Inner Landscapes Q & A session
Q. A recurring theme in your work is the fine line between the real and the unreal, between the real and the abstract?
A. Yes most of my work seems to involve this in one way or another. Not just the photographic works which can border on the surreal but even the meticulous political pieces like 2020 Vizion and 2023 Vizon where the unreal (the future) is presented in a very real tangible way.
Q. Your work often deals with landscapes in both a physical way in your photographs and paintings but also in an intellectual way – for example in your maps and Borders series. Tell me about the series Inner Landscapes – what inspired the work and what inspired the title?
A. The work harks back to an earlier piece I did in the 80s called Acid TV which was a series of photos taken of a malfunctioning TV. The colors and textures were so beautiful I felt the need to photograph them and they later became a series of Diasec prints. Inner Landscapes captures a similar moment of inspiration with a malfunctioning satellite which resulted in some startling images on my television. The results are both for me landscape-like in their physicality but some of the images also represent inner landscapes – landscapes of the mind – dream landscapes – some of them nightmares.
A. Yes. I had a battle with alcohol addiction until recently. Almost everything about alcoholism is negative. The way it destroys your will to live, the way it ultimately destroys everything and everyone around you. The one “positive” thing that came out of this period of my life were the dreams and nightmares I would have after stopping drinking. In English we call it “seeing pink elephants” – it’s a euphemism for drunken hallucination, caused by alcoholic hallucinosis or delirium tremens. These dreams go on for hours and hours – you simply can’t sleep. Some of them were mind-blowing – like roller-coaster movies with amazing cityscapes, different planets and incredible plotlines. Things that you wonder “where the fuck did that come from?” Things you’ve never seen or imagined in your life. Some of the dreams were pure nightmares – people morphing into villains, monsters or blobs of gunk. I thought if only I could capture this somehow – to be able to show someone else the beauty and the horror of these hallucinations. That could be something positive that could come out of the nightmare of alcoholism.
Q. So you tried to do this through your work?
A. Yes I experimented with various media – in particular with insulation foam which is used in construction. It gave the monstrous, blobs-of-gunk look that I was aiming for. The foam became a symbol of the body coming under attack – in my case from alcohol.
The recognition of these hallucinations came one night when the satellite reception was not working due to an electrical or solar storm. The images on the television were so like the dreams I had had, that I was compelled to photograph them. The material banality of television became something visceral and personal.
Q. So the television became your canvas and the satellite your brush. Your dreams/hallucinations in some ways became a reality – actual photographs of something that was real in the world?
A. Yes a reality that in turn was abstract and beautiful, scary and ugly at the same time. Something that was imaginary (a dream) became something real (an image on a TV), which in turn became something surreal or imaginary again, in its strangeness and evocativeness.
Q. Would you say the television in some ways is a metaphor for your struggle with alcohol?
A. Yes it’s a good metaphor. The TV is usually something friendly, banal, part of the family, just there in the background for a bored person or for a family dinner. But under the influence of the malfunctioning satellite, the TV became a stranger, something unfamiliar and scary. In the same way alcohol is your friend and comes to you as such, making you more sociable, and like TV helping numb the boredom of daily life. But at a certain point, for certain people, it can become a stranger, an alien, something attacking your body and your whole life.
Q. Tell me about this struggle. In the end alcohol is a stranger for you and is trying to destroy you.
A. It’s a struggle many people and especially many artists have faced before – Blake, Faulkner, Hemingway, Kerouac, Burroughs, Pollock and Bacon to name a few. It’s a painful struggle, maybe a metaphor for life itself – the oscillation between reality and hyper-reality, between boredom and bliss, pain and pleasure.
Q. You mentioned William Burroughs and indeed you have used quotes from his Naked Lunch as titles for most of the works. Tell me about this choice, why Burroughs, why Naked Lunch?
A. For me Burroughs’ writing best captures the mind of the addict – the hallucinations, the boredom, the patient waiting for the next fix. The term “Naked Lunch” as used in the book is that existentialist moment when you see reality for what it is – exactly what is at the end of your fork. Plus his vocabulary and images and metaphors are so wild – for me they perfectly captured what had been going on in my own hallucinations and in that moment of reality captured on TV.
Q. Maybe this is why Inner Landscapes is so chaotic?
A. Perhaps. There is of course the natural chaos of the satellite images themselves – apparently these satellite disturbances are caused by solar flares or some say echoes of the big bang – and it also has the chaos of the various elements – not just the photographs on the walls but the resin benches, the vinyl floor covering, the second darkened room with the magenta foam sculptures on gold plinths.
Q. Tell me more about the benches – they are the only pieces in the series that don’t take their titles from The Naked Lunch.
A. Yes I wanted to create an environment that you walked into and that surrounded you completely – I suppose to heighten the hallucinatory nature of the whole experience. Initially I thought of using carpets on the floor which themselves would consist of one of the images in the exhibition – actually a grid of 100 carpets. I also wanted a bench in the center of the room that one could sit on and take everything in. My research on carpets led me to some amazing symbols used in Turkish and Kurdish rugs – one particular motif is known as “wolf’s mouth” or “monster’s teeth” and it is used on traditional rugs as symbol to ward off evil. It seemed an appropriate metaphor for the battle against alcohol. So these carpet motifs became the inspiration for the two benches.
Q. But you didn’t actually end up using carpet for the floor after all – how did this happen?
A. More research – this time into the practicalities of having the carpets made – led me to have to reduce the number of colors and to simplify the design. This in turn led to the use of the four basic printing colors, CMYK, and the color half-tone which actually consists of seven colors. The new design in turn led me change from carpet to something slicker and more pop feeling – hence the ultimate decision to make it out of vinyl. Again I liked the way the artistic process had evolved as vinyl is often used as a cheap floor covering particularly in kitchens – again something banal and ordinary like the TV itself had become something pop, mad and chaotic.