An interview with Pedro Hurpia, the former resident at Nida Art Colony
Pedro Hurpia is a visual artist and researcher from Brazil. He was a professor of Visual Arts at the Pontifical University of Campinas between 2015 and 2017, teaching Photography, Drawing and Orientation in Final Year Project. Pedro Hurpia works mainly with photography, beyond a variety of media such as video, drawing, objects and painting. He investigates the notions of displacement and collapse – both of the land and the photographic medium itself – and by means of several devices tries to represent natural phenomena that are only perceived by human being when they emerge to surface, or when the body is directly impacted such as landslides and sound waves. In this interview, Pedro and I are discussing the residency experience in Nida and his project „The Invisibility of Huge Things“ developed at Nida Art Colony during his stay in January, 2018.
In your previous works one can sense a nomadic approach towards the landscape and a sympathetic look to nature as a field for research. Do you engage in the process of sightseeing as an explorer, wanderer, tourist? How do you ponder the cultural and/or natural contexts, when it comes to your individual creative process in general?
In some previous works, as Desvios (2014) or Sight/and/seeing (2011), I’ve tried to bring this dualism between the explorer and the tourist. Travel and tour companies often create an ‘image’ of ‘nature explorer’ to sell their tour packages for a specific customer seeking adventures. It is possible to find this practice in several countries of the world in a standardized way: the same slogans, phrases and concepts.
The photographic images I present in these works have a strong relation of composition with the classic landscape painting. The concept of sublime in these paintings approaches the ideal of adventure towards the unknown in magnificent and perfect landscapes. The experience of “being there” after long walks crossing the almost impenetrable nature, achieving the perfect image (through photographic or pictorial medium) in a specific angle, that could be able to “frame” this sublime landscape, were subjects which were present in my research at that time. Somehow, they have built a path to my current installations.
Are you attracted by the experience of remoteness that is available in artist residencies?
The experience of isolation interests me in the sense that it correlates with my poetic process. I don’t usually apply projects for Residences in large urban areas that have a dynamics related to their surroundings. It doesn’t make sense to me.
It is self-evident that the conserved, but still alternating natural habitat of the Curonian Spit, is intrinsically unique and susceptible to change available to the naked eye. As an artist, who is interested in the impact of nature to human body and mind, how would you describe your experience in Nida? How, in your opinion, does the specificity of Curonian Spit’s scenery works with the human psyche?
I was surprised by the environment I found in the Curonian Spit. Of many places I have visited, it is one of the few that has so much geological and climatic variety in a restricted range of space and time.
In this sense, I believe that changed the relationship with the time of displacement. I could reach these “specific environments” on foot within minutes. In some sequences of the films that I realized, I tried to pass this experience of transition, maintaining the same behavior of the character artist / inventor.
Tell a bit more about your stay at Nida Art Colony. How would describe your experience at the residency?
Before arriving at Nida, my expectations were to find a city with difficult accessibility for the places where I intended to go out to make the filming and photographic records. Surprisingly, I found the opposite. In a way, this also applies to the Colony dependencies. From my way of seeing, this brought me freedom to make choices within various possibilities of execution. This fluidity was essential to keep concentration and focus on the work process.
My routine was based on going out into the wild during daylight to do video/sound recordings and photographic sequences according to what was done the day before. Often, in the early evening, I used to go shopping for supplies and food (by bicycle). During the night and dawn, I used to check again the video/sound records made during the day to decide what I would do the next day. In this way the process was modified according to the discoveries and unexpected events that occurred the previous day, which brought a positive narrative to the sequence of works.
Methodical actions were restricted to: going out into nature / come back to the studio / editing the collected material / looking at it / editing it again / looking at it again / looping this process as much as ‘necessary’.
‘Going out into the wild’ meant choosing the right clothes, the equipment needed for use on that specific day, and the itinerary decided on the previous night, which could be modified according to the course. During the filming records, the sequences / scenes were seen and repeated as many times as needed. Always with the same angle and camera configuration, so to take advantage of ‘small’ sequences that could be edited later, if necessary. Whenever possible, I used to record the ‘making-of’ of these records In a way, they were actually made just for use of ‘artistic process record’. I rarely erase video sequences, because some records could be useful later.
Now that we have discussed the contextual latitudes of your residency, it’s time to talk about the implementation of your experience. During your stay at Nida Art Colony you were developing a project called “The Invisibility of Huge Things”. Could you elaborate what it was about? What ushered the idea for your project?
The project was born in early 2017. I had a vague idea of what it would be about. But I was sure it would take quite some time to complete it. My recent works dealt with landslides, mass-movements and natural phenomena.
At that time I was interested in some questions of quantum physics, or more specifically – in Wave Function Collapse. There are many lines of thought about this theory, that is, beside the point put here. But one of them holds the idea that we can change the physical reality of things only with the act of observing them. This can easily be taken to an esoteric philosophy, but that’s not what interests me.
My focus was on this possibility of creating a parallel reality (or several realities) that combined with my research about photographic images. I mean: photography as an object that has a material substance and a surface of contact with front and back. In a same image there are several layers of realities that can be “read” according to time, culture and society, an interweaving of possibilities that can be archived and opened from time to time, creating new relations with each other. We just need to look at them carefully.
From there on, I had some elements and points of interest that I wanted to develop. These questions of quantum physics cannot be observed by human perception, even with powerful instruments their visualization is only simulated. So I started looking for fictional strategies to make visible what is invisible.
The creation of the inventor and scientist character was fundamental to give sequence to these ideas. The inventor created a device capable of identifying large geographic areas susceptible to huge oscillations as well as sudden modifications in its original geological formation and is identified only by the initials T.H. Parts of the inventor’s biography, as well as the operation of his apparatus, are still unknown because of the complete or partial absence of documents or notes. Two narrative lines were created (fictional and documental) to compose the appropriation and creation of documents from time to time, forming a unique narrative structure of these two concomitant lines.
While watching your videos, one could think that you are in a character of a scientific researcher. But to me it seems that the research of nature is just as important to you personally, as it usually is to any inventor or scientist. It was not mere acting – you were the inventor and the artist simultaneously. Artistic research in contemporary art is quite a common practice. In your case, it turns out as a play/act as well as a reconstruction of the past narrative seemingly focused on the perpetual desperation of the researcher.
One could say that this desperation is familiar to anyone, who is determined to understand, sense and appropriate the fascinating processes of nature. Nonetheless, the desperation is intensified by the fact that the process of research is based on predetermined relativity, even though our intentions are purely scientific – to calculate, qualify, modify and interpret. Would you agree that this constant state of desperation, the inability to be content with the given senses and knowledge, connects the desperate minds of the scientist and the artist? Or do you think the connection is based on the common concern to analyze and invent?
Your analysis is very interesting! State of desperation? Yes. But there is also a state of patience in this character. It may seem contradictory, but it is not. There is a serenity in letting the time flow… to observe and respect the time of things. Art and science are a bit of that. There is a need to observe and analyze the phenomena of the physical world. It is necessary to understand the things to take a next step, empowering this to create new meanings. Taking this direction from despair, I believe that there should be a greater connection between the mind of an artist and a scientist in seeking answers to old concerns of nature’s phenomena.
Where would you say is the line to which we are able to perceive the peculiar, and what happens after we cross it to the non-perceptible?
I don’t know if I have completely understood your question, but I’ll try to answer it. In 2014 I did an individual exhibition titled “The Whole is made of Parts” (O Todo é feito de Partes). In this opportunity, I presented five installations that formed a narrative about the experience of walking through the landscape capturing only the parts and only then apprehending the whole through “resources” such as memory and imagination.
Somehow, what I developed in Curonian Spit was a reverse path: from the whole to the parts, and supplementing it by adding these “devices of perception” with another scale developed through imagination and reality. In both cases, imagination has a fundamental function in the intersection of these two lines of what is perceptible and non-perceptible.
From some perspective, the paradox lurking in “The Invisibility of Huge Things” also refers to the amusing absurdity of the human limits in the context of nature not only when one approaches significant dynamic movements, but also when one faces the small traces of huge things: sound of wind (unavailable to the “naked ear”) or the growth of the forest which is expected to be found, for example, in the small specimen of moss. As we perceive huge things, we must connect to the vast through the investigation of microscopic elements, or small traces that are left behind by the moving phenomena in nature. How did you approach the notion of scale in your project?
If the subject of an artist is landscape, we automatically talk about scale. There is no escaping that. It is our relation with the world that is at stake. The geographer has to treat the scale correctly and rationally, but the artist can deconstruct the notion of scale, bringing to the senses new relations of the body in space. I tried to disassemble some relations between image and sound, producing spaces susceptible to other interpretations.
A map of your research route, several videos of you using your tools, a very scientific-looking installation full of specific objects that seem like the tools for a researcher – magnifying glass, microscope, book on plants in Russian language, specimens found in nature, photographs and notes (some of them torn apart) – these were the material guidelines that were found in your project. You also crafted some of the constructions for installations yourself. Why did you choose these particular objects to articulate and visualize your conceptual approach?
All these objects, fictional or pre-existing in the scientific field, aim to amplify the human senses on a scale that we can perceive them. This line between imaginary and real devices is very tenuous. As well as the way the inventor and artist articulate the objects to create something new and genuine. I have a strategy of reducing / repeating the shapes and materials of these objects I am looking for. For instance, pine wood is a material that is repeated in various installations that I make. The semi-circular parabolic shape appears in several photographic references in this project, even though its original context is different.
The obvious thing to me seems that while choosing a wide range of selected mediums – painting, drawing, photography, video, sculpture, installation and documentation – you manage to create one conceptually interconnected and visually accomplished aesthetic entity. I would call that a trait of professionalism. Nonetheless, there is a notion of intentional incompleteness in your project. Why?
I think incompleteness and uncertainty are characteristics of the artistic-process, and why not say, of contemporary society. We live in a moment where nothing is certain. There is no conviction and stability in this sandy terrain.
Do you think that your projects could be analyzed through the transhumanist theory which, in one way, ponders the insufficiency of the physical human condition and seeks improving or extending it by the means of technology? What do you think is the role of technology when facing huge things that we are unable to perceive not only when being in nature, but life in general?
I never thought of this transhumanist side. And I don’t think it will be a step forward. I prefer to draw parallels between art and technology in an anachronistic and timeless sense, rather than bringing a critical view of technological evolution. I am interested in narratives that play with dubious images (or even absent images). The uncertainty opens space for other submerged layers, creating doubts and new realities.