ARTEUPARTE / BLOG
POSTED ON 09/12/2014 BY arteuparte
Her website says that she is Multi-media visual artist, photographer and mixed-media Installation artist. Vasilisa Forbes, from London, won two years ago the Sony WPO Shortlist 2012. We wanted to talk to her just now because she showed her last project film, WAX, at Library Members Club. We want to know a bit better about her world and all the mining of her art-work. Without dude, one of the conversations of the year.
You move into different artistic media. Photo, video, collage, interventions .. In which area you feel most comfortable?
I love working in varied media, as it allows for a better storytelling and greater freedom in expression. Ideally I am interested in creating ‘experiences’ that is what I hope to do in the future more so, and would love to create more sculptural pieces to tie in with my projects. The way Jeff Koons and Matthew Barney create entire scenarios and bodies of work which involve film, photography, sculpture is fascinating to me, and I took Matthew Barneys approach of creating an environment and ‘world’ (where he built entire sets, stories and mythologies) into my latest series ‘Disarchy’ which looks at women vs media and contemporary culture. Disarchy or ‘wax’ series likewise incorporate film, photography, installation and live public art performance, and this will create the ‘world’ and environment that projects a strong story-telling concept.
With what technique started and how they were coming the others?
There wasn’t every really one techinque, but people knew of me for my photographic images, (which were showcased with Saatchi Art) which were more ‘reworked’ photographs or ‘generated images’ that started off as documentary photographs in 2007. I was interested in being a photographer just like everyone else was at that time, but I was more interested in creating images than in taking direct images of what was already present. I started drawing and painting before photography, and studied drawing at Camberwell Arts College before doing illustration, so graphics was the medium I trained in then, but I had wanted to study photography a year before that, so it was always everything mixed together, all forms of art. I loved making music and playing music, and used to be determined to become a filmmaker, therefore it was all a mishmash and I was looking for an area where I could combine everything, and film seemed like that sort of place.
I read somewhere that your first photo was when you were 8-9 years and you photographed a tulip. Young to start in earnest. Did you take photos just for fun when you were a child or you looked for different frames and images to transmit or express ideas …?
Make a more experimental photography? That photograph was purely for fun and I didn’t really start taking photographs till I was 15, but before that I was always painting and drawing. I used to draw ‘drama scenes’ as a child, like most children do, situations, happenings, people doing things. I do remember that I did lots of drawings of how I felt as a girl – lots of drawings of girls being bound by men, a girl in handcuffs being sent off to marriage on a chain. That was quite a significant style I had at the time! Then I painted portraits of relatives and self portraits for practice. And later on I joined a few bands.It was all a journey of creative choices and interests that were fighting for the main spot, and I’m aware now that the medium is not important but the concept and then once that exists it can be transposed into any medium. Essentially it is best to get the creative drive going early and experiment as much as possible!
We are in the digital age. More and more people think they know about photography by pressing a button with the SLR and put a filter with an app. What do you think about?
Its an interesting area because, why not? Art should be democratic, but it isn’t. And someone should be able to use any tool available to them to create something they believe to be meaningful. In reality, where does art find its voice? Usually from the audience. Is something perceived as art unless the audience believe it to be so? Usually not. So if someone who has had no experience in photography presses a button and makes something magical, then why not? I think its only ignorance or fear that would make you afraid of such a phenomenon. A fear that your hard-earned knowledge is being challenged, for example, by people who never had a clue about taking a photo on an old machine. But what’s the difference? All tools of photography are man-made objects and its not like people make their own cameras very often, whereas painters may mix their own paints or create their own brushes.
I think if you trained as a photographer, (which I didn’t) then you may be afraid and irritated that what felt like such arduous learning to you, is merely a button pressed for someone else, but this discussion isn’t a new thing. There are other ways to use photography, and call yourself what you want, it does’nt matter. If your art or photography is meaningful, people will see the beauty and strength or story in it, no matter how it was made. The same question could be asked of artists who do not make their own work, like Hirst or Murakami or most of the modern day pop-artists.
There are many photographers who join the bandwagon of the analog. Are you a 35mm girl or digital?
I actually don’t see myself as a photographer anymore, and maybe to conventional standards I was always a mixed-media artist and not a photographer, and I would agree. I think its a pointless definition, but photographers perhaps are people who create images purely in the camera / lens and not in post-production, like I do. But then again, 90% of photographers seem to use photoshop to re-adjust and perfect their images, so what is the state of photography?
I think the modern interpretation of ‘photographer’ is someone who uses their eye with a camera to make images, make things. But that isn’t really the same as the old idea of a ‘photographer’ which is someone that uses the camera in a highly learned way. I don’t take ownership of any area, I like all forms of art, and whether someone uses analog or digital is meaningless. If a powerful message, story or visual is there, then it really doesn’t matter. (but I used to love 35mm and love medium format, and still love the quality it creates of rich colour that digital can’t always match). Actually seeing contemporary films vs films shot in Medium Format or for example Nolan’s Intersteller which was shot in some parts on 70mm Imax film, you can really see the beauty and perfection of film. It is so so rare to find commercial filmmakers using real film format, and the results are very much evident – the quality of colour, the delicate grain, the depth of tone is unmatchable by digital machinery.
Internet causes images to be timeless, they do not expire, they stay in the cloud. Do you see the Internet as a breakthrough for artists? In your case that it benefits, for your videos, gifs, and short films.
I’ve always grown up with the internet, so its always existed, ever since I was born. Its a crazy thing to realise, but I don’t know a world before it, so as an artist it’s been a present and existing medium like any other. I love the way people use the internet to experiment with new forms of creativity. Its great the way they play with the medium, like Rafael Rozendale who had that very interesting and bizarre website concept. Lucky PDF also work with the internet and use podcasts and skype and radio waves to create bizarre scenarios and internet-inspired videos. Its a tool of our age; we almost can’t live without it as we’ve used it so much, and so of course for the internet-age artists it is both an exciting and irritating platform to create, make and discover, as well as giving people the chance to travel and be free with where they are. Now you can upload art from anywhere in the world and converse with others, it is a fascinating tool. And yes it benefits me very well as if you happen to loose files or folders, you can refind them in the internet cloud, thank god! As I always loose things, so initially I used Flickr as a place to store my photos as a I had a really old laptop which kept running out of memory. It was far better than storing things on CD’s because they can also be lost or misplaced.
I’d like to hear what an older artist feels about the internet which may have come about during their career, and how it affected or advanced it.
Who or what inspires you? Works by other artists, life, both.
Of course everything is inspiring. In my two latest projects I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Allen Jones, (who I interviewed actually) to find out about his use of the female form in his work and what this means for modern feminists to see man using the female body in such provocative ways. With my latest project ‘Wax’ i’ve taken exactly that, from Allen’s work and the Koons ‘Made In Heaven’ series to create a dialogue on works inspired by men but created by a woman – so that what you get is a direct interpretation of influences meeting personal realities. When men make work about women it is always different from the work women can make about themselves, these differences can be subtle but the context is real. I also looked at the way Linda Benglis explored advertising and her body in a short display of work, and Sarah Lucas’s subversion of sexuality in her self-portraits. I also looked to Matthew Barney for his idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the entire art piece, and have used this in my upcoming project and show as a way to directly display meaning and message. My latest projects are very specific, and so inspiration comes from real life – being a woman day to day and the obstacles and ideals that we are trying to overcome through forms of creativity.
Tell us something about “The complex relationship between women and men, or to describe the ways in which women have been treated as «other» across many cultures”.
This is a very strong and big question that I cannot answer alone! But it is something that can be experienced very evidently and very clearly throughout society both historically and to this day and I think this is very neatly summoned up no less by John Berger in his book ‘Ways of Seeing’ in the chapter on ‘Women’. In reality, this tells you all you need to know about the role of women in historical and traditional art, and how the woman has been predominantly the model, muse or subject and never the creator or conductor, facilitator or producer, despite her taken on this role in biological life in many forms. Many believe this to be the reason for man’s ‘desire’ to be a creator in art, where he cannot be a direct creator in life, although this is a subjective idea.
The idea of women artists is a new phenomenon, different situations apply to female artists – we’ve only existed for 60 years max according to societies statistics. The idea of the woman appearing in imagery then by default is attributed to the man’s eye, and therefore when a woman depicts herself in art, particularly in a sexual manner, this is confusing to the man and to the doctrine of thinking, and this has been shown in the way women’s hyper-sexualisation of themselves is immediately shut down as in the case of the artist Leah Scrager. People always presume there to be a man depicting women in such manner, as they have been brought up to understand, and therefore when a women does so of herself, it is vulgar, vain or highly self-loving, something that is not said of men who do regular self-portraits within the art world, such as Koons. Has he been called out of his self-portraits as chauvinist and self-obsessed? Perhaps not, as people saw another context to it, but the current state seems that to find a woman depicting herself sexually can be nothing but profanity or some sort of ‘porn’ and this is down to men’s (and women’s) understanding of the woman’s role and what she can and cannot do with her body. We see women naked all the time but only truly in two contexts – porn or art. It seems that to be ‘depicted’ is the woman’s role and to ‘depict’ is the mans, and therefore when these worlds are swapped it confuses the status quo and it makes people irritated or uncomfortable.
In many of your videos and photos you’re the protagonista. Ego, art, or lack of means to get the right models?
This leads on well from the above question, as my belief is that the self-image in female work is treated differently from the male, (as traditionally women were the man’s fantasy, their vision not their own vision.) And this is what I’m playing on, but in a way that appears to follow with the fantasy yet ultimately will bend and confuse it. As seen in my video for Wax, the idea of how we view sexuality against what we really mean by it when we desire and suggest it, is put into question (the video is out 4th December online at Waxchick.com or at the private view at 112 St Martins Lane, London).
I would love to see more women put themselves in their own artwork however this has never been a new phenomenon; the self-portrait is older than most forms of art and explains our human desire for affirmation, understanding and connection with others through the notion of the self. This is a highly interesting area in itself. There is something to it that suggests a fear of time or a desire to capture moment of life that are unique to your body. Women are more bodily-focused than men in many ways as they tend to be treated for such, and so to fight and counter that there suddenly came a point when I wanted to document my own body and character in a visual sense and this came not from not having other models to work with, but because it allowed me to fully be what the work intends. I cannot ask someone else to convey the emotion I have in mind, or am trying to represent – I can only do so truly myself, and therefore the work is genuine. I hadn’t always used myself in the work but the change came not from a self-love but a desire to explore what it means to be the self, to be a women in contemporary culture, and to do so starting from within, going outwards, not looking to find the answer in other people. I think its an important question to answer purely because it ties in with the idea of the woman vs the man, the male self-portrait is rarely questioned, but the woman is considered vain, however this is not the point. You can see from culture that many men desire to shoot portraits of women that they admire, it is pleasing to them, and they have something to show for it that other men will aspire to. For women, it doesn’t exist in that way so much. You have always been considered the subject of the photograph. So should I become manly and shoot other men and grow lots of body hair and call it feminism, or should I try and be a woman as I am and do what feels desirable to myself?
In reality it came from a desire to analyse, and contain what exists in me as a female in present culture, it is also empowering, to display yourself as a woman upon your own desires and not on a man’s vision.
In your works provoke sexual and socially. What do you pretend with your art?
I think I can tie question 9 in to this aswell – I don’t want to give away too much about the project but it is evident when seen as an entire ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ as intended then the message becomes apparent. It is about women, and it is about the self-image as found in modern society very commonly these days, and it is about wanting to creating a vision of yourself against what is the upheld norm, and to provoke other women into being liberated with their sexuality and body, as well as questioning the boundaries of sexuality, gender and existing ideals – and not in the hairy armpit way, the 80’s ‘man-woman-thing’ ideal but in a way that questions the deeply-rooted idea of woman – the object, the possession, the vision – and working upwards from that towards a new vision of woman, from the core of what women seem to love and hate equally so much. If that makes sense, it is about taking what existed in society and societies view of women and very subtely subverting it so that it at first appears to project onto myself that which women have fought with for ages, and then to turn it on itself.
What are you planing now? What we are going to see of Vasilisa Forbes, soon?
Im excited to launch the film on the 4th December in an interactive art experience at Library Members Club, 6-12pm, 112 St Martins Lane. The details can be found on art rabbit: https://www.artrabbit.com/events/wax-live
I would love to encourage others to attend the event. It also ties in with a billboard showcase done by Annin Arts of ‘Wax Woman as Table’ and other works to encourage a dialogue on women in relation also to the Allen Jones exhibition which runs at the Royal Academy at the same time. 🙂
Thanks for your questions! xxx
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