Featured Artist: Anna Fafaliou
Anna Fafaliou’s conceptual installations and performances deal primarily with memories: the nostalgic recollection of things remembered though object association, creating new memory associations by transforming objects that used to be connected with something else prior to said intervention upon them, or ritual memory deletion.
Her artistic program reminds me of something Salman Rushdie said about writing in Imaginary Homeland:
[it’s] as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things–childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves–that go on slipping , like sand, through our fingers.
That’s essentially what Anna’s art is about: Keeping hold of the thousand and one things.
Jonathan: Hello Anna! Let’s dive right in with what may seem like a basic, self evident question to you… many people may be curious about what – in the parlance of contemporary art – a conceptual artist is and how, in your view, this approach to making art is different. Maybe the best way to answer this is to walk me through one of your installations from its point of origin as an idea in your mind, to its material execution. Let’s take Nostros… what’s that all about?
Anna: I like the word “conceptual” because it demonstrates a certain process of creating. Everything starts from a small idea, a word, a conversation and then the research comes: loads of reading, mainly philosophy, sociology and neuroscience. And then comes the content and form.
I like the idea of having a concept taking over the aesthetics or medium with which an artist works. I want the concept to take me there. That’s how I worked with “Nostos”.
Nostos means “homecoming” and it’s the first half part of the word “Nostalgia” meaning “longing to return home”. Memory takes a major place in my art, and I find Nostalgia in particular to be really intriguing as to what it is and how it functions philosophically, psychologically and scientifically.
My art focuses on exploring the relationship between the body, space and objects. I create imaginary environments questioning the way people embody the past, present and future.
In this project I wanted to examine this need to “return home” and the need of belongingness as a main tool for mapping one’s roots and constructing the future. This brought to the foreground of my mind the connection between nostalgia and objects. It would seem the objects from our past work as marks on our timeline, as material proof that something had happened in the past that was somehow connected to that object. Storing these objects keeps us close to our past and helps us see our continuity in time.
The use of painting things white stands at the centre of my practice. We dream in colour. Our memories are coloured. The things we own are coloured. Removing the element of colour from my belongings was a great way to question my attachment to them and the stories they hold as well as putting into discourse the object’s identity. This is a way to explore my interest in the notion of “personal identity” in relation to the “cultural artefacts” that we tend to collect.
Jonathan: I find many aspects of this particular project intriguing, so let’s unpack it further. My understanding is that the science data pertaining to nostalgia is rather sparse. Like many terms describing mental states, the meaning of word has changed considerably since it was first coined in the 17th century. Back then, nostalgia was understood in pathological terms – as a mental ailment. Today, the term is somewhat more nebulous. It seems we have an easier time describing how it works rather than what it is. Maybe that’s why I find the installation so effective: it’s a visual description of a process rather than an attempt at concrete nomenclature. Was that a deliberate move on your part or is that just a bit of happy associative happenstance on my part?
Anna: Yes, this is exactly how I see Nostalgia. I wanted to express my point of view and share what nostalgia is to me. I haven’t decided if I am a nostalgic person or not. There is this element of collecting personal artefacts and creating a personal map of your life, which at the same time sounds very romantic and natural -we collect objects to keep links with our past, to stay connected, and on the other hand it creates a suffocated feeling (at least for me) – this need of belonging, of creating bonds, of being justified through ownership.
I feel like the things I own own me – especially if they hold stories from people I love or I used to love, it makes it impossible for me to get rid of them. This is why I’m interested in playing with the identity of objects accumulated in my life and the distortion of the memories they hold. Nostalgia tells us things where much better in the past, making long to return us to an idealised state that might have never even existed in quite the way we remember it.
Jonathan: It would seem that broadly speaking, nostalgia is a process involving an emotionally charged recollection of a memory triggered by an object, sound, taste or smell. A sort of Proustian quest for past triggered by experiences in the present described by him in loving detail in À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Certainly, that appears to be your understanding of it as the installation involves your personal stuff. How has taking what seems to be a fair amount of your personal memorabilia and clothing and painting it all white impacted your personal associations and relationship with these objects? Please tell me that the content of your notebooks remain untouched! Has the objects in this project lost or retained their nostalgic value?
Anna: When I decided to start painting all my belongings white, I started by making lists of everything I owned. I thought I didn’t have too many things… but oh my God! I began with old toys and as the work progressed the objects completely changed, especially the colourful ones. It’s hard for me to recall their original state.
At the beginning I was suffering from guilt. I don’t know why, but I felt completely guilty, like I was denying my past or people who came across my way. Then a beautiful thing happened. As I started travelling around Europe to exhibit my installation, a new relationship began between myself, the objects and a new element: the audience. People would approach me to ask me about some of my objects, or to tell me their stories in relation to some of these objects. So eventually they were not mine anymore… they became a shared collective memory by virtue of being reduced to a pristine prototype. This allowed the audience to approach the installation with more ease, and colour in their minds eye their own nostalgic memories they way they wanted.
Jonathan: Interesting how painting your objects white has resulted in you having difficulty recalling them in their original state, while for the audience the effect was markedly different, in that it facilitated the process of bringing in their own associations triggered by these objects . Your loss was their gain, so to speak. Any additional thoughts on that?
Anna: By deleting the identity of the objects I create a tabula rasa or a blank canvas for the audience to colour their own memories. I’m just giving them the form, the shape. For me it’s the opposite because I knew what was underneath the surface. It’s like creating prototypes.
Jonathan: Before we move on to some of your other projects, tell me a little bit about the white threads. I imagine this is about conveying intricate memory associations through various objects. Can you elaborate on that aspect of the installation a little bit? Is the thread from one object to another “literal”… that is to say a “real” memory connection in your life? While I’m on this, how come you didn’t paint your dresser and bed white like you did the rest of your objects?
Anna: The threads in my practise represent two things. First, it was a way for me to express the notion of attachment and connection with our belongings, our “embodied artefacts” as I like to call them. From another perspective I decided to go a bit further and create a narrative with the thread as well. This approach varies from project to project. I connect objects creating a timeline or a storyline or alphabetically etc, etc. I want the viewer to find his or her starting point and follow the lines to create a personalized narrative and not to actually try to read or find mine.
The work Nostos took place in Venice at Palazzio Ca’ Zanardi. As an invited resident artist I had to interact with one of the rooms and create a work in response to it. The dresser and the bed where obviously Palazzio’s property so I couldn’t paint them, but I found that by keeping them in the room I could create an interesting contrast which could make my intention behind my practise stronger.
Jonathan: Tell me about Erase you Erase me… We’re no longer dealing with objects here but with a person (whom I surmise is you, but please do correct me if I’m wrong). In Nostos, you’ve described the white painting of objects as a means of stripping the objects down to prototypes by virtue of removing their colour (which you maintain has a memory specific value). While I imagine a carryover of that meaning is present here, the fact that we are dealing with a living, breathing person seems to add an extra dimension to the process. Tell me about it… How is this series similar to Nostos and (more importantly) how is it different?
Anna: Erase you Erase me was conceived during a very strange period in my life where after a separation from someone I tried to separate from myself too, as I knew myself till that very moment. I guess I wanted to get rid of my past and partly get rid of myself too. I felt completely numb. The performance was created during an improvisation where I wanted to create a ritual of deletion that would bring some catharsis. A very close friend of mine and a wonderful photographer Maria Katsika witnessed that impro and suggested a photographic documentation of the performance. This is how Erase you Erase me was born. It’s much more conceptual and existential than anything else I’ve done. It brings to discourse the relationship with one’s self. It’s almost controversial in relation to my other projects, as you can get rid of your belongings, but you cannot get rid of yourself.
Jonathan: In the final analysis and with the benefit of hindsight, to what degree would you say that your ritual of self deletion was a success? What was the end result of this highly personal performance? Was your self-identity radically or even moderately transformed by it? How so?
Anna: Any kind of ritual embraces this feeling and need for something different, for a change or for achieving another state where you can communicate and express something differently. It’s not about the result, especially in my practice it’s never about the result. It’s not about the transformation, it’s is about the need for it. That performance came out of a need of mine to express and communicate something autobiographical (as with most of my projects). The fact that it was conceived and then existed in reality, for me that’s success. The final analysis and the accomplishment of a transformation or so is not what I’m looking for. I’m more interested in the process as opposed to the final result.
Jonathan: Awesome. In closing, what are you working on these days?
Anna: I just took down a piece that I really enjoyed producing called “All I can remember” which was part of a collective exhibition by Scene in London, called Maps.
At the moment I’m at the studio creating some new work for an upcoming exhibition in London in the Autumn. My idea is to take what I’ve already worked with in “All I can remember” and try to go a bit deeper in to the notion of “personal identity” in relation to the “cultural artefacts” through this personal map of key items of my personal belongings.
Jonathan: Sounds exciting! Thanks so much Anna for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you much success preparing for your Autumn show.
Be sure to visit Anna Fafaliou’s website to view her past installations and performances and keep abreast of upcoming events: www.annafafaliou.com