©Zilvinas Kempinas,Columns, 2006, Magnetic tape, plywood, dimensions variable. Installation view, Spencer Brownstone Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the artist and Spencer Brownstone Gallery, NYC.
In Venice, the young artist from Lithuania is conquering the senses of visitors by offering an ultimate sensual experience to them. The New York-based artist Zilvinas Kempinas (b. 1969) present his new installation Tube (2008) in the Lithuania Pavilion at the renaissance building Scuole Grande della Misericordia. Tube, made of videotape, looks more like a translucent tunnel of parallel lines, invites visitors to walk through it, to experience “a new sense of space and one’s body in a moment of time.” (ZK)
Paris, 2009, Summer
Selina Ting [ST]: The first time I saw your work was in Palais de Tokyo in 2006 where you showed the Flying Tape (2004). I was stunned by its striking simplicity and lyricism. It was very touching to see how a banal, dull, industrial object is transformed into something poetic by the imagination and creativity of an individual. We do not necessarily have to put it into the realm of art, but just as a silly little thing in daily life that appeal to our senses, speaks to our aesthetic pleasure, like a summer breeze, and we felt satisfied in life. How did you come up with the idea of using magnetic tape as your creative material? Why are they so fascinating for you?
Zilvinas Kempinas [ZK]: When people started asking me this question, I remembered that I used different tapes some yeas ago – 35 mm film and also microfilm – for my other sculptures. I was attracted to the physical length of the celluloid tape and how image is not contained in one rectangular frame, like traditional painting is, but is continuous and you cannot see it all at once. When I started using videotape, it was like a more abstract version of this ‘infinite’ image and, of course, the other physical features of the tape were very promising to work with – black shiny surface, super light, thin enough to visually disappear if looked from one side, easily recognizable material, flexible and durable. Videotape is also inexpensive. It’s a container of visual information, data carrier, but you can perceive it like an abstract line. It is a mass-produced banal industrial material, but it can appear sensual and seductive at the same time. Since it reacts to the slightest wind, I was inspired to use this kinetic potential to make self-balancing sculptures, which would be carried by airwaves.
ST: Because of the interactive aspect in your work? That they await spectators to complete them?
ZK: Yes, in a way it’s a situation for the viewers to finish the piece with their imaginations and sensitivity. But it’s not a job. It’s a pleasure, I hope.
ST: So, in fact such a step-by-step chronological development / research doesn’t exist in your work?
ZK: One piece always leads to another. There is a certain development, but I am not too conscious about it. I do have certain methods, but they are not strictly research based. I prefer to keep my mind open for lucky accidents.
ST: Does the dichotomy between sculpture and installation exist anymore?
ZK: I wouldn’t call it a dichotomy. There are objects, which we traditionally call ‘sculpture’ and there are arrangements which we call ‘installation art’. These are just terms to help us to communicate, but they are just terms. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. There are things, which exist in-between conventional definitions. I feel like they are more interesting, fresh and provoking.
ST: How would you define your work? Sculpture or Installation?
ZK: They are installations, because I don’t sculpt anything, instead I often use ready-made products and just arrange them in some way, creating an environment rather than a single object. The architectural space is always very important and becomes an integral part in my works. After the show, my works are taken apart or even destroyed until the next show. However, some of my works are smaller in scale and they don’t use an entire room. They can be called sculptures, if one prefers this term.
ST: You said that the magnetic tapes are like black lines in a drawing. It reminds me of surrealist automatism. When the tape is flying in midair, driven by the counter force of gravity and currents of air, it can be interpreted in two ways. First, the movements of the tape are the continuous involuntary drawings of a non-existing hand. Second, the non-existence of the hand sets the lines free, they become autonomic without a will power since they are not in control of their own movement neither. They remain in the realm of unconscious. My experience with Tube is very surreal as well. Walking through this tunnel with flickering light and noises passing through the ventilating ‘wall’ is like in a state of trance, between awake and asleep. Do you think your work has any resemblance to surrealism?
ZK: Yes, I appreciate you pointing out the surrealist element. I mentioned it myself some time ago. But for some reasons, references to Minimal art or Op art are predominant in most reviews.
ST: I also find a peculiar mix of minimalism and surrealism in your work. The repetitive arrangement of identical strips of magnetic tapes in the space, the play between light and shadow, the strictest intervention from the artist, etc. these are the execution of minimalist art. But, contrary to the geometrical coldness of minimalist material, the curves, the lightness and the softness of the magnetic tapes make your work absorbing, and they become very hypnotic. I have pieces in mind such as Link (2003) or Parallels (2007). How would you respond to this observation?
ZK: Yes, indeed, there is a mix of several things, which are usually seen as opposites.
ST: Do you think in these terms (minimalist, surrealist, op art, etc) when you conceive your work?
ZK: No, I don’t. But very soon after I have an idea, I think about it. I have to know exactly what I am doing.
ST: You have an extraordinary piece which has nothing to do with the tape, the 186,000 miles / second (2004). Can you tell us about this piece?
ZK: The holding matter for this piece is regular gallery light, just like air circulation holds Flying Tape. All visual art relies on light, but we usually don’t think about it. So I was interested in making a piece, which would be literally made of light, coming from two regular light fixtures. I had an arrangement of needles mounted into the gallery wall in a way that they cast a grid of shadows, extending each other and cascading down the wall. The shadows of the needles appear like pencil lines on the wall. So this ‘drawing’ exists only as long as the lights of the gallery are on. At the end of each day, the piece disappears with a click of an electric switch, with a speed of light, literally.
ST: Material is a very important inspiration for you. What other materials are you exploring?
ZK: Material is important for me but it’s not a driving force in my works. It’s just a tool for manipulation. Yes, material for me is a tool. Therefore I see no reason to mention materials without connecting it to specific piece.
ST: In 2008 during your residency in Atelier Calder in Saché, you moved outdoor by creating the installation Tripods (2008). What is Tripods about? How was this experience of working outdoor?
ZK: I had the possibility to work outdoors and I used it. Tripods was made to catch and reflect natural light during different times of the day. Basically they are 10 mm in diameter and up to 6 m tall aluminum rods joined together three at a time at the top. At the bottom, their ‘legs’ are spread and interfere with each other. There are one hundred of them bunched together, or to be more precise – three hundred slightly curved poles shimmering in the field, that can be seen from many miles away. White aluminum seems slightly alien in green fields, but at the same time Tripods have an archaic primitive character.
ST: Would outdoor installation be a new direction for you?
ZK: I don’t follow any particular direction. But some forms and ideas keep following me unconsciously and they come back in new shapes, so there are different manifestations of the same.
ST: Can you tell us what beauty means to you? And what beauty means in contemporary art?
ZK: Generally speaking, beauty is an artificial or natural perfection of a certain form or action. But in the world of art, aesthetics is not always the goal of an artist. Contemporary art is complicated and has many layers, some of which are not visual. Therefore I usually don’t call an artwork ‘beautiful’, I prefer to use the word ‘good’ instead. An artwork might not have a ‘beautiful’ shape, but it takes you below the visible surface of the piece and moves you in unusual ways.
ST: You said of Tube as “a sensual instrument for experiencing a new sense of space and one’s body in a moment of time.” I guess this is a form of aesthetics that “moves people in unusual ways”. Can this statement apply to the corpus of your work as the centre of research?
ZK: I have no suggestion on how to perceive my work. After I finish my pieces, they are on their own. I have nothing to do with them and I have nothing left to say in order to make them look better.
ST: Is amusing a synonym of unserious in contemporary art? Is it necessarily a bad thing? How would you react to this critique of your work?
ZK: Being ‘light’ does not mean ‘unserious’. And being ‘unserious’, does not mean ‘bad’ either. The Fluxus movement is a classic example of playful (‘unserious’) art. Art may as well be seen as the most sophisticated form of entertainment. I have no problem with that. Being ‘serious’, on the other hand, does not guarantee any quality. For example, some ‘serious’ works are just self-indulgent and demand pages of information in order to be perceived. To me they lack an instant connection with the viewer and often function as illustration (of concept or narrative). I prefer to choose highly visual simplicity and clarity in my approach and I attempt to make it look easy, like things happening by themselves.
ST: Thank you very much.
Zilvinas Kempinas was born in 1969 in Plunge, Lithuania. He lives and works in New York. Solo exhibitions: Kunsthalle Wien, Austria; Grand Café, Saint Nazare, France (2008); Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania (2007); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2006); P.S.1, New York (2003); Spencer Brownstone Gallery, New York (2004, 2006, 2007).