One of the capacious rooms of Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky’s cosy apartment in the heart of Neukölln has been turned into a brightly lit photography studio. Clusters of prints and collections of natural objects inhabit the space. We begin by chatting about the pros and cons of working at home. After the studio conversation – concerning darkrooms, cameraless photography, and experimental exhibition formats – we move one door down into the kitchen to enjoy a hefty meal of spaghetti bolognese. There you have it, work and life coalescing.
Can you start by telling us how you got into photography?
I’ve always been interested in photography. Already as a kid I was the one who was taking care of the family albums, keeping everything organized. And when I was about ten years old I was clipping a lot of images from magazines such as GEO (a European equivalent to National Geographic). I had a whole pile of these pictures that I would organize and look at, always thinking: ‘oh wow, photography is like the greatest thing ever. I really want to be a photographer.’ But then, I don’t know, I was also scared of the confrontation, thinking: ‘oh, maybe I can’t do it’. Like when I went to the art academy in Basel I was busy with images and text, the way things communicate. Finally, when I started at the Gerrit Ritveld Academy in Amsterdam, I decided to really go for it and study photography.
You have a strong affinity for nature. How do you approach it in your work?
I collect nature in order to study, observe, and order it. Often it is also an act of control. I try to force new structures on nature and by doing that make the existing structures more visible. I am currently thinking about the ”339 Gräser” book that I was pressing and photocopying grass for. What I did was an act of control, but when you look at the book you also feel how strong the original structure of the grass is. It is not the same in all the works though; different works explore different aspects of nature.
How did the series ”Fotogramme” (2011 – ongoing) come about and how are these unique prints made?
I guess in technical terms they would be called leaf negative prints. Basically I work with double exposures and abstract these perforated leaves that I’ve collected by using different lenses to enlarge parts of them. Between the exposures I move the paper, change the colour filter and the leaves. It has now been three years that I’ve worked with the leaves. Before that I was working with grass. It often starts like this: I collect something and then look at it again couple of months later, being like: ‘oh, there is something here’. I collected these leaves because they had these patterns of holes that I found really interesting; they were coincidental but also had this inner logic and geometry to them. I began playing with their shadow, then taking them into the darkroom and making classical photograms – that is why the series is also called ”Fotogramme”. Thereafter, through play and coincidence, I came up with the idea of putting the leaves into the negative holder of an analogue enlarger.
”Fotogramme”, and also the bulk of your older works, employ exceptionally vivid hues. Can you talk about your relationship to colour?
Things in my photographs are mostly pure abstraction, and the colours are just part of that. I’ve worked a lot with strong primary colours; they just come to me. And the colours in ”Fotogramme” are at times completely coincidental, like I wanted it to be yellow, but then it turns out blue. Because I have never really tried to understand how the colour filters work, I mean I do, I have tried, but then I get into this mood when I think it is better to let go and just see what happens.
Would you say that ‘playing’ is the ultimate creative method for you?
I believe that it’s only through playing and experimenting that one can discover new things and ideas. Also, I like to keep control. So, in order to be surprised, I need to trick myself into giving up control. Sure there are ways of making stuff that is less controlled when working digitally but I just think it is so amazing to work in the darkroom. For example, when I was working with the ”339 Gräser” book in a way I used the inkjet printer as a darkroom; I couldn’t see or control what was happening under the lid.
In general, what are your thoughts on digital photography?
I haven’t used digital photography that much. What really interests me is the idea of the unique. That’s why I mostly work in a darkroom and look for ways to create something singular. I also want to see myself in the surface of the photograph, to feel close to it. When I take a digital photograph of a still life or something I see myself in the photograph, because I am the one who made the composition, but I don’t really feel myself on the surface of the print. Then again maybe digital photography just lives very happily on the screen.
Photogram as a method is a classical one, famously used by the likes of Man Ray and the Bauhaus, how did you arrive at the method and what, in your opinion, is contemporary about it?
Photograms are the beginning of photography and as such connected with the 19th century, the industrial revolution and all these inventions and discoveries that were made then, the dawn of a new era. Now my attitude towards it is different than that in the 1920’s or 1930’s, and I guess that is what makes it contemporary. My work refers to and is inspired by the way nature is being depicted through photography both nowadays and in the past. The way it stands in regards to a certain tradition is very important for me.
When displaying your works you often seek to break away from the two-dimensionality of the photographic plane and animate the exhibition space by introducing, for example, sculptural interventions into it.
Yeah, I always try to make the exhibition come alive and have the work take over the space. When there are only photographs on the wall it becomes so flat. That is why I make these objects that create the right kind of surrounding for the photographs. For example, the “Blattkiste” series – pedestals with display boxes containing a selection of the leaves that I used as negatives – they are works, but also props for the exhibition. You could say that the “Blattkiste” acts as a gate or a key to the “Fotogramme”; seeing the leaves makes you search for the patterns of the holes on the walls. I don’t want to be didactic and say: ‘look, this is what I used to make the photographs’. Rather, I want to show the magic of these super fragile leaves. Because when you look at the leaves you are like: ‘wow, is this really created by a caterpillar or a bug’. It is quite amazing.
Can you say a little bit about the exhibition “Midsummer Night” that took a place in a botanical garden?
A friend of mine, Sara van der Heide, working with “If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution”, initiated an exhibition called “Midsummer Night” and invited artists, writers, and performers to make a presentation in the botanical garden of the VU in Amsterdam. I thought that it was a great occasion to show my photograms in nature – not on the white walls of a gallery, but in the environment where they stem from. I really liked it actually. It called forth a comparison between the natural and the man-made. It is not exactly a new idea but I thought it was quite interesting how it looked. If I got a chance it would be super nice to do something more like this.
Lastly, can you tell us what are you currently working on?
I’m still working with the perforated leaves. I have a big collection by now and I plan to make a unique artist book out of them. I would like to show the whole collection, I always do. Also, I started this new series called “Alphabet of Holes” where I am again using the leaves as negatives but this time leaving out the colour. Instead I’m focusing more on the shapes, textures, and holes, constructing geometrical patterns out of them. It is more controlled now than in the beginning, I think.
The conversation between Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky and Mirja Majevski took place in Berlin, DEU on September 24, 2014.
Text: Mirja Majevski
Photo: Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky
|Born:||1980 in Bern, CHE|
|Based:||Amsterdam, NLD and Berlin, DEU|
|Education:||BFA 2006 Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, NLD|
|Info:||Group exhibition at Kunstmuseum Thun opening in December and duo exhibition with Andrew Ross, Well, Zürich opening in February 2015. The publication Fotogramme, in collaboration with Vela Arbutina, is currently in progress and will be launched in 2015.|