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Interview: Reflecting on Rituals, Performance and Prayer, September 2013

Veronique Maria in conversation with performance artists Alexandra Zierle and Paul Carter (Zierle & Carter) reflecting on rituals and performance in Fabrica Gallery, Brighton.

Veronique Maria: I think it would be good to talk about what’s happened since and the reflections of looking at the footage. What I want is some exploration around that place that I was in when I was doing the work, because that felt so important. Do you know what place I’m talking about?

Alexandra Zierle: Yes, completely. I remember what we talked about. I was just wondering when you looked back at the documentation whether that would reflect, whether you could actually see the different moods you were in – when you look at it? Or whether the visual now completely takes over and what the documentation means now after there has been a timespan in between and maybe the memories of the actual experience of performing might be lessened or take over when you look at the images as well and whether it gets replaced by the images and by the documentation you have on the computer now?

V: I think that there’s a massive gap between what happened, what I was intending to do, hoping to do, what I actually did, and what was documented. I keep thinking, I imagine if you were photographing someone making love you would photograph some visual thing of the external. You wouldn’t necessarily get the intimacy of the internal. Heart to heart, soul to soul connection. That intimate experience. It kind of feels like that. I think maybe something of that could be re-moulded from the material, somehow, through editing. What did you see going on in Fabrica?

A: It felt like, once it had started, just placing the first pieces onto the floor onto the metal, it felt like you really had entered into a different mode of being and you were just rolling from there. It all unfolded very naturally, very organically. And especially on the first day. It felt like there was something from you from the inside – which material to use next, and what was the next step. And there was a confidence there as well, as to what the next thing was to do.

V: I know what you’re talking about but how can you really describe that?

A: It is more about how it looked from the outside. We worked with the clay and then there was the interim space and it felt like you were moving away from what felt familiar. It moved to really being quite intimate with the space, and looking at what surfaces you can use for which material as well.

V: It feels like now, when I think about the footage, it just shows me what I did. Like proof. Because I look at the images and I feel a bit baffled.

A: Baffled in what way?

V: It does feel like a big stretch, feels like I took a big step into another realm or expression.

Paul Carter: The feeling of being baffled, is it that it’s a sense of ‘how do I find myself in this’ in relation to your earlier work, or is this represented differently to your other work. Or is it a sense that the images didn’t communicate the essence of what you were trying to explore, or is it both?

V: It’s not about the images, it’s about ‘how did I get myself here’. A surreal kind of feeling like this is the right place, and doing the right thing for right now, for me, but what am I doing here, how did I get here? I’m stepping into this commitment of ‘this is the work’. You know Laurel or Hardy used to say ‘that’s another fine mess you’ve got me into’. There’s a part of me going – ‘now that’s another fine mess. Look, look what you’ve done.’

P: There are two things. One is the presence of another person witnessing this – even us without a camera could potentially shift how you were working with the materials and then there’s the added element of a camera of which you know you’ve organised and it’s going to be your material. How is that?

V: There was a moment where I was doing something in my usual way. I mean it wasn’t really my usual way because it was still in a public space, so it still felt exposed and I still felt vulnerable. But no body was there documenting or really in that immediate space. I was really conscious of that.

A: Did it feel different?

V: I felt in a rush, ‘whilst no one’s here I’ll quickly take the essence of this assemblage.’ It felt like I was gathering something up quickly whilst no one was looking. It definitely felt freer. The fact that you were there documenting, witnessing, I felt self-conscious and I had to get over that. But once it started to flow, when I put the sand on the first piece, and then we had to stop because of the documenting. At some point we had to stop, and I did worry – ‘oh my god, what if I don’t get that flow back again?’ It makes me think about child birth, about sometimes you’re pushing and sometimes you’re just letting the flow happen.

A: So I’m still wondering how it felt for you, how you could keep your intention and your prayer alive throughout the dialogue?

V: Maybe it’s just about being with the intention and with the material and letting it flow or not flow and letting it do what it needs to do and when the flow comes, just be in it. Because I wasn’t aware of any cameras, there was a moment when I was sprinkling the sand when I didn’t care about anything. I was flowing somewhere and I was just going to go there. It was as if a lot of the time there was so much resistance or so many parts of me I had to get out of the way. My head is coming in saying ‘get that image, that will look good’, or ‘is the light there?’ There was a moment where I let all of that go and I was somewhere else, I was with the material in the space.

P: If you want to do this again, maybe you have documenters around and you hold the space and they’re just going to flex with you. Because the structure was finding itself throughout the process, and now you’re looking back on it and you’re finding that the structure may not be the right structure for it.

V: I do think that it’s like a smorgasbord of experiences. I do feel like it’s perfect to reflect back on all the different ways of being – with the tripod, with the camera, or just with the action.

A: It really depends on where you want to go with it – whether the complete extreme end would be that there is no documentation, and you have an audience instead, and they are the documentation – they take it away with their experience and their memory of encountering you and the materials.

P: The moment you choose to use video or image, essentially you’re making images and that comes with a frame. The action’s going to be contained within the frame and all this sort of stuff.

A: It can also highlight it as well.

V: The camera was where I was. I’m wondering what I cut off by saying ‘just my hands’, now, on reflection.

A: It’s interesting when we talk about intention and whether the intention comes across in the actual image. I love the quality of hands and their gestures and movements, they’re a soulful tool, but I guess that when you see the whole body you are much more used to reading the whole body.

P: And the body as a whole and whether it shows it relaxed or heavy, or whether it’s sort of more uncomfortable – all of these elements give a sense of how we would read intent.

V: The reason I said don’t show my body is because I just feel so uncomfortable with the way my body looks, so I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear to be looking at footage of myself. But maybe that’s the next step – I just have to get over that.

A: You could even use that in the work – your relationship with your body. Then the relationship with your body and the material. How they relate to each other and how prayer comes out of that, and what the prayer is saying – what’s it about.

V: That’s what you said when I said about the space. I was really uncomfortable about the space being so… You could use that, you could really work with that uncomfortable, haunted, intimidated stuff that was going on for me about the space. You’re right…

A: For me, it’s very interesting material having these limitations and conflicts, that go on. It’s a form of giving birth again to something new, forming those conflicts and looking at them in a new, creative way. Actions can come out of it and ways of interacting with materials, and how your body sits with that. It can be very gentle, it doesn’t have to be dramatic.

V: So, as witnesses, what did you witness? Because I know you were focusing on the job in hand of documenting…

P: I think what I witnessed was your courage to explore a new way of making work. And that was important for me, regardless of how the documentation… Of course, I hope that it was wanted, but I came away really like… You’ve made an important step, that’s what I witnessed. I know it’s in this place now of feeling uncomfortable, perhaps because you’ve taken that step and it’s only one step in relation to thousands of steps that you’ve made before that were around a particular art form, and this is the one step that makes it outside of that. But yeah, I think there’s something really important in there to be explored and it’s quite important – well not important -that it feels uncomfortable, but it shows something that really has the potential to be transformed, or to be birthed, or to be shared…

A: Do you feel uncomfortable with what happened in Fabrica?

V: I didn’t feel uncomfortable

A: No, it was more about when we talked about the body when the word uncomfortable came in. I felt quite uplifted, it just felt like you really stepped into your power a little bit. Once you started going you were in it and you knew exactly where things were going next and you were just flowing in the space, there was a really nice dynamic. And a kind of inner drive, that really allowed you to do it – it became very natural. It felt like you were completely embracing it and doing it. It felt very satisfying, and fulfilling to be there and be witnessing it. It felt from what you said that this is something you have done so much outside of your practice as more of a preparation process. To me it makes perfect sense that this is the practice. It doesn’t take away doing any of the other works you have been doing, but this is also the practice. You’re making it visible, it’s a big step.

V: It’s really helpful to know what the impact is on an audience. You were there witnessing, you were the audience, and it had an impact.

A: It helped me to be able to touch the material – I was very drawn to it. It felt like, with Fabrica, that you lay the foundations. And you were walking on the ground – I mean, you were literally laying foundations! There are so many different branches that could come out of it. It could go completely into film, still image, and it could go into even more detail. Or it could go out, you know, forget about the camera. So it could go in any direction or have multiple sides happening at the same time.

Click here to see what happened in Fabrica.

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Perspectives, by Kate Davey, August 2013

Veronique’s film work evokes a sense of transience and without alarm, gently reminds me of the continuous passing of time. It seems her acceptance of change and the inevitability of death has evolved from her relationship with the natural world.

Veronique’s career started in sculpture, before moving into painting and recently progressing into film. I became Veronique’s assistant at the point of her progression into video. On researching and contexualising her work I saw similarities between the prolonged scene filming of video painting and the ephemeral sense of time in her piece ‘Vanita’.

In video painting a scene is filmed for a prolonged period of time, with very little camera movement. At first, the result appears to be a regular, motionless painting. On closer inspection, the works are in fact moving, portraying a sense of the impermanence of time. Emerging in 2001, after the publication of Hilary Lawson’s ‘Closure’; directed at what Lawson saw as the “impending crisis of postmodernism”, this new art attempted to avoid closure and approach openness by eliminating the still image – an image frozen in a specific space or time.

Video painting has since become hugely popular, with certain galleries now dedicated to the art form. The Open Gallery, based in London, was formed in 2006 and solely exhibits video paintings – a form of art that really began with a philosophy. In addition to this, exhibitions focusing on this new art form have taken place at high profile venues including the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Hayward Gallery and The Miami Ice Palace.

As well as their similarities to video painting, Veronique’s moving paintings are also closely linked to the still-life painting style ‘Vanitas’ first executed in 16th and 17th Century Flanders and Netherlands. This style aims to remind viewers of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death.

It seems to me that in both her static painting and film, Veronique builds on video painting and the ‘Vanitas’ still-life style, as she celebrates life and death through fluidity, layering, and her deep sensitivity to nature. To me, Veronique’s static paintings elevate themselves way above the ‘frozen image’ condemned by Lawson, and approach a reassuring openness that is simultaneously comforting and humbling.

Kate Davey. Art Historian and Writer. August 2013

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Radio Interview: Voice of Leadership

Click here to listen to Veronique Maria’s interview on the Voice of Leadership with Tammy Hibler and Linda Limbardo.

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Video: Orogeny 2011

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Orogeny-Recent work of Veronique Maria, Reviewed by Tim Stephens September 2011

If we prefer an understanding of the surface of Veronique Maria’s work using the more obvious and apparent art history catalogue, from the abstract expressionists we might see Jane Frank’s mixed media canvases or certainly the traces of Pollock’s expressionism as being here. But this limits our vision. And, what is most interesting about these paintings might be the very edges of the visual that these abstract expressionists, also, reached for.

So, what presents itself here in Veronique Maria’s work is what exceeds the visual image. More than imagery, and, more than the imaginary in a mixed-media painting, it is, in one word: movement. But what kind of movement are we witnessing having taken place?

Using our peripheral vision then, and closer to home in a broadly British painting tradition is a motive that is more immanent, more tactile, a type of work that revels in the materiality of paint itself. And furthermore, that might be a movement towards another, a materially felt sense just out of our visual range, an encounter. This might best be described, in its profundity, as follows:

‘I felt there was an area of experience — the haptic, the tangible, what you feel when you touch somebody next to you in the dark — that hadn’t perhaps been recorded in painting before’.(1)

When Auerbach says this of his work, we also see the thickly layered, exhuberant, solid and physical presences of his paintings as states in which we wrestle with the materiality of being, others and our own. It is this materiality that leads VM to extend her artistic vocabulary beyond paint, to the hand-moulded fired ceramic ‘shapes’ which both carry and move the paint across this canvas surface. We are reaching an artform beyond the category of traditional painting, that nevertheless, resembles paintings. In terms of technique: a reverse decalcomania. Instead of images being transferred to a ceramic base in the traditional process of ‘decal’ as it is known, we have the sustaining layer of clay, of earth, acting as a layer upon the ‘image’. This is puzzling. There is a dissonance here both between the clean edge of the rectangular frame and the depths of eschatological encounter bounded therein. Furthermore, the material we are witnessing being moved and acting upon the ‘painting’ is, clay, lest we forget, earth, or life itself: change, flux and constant creation. So we are left imagining, what kind of making led to these ‘events’ we see here?

What is now much more complicated by the artist’s movement-making process is that we now cannot see these ‘paintings’ as paintings in the expressionist tradition-although that is what they might look like. There is a more contemporary reference to this ‘tactile school’ still very much within the discipline of painting offered by Geoff Uglow’s recent work, Coda, thickly rendered impasto of his encounter with the raw beauty of the Scottish coastline in stark colour combinations. He has said of his surfaces: “I equate the physical quality of the paint to a sea pushed and pulled through itself. When this activity is stopped, liquid becomes solid as if frozen.”(2) Also with Frank Bowling RA, whose increasingly vibrant colour palette through the 1980’s mixed ochre, vermillion and lapis to breach the smooth skin of canvas and bleed into the encrusted surfaces of the lands he touched from then on. But it was an accidental or traumatic splattering of plaster over his precisely drawn work that allowed a new attitude to his process of constructing a painting. Then, when his poured pools of liquid, dry, flat, on the painting, the surface will: ‘rise and fall due to the atmosphere in the room’. This being precisely the point: ‘It came out of this accident, which, literally, threw me, but I didn’t want to waste that idea’.(3)

So with Veronique Maria, we have such an act. The self that made them is not simply and wholly expressionistic, the artist that made them is no longer present, the performance of their making is not now taking place in our presence, they appear virtually unauthored, unpainted. We are entering another realm of encounter, as if in the dark, where we might gain a notion of the artist herself making such work. Instead of Auerbach’s scrupulously close attention to the body of his sitter, these are not pictures of something in that sense, we have, still in his words:

‘actually to apprehend the weight, the twist, the stance, of a human being anchored by gravity: to produce a souvenir of that’.(4)

That is, the body of the artist attending to her own body, making, moving and being moved. Dancing a dance of base materialism and producing a souvenir on her return. Using the light of lands other than England’s green, the colour of the earth’s insides, rupture and ‘accident’, we see a painted orogeny.

In these frames we might see, or rather now, feel, nature or natural forms, intimations of landscape, emotionscapes, ideoscapes, of dynamic feeling, and be transported somewhere, to some place, volcanic in upheaval, like Burtynsky’s photographs of open-cast mines or to any verdant, wild and sublime, ‘Romantic’, place. But we will be brought back immediately as we ask ourselves: how are even these natural events made? We are just left with another unsettling question. Are these ‘paintings’, ‘places’, ‘events’ or ‘performances’ more in the realm of being uncreated, part of the infinite, ongoing transformations of material? A natural method of change, a moment stolen from itself… and in this case, are we not sensing an artist’s attempt to become as close to being made, created and transformed as possible, to become both the subject and object of her own artwork? The artist as a process of nature? This would not be new, it may be simply part of the post-conceptual performance heritage. But to live this process, such is the liminal, terrifying intimacy of the process of relinquishing the known -that which we stop, that which is still- which might also act as a therapeutic transformation within the crucible of the frame, the bucket of the frame, of the gallery. Echoing a medieval view; the soul is a bucket of water. A thimbleful of seawater is no less a sea for that.

We might agree that one puzzle is answered whilst another is only asked. These are paintings that are no longer to be seen as ‘paintings’, which leads us to the paradox of art objects that are unmade, or unmade through a movement of transformation-that is, destruction. A question we ask both of natural events, on a large-scale, in extremis, ‘How can this happen’? and in intimate moments of reflection, ‘How can I be’?

1 Catherine Lampert, ‘Auerbach and His Sitters’, Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings, 1954-2001, Royal Academy of the Arts, London, 2001.

2 http://www.scottish-gallery.co.uk/news/page/geoff_uglow/

3 http://frankbowling.com/

4 Quoted by Isabel Carlisle, ‘Early Works: 1954-1970’, ibid, p. 34.

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Video: Earth Mound by Veronique Maria

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