Artslant's New York City editor Trong Gia Nguyen speaks with Berlin-based artist and actor Tomas Lemarquis. Tomas is perhaps most noted for his critically acclaimed portrayal of the title role in the film Noi Albinoi (Noi the Albino, 2004). What you may not know about him is that besides film and stage, Tomas is also a busy young visual artist making some interesting statements in the Berlin and international art scene.
Trong Gia Nguyen: Tell us a bit about your most recent exhibition at Air Garten, Monstera Deliciosa. Both the light bulb sculptures and light box collages seem to be not only a literal process of building, but also figuratively about constructing itself. Are you making monsters for the 21st century, via art, a la Dr. Frankenstein?
Tomas Lemarquis: It is the name of my favorite plant and I found it appropriate for the exhibition, as I try to approach the demons of the mind with humor and sympathy. Both the collages and the glass City are playing with light and have therefore a dialogue in the space but differ a little from each other in context. The collages are more about digging in the subconscious and finding old symbolical monsters than actually creating them. I took the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch as a starting point. How to create a world like his using symbols from alchemy but employing modern footage. I like to create images that may from afar seem sweet and full of colors, but when you look more closely you may find disturbing details. Often treated with humour. All images are interconnected, having some elements reappearing again and again creating its own symbolic language. It's a little bit like being stuck in one and the same dream where the surrounding is in perpetual change. The collages also contend with the impossibility of communication and understanding between people. Most of the charachters seem to stare hysterically into emptiness without any clear purpose, being unable to communicate. Little bit like the lack of communication and understanding that we can have with our own subconscious. The city on the other hand is maybe more like a metaphor of "light beings." A building standing for the higher self. Here the communication is light, transparent, luminous. Like a vision of a lost spiritual city made only of light. It counterbalances the complication of language made by the mind in the collages.
TGN: You recently came back from Greenland. How did the natural landscape differ from Iceland's and are you using any of that experience in your new work?
Tomas Lemarquis, Untitled (City), 2008; Courtesy of the artist
TL: Yes, I just came back from a 3 week long kayak trip in Greenland which was absolutely fabulous. Seeing whales every day around my boat. Whales being monsters of the sea and the sea being the subconscious I was not so far from the theme of my exhibition. It had a lot of influence on my dream life which then again inspires my work. I think life and one's art is necceserly interconnected even if it's not absolutely on a conscious level. Even if Greenland and Iceland are very near to each other they are often very different. It lies mostly in the difference of age. Iceland is a very young volcanic land while Greenland has the oldest rocks in the world which looks quite different. I went to the Disco island in Greenland which again is volcanic and that looks just like Iceland.
TGN: You and Chris Fillippini collaborated on a performance and video in a show I curated last year called "The Guy Debord Show." It's still one of my favorite pieces because of it's straightforward simplicity, and it also reminds me of Jackson Pollock's action painting, Spiderman-style. While climbing the walls of Chris' apartment, there was an instant in which your leg went through a glass door and you really could have hurt yourself. I know you've also had to train in the gym for various film roles in the past. How has "physicality" and physical limits evolved in your works?
TL: I have always been attracted to physicality, both as actor and visual artist. It is a language that can often communicate so much more than just words. I find it fascinating how with one little gesture you can tell all about how a character is feeling and so on. It comes before the intellectual. You sense another person through her body and aura before you make an intellectual judgement of her. Working on one's own body and perception of it is for me very important to get to understand the senses, which goes further than the limitation of words and language. It has to do with spontaneity. That was exactly the case of the origin of the work with Chris. Before I knew what I was doing I found myself to be high up on the walls of his apartment. I think it's important to let yourself follow these kinds of impulses even if they don't fit into what the logical mind might judge as "good" or "bad." It's just an impulse and you follow. This is not without danger though, as it proved itself, but that's the price to pay. Something happens before you understand what is going on.
Tomas Lemarquis, Caution: Falling Coconuts, 2008; Courtesy of the artist
TGN: As noted, you work in a range of mediums – photography, painting, sculpture, theater, etc. Can you talk some about your current theater production in Reykjavik?
TL: For me it is a big challenge, as I have not been on stage for 7 years. I have been putting more focus on films recently. So I could say it's being part of my attempt to go towards my own fears. Where there is fear there is something to learn. This peace is very unconventional which I like. I am not so attracted to conventional theatre. I find much more original things happening in dance or where theatre meet art and dance, where you play with the form in a new way. This play is a collage from a few books of the author Steinar Sigurjónsson. He died 15 years ago. He was very misunderstood, being a postmodern author who was quite ahead of his contemporaries in Iceland. It is only now after his death that he is getting the attention he merits. Twenty of his books were republished this year. I will be acting in the role of Steinar himself. The piece is in progress and we will build the play a lot from improvisation.
TGN: You spend your time between a number of "homes," including Paris, Berlin, and Reykjavik. Any preference for one over the other? What do you like most about each, and is this all part of your personal "fragmentation" that we perhaps see in the collage/photographic work?
TL: As I am half French, half Icelandic, being a "bastard," like I like to look at it, I have always been very sensitive to the idea of patriotism and belonging to some place. It scares me. I don care if "my country" or another wins the Olympic games for example. I have strong feelings to both my mother and fatherland but I can't say I have the feeling that I belong to any of them. More the cosmos if something. I have Zigan blood. I like to be moving from one place to another regularly. After a few months in some place I always find the urge to move or travel. Berlin suits me very well though as a base now. It has maybe the qualities of both Reykjavík and Paris. The quality of Reykjavik being a strong presence of nature, mountains and sea, which I find in the many parks and lakes in Berlin. And the quality of a big city like Paris with all its varied culture minus the stress. There is enough space to move around easily and people are chill and polite in Berlin.
TGN: What are you most excited about for the autumn?
TL: I am excited about all the surprises I still don't know about yet but are there written in my destiny waiting to happen.
Tomas Lemarquis , Berlin House Climbing Club, 2007; Courtesy the artist
ArtSlant would like to thank Tomas Lemarquis for his assistance in making this interview possible.