For months I was trying to set up a conversation with artist Olga Pedan. She being based in Frankfurt and me in Stockholm, it seemed difficult for us to plan anything. Luckily summer came and with that, a visit to Stockholm and her family gave us the opportunity to meet for a couple of hours one balmy August night in my kitchen. In what to me felt like quite an unrestrained conversation, we always seemed to return to the issue of physical experience.
Is it important for you to expose yourself to art outside of your own practice?
Yes, all kinds of cultural expressions really. I also like going to shopping centers because there are so many different things there that are designed to communicate with you. But often these spaces are full of contradictions and it’s very exhausting to engage with them, which makes me nauseous. Looking at art can sometimes feel the same way. But sometimes its spiritual and therapeutic, like recently when I saw “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries at Musée de Cluny – National Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris.
Could you give me an example of a work that has made an impact on you in a way that has given you ideas for your own practice?
Certain wall paintings, for instance those found in medieval churches on Gotland have made a big impression on me. I see them almost once a year and somehow my work has gradually started looking more and more like them.
What is your approach when working towards a new exhibition?
I tend to see the context of the exhibition as part of the material for the work. I had an exhibition in the office of a consultancy firm; the space is structured around grids and has lots of repetitive elements. This creates a sense of loss of spatial groundedness and orientation. My installation was a scenario involving paintings and a table that occurred twice in two different places in the office. The work merged with architectural features that were already there. I thought the space invoked cinematic feelings; you picture yourself in that environment – an office in a glass building with large windows, being seen by and seeing the people in the other buildings. It forces you to relate to your body in a performative way.
Do you see the different elements of the exhibition as separate works or as an entity?
A lot of the work I have shown has been site-specific and situation based. I felt frustrated with the fact that the separate parts became so sensitive and loose when the show was over. I’ve realized that some elements are more autonomous than what I first thought, even though they are connected to one another. Despite this I still find it difficult to decide what to do with them. That’s one of the reasons I started to paint more; I thought that paintings aren’t as dependent on the context.
Fetishes were one of the first things that came to mind watching your work.
Some of the video works are made up of found material that is made for or by fetishists so that makes sense; maybe it’s also there in the paintings in relation to the material. I work with chalk ground gesso, which takes a long time to make and it creates a surface, which is very delicate and absorbent. In this way, I create a situation where you can’t alter the paint to any great extent once has been applied, so maybe there is something fetishistic about that build up of momentum and simulated lack of control.
Do you ever think about the sexual side of fetishes?
Yes, but what I find interesting is the suspense of the sexual satisfaction or release that fetishistic activity creates. I think it opens up a space where you lose track of your subjectivity. A lot of creativity goes into trying to induce this state.
And how about cultural stereotypes?
I like to work with stereotyped images of femininity. I think it’s because I have never been able to identify with being a woman so I find it exciting somehow. I like the way that drag queens and teenagers can play with stereotypes, because they kind of become one themselves, but a stereotype that incorporates being in-between. I think they embody something that a lot of artists aspire to.
In your video works “Shaking” and “Girls in Malls” one finds an undeniable connection to nature or rather a human control over nature.
I think it’s about playing a certain type of game to create tension, like what lion tamers and toreadors do. I think having control over nature can be exciting because nature seems to tend towards chaos and disintegration. At the same time it lacks human intention, so it’s potentially easy to manipulate for one’s own ends. With “Girls in Malls” it was a kind of fantasy that the women where controlling the pulsations of the sun with their smoking. I like it because it explains the voyeuristic attraction; the found footage I used was filmed by men with smoking fetishes and candid cameras, as a form of worship of goddesses that seem to have supernatural control over matter.
What do you think about the effect of repetition?
I think repetition can force a special concentration, pattern recognition, and a mechanistic sorting of data. It can also create a trance-like state. When I paint I often copy things I find or return to the same motives so that they loose their significance in my mind. It puts more emphasis on the way the paint is applied and the color rather than what image I am creating. In that way I tend to gravitate towards a state where the ‘content’ becomes empty and abstract.
Are you interested in the physical impact of your work?
With the video work I like to use found clips that I think emphasize physical experience. I like that watching them has a physical impact on the body. The distinction between communicative medium and physical experience becomes less clear, like AMSR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos for example. But often, when this level of communication penetrates our physical experience through daily content, it is less overt, like with for instance news broadcasts with which it can be very seductive. I think the tendency to speak of the digital as immaterial can be a bit misleading; computers are after all also made up of matter and things like screen frequency, or the humming of a hard drive, have a direct physical impact on the body even though we might not be aware of it. I like the idea that the seemingly empty can be loaded with tension.
How does this translate to your painting process?
I don’t know. I think it’s very much built into the medium of painting, this relationship to the physical presence of the body. For my graduation show I made paintings that dealt with self-representation and I wanted them to invoke a sense of entrapment, but in quite a soft way.
I read your works as symbolic, would you agree with that?
A lot of the artists and works that I like are classified as symbolist. I’m not sure if ‘symbolism’ might imply that there are symbols for other things in the work that should be decodable? I make up connections between things but I see them as fictions that help create an internal logic in the work rather than information that should be decoded, or lead to an experience of a particular truth. I’m not so interested in communicating secret messages. I like that symbolist works often take up moods rather than dealing with the depiction of reality.
Why did you move on from video to painting?
I still work with video but I wanted to make paintings because the process is more direct as compared to digital video editing, which is a strain on my concentration and body. I was also interested in the ideas and clichés surrounding painting and the way that it is problematized as a medium. My relationship with photography is very charged and difficult, maybe because that’s what I started out doing. But I don’t really have any medium specific problems with painting so that makes it fun to play around with.
Are there any recurring themes that you work with irrespective of the medium?
There are differences since I’m interested in how the medium itself functions but there are some things that overlap. There’s an interest in communication and image creation and how that relates to subjectivity creation.
How will you continue your practice now that you have graduated?
I might stay in Frankfurt and share a studio with a friend. But first I want to work without a studio for a while.
The conversation between Olga Pedan and Ulrika Pilo took place in
Stockholm, SWE on August 14, 2014.
Text: Ulrika Pilo
Photo: Olga Pedan
|Born:||1988 in Kharkov, UKR|
|Education:||MFA 2014 Städelchule, Frankfurt am Main, DEU|
|Info:||Group show in Leipzig in October|