German born artist Harald Smykla has been based in London for the past 20 years and his first solo exhibition 'Movie Protocols & Other Activities' has just opened at England & Co on Westbourne Grove. The show runs until 17 February and includes live performances such as ironing an apple and drawing on the slices (Random Rundum Observations).
We popped by on the opening night, and saw Harald creating a movie protocol of the 1970 film 'Performance'. To tell us about his work, he kindly offered to answer our questions and, to our relief, didn't make us transcribe them from pieces of fruit!
What's a 'movie protocol' and what 'other activities' will there be at the gallery?
A "Movie Protocol" is a pictographic shorthand notation of a film, which I create in real time while watching it, thus drawing a kind of reverse story-board. Sequences of swift line drawings chase one another like words written on a page, while I attempt to make at least some graphic record of every single take. This capturing of a film through live drawing generates its own visual language. The use of low-tech overhead projection enables me to make a Movie Protocol a public performance, which creates a simultaneous parallel screening of a very personal and physical interpretation of the film. As the performance lasts exactly as long as the film, signs of exhaustion, stress, despair and relief will be recognisable both in the artist and in the drawings.
The usually passive process of watching a movie becomes an active one. While the concept may be located in the discourse of 'Expanded Cinema', for me, it is another means of exploring time and process, which, in different ways, has always been a core concern of my work. For more performance dates, check the England & Co website.
How does your seeming preoccupation with time and light manifest in your practice?
In processes that relate to the magic of early photography, whereby time and light together generate visual residue of reality.
For example, in Reprojections I treat the overhead projector as a camera, with which I draw reality onto itself with light while it happens. Past and present merge, parallel universes meet. Similarly, in a Movie Protocol, a whole film is represented in one single image (and time) plane, where, in the end, every scene occurs simultaneously. Thereby, hectic cuts and on-screen movement result in rapid, near-indefinable graphic ciphers, whereas when the camera lingers, I can generate some pictorial detail, maybe even recognisable portraits of actors. As with Reprojections, there is a parallel to the classic photographic process, where, with necessarily long exposure times, only stillness of the sitter would grant a focused image, whereas motion leads to blurs.
In the Anna O Live Movies I made for Psychological Art Circus, meticulously engraved acetate components formed translucent marionettes, which, through near-invisible rods and other mechanical 2D contraptions, were set into slow-motion from the edge of the OHP’s light table. Puppetry was mimicking slow motion film, and a 19th century woman would suddenly appear ghost-like on walls and screens. - Some of these transparent animation contraptions I devised for these performances are on display as aesthetic objects in their own right.
How does drawing feature within a performance and/or as an artwork?
Mostly as the outcome of a time-bound and/or performative process. For example, In the Ticker Self drawings, I ‘recorded’ exactly 15,000 consecutive heartbeats (the number of my life-days at the time) through graphite tick marks. In the above-mentioned Reprojections and Movie Protocols, the very act of representational drawing constitutes the performance. In the installation of 68 drawings titled ‘The 7-Year Itch’, 7 year’s of live art work got compressed into one year of intermittent ‘commemorative drawings’ made on the anniversary dates of the respective performances they illustrate. Performance documentation became a year long ‘private’ drawing performance without audience.
The works on apple slices each constitute a whole fruit, thinly sliced and dried out through ironing into parchment-like discs. The completeness of the desiccated fruit corresponds with that of the processes I draw onto the slices, whereby the notion of ‘apple of the eye’ is referenced in various ways: I draw sequential 360 degrees panoramic views of the location where the apple was found or processed and thus assume the fruit’s viewpoint; write a complete text on the slices from beginning to end; turn another apple round once (360 degrees) and draw the stages of the process on the slices; press my own eye ball all around my eye socket and draw with closed eyes the ‘abstract’ imagery created by the impact this has on my visual nerve, then transfer the outcome onto dried apple slices.
What drew your attention to apples and why do you like writing and drawing on them?
I suppose apples have always been a feature in my life. Growing up in the countryside, orchards felt positively Arcadian, and I could explore the materiality of apples at an early age, which - much later - I could translate into artistic processes: Bruising apples hanging on trees with a pen point allowed me to write a ‘living book’ in the orchard of Braziers Park; ironing apple slices generates something akin to paper, to be drawn or written on. On a most basic level, using my teeth as chisels, I could create ‘dental sculpture’ (actual portrait busts of people) by eating fruit consciously. Air-dried, these objects may last as long as any art object.
In what other contexts may one encounter your art?
Often in the public realm, in everyday places such as street markets, urban parks and other open spaces, orchards, offices, cafes, at specific local events - usually with incidental audiences who encounter the work (and often contribute to it) by chance in such everyday contexts.
“...he appropriates and transform the everyday through site- and context-specific actions and interventions, engaging incidental audiences through ‘re-facing’ money, organizing variant chess games (e.g. the self-explanatory Fruit/Veg Chess), ‘dentally sculpting’ fruit, collaborating with non-human life, drawing space onto itself in ‘Re-projections’ and other re-negotiations of reality.”
What motivates you to create?
Seeking and finding new ideas and ways of working, or the actual acts of drawing and making are extremely satisfying and may almost feel like extensions of some biological function.
Through exploring the potential of everyday materials (and simple outmoded technology such as the overhead projector), and connecting apparently unrelated findings and observations, I can extricate the poetics of the mundane and transform it into the extraordinary.
Tell us a London secret....
The Garden of Eden was where London is now. The river that ran through it actually was the Thames... Just kidding. Nonetheless, there is this gnarled apple tree by the River Path on the Greenwich Peninsula; with roots that are probably getting flooded at high tide. The fruits are delicious.
28 Jan - 17 Feb
Image - authors own