A Guide Across Distant Seas

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by Unsettling Wonder

An interview with Aikaterini Gegisian
by Defne Cizakca
Part 2 of 2

Our second meeting took place in the summer. We met in Istanbul, at a bustling café in the neighbourhood of Nişantaşı. Aikaterini had just returned from Greece, and was now preparing work for the upcoming Mardin Biennial on the theme of mythologies. Our discussion spanned love and art, the crisis in her homeland, the difference between decisions and choices, and picking beautiful names for one’s work in progress. Aikaterini’s project titles have been consistently intriguing, her latest work based on Armenian, Turkish and Greek tourist catalogues is called ‘A Small Guide to the Invisible Seas,’ her 2014 video film exploring the militarization of public spaces in Yerevan was called ‘My Pink City,’ and her 2012 installation investigating Soviet modernity was titled ‘Who does not like a good old story?’

After London and Istanbul, our conversation continued through e-mails. Below is a condensed excerpt. The interview will be featured in the forthcoming issue of Unsettling Wonder, on Changelings.

Defne: ‘Shifting geographies,’ ‘gaps,’ ‘remembering and forgetting,’ ‘abandoned hotels,’ ‘Athenian balconies,’ ‘derelict trains,’ ‘endless circles’…These are some of the words you use to describe your video installations. You seem to explore liminal spaces that are also frequently employed in fairy tales, magical realism and surrealism. Could you tell us how you interpret these in between locations?

Aikaterini: The fascination with liminal spaces can be traced back to my early video works where the preoccupation with diaspora and belonging, movement and rootedness is more emphatic. Liminal spaces, for me, are first and foremost the in-between stops of the journeys in quest of the self and home.  They then slowly become, both spatially and temporally, familiar points within the fragmentation of continuous movement. They eventually morph into spaces where un-belonging finds its home. They become the spaces of refuge, spaces to hide, spaces were external forces are neutralised.

Although the relationship between surrealist practices and liminal spaces has been documented throughout art history, in my practice the call to the unconscious is a more recent development. It is linked to my exploration of visual thinking in diverse aesthetic regimes. Surrealism enters my practice as one way of visual thinking in a dialogue with other representational registers, a dialogue that is also expressed as a movement between different types of spaces, from the space of the city, to filmic space, from specific geographies and locations to mental and memorial spaces, from the space of the body to outer space – a layering that also constructs reality as movement in space. Liminal spaces appear again, but not any more as hideouts. They are now the transitional moments that formally connect different aesthetic regimes and provide islands of communication in the layering of reality.

Defne: In describing your textual installation, ‘The Image Unfolded,’ you say you are documenting the gaps between images, sounds and sentences. What are the methods through which one can document these silences?

Aikaterini: Text, language, diary notes and literary references have always been both methods and materials for me. I have used words to factor in the development of ideas, as a type of conceptual sketching. In my recent works, for example in ‘It is small, we like it this way,’ text is an element in the exploration of visual thinking.

I have been questioning what I call the ‘hierarchy, interrelations and autonomy of sound, image and text,’ since my first experimental videos. I initially focused on how the moving image in particular constructs narratives, and expresses ideas through the combination of image, sound and text. How sometimes sound will lead to the development of an idea and other times words will tell a story, and how sometimes these elements will be synchronised and yet at other times completely divergent… I explore these relationships as a separation of images, and as a layering of sounds in my early projects.

In later works this evolved into an investigation of how images can lead to sounds and point to language, and more importantly, to how sounds and text can create images. This last relationship exemplifies how the use of text has become another layer in the exploration of visual thinking within my practice.

For example, in the silent video installation ‘The Image Unfolded’ text functions both as a motor for the deconstruction of images, and as a signifier of sound. In the absence of any sound cues, the juxtaposition of moving images combined with textual intertitles creates a filmic rhythm and a little hymn in the mind. In the ‘The Image Unfolded’ the absence of sound also becomes the mechanism for mediating on the gaps between image and language. It is the moment in my practice when what I previously explored as ‘interrelations, hierarchy and autonomy of image, sound and text’ shifts into a consideration of the gaps between audio and visual registers, forming the first step to reflecting on the nature of visual thinking. Instead of resting on the connections and hierarchies of the textual, visual and auditory, the focus is directed towards the spaces created between images, sounds and text, which Deleuze in his analysis of cinema describes as ‘the method of BETWEEN.’ The way cinema expresses thought in the gaps, in the interstices between images and sounds, between actions and affections and between visual and sound images.

Defne: And last but not least, how do folk traditions and storytelling influence your work?

Aikaterini: I approach folk traditions and storytelling as communicational devices. They are ways of describing and sharing life experiences for me. Consequently they are participants in the complex layering of cultural registers and representational systems.

A variety of storytelling mediums have impacted my thinking. Personal and ideological narratives, oral traditions as transmitters of cultural memory, cinematic narratives as well as literature…These forms have all been important elements in the exploration of my visual thinking.

My interest in folk traditions has a political aspect too, in so far as folk traditions perpetuate specific visual and auditory forms against the homogeneous forces of modernity and capitalist development. As such, folklore is a location of visual thinking that is not governed by the circle of production and consumption that forms popular culture.

I also understand storytelling as a movement in space and time, strongly shaped by emotional experiences. In other words, I take the position that we are narrating space and time as we inhabit it.

Aikaterini Gegisian, A Small Guide to the Invisible Seas (The Sea of Passions, 6) 2015, Collage on paper, 27.8 x 42.5 cm, Courtesy of the artist & Kalfayan Galleries, Athens-Thessaloniki

Aikaterini Gegisian, A Small Guide to the Invisible Seas (The Sea of Passions, 6) 2015, Collage on paper, 27.8 x 42.5 cm, Courtesy of the artist & Kalfayan Galleries, Athens-Thessaloniki

Aikaterini Gegisian is a visual artist of Greek and Armenian descent who works across video, photography, installation and collage. She utilizes location footage, popular films, found images, tourist guides and archival postcards in her art. The Armenian Pavilion in which she participated in 2015 won the Golden Lion award in the Venice Biennial. Her work has been exhibited in the NARS Foundation, New York, Peltz Gallery, London, Vladikafkaz Fine Arts Museum, North Ossetia, Centre for Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki and Spike Island Gallery, Bristol, among others. She is currently a Research Lecturer in Fine Art at Teeside University, UK.

 

June 2, 2016


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Unsettling Wonder

We craft and tell stories because we’ve stood on the uncertain edge between the waking world and our imagination, between enchantment and fear. And we remember other stories that help us build our own stories, scraps of lumber and fragments of narrative we gather together to make stories for ourselves.

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Artwork by Laura Rae