What will you show at Independent Brussels?
We will present part of my project entitled On Glaciers and Avalanches which I began during my year-long residency at the Foundation Lawrenz House in Basel. At that time, I started working with different research institutes based in Switzerland such as the World Glacier Monitoring Service, and the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. Through these collaborations, I developed several series of works related to glaciers and avalanches. At Independent, I will show large paintings and sculptures from this body of work.
What does your collaboration with scientists entail, and how do you translate these experiences into artworks?
I accompany scientists during their field research. I follow them around, and I listen to their explanations. Nature creates certain shapes and patterns for very clear reasons, and that’s why it’s interesting for me to hang out with scientists because they read the landscape in a way that we cannot.
On these expeditions, I always start by drawing and sometimes, if the circumstances allow for it, I use watercolors. I can only connect to the landscape and understand its patterns and forms through drawing it. Switzerland, in particular, has a very long history of landscape drawing which made it hard for me to engage with the environment. But that’s what science gives to me; it reveals a fascinating micro-history which offers a point of entry.
I choose only one element from the landscape, and that’s why my images look abstract. For example, if I’m drawing the forest I might focus on the shadows. I select one variable among many, but I stick to what I see. The information is really there; I don’t invent anything.
The form an artwork takes depends on the landscape and the research around it. In Switzerland, for example, the imagery in my drawings and watercolors lent themselves to large paintings and sculpture. The structure of the ice has a very sculptural quality.
Your work seems to undermine the commonly held belief that art is purely a product of human culture. It appears to reflect a false division between the subjective human world and the objective non-human natural world. What are your thoughts on this?
Yes, in my work I observe nature, so it’s not so much about me. I mean, I’m obviously there, and I try to find ways to fit into a particular context, but it is really about capturing the structure of nature. Lately, I’ve been working a lot with geologists and in relation to the history of geology and of nature in general, humans are such a super small thing, basically nothing. Humans play a very minor role in the ecosystem, and engaging with specialists makes me very aware of that.
I’m also influenced by the 18th and 19th century naturalists because at that time drawing and science were much more interconnected than they are now. There was always someone drawing on expeditions, and the disciplines were less divided. One of the most fascinating things that I learned in Switzerland was that before the invention of photography certain artists like Samuel Birmann made extremely precise paintings of glaciers. And even though Birmann probably didn’t intend for his works to be used for scientific purposes, researchers have studied them to understand the morphology of glaciers at that time.