Conversation with Brigitte Kovacs
Posted by Steve Maher on 02 May 15:05
T: Hi Brigitte! How shall we start? The canvas is clean and the world is our oyster.
BK: What a nice image!!! Though a blank canvas can also be frightening in some ways, so just fire away :-)!
AT: Great! What would you put on a blank canvas?
And then I looked on my desktop if I could find an image to play with and this is what I found. What do you think is going on here?
BK: Yesterday I was at my grandmother’s house and I found an old photograph just like this. A happy family in front of a blue screen at a photographer’s studio… it made by stumble, but I didn’t take it with me.
AT: I wish I had taken more pictures with my grandma when she was still alive. Her face is still so bright in my mind though. Her one gold tooth shining right back at me.
BK: Arlene, could you tell me a bit about your work? As I understand from your email address, you are interested in translation. I have been dealing with the notion of transformation and transference for quite a while and would be curious how you distinguish them from translation.
AT: Thanks for asking! I would say that transformation and transference are translation techniques. One thing that I do within my projects is to use translation techniques to make art and to use them to understand what is being communication. We are in a constant state of translation! Not just through spoken and verbal languages, but from sight to taste and texture to emotion, etc.. Using these translation theories as practise has really helped me find more meaning from not only my teeny tiny corner of the world, but also try to empathize or transfer that to other perspectives.
As part of my work, I try to build with people as to communicate takes two. Even in autocommunication. I like working with all ages! From little babies to 90 year olds. I like that saying, “You’re only a man once.”
How do you feel that transformation and transference are similar or different to translation?
When was the last time you felt really misunderstood?
BK: I am afraid to say that this happens all the time to me :-)!
AT: mmm yes, story of my life!
BK: Thank you for telling me a little bit about your work! It seems highly interesting and I am curious to learn more about it! Communication is such a broad field!
In the framework of my PhD research on walking art I investigated the relation between walking and it’s (re)presentation as artefact in an exhibition context. Hereby, I considered the changing physical condition of the art work as a form of transformation (more than translation, because the artefact can ‘continue’ the work without really showing or describing what has exactly happened).
AT: My ears are perked up! Walking as transformation? Of something in particular?
How do you differentiate walking in context to an exhibition to walking in daily life? Getting from here to there.
BK: The difference, as I see it, is that art walks have an artistic concept … But since they are often performed in solitude or at least not in front of an informed audience, it needs a transformation to present the walk in an exhibition context as e.g. photograph, video, text etc.
AT: Could you say that an audience validates the walk/the work? Or is the intention more important? Then I think if hierarchy is necessary in this transformation you speak of?
Can you think of solitary acts that were made into an art piece by how it was framed or presented to the wider audience? One work that comes into mind is One Year Performance 1981-1982 (Outdoor Piece). “From 26 September 1981 through 26 September 1982, Hsieh spent one year outside, not entering buildings or shelter of any sort, including cars, trains, airplanes, boats, or tents. He moved around New York City with a packbag and a sleeping bag (https://www.tehchinghsieh.com/oneyearperformance1981-1982).”
BK: Yes, exactly. I also mention Hsieh’s work in my thesis. There is the artistic concept as first instance of the work - the physical performance as second instance and various documents such as photographs, a contract, text etc. as third instance.
AT: Immediately, Charles Sanders Pierce and his concept of firstness, secondness, and thirdness come to mind. Have you ever made that connection? Are their any theorists that you connect with in your research? https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/peirce
BK: I am familiar with Charles Sanders Pierce but I didn’t refer to him in my research. To come back to your question: There is no audience needed to validate the work, since it is communicated later on through other media channels. I don’t think that there is a clear hierarchy between the 3 instances, they form one work. The artistic concept is of course very important, but would stay invisible without physical and material manifestation.
AT: And all those degrees of matter hold its own playing field. I also think hierarchy isn’t exactly possible nor is it necessary.
What sparked your interest in the visible manifested through invisibility? On walking art? Do you remember the turning point where your interest turned into art practice?
BK: It actually started the other way round. I always worked performatively and therefore I was confronted with the question of how to communicate my actions. So I started to have a closer look at how other artists are dealing with this problem…
AT: What kind of challenges did you confront within the communication channels? Which artists were you looking at or is this not relevant to your growth, process, and/or work?
BK: My problem was mainly that I saw my work in conceptualising and performing an action, but not necessarily in creating an art object related to it. However, soon I realized that this ‘art object’ is quite an important part of the piece as well. So I had a look at a variety of artists, one group of them being walking artists, and all the different ways they use to communicate their actions …
AT: This is the first time I am hearing walking artists as a group or genre. I did a quick search and found this > http://www.walkingartistsnetwork.org/. Pretty amazing! After I researched that I got the image of Richard Long’s ‘A Line Made by Walking’ in my mind. It took me a short while to find it, but somehow google knew just what I was looking for.
“Nature has always been recorded by artists, from prehistoric cave paintings to twentieth-century landscape photography. I too wanted to make nature the subject of my work, but in new ways. I started working outside using natural materials like grass and water, and this evolved into the idea of making a sculpture by walking … My first work made by walking, in 1967, was a straight line in a grass field, which was also my own path, going ‘nowhere’. In the subsequent early map works, recording very simple but precise walks on Exmoor and Dartmoor, my intention was to make a new art which was also a new way of walking: walking as art. (Tufnell 2007, p.39.)”
This piece was very inspirational for me as it showed how the act of doing was simultaneously making. I admired the fragility and impermanence of the piece and how the materials used were all natural, every bit of it.
To read more about Long’s work, click here.
Brigitte, what draws you to walking artists? Would you consider yourself to be one?
BK: I think there is a certain urge that connects all walking artists. It is the desire to be in movement, to be in the world, in the here and now ! In this sense I consider myself a walking artist, although I don’t limit my artistic practice to walk based projects…
AT: If walking constitutes the movement part of the your work, is there a stillness aspect? What are the other pieces of the pie?
BK: I once made a performance series which was called “Running for Standstill”. I often have the impression I am constantly running but not getting anywhere…so a very specific form of immobility.
In my walking projects the action is usually characterised through a movement which unfolds in time, while the artefact represents a record of it which can’t be altered anymore - so a frozen moment in time. There is always this duality between moving and stillness as two sides of one coin.
AT: How do you show movement within stillness? The act of sitting just came to mind. A still sitting body has blood flowing through it. For example, how was “Running for Standstill” realized?
BK: The blood flow is a very good example for movement within stillness. I also think that a book is a good medium to show movement within an immutable object, since the reader has to turn pages to unfold the story/action ....
In the case of “Running for Standstill” however, it was continuous running around a square without arriving or a clearly defined finish...
AT: What prompted to you investigate this theme? Was there a specific turning point or event that sparked this interest?
BK: I guess if you investigate movement, you can’t avoid dealing with stillness as well.
What comes to my mind in this context is “walking meditation”. Are you familiar with the concept? If not, you can have a look at this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdO1vZJgUu0
It’s an introduction to walking meditation by Thích Nhất Hạnh.
AT: Oh yes, I have been practising walking meditation for many years. Nice that you bring that up! Last night I was thinking of this dualistic approach you have been talking about. It makes sense and it can be a bit more of a digestible way to understand- good/bad, movement/stillness, body/mind, heaven/hell, for example. What about approaching something from a wholeness attitude or nothingness, if we want to explore these concepts from their dual self? Do you know what I mean?
For myself, I think, in general, I try to step away from the dualism of being and find a more holistic path. In walking meditation, for me it’s about oneness. Duality isn’t present in full awareness.
As I write, I am figuring it out.
BK: Yes, two sides of one coin, different instances of one work.
What brought you to walking meditation in the first place? What was your experience with it?
AT: My big brother Bill introduced me to meditation when I was 15 as he noticed as I was a typical teenager with emotions running through the ceiling and unstoppable energy. Him and his wife had just traveled through Asia for a year staying in monasteries and rock climbing here and there. We reunited at home, in Taiwan, one summer and I remember telling him some of the things I was going through so he taught me how to focus on the breath and so on. When I moved to Helsinki, my friend told me about some meditation groups. As I had been sitting solo for so long, and had enough of feeling alone in Finland, AND even though I was a bit weary, I thought I would try it anyways. It turned out to be really lovely to sit in silence with others and that’s where I found out about walking meditation.
My approach to meditation is that hopefully one day, I can have total awareness as I’m typing, talking, and walking. Walking meditation, as a practice, allows for you to hone that skill in bring it into daily life. When we are practicing it in a group, I like how we play with the different speeds and consciously see how that affects your awareness. Awareness of how the floor smoothes over every non-existing follicle on your foot.
And you? How has walking meditation found its way into your life and how is it present?
BK: Walking was always a good way for me to clear my mind, to get into my own rhythm. Through my research on walking I found out about walking meditation and got fascinated by it, but I have never practiced it in a group or under the guidance of an expert. Maybe we can go for a walking meditation together when I am in Helsinki :-)?
AT: Yes, please! I can always spot the walking meditators who are doing it in the formal sense because they are walking incredibly slooooow, which makes them look like they lost something on the ground and are looking for it.
BK: In general I think that the awareness aspect is quite important if you deal with walking as a conscious artistic but also religious (pilgrimages) or philosophical (e.g.:peripatetic school) act.
AT: And how do you feel about other variants of walking and movement such as running, rolling, dancing, and even speed walking?
BK: I am also interested in other forms of movement such as running. I conducted a series of walking interviews with artists worldwide in the last years. With two of those artists, Jeroen Jongeleen and Guido van der Werve, I actually performed running interviews instead of walking interviews because running fits their artistic practices better. It was quite interesting to experience how speed can change a walk as well as a conversation.
AT: How did you assess that running fit their art practise better than walking?
Sidenote: when we have family reunions I’m the only Tucker that goes running with my siblings’ partners. Basically, it’s our time to vent and have true heart to hearts. I am usually the silent one as it is really hard to run and talk simultaneously and they’ve got a lot on their chest! Ha!
BK: Actually, it was not my idea to conduct the interview while running (I usually never run). Both artists insisted on it and since both of them are doing running performances it made absolute sense for me, so I agreed on this adaptation. E.g. Jeroen Jongoleen set up a circle in a park in Rotterdam for our running interview. So we were running in circles for the whole duration of the interview, 90 minutes or so! Other people in the park as well as the police got quite interested in our performance :-)!
AT: Oh, very nice! How will you adapt or feel your walk to the group when you are in Helsinki for Pixelache?
BK: The series of walks I conceptualised for the Pixelache Festival is completely different to the performance of walking interviews. It is called Walking Encounters/Breaking the Fifth Wall? and focuses on chance as driving force for the construction of fleeting relations that surpass the dominant electronic networks. Moreover it aims to create more awareness for our non-digital environment and the unexplored parts of the city.
The walks will be conducted on three consecutive evenings (21.,22.,23.5.) during the blue hour, so just before and after sunset, in three different areas of the city, located between Oranssi and Kontula. On each evening one volunteer is invited to participate in the walk. So there will only three people actually walk with me during the festival, everyone else interested in the project can follow the walks through their documentation on the festival’s webpage and of course they can talk to me directly as well. To participate in one of the walks you can send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you are selected you will get detailed information about the location of the walk and the procedure of the whole evening via email. So it is a bit like participating in a game that moves from the digital into the real world…
AT: Ok! Got it! As I read your description I got a sense that you have a very clear idea about what the 5th wall is. Could you describe it? What is your understanding of the 5th wall?
BK: To my understanding the term “the 5th wall” hasn’t been clearly defined yet. But this year's festival is also about exploring of what it might be … so my walks are contributing to this aim!
AT: Right. I think it is very subjective and open to interpretation. How did you apply your understanding of it into the development of your walk? What is the 5th wall to you?
BK: For me the 5th wall is an imaginary wall that separates people who only interact with each other on a digitally mediated level and by so doing miss out on real world encounters.
AT: From that perspective, could you say that breaking the 5th wall is making opportunities for human contact and real life meetings?
BK: Yes, I consider real life meetings a way to break the 5th wall!
AT: Do you think the 5th wall is theme related or is it more about constructs and space? Meaning is the 5th wall restricted to certain topics or that these walls are built around anything.
BK: I don’t think that the 5th wall is restricted to specific topics. It is more a way we are living today…e.g.: it is easier to buy your grocery online and have them delivered to you than actually go to the store, but you are missing out on chance encounters by so doing, you erect an invisible wall around you. This brings the risk of getting more and more isolated in the real world even if you have thousands of facebook friends online :-)!
AT: That was exactly what I was trying to get at. If we were having this conversation face to face, I would have waved my arms around to help my clumsy way with words.
Isolation can lead to loneliness. This is a huge topic of concern in Finland. https://www.redcross.fi/news/20150319/getting-know-finland-mens-group
BK: I guess the cold and the darkness during wintertime makes the situation in Finland even worse...
AT: Well, there are always so many factors involved, but it is an issue that is recently being confronted or let’s say, openly talked about.
How have the conversations on your walks developed? Do you see any parallels with the conversation we are having here? Both are time-based. For example, I created this document on March 7, 2019. Today is May 1, 2019. Our conversations have really meandered from one topic to the next!
BK: Yes, that’s right! We have touched quite a few different topics :-) and since our exchange lasted for a couple of weeks now, I am sure we both got influenced by changing circumstances and environments, a factor you would not have at a traditional interview.
So there are some similarities to walking interviews which are strongly influenced by the traversed area
AT: The only way to find out is to experience and do. Is there anything else you would like to share with us? Otherwise, we look forward to walking with you in Helsinki!
BK: Thank you for the interesting conversation, Arlene! I am looking forward to walking with you!
AT: Great! For more information about Brigitte and her work, please go here.