Through experimental film, video projection and installation, Berlin-based artist Robert Seidel brings dimension and life to abstraction. The artist’s latest installation Tearing Shadows just concluded at 401contemporary in Berlin. Seidel is now preparing his first permanent installation Grapheme as part of a new wing for the Museum Wiesbaden.
Installation Magazine: How did you arrive at video installations?
Robert Seidel: I started very early on with painting, drawing, sculpting and programming with a strong interest in nature, in all its beauty and complexity. So I dove into the world of fractals and fossils and after school I studied biology for a while, but then turned to media design and art at Bauhaus University Weimar in Germany. I find it more interesting to create new worlds rather than recreating the existing one. With each exhibition I have an opportunity to present abstractions onto sculptural and architectural forms. I like to extend ideas of former projects, so that the process-driven or evolutional component is inherent in the whole artistic approach.
What is the process of creating a video work? Is a sculpture or drawing created in a three-dimensional plane and then filmed and manipulated? Or is the entire composition rendered digitally?
For the films, it is about collecting different sources: from sketches or paintings to photos, videos, x-rays, scientific data and simulations, digital artifacts or motion capture data. I incorporate these into a digital composition. But rarely things are filmed only, this is just the case for the installation or sculpture documentations.
The title Tearing Shadows suggests that an intangible surface like a shadow can be penetrated and viewed from all angles. Do you find that your work allows you to turn abstractions like shadows, nightmares, and emotions and transform them into shapes? Are the videos a way to make abstractions tangible?
The potential of abstraction is something I’m very interested in. I’m trying to re-create emotions or memorized situations, but never with the intention of creating nightmares. Drama, yes, but nothing that should scare people. Since projection relies on darkness, it might be perceived this way at first, but when the viewer steps into this little universe, I hope he gets lost in the moment; I hope to invite the viewer to create his own narrative. With Tearing Shadows he can even wander around, adding another physical component. The language is derived from my artistic practice, mostly organic and interwoven. But the shapes are not laser-cut this time, they are hand-drawn and hand-cut so more of the analog sources I use for all my works are visible in reality. Usually, the original drawings, paintings and 3D models get fully blended digitally. The restrictions of the rectangular TV or silver screen allow the images to be read as a “moving painting.”
What was your experience in preparing for the exhibition Tearing Shadows at 401contemporary in Berlin? The video teaser presents a three-dimensional, virtual sculpture composed of jagged fragments and is accompanied by a soundtrack that is dissonant and interrupted by moments of static.
Tearing Shadows is another projection sculpture that echoes my past project, Black Mirror, but this time it invades the whole space. I was a bit afraid that this room-filling approach could be problematic- I was worried about viewers touching the sculpture fragments, but a mixture of surprise and respect directed them to walk in-between the delicate objects.
Describe how this piece was presented in the space- was it a wall projection or was it an immersive experience meant to surround the viewer?
I wanted to explore how a projection would work with different spatial layers. Turning objects into shadows creates a very different set of compositions that are activated when people walk by. I also created an almost flicker-film-like sequence with chromatic aberrations in the projection which turned out to be perceived very differently than I expected. The immersive experience was not necessarily what I intended, but it is this surprise element that drives my installations.
What effect were you hoping to accomplish with the piece? Do you feel that you achieved it?
Since these projects always need several months of preparation, my original ideas often transform significantly. I don’t look for solutions; I seek to generate more questions. The biggest challenge is documenting these sculptures in a sophisticated way, to really capture their essence, because once they are gone, my own memory also starts to fade.
You have had the chance to exhibit your work in various venues. Do you find that the environment of the gallery or museum influences the project?
Museums and galleries are always a two-sided coin. I love it when curators or institutions push an artwork, and support the artist with their knowledge. These institutions can provide an interesting architectural space to work in and can certainly furnish an artist with an incredible reserve of resources. But the latter can be problematic, and the artwork must to grow out of limited resources, mostly projectors and equipment. This surely shapes the work, sometimes in a good way because new solutions have to be found, but the limitations can kill ideas.
Describe the conception and creation of Grapheme. How will the work be presented?
Grapheme at the Museum Wiesbaden is my first permanent work, so it collects a lot of different ideas and is almost a kaleidoscope of the older project. Since it is situated at the entrance of a newly opened wing of the museum it reflects my personal history and in some ways extends to address the history of art. The piece arose out of very delicate drawings that were then laser-cut into the sculptural elements. It cites the projection films of the last years of my work, but it is all new material. I’m even thinking about extending the projection in some months or years to create a more open artwork that can adapt to the museum and to the viewer.
Sound is an integral component to the visual experience that you create. What is the collaborative process between you and the musicians?
I have been working with musicians like Richard Eigner on a regular basis. On past projects, I have collaborated with composers Heiko Tippelt and Philipp Hirsch. I like to achieve a complex sound that combines analogue and digital sources. I do not favor a beat-based or repetitive structure, so the score flows along with images and sometimes diverges from the video content. Both evolve differently before falling back together. I think sound can be very powerful by itself, so I don’t use it as separate from the images but as an integral part of the piece.
What intrigues you most about creating installation work? What are the greatest challenges that you are faced with?
Seeing my ideas come to life is the most intriguing part, and is the greatest challenge in the end. For an installation, you have to deal with gravity, electricity, space, equipment, regulations, laws, carpenters, curators, gallery owners, museum staff, assistants, technicians, contractors, lawyers, transportation, material, climate, travel, catalog layout, a dizzying amount of correspondence and planning as well as time and financial limits. There is so much to consider in certain projects that the time allotted to the artwork itself becomes less important than the organization. Film seems so much more open and focused in these moments, even if you have to deal with you, time, money and your social life- which can be demanding enough.
Featured video © of the artist