On a very early morning sometime in late May , I decided to mount my horse Natalie for my favorite ride: the early sunrise ride. I started off by heading South West, down Chauncey Street along the rows of empty houses and then turned eastwards onto Bushwick Avenue. I could feel Natalie as excited as I was, with the sun rising in front of us, and nothing else against the blue sky except for the ruins of the old Delek petrol station in the distance.
We kept going slightly uphill, to where the old road layout fades into the forrest area to the North. After riding without much sense of direction through the woods for a while, we came out onto what I believe was Jamaica Avenue and then into Linwood Street. A bit further down, at the crossing with Fulton Street, I instinctively pushed my legs together, as there were people observing us from the highline above us. Natalie sped up for a bit, but quickly slowed down, as she knew that she had to save energy for what was about to come.
Turning westwards we started gathering pace again, making full use of the wide and open track of Atlantic Avenue. The chimney of the old big brick building was coming closer as we were galloping at full speed, then past the chimney and the Mc Donald’s totem straight after. We sped across Vermont Street, where we finally started slowing down in anticipation of the uneven terrain ahead of us. My general aim were the old railway tracks around East New York station, but as always, passing the ruins of the LIRR Substation 2 marked the entry into true wilderness.
I’ve got lost in this area many a time before. It is a tricky terrain, with all the water that continues to flood into it through the broken New York City Water Tunnel No. 3, somewhere in Bedford-Stuyvesant. It is beautiful, with the rich vegetation that all the water brings, and dangerous at the same time, because of the swamps and mires, as well as the unstable ruins that clutter the area. And, one can get lost easily.
The last thing I recognized was the abandoned platform near East New York station. After that we were heading, I think, West somewhere along Pacific Street. Nathalie was very nervous and I should have trusted her instinct, but my curiosity got the better of me. At one point, I saw a big, solitary wall, partially overgrown, surrounded by dense thickets and trees. I could see through the windows of the wall, with what must have been the inside of a house facing me. But what triggered my curiosity was an old frame hanging next to one of the windows. There was still a picture inside the frame, but I could not make out what it depicted.
Nathalie and I were standing, overlooking the mire between us and the picture on the wall. I gave her a gentle squeeze with my legs. She resisted at first, but knew that I wouldn’t give up. Suddenly, she neighed, with a real sense of dismissal, and turned around. For a moment I thought she was disobeying my orders, when in fact she knew that we could make it only with enough speed before the jump. I told her to stop and turn around when we had enough distance. After a moment of concentration, we went into full speed and then Nathalie, without even my doing, made a great leap, trying to bridge the most swampy part of the area. We landed, and at first it all seemed fine. Yet with each step we were less able to move, until we finally got stuck and found ourselves quickly sinking deeper. Nathalie remained strangely calm, but I started panicking. Before long, we were stuck in the mire, both up to our necks. I looked up in panic and just when I saw the picture in front of me, I forced my right arm out of the mud. Grabbing my own hair, while keeping a strong grip around Nathalie, I pulled myself, and Nathalie, out of the mire.
Life goes in strange circles, and you often realise when you least expect it. I was going through my computer files the other day, on my various external hard disks, just to make sure everything is well organised and, more importantly, backed up properly. My work is my bread and butter, or so the concept of work implies, but as an artist it isn’t quite as straightforward as this. In any case, we live in a digital age, so my files are my work, that much I can say with confidence.
At one point, I came across a whole bunch of photos that I had nearly forgotten about. This is where the idea of the circle comes back, for the second time in this case, in fact. Somehow, at least.
Finding the photos made me realise, I’ve gone commercial, and then back again, yet I’ve never done anything with those photos, and the project they’re about. When in fact it is all about, how everything began.
The little photo story, is part 1 of 3. Part 2 and 3 will follow in the course of this summer.
‘What are you trying to achieve with this new project?‘, Anthony asked.
‘In the beginning I wasn’t really sure, what I was doing, it was mainly an impulse that was driving me. I felt a very strong urge to force myself out of a strange Cul de Sac. I guess my main motivation was just to do something, whatever that was. To create Something out of Nothing’
‘So there is no meaning to what you are doing‘
‘You could argue that. On the other hand, the meaning is created by a process that happens over time. But that’s a separate and perhaps more general issue regarding my work. The point of this particular project is to question – for myself – the process that I use in my work. This process originally helped me to stay clear from the seduction of formality and superficial aesthetics, but gradually turned itself on its head. By trying too hard to remain true to my own principles, I ended up with a working process that had become a force of limitation and, ultimately, formality.’
‘Are you starting a whole new way of working with this project?‘
‘Not at all. I am still using the same process of working, but my aim is to disregard its key principles….’
‘Isn’t it paradoxical to say that?‘
‘Yes, I am aware of that, but it is something that happens all the time, for instance when artistic concepts, ideas or innovations are appropriated by the commercial world. The meaning is then replaced by a product, and the process becomes a pure technique or style that helps to sell this product. It becomes an imitation of itself.’
‘Is this the moment then where you finally go commercial? ‘
(Laughing) ‘Perhaps, but I am not interested in exploring the oxymoron you hint at. Not in this project. I am not trying to make a political statement, let alone blame anyone, except perhaps myself. I think the fear of selling out often stands in the way of true creativity, because it can make the work too conceptual or cerebral. In my case, what I fear most is the idea of degeneration.’
‘Degeneration into the meaningless?‘
‘That too, but I am mainly talking about degeneration as a technique, such as the material or analogue degeneration of images. When I was studying some years ago, a friend of mine, Terje Fjellstad, made a piece called Talking about my Degeneration. I loved the piece, but even more the title, because it really summed up our generation of artists then, who were all somehow obsessed with the surface of images. But today, this statement could be true for society as a whole. With everything being digital, we yearn for a sense of patina, and degeneration as a technique lends this patina, or at least an illusion of it. And yes, I am worried about degenerating into that sphere.’
‘That’s not for me to say. The point is that I shouldn’t worry about it, because, really, my work is not about degeneration….’
‘Another paradoxical statement. It seems that you are trying to justify what you perceive as a weakness in your work, by saying: it does not exist.‘
‘You certainly have a point there, again. But as I said before, this is an experiment to analyse and question my own work. And the fact is, that the starting point of my surface gateway project series had nothing to do with degeneration as a technique. It was about the concept of time, in particular the idea of connecting specific moments. The time that passes between those moments is integral to the work, and that can sometimes be years. When I worked on Imparando da Firenze during a residency in Florence in 2014, I realised how important this fact is to me. In terms of the working process, I see my work in the tradition of people such as Botticelli or Raffael, who would sometimes spend years on a painting. The problem is that the passing of time, represented in images of the key moments, creates degeneration naturally. In order to focus attention away from this ‘side effect’, or rather to clarify what’s happening, I have been trying to find ways to communicate the passing of time through the work itself.’
‘How is that a problem?‘
‘In theory, there is no problem. In reality, it is futile to attempt the reproduction of time in an artwork, especially if it is a static one. Even in film, or music, true reproduction of time can never be longer than the length of the piece itself. Anything else by default is an illusion…’
‘A pretty obvious statement…‘
‘…yet an incredibly complex issue at the same time. In a world of digital media and image manipulation, it is almost impossible to distinguish between real and artificial degeneration [of images], which affects our perception of time, memory and history. For my work this means the layers of moments, represented in layers of images, could have just as easily been produced digitally, including a false sense of image degeneration. That’s why I often use a combination of video and printed images in my final exhibition presentation’
‘And that is a problem for you?‘
‘Not as such, I love video, and combining it with printed images, but I came to a point where it felt the two media are there only to justify each other. To say ‘Hey look, this is actually real!’. Also, the format of video, and in particular the way I’m using stop frame animation, means that all the images I use have to fit into the 16:9 format, which is itself is limiting. All in all, this has stopped me from freely experimenting with the second subject that I am trying to explore with this project series. And that is to approach the city, and my printed images in this city space, as a canvas of fragmented spaces. Ultimately, my aim is to sculpt time and space through a visceral process into a visual expression that has similar qualities to painting. That’s why in this current project, I am trying not to worry about the concept of degeneration. I hope this will help me to bring back a more visceral and free approach to my surface gateway project series.