Artist Robert Platt was born in London and studied at Tokyo, currently he lives and works in Ann Arbor. I accidentally peeked through the open door of his studio to discover his large-scale amazing paintings in the University of Michigan. Late on they met on Skype to talk about art, cultural intersections and relationship with the audience. The interview was posted on LiveJournal of the Museum of Contemporary Arts Erarta.
What is your creative work about? What do you focus on? I have been interested in two main themes, what is landscape and what is visuality. I am very interested in complexity and more specifically how visual and informational technologies inform and interface with our understanding of the built and natural environment, and the interplay between the body and vision through augmented perception. Revealing invisible and liminal aspects of the everyday: entropy, dissolution of all things and human tendency to veer away from the middle ground of common sense to embrace the polarized values of light and darkness, high and low, inside outside, chaos and form, mind and body. My current Interests are : augmented perception, neuroaesthetics, anthropomorphism, caving, mapping, rhizome, liminal aspects of nature and its equivalency in the internet. I am interested in re-establishing new connections with what nature is. Trees and sea and forest that's an ideal classic interpretation of nature. I understand nature as intertwine with technology and architecture, buildings and urbanity. It lead me to investigate how we interact with environment. When we look at nature, we are appropriating it for its totemic quality; it has meaning for us in small aspects like a photograph as a documentation you being at the place. Landscape is as an event, spectacle, like going to theater or cinema. It's an optic centric culture - everything is visual. I am trying to deconstruct images of nature and deconstruct the obsession with clarity of how we perceive the world and try to elicit some kind of fundamental principles of substance and matter, material corporal, bodily and emotional relationship. This entails using strategies that promote a confusion of senses; the obfuscation of recognizable forms, spaces, image as a way to undermine, destabilize the relationship between object and subject.
Who is your audience? For me the more eyes that see my work the better. An ideal venue would be a public museum. It is the environment that can't be controlled. You have multitude of different viewers: viewers that casually want to gaze, viewers that want to spend time and interact, viewers that wants to experience solitude, viewers that want to experience community.
Exhibition - is it a monolog or dialog? Initially it is a monolog, but then when work is in a public sphere I enjoy losing that control, and for it to become a dialog. I am interested in that kind of a dialog that my works can generate and making a form and the result of those informs new work. I think, it is a kind of symbiosis between personal individual experience and social experience. I am totally happy with people interpreting my work themselves. It is not important for me to be there to discuss, to have an essay on the wall. I relinquish interpretations of the works, It is very much what is projected by the viewers and spectators.
Sometimes, the language of the contemporary art seems so sophisticated that the general public cannot understand or misapprehend. What do you think about this? There are so many levels of our practice. It shouldn't be one thing, it should be many things. It should be stuff like picture cards, popular images on CD covers, on build boards and advertising. Art has a place there; also have a place in communities and public arts, and it also has a place like venues that it is more difficult to get to, more difficult intellectually. There are the Disneyland and big entertainment centers and a lot of large art museums becoming like art Disneyland, that is inevitable. But within that it is a good situation to work at. I am fine with art being difficult and unapproachable and exclusive because there are so many aspects of art and if you want to venture, if you have patience and curiosity then you be reward it for that. Art is not everything, a walk in the woods given the right engagement can offer just as much as a visit to a gallery, usually more. Work will always be interpreted and experienced differently, that’s what makes art engaging. Misapprehension can form useful dialogue. My work is quite complex and esoteric and that is how it has to be. I don't want communicate to the most people, I want to be on a periphery, to be on a margin it has to be, in option. People need choices. Within a solo exhibition you may have a work that speak very directly, and you may have other works much more complicated and confused. I think, that it is a good curation for an exhibition.
Which role does Art play in modern world? For me art is a realm of freedom, the ability to explore the world imaginatively. It communicates the complexities, and pleasure of being in the world. Of course, it is a kind of social influence - art can creates counter to predominant mass culture and cultural modes. Artists have the ability to probe cultural phenomenon, hold up kind of mirrors for the consensual practices and to ask questions about the self, society and culture. Art contributes to the awareness of and the expansion of visual culture and social codes.
Should an artist be involved in social causes? I don't think that all of us should be involved in social causes, but inevitable you are, even if your painting working by yourself, you have the potential for social engagement just by your vision. Your solitude can be reflection on the societal problems. By default, when you have your work out there, in view, then it becomes as a social engagement. The responsibility of artists is to do their job, to participate fully and truthfully in their practice in their contribution to art.
Do social processes influence your work? My work would be about nothing if it was not about what is going on. I am always looking deeply with fascination about people, about trends, about culture and then processes that through prism of my experience, my body and my mind. I interpret that, so I am very much engaged about the world and what is happening.
You are from London, you lived and studied in Tokyo, now you are in Ann Arbor. What is the difference between eastern and western comprehension or art? Each country is inextricably bound to its history, politics and geography, and of course, has a different focus. England is a small country in Europe, has a long history of art making with references of eclecticism, imperialism. I am a product of that culture handed down and then going to Japan then having that decentered, as your experience being in the US from Russia. You shift it from a glance, from another direction. It is kind of intersections where are you relinquish your own culture and allow you new cultures to sip in. It is really interesting and exciting. I think, it is a kind of position that artist should play - is to always be ready to step outside. Japan is similar with its sense of history, with its sense of imperialism. So it was completely different but very similar also. America defines itself in its art through politics through propaganda and working against hierarchies and traditions of Europe trying to extricate, take itself from that position. For example, painting position is very different. Painting has a long tradition in Japan and in England, and it is all about reinventing establishing new frontiers, whereas American art intertwines with politics. For me it is very interesting to be traversing these three different worlds.
Does this difference influence your work? When I was in Japan I was not making work influenced by Japanese culture, it was more influenced by a sense of what is the other. My work looked more northern European and even American, but now in America my work feels more English or more Japanese. So I can't make work that characterizes that culture when I am in that culture, but when I am out of it. It is because I am too immerse in that culture and I can't take myself out of it.
There is an idea that painting died and it is impossible to say something new in the medium. What do you think about this? Painting resurrected itself so many times. It becomes kind of a droll statement that painting is dead. It keeps coming, it never die, it is waking up again and that is because painting always uses new technologies. From its inception, I mean, there is a theory that tempera painting was invented through crude camera Obscure. Almost always from its inception painting was using devices that assisted production. When it stops doing that, it becomes less interesting. The position of painting has always been privileged in West, it is most selling in auctions, in art fairs. It just has to share its privileged position, the limelight with other media. It is not as important as it used to be, but is still has currency. I am in education and I see that students who are eighteen, nineteen - they were born with smart devices and they grew up with synthetic materials and dirt and mud and oil which is paint is fascinating for them. It is interesting how culture shifts and effects its relation to painting.
Do new technologies influence your work and understanding of art? Yes, very much so. I am not interested in this kind of inform that sometimes dictate our practice. I am interested in accommodating technology. I go through processes where I stop through digital process and then project these images and try to accurately emulate technological process, then I transcribed it back in to hand which is not a machine. I continue trying to emulate technology, but then I consciously allow my body, when it becomes exhausted, to sabotage and for material for the paint to take over. I make mark making images though hand. it has emotional content, whatever type of mark paint has materiality. it has haptic, sensation. You cannot trust it, it is illusion, you want to touch it. Paint has a fragility and the vulnerability, painting could be destroyed, there is only one of them. I create architectural and optical devices to look at the paintings, to offer different viewpoints on an exhibition. Because we value sights so much. People come in, look at your works and then turn, they move very quickly. We can process multiple imagery very quickly, but we do not get grasp. I am trying to create restrictions how to perceive the work. I create kind of observatories, things that confront or constrict the viewing process, to slow down perception. I try to offer multiple experiences between viewer and the work, these may be haptic, polysensorial, cerebral or purely visual.
Where do you see your art work: in a gallery, a museum or in a private house. Does it change the meaning of the art work? I would like to see my work in all three. A gallery is a public form with a possibility of selling works. A Museum has different curation, different scale. There is a notion that you sell work and it disappears and it sits in a rich person's house and it is dead. But it is privilege to be able to have someone to engage in your work on a daily basis, like a member of your a family. I actually do enjoy the thought, that my work being a feature of a family or a household and that continue engagement when you see the work in different aspects a long period of time that cannot get in a public gallery or a museum. Art work changes, of course. The ideal situation for me is my studio, the place where it was made is the best place. You can curate the work in a gallery if you lucky, but it is always can be a compromise. I am actually interested in things that happen outside of the painting, like the painting pallet, the process of how to make a painting, when paints spill on the floor and your clothes. Painting loses and changes its meaning in each context and it is exiting. I think that instigate new problems.
Talk about your teaching You are taking this information, and it could be useless information, but these processes and experiences that you have to accumulate over a lot of time and then you share with the broader audience. You share techniques, ideas and processes and then strange things happen: there were your experiences then are not anymore, they become integrated into young people's experiences. I found it is very fascinating, mutual and enjoyable experience.