tell us about? The big one is the Barbican performance, the collaboration with John Cale, which I talked about earlier, it will be touring after the Barbican. Then we’re doing an exhibition in Belgium in the Z33 Gallery, we’re creating series of three large-scale animated panoramas of skylines of possible future cities. We’re working with special effects artists, concept artists and a different Science Fiction author for each city. We’ll have a large-scale panorama and then a short Science Fiction narrative written by one of the authors, which will describe a moment, character, or interaction within the city.
Specimens of an Unnatural History: A Near Future Bestiary Specimen no. IV. The Silk Factories
London/UK tomorrowsthoughtstoday.com unknownfieldsdivision.com
The most important thing for me as an artist is to pass comment, not to criticise. Criticism can be a violent and conclusive act, whereas commentary leaves room for discussion and encourages the evolution of ideas.
Koen Vanmechelen, Red Junglefowl, Leaving Paradise, Art Sanya, Hainan (CN), 2013 Photo by Jian Tao ÂŠ Koen Vanmechelen
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Koen Vanmechelen Words by
The Art of Restoring Biocultural Diversity
and the impact they have on one another. In the run up to our new issue Vanmechelen is busy preparing for his new exhibition at The Crypt, St Pancras Church in November, in which he presents work which stems from the results of his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project. I interviewed Koen Vanmechelen to find out more about his work. Koen Vanmechelen, Prix Ars Festival, Linz (AT), 2013 Photo by ÂŠ Florian Voggender
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oen Vanmechelenâ€™s practice is part conceptual art and part science. Using the chicken Vanmechelen has explored biodiversity and fertility, the results are amazing multidisciplinary artworks and projects. He is perhaps most famous for his work Cosmopolitan Chicken Project in which he aims to create a super bastardised chicken which contains all the genes of all the chicken breeds in the world. This notion and artwork gained Vanmechelen and the chicken, a not often praised animal, the attention of the art world. The concepts of this work, like the practice of Vanmechelen as a whole, has a far wider reach than just the exploration of the chicken. Through the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project Vanmechelen explores the links between humans, animals and biodiversity
Our theme for this issue is Breakable. We're interested in what potential art has to break down boundaries and what boundaries our artists are breaking down using their art. Do you use your art to break down boundaries and if so how do you achieve this? As a conceptual artist who deals with the social functions of art, I am able to approach my work from a different perspective. As my work is focused around central themes of diversity, immunity
and fertility, taking this approach inevitably breaks down boundaries as well as protocols that Scientists and industry experts are expected to work within.
Turbulence - C.C.P., 2014 Light box with LED lighting, 120 x 90cm © Koen VanmechelenK Koen Vanmechelen oen
Perhaps your most famous work is the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, which I understand is an ongoing project. What are you currently working on within the project and what are its wider aims? The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP) was conceived in the late nineties. At the centre of this artistic undertaking is the idea of a chicken-crossbreeding project. I had imagined an ongoing artwork in which I could interbreed different domestic chickens from different countries as an ongoing sculpture installation to show the evolution of a true ‘cosmopolitan’ chicken, to explore the idea of biocultural diversity. I hope that CCP will occupy a really unique place in art history. The materials I use in creating this work happen to be chickens and eggs, some people think these are symbols but for me they are also artistic materials building a larger work, and when my work is at its best, it can be seen to link scientific, political, philosophical and ethical issues. I see chickens as a universal metaphor. In my crossbreeding installation, mixing roosters and hens from around the globe I propose that we look at the
‘I want to give the chicken a different status in the world, one of biological and cultural diversity’
However, I really believe it’s important that these boundaries are broken not because you are trying to gain recognition as an artist, but in order to allow your ideas to evolve. The most important thing for me as an artist is to pass comment, not to criticise. Criticism can be a violent and conclusive act, whereas commentary leaves room for discussion and encourages the evolution of ideas. Making art differs greatly from other areas of practice. If you believe strongly enough in something, you can break boundaries by incorporating ideas from across different professions. By working with chickens, I also hope to break the frame-work of their domestication. As it stands, industries try very hard to keep chickens (as we know them) looking the same, which requires a great deal of interbreeding. My aim is to break this controlled method, and encourage diversity.
possible benefits of a diverse gene pool created by the installation and its structure. Over the past 15 years I have made installations with 18 generations of chickens from many nations which has produced information that gives the understanding of genetic diversity in real terms. The scientific community that works alongside my artistic endeavours has seen through these works that there is a link between diversity and greater fertility and stronger immune systems.
There are around 65 billion chickens in the world, no other domestic animal has travelled that far. I want to give the chicken a different status in the world, one of biological and cultural diversity. You often collaborate, why do you collaborate and what was your favourite collaborative project? I don’t believe in using tools that are not given to you – as a conceptual artist that uses their work to push boundaries in other fields, it is necessary to collaborate. I currently have five different foundations around the world, each exploring ideas and undertaking important
‘Diversity is what fuels evolution’
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research within the fields of diversity, fertility and immunity. To facilitate these foundations, I set up ‘think tanks’ with philosophers, universities and scientists as well as industry entrepreneurs from all over the world – it is these collaborations that result in big discoveries. The chicken and the egg are themes that run throughout your work, and these allow you to frame philosophical and scientific questions within the context of art. When did you first become interested in the chicken, and why? My mother is a fashion designer and my father an artist and philosopher. While my father’s preoccupation was with creating sculptures inside his studio, I was excited by the idea of outdoor sculptures. Having spent so much time outside as a child, I became fascinated with the behaviour of chickens and birds. When I was five years old, the local baker who delivered
Mechelse Bresse - CCP2, Print (lambda) on plexi glass, 120x120x3cm © Koen Vanmechelen
bread door-to-door in the town I grew up in, had noticed how interested I was in these animals. One day he arrived at our house for the bread delivery as usual and handed me a paper bag, inside the paper bag were two little chicks. What I didn’t know at the time is that in this paper bag was my future. I raised the chickens (a rooster and a hen) and bought an incubator when they starting laying eggs. A defining moment for me was seeing how the chicks struggled as they broke out of the eggs. For the first time, I was subject to how vulnerable these creatures were at the moment they began their lives. I was 12 when I started to think about these things and 17 when I started making sculptures which were based on chicken cages. One of the first sculptures I made was a chicken carrying his own cage. I simply
didn’t understand how it was possible to keep something you liked enclosed in a cage – this is when I first realised the effects of domestication and since then, my aim has been to ‘break the cage’ and unravel what has been done. You are known for using new technologies within your work, such as 3D printing, have you always used
the cutting-edge within your work? And what do you think will be the next new technology we will all be talking about and potentially using? I believe if you are dealing with the right subject in your artistic practice, you will come across the right technology. I was very lucky in that respect as I have a friend and collector of my work, who was actually one of the inventors of 3D printing technology. In 1999 I presented a sculpture made using an internal scanning system of a 3D printer, I was one of the first artists to use this technology in their work. You live a nomadic lifestyle, how does this aid your practice, and what made you choose this way of living? I fly up to 10 times a month and ironically I’m one of those people who are scared of flying. However, my fear is always overcome by my determination to make this project accessible. I give around 65 lectures a year, all over the world, to try and involve everyone that I can in my work. Diversity is what fuels evolution.
Your practice is multi-disciplinary, do you think this is a direction most contemporary artist are/will take? Or is there still room for the concept of 'the painter' or 'the sculptor' to make new and exciting new work? If you’re an artist who creates sculptures and installations illuminating the possibility of natural diversity and you are not diverse in your own thinking it doesn’t quite make sense. I think if you are a conceptual artist you use every material you can to express yourself and your ideas, including chickens.
All my paintings and drawings are originals too – and I’m in the studio with as many types of materials as I can find to create a wide range of objects and structures. I make paintings, works on paper, installations, sculptures, films and videos in a wide variety of materials. Working with chickens has been one fundamental part of my practice. In that sense, my work comments on the production and exploration of diversity. I can't resist asking you: what came first the chicken or the egg? I believe the big secret in life is duality – it’s about the chicken and the egg, much like Einstein’s theory about energy and mass. I see the chicken as life and the egg as the potential for life. You will shortly be exhibiting your first major UK solo show at The Crypt Gallery, St Pancras Church, what work will you be showing there? The work featured in Darwin's Dream (the title of the exhibition) has all been created as a result of my ongoing Cosmopolitan Chicken Project. The exhibition, which ranges across many artistic mediums, will signify the benefits of a diverse gene pool using the chicken as a universal metaphor. On entry to the show, you will step into a living 'jungle'. While working with curators of the exhibition Jill Silverman van Coenegrachts and James Putnam, it was very important to me that this is how the exhibition began. I wanted to remind people that this is where it all started, and to remind them that in many ways we still live in a jungle between the known and the unknown. The exhibition will also include performance video, photography, painting and sculpture in glass. Larger than life-size photographic portraits of the chicken parents and their offspring, presented alongside specimens of the different generations preserved in
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taxidermy, accompanied by an illustrated family tree of genetic lineage throughout the generations of the cosmopolitan chickens. What's next for you, have you got any upcoming projects you can tell us about? I've been invited to participate in the 12th Havana Biennial in Cuba that opens in May 2015. When I received the invitation to participate, the curatorial statement explained that the work needed to be relevant to the country and its people, either through its concept or as a ‘live social laboratory’. As I had already been working with Cubalaya chickens (a breed native to Cuba that was not only no longer in existence in the region, but in threat of complete extinction) the curatorial team felt that the timing for my inclusion in the biennial was perfect. I had been working with this breed for about five years, having come across the Cubalaya chickens in New York. I told the curatorial committee that for the 12th Havana Biennial I would be honoured to bring the Cubalaya chicken back to Cuba!
My news travelled as far as the President of Cuba, Raúl Castro, who was thrilled that a lost symbol of Cuba would be returning to its home.
For my presentation at the biennial of the two Cubalaya chickens born in Cuba earlier this year (the offspring of those brought over from my breeding centre in Belgium), I will collaborate with sociologists, scientists and specialists in the fields of fertility, immunity and diversity from all over the world as part of a live performance, accompanied by a chicken breeding centre on site, as well as a library that will include a huge amount of content gathered from international conferences about CCP, that has been recorded in books and is available to watch on film. To me, this whole process is a clear demonstration of the power that diversification has on evolution and genetics. Koen Vanmechelen is at The Crypt Gallery St. Pancras Church, London, 15 November – 14 December 2014. darwinsdream.co.uk
Mechelse Auracana – CCP9, Print (lambda) on plexi glass, 160x120x3cm © Koen Vanmechelen
Enlightened Engineering Words by
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f it were ever possible to have the words scientist and artist in the same sentence, Memo Akten would be the glue that unites them together. Enlightened by the engineering of the aesthetic and the machine, combined with a spiritual rapture, Aktenâ€™s work is interdisciplinary and challenging to those who dare approach it. Heâ€™s performed and exhibited at The V&A Museum, Royal Opera House, EYE Film Institute and FILE Festival, as well as winning the Golden Nica at Prix Ars Electronica in 2013 for his work FORMS. Here, Akten offers some profound insights into his acute perception of our current world.
Memo Akten The irony is that the very existence of boundaries and structure is what causes our minds to become lazy and stop questioning, making people more susceptible to the contamination of destructive ideals. Hopefully slowly, through education, we can inch closer to utopia.
‘I’m not necessarily interested in the usual roles of technology but in hijacking and re-appropriating it to build unusual artefacts’
Hi Memo! Can you tell me a little bit about what you do and how you got to where you are now? I’m an artist based in London. My work covers many disciplines including images, videos, sound, light, digital sculptures, dance, large scale installations, performances, software and online works. I like to create systems that abstract behaviour and present to the audience something familiar, yet unfamiliar. I like the audience to have no idea what they’re looking at, but want them to feel like they understand at least one aspect of what they’re seeing or hearing – even if they don’t know what that is. For that reason I often work with relatively new and emerging technology. I’m not necessarily interested in the usual roles of technology but in hijacking and re-appropriating it to build unusual artefacts. I was born in Istanbul and spent most of my childhood and early adulthood there. When 11 years old, I was fortunate enough to be bought a computer by my parents, a BBC Model B. 32KB Ram, and a cassette tape to load programs. I became fascinated by the concept of programming – ‘speaking’ to the machine in its own language. I taught myself how to program and used it as a way of expressing myself. As a teenager I was very into visual arts, film and music. I had no access to making ‘real’ films, so I taught myself computer graphics to make ‘virtual’ films. This way I wouldn’t need cameras, crew and cast; I could just create everything inside this machine, even changing the laws of physics. Do you think boundaries are there to be broken, or does society need some sort of structure in order to progress? What sorts of boundaries did you have to break through? While growing up in Turkey in the 80s/90s, there were ridiculous boundaries like “why would a guy like me have long hair? Why would I have earrings? Men are not supposed to have long hair and earrings but women are”. I’m not even a cross-dresser, imagine if I was! I’d probably have been murdered. Stupid boundaries like these either break you, or in my case, make you a lot stronger. Also the education system in Turkey wasn’t very well catered to young people’s needs. Even though by Turkish standards I was fortunate and had a pretty decent education, I ended up studying Civil Engineering at University. I knew I wasn’t going to be a Civil Engineer, but I was trapped and still had to finish (or face going into the army). As soon as I finished I moved to London.
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Given the amount of atrocities that have happened, and are still happening in the world, my problems are negligible. Unfortunately we do need boundaries. People cannot be trusted to act on their free will – though of course the utopia I dream of is a bit more structure-less. The irony is that the very existence of boundaries and structure is what causes our minds to become lazy and stop questioning, making people more susceptible to the contamination of destructive ideals. It’s Catch 22. Hopefully slowly, through education, we can inch closer to utopia. What would you never compromise? My Freedom! I’m approaching 40 and I still wake up when I ‘want’ to, not when I ‘have’ to. Of course if I have a plane to catch, a meeting to go to, or a deadline looming, I will wake up early (much to my dismay). But I chose to have that meeting, flight, or project with that deadline. I’ve had fulltime jobs and never been a fan. I even left my own company, Marshmallow Laser Feast, because it became a job. We had an office and employees. I had to go to work every day in the morning. I lost my freedom to my own company, so I quit.
Of course we are never truly free. Just like everyone else I have obligations – bills to pay, mouths to feed (no kids, but plenty of animals). We always have to do things we’d rather not do. But I see such obligations as tick boxes I have to tick as opposed to things I have to do. They don’t constrain me in the same way. I’m more free to strategise how I use space and time (where I am and when), and still try to tick those boxes. It’s not easy and by no means perfect, but I try to find the best fit. It’s like running a kind of Gauss-Seidel relaxation algorithm to find a solution. It may sound like a luxury, and it is, but it’s not luck, it’s a choice. And choice comes at a cost.
Can you tell me about some of your favourite projects? I especially like some of the aquatic looking ones such as Waves and Equilibrium. Thanks. I really like those two projects. They’re the first two I’ve made since quitting Marshmallow Laser Feast [MLF]. I also love some of the work we did at MLF. One probably shouldn’t say this about their own work, but I think we created some seminal work. I especially love Meet your Creator, Sony Playstation VideoStore, Just for Hit and Laser Forest. At MLF the scale of our projects grew bigger and bigger – it started to become quite a spectacle. As much as I really like the large scale ambitious projects, I also enjoy small, subtle, contemplative pieces. That’s why as soon as I left, I made Waves and Equilibrium. I’m excited about my own personal work Simple Harmonic Motion – I have a few new versions planned for this series. How did Marshmallow Laser Feast come about? It’s definitely an interesting name! I’ve known Barney and Robin for a while and we’ve been good friends. We were all working independently prior to MLF. Over the years the three of us started casually collaborating together. This went from being a once a year collaboration to becoming more frequent. So we thought we should formalize our relationship and Marshmallow Laser Feast was born. A year later we became a proper company and grew from there. Like I’ve mentioned, earlier this year I decided to leave the company because the structure was becoming a bit too tight for my liking. Barney and Robin are still my best friends. I’ll definitely carry on working with them, although it will be a casual on/off relationship, instead of a monogamous marriage. Who or what inspires you? When searching for inspiration, I look first at the world. I’m fascinated by science and nature. My reading material is probably 90% journals, books, articles on physics, quantum mechanics, cosmology, neuroscience, genetics, molecular biology, psychology, philosophy. I take notes on things which I’d like to investigate further and the list is endless.
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Body Paint (2009)
‘I get an intense joy from observing and learning about the inner beauties of how the world functions’
I also go to art galleries and exhibitions. Whether contemporary, classical, paintings, sculpture, digital, ancient drawings – it doesn’t matter. Even if they seem irrelevant to my work, I always come away with notes which somehow find their way into my future plans. It’s an archive of human thought and creativity. Art and science equally govern my life; flip sides of the same coin. What’s the philosophy by which you always live? I try to subscribe to the usual clichés: Live and let live; do to others as you would have them do to you; carpe diem; no pain no gain; never give up, never surrender. Beyond those clichés, I guess another cliché I live by to a certain degree is aestheticism – not just in the arts, but as a life philosophy I call Scientific Aestheticism. I get an intense joy from observing and learning about the inner beauties of how the world functions. I’m not spiritual in any sense – at least as far as what I understand the word ‘spiritual’ to mean. I don’t believe in anything supernatural, non-physical, or ‘not of this world’. Yet I’m quite sure that the intense joy and happiness I get from observing or understanding natural
phenomena is akin to a spiritual experience. The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about this in one of his lectures. He explains how excited he gets when he thinks about how ‘we are made of stardust’. The neurons firing in his brain from excitement are the same neurons firing in the brains of religious people praying and thinking about their God. I find it impossible to get bored when there is so much to see and learn. That’s why I call this Scientific Aestheticism; I get joy and pleasure out of the aesthetics uncovered by scientific discovery.
Eric Kaplan Words by
There’s so much pressure to be likeable and get along in contemporary, post-industrial society (…) One of the things we like in comedy is the people who do the unacceptable, or break the taboo and do the things we wish we had the guts to do.
Eric Kaplan by © Stephanie Diani
Embodying the Limitless Eric Linus Kaplan is a very philosophical man. As well as writing for hit TV shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman, Futurama and The Big Bang Theory, his personal website is full of epistemological questions that deal with matters of self and the nature of being, which he answers in a very poetic way. His work constantly revaluates matters of the self and sometimes of the Universe. We had the chance to speak with this incredible thinker and try to get inside that fantastic brain of his. What we ended up with is an interview full of honesty, wit and spirituality.
any interviews occur through the rigmarole of taking turns in formulaic fashion and politely ascribing to one person’s opinion. That was not the case with Mr Kaplan, who immediately took the lead, leaving me eager to listen, answer, and respond with queries to pique his brain a little and expose some of that intelligence and wit for myself that seems ever so present on screen. What exactly is ROOMS? A good question. I suppose it’s an eclectic collection of things we like; an art, but also a lifestyle magazine, where everyone we work with comes from a similar place, a family! That’s good. Very often I feel isolated as a writer, I’ve often envied people as part of an artistic movement because I think they can create a lot better or faster having people that can get what you’re doing; that’s reflected in the community and it gets back to you. I assume on some level, we’re pack animals; we’re like dogs. You talk about dogs on your blog, I was reading into that and I thought there was a dichotomy between that and your commercial writing, typical of Big Bang Theory. Well I think writing is an attempt to embody the limitless, or ‘not-yet-conceptualisable’; you should be able to connect it to anybody, because if you can’t, then whatever you’re trying to say isn’t really limitless. That’s my latest insight for this morning. Do you wake up every day and invent an aphorism to live by? I didn’t invent it for myself, I was talking to a friend and in Judaism you read a portion of the Torah every week; this week discusses a group of people who had some kind of encounter with God and died. The idea is, if you have an encounter with something ultimate, or infinite, it’s part of your task to find a way to connect it to everybody else, not just to lose yourself. So that’s something I was thinking about, and as well as cheering me up, it made me think that it could possibly be true. So when you write dialogue for characters, do they become separate parts of an identifiable ‘whole’, which in turn, is your own character? I think that’s right, except, I’m probably part of other people’s selves, too. The whole distinction between one and many is very tricky.
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Like the mano-war jellyfish, which isn’t even a jellyfish but a collection of polyps. Right, and each of our cells is actually a kind of symbiotic relationship between the mitochondria and the cell, but it seems like they’re not going to get a divorce any time soon, so well, I guess they seem to be doing so well that we tend to think of them as one thing. Then, if you portray ‘self’ which is a compound of everyone… Is television responsible for the greatest acts of exposition of the human conditioning? As opposed to what? If I wanted to write a sonnet exposing the human condition, it’s not going to relate to as many people as a sitcom, but maybe I’m not grasping what you’re getting at… I mean, within a sitcom you choose to show various relationships between different people, putting relatable situations before everyone watching, so does that become people’s way of understanding themselves?
The Big Bang Theory
Yeah, I think so – I think I did. The strange thing about Big Bang Theory is we’re popular on all the inhabited continents, and it’s interesting because you could be in Rwanda, Mexico City, or Russia and you could see yourself in that person, and could see the kind of relationships and issues you get into, on television, and it can help you clarify or articulate what it is to be that person. I think of Dostoyevsky, so lauded for his ability to penetrate to the core of the human psyche, what do you think allows you to be able to do that? The education you’ve had, or life lessons? I think it’s everybody’s birth right; everybody has the ability to do it. If you’re very well into having a social persona, then you confuse that social persona with self and that can make it difficult to be aware of yourself. And I think certain types of group, like if you think, “I’m straight and I can’t understand what it is to be gay”,
‘If you have an encounter with something ultimate, or infinite, it’s part of your task to find a way to connect it to everybody else’
or “I’m a man and I can’t understand what it is to be a woman”, those kind of superficial identifications will make it difficult, and if you’re interested in different things, everyone has a limited amount of energy and a limited amount of time. Does that make it more difficult to work on a series that lasts seasons, trying to retain a semblance of ‘characteristic integrity’ in the face of a group that feels different to you? You mean like crying fights that end with everyone hugging each other? Yeah, I guess so! Well, not so much, but it’s an evolving, consensus based discussion. The character of Sheldon has grown and changed but we all feel like that’s true: people do grow and people do change, but we’re wary that he shouldn’t change too much that he’s not the person people like. There’s so much pressure to be likeable and get along in contemporary, post-industrial society, but we don’t really want to do that and we have all of these parts of ourselves that we hide. One of the things we like in comedy is the people who do the unacceptable, or break the taboo and do the things we wish we had the guts to do. And one of my distinctions between tragedy and comedy is that tragedy is about a person who breaks the rules of the community and is punished, and comedy is about somebody who breaks the rules of the community and is forgiven. The two are inexplicably linked, in any case, but do you feel as we learn we become more exposed to tragedy but it is the artistic temperament which allows us to ape tragedy and make something more humorous out of it? Well, Horace Walpole said, “life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel”, which is a little bit the opposite to what you’re saying. People also say, “comedy is tragedy plus time” which I think is sort of a joke – I don’t think people seriously think that’s right. I think comedy is the feeling that you’re lost and you’re abandoned, but in a kind of funny way that you can find your way back to safety, and tragedy is that you seem to be experiencing the sensation of being lost, and that can be good because you’re not dis-communicated from your emotions and, in a certain way, if you’re able to appreciate tragedy but realise that you didn’t really die, like Oedipus ‘died’ (or had his eyes plucked out) – but You didn’t, and that makes you feel good. It’s a paradoxical kind of good because I’m feeling good by feeling bad. 178 ROOMS No Borders No Boundar ies
‘What can we really say about Santa... or God or the self or the point of life?’
That sounds like the Schadenfreude that a character like Sheldon feels throughout the show. Would you say the development of a character like his occurs through the changing demands of an audience, or is it the executives who have control? It’s sort of the organic function of the show – we don’t worry, explicitly, about the demands of a network, and not very much at all about the demands of an audience, because at this point people like the show. It’s like, you’re talking to some lunatic over Skype and you’re telling your friends about it, and you might start to put on a voice, but you’re not doing it to make people like you; you’re just telling a story at that point. People could say, “Wow, Jez, who gives a shit?” and that’s when a television show gets cancelled. You display a deeply interpretative ability to deconstruct barriers, suggesting an analytical basis of thought… Let’s take the simple case of a barrier. You mean like a wall? But there are semipermeable barriers, like
doors, so I can pass through them, or do you mean in an emotional sense, like a ‘block’? I don’t know Chinese, so if I go to China, that’s a barrier. Well, it’s open to interpretation, I guess it can be limitations; your own identifiable limitations, like using comedy to open people up to serious experiences, but you talk about doors, too, which suggests there are no limitations. Well, there’s a concept of holiness, and that’s often seen as being separate to the unholy, but I don’t think that’s correct. I think the holy boundary between people is like a membrane, and by its nature, the holy boundary wants to have a fluid and permeable connection with the unholy, which is a paradox, because you think it wants to exclude the unholy, but not really. I’m more interested in membrane and I certainly have millions of limitations, like I’m not a woman, so if I want to write about what it’s like to be a woman, I’m up against the fact I haven’t had any experience of being a woman but it’s good to try to overcome limitations or otherwise you start to treat yourself like a machine. As in to only have a certain amount of pre-programming to utilise? Something like that, yeah. If I feel I have a bag of tricks I can rely on, then I’ll become much less interesting as a person, much less interesting as a writer and I think it’ll be hard to connect with people on an emotional level. And that’s bad. Unless we all become clones of the same person? Well that would be bad! And what about your book? It’s about philosophy of logic, mysticism, comedy, all very relevant to the article and with understandable ties to one another, But then ‘Santa Claus’; is that an act of comic mysticism in itself? The book grew out of an experience I had. My son and his friend were going to go to the LA Zoo around Christmas time. The friends’ mother called and said she didn’t want him to go because her son believed in Santa Claus and my son didn’t, and there were going to be reindeer at the zoo and she didn’t want them to have a conversation that would shake her son’s faith. The book opens with questions: What’s the point of anything? What is the perfect moment? What can we really say about Santa... or God or the self or the point of life? And
in asking those questions forces readers to ask the same of our understanding of other topics, neuroscience and social choice, just to name a few, then responds with several different ways to understand paradoxes, beginning with our desire to believe in Santa without quite fully accepting the reality of flying reindeer and a fat guy coming down a chimney. The book explores different ways of approaching this issue of paradoxical belief: logic, mysticism, and comedy. Well, now it all makes sense, but does it have a title? Does Santa Exist? A Philosophical Investigation
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James Medcraft Words by
One of the most challenging things Iâ€™ve faced is understanding where to position myself as my personal and commercial works vary greatly. One of my realisations from the past few years is that I donâ€™t consider myself an artist by any means; what I try to achieve lies within an interesting causeway of craft and commerce which can take many aesthetic forms.
An Illuminating Third Eye
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ames Medcraft has a truthspilling flair for capturing moments of isolation and vulnerability, often choosing complete strangers as subjects for his photography. He is based in East London, which helps explain his think-outof-the-box techniques, and has completed experimental projects including the combination of long exposure photography and motion control to reveal a three dimensional animated light painting representing the aerodynamics of a McLaren P1, staying in a cheap motel in Las Vegas to uncover the emblematic lives of others and documenting the liberating potential of combining mathematics with art and architecture. The man behind this gifted photographic third eye provides us with eloquent insights on the
ways in which photography is changing, while voicing fresh approaches to social and cultural definition. Read on and prepare for your perceptions to be brightened. What has been hardest on your journey to recognition? To be honest I’m not sure if I am recognised, and it’s not an end goal for me. It sounds a little selfish but the main reason I create my work is that it makes me happy, takes me to amazing places and I get to meet interesting people. One of the most challenging things I’ve faced is understanding where to position myself as my personal and commercial works vary greatly. One of my realisations from the past few years is that I don’t consider myself an artist by any means; what I try to achieve lies within an interesting causeway of craft and commerce which can take many aesthetic forms. A lot of my project series take some time to complete, perhaps years to form a good body of work which I feel I can release as a project. At any one time I have around five series or subjects I’m working on and I’m constantly going on trips to fill in the gaps within these series. As lots of my work explore interesting incidental moments, sometimes I feel my practice is akin to fishing – it takes a lot of time and patience to catch the right fish. Who have you learned from the most? I watch a lot of films and I studied colour theory at school, so cinema is a constant source of inspiration. I love the Cinematography of Carlo Di Palma who shot a handful of Woody Allen films. David Cronenberg’s sense of lighting has had an enormous influence on my work and Edward Hopper’s paintings have become almost a filter through which I see everyday life. However, probably the most influential person has been the filmmaker Chris Marker; Sans Soleil is the pinnacle of what cinema is for me – the editing and interpretation of everyday life into one’s own narratives. Your portraits capture the private, vulnerable energy of their sitter; they almost function as a shadow, especially in your series Sitters… Possibly that comes as a result of the technology I chose to shoot on. I still shoot all my personal work on 5x4. This gives a degree of separation between viewer and myself which enables them to disappear into their own world whilst I’m composing on the ground glass. Most of
‘A lot of my work is more about isolation and voyeurism rather than engagement with a subject’
the people in this series and generally all people I shoot are total strangers; I feel that gives the subjects a slight sense of question and an interesting delivery to the lens. You collaborated with visual artist Quayola on his series Strata. Can the combination of mathematics and art open space for abstraction free from categorisation? Well I feel especially within the modern creative community maths has been given more creative recognition and is being treated less like a science. Working with Davide was a great experience; we used to be flat mates in the Hackney Wick days and travelled all over Europe exploring breath-taking architecture. He came to me with the idea of abstracting these architectural icons using code and needed a new way of photographing these scenes in a unique way. We spent some significant time experimenting with camera techniques to generate extremely flat high resolution images. Some techniques such as this image [from
Chiesa del Gesu, from the series Strata
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the Quayola’s Stratas series] called for us to create a portable slit scan technique that could effectively photograph ceilings like a flatbed scanner. Las Vegas strikes me as a place between binaries; apocalyptic and revelatory at once. What did you see? Las Vegas is an interesting place because it has different stratas of wealth and culture that all feed off each other in a symbiotic manner. My focus whilst there was to concentrate more on the less affluent after hour’s scenes where I felt I would meet more genuine people. I purposely stayed in the cheapest accommodation I could find, Motel 66 near the airport, and hung around the Consumer Electronics Show where I was interested in the motives of visitors. The majority of visitors were white middle aged businessmen, the majority of trade stand hosts were young blonde women. It was a microcosm of Las Vegas within itself, almost like a science experiment; it was like being within a J.G. Ballard novel. The edit of the images on the website isn’t a complete edit from the Consumer Electronics Show, but rather an attempt to show the isolation I felt whilst there. I find a lot of my work, possibly influenced by Hopper, is more about isolation and voyeurism rather than engagement with a subject. I tried to portray that within the subjects I photographed during my time there. What has been your most challenging project? It’s almost certainly the McLaren P1 Project I made with Marshmallow Laser Feast. Facing a 4-week deadline and a miniscule budget we had to pull in all the favours to develop a dynamic, challenging technique that had really never been done before. This project for me was the perfect combination of my interests in photography, technology and dynamic lighting. It gave me a lot of inspiration for future projects where time can be used as a medium in itself. I’m currently working on a project I shot in Korea this spring that uses a custom built slit scan camera. Time, or rather the re-appropriation and adaptation of time, is a subject I’m interested in exploring further. So can technological developments related to photography illuminate our cultural blind spots? Yes, the best example of this is Google Earth I guess. Think of how much we viewed the Earth 20 years ago compared to today; Google Earth and satellite imaging is becoming more advanced, opening the possibilities for new ways of seeing the Earth and interpreting what we find. So this technology will hopefully generate
‘Photography may become far more about interpretation and editing of data than the moment of capture itself’
openness and make a more understanding society. This type of long range voyeurism may be a new tool in exposing stories but will also generate its own sense of moral problems. This is one of the most exciting areas I feel will develop in photography in the next decade. This type of technology democratises photography, anyone can get hold of the data online, so photography may become far more about interpretation and editing of data than the moment of capture itself. If you have a spare five min check out GeoGuessr, a web-based geographic discovery game which utilizes random Google Street View locations and asks players to guess their location in the world using the clues visible in Street View. It’s a great idea which inspires me every day. Thanks to Instagram, anyone can take up photography. With the rise of virtual sharing, does it become more difficult to maintain standards of value in the art world, related to talent, skill and critique? Well I think it’s all about categorisation and what I mentioned earlier in regards to technology. Digital technology is a relatively new player in the art world and as such has yet to gain a mature language that can be understood as a developed form; reflection over time will help this. Also there’s the question of editioning and the value of an easily distributable format; an area that Sedition, a company which offers collectable art for screens across your devices, is challenging head on. To attempt to answer your question of standards and value, one should study the transformation of the music industry by modern technology. Easy distribution has
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lowered the perceived value of music but also created opportunities for anyone to publish their work publicly. Musicians now make less money from record sales but the experience of live music has become more popular. This has happened to photography also and living in the East End of London it’s an inspiring place to see people experimenting with new methods to show their work. I run along the canal from Dalston to Hackney Wick on my way to work and some people are even using this as temporary gallery space. In short there will be more photographs, more segmented genres and more methods in which to experience photographic works. Only time will tell to see how some of these areas solidify into something recognised as art, if at all.
Imagine you could see one of your photographs framed anywhere in the world… Hard question! Maybe a little selfish – I don’t like to be a judge of my own work. I like the idea of displaying my work in non-traditional spaces. I shot The Meeting at a Cafe Bliss in Dalston and then displayed a print there for a month. I like people to form their own conclusions in locations that are free from imposing notions of art on the viewer.
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Charlotte Kingsnorth Words by Madelaine Hanson
My work stems from a fascination of the perversion of materials and constantly questioning and exploring new ways to use different mediums and processes.
ith a sharp and often outrageous eye at capturing what mainstream design often misses, Charlotte Kingsnorth offers a new and striking style to how we perceive the norms of furniture, structure and art. From challenging the standard shapes of panelling to copying biological patterns, she has transformed the way we perceive shape and ergonomics. This is furniture on a whole new level of conceptual design.
You describe your work as â€˜biomorphicâ€™. Your Slashed and At One collections certainly mimic a living creature at some stage of being. What inspired you to use such thoughtprovoking, unusual forms? The At One sofa won a brief set by Vitra for the D&AD competition in 2008 to design a new sofa for the art collectors market. My love for figurative portraiture
and sculpture from artists such as Jenny Saville, Hans Bellmer and Lucian Freud had a part to play in my inspiration and led me to explore the relationship between a soft fleshy medium and a hard one. I loved the way the two materials could relate and react to each other. I was also fascinated by a chair I found when on a trip to Mexico, which was a standard white plastic chair that was broken and had been repaired with braided palm tree leaves. I love the bond between the two mediums and the way they depended on each other. I think it also helped that this was the first time I had approached upholstery. With not much concept on how to do it I was unhindered by traditional techniques which freed up my approach. The Slashed sofa came about from playing with a rolled piece of foam. I slashed into it with a blade and was excited by the way it burst open and revealed an inner layer that had never been exposed before. I had been reading a book by philosopher Jean Baudrillard at the time who discussed the connection between identity and alterity and that to grasp an understanding of a person’s inner self we must first peel back the layers and understand how and why they have constructed these layers which make up their identity. These ideas fed my concept and inspired the design. You use a range of materials, from felt to glass. Is there any material you particularly like working in? I have a magnetism towards materials that I can manipulate quickly – which is a way of capturing something that happens instantly and spontaneously. I love exploring form in this way, not always knowing the visual outcome. What inspires you to use liquid forms in a solid medium? Good question! The fluid forms come naturally for me. I guess they come from a deeper part of my subconscious because I don’t think about it too much they just flow out. You incorporate a range of classical and contemporary design movements within your work, from Victoriana to Bauhaus. In your development as a designer, did any particular people or movements help you form your current style?
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I donâ€™t see my work as having a style but our current modern craft culture has helped form my work. Whilst studying at the Royal College of Art I could see there was a definite shift into home production and inventing new machines and manufacturing techniques to manipulate materials. I believe that products should be made to last and be loved and am against the throw away culture. Your work blurs the lines between art and practicality; often forming something a little visually unsettling or provocative. What do you aim for people to take away from your work? Perversion: The corruption of the original course, meaning, or state of something. My work stems from a fascination of the perversion of materials and constantly questioning and exploring new ways to use different mediums and processes. I aim to design things that are visually stimulating and innovative and that people have not seen before.
Queens of Ink Words by Abigail Yue Wang
Five of Diamonds
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Connie Lim I think there is more to it than just illustrating a fashionable woman. To an artist, it’s psychological. I draw women who possess characters and traits that I don’t have in me personally.
n the hot sector of blooming fashionistas, illustrator Connie Lim arms her girls with garments so outlandish and desirable that one could only wish to embody the figure beneath Lim’s ink. Her drawings are something beyond sole fantasy. To an extent, in her most refined lines, elaborate headdress and shoulder pieces are deemed as a wearable power for female personalities to manifest their poise and want. Her latest work Playing Cards enriches that power with masterly characters on a set of cards where each is exalted by gothic caprice and congenial sentiment. One can adore Lim’s dashingly crafted girls and splendid attire although they are not to be ‘shuffled’ with. Yield to their romanticism but be wary of their arresting gaze, because, make no mistake, looks can kill.
JACK of Hearts
How did your creative path come about? Were you interested in drawing as a child? My father had given me a pack of colour pencils on
the earliest birthday I could look back to. This small but
meaningful gesture sparked the creative path for me.
You mostly focus
on female figures, is this a creative decision that you
a great impact on me since I was young; my mother and
Looking at the
to draw rebellious girls or women who had power. I draw
your work is quite
sister were strong, sometimes harsh, characters and gave
patterns in the
women who possess characters and traits that I don’t have
a luxury, as well
me a different perspective of females. Perhaps, I wanted
wearable details of
in me personally.
as the design of
I fell in love with his artistic vision. It was something I
that interests you?
but I think there is more to it than just illustrating a
fashionable woman. To an artist, it’s psychological.
The women in my life had
hair. Is texture in
passion for fashion?
wanted to capture in my work and he did it flawlessly.
It happens quite naturally
done his work justice.
I get to prints, patterns and
McQueen definitely gave me a push towards my career as
a fashion illustrator but it would be years until I think I’ve We get easily lost in the meticulous details of your lines, but not just that. Almost all your figures are punctuated with transcendent
are aware of? I am definitely conscious
How has Alexander McQueen inspired your
gazes, how much do the eyes speak for your work? The eyes are the windows to one’s soul. You can see
through someone by his or her eyes. It’s an important subject matter for me to get emotions across.
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when I’m drawing. I get
into a state of trance when
textures. It’s the time when I don’t have to think and let my hand be free and my mind wander.
Any other inspirations you take into your work?
I take frequent sketch trips to various cities and among my inspirations, Gustav Klimt is definitely one of them. Seeing the master’s work up close in Vienna was a memorable
moment in my life. You see their mistakes, the crudeness of their lines and the rawness of the work. You realize artists are imperfect and human just like you.
One can be effectively indulged in the mixture
of elegance and seductiveness in Playing Cards, how was the project conceived?
I started this project when I was 20 and finished it last year when I had a bit of a crisis drawing near age 30 (not there quite yet!). It was a series that spanned out through the years and displays the progress of my life.
You sourced Kickstarter for this project, how has the crowdfunding experience been for you?
It has been the most challenging project of my life! My
work is a big part of me and so putting myself out there
for people to judge was the hardest part. The first week
on Kickstarter, there was a community of card collectors
‘I have not yet that I was never aware of, really got down on my converted totally who work. They said it was just drawings splattered into colour but nowsome on cards carelessly and too for a deck. I just I understand how expensive used cards as a platform to showcase my work but to control it’ it made me very depressed and actually rethink about the value of my work. It’s what artists have to deal
with commercially, a hard thing to go through but a good lesson to learn. What’s your
favourite media or tools for drawing so far?
I love a Staedtler 2B
pencil, 005 and 01 Mircon pen, black gouache and watercolour.
Did it take you
How do you
some time to find
the right media
observation and imagination?
for expressing the right voice? In art school, I
different media but as for
any traditional work, pencil is the first thing you reach for. It didn’t take me long at all.
When starting a drawing,
what is the first component that concerns, provokes or inspires you? Composition is definitely
For me, they both take
equal parts. When I’m not drawing, I’m constantly observing everything
mind. It never comes out as how I see but instead, how I feel it should be. I’m not
sure if it makes sense but to me, it’s totally normal.
how different surfaces and frames (be it large drawing paper, portable sketchbooks, playing cards, and indeed skin ) can impact your work?
I could never be happier to know that it delivers different One could nearly describe your work as
monochromatic, but there is often a succinct dash of colour lightening up the drawings. Colours appear as a decisive signature in your work, carefully added and never spoiled. How have you developed your relationship
fantastical as they
and then everything falls
anatomy lends the
drawings a very
realistic touch, do
you wish to build
the best models.
What would be
both surreal and
your viewers? Yes, definitely! I’m an avid believer in traditional
craftsmanship with solid
me when my work wanders off into different directions and
on the page with placement
faces. It’s my favourite
back tattoo piece. Have you thought about
messages for something and someone. It’s an honour.
observation flows into
instantly goes to people’s
One of your drawings is turned into a full
something I have on my
do start sketching, my
are, your precision
in public space?
crumble and become empty and meaningless.
Primarily I’m focused on my sketchbook, but it surprises
How to make a statement
I definitely agree. My gaze
holding up a structure. Without this, the drawings would
around me. But once I
the first thing I think about.
people if sketching
foundation. I feel that it supports my work like columns
In art school I used to be scared of colour! Because I think
I would screw it up. I kept telling myself I wasn’t a natural colourist, which I believe is somewhat true. But after my mid-twenties when I first got to London I had a personal
trauma, after which I began to recover and see the world
in colour. It was very strange, but since then I feel that my colourful side comes out in snippets here and there and it reflects in my work. I have not yet converted totally into
colour but now I understand how to control it so it never dominates my work.
So which colour is your favourite at the moment?
My favourite colour is red, always.
We often consider drawing as a one-person task, is collaboration important in fashion illustration?
I definitely think collaboration is important because you never know what the outcome will be. It’s a big surprise! What would be the most exciting challenge for you?
The most exciting challenge as of now is to publish my
own art book. It’s actually one of my goals, which I hope to accomplish in the near future.
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Do you journey between Los Angeles and
What would be
London? How is the working experience
your perfect day of
different between two cities?
Yes, I love the two cities. LA is my home, so it has its own
The day would start with
the madness of London. The fast paced life takes me to new
end; then heading to my
comfort factor. I can work uninterrupted for days and find solitude in the calmness of the city. But sometimes I crave places and unimaginable experiences. It’s easier to meet
and network different people in London but sometimes I get anxious and counterproductive. I really need a bit of both places in a year to be well balanced.
a cup of strong coffee in a
café, drawing for hours on best friend’s place for a
shisha session of bouncing
ideas and getting inspired;
then spending time with my lover, and drawing his face to end the day. To me that is perfection.
LA | London connielim.com
If you take all the beauty away, every product needs to have a purpose. A good design needs to be inside out.
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Stephan Wembacher Words by Alice Hughes
Heartfelt Secrets to Success
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uccess is not simply a destination, but a personal road you choose and resolutely stick to. Stephan Wembacher is the founder and CEO of the Paper Rain Group, which currently houses both brands Côte&Ciel and DAMIR DOMA, in addition to the diffusion collection DAMIR DOMA SILENT. DAMIR DOMA works between contemporaneity and history; there’s an urban androgyny for both the men’s and women’s collections, which is always in interface with tradition, comfort and classic tailoring. Equally, Côte&Ciel merges elegantly architectural aesthetics with functionality and quality materials. In striking resemblance to the intrepid products he oversees, Stephan is refreshingly honest and approachable. He deconstructs the rhetoric of beauty, trend and surface, to reveal why the true values of product design should never be forgotten.
Is making a gamble vital to accomplishment? I’m interested in business; not so much for business sake, but for building something. Once you have this in your mind and you would like to go for something, it’s always a gamble. In the product design world it’s even more difficult because you never know how it will turn out. I’ve gambled several times over the last fifteen years. I gambled when I started my first skateboarding t-shirt and print business in Germany, and the company was successful. I thought it wasn’t for me anymore, so I moved to California and rebuilt the same thing again, while still having the old company running. It was a gamble, leaving what I built and rebuilding it again. I did this again in China. Then I left something that was doing well, and started a fashion brand from the beginning. You once oversaw the design and manufacture of products for big brands like BMW, Omega and Porsche. Why did you decide to move into high-end luxury accessories and high-fashion? I liked what I was doing in terms of the business, but it didn’t meet my own expectations at that
time. I built a company myself and employed a couple of thousand people, but the day to day job was different. I like to work with a small team, otherwise you inherit lots of problems; you have to sit in meetings you don’t want to sit in. It becomes very structured, and I’m an unstructured person to a certain extent. I worked with extremely organised, process driven companies. Then I wanted to restart small with friends, and do something new. Would you say there is a growing customer fatigue with big brands? I don’t think consumers are getting tired of big brands, these companies are getting bigger and bigger. I think there are different people with different tastes and expectations. Some like things more artisan, small, natural and human. Others like something more well-made, but without much soul because it is an industrialised product. What led you to the name Paper Rain? We made a little incubator for ourselves, put some money in and said when something comes along we’ll just go ahead and do it! There was no plan. I never bought a company; I started it myself with my own vision and funded it with my friends. Rain allows nature to grow, and business starts with a blank sheet of paper. One of the first products Côte&Ciel developed was the first neoprene laptop skin for an Apple Mac. This concept was conceived whilst you were travelling… It was developed as a gift for the Chief Steve Jobs and a couple of others at Apple. Everything at the time was sparkly and cheap. There was either ugly protection, or no protection for your MacBook. So we did something sleek for ourselves which we all liked. We were always on the road. We decided to make something functional, but very good looking and well made. Now, I get more inspired by people and nature, not so much when travelling to big cities. The cities are all the same – the same shops, merchandise, restaurants. You joined forces with designer Damir Doma to form DAMIR DOMA, which has since become an internationally renowned high‐ fashion label. What vision did you share? When we met, it was at the same time we started our incubator which was empty. We were not actively looking for anything, like you never search actively for a girlfriend! I met Damir because we had mutual
friends who told me he was very talented. We grew up in the same area; he was in a skateboarding crew with my younger brother. He had a sample collection and an idea to start something. When we got to know each other better, we understood we both had values of quality, craftsmanship and material. Our vision has since become more focused. We have marched forward. Should design follow a cultural epoch, or forge its own? The SILENT collections differ significantly to other contemporary lines. I can just speak for ourselves; we work from where our emotions are. Of course there’s inspiration and influence from different things, but at the end of the day an epoch is not something you follow. It just happens naturally, and comes in different places. When we started SILENT in 2008-9, there were prints and bling – everything was over-hyped. We wanted to do something different. We were sitting in the countryside and came up with the idea of down-toearth t-shirts which can be used for sports; not overdesigned or over-driven in
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any direction. From there it was an evolution – there was demand and so we had to work for it. With regards to androgyny, there was hype around 2010 in Paris where women wore a real layered style and were buying from the DAMIR DOMA men’s collection. I don’t like to put too much meaning into it, because at the end of the day it’s just something you wear. It’s not art; it moves with the seasons. Why should design values reach beyond aesthetic pleasure, into the realm of practical functionality for the user? If a shoe is beautiful as hell, but not comfortable to wear, you can’t wear it. What’s the point! If you take all the beauty away, every product needs to have a purpose. A good design needs to be inside
out. With our Côte&Ciel bags they’re aesthetically pleasing, but customers are also interested if they can fit their stuff in, what compartments there are and if the fabric is right. People really appreciate a product which merges functionality, usability and aesthetics. Côte&Ciel have collaborated with the likes of COMME des GARÇONS and MYKITA. What makes an innovative collaboration? Côte&Ciel had never done a printed product before and always had a good relationship with COMME des GARÇONS. The collaboration extended what COMME des GARÇONS didn’t have, and was an experiment for us with the polka dot print people were familiar with. Our image was too techy, so the print helped push us out of that corner. MYKITA is a company I admire because everything is so well done, especially with the handmade aspect to it in Berlin. The CEO is a friend of mine now; he said nobody does cases
which are separate to those you buy with the glasses. I told him we had the neoprene sleeves, and he said these would be ideal with cleaning cloths and colours. It’s a combination of people that work together very well, and share the same ideas. This again helped move us away from tech. Can the purchase of a unique product help the buyer perceive the world in a renewed way? I would say if someone buys a great product, they are usually very happy. We make our products without any market study; it comes down to how we feel on the day we sign off a product. There are always people who will like a product because of the work that goes into the details, the finish, the fabric, the foldings and so forth. When they buy it they see the people who made it care about what they do, and so they carry it with pride. The modelling industry is changing thanks to androgynous fashion styles, with transgender models now being celebrated. This is just image and surface. It has nothing to do with product creation. When I think about Damir, he doesn’t care much about it. He cares about the vision of the product, the show and the presentation. He looks for the type of model who best fits the collection and season. If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would that be? I could tell myself to do things right which I did wrong, but sometimes life is better if you let things go. When you believe in something, you should never give up. It’s like climbing up a mountain; it’s rocky, sweaty hard work. But when you reach the top, it’s worth it.
Words by TANIA FAROUKI Photograpy by AlExandra Uhart
Marvel Maker She’s been heralded the millinery fairy, the objet d’art specialist, the costume design doyenne, and so much more. Hailing from East Yorkshire’s Kingston upon Hull, Lara Jensen has been cultivating her craft ever since she was old enough to walk. The prodigal daughter, who graduated from the University of Leeds in Fine Art in 2005 before completing the prestigious Masters of Costume Design for Performance at the London College of Fashion – after winning a scholarship, no less – has incessantly wowed the arts industry with her multidisciplinary prowess. A true artiste in all forms, Jensen is all about the craftsmanship. Drawing, pattern cutting, welding, sewing, sculpting: you name it, she does it. With stellar collaborations in fashion (Karl Lagerfeld), music (Hercules & Love Affair), TV (Channel 4) and advertising figures alike, the London-based ingenious creative is now bestowing upon us her own prolific vision – to our utter delight. While working on her latest Spring/Summer ‘15 collection set to show during London Fashion Week, we talked to the nonconformist on her endless fascination with the disturbing, her dream collaborations and working the fine line between art and fashion.
What prompted you to become a designer? Theoretically as a creative person, I see fine art, costume and fashion all as means of expression. The sort of fashion that I make comes from an artist’s view of ‘making’. I wanted to be a fine artist because you got to do what you wanted all the time. At University they taught us that anything you say is part of your artistic practice. I see fashion as my art practice. Most of the fashion that I make isn’t for regular consumption. At the moment, I like garments on a body because there is nothing you can relate to more than a person. They’re quite a good canvas as a mode of expression and Tell us a little bit about your background. What kind of environment getting you to think something or did you grow up in? getting you to relate to something. My parents were not well off but my dad was the first person in his family I kind of flutter between my work being fashion or art. to go to University. My dad was doing a degree in Physics so he used to steal the chalk from the chalkboards at University and my brother and I used to draw on the pavements with the chalk. My mum is a beautiful You work across millinery, painter but her parents wouldn’t let her pursue that, so she went to night jewellery and costume design. school when I was little and would bring back lumps of clay for me to Would you say you have a make things. I would always have materials like that to play with, instead particular preference for either of of conventional toys. those modes of expression? I love it all. The reason why I do I understand you won a scholarship to attend a Masters in Costume millinery and accessories is because Design for Performance at London College of Fashion. How did this you do get a little more creative come about? licence. You can be more open, fun I’d just graduated from my Fine Art degree and my mum told me, “There are and dramatic. If you become too no jobs in art”. So I went back to Hull to work as a waitress. I then decided I dramatic in fashion, people tell wanted to get into film or something that was also creative so in my spare you it’s a costume, unless it’s Haute time, I used to go down to London to stay on friends’ sofas and write to film Couture. But I can’t afford to do companies telling them I’d work for free. I did that for a couple of years and Haute Couture. I like costume design until I just couldn’t afford it anymore. One day, I went back to London and as well and in a way, you don’t get was waiting for my friend at the London College of Fashion. A tutor saw my the ego of designers with costumes. sketchbook and asked what course I was on, and after telling them I wasn’t You are mainly concerned with on one, they insisted I come in and see them. Two weeks later, I had a full the view of the character, whereas scholarship. It was the best thing in the world! I worked really hard and had artists are mainly concerned with the support of Donatella Barbieri, the tutor who found me. She is a terribly their own view. It’s not about the wonderful person and still supports me. She basically changed my life. ego or your view of the world but the view of the character. 204 ROOMS T he Cover Ar t ist Uncovered
Would you agree that a lot of work captures the spirit of ‘Haute Couture’? Well there’s a traditional Parisian definition of Haute Couture where you have at least 20 people making a piece by hand and it’s got to be in Paris. I’m in London so I wouldn’t say it’s Haute Couture. I think Haute Couture isn’t about pleasing the masses. It’s about having a very particular demographic or person who would come to you and invest in the piece and I don’t really have that. When I first started making hats, I made some really awful things like pompom bands and they still go out to press. No design went into them at all really. It was just me making something so I could get a reputation and establish a name. Some of the stuff we’re making at the studio now is made up of thousands of little hand-made things, which I guess is Haute Couture-esque. If I wanted to make another metal mouthpiece from the Vanitas collection for instance [her last collection], I would have to start from scratch.
Are there any messages you aim to convey in your pieces? If so, what of a room, and try to discern the emotions they evoke when one is in are they? their presence. In my most recent work, the messages would be about disturbing the norm a little bit. There’s something very fearful in beauty. I like something that disturbs normality, or disturbs my everyday view; when something How does art influence you? Do stops me and doesn’t really have a viewpoint per se but it does something you have any favourite artists or art movements? to me and makes me reassess what I’m looking at, something that Movements? No. Unless you can enlightens me or stops me in my tracks. When something is beautiful, it call still life a movement. I was is very easily consumed and it shouldn’t be about readily consuming. It should be about pausing and relooking. I’m quite a political person but I given a beautiful book called The Death of Nature for my birthday. It’s never want to put that into my work. When I think of my new collection about vanitas and memento mori and Vanitas, they do make fun of fashion a little bit. It’s about the uselessness of aesthetics, how everything comes to an end and how vanity in art. Amongst this vanity there’s a reminder of death, which is the can be gross or disgusting. Vanitas is a play on the transience of beauty: how you can buy a ring that reminds you of death and yet when you die, shocking thing. When you remind people of death with fashion, I think the ring will still be here. it does something very special. It’s a little bit like The Physical Do you look up to any design legends? Dead or alive? Impossibility of Death in the Mind of In costume design, it’s Eiko Ishioka, who did The Fall, The Cell and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. She passed away in 2012. Her work was amazing. It was Someone Living 1991 piece by visually stunning, it told stories. I love the way sometimes costume design Damien Hirst. calls upon references in your memory. Ted Hughes, who I based a lot of my Masters work around, said that words and images can open many doors in So would you say art works like your mind, leading you to other worlds. Her designs always did that. It was his inspire you when you create a piece? beyond the present. Yeah. Painters like Francis Bacon and Joseph Beuys. Very dark but In fashion, I will always look up to the late, great Alexander McQueen. It’s that line again between the horrific and the beautiful. He didn’t make very expressive. There’s a 1965 painting by Bacon called Crucifixion collections for people to buy en mass. He used to always be famous for swearing at the press, saying “Did you like that? I hope you didn’t fucking – it does something to me and I like it!” at the end of his shows. It’s not necessarily about being an asshole can go and sit in front of it in Tate for the sake of it, but it’s about doing things for the sake of beauty. He was Britain for hours. It’s disturbing, and I like disturbing things because the head designer for Givenchy and he nearly put them under because it’s the shock that brings you to he didn’t care about sales. He cared about making beautiful things. It’s horrible when you’re in a big business and people above you control you. reality. There are certain things that touch the sublime and remind I guess I enjoy being quite a small venture because there isn’t anybody you of something other than this above me and if people don’t buy it, I don’t care. Sometimes it’s a better sign if people don’t buy it because it means you won’t appear in Topshop ‘superficial-ness.’ I also love Francisco Goya. The as a rip-off. collection of facemasks with diamantes was based on his work. In terms of designers who are alive, I love Jean Paul Gaultier. Amazing man, very positive. And again, I think he’s a beautiful costume designer. It’s the eyes, and the weird fear when you can’t work out what’s The work he did for Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife going on. Great art takes you out of and Her Lover was fantastic. His current exhibition at The Barbican normality for a second and touches is amazing. I was fortunate enough to attend the opening night and on something greater. congratulated him. I find him to be an aspirational character.
Do you have a favourite piece Tell us about your creative process. How does an idea for a piece come about? What inspires you most? from your collection of work It fluctuates. When it’s my own collection, it’s very much something that until now? usually comes from somewhere in history, either a painting, an artwork For a really long time I wanted or something that I get an emotional response from. It might be an act to make maggot mouthpieces of kindness, someone being hung, or the idea of concubines; very human and I guess I really like those. Mouthpieces have been done again things, and the materials for my pieces will come from that. Occasionally, when I find the material first, it’s always my worst work. It since but there was something about would be a great experiment to make something out of it later, when the it that I was compelled to do because I wanted to have the skull present. It material matches an idea. I surround myself with materials and if I see is the biggest reminder of death. The something I love, I might leave it for years until a good enough concept only part of the body that we can see matches it. I’m always drawing on the different processes, being costume, fashion and that is truly related to the skull is history. At the end of the day, I will end up with a hat, a piece of artwork, our teeth, so I wanted to have them exposed. It took a lot of work to be or a costume. I often imagine my hats as people standing in the corner able to make that, so I felt pretty good when I finished making it.
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I like disturbing things because it’s the shock that brings you to reality
Would you consider your collaboration with Inbar Spector your big break? It definitely is the one that got the most press. The shoot I styled with [photographer] Philip Meech and the pieces were everywhere as well. I wanted it to be shot as part of my dark imagination. It was a really big thing, but before then I’d been very lucky to make things for people like Karl Lagerfeld and Lady Gaga. I’ve always considered the next thing to be a break though. It’s funny, people always think that the Lara Jensen for Inbar Spector collaboration worked really well, but in a way I always think that if you throw enough Swarovski crystals on anything, it will look amazing. We wanted to make it vicious and it worked quite well – I like aggressive stuff. I was the dark one in this partnership so I had to go dark.
You’ve done many collaborations. Which one has been your most memorable? I recently worked with a young designer called Mary Benson. She’s also from Yorkshire and has been dubbed as a ‘one to watch’. It was very symbiotic and natural. She would describe these worlds that she wanted to draw on her dresses but was finding it hard to illustrate them. I almost worked like a police caricaturist. She would sit and tell me things she was imagining and I would draw these sketches for her and she would go, “Bloody hell! It’s like you’re in my mind!” She has an amazing imagination. It was fun because I didn’t end up doing something really dark and evil… How did the collaborations with Karl Lagerfeld and Lady Gaga come about? Prior to the pieces with Inbar, I did some stuff for Gaga and the Pirelli Calendar with Karl Lagerfeld. That came about because they needed something made out of metal. I was beginning to get a reputation in the London fashion industry for being the go-to girl when you needed something really weird. My dad always told me that I needed to have a trade. I’ve still got welding samples at home so that if I go to a job and need to show proof of my welding skills, I have a cube to show them. During the recession, I was making things for people to use during photoshoots because I had nothing else to do. A friend of mine was assisting an assistant to Lady Gaga and she needed some pieces for her next appearance in London and asked me to design something. For her next two visits to London she commissioned me and after that it was just a case of waiting and establishing that relationship with her. I made gold crowns, silicone brains and mirrored pieces. Weird, weird things for her.
for love, and occasionally when I have money, you work with me for money. But mainly for the love of it! My friends come and guide me into being able to make something and having an attention span that lasts long enough to get something good out of me. I spend so much of my day just emailing everybody. Eventually I’ll start drawing and then occasionally we end up making things. Sometimes I don’t have anybody working with me, so I won’t speak to anybody for days. But I have a great team. You’re only as good as the people around you. Can you give us a bit of a sneak preview of what to expect? It will be based on the Baroque and Rococo times, exploring decadence and opulence but focusing on the grotesque sides of those themes. It’s hideous and it’s beautiful. It’s pretty and it’s absurd. It’s ornate but it’s a bit wild at the same time. I would really like to do straw hats but it’s a bit difficult to do it in a week. I only decided to do the collection about two weeks ago so at the moment, it’s a bit all over the place. The other day we were making hundreds of bows while watching Disney films and listening to audio books by Roald Dahl. You get the vibe.
What’s next for Lara Jensen? Kylie’s world tour – she’s lovely to work with. I’ve got a couple of collaborations coming up and I work in advertising as well. If you see Who would you love to collaborate with next? Anyone you’d like to see a hat in an advertising campaign, your designs on? it’s usually something I’ve made. I’d like to collaborate with Björk and see my designs on her because she’s a There are a few things I haven’t got multidisciplinary artist and somebody who believes that anything can be the sign off for yet so I can’t really a mode of expression. It doesn’t matter if it’s a garment or a performance say much more. I’ve got ten days to or an interactive game online. I think she’s got a good brain for that sort of make a collection and I have no hats thing. Fashion wise, it would have to be Gaultier. I love his work so much. ready at the moment. I might just have a space at Somerset House and I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned John Galliano! talk about the theory behind it. This I love Galliano! Absolute genius! If you could see what my collection is about is not fashion, this is fine art. now, you’d think it had fallen off one of Galliano’s catwalks probably. I like a bit of romance. He is an amazing designer and what an amazing opportunity he’s had to make all of those stunning designs. The amount of things that I would love to make, but just don’t have the money for it. Describe a typical day at the studio. I wake up and my assistant Sarah turns up, looks at me with a big grouchy face and passes me a coffee with some nice sesame seed snacks. I have lots of lovely people who come and work for me, so we sit and have a chat and then I have to get on with work. Usually I have a system: you work with me 208 ROOMS T he Cover Ar t ist Uncovered
You’re only as good as the people around you
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