Questions Can you tell us a bit about your current Space Tapestry project? It is a 3 x 200 m wall hanging that relates the history and recent debates around space exploration and earth observation. It is inspired by the 1000 year old Bayeux Tapestry, which carries one of the first known depictions of Halley’s comet. The work has been 3 years in production and involved 25 young artists. The book companion interviews 16 people who work on space today. They are engineers, doctors, historians, geologists, and biologists. A speech bubble says, ‘Space seems to be everywhere’.
It sees you return to the theme of space. What attracts you to this subject?
I saw Neil Armstrong land on the moon on TV when I was 2. My family was behind the Iron Curtain but we shared the experience with everyone else watching. Few subjects are as unifying as Space, which actually is all about our lives on Earth, from the point of view of Space or as reflected in Space. As rovers are surveying Mars for example, its newly discovered geological features are named after existing geological features on Earth. We are limited to what we already know or what we can perceive. In 1999 I staged First Woman on the Moon on a beach in Holland. I sent Neil Armstrong the video and he acknowledged it with good humor, graciously returning my favor from 30 years earlier.
What draws you to monochrome drawing? How do you use it as a medium?
I only use Sharpies, which were invented in 1964 so most contemporary to my lifetime. In the 15 years that I have explored this simple marker I have yet to see the same stroke repeated twice or get bored with it. I have even achieved watercolor like washes by violently destroying a thick Sharpie and using the innards like a delicate brush.
What are the challenges of working with a large team on such a big scale? Is the choice practical, or is it intrinsic to its meaning?
I was a NYC artist without a studio for over a decade when a friend lent me his large apartment and empty floor space. I had all these big works in me so I simply needed extra hands to finish before he returned. In the process I discovered that the diversity of the strokes that my friends helped me to produce was much more interesting than the uniformity of my own hand. When I was offered a solo show in a Manhattan blue chip gallery I used it as studio for two months, recruited 17 assistants (some off the street) and showed off the work process live. Space Tapestry is partially funded with grants that have a strong diversity criteria and that widens my scope even more.
You’ve worked across a varied of media, eschewing traditional art practices. Do you think there is a unifying theme to you work?
An exploratory approach and the fact that I am doing it all, not at the same time obviously. One thing has organically led to another, ideas have looped back on themselves over time, experience and skill has accumulated across media. A lot of time I just adapt to my resources and run with it. If I am on a beach in India I try to capture the energy of sleeping cows and wild dogs on a small drawing pad. If I am offered a museum show with a budget and massive wall space, I will want to fill that.
You were born in Poland, have American and Swedish citizenship, and live in London. Does this feed into your work? How?
Some aspects I can trace clearly to a particular location while others just reflect a general sense of being in the world. I have maintained a relationship with London since I was a teenager in the 80s, when we had to take a 24h ferry boat from Gothenburg where I grew up to go to Camden market to buy shoes. I have travelled the world extensively since then and also lived 5 years in Palermo, Sicily. In my early 1970s schooling in Sweden, Socialism as articulated in a productive group dynamic was celebrated above individual achievement. While my art education and presence of the market is entirely steeped in American art history and arts complex relationship to capital, as I encountered it in NYC, at the School of Visual Arts and in the galleries that I frequented in the 90s. Communist Poland barely features since I was only 5 when my family was expelled following the 1969 political turmoil, but the experience of migration and the cultural relativity that comes with it has probably formed my brain more than anything else.
You studied communication, media art and cultural anthropology. How to do feel they relate to your art? And to art in general?
Art is often talked about as just making, but a big and invisible part of it is that of looking at the world and drawing conclusions from it. My communications background is a support structure for publishing and talks, while in the studio we explore very basic mark making and in that we enter in dialogue with the Neanderthals. It is essential for me to be aware of these often-anonymous people and vernacular practices, next to celebrating the great masters in art history.