Could you please introduce the video displayed at your exhibition at the etc. gallery?
I perceive the video showcased at the etc. gallery as an attempt to transfer a complex emotion, which accompanies a particular formative event. The title of the video is Bad Trip and the work is very atmospheric, even though – to some extent – it can also be perceived as narrative. There are different moods and environments, symbols and signs, premonitions and dreams that alternate in the video. I work a lot with the dynamics of cut and sound. Possibly, this video is the most surreal piece I have created so far. It was preceded by a work titled Corrective Relations: First Meeting (2018), which was inspired by a first therapy session with a psychologist, when one does not really know yet what his or her problem is. In Bad Trip, his or her unconsciousness strives to reveal the problem. First Meeting was based on a type of therapy, for which psychedelic drugs are used. This therapy is currently being developed for instance at the National Institute of Mental Health, where they work with the macrodosing of psilocybin carried out by the therapist (sitter), who guides the patient through the altered state of consciousness. It has had some achievement in the field of depression – it has been discovered that a depressed person tends to think in circles, which can be interrupted by psilocybin and other psychoactive drugs, because they can create new neurone connections in the brain. Corrective Relations: First Meeting was primarily inspired by these impulses and by the 1960s psychedelic culture. My intention was to evoke the sensations at the beginning of the psychedelic trip and the related ego dissolution. Therefore, Bad Trip is a sequel of the First Meeting, another part from a series. It is about falling into a trance which was induced by deep meditation. During this trance, unpleasant revelations from our unconscious come to the fore.
You spent several months in Indonesia. Did your stay influence the work Corrective Relations: Bad Trip?
It certainly did, even though I had already thought about the concept of the ‘bad trip’ before I knew where I was going to do my internship. The previous video First Meeting ends with a transition from a state of ease to unease, from day to night, from a conformist zone to non-conformist – which is something that can happen even when you are travelling or staying abroad for a longer period of time. Hence, I would have made Bad Trip regardless of the location; I did not intend to shoot it in some particular place. That is why I cannot really say that the work clearly reflects my stay in Indonesia. Rather, the stay has confronted me with many questions. The environment is certainly present in the film but I was myself curious to see in what way will the locality influence it. It is also important to mention that I understand Bad Trip as a metaphor, a challenging process with a possibly positive result. However, by doing so, I certainly do not intend to say that my stay in Indonesia was a ‘bad trip’.
So you knew you wanted to work with a certain therapeutic format but it was not tightened to any local tradition, is that right?
From the start I knew I wanted to make a ‘darker’ video as a counterpoint to the previous one. At the same time, I was aware that I had to be very cautious and sensitive when it comes to the use of footage shot in Indonesia. I understand it as an experiment because it was the first time I worked with imagery from a different culture. As a part of my residency at the INI Project, which precedes my exhibition at the etc. gallery, I would like to organise a tie-dye workshop during which we can discuss texts related to the topic of cultural appropriation – and not just from the field of theory but also fiction. I think that the issue of cultural appropriation is still unresolved for the local art scene – if it has ever been discussed, which is why I find it important to debate how or even whether it is possible to work with imagery from different cultures. It is apparent that my video was shot elsewhere, which is why I want to reflect on how this ‘otherness’ and my position might be interpreted.
Does your work comment on the phenomena, when people from the West travel to the East expecting to live through a transformative experience?
I am not sure, whether my work literally comments on this phenomenon. I perceive it as a particular symptom and am interested in its possible causes. In her essay Imaginary Orient, Linda Nochlin states that in the work of classical academic painters such as Gérôme or Delacroix (at that time it was called the ‘Near East’), the conception of the so-called Orient represented a way of juxtaposing a European rationality being yielded to corporeality, emotionality and animosity – those were the features associated with the faraway Orient. The representation of the Orient was supposed to depict a period that we, the more developed European civilisation, have already overcome. At the same, it also represented a fantasy realm of escape from that developed, structured, fully rationalised world. I was contemplating on how Indonesia nowadays functions as a land of fantasies – we have a certain preformed idea, which is then confronted with the lived reality and we either confirm our stereotypical ideas or overcome them. In this respect, I think encountering the ‘other’ is an important process. The problem is that such encounters are still very one-sided. It is usually white, financially secure Europeans, who need to figure out who they are. I do not really judge that, usually they do reach some kind of ‘enlightenment’. I am just more interested in what is behind all this. What causes the desire to encounter this kind of experience? The video presented at the etc. gallery balances between what is reality, a dream and my idea of the country – I am trying to critically confront my own experience.
Does your role in the video Bad Trip represent something more general? When you arrive to the country, do you represent a category with a certain history and connotations, such as the category of a white woman?
I intended to stylise myself as the ‘white European girl’, who needs to find her true self and was told by her friend that the Vipassana meditation method is great. The core of this technique is a ten-days long meditation in isolation. The third day of meditation is usually followed by a state, during which things from the unconsciousness begin to occur and one can objectively observe them. The first part of the video depicts me as that white girl, who hesitates, whether she should go through the Vipassana meditation and she is little afraid because it might not be a pleasant experience. That is why there is an interview with Dewi Filiana (Fili) at the start of the film. She and her husband Joshe are the owners of the accommodation Filistay in Yogykarta, where I lived during my stay in Java. Over the course of our conversation, Fili partly calms me down but toward the end kind of laughs at me, because all I actually want from her is an affirmation that everything turns out well. She tells me: “You made some decision and it is your issue, do not make me involved”, by which she means something like: “I wish I had your problems”. In the video, Fili might appear as an archetype of the mother-carer, but I was mostly drawing on the way she talked to me. In reality, Fili is a mother of five and she takes care of the family, household and people, who are accommodated at their place, which was also my case. The dialogue is fictional but based on our real conversations.
The moment the main protagonist of the film makes her decision and enrols in the Vipassana course, an approximately 20-minutes long lesson of Yoga Nidra begins. Yoga Nidra is a form of sleep meditation, during which one experiences an altered state of consciousness. In the last section of the film, the main protagonist attains the trance, which she no longer controls and has to go through it. In this moment, things from her personal and social unconsciousness start occurring to her, which also entails her role as a contemporary colonizer – someone, who comes to the foreign country to take something – be it mineral or spiritual resources or some kind of authenticity. I find it funny that this search for our true selves usually ends with the realisation that he or she stands for different values than those imposed by the system or surrounding environment. So maybe a mass meditation, an LSD or ayahuasca trip might help us to overcome capitalism – not as a solution but rather as a tool for realising the state of affairs. Steve Jobs also liked meditation. Being aware does not by necessity lead to change; for that to happen action or activity is required.
You mentioned you want to relay to the viewer a certain comprehensive experience through the exhibition. What is this experience based on?
I always draw on my personal experiences, but personal means social to me in the sense that my experiences are in certain respects a part of more general tendencies in society. So, I am interested in whether someone can identify with my experiences or feel close to them, whether it is only my feeling or also an experience of other people – whether it might be some form of a social pressure. I would appreciate it if a person that sees my video thought: “Yep, I know this…”.
Do you consider video to be the right means of sharing this experience?
I believe so, because I come from a generation that has a plenty of emotions related to a particular type of moving image. For instance, the subject of my video Love Manifesto (2017) was the existence of certain typical scenes that we automatically recognise as romantic. It is particular compositions, shots and gestures, such as when two people hold hands. These images are not intrinsically mine, I have seen them somewhere, I know them somehow and associate romance with them. It is actually some form of collective memory. But at the same time, I am aware that images like these constitute the reality we live in, which is why I want to work with them in a critical way. In comparison to performance, which I also pursue, video represents a more permanent and direct format that allows me to determine the focus of the viewer. For me, personally, video functions as an archive or a record of my thoughts.
When making a film, you often use your own archive of audiovisual materials, which you process based on a distinctive dramaturgy. In your last video, this dramaturgy guides viewers through individual phases of the formative experience. What should this bring them?
If the viewer withstands it – the video presented at the etc. gallery lasts one hour – I would be glad if he or she underwent some exceptional experience. My intention was that the video itself should be the formative event. Its effect might differ for every person, as well as the formative event itself. It should cause something, but what this something is, depends on the particular person. It is also likely that it doesn’t cause anything, right?
Is it important for you to consider the possible strategies of engaging viewers’ bodies to make their experience sensually complex? How does it influence the way you work with the gallery space?
I like when art exaggerates and when one always enters a different space. From my point of view, spectacular installations disrupt the habituated norms we have when thinking about spaces. If a gallery space is transformed in an inordinate way, I perceive it with a certain distance and understand it as another possible form of reality. In this respect, I was influenced by the gothic conception of a cathedral – the way they worked with space, colours and light. A visit to a gothic church was designed as a holistic experience. I like to enter a space that immediately captures me or carries me somewhere else, be it a gallery space or a Christian church with rich decoration. More generally, I am interested in the possibilities of altered or parallel reality.
Are there any artists working with immersive installations whose work you find interesting?
I conjure up for instance the Berlin Biennale in 2016, part of which was the installation of Cécile B. Evans titled What the Heart Wants, or the exhibition Welt ohne Aussen in Gropius Bau in 2018, which was devoted to immersive artistic installations since the 1960s. At this exhibition, it was the video Nightlife by Cyprien Gaillard I found the most interesting.
Do you think that the creation of an immersive and unusual environment, different from our everyday experience of utilitarian spaces, might encourage thinking about new modes of functioning?
I think it might. I remember for instance the installation of Lucio Fontana at the exhibition Welt ohne Aussen in Gropius Bau, which was composed of a pure white environment with rounded corners, where people could really feel as if they had wandered into a completely different place. The whole exhibition gave me a really lively impression and after I left it, I felt very joyful and enthusiastic about doing anything. It worked well in contrast to the Berlin Biennale happening at the time, which was rather moderate, intellectual and critical. I feel like these two approaches perfectly complement each other.
Are these two approaches not symptomatic of the difference between exhibitions, which reckon with the physical presence of visitors and their bodies, and exhibitions that force visitors to adopt an intellectual distance and a critical stance. Which approach do you usually adopt?
The presence of the visitor is important both for my videos and performances. When I am working on something, I ask myself whether I would enjoy watching it or not. I also think how I could make the visitor’s experience more pleasant and provide them with some comfort. I do not want to submit to the demand to make short videos, which is often raised because of the visitors’ attention span at group exhibitions. The solo exhibition at the etc. gallery is a good opportunity to try working with a longer format.
Why is the topic of altered states of consciousness so pertinent in your recent works? Do you consider it to be a possible way of observing with a distance the conditions of the world we live in?
The series on this topic started with Love Manifesto, which I literally intended as a kind of declaration in the spirit of the modernist manifesto. The following videos, including Corrective Relations, are a search for means based on which this manifesto could be lived up to through the dissolution of the ego or altered states of consciousness – through a transformation of the perception of reality. I think ideologies work in a similar way. Ideology to me consists of a set of schemes and codes, based on which we read the reality we live in. I understand altered states of consciousness, attained through drugs, meditation or dance (which should be the subject of my next work), as other possible forms of being. So, I do perceive them as a way of thinking about the future.