Press Release September 2018
7 September – 6 October 2018
Opening 6 September 2018, 7 – 9 PM
Achenbach Hagemeier is pleased to present True Nature, Michael Staniak’s first solo-show at the gallery and his debut solo-show in Germany. Staniak has shown in numerous international solo and group exhibitions including From Alchemy – Steve Turner Contemporary, Los Angeles 2018, Guidance Station – Melbourne 2017, Zona Maco – Eduardo Secci Contemporary, Mexico City 2017, Summer Sun –The Journal Gallery, New York 2017, I was once Lonelyness – Blain / Southern, Berlin 2015, The future of Memory – Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna 2015.
This edited conversation between Michael Staniak and Achenbach Hagemeier took place on WhatsApp in the two months leading up to the exhibition True Nature.
I think our social media environment can influence the images with which we choose to engage. Unfortunately, this can affect how we choose to view and express ourselves in physical reality.
Most of us spend so much time on social media. It’s inevitable that it affects how we see images in our everyday life. At least our subconscious absorbs information from our feed. And it’s way too much information we are confronted with each and every day. So, our brain is selecting for what is most important to us. I don’t think we take much time to look at things properly anymore, especially on our digital devices. We scroll down and the image refreshes and disappears. We are so lucky to have artists, exhibitions and museums that allow for us to slow down and just look, feel and think about what we see.
It caught my attention when you used the word “unfortunately”. I grew up with and without the internet, so I have this kind of bipolar relationship with new technologies or developments in networked media. As I have described it once before, it is an optimistic trepidation. No doubt good things have come from social media, like the ability to easily have this conversation. But there are things that are completely changing us psychologically. For one, our attention span is increasingly fleeting. Also, our behavior towards social media is resembling more of an addiction, driven by its algorithms, rather than a utilitarian need to communicate with one another. There is no doubt that we are adapting to our relatively infantile digital environment. And our visual environment is constantly changing. In turn we are always trying to keep up. Most of what we engage with consistently, especially in the art world, is via a backlit screen, with sharp saturated colors and manipulated images that distort our understandings of the physical world.
I was on residency in April/May this year on Fogo Island, Newfoundland. It is an icy, quite mystical and relatively isolated part of the world. While there, I was less engaged with new media and more receptive to the natural environment, especially as the studio was very isolated and self-contained and the weather conditions could be quite brutal. It was difficult to adapt to this at first, but very rewarding once I could slow myself and fully engage with my surroundings. Our art centres are becoming increasing cosmopolitan and populated. Do you feel a craving to go back to nature? Do you disengage with your media often or not at all, or maybe for short periods?
I think it’s good to engage with nature - go out, leave the city and hide away from digital distractions. I agree that it’s beneficial to easily source, communicate and engage with people especially with artists through social media but sometimes it influences you subconsciously. It can be a good thing but I think the key is to find a personal, well-balanced level between nature and digital media. How do you manage to escape from digital distractions? Do you have a weekly routine?
I don’t think I do manage to get away from the “distractions” of digital media. But maybe that is just me adapting to our new nature. There is no doubt that our environment is becoming more integrated with new technology, so I don’t think it is about regressing to primitivism. Even if technology isn’t used as a pure utility, it is almost like an extra appendage now rather than a pervasive other. However, it is the way in which we engage with social media that maybe shaping us more than we shape it. It is possibly a causal evolution happening to us more so than the other way around.
I think we do tend to adapt to our visual and cultural environment. As it evolves we find the appropriate social groups in which to fit. For example, we can see more political polarization as algorithms dictate our flow of information. It is a survival mechanism to seamlessly blend amongst the like-minded rather than standout as individuals to be easy prey. That is the more common human survival response in a hostile or foreign realm - seek the familiar. As a visual phenomenon, we mostly see our surroundings and engage with other people’s visual collections through online media. This will likely lead to an inevitable absorption into creative output. You can see through scrolling the Instagram feed that this can lead to homogenized trends, especially in art. Media bubbles can further predicate our visual input with technology estimating what we like seeing rather than creating a diversity of images. This in turn can strongly guide us to creating things with which others will likely engage. Again, the comfort of the familiar, this kind of camouflage effect, keeps us safely engaged with our new media but further reinforces our subjection to trends and mindless routine. Breaking out of this cycle is one of the more difficult aspects of being so reliant on networked devices.
You got me with the point that everything we post or do online has a sort of camouflaged flavour to it. It starts with everyday information. We don’t buy newspapers anymore, we filter and only read what really interests us. I filter by topics, this may be somehow stupid but it’s the only way I can cope with the information overflow.
So your “Oxide Paintings” are made of casting compound, iron oxide and pigments. That’s the base. And I understand that your gestures have to be made really deliberately, accurately and quickly so that the materials don’t dry before you are done?
Yes. The combination of casting compound and oxides do require for me to work quite quickly. I have to make quite deliberate gestures and fast decisions, with little room or time for error, though I do improvise mostly at this stage of the painting. It is like alchemy - getting the right mix of materials to work together - so that I may create the intended effects. It’s chaotic and a lot of fun. However, the pigment is applied very slowly using industrial spray guns, through many, many layers. This is the controlled element of my work which is disciplined and slow. Though the works are entirely made by hand, this method gives the pigment in the Oxide Paintings a digitally printed, machine applied quality. This is a dual conflict in my work (like the screen versus physical), it’s the orderly versus the chaotic. I think it keeps my paintings in balance.
Your works are deeply influenced by digital media. Would you say that the “Oxide Paintings” are more than just a normal painting; that they are more than two dimensional objects? Would you say that they are optimized for the screen?
The works have totally different qualities in person and on the screen. The screen seems to emphasize the material and the texture, while in person they have a strange reverse tromp l’œil effect where the texture appears flat. This is very purposeful. I like to exaggerate the dual reading of paintings online and in physical proximity. You get two different and effective qualities at once. I guess for me it speaks about the truth value of digital images. What you see is not always what you get. And I also continue the tradition of the optical tricks that paintings have employed for hundreds of years - many people want to touch my paintings to make sure they are textured and not flat. Their eyes deceive them, especially if they have seen the work online and immediately assume they are textured without physical investigation.
I don’t know if these works are purposefully optimized for the screen, but my thoughts are pulling me in that direction. What does it mean to optimize for the screen? Is that more important than reality? Is the shared image or a simulated experience one that the audience actually seeks? It seems the more connected we are via screens, the more important this factor becomes. So I notice that definitely certain pigments and colour combinations of my paintings get larger reactions from an online or social media audience. I sometimes wonder if this informs or directs my works. I guess these elements can become the “signature” of my painting, along with my spontaneous hand and finger gestures; the factor that is at once unique and also familiar about any series of works. There it is again, the need to surround ourselves with the familiar while not sacrificing the individual.
So the iron oxide seems to be a new addition to your signature?
As I was mentioning before, a lot of thoughts that stemmed from my Fogo Island residency revolved around our relationship with digital media and the environment. During the residency, I researched ways in which we view the environment or the natural world through a digital lens and how it may affect our relationship with nature as a result. I wanted to see if there were elements from those almost alien landscape images that have been incorporated into my past work, whether consciously or not. I did most of this research with a drone, viewing the wider landscape as we have done digitally for a while now, directly from above. The similarities were more than evident. I paint with my compound in a very similar way, surveying my “canvas” from directly above. I realized my own studio is a creative environment and my paintings seem to evolve and be mediated in similar ways to our satellite view of the world. The addition of the oxides adds an organic material that comes from the earth and is very readily available in Australia. The iron ore industry is one of Australia’s largest. So, the relationship between new technology and the landscape is inseparable; both the way we view nature and the ways we use nature. We use materials from the land to make devices that we then use to survey the very same landscape.
Tell me a little more about the “Nature/Camo Paintings”. You referenced nature earlier in our conversation. Is this something that you are putting more literally into practice in these images?
The images of trees, branches and leaves are entirely fictional. They have been meticulously digitally collaged in Photoshop from many different elements of digital stock photographs and textures from nature found online. The resulting “landscapes” are reminiscent of outdoor and hunting wear camouflage that I often came across while on residency. I was very much drawn to these reproductions of a false nature used to cloak people in their physical surroundings. I like how nature becomes almost a fashion choice in this way, not just a necessity of functional gear. I could see similarities between the way we imprint images of our natural surroundings onto our clothing and how our digitally mediated environment could be fashioning us into social beings that blend into our algorithm groups. So I keep wondering how my social media environment - my new nature - can lead my painting or how my paintings can lead it. The more I think about it, the more the distinctions between the two causal relationships become murky.