London, Apr. 2011: At Gazelli Art House, London’s fresh commercial gallery and seminar centre, curator Milla Askarova is launching a high-end program with a series of exhibitions, discussions and events inspired by the five earthly elements: fire, earth, water, air and ether. “Down to Earth,” an exhibition of international artists addressing the realistic and symbolic ramifications of earth in art, runs until April 21. The show includes a four channel video installation by artist team Aziz + Cucher titled Synaptic Bliss: Villette and unique prints from their Scenapse series.
Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher have been collaborating since 1990. Their innovative digital art has been shown in the 1995 Venice Biennale and other prestigious international venues. Originally from the U.S. and Venezuela, both artists have roots in the Middle East, and they are currently working on projects exploring the impact of their origins on their relationship to notions of 'land'.
Although a viewer’s appreciation of an artist’s work is often enriched by insights about its creator as an intellectually curious, philosophically engaged and dynamic person, Aziz and Cucher dismiss any interest in their personal beliefs or identities unless they are explicitly expressed in their art. They have focused this interview on their recent work at the Gazelli Art House. More information on their overall oeuvre can be found at azizcucher.net.
Aziz + Cucher, Synaptic Bliss: Villette, 2004, 4-channel video installation with surround sound, Dimensions variable, 16' loop; Courtesy Gazelli Art House
Ana Finel Honigman: How do your various mediums differently represent your conceptual concerns?
Aziz + Cucher: Each project we embark on is determined by a set of core ideas and concerns which dictate the choice of media employed, as is the case with most conceptually driven practices. Lately in both Synaptic Bliss and our current work on geo-politics, we are engaged with time-based media, video and motion graphics as it provides a more discursive canvas that allows for a more narrative approach as opposed to the use of iconic still images. In the particular case with the work we are showing in "DOWN TO EARTH", we employ video and animation in order to represent the fluidity of time and space within a techno-scientific matrix; likewise, the use of an immersive installation is meant to represent the idea of an embodied technology, a condition in which the viewer is both in the image and outside the image at the same time.
AFH: Please define 'techno-scientific matrix'.
A+C: For us this refers to the way in which technology and science affect our mindset and our perception of reality. In particular we are interested in the seeming collapse of time and space that occurs when we engage with the endless and overlapping streams of information found in cyberspace. It also refers to the idea that our mind contains a conception of the infinite in both the micro and the macro worlds simultaneously thanks to the popularization of scientific imagery attained through the use of various tools designed to extend our vision, such as the microscope and telescope.
AFH: Why have you waited until now to discuss the influence of your ethnic origins on your art and relationship?
A+C: This was not done in any deliberate way; in general, we tend to make work in response to a particular set of circumstances and conditions, and in this case we were profoundly affected by the war between Israel and Hezbolla in 2006, in addition to the fact that the world we all live in changed dramatically in September of 2001. With family on both sides of the conflict, we felt compelled to enter into this discourse in some meaningful way.
Aziz + Cucher, Maria, 1994, C-Print, 50 X 40 Inches; Courtesy Aziz + Cucher
AFH: How do you symbolically and conceptually incorporate Adobe Photoshop in your work?
A+C: Initially, when we started working with Photoshop in 1992, we were drawn to its ability to create a wonderful sense of ambiguity concerning the discourse between truth and representation in photography, but now we don’t really think of it so much in those terms, as the indexical nature of photography has been challenged from all sides and we now live with a broader understanding of what images can mean and how they function. Today Adobe Photoshop is just one more tool among many.
AFH: How do your individual roots in the Middle East influence your ideas about intimate connections to the land?
A+C: We’ve spent the last two years trying to create work that can sum up the complexity of that question, in ways that words cannot serve so well for us. We each have a distinctly different history with that region of the world, but at the same time it is a commonality that we share. In 2009, we took an extensive trip to the region with the idea of making work about it and the process has been slow but fruitful in unexpected ways. Ultimately, we both feel a great sense of paradox when it comes to the question of land: a desire to be attached to roots and history and a repulsion by the extremism this attachment can cause.
AFH: Do you think the trend towards 'ethical eating' represents a positive or deluded relationship to nature?
A+C: Our opinion is irrelevant in this matter as it really has nothing to do with the work we have produced in the past twenty years.
AFH: I am fascinated by your disinterest in any expansive questions addressing your personalities, beliefs or intellectual interests outside your work. Can you comfortably tell me how do you feel that your personal relationships with nature have been effected by media and hyper-real influences?
A+C: Our relationship with nature seems to be modulated more by the fact that we live a thoroughly urban existence rather than by mediation or hyper-reality. We still have an insatiable appetite for a transcendent experience of Nature, and we often find ourselves taking trips to the desert in California in order to connect once again to the vast wonder of it all.
AFH: Why include hand-woven rugs in this series? What is the relevance of that medium?
Aziz + Cucher, Nightgarden, Looped wool and level-cut silk pile, 100 knots/square inch., 6 x 9’ and 9 x 12’; Courtesy Aziz + Cucher
A+C: The chance to work with hand-woven textiles came to us because a collector of Asian antiques saw an opportunity to merge our digital aesthetic with a traditional craft, resulting in our first commission. The more research we did in this area, the more appreciation we developed for the inherent relationship between the stitch and the pixel; it is after all a fact that some of the first programmable machines were looms using punch-cards, but ultimately we responded to the challenge and fascination of a new medium and how it could expand our visual vocabulary in a way that was utterly sensual and tactile rather than virtual and immaterial as our previous work had been.
AFH: How does your work relate to the rest of the art in "Down to Earth"?
A+C: Perhaps this question ought to posed to the curators of the exhibition. Presumably all the art in the show deals with issues of land, nature and earth in some way.
Aziz + Cucher, FICUS 2, C-print on Endura Metallic paper, 72" x 50", 2007; Courtesy Aziz + Cucher
AFH: How do you envision our relationship to technology and nature evolving over time? Are you hopeful or pessimistic about technology's long-term effects on humanity?
A+C: Unfortunately, given the situation with the nuclear reactors in Japan, we cannot have but a pessimistic outlook on the effects of technology on humanity. It seems that our desire to harness or dominate nature, and to separate ourselves from it is doomed by hubris, therefore we need to re-imagine a respectful and holistic relationship with nature, not one built on arrogance. Cities and civilizations come and go but nature will always remain.
Artslant would like to thank Aziz and Cucher for their assistance in making this interview possible.
--Ana Finel Honigman