Friday, October 5, 2007

Things Living in the Studio Imagined late at Night and Song machines

An Interview with the artist Athanasios Argianas published at the free contemporary art magazine Mousse, Italy. Simone Menegoi (Fragments ).

Menegoi:The first works of yours I saw, were two small paintings depicting insects crawling on geometrical structures, reminding me of abstract sculptures from the ’20s. They were part of a series called Things Living in the Studio Imagined late at Night. Although they are quite early works, I think they are a good starting point for our conversation.

Argianas :The insect series were about inventing sculptures which wouldn’t be realised but they could have been done today in a shed somewhere as much as a “studio” in the ’20s. The insects were details, ornaments or kind of anti-modern agents if you’d like.
They were also devices that were meant to open up things, I needed a structure that could sit alongside the Song machine sculptures and not rationalise them or contextualise them too much, just provide another layer of language and be as independent and self-referencing as they were. That’s how they started anyway.

M:You mentioned the Song machines. A certain number of your sculptures bear this title. What’s a “song machine”?

A:This was a working title originally which I ended up thinking is quite correct. What I was doing was making these rotating/rotated scores using text with variations on smaller phrases, and the text was meant to be song-like simple and carrying a rhythmical quality due to its phonetic character and the variation/repetition method. The first few were “Proposals” as they were indicative of use, like props or devices you’d walk around and sing with/into.
By “Machines” I mean devices that generate meaning or content, rather than symbolise it or state it - they generate it, that’s how I mean the term.

S: I'd like to learn more about the way a sculpture can serve as a model for a musical score, and vice-versa. But before, I want to ask you to tell us more about the relationship between your work as a ‘pure’ musician (under the pseudonym of Gavouna) and as a composer within the field of visual arts.

A: Making music in or for the visual arts field is a different story, as I said the restrictions which I make for myself - for example that the structure of the piece has to follow a certain method, or the structure of an object - is what makes it part of the visual work. The common characteristic in the music installations is that they are played-back by viewers on a turntable, and last a few minutes or less. They’re just gone so soon, it’s like when you just heard someone talk to someone and there’s a kind of aural afterimage of it in your head.
In the music I make as Gavouna this framework isn’t there, and in either case I definitely don’t make sound-art.There’s references of course but in the case of the released music they speak a different language, they have different objectives.
The “translations”, or more accurately “encodings” I like to make, varying from very loose and intuitive ones to strict and accurate numerical methods, are kind of pointless in many ways. To translate a song into weight or the diameters of stars (both of which are projects I’m working on right now), or to write a piece of music in the form of a sculpture; there is nothing radical about these things, of course. But my translations are devoid of any ambition to objectively represent one thing into another (this would be truly pointless), the work is in the middle of these things. It’s the way thoughts and ideas are represented that I’m interested in.

M: There is an original hybridisation of styles at the very core of tour work, and a cross-over of the cultural references they bring with them, varying from Modernism to Folk Art. Because of that, it develops a kind of strange narrative - a web of narratives, actually, overlapped and layered...

A: I guess what you call narrative in this case is a kind of natural result effect of the way I work. To put it better, the framework of narratives rather than a conventional linear narrative. In that I mean the layers which may be read in the piece of music or a set of paintings and the chosen styles and their cultural baggage, I think all this can’t help but create the sense of a narrative structure.
The use of styles is central to the work, for me, as the ideas I revisit have a historical place and I don’t always want to strip them of it. I just don’t ignore where the ideas I use come from, and in many cases this is the starting point, for example in the Ondes Martenot pieces or the Theremin pieces. The ideals these instruments carried were embodied so well in their form and design, they were both very idiosyncratic inventions, precursors to the modern synthesizer but also demanding (especially in the case of the Theremin) a completely new understanding of performativity, breaking things down to two axes, and controlled without physical contact.
But then to whistle like a Theremin (which is what I did for the piece Music For Four Imagined Theremins) is of course a narrative, as well as a pretty damn painful thing to do, we aren’t made to whistle for a long time, your lips get sore and numb and the quality falls apart soon, you hear it in the recording.
And all this it makes it into a story.
I think most of my sources involve idiosyncratic understandings of the way things are and can be.

S: Modernism, folk art, the proto-Surrealist writer Raymond Roussel, biology, early electronic instruments, early Minimalist music... an eclectic and highly personal grouping. Where is your cultural interest heading, right now? What are you working on at the moment?

A: Well, all the things you mentioned just now are still around for me, but the materiality of the works is becoming more important, and the “Music By lightness” project is using copper and weights, and numerical coding; some find the idea of inverting numbers which represent weight - in order to talk about lightness - to resemble methods of the occult as its kind of Qabalistic. In principle they really aren’t, but then I’m into how beliefs are imprinted into the design of objects of any sort.
Of course my main concerns are visual and although the mechanisms are rational, most times the decisions and the aims are very much intuitive.