Originally from Greece and based in London, Eva Papamargariti reflects and analyzes the rapidly transforming relationships between “material and immaterial” matter in our new digital world. Papamargariti’s work contains complex visual (and often audio) collages in which impossible organic forms constantly evolve, mutate, and entwine.
No matter how utterly alien her work can seem, it retains consistent feelings of a deep human familiarity—which only adds to its uncanny sensibilities. Lurking behind the work’s gratifying bright colors and psychedelic surrealism lies an unsettling emotional depth that never really allows the viewer to get a firm handle on what exactly it is they are experiencing. Papamargariti reveals, illustrates, and renders a third plane that now exists somewhere between all of our physical and digital realities.
Papamargariti’s solo show Precarious Inhabitants, “a series of works addressing issues of symbiosis and transformation between human, AI machines, animals and other organic and synthetic bodies,” is currently showing at Transfer Gallery through July 8.
Christian Petersen: How has your relationship with computers changed since you started using them?
Eva Papamargariti: I started using computers at the age of 12 and my main activity was to play games on 5¼-inch floppy disks with my brother—so my relationship with them changed a lot since that era. Back then I could never imagine that they would become the first object I would touch every morning when I wake up and also I could never even remotely think that I would use them as the main tool to create art.
CP: What were your early online experiences like?
EP: It was an exciting era specially because you would feel the mystery and charm of something that was still unknown to a majority of the users. Now most of our online activities seem predictable, or to say it better, I believe the element of surprise is missing a lot.
CP: You studied architecture at one point. What influence has that discipline had on your art?
EP: I graduated from architecture five years ago. The transition was quite natural cause I was already studying at a school that had a quite wide curriculum mixing new media, art, and architecture. We actually had many tutors that were artists themselves. When I was doing my diploma thesis I started uploading some very simple gif animations on Tumblr just because I was really fed up with architecture, to be honest. During this period and after my graduation, gradually I started uploading more and more stuff while I was taking a break from anything that was architecture-related. That helped me understand that maybe my ideas could be better communicated through art.
I wasn’t the kid that always wanted to be an architect—I was just searching for something, and I considered architecture to be diverse and more open thematically in terms of what the courses provided compared to other studies, so I went for it. The influence that it had on my practice and art is really important and I think I am lucky to have experienced architecture at this specific school where we were encouraged to get out of the normative and stereotypical way of thinking. A recurring theme in my work is an attempt to dissolve, distort, and understand space through embodied experience through the use of digital mediums. Architecture is still present in what I do.
CP: What was the first artwork you made using a computer that you recognized as “digital” art
EP: I guess it was my first series of animated gifs that I did while playing basically on 3ds Max. They would always be some fragments of space, objects, and bodies moving in frenetic ways. I think it was around 2012 that Lorna Mills somehow saw my work on Google+ and contacted me to create gifs for the Sheroes series in Canada created by Rea McNamara and co-curated with Lorna. I was super excited with this when it happened!
CP: It’s interesting looking at your Tumblr archive and seeing your progression from experimental video and photography, to gifs to glitch art, to 3D digital art. How would you describe that journey?
EP: My work now feels so much different than what I was doing five or six years ago. The answer is simple: I was trying things in order to find what was, at that particular moment, the best way to express my state of mind. As I was creating more I felt the need to change the tools and means that I was using, because each of these has their own materiality and rules. It’s totally different to talk about a subject through video versus gifs, for example. But I also like to get involved in things and situations that are new to me.
Lately I try to create more sculptural work and I also film in real locations. I feel that right now I can filter, support, and build my work more effectively through a combination of mediums and dynamics instead of using only 3D design. Video, photography, drawing, 3D design, gifs, etc. are tools that I use according to the outcome and intention I want to achieve each time. I don’t feel that I should be bound to one medium in order to create art. I changed a lot through these years personally and creatively, so my art and how I make it would inevitably change along with me.
CP: Your bio says that you “explore the relationship between digital space and (im)material reality.” What is that relationship and how is it changing as the digital space expands?
EP: This relationship is mainly defined by the way our body and mind stands and perceives these in-between conditions whose boundaries are continuously amplified but also blurred as the simultaneity of the two states becomes more and more pronounced through the use of digital devices. Our eyes and hands are getting used to existing in a dual situation as digital space expands to objects, surfaces, and interfaces. These days it’s not only our body parts that start to experience the difference but also our mind has altered in terms of how we read, absorb, and redistribute information through and to our surroundings. This relationship that I am trying to explore through my work is always n-dimensional and palimpsestic. What interests me more is this process of “re-writing” on this in-between area of material and immaterial, and the traces that both physical and digital actions leave as we move forward.
CP: There’s always a lot of elements to your work, a hyperactive spirit. Is that a reflection of your personality?
EP: Yes and no. It certainly reflects my personality but my body sometimes reacts and gets slow. When I was in architecture school I had an amazing tutor that was telling me that my personality is somehow multifocal. Back then I couldn’t understand what he might have seen to say something like that; it just didn’t make sense. As years went by I totally realized how right he was. I am somehow dispersed between states, references, ideas, balancing between thought and action; I always do multiple things simultaneously and I get easily bored by situations. When this restlessness becomes a feature of my work it is detached from the personal level and mainly reflects a state of non-stop, complex procedures that we are facing in the physical and digital realm.
CP: People that work in 3D reference rendering a lot. How would you describe your relationship with rendering?
EP: Intense! I refer to rendering all the time and my friends that are not involved in digital art and 3D design still wonder how it can be so complicated. It’s a process that involves time and that factor is enough to understand how problematic but also charming it can be. As technology advances rendering times and processes are becoming shorter. With game engines and specific renderers, you can render in real time.
There is a magic element to it that attracts me though, since we build something and then, in order to actually see this creation, we need to pass through these layers and make the invisible visible somehow. I have cursed many times because of rendering, but I kind of enjoy it also.
CP: Your work has become more “organic” over the years. What interests you about trying to create biological forms digitally?
EP: I am very much interested in the way technology looks at nature and biological forms and the tense areas that are being created while this “gazing” takes place. My work the last two years deals a lot with themes that connect human action, natural surfaces, tech biomimicry, and animal behavior. I am really intrigued by the condition of observing and “mapping” natural ecosystems in order to collect data, information, and knowledge that then come back to us in different forms and procedures.
There are many interesting paradoxical and contradictory situations embedded in these processes from a scientific point of view, but also through a more vernacular lens. For example, I find night camera trail footage fascinating, especially when it is used to pattern movements of animals. I find the particular moments where the animals accidentally look at the camera extremely intense, almost revealing a relationship built on the action of watching and being watched.
CP: Your work often uses very bright colors, but I feel a sense of discomfort or even darkness behind that.
EP: I agree. As I mentioned before, I am quite challenged by the idea of containing multiple meanings in my work and observing the same in the work of others. Using a bright color palette doesn’t mean that the work itself emits happiness or uncontrolled energy. I am very much tempted by intense contradictions in art, and people even. I prefer it when ideas can make themselves visible through a slight process of “digging” and color certainly dictates a mood, but I will never consider it to have a protagonistic role in what I do. It is always a factor that works in combination with other things. To say it better, color in my work is usually used as a concealment factor rather than a revealing factor.
CP: Do you think your work is political?
EP: Yes, although most of the time this happens in a more subtle than loud way. I believe work that is being created these days inevitably is political one way or another. There are so many urgent issues around us happening on multiple levels that is impossible not to get affected. Choosing not to get affected is also a political decision, I guess, although dangerous. But still, it is a decision that reflects a certain conscious stance.
I definitely believe that political involvement is quite crucial nowadays. Important parts of my work deal with how we position ourselves toward others and through the constantly altering surfaces and spaces that surround us socially, technologically, and environmentally. So the political aspect is there intentionally for sure. I would never deal with themes that don’t trigger a sense of immediacy inside me, but I would also never create work just for the sake of being political. This would be totally dishonest towards myself and whomever would engage with the work.
CP: New media has become a vital home for the expression of feminist and gender ideas. What about the medium makes it a particularly interesting way to explore those issues?
EP: I think new media can be very dynamic and vibrant and it’s true what you said: we have seen some great new media works related to feminism and gender. In those cases, I believe the medium totally matches the intention, which is a very important factor while exploring issues that need to be communicated in a quite clear and bold way.
Also, new media is characterized by a certain peculiar kind of flexibility and fluidity. It can take different forms and contain multilayered ideas. Plus it is more easily disseminated and adapted—it seems more open, inclusive, and receptive as a condition, while at the same time it can create more effectively a sense of collective perception and action. At the same time, it’s less male-dominated in comparison with sculpture or painting, though I have seen some really intriguing sculpture, performative, and even spoken word work lately that deal with the same issues. In the end it’s a matter of how you attempt to express your ideas and the actual content of them, not only the medium through which you are expressing them.
CP: How would you define the current difference between working as a digital artist and a “traditional” artist?
EP: I would say the most striking difference is the pace at which the tools of digital artists are shifting. It feels almost like the tools sometimes choose and act before us. I don’t like very much to distinguish artists and art in general but I would say that the challenges to this medium have to do with the relation between the initial concept and the final execution. When you don’t deal with many tangible forms then there is a slight danger of getting lost in a stream of endless probabilities.
It’s important to find the right balance and mechanism to link idea and outcome in order to achieve a result that is not just taking superficial advantage of the digital features, but embeds their characteristics and structure giving actual meaning to the work.
Despite that, this process contains much openness; it is quite liberating not to have rigid limitations from the medium, and that is an important element that differentiates digital art from “traditional” art in my opinion. On the other hand, the sense of corporeality in traditional mediums is sometimes unbeatable, although I believe VR, for instance, gives us the potential to overcome this. Still, the way the majority of VR work is being made somehow leaves this feature out or deals with it in a rather facile way, and this is certainly something that needs to be reconsidered seriously.
CP: Tell us about your new show at Transfer Gallery.
EP: I am very happy to have a solo show at Transfer Gallery. Kelani Nichole is doing great work there all these years. I am showing a three-channel adapted version of my last video work Always a body, always a thing, and a sculptural video piece combining four screens on the floor of the gallery. The space has been transformed to an immersive dark projection cave. The title of the show is Precarious Inhabitants and it deals with a series of interconnected issues surrounding amorphy, liquidity, invasive species, plasticization, biomimetic behavior, body malformations on amphibians based on real cases, and the ontology of recording and tracking devices.
The three-channel projections construct a system of three parallel narrations. One is a narration of amorphous amphibians that are trying to define and sense their bodies and limbs; the second is a dialogue between humans and invasive species; and the third is a monologue from the side of the human solely. I have used a mix of techniques and materials for the videos which include 3D-rendered environments, game engine simulations, footage I shot in different natural locations, found archival material, and micro-camera, endoscopic recordings from critters, synthetic, and organic surfaces. I would say it is one of the most complete, if not the most complete, and diverse work I have done so far.
CP: What else do you have coming up?
EP: I have another show running in London, at Assembly Point gallery, Obscene Creatures, Resilient Terrains, a collaboration between me and Theo Triantafyllidis. I am participating in a group show in Milan that starts June 8 called Non Standard, curated by Mattia Giussani, and features new and recent mixed media works by myself, Lea Collet & Marios Stamatis, Anne De Boer, Joey Holder and Anna Mikkola. I am also participating in TRANSFER Download at HeK, taking place during Art Basel, and then I am working on three projects I will announce soon; I am trying things for them I have never done before so they feel very interesting and challenging!
We run an online magazine, so of course, we're interested in what's happening with art on the web. We invited online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, to write a bi-monthly column for us. Every other Wednesday he selects a Web Artist of the Week.
(All images: Courtesy of the artist)