Dear Peter, let’s start with a question regarding your self-understanding: Would you call yourself a Media-artist?
I began studying in the early 2000s and back then, the term “media artist” was truly overarching. Peter Kogler - the media artist quite simply - taught at the academy and his work fascinated me. However I have never been interested in the terminology. I grew up in the 80s and have experienced the world offline and online. The “media” influences me since my childhood. In the early 2000s the following question was raised: Are you drawing with your own hand or does the computer carry this out for you?
To what extent does your training as carpenter play a role within your practice and within your artistic concept?
Basically, my artistic practice has been induced by my work as a carpenter. I learnt a trade and I started playing a lot of video games during my apprenticeship. My artistic practice derived from pursuing these different kind of activities. In the end, it is very close to what I do today: Working with various computer programs, which means literally sitting in front of the computer at all times and being in the studio working with my hand. I have decided that the outcome of my work should be physical, something which can stay in the physical world - a unique item.
Regardless of that: It helps me with a lot of details, such as building frames. In the beginning of my studies, I always heard the phrase that my working attitude is very high - I think that definitely stems from my working world background: One has to be in the workshop at 7am and then you go home at 4pm.
What also contributes to the way I work, is often the collaborative approach and working together with other artists. I prefer if they come from a different field and have a different approach towards the work. I like it when works have an underlying sense of imperfection. I personally think it is tricky to reach that certain degree of imperfection which is one of the reasons why I was into working with Rade.
You are currently showing your works in the exhibition “jetzt für immer” at the B.LA Art Foundation. How did you approach the exhibition? Did you make the work specifically for the show?
In one room of the exhibition we have hung three “Automatic Writings”. These three works have been made specifically for the exhibition. It is a new body of work, which derived from the “Data Drawings” series. You can also find small-scale works in the exhibition: They are studies of the “Data Drawings” which haven’t been shown before. It’s great to see them in this context, as it allows a better understanding of my work and technique. Essentially, you can find here at the Birgit Lauda Foundation a very good overview of my works from 2014 to 2018.
Can you tell us more about the “Data Drawings”? They are some sort of visualized data streams. How do you measure the data and how do you bring it down to the paper?
The first works emerged during a residency in Paris in 2013. I value structure and struggle with settling into new cities easily. My time in Paris allowed me to think more about this and I thought hard about how to make best use of the new environment and how to use it for my advantage. Another starting point was the following questions: How would Pollock’s drip painting look in the year 2013? We live in times where we are consistently being tracked and large Silicon Valley Companies record our data. Could I get a robot to make a drip painting? Could this be calculable, or could you reproduce it in a numeric way?
What happens, when you touch the internet or the cloud, when I am present in the same room? I have downloaded an app and started to monitor the data. I recorded the download rate and documented everything and transferred the numbers into diaries. I searched for an appropriate way to translate these records: I looked at science to source a form to visually translate these numbers. It doesn’t matter if you have vector data or data streams, you always end up with three values and a x-,y-, z- axis. I have entered the data, resulting in a diagram that became the basis of my drawings. It’s about persistence by entering the same data fragments and by making sure to bring them down on paper. The black areas are the shadow, that forms when creating this “valley - mountain” diagram.
Can you tell us a bit more about the second body of work, the so called “Automatic Writings”: Where did they derive from?
The “Automatic Writings” are an attempt to illustrate data sets in a different way. I wanted to obscure them more, making them not as readable… Let’s look at the red work here, entitled “Talk Talk”: I drew data-sets, but I avoided giving clues on their origin. There is no area that can be filled anymore. The hand movement applied is similar to copying notes. Think of an electrocardiogram and how you could try and gather the data by hand.
You are combining the “Automatic Writings” with two motifs: On one side, we can see a picture of the first mobile phone ever and on the other side, we can see “Palm Tree Antennas” (Overall scribbles of palm trees). Can you tell us a bit more about this depiction?
The story about the manikin, which I call the “Motorola man”, is the following: I am interested in researching google patents for a while now. Google has created an online archive containing patents from the 18th century to now. I noticed that the inventions are always carried out in drawings and in black and white, combined with descriptive texts. This hasn't changed in the last 200 years: If you invent something, you will need to go to the patent office and deliver a monochrome drawing that can be copied easily.
You can look up everything on Google patent: From garden plastic palm to the round edges of the iPhone 8. A lot of the drawings are amusing. Over the last 200 years, the making of perfect, copyable drawings is an additional source of income for drafters. It is very interesting, when people start to upload their own drawings: I have started to compile a collection of “people of patent”. It is an archive of all figurative illustrations from the google patent database. I found the Motorola man there. The figure shows how to dial with a micro-cell by holding a motorola Dynatac from the year 1984 in one hand.
Often these figures appear together with the mobile communication palms or with the “Automatic Writings”. The figure tries to connect with the palm tree so to say. Palm trees often have a romantic connotation. In my work however, I try to understand them as “ message carriers”. To bring it to the point: As soon as you can see the Motorola Man, the palms are not far ….
The palm trees are transmitter masts, are they?
Yes, the date palm is the incarnation of the city Los Angeles. It belongs to the cityscape, but has originally been imported from South Africa. They can grow up to 25m high, and in L.A. they even grow up to 35m. They are highly inefficient plants and need a lot of water. They cityscape of L.A. will change significantly in the future. The city detected the problem and decided to not replant the palm trees. However, we still associate L.A. with palm trees, the exotic city. This artificiality has attracted many artists over the past. I am one of them, and I am concerned with this irreal set up in general. I am a huge fan of sci-fi literature, such as Philip K. Dick, who’s produced Blade Runner, Minority Report and other great films. He lived near L.A., was a drug addict, psychotic and started to not believe in anything anymore. The only thing he believed in was artificiality, no reality existed for him anymore. This always remind me of the following moment: Flaneuring through the streets of L.A., passing a palm tree and noticing that the bark of a tree has fallen off and you catch a glimpse of the metal surface underneath. The aerial mast is covered in a palm tree cladding. Obviously this topic is politically charged - not only the US is a master in hiding. Here the film and stage-set industry merge - everything is imitated perfectly. Everything is fake, nothing real.
Next to your work, we can find Rade Petrasevic’s work on display. For this show, it was important to us to bring together young artist from Vienna. At first appearance, you can hardly find similarities. You both have a different conceptua starting point. However, we thought that there are some similarities in the way you both work. How did you approach the proposed working relationship?
It was very interesting to exhibit along Rade. I visited him several times in the studio and I noticed some similarities. Rade’s work looks often like a drawing, produced with a marker pen. My works look graphic and Rade’s too, but they aren’t. Still we both don’t fall into the category drawers. I am interested in the scale of the line. I have started to scan my drawings and blow them up in scale. My lines or strokes are huge and pixelated. I have stared to apply those lines directly onto the wall. I repeat my drawings, but with a paintbrush.
The title “jetzt für Immer” (now and forever) sounds definite. We think it has a funny undertone, especially when thinking you two installing the show with us. How did you arrive at the title. Does Irony play a role?
I like vague exhibition titles. I engage with the internet day to day and it is constantly in flux. I measure data at a very specific time, but the moment has passed as soon I have taken the notes down. My work often depicts a moment. A moment, which is not comprehensible anymore, not even with the use of the data streams. In this context, the title “jetzt für immer” plays an important role.
We have released together a limited edition that accompanies the show. Rade created a manifesto and you did a reduced version of the “Automatic writings”. What was your approach here?
It was the first time, that I have ever used color. I think I might have been inspired by Rade. In general, I work with the digital environment and am therefore against the reproduction of my work. My works are always unique. The theme was similar to the Automatic Writings.
How do you see the development of your work. Looking back, how has your work changed over the passed 5 years?
I am more open towards the inaccurate. My work has become imprecise and I find it very interesting to dig into this more.
Can you tell us more about the relationship of science, technology and art. Who do you think is a pioneer or creates interesting things in this field? Who inspires you?
I source my inspiration from art forms that not necessarily align with my work. I am more drawn to things, that are removed from my own technique applied. For example, I am listening to music while working. That brings me into a certain mind-set. I have to say that I also needed time to educate myself and learn about the flood of pictures before I started discussing this in my practice. A friend of mine, a graphic designer, gave me a useful tip: Whenever she comes across an image online, she takes her sketch-book and draws the image, instead of simply downloading it on her laptop.
Now to our last questions: What project are you currently working on?
I am busy working on my new publication that launches here at the Foundation on June 7th.
Interview by Talina Bauer & Katharina Worf