Painting and memory / family photographs

“Family stills” work in progress

Most people agree that family photos represent “something emotional” for the individual owner, no matter what the images actually show: staged ritual events or snapshots of the everyday.” Sandbye, Looking at the Family Photo Album: A Resumed Theoretical Discussion of Why and How

Memory is a hybrid – like our everyday living among other people. It is made a mixed agglomeration of tangled thoughts, feelings and inner universes of those around us and including us. I think in some way we all have been lied to – in fact we do not remember almost anything about our first days being alive. Childhood seems to be a story that we were told.

“(…) if one can remember some experience, Locke’s says that one in fact had that experience. It is by this reasoning that Locke arrives at the most controversial portion of his theory which suggests that the converse of the previous argument is true: if one cannot remember some experience, then one did not have that experience. Memory is therefore, according to Locke, a necessary condition of personal identity.” Piccirillo, The Lockean Memory Theory of Personal Identity: Definition, Objection, Response

Does my identity depend on what I remember and know? If I don’t remember it, then perhaps it didn’t happen to me. But if I remembered it, maybe I would have understood myself better. Today I am deciding about what happened – I can create fictional images. I can also, like a scientist, investigate scraps of memory and photographs, which are the only proof and basing on that I can create my own theory of my past. My personal big bang.

No. These memory puzzles that I can see, together with those missing ones, do not build a whole, constructed unity, which I represent as an adult. It looks more like a chaos – almost nothing fits. I think this sort of collage is interesting – a messy one. Mystery and nostalgia are wrapped around the foggy images of what I think is part of my memory. I can’t tell the difference between what I experienced as a little child and the story in my head that was built throughout years by other people…

Skin

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Skin,

which is so tight on me

and also a piece

lying next to me

a structure

you can touch.

Monster in the room

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100 x 60, oil on canvas, copyright: oini

 

There is a monster in the room
Only one of us
Can see it

Thoughts on “the self”

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Her Landscapes, 2014 / copyright: oini

“I wanted to work with the tradition of self-portraiture but also with the classical bust…I had the idea that I would make a replica of myself in chocolate and in soap, and I would feed myself with my self, and wash myself with my self. Both the licking and the bathing are quite gentle and loving acts, but what’s interesting is that I’m slowly erasing myself through the process. So for me it’s about that conflict, that love/hate relationship we have with our physical appearance, and the problem I have with looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Is that who I am?” Janine Antoni, ART21

In the interview with ART21 magazine Janine Antoni talks about her project Lick and Lather (1993). The concept of the self in art has always been intriguing to me and apart from the visual outcome of such projects the emotional side of the process interests me a lot. To me it’s frustrating. It’s hard. It involves a strong connection between one’s life and the work, therefore it can be very vulnerable.

It feels mysterious and unnatural. Like gazing into a black hole and being faced with nothingness or a fear of death. I look at an image of me, created by me, and I can’t relate to it. Do we ever wake up to the real us? “I am not who I was and I am not who I am becoming” is an anonymous quote I came across many years ago and it stuck to me. When I was working on a series of collages Her Landscapes (2014) I thought I can take a photograph of myself. Throughout the process I realized that it’s more that I am using my body in order to explore a world rather than representing myself. I am taking apart my body and constructing a scene with it. I don’t predict every move, I am just interested in how my body can fragment and what sort of expression it can sculpt itself into. But sculpting and destroying as well as raising up and dying is part of becoming and not being. It is somehow a bit a like being at war with myself – yes, I love you, you are the only one I have so you need to work well but now I will cut you, tear you apart and let’s see what’s inside… And what’s inside is maybe visible in the image and maybe not. But that is not the point, it’s not even important. To me what is important is the self – surgery, repeated over and over again to the point of a universal meaning, when the body could be me but it also could be anyone… a tree, a thought or a form.

 

 

 

Spirituality and forms / Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky, 1947

Her Landscapes, 2014 / copyright: oini

In 2014 while working on a Her Landscapes photographic series I was looking for ways to describe my ideas of constructing images that would represent myself but in an invisible, perhaps spiritual, dimension. During that time I was fascinated with creating landscapes made of body parts, abstract forms, shapes and colours. Discovering an essay Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1947) by Wassily Kandinsky gave me a better understanding of what I was trying to make.

Throughout the process of development of his works, Kandinsky discovered that spirituality is tightly connected to our experience of the world through abstract forms, colours and shapes. He believed that the true work of art is spiritual and is capable of nourishing and inspiring the human‘s spirit, similarly as religious art. Kandinsky is exploring the reality of our experience of the world through creation of familiar but completely new forms, which have nothing to do with existing objects as such. In his essay Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1947) he states that “no theory can be laid down for those things that lie in the realm of the immaterial. That which has no material existence cannot be materially crystallized. That which belongs to the spirit of the future can only be realized in feeling, and the talent of the artist is the only road to feeling“ (Kandinsky, 1947, p. 31). In this quote the artist explains how illustrating the spiritual realm or a religious experience is impossible because we cannot visualize the unsubstantial. As opposed to the figurative religious painting (Rembrandt, Caravaggio or El Greco), in his works the spiritual realm is made of geometrical forms, freely painted colourful lines which explore the harmony, symmetry and beauty of the mathematics, which all the objects of the universe are made of. I see it as science combined with art. It makes me think of atoms and particles that are like abstract matter we don’t see with the naked eye but it moulds the world we operate in. For Kandindsky human spirituality is like a pyramid, and the artist is meant to lead others with their work to the top. ”It is a spiritual pyramid, advancing and ascending slowly even if it sometimes appears immobile. During decadent periods, the soul sinks to the bottom of the pyramid; humanity searches only for external success, ignoring spiritual forces” (Kandinsky, 1947, p. 61-75).

The spiritual experience is the one of a delight in a colour; it is like an illumination, a sudden understanding of it and feeling it – colour enlightenment that causes an emotional arouse. Kandinsky calls it a “vibration of the soul”, an “inner resonance” or “a spiritual effect in which the colour touches the soul itself” (Kandinsky, 1947, p. 61-75). For the painter the perception of the colours depends on the inner experience. The artist believes in the ‘absolute phenomenological life’, called like that by a French philosopher Michel Henry. It is a subjective experience fully based on ones perception and emotion towards the object that is being experienced.

Thoughts on visual art and vulnerability. Part 1

DSC_0059“But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live… And that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength.” Audre Lorde, Brainpickings

Recently I went to see an exhibition Medicine in Art at MOCAK (Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow) and became a little bit obsessed with some photographs of XVIII century anatomy models. The photograph of a small doll with a few parts out hit me with its amount of symbolic meaning. The pose of a woman is revealing some element of shyness and defensiveness, her face is hidden in a shadow. The statue is made with elegance and respect for beauty of a human body. Combining the expression of emotions with a brutal exposure of the insides it seems to be making an important connection between physicality and emotions (soul?). To me creating art is like going through a surgery, because when I stand in front a blank canvas I am faced with myself. And I start digging.. I take a knife and I cut through the skin, the nerves, I want to get to the core. I want it to be real but it is something I only realized not long ago. The need of being liked and accepted was quite big in me – in life also. I was and still am (perhaps like most of us) a victim of media and pop-culture. I believe it was visible in my art. I always felt like something was wrong with my images, I could not connect with them once they were finished. I subconsciously tried to act and look like something – something made up. The way I am working now – cutting through the labels and finding real meat – is painful. It never ends.

“Making something is like a fight. I start out with an idea of what I want the object to be, and I try to impose it on the material. Usually the material resists me all the way. If I can stay open and have the courage not to hang on to my original idea, the material starts to speak back and tell me what it wants to be. A lot of meaning comes out in the fight that I couldn’t have known before starting. It becomes this back-and-forth relationship. When my work takes my body to a physical and sometimes psychological extreme, it becomes a complex relationship. It makes me face certain things about myself which are hard to deal with; I find something incredibly valuable about bringing the body to that edge. Something happens physically in the work, but also psychologically that I believe in and count on.” Janine Antoni, BOMB Magazine

In the interview for BOMB Magazine Janine Antoni talks about the process of resisting and pushing into a physical object, which then becomes also a psychological experience. I think in painting the process of pushing an idea and then letting it speak back to us is quite similar. But we have to let go of a fixed thinking and set our mind free. For example in 2014 I started a series of portraits and I began with a self-portrait (I will write more on that subject in future posts) but the work expanded into a more experimental and emotion – driven process. Faces slowly started turning into dream-like scenes and body parts became part of a landscape. The relationship between me and me in the image surprised me with its complexity and opened up a variety of possibilities of creating a portrait and understanding it.