KHURTOVA & BOURLANGES - the duo tracking a correlation between star constellations and French geography.
We meet Elena Khurtova and Marie Ilse Bourlanges – an artist duo on a mission to challenge ‘the regime of utility’. We find out if there is correlation between star constellations and French geography.
How did you meet and why did you decide to work together?
We met in 2003 at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, where we both studied Architectural design. We became friends quite soon and were discussing our projects for hours, often staying at each other’s place to work over night. During her graduation in 2007 Elena decided to deepen her skills and knowledge with ceramic, especially mold-making and casting. She first sought specialists advice at CorUnum, a prestigious ceramic manufacturer in the Netherlands, and later worked in partnership with Sint Joost academy in Den Bosch. After her graduation from Architectural design in 2006, Marie Ilse continued her study further in TXT (textile design) at the Rietveld Academy, and graduated in 2008. We obviously realized how much we share a particular fascination for processes and materials, and especially the conceptual value of techniques found in ceramic and textile realms. We started working together on isolated projects from 2009 onwards, and in 2011 we dived into a residency program at the EKWC (European Ceramic Work Centre) in Den Bosch. This period was a true turning point, enabling us to position ourselves as an artist duo.
What is the key to your successful partnership?
Above everything, we are friends :) We try to give each other enough space and exibility but always aspire to motivate each other further with work and new ideas. We also often collaborate with other artists or graphic designers, which enrich our partnership with other input.
You described your work as a challenge to the ‘regime of utility’?
It is a term a dear friend of ours came up with, Mark Leegsma. Through writing – Mark is both a master in philosophy and psychology – he helped us formulate what our fascination and direction was really about: trained both as designers we were clearly interested in investigating and reflecting on the impact of use/usage on the body, objects and elements of space. However we early on knew that we wanted to dissociate ourselves from a common understanding of ‘design = function’, as we didn’t find enough meaning in making more stuff to be used. At that time we were in a residency at EKWC researching on visualising patterns of cancerous growth through Internet data translating them into 3dimensional tessellation landscape, later casting them into pristine bone china clay. The resulting ‘E/merging patterns’ offer an experience of the body that begins where the usefulness of the healthy body ends, which for us was a key stone in defining a challenge to the ‘regime of utility’.
In THE SKY IS ON THE EARTH you investigate the theory of Marie’s grandfather - the author Jacques Bourlange about correlation between star constellations and French geography?
In 2013 Marie Ilse inherited the archive of her grandfather that waited in oblivion at her father’s workspace since 1991. It was like discovering a hidden treasure, the obsessive research of an estranged relative, who had spent many years investigating a correlation between star constellations and the French geography. We both decided to research and intervene with this unique material. The archive itself bare a specific analogue quality, with profusion of hand-made folders, hand-written notes, maps covered with geometric lines and gures, etc... Its content is even more fascinating as it unravels material and immaterial connections between elements, names and places. We started the project with a 6 months residency in Paris at Atelier Holsboer and continue developing it until now, thanks to the generous support of the Mondriaan Fonds and Stichting Stokroos.
For the project you researched 24 archive boxes of maps, notes and sketches covering toponymy, legends and symbols, geography, astronomy and astrology, as well as genealogy and heraldic study of French Noble families –how did you decide what to use?
When we first opened the archive (during our residency in Paris) it was a very overwhelming experience. We sought advice from different experts from the fields Jacques (Marie Ilse’ grandfather) had investigated: a toponymist, a mathematician, an archivist, an esoteric specialist as well as ’spiritual leader’ :) This research was archived in the form of recorded conversations as a base for the project. Later we developed a seven chapters plan, touching upon either the content of the archive, its formal quality and finally the man behind the theory. We are now at chapter four and processing the last three chapters. Our method has been shaped through the process, where we mix original elements of the archive and new sculptural interventions we create, creating dialogue with each other. In that way we intend to create bridges between Jacques’ research and our own interpretation of it, in a more direct visual and material way.
Based on your research is there a likely correlation between star constellations and French geography?
Ahah! This is still really hard to tell :) For the chapter “Looking for the Ursa Major” we went on a road trip on the path of Jacques’ claimed projection of the seven points of the Ursa Major on the French landscape, roughly between Marseille and Cannes. During the day we were ‘hunting’ for each of the specific earth point and at night for perfect view of the Ursa Major on those precise locations, before it would disappear behind the horizon, which was pretty fast. It resulted in a series of photographs we did in collaboration with Maarten Heijkamp, as well as other works we developed later with earth we collected on each location. Our conclusion was that: when one looks for connection, it is quite likely to be found :) Ending up at night photographing the clear sky in beautiful isolated landscapes is definitely a connecting experience, among each other as an artist’s team, to Jacques and his theory, and of course to the sky and the earth :)
You often work with graphic designers and other artists on publications, tell us more.
During her graduation in 2008, Marie Ilse collaborated on a publication with fellow graduate and dear friend Xavier Fernández Fuentes with her project entitled Decay. Xavier came up with a beautiful translation of Marie Ilse’s concept of Decay with a publication cover made of carbon paper, so that one holding the book would leave a trace on its inner cover. This project won the Rietveld design prize that year, and both were really excited about their collaboration, so they continued further with smaller projects. Since 2004 we have been collaborating with him on a publication plan for “The Sky is on the Earth”. Last year Xavier designed our publication entitled “Looking
for the Ursa Major”, with photographs made in collaboration with Maarten Heijkamp and beautiful earth prints by Mayra Sergio. It is fascinating to see how he managed to translate the tactility and materiality of our approach through a specific play of different paper and transparency. The publication won the jury prize of the Anamorphosis prize for self-published photo-books and is now part of the MoMA library. Sadly, Xavier passed away three months ago, and we just feel very empty to lose a friend and such a talented collaborator.
Your previous project KAMA SUTRA is an installation of elements that function as couples. What was the inspiration behind this?
For years we have been fascinated by connections (a topic that coincidently comes back in The Sky is on the Earth) and specifically Japanese joinery, the craftsmanship of making two pieces of wood t perfectly for various constructive purposes. One friend of ours once commented on the book we had on that topic as “its like Kama-sutra for wood” :) We thought it was a funny remark and developed a series of pieces that would ‘literally’ function as a couple, and the various power play that can occur in relationships. We treated the material and the shape according to the relation and impact they could have on each other, and the resulting installation bears both a poetical and playful approach to the notion of connections.
In MAINTENANCE OF INTIMATE SPACE you investigate Intimacy’s constant need for maintenance against exterior forces?
On an architectural scale, we are fascinated by the paradoxal notion of waste, value and maintenance embodied in ruins in contrast with destruction of cultural artefacts used as terrorist propaganda, at the time of that project the Malian mud mausoleum. Through theorical re ection with Mark Leegsma we put in parallel constant preservation of space with maintenance of intimate space as a psychological fondament. The resulting installation is a constructed 2m x 2mx 1,5m corner of 1000 un red clay bricks exposed to an indoor water spraying system. In the process the construction slowly disintegrate while creating owing rivers of yellow clay through the
exhibition space, until a loud collapse, resulting in an explosion of wet clay. Since then, we have used this clay and leftover bricks with many projects, and will continue doing so, to give many new lives to this destructive process.
What can we look forward to from Khurtova & Bourlanges in 2018?
At the moment we are nishing the last three chapters of The Sky is on the Earth. We are starting a publication with graphic designer and artist Cécile Tafanelli entitled ‘Sans Réponses’. It focuses on the notes and lists of Jacques combined with our own hand-made weaves. The publication will be an attempt to unravel the mind of the person behind the archive. We are also working further on ‘Casting the Archive’ a formal translation of the overwhelming physicality of such an analogue archive, creating porcelain and bone china replicas of the documents piles and boxes. In 2018 we aim at developing a large exhibition that will compile the entire project. The seven chapters will be presented in one space wandering in a linear and circular way, to create fluid connections between the different elements (earth, maps, rocks, textile, documents) in a similar way as we developed through the project.
For more information about Khurtova and Bourlanges:
MAYRA SERGIO - AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE BRAZILIAN BORN, NETHERLANDS BASED ARTIST HARNESSING SCENT FOR DIALOGUE.
Raised in Rio de Janeiro and now based in Amsterdam. Educated in Brazilian Cinema and then Dutch Design. The result of two cultures colliding is a new and unique approach to the creation process and material research.
Your work is both thought provoking and fascinating – how would you describe Mayra Sergio the Artist?
I would say I have a personal and poetic approach to themes.
There is clearly a great depth of thought behind your work – what is your mission?
I have interest in being able to create work that is a sensorial experience but also convey reflection. I love the research part of the process, gathering books about a certain theme, reading and writing. Then start experimenting with materials. It`s very important for me to keep on writing and testing at the same time. You start molding materials to fit an idea but then the materials start to mold the idea also, it`s a fascinating dialogue.
In Sensorial Shelter you deal with themes of ‘foreign’ and ‘finding a sense of belonging’ through coffee? Why did you choose that medium?
Those themes are very personal; I have chosen to live in a foreign country and that`s at the same time attractive and painful. It`s only when you move to an unfamiliar environment that you can realize what is familiar and what are the pieces that together make your identity. On my first year in the Netherlands, without noticing, I became the crazy coffee lady. Stocking Brazilian coffee, filling suitcases with it, asking friends to bring it to me when visiting. The funny thing is; it was not about Brazilian coffee being of higher quality, it was about re-experiencing that taste shared with friends and family through the years. It was about re-experiencing that warm feeling of belonging. I realized that I didn`t belong in this country but when I drank my cup of coffee my body felt at home. Even if only for a little while.
You recently exhibited with Gaggenau in London- high-end coffee appliances maker and the ‘coffee artist’ – a marketers dream! How was the experience for you?
When I first got the invitation I was very excited but not sure what to expect once it was a new way for me to present my work. But the Gaggenau team was very respectful of my vision and incredibly warm on the days I spent in London building up the work. So I`m very happy our paths crossed and I hope we can collaborate again in the future.
In Impossible Records you tackle our two-dimensional recording of experiences with a choice: save scent for the future or experience it now. What drew you to this subject?
I`ve always been fascinated by the relationship between smell and memory. Smell is such a powerful trigger! At the same time very hard to contain in a way that you have access to, like a photo album. Also the more you smell that scent that triggers on you a certain memory, the less powerful it gets.
What choice (experience now or save) do most spectators go for and why do you think they make that selection?
It`s funny coz in the exhibition space I only get to see the leftovers of the open prints. So I thought everybody was choosing to experience. But months later I came cross a few people that still have one of the prints vacuum sealed hanging on a wall of their house. I think that says a lot about someone’s character. But I must say I love this tension of “Am I ever opening this?” The question between preserving or experience is a bit everywhere, even how we relate to our own bodies, for example, we know that alcohol, cigarettes or fried food are bad for our heath but we still choose experience.
What is your Earth Prints project about?
Because of “Impossible Records” I was invited by the duo Khurtkova Bourlange to collaborate for their publication “Looking for The Ursa Mayor”, which is part of their project “The Sky is on Earth”. I applied the technique I develop to silkscreen with spices but this time using earth. They went on a trip following the stars of the Ursa Mayor constellation and collected earth from each location. This publication was nominated for the Anamorphosis Prize and is now part of the MoMA library
You studied cinema and worked as a set designer for 5 years in Brazil before studying at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam – how has that blend of experiences influenced your work?
When you work as a set designer you learn how to silently tell the story that is on the script. How does the house of a character add its complexity? How the shape of a room adds to a scene atmosphere? I still have interest in storytelling but no longer in the realistic way in which most films are made nowadays. I believe I quit set design so I could create my own narratives and choose the way to tell them. And by making sensorial work I can explore dimensions that are not possible on the cinema screen. But in cinema I learnt how to create in dialogue with other people and the practical side of things like coordinating a big crew and a build up for example.
You are from Rio de Janeiro and now based in Amsterdam - what qualities do both cities share?
This question makes me realize how much I`m busy observing their differences... Those are two opposite places: the architecture, streets, weather and people... Amsterdam is very stable, organized, well taken care of, safe. Rio is this explosion of extremes so astonishing beautiful and ugly. I think that in a way I need both.
What have you got coming up and where can our readers see you exhibiting in the coming months?
Sensorial Shelter will be in London until the 24th of August and I have another work called To Break Ground showing at Tijdlijk Museum in Amsterdam until January 2018.
Find out more about Mayra Sergio: www.mayrasergio.com
STEFAN CAMMERAAT - the dutch artist discusses his work including 50 year time capsules and a Manual for aliens.
Time Capsules to be opened in exactly 49 years, 7 months, 1 week, 4 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 47 seconds from the time he did this interview. Meet the artist whose work has been described as having a prophetic quality.
When, why and how did Stefan Cammeraat become an artist?
I started studying Fine Arts at the HKU in Utrecht in 2011. The decision to do so might’ve been a bit on the fly (I was 18 when I enrolled), but I figured it was what I enjoy spending my time with the most. It felt natural, and it still does.
You have been described as: using historical sources for your work, especially of the kind that has been attributed with a prophetic character. What does that mean?
I generally look at works stemming from early Modernism. Most of those works have a vision of the future, or at least some kind of ideological basis. In my work I try out the proposals of those modernist pieces by researching them thoroughly, acting as if they were never made and recreating them as if they were made now (comparable to the Borges story about the Don Quixote). Through this methodology my works reflect on the way in which we view history as a static source. Instead I approach it as a material, which is to be actively used, twisted and expanded upon to remain relevant.
You created Gallery Semi Colon: an online platform for the arts with some impressive differences – why?
I was looking for a way to deal with ideas I had which were impossible to produce in real life. At this point I turned to the possibilities of a digital space, where basically everything is possible (for example blowing up a show at the MOMA in 1934 and displaying the ruins as a work itself). It struck me that there weren’t many digital platforms for art, which fully embraced those qualities. For Semi-colon I mainly invite artists who aren’t too familiar with digital work, so for example sculptors or painters, and I challenge them to produce something, which would be impossible to present in any other way than in digital space. It’s all very experimental because of this, and I hope each show brings something unique, not just to the gallery, but also to the practice of the artists themselves.
In the project ‘50 years’ you invite guests to create works for time capsules that will not be opened until 50 years into the future?
I’ve had a long-standing interest in time capsules for multiple reasons. Firstly because it’s an absurdly difficult endeavor to present our time to a future generation, secondly because anything of significance we might put into them is at the same time lost for the generations between the burial and the target date. Oddly, while digital reproduction gives us many outs to the second problem, most time capsules were made in the 20th century. For ‘50 years’ I asked an archivist, an archaeologist, an artist and a sociologist to produce something specifically for the future. Each of them approached the commission from their area of expertise and their own personal background. Naturally until 2067 the pieces they provided won’t be displayed, or revealed in any way, while the closed capsules act as a monument for future thinking.
How long exactly at the time of answering this question is left before the capsules are opened and what do you hope the impact will be?
The capsules will be opened in exactly 49 years, 7 months, 1 week, 4 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 47 seconds from now (17:50:13, August 13th, 2017). With the project being split into two over the span of 5 decades, the closed capsules employ the natural curiosity of the audience to initiate a conversation about the future, while in 2067 the piece works as a historical document for future generations.
In Futurists without prospects you combined a series of shows with a publication (Crash) to tell the story of how a car accident in 1907 “served as a mythical big bang for all of Modernism”?
In my opinion this car crash was one of the first truly modernist works, which was of course amplifed in Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto. The image of a car crash is a massive metaphor for both the industrial revolution and the ever-increasing speed of daily life. Crash takes the perspective of a car mechanic who happened to be in the passenger seat when the incident occurred, and approaches the history of Italian Futurism through a car maintenance manual specifically for Marinetti’s FIAT. I aimed to provide a history of Futurism which is much more fitting to an art movement which above all wanted “... to destroy four centuries of Italian tradition” than a purely historical display or document.
In a guide to making sense of a senseless world you create a manual that helps aliens come to grasp with basic concepts of human living?
Kazimir Malevich stated that rather than representing existing situations, painting should strive to create new realities. Creating even one new reality felt like too big of a burden to me, so I flipped his statement upside down, and figured I’d represent existing situations to show to beings from a reality much different from our own. This small publication dissects everyday life into very simple two-dimensional drawings, and by this process of abstraction creates images reminiscent of Suprematist works, as well as a way to ‘understand’ Suprematist artworks in a completely wrong way.
What have you got in the pipeline that we can look forward to?
The 28th of September I open a show at the SBK in Amsterdam with my friends Koen Kloosterhuis and Bruno Slagboom, where each of us will present new works fresh out of the studio. Much later, from the 7th till the 11th of February 2018 I will be showing at Art Rotterdam as part of the Prospects and Concepts show.
Find out more about Stefan Cammeraat: www.stefancammeraat.nl