1. Initially when I saw the titles of your works, I thought that you intended to lead the audience astray. But the nonsensical words, such as, 'gimble in the wabe', 'Manxome Foe', 'Callooh Callay!' which come from the poem, The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, refer to the similarity between your biomorphic forms and the poet's made up words. The context of the words, and their sounds lead us to associate them with existing words- much like your forms refer to existing natural forms. However, because both your forms and the words in the poem are without any explanations, we never really know their true meaning, making them seem from another world which we will never quite understand but can imagine. Is this a correct interpretation?
Absolutely. It’s this not quite understanding that keeps me engaged in the work and continuing the process. Each form is based on a kind of a ‘happy accident’ and there is a lot of following up to attempt to understand what makes that thing work. I never really find any clear answers and in the end that is probably a good thing because I am after a very particular type of form, one that is abstract but highly suggestive, yet never able to reveal itself as something concrete.
I am very interested in the fictional/other worldly potential of abstraction. The images and forms that I work with are deliberately associative and can be referred to forms that exist in nature and the everyday built environment. The forms that I am currently working on suggest things that are not restricted to contemporary society, but are suggestive of ancient history as well as the imagined future. I attempt to produce forms and images that are believable and strangely familiar, yet straddle this grey area of fiction and nonsense that Lewis Carroll is able to grasp so convincingly with words.
When making the work, I prefer to place myself in the position of the viewer, to contemplate what it is I am looking at. I strive for this freshness with each new work, the desire to look at something that is not entirely new but somehow didn’t exist in the world beforehand. In this sense I like to put myself in the position of the facilitator rather than the creator of the work. I play down the importance of my role as an artist in order to see things anew and to be surprised at the outcome of each new work.
When it comes to the titles, I first started using suggestive phrases or words simply because I didn’t want to have ‘untitled’ as a title for my work, nor anything descriptive that would provide an answer to the work. ‘Untitled’ seemed to me at the time somewhat pretentious and too abstract for what I was attempting to do.
The titles I give to my work are meant to add a certain flavour to the work rather than give explanations. I attempt to use words as a material to produce sounds and character that intuitively matches something in the physical work. There is rarely any meaning behind the words or phrases that I use. Sometimes I use people’s names within the title such as ‘Agnes’, ‘Beatrice’ or ‘Stanley’, names which I chose for their sound and friendliness, a kind of endearing quality I could use to connect to the work like it was a friend or pet.
For a show at Greenaway Art Gallery in 2007 I used palindromes I found on the internet as titles for the work. At this time I was interested in visual patterns and ornament and the mirroring quality of palindrome phrases appealed to me greatly.
More recently I have been using words taken directly from Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem ‘Jabberwocky’ as titles for my work. -They just seem to fit.
2. 'gimble in the wabe', a mesmerising 3 minute video loop of what appear to be gases and powders in flux, is reminiscent of the brilliant after affects of a volcanic eruption. Again, they are forms that refer to a natural occurrence, however it would be just as much at home in Alice's Wonderland; or another planet. Is this your intention?
When making ‘gimble in the wabe’, I was essentially interested in capturing a sensation, tied together within a certain aesthetic and physical movement. The sensation I was after was very simple and had something to do with forms and space being caught in a continual state of flux, a sensation of concrete forms dissolving and reforming in a very natural kind of fashion.
The moving image lends itself perfectly to the generation of fictional space and the fabrication of another world where time and space can be played with and turned on its head. We, as viewers, are so accustomed to the format that we easily suspend disbelief and enter willingly into the world that is presented to us on the screen.
As I was not interested in constructing a narrative or working within a timeline structure I decided for a looped format, where you wouldn’t be certain of the beginning or end of the work or if you had already seen a particular sequence in the video or not. I was also after a specific kind of abstract imagery, both dark and at times beautiful, imagery that you could get lost in, without really knowing why.
3. How was this work, 'gimble in the wabe' created?
Part of the challenge in making this work was that it had to be made entirely by myself in my studio without any outsourcing or assistance. This constraint of working solo within the confines of the studio was something I imposed on my practice during an artist residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin the year before and continued for the making of this video. The studio constraint was simply a way of me getting back in touch with making work and with the studio environment after a period of experimentation and production that was largely conducted outside of the studio and in the hands of others.
I decided that I wanted the work to be made very simply and with as little post-production, computer trickery or specialist expertise as possible. Yet at the same time I was after a sequence of moving images that were visually mysterious and that would defy the simplicity of the making process. I spent a lot of time setting up an environment within which I laid out a set of ground rules and conditions within which the work could happily evolve… and then I filmed away.
The footage was shot with a standard digital SLR camera that had a built in movie function. For the props I made a setup that consisted of a 60 litre fish bowl resting on a rotating display platform. The fish bowl was filled with water and in it I placed a small plaster sculpture. For the lighting I set up some black sheets around the bowl and used several LED bike lights and a small halogens either suspended above or floating in the water itself. Then I simply started recording, set the platform to rotate and from time to time dropped in small amounts of paint and ink from above into the water. I repeated this process several times over, using different sculptures, different paints and different camera compositions. From roughly 80-90 minutes of raw footage I selected three minutes worth of details that I liked best and edited them together.
4. What is it that appeals to you about these abstract forms?
The forms are all brought about by process and chance. In a way I could say that I didn’t choose these forms, they were the result of an artistic process and I have been trying to deal with the results of this ever since.
However there is also something appealing about the forms that continue to sustain my interest in them. The appeal has something to do with each form’s ‘potential’. I like the suggestive nature of the forms; the fact that each one is reminiscent of something in our daily life, yet locating exactly what that is, is difficult and evasive. For a long time I was producing only organic, blob like forms that were reminiscent of cell like structures. They seemed very much related to the body and I liked the way people were drawn to them for that reason.
More recently these forms have evolved into a much more complex vocabulary of shapes. Currently I am dealing with a far broader range of forms that stretch from the organic to the geometric, from the seemingly natural to the man made. This evolution has also meant that the range of associations within the work has also broadened and become complex.
5. You have exhibited along side artists such as Louise Bourgeois, who also created biomorphic works. And although they refer to natural forms, they also have a space-age quality to them. Your works show a lot of manufacturing skill, have you used computer aided design and prototyping, or other technology in the design your works. If so, what have you used?
I have played around a bit with computer aided design and prototyping in my work. 3D prototyping has been largely out of my reach due to the high costs involved, but I have explored laser cutting and etching processes in several of my works, as well as vinyl plotting, digital printing and animation.
I am very interested in how these technologies are used creatively in the architecture and design worlds and was interested to find out if there was a place for it in my artistic practice.
6. How has technology- both new and emerging, assisted you in your work?
I have used computer technology as a design tool mostly. Drawing up plans on a computer and making alterations of form and colour before going to manufacture. The results can be quick and the variations and chance occurrences or accidents have been rewarding at times.
I have also used digital imaging tools to make prints, played around with vector graphics for use in adhesive vinyl plotting and laser cutting and engraving, and I have also made a few video animations using 3d computer modelling programs.
7. The adorable work, 'Go you little Dynamo, go!' which has the appearance of a little robot alien, was a huge hit at the Adelaide festival. It was a work that you said was 'for the people.' Could you explain what you meant by this? What inspired you to create such a cute work?
Late in 2006 I was approached by the then director of the Adelaide Festival Brett Sheehy and given an offer to develop a ‘look’ for the 2008 Festival. I put forward several proposals and in the end we decided to go with the idea of producing a series of life sized sculptures that would act somewhat like a mascot for the 2008 Festival. An image of one of the sculptures was then adapted for the posters, billboards, website, television commercials and all round branding of the Festival. The actual sculptures were placed at specific sites around the city during the festival period.
The project, for me, was a challenge to generate a physical form that embodied, in formal terms, the many positive and celebratory aspects that the festival had to offer. It was my intention to produce a sculpture whose visual and haptic qualities were at the fore, something with which the public could easily identify (even though it was essentially an abstract form) and link back to the Festival.
The sculpture was very much designed as a friendly alien. Its purpose was not to provoke or challenge the audience but to arouse their curiosity and have them question in a playful way what it might be that they are looking at, both in terms of the sculpture and the wider festival.
With the financial support of GAG Projects an edition of ten sculptures, each standing almost two metres tall, was produced. Each one was given individual character with differing colours and finishes. They were made out of fibreglass, laser cut steel, chrome details, aluminium and adhesive flock fabric. In terms of colour, scale, texture and form, they were designed to appeal foremost to the senses and to communicate on a very immediate haptic level.
8. 'Pleasure' and 'fun' is what comes to mind when I see your work. I could watch 'gimble in the wabe' for hours on a continuous loop, admiring the hypnotic, flowing forms. And installations such as 'Ushi and Urvin make merry masquerades' with their beautiful, smooth, white blobs rolling around the ground like little chubby creatures; there is a sense of fun to them. This is a far cry from the coldness of many Modernist movements and much angst driven contemporary art. Do you think that pleasure has returned to art? Is it important in your work?
‘Pleasure’, ‘fun’ and to that I would add ‘humour’ play very important roles in my practice. They are terms that from early on I have used as guiding principles in my work and I try to work with them as often and as seriously as possible.
Perhaps this was a reaction to seeing a lot of work that seemed to me to possess too high a degree of self-importance, or to be cold or angst driven as you say.
It’s not just that I want the end result to have such an effect on the viewer, but it is important to me that the process of making and developing work has aspects of fun, pleasure and humour built into it.
9. 'Ushi and Urvin make merry masquerades' was exhibited in the Rohkunstbau XII “Kinderszenen- Child's Play”: Thirteen internationally renowned artists were invited to create works that reflected on the nature of being a child today. The exhibition was held in the Gross Leuthen Castle which had been used as an orphanage during the second world war. Your works were exhibited in the room adjacent to those of Louise Bourgeois. Although the forms are reminiscent of both toys and children, is there are serious side to the work? Could you please explain the title, and why the title is written in lower case?
Rohkunstbau was an impressive show to be a part of. The curator, Mark Gisbourne, has a real sensitivity for inviting artists from different backgrounds and at varying stages of their career. I was clearly the unknown in the show and was at first quite intimidated to hear that Louise Bourgeois, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Michael Sailsdorfer, Via Lewandowski and a bunch of other artists whose work I knew well were to have their work installed in the rooms next to the one I was given.
My installation for Rohkunstbau consisted of around 300 individual plaster ‘blob’ sculptures scattered across a white, felt covered floor. The light in the room was dimmed and to one side I projected a video animation of flowing blob forms. The projection was accompanied by a soundtrack of squeaks and music that paralleled the movement going on in the video.
The installation was set up in a room that was the former sleeping quarters for children who were living in the castle when it was still used as an orphanage. I chose to dampen the lighting and soften the acoustics of the room in order to give the space a more intimate and potentially sinister feel. Although the installation as a whole was quite playful in nature, there was a clear sense of a darker underbelly, a sense of distance from the real world toward one of dreams and fantasy.
The title I chose for the work was “uschi and irvin make merry masquerades”. I chose this title largely for its sound and suggestiveness of childhood games but it does have some further meaning for me. Uschi is my mother’s name and refers to her fond memories of growing up for a time in a small castle in the north of Germany. She and many other families were living in the castle as ‘refugees’, post world-war II. The second name in the title, ‘irvin’, is a nod to Irvin S. Yearworth who is best known for directing the classic 1958 horror/science fiction film ‘The Blob’.
The decision to use lower case writing for the title was a way to keep it all less formal and bring out the innocence in the piece as well as the underlying darkness.
10. You moved to Berlin and are presently based there. How does the art scene differ from Australia? Is Berlin more conducive to producing art? Do you intend to come back to Australia?
I have been based in Berlin for the past five years. I met my wife here and we have recently had our first child together. Berlin can be an exciting place to live and work for an artist. There’s always something happening on any given day or night and that makes for a great place to meet other artists, curators, gallerists etc. and to get involved in various projects. It’s also not a bad place to hide out and make work. Berlin is known for being one of the most affordable cities in Europe and cheap studios and apartment can still be found.
There are many differences between Berlin’s art scene and Australia’s. The main difference I see is the sheer size of it here. The number of artists living and working here from all over the world is quite amazing. And that is reflected in the amount and quality of galleries, museums, art spaces and art related festivals and events situated here. In comparison to Australia the scene is also more international, which is to be expected of a city planted in the middle of Europe and with a large immigrant population, but also has something to do with Germany as a whole being a very outward looking country, always interested in what’s going on in other parts of the world.
I am not convinced that Berlin is any more conducive to producing art than Australia. One can draw a lot of inspiration from what is going on here but there are also many more distractions to keep you from doing your own work.
I try to make it back to Australia at least once a year to visit family and friends and to exhibit or plan projects. I do hope to return to Australia some time in the near future. There are many things that I miss about the place and I would really like for my son to experience at least part of his childhood growing up in Australia.
11. Could you please talk about the driving force behind the installation, 'All mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe', 2008. Could you also please talk about KoCA Weimar.
KoCA Weimar, or the Kiosk of Contemporary Art as it was called then, was a small newspaper stand, an architectural remnant from East German times that was acquired by a group of artists to use as a public exhibition space. I first saw this kiosk while visiting friends in Weimar in 2007. I was immediately taken by the architectural form of the kiosk and was working at the time on ideas using adhesive vinyl patters that I thought would be perfect for this site.
The friends I was staying with in Weimar at the time put me in contact with the artists who were running the space and they then later invited me to put forward a proposal for my installation.
I’m not sure really what the driving force behind this installation was. It was a very instinctive and intuitive desire to do something with the KoCA architecture. I was working a lot at the time with computer cut adhesive vinyl patterns and was working on ideas for light boxes. I liked the idea of the kiosk itself becoming a light box, a freestanding sculptural form. The introduction of a smoke machine inside the kiosk was a last minute decision and worked well in diffusing the interior light and in transforming and animating the architecture into a living, breathing object.
Interview: Sculpture and the Enemies Magazine, p.28-32, July - September 2011