INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL DAVIS (BADGER BADGER PROJECTS) - 2009
Michael Davis - You work in a number of different ways, namely digital collage, hand made works and photography. Can you tell me a little about each body of work, and whether or not you think they relate to each other?
Celeste Najt - The different ways in which my work is organized are just a form of trying to tell a story to the person who is watching. The three paths of my work –digital collage, hand made collage and photography- have the same ending point: To make a 'whole' out of the 'parts'.
I started my art activity at the age of 16 doing hand made collage, mixing papers with photographs and objects I had found on the streets. When I started at Art School I realized that if I myself created the patterns for my assemblages the results could be much better, more “me-like”. So I started to take many photographs of “feedstock” and to use the computer as a key tool to alter them in order to include them in my compositions.
My digital collages are made out of photographs I have taken and with my own hand made collages. Every time I travel, I take thousands of pictures of silly things, which probably mean nothing to other people. I like the idea of seeing through things or of how they can work together in connection with other elements. Nowadays I’m working by the opposite process: I print a digital collage and then I work it over, following a hand made process and searching for a more organic result. My work needs the combination and feedback of these three branches to make a strong tree.
MD - That is an interesting metaphor. Although each of the processes, or branches, deliver an outcome in their own right, they also stem from the same thing. It is an organic process.
You talked about creating patterns and through this making your collages more personal to you, and you use photographs from your travels to illustrate places often overlooked. Is it this contrast between the personal, unique patterns and the universal places of the photos which drives your work?
CN - YES, I think the contrast you mentioned is the motor of my work. Although the principle behind my creative work is framing, my intention is the realization of an unexpected use of the photograph. Leaving aside the obvious path, the one indicated in the manual, creating my own manual of the new technologies.
My intention when creating is to manage to generate a work-spectator game in which habitual perception is replaced by a new perception. Either by taking almost ignored elements from daily life and placing them in the spotlight in the piece or from photographs of distant places I have visited– seeking to reproduce the surprise in the visitor in the face of the new space to walk around, assimilate, take in.
My work goes further than digital support. It is a kind of experiment with elements which, on their own, cannot attain what they manage when they are interrelated.
A sort of socialist utopia is thus created, which is realized effectively on canvas. Reciprocal relationships, equality, the possibility of creating a 'whole' from the 'parts'. Something that seems to be further and further away of really coming to happen in present-day societies after the complete loss of the sense of 'tribe' or 'community' and the advancement of the every day more predatory decaying capitalism that fractures everything and upsets the balance.
My reply to such phenomenon is to seek balance in a virtual manner, inventing an answer for the deficiencies of real life in my work, something like a parallel society or a more peaceful world to inhabit in which we can see ourselves reflected and which we might feel inspired to turn into our reality.
MD - I am curious about when you talked of a 'socialist utopia' being created in the work. Is it integral to the work, something that you believe in or set out to achieve, or is it something of a throwaway observation?
How do you choose the specific photographs for the collages? The finished works are reminiscent of Dada, I wondered if any part of the process was related.
CN - I think that 'socialist utopia' is a non-conscious process while I am creating but I always tend to go in that way, following the concept of creating a "whole from the parts". Anyhow I realize about it once the artwork is finished.
I choose the specific pictures for the collage trying to connect the form I perceive the world in at the exact moment I am making the artwork. At first sight I see colors, like when you choose the palette to make a painting, then I start the searching of images through my files until they come up, following the principle of the colors in my mind. It’s possible to find a connection point between my work and Dada, since I follow my instincts when I am working. I do a sort of "Cadavre Exquis" often.
MD – It does seem like a very intuitive process of adding and subtracting until you achieve your goal. How do you know when you have finished a piece? In other words, what is this 'whole' that you try to create with the parts?
Your work has many intricacies and facets. It is difficult to have a definitive understanding of it. Is it important to you that people who see your work interpret it in the ways that you have explained it?
CN - All my creative process is very intuitive, even the ending of each piece. When I make a work, I do it thinking or feeling in a certain direction. It is an exercise to externalize. Usually the title appears in my mind while I am doing the composition, and it helps the process to ride in the right direction, and maybe to construct a clue for the viewer.
The 'whole' relates to a complete figure made up from parts which have something in common, the colors, the aesthetic, a story. I always try to reach a synthesis and a feedback among them (it is at this point I can build a parallel with my desire for a society, make every person take communion with the others to shape a big strong community.)
I know my work is very abstract, and is completely intentional. I love when people look at my pieces and tell me what they can see in them. Crazy things come out.
MD - Yes, I think the works are very successful in this. It is a good thing, crucial even, that you are open to different interpretations and ways of understanding your works; they seem to have an intrinsic subjectivity, reminding me of the Rorschach Inkblots. Their intuitive process elicits a similarly intuitive response from the viewer. Personally, I see disjunction in the collages, between the images, whereas you see a kind of harmony.
Can you tell me a little about how you normally display your works? Also I am interested in which artists you look to for inspiration or that you find helpful in your own practice.
CN - The artists who inspired me are photographers like Stephen shore, William Egglestone, Trish Morrissey. I like their photographs because they look contemporary, even when most of them were taken in the 70s. Louise Bourgeois and Robert Rauschenberg are strong influences too. And the Bauhaus. When I began at collage was completely influenced by the Bauhaus Aesthetic. But my biggest influence is definitely Arthur Russell, a genius of music. I have been his fan for 5 years, and I never tire of listening to him and learning about his sensibility in art. Many of my works have titles that allude to his songs.
I’ve experimented with different forms to show my works: when a curator is involved the artworks usually are displaying one beside the other, in a classical way. When I have the possibility to dwell myself in the space, I like to make an installation working on the wall using it as a canvas. I like to mix ready-made collages with work I just spread along the wall. I made work according to this idea in a show in New York in collaboration with another artist (http://www.tigreceleste.com/newyork.htm). At Badger Badger I will try to tell a story. The title of the exhibition is "How to draw a map from Buenos Aires to Badger Badger". I will work on the wall with the intention of making a big artwork linking all the little works I have made specially for this show, creating a sort of map/drawing/graphic.
MD – Thank you very much for talking with me and I look forward to seeing the show.
CN - Thanks a lot, it’s a pleasure to answer your questions. Celeste Najt was talking to Michael Davis.
This interview was conducted for How to draw a map from Buenos Aires to Badger Badger, an exhibition at Badger Badger Gallery, Carlisle, UK, on 1st September 2009. For more information please visit www.badgerbadgergallery.co.uk