Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Interview: Levi van Veluw

by  George Upton  I
A monochromatic room, lined with large, tall bookshelves onto which are neatly placed 1500 icosahedrons, is subject to an inexplicable force. Slowly, leisurely, gracefully, the shelves fall into one another, the shapes drifting to the floor and scattering, until the action slows further and finally stops. 

Archive, 2013, charcoal on paper, 205x120cm. Courtesy of the Rosenfeld Porcini Gallery.
Cohesion is a series of short films based on drawings that aim to explore the struggle between order and the forces of nature. Such fundamental questions about the nature of our universe run throughout  the practice of Levi van Veluw whose major exhibition at Marres Maastrict, The Relativity of Matter, opens in October. The product of a year’s work, the show will cover an area of 400m² and comprise a series of interconnected doors, corridors, atmospheres, perspectives and colours. digiQualia spoke to Levi as he was preparing for the exhibition.

What attracts you to working in wood?
In my work I'm questioning the way we look at chaos. Mankind developed a way to look at the world with their own logic and rules. It's a ongoing conflict between nature and the laws of physics, and our obsession to control our surroundings. The material needed to support this concept - wood is a natural material grown in a organic way. I find it interesting that we shape the organic form of the wood into something symmetrical, something that relates to our logic. The struggle of men to control there surroundings can be found in this reshaping of wood.

SPHERES, 2014, single channel HD video, 9'45". Courtesy of Rosenfeld Porcini Gallery.
When figurative, much of your work is based on photographs and scans of yourself. Why is this? 
I started making self-portraits at art school. The choice of using myself was more practical than conceptual. These works were a way to experiment with something so familiar, in combination with materials that we experience in daily life. These I applied as a structure to transform the face into an object. But as my art evolved, using my face became a choice. At the moment self-portraiture does not feature in my work, but my new works are conceptually linked to a fascination with myself.

There seems to be a tension between technology and the manmade in your work. Could you expand on how you view this relationship?
The choice of not using digital manipulation is quite simple. The whole concept in my work is that it is about reality while appearing surreal. It is a combination of performance, experiment and aesthetics. The use of digital manipulation would interfere with this concept. For example, a cube made on a computer means total control, total perfection, whereas a perfect cube in reality is relative. 

Throughout art history, artists have always been confronted with new technology and materials - it’s nothing new. I think it’s very uninteresting when artists make a point of using new technology like 3D printing. Of course, new technologies are valid, it just shouldn’t be solely about the technology. Anish Kapoor was given the opportunity to work with Vantablack, the blackest substance known, made of carbon nanotubes. The material is already so amazing that I’m curious how he is going to make an artwork that is more than the material itself.

SPHERES, 2014, single channel HD video, 9'45". Courtesy of Rosenfeld Porcini Gallery.
You recently presented the video work Spheres at Moving Image New York. What was your inspiration for this new work and your thought behind The Collapse of Cohesion, the series from which Spheres was taken?
The high-speed camera I used (1500 frames per second) captures the moment where our logic is exposed to the force of nature, turning the controlled surroundings and structure into something new. By exposing this transition the cohesion becomes more comprehensible. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Bernard Plossu at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie

by  George Upton  I
The Maison Européenne de la Photographie was founded in 1996 in Paris. Situated in the Marais, just south of the Pompidou Centre, it is not often listed amongst the top locations in the city. Like its hidden, unassuming entrance, this exhibition space, lecture theatre and library split between a 18th century house and a contemporary extension, is a secret, underrated gem.

In addition to revolving programme of exhibitions, the MEP also draws from its vast collection of over 20,000 works of art, mostly photography, from which it also forms exhibitions. When I went earlier this month, I was introduced to the fantastic work of Bernard Plossu in a comprehensive display of his photographs of Italy.

Bernard Plossu's exotic beginnings, born in Vietnam in 1945, seem to have inspired a wanderlust that has run throughout his life and work. With most of his practice he documents his travels across the world and it is with his lens turned to Italy that the exhibition focuses on at the MEP.

For Plossu Italy has always contained a magic that evokes his distant heritage, art and the landscape, and it is this sense of a personal take on Italy that permeates the photographs. It is undeniably Italy - the vast, changing countryside from Piedmont to Sicily, the beaches, the people and their fashion - but it is not a cliched Italy of tanned fashionistas eating ice cream and pasta. The weather, for example, is often far from the typical Mediterranean sun and there’s a simple truth in Plossu’s Italian clouds and rain that makes the work convincing. As Plossu himself said: ‘bad weather is good weather for a photographer’

But more than this, both the black and white and colour photographs exhibited at the MEP are not rendered in sun-bleached hues but an altogether more nuanced and original palate. For colour, Plossu’s images are faded and the contrast is blurred, as if his film has been developed with chalk. They are rich but subtly so, unnatural in a natural way and timeless but, in the case of many, contemporary.

Although Plossu’s technique for colour is spectacular, and these digital representations do not do it justice, the highlight of the exhibition was his small format, black and white landscape photographs. Tucked away in a low-lit niche, these images were taken over the past twenty years but dismiss being set in a particular time. They are small and to properly view them you have to go close, your periphery washed out by the large white boarder around the image - an effective piece of theatre that disconnects you from your surroundings. Richly contrasted and printed with minute detail, there is nothing lost in the small size of the reproductions and they are all the more engaging for their peephole-like apertures onto ancient hillside villages, black foreboding hills, and glistening modern infrastructure.

This is not the Italy of the cinema and travel brochures. But neither is this the Italy that you can experience. This is Italy as understood by Plossu - a compelling, nuanced and original perspective that liberates a country often calcified by its rich culture and traditions.

All pictures copyright of Bernard Plossu, courtesy of the MEP