A conversation in fragments, not necessarily all reproduced in chronological order.
with Charlotte Moth
CHARLOTTE MOTH: […] clamps
first published in Shifter Magazine, issue 18: Intention, 2012 for lights, and then the cameraman arrives at ten as well, we have a coffee and then we see where we go… I don’t know, I don’t have a plan…
FALKE PISANO: But don’t you always have a plan?
CM: No, I don’t have a plan Falke!
FP: You sent me photographs of different arrangements of a collection of furniture and objects in your temporary studio in Porto, where you will produce a film to be transferred to video. I think I can distinguish some of your considerations in your choice of objects and arrangements. There are specific colors; the light that comes through the windows fades them out in some of the photographs. There are tables. There are mirroring and glass surfaces, vinyl tabletops, volumes with different qualities, and many planes at different angles. Even in these small snapshots, the space has a very strong atmosphere and sensibility. You told me that you are thinking about the possibilities of movement through the space, specifically the movement of a 16mm film camera, and that you want to add another kinetic element, probably involving a set of disco-lights.
I would like to talk with you about your considerations in the production of images, moving or still, and more precisely about the function of the image (and the conditions of production of the image) in bringing about some other kind of representation, a composite sense, something that negates the idea of an original, that works more on a level of (aesthetic) experience.
I think this could be interesting, because the images I sent to you are of an installation (exhibited in a gallery) that I started to work on with very basic considerations of three words (there were literally these three words at the beginning): “Representation,” “distance,” and the “body.” I didn’t know how and where these terms would connect, but I knew that the work would find its substance in the process of working out those relations. In the case of this specific exhibition, the aspect of distance receded a bit to the background and another term—“repetition”—became more important.
Of course, these three words did not appear out of nowhere and did not fall into empty space. Their appearance and the way I set about thinking about them is very much embedded in a methodology and consideration of my work that I have developed over the last five years or so. Although my three word starting point might suggest differently, I think that we share an understanding of methodology in very close connection to form and the production of form. What do you think?
CM: I am sitting here in my studio at the moment. It’s an old school for deaf children, in Porto, Portugal. I have two rooms on the first floor, they are huge, 50 square meters each room at least, one is blue and the other is pink. They are the biggest spaces that I have occupied for some time… now that I am used to my computer and 18 square meters in Paris. So it’s a real luxury and I know it, too. I have gathered a set of tables found throughout the building and brought them here to the blue room. On them is a collection of objects. I decided to use this room because of the light in the day. The pink room never really gets total sunlight.
The objects that I have collected so far are:
One shelf structure—it reminds me of a Carl Andre sculpture
One small clear Perspex box
One mirrored disco cylinder
One Perspex display unit with sticks of Perspex angled at the ends, they come out of a black Perspex base
A series of Perspex light coverings that have a patterning
Rectangular mirror sections
A yellow foam triangle with a patterned front
A red plastic record holder that looks again like a minimalist object
A round mirror with green plastic edging
A teal blue fabric screen
A glass rectangular cube, it used to be an aquarium for fish
Four tables, three with red Formica tops, one larger one with a pistachio green top
Two LED disco lamps that rotate through a color spectrum and can be programmed
Some Perspex rods that I cut and glued together
There are four wire lines suspended in the space as well, they have four pieces of fabric suspended from them. At this moment, the suspended colors are a dark blue, a cadmium yellow; a brown grey and a royal green. I have other colors, such as (what I call) a Villa pink (thinking about the Serralves Villa) and burgundy red, purple, sky blue, a darker pink red. I will change them when I come to film, to get a range of colors, backgrounds.
FP: It already looks very enigmatic, I have to say.
CM: … I think it is enough… enough objects… It’s going to be kind of weird. I don’t know how it is going to work out. And my drumming is really crap. I know already.
FP: Are you going to record the drumming separately?
CM: I already recorded the drumming last week.
FP: How did you approach this drumming, you just started and let it go?
CM: I got Sean Dower to come over. He gave me the basic drumming instructions and went with me to get my drumsticks. And then I was literally looking at the things he told me and just repeating them and seeing how long I could keep it up without them breaking down. Not so easy, it’s a coordination thing… It’s hard work!
FP: Did you think about the film while you were drumming or did you think more about the atmosphere, or suspense—or was it straightforward drumming?
CM: I was trying to think of rhythm, the idea of beats per minute, and then also the idea of speed and slowness, and how rhythm can articulate movement in a space. Basically. So, if I was spinning the wheel, and it was going fast, the drumming would perhaps sync up with that or… It’s very experimental.
I didn’t want it to be too much like The Absent Forms drumming, but I don’t think it will be, because my drumming is really bad and Sean’s isn’t. So there is a real simplicity in this drumming. Almost like a form of metronome in the space.
FP: Another difference is that Sean drummed as a live soundtrack to the film you already made, anticipating what would be there in the film upon completion.
CM: Yes, and I was more anticipating the space and the objects, while using drumming to help me think about how I might show them. At the same time, there is no script. It’s just to make sure I get a range of lights, spectrums, color, and details and overall shots and things like that.
CM: I am at first struck when looking at the pictures of your recent show by the absence of color. I find this very complementary in our works, it seems we come from the other end of the spectrum, even just when we just begin to talk about the work from this very matter of fact perspective. But I agree there is a familiar ground I feel we are pacing around… How you approach this “ground” and how I approach it is very interesting. We both have a love for constructivism, Lygia Clark, and Hélio Oiticica. You know why I would find a building interesting and I know why it was so important for you to go to Brazil this year.
We are also rapidly stumbling upon things that will take a greater time to unfold and reveal themselves in different ways, manifestations. We have a few years of making work behind us now, and many more ahead… We are in a time where certain things can be forgotten. For example, people think of me and think of photography, perhaps.
CM: I asked you to describe the work in your show a little, because I have unfortunately not seen it, and I can read press releases, reviews, but to describe how something physically exists in a space also helps to conceptually unfold the work in my mind. I really miss this actual experience of seeing your show. The images show me a space that is meant to be encountered, inhabited. I feel as though I should bump into the black felt, that it’s ok to touch it, like a curtain almost, it should be brushed passed, pushed aside a little to see what it is obscuring.
This is what you wrote:
The works in the show –
There is the structure, which is basically a chain of panels with the function of displaying/presenting an image each. However, the designated places for the images are, from most points in the space, partly obscured by curtains (made of black felt that Ellen used in Art Basel). I wanted to construct a possibility of representation, but to show it as it is being obstructed. I wanted to create a form of repetition (historical repetition transferred to a formal repetition in the exhibition space) that blocks any direct perception and instead constructs a possibility of an experience. The actual form, well, I don’t know how I came to that; it appeared in my mind one day! The images I displaced to the wall as chalk drawings on blackboards, because while I wanted to create this obstructed repetition I also wanted to visually show a chain of corporeal transformations. Each panel and each blackboard refers to a historical event, defined by a specific year and place. (There are 5 blackboards because I hadn’t chosen the last event yet.) In the video some of the images on the blackboards return, their context is explained and there are also reflections on the more structural part, thinking about distance, repetition and representation, and how events can be brought to the present in the exhibition space.
CM: It makes complete sense for Lygia Clark to be at the end of your video.
FP: I think so, but on the other hand, it was not really my intention to build a narrative or apply a logic in this way, because the video is the place where the logic of chronology is broken… But I guess there is a sense to it that developed intuitively.
For me one aspect that was important in the work was the “act” of naming six events. Each event refers to a historical moment in which the body is thrown in a state of crisis, through a change of the conditions of life (through a shift in institutional, hegemonic, administrative, and concrete physical conditions). This ranges from the moment of the first report of Shellshock syndrome during WW1, to the establishment of the first university hospital in France, which was related to a total reform of medical education in 1793, to the life of South Americans living in France during the 70’s in exile from military dictatorships in relation to the therapeutic practice of Lygia Clark. I chose events that would allow me to think about the definition of the subject, the perception of the body (and the division of the body and mind), about the forces that work on the body, and what happens when these conditions change. As well as what happens within the body, considering the body as a site of de- and re-territorialization and as the site where the conditions of life are actualized.
I have defined each event by a year, by a place, by a change in concrete conditions, by a sentence that has the form of “body X becoming body Y” (or “X body becoming Y body”) and one or two images.
Now I am realizing that some of these definitions do not completely fit together or are not ideally “formulated,” but actually I find that quite exciting, to work with an un-ideal definition or an un-ideal representation of something.
I also still need to work out the relations between all of them and how they can function more precisely in the further development of the work. So, for instance, how the work of Lygia Clark in Paris in 1974 relates to the privatization of prisons, which has taken place after the American Revolution but also in the 1980’s, or witch-hunts in the 16th century in Europe. But, anyway, I am doing this in a way that I first find out what I find important, and then look into relations through that particular lens.
CM: I think it is quite nice how it contextualizes the idea of the event. What is an event? What are the types of events in existence? What is political and what is not? For example, can you still be political by talking about politics in a formal way? I.e. by putting two sculptures in a space next to each other you develop a politics of relationships.
FP: That’s true, and for me the “new” thing here is that I am thinking about specific historical events instead of speculative events, like objects transforming or disintegrating. That makes it possible, for instance, to think about the privatization of prisons as first an administrative and economic event: A body is displaced, but still in the same state of incarceration and being punished by the state but in a different—privatized and for-profit—economic context. But, of course, it becomes very physical when prisoners are being exploited as a cheap labor force. The event that I refer to with the image of a therapeutic work of Lygia Clark also has to do with displacement, and how it becomes concrete in this state of being in exile, where it is necessary to re-inscribe oneself in another situation.
CM: Thinking about Lygia Clark’s work I think about a sense of community that she can create through the event of a number of bodies working in a situation together, performing an action that doesn’t necessarily have to be explained. Obviously it is a sensorial experience, developing an awareness of the other in relationship to oneself, the individual in relation to the group. This perhaps could be thought about in relation to a psychology of displacement and exile, of displacement as a form of event.
FP: Yes, exactly, and here it becomes interesting for me to think about a method of defining what the event actually consists of, where it ends, on what levels it plays out. And this in relation to the act of “naming” that has already happened. It has very much to do with developing a method of approach and engagement, of initial projection and acquiring more information and developing an understanding, but with an awareness of how much this understanding also involves a construction.
CM: I am interested in how an event becomes an image. How an image acts as a form of documentation in such a way that it is not an experience anymore, but an interpretation of an experience in a place. And therefore a distance is created between the event and the person who encounters that work.
I found it very interesting to see the video and imagine the exhibition in Amsterdam. In the exhibition there is a tangible physical encounter—of being in space in time, there is a durational element, as you are made to walk around the room where the images are obstructed and simultaneously revealed by the structures you have created. And then there is the possibility to sit down and watch an event unfold.
That’s why I quite like the animation in the video, the activation of movement and how you link a story or a narrative and a description of something that exists in a real physical space.
FP: With the video I wanted to overlay the movement of the sculptural structure with a similar form of movement, but then used graphically in the video. Because I hoped that this repetition would trigger a different understanding or reading of the movements.
CM: Thinking about the dates that you have laid out through the video I like the fact that the final year and place is not fixed at this moment during the exhibition, leaving a space open for speculation and potential. The dates, as points in time, create a way of thinking about how the past constructs a present that alludes to a potential future, and of all the moments in time that occur along the way, the physical journey in the exhibition helps these ideas unfold, making the exhibition itself a fragment in time, an event in time.
FP: In my previous work, all the information has always been present. Even if it is quite hermetic or difficult to untangle, in Figures of Speech it is actually possible to read and reconstruct all the links and steps made since there are hardly any loose ends. In this new exhibition I wanted to get away from that, and work more with the idea of layers that are not completely fitting. The installation involves three partly corresponding sections: the sculptural structure consists of six panels representing events, there are five blackboards on the wall referring to only five of the panels, and the video is not constructed in a linear way through all the events but works more organically. I think it addresses only four events.
In any case, the elements in this exhibition will function as something like a spine, a structural but flexible part to which various new works will be attached that deal with each of the events. At the moment I have no idea what these works will be like, the only thing I know is that they should not primarily function on a structural, abstract and/or diagrammatic plane, and they should not be identifiable as a series of works that involve a similar formal or conceptual approach. I really want to stem my thought from each event, to try develop a whole new form… just to open up for myself the possibility of stepping out of my comfort zone and thinking about an authorship that is less defined by style or by method, but more by… I don’t know… learning something about how things can be approached, how I can relate to and engage with the world in my practice. I still have the feeling I could make so much different work than I make now…
CM: You say this after having just come back from Brazil. You’ve had many experiences in Brazil… I am curious to see how the journeys and travels that you made will find a way to filter through.
FP: Yes, it was such a funny experience. When I was there, I didn’t feel any inclination of working through Brazilian art history or thinking about seeing Brazil through what have always been the references to me. Somehow it became much more productive to see it as a background, and to set something as a contrast against it.
CM: Well, that was you being in that space reacting to it, that is everything in a sense. You don’t have to read the whole of Brazilian art history, but you can go for a walk on the beach and be affected by something. An action as simple as taking a book to the beach and reading it there has its effect in some way, maybe not on the immediate surface of things, but it’s there.
And that is also very interesting in terms of the idea of exile. In a sense I am in voluntary exile. I left the UK and live in France. I choose to reside there, I don’t speak the language well enough to communicate greatly, but at the same time I am developing an understanding. This situation also creates a distance to and from things. I am an outsider; I will always be from somewhere else. This is a very real sense of displacement. It’s an interesting structure or mechanism to enable you to think about places, to develop different ways of looking at something. So, yes, you don’t have to know the obvious academic way of relating to it, but to improvise, and work with the situation can shed a new light on things.
FP: It was not even so much about the academic side of things for me. I was of course undergoing something of a molecular revolution being in Brazil and living in Rio. The Cariocas are very special, there is a different social interaction, the development of the day with a group of people would be very different in Brazil than in Berlin, it’s a lot about hanging out, spending time… and time in Rio is very flexible. It was wonderful to adapt to that. But related to my work there was something of a double flip. I expected to be able to understand some things through my work or the practices I feel a strong relation to, and this was also to a certain extent the case. But when it came to the conditions of making work or thinking about work it wasn’t straightforward. I mean, these conditions do not only have to do with a physical, cultural and social context, there is a mental construction as well, that has to do with methodology, ways of relating, ways of constructing meaning etc. So it becomes quite a condensed space…
CM: I think it is really like having a mirror placed in front of you. In a sense that is what I mean with voluntary exile, you are really forced to examine how you behave, how you are different. What you are expected to do as an artist in residency in a place. What you are expected not to do. Maybe half of it would be to stay in your apartment and watch all the films you have been meaning to watch or reading the books you have been longing to read and haven’t had the chance to. Isn’t that an important part of being in Brazil for example?
I think it’s interesting to see what comes out of these situations. I am here in Porto, some of the experiences of being here will maybe come out in a year and a half’s time, or more. I think I am just beginning to realize how the Pavilion was functioning, but at the same time, the Jan van Eyck was so direct and provoked such a strong reaction. It was immediate. It was about making very concrete decisions. I suppose it also has to do with what the work needs and where you are.
CM: Coming back to your exhibition, because it also states a future—you have the past informing the present, which will then construct the future… So you will, then, through a series of coming exhibitions, develop or crystalize the work through the frame of the exhibition?
FP: I didn’t really think about how these different works would relate to frames of exhibitions yet, but what I have always worked with is to put something out there, even if it was at an early or first stage, in order to create a public presence. I think of this in relation to performativity. To make public things so that they can be read as acts, decisions, questions. To create a transparency and bluntly say: I am working on this now, these are the reasons why I am doing it, and this is what I find important etc. For instance, what I want to do now is to make a small publication dealing with methodology, about how the method I developed throughout Figures of Speech becomes the basis for the development of a new method. It is important for me to not get stuck in one way of thinking or one way of being able to deal with reality or translating realities for my work. So the idea is that this publication will become the transitional moment from Figures of Speech to the new Body in Crisis work. Afterwards, ideally, I would like to distribute the six new works related to the events over a series of exhibitions, but always in relation to the structure, which I will slowly adapt. In these new works I want to start at the beginning in a way, to start questioning what it means to approach these events that I have defined. To take a step back and say, ok, I named all these events, all these different years and places, and now how am I going to deal with them, what do I find important and why did I name them—and then at the same time I hope there is something that comes back that talks more in a structural way about time, repetition, and the representation of history. But this needs to happen in a different conceptual space, so that the “event” works that are not especially structural or abstract also have a place to be. I would like to make some works that demand something else of the spectator, demand less decoding, and are in some way easier to access. So, it’s also quite experimental for me, whether I am able to do these things and still keep… well, something of a consistency and coherency. As you know, I find this quite important…
CM: I understand, at the moment I feel anxious about making this work that I am going to start filming tomorrow. Because when something is not there in front of you, it is not set yet. It’s open to change. I don’t know what the final outcome will be… I have a sense of a direction, but how it will unfold I am not quite sure, and I won’t be until the final form has been reached. I am trying to be open to things that happen along the way, because that is what the work wants and needs, while also making it vulnerable.
FP: I have to say I can still get pretty excited about the questions that this practice can raise! For instance, thinking about how I can make steps in my practice with the intention to deliberately try to distance my work from myself, and what effect this would have on the relation the spectator can develop to the work. I always kept everything very close, even if the work seemed semi-objective or the writing was not very textured or sensitive—I was thinking through the problems I posed with my own bare logic, it was very close to my logical constitution. For me it is really important to stretch this now.
CM: I think nothing is ever very linear. We think about a term like history in a linear way, but it’s really all over the place. I think about Aby Warburg here, of how he used images in a non-linear way. With thought processes, you don’t think simply one thing after another after another; ideas jump backwards and forwards, up and down…
FP: Yes, and thought processes are not undivided, they’re not one big fluid whole. You can break off a piece and put it somewhere and then start relating differently to that piece of your thought process. These things I enjoy, to break things apart a bit.
CM: That’s quite important when thinking about how you’ve been researching your work.
How ideas that gravitate around the terms “archive” and “collection” function. I always thought that a collection was really about not defining an interest, but how it can have collisions with other interests. Therefore it’s always a hybrid or a mutation of many different things, not clearly fitting in with one kind of thinking or another, while an archive has defined categories.
FP: And when you are filming tomorrow… What are you thinking about? What is going on in your mind? Do you think about making relations to works, to photos, to ideas? Or do you think about production?
CM: I never made a film before.
FP: That’s true.
CM: I know that I am not thinking about making visual associations, that the tables should resemble an architectural city of the future for example. It is not about that.
I see the film as a space to let surprises happen.
The only way of unraveling the potential is to give it a form of duration, which can only happen through spending time in a space, just altering subtle things. There is this idea of the conditional, the conditionality of being in a space at a certain moment in time. It’s very abstract describing this now, because it really only can be made concrete through this process of filming, which has not yet been done at this moment in time.
And then, the editing process is another side of it. The editing process gives the film structure. It makes forms of repetition. I can place one moment in time next to another moment that did not occur during filming. So you get these gaps in the original filming sequence, which is maybe invisible, because you accept what you see unfolding in time, this is the materiality of film, a filmic condition… The film is a construction. 16mm film is a series of images per minute. It’s really images, not pixels. It has frames, boundaries. I am quite interested in that, in relation to my Travelogue, as I’ve always only worked with individual images that accumulate. Film catches all those images that you would never see in a photograph, the images that exist in between points in time…