A Virtual Conversation between Anna Bogatin Ott and Martin Venezky
"Martin and I have a similar interest and ability to focus on and observe little elements on a very intimate level and finding within them a space that is vast and wondrous” - ABO
“Everything is related to how the individual parts clash or fuse together. That is the metamorphosis for me” - MV
MV: As someone who also likes to break down a "normal" visual scene into discrete elements, I really appreciate your process. Could you explain about how you go about your decisions?
ABO: Thank you, Martin. In a way, it is true, my process can be viewed as a scientific dissecting of the material, though for me it is more about getting closer and preserving the integrity of the whole. I use my intuition to decide where to “take a probe”. Sometimes it takes many ...trials before I find the right image...When it works, you can see it immediately. It takes your breath away, and you are confronted with something you’ve never seen before yet knowing where it came from gives you a sense of familiarity”.
MV: I think both of us are seeking to replace language with sensation, that is to say, instead of naming what one sees (it's a river! it's an electric fan!), we hope the viewer grasps a visual sensation in its pure state. Would you agree? What is your relationship with language through your work?
ABO: This is a very intriguing question! I have a very complex relationship with the language. ...I grew up being exposed to different languages, so I always fantasized about another way of communication that would be instantaneous and more efficient. Words are often misleading, hurtful, and empty. At the same time, I think some words are very beautiful...I think of my work as a visual poetry.
MV: “How do you view the relationship between nature and technology? I know that many of the source images are taken in nature, yet you are using technology to break them down. Could you talk about that relationship?
The “High Tech/High Touch” phenomenon was first introduced by John Naisbitt in the early 80s to describe human response to technological innovations. I will quote him: “We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology with the spiritual demands of our human nature”. This quote is very important. Art-making for me is foremost a spiritual activity. It is the way to connect to other human beings, to those who are living now, or those of the past, and hopefully, if my art will survive, to those who will live in the future.
I moved a lot in my life. I lived in five different countries and many different cities, and I love to travel. The way I connect to a place is through its nature. We are highly aware now how our technological advancements are changing the nature and climate. But nature for many many years affected our behavior and formed national character.
Nature will always win. We need to fully understand that we are part of nature and operate by its laws. We need to respect the nature in us, and learn how to live in harmony with the natural world. Many ancient civilizations knew how to do it. I hope that our awareness now and our technological progress can actually help to clean up the mess we created. Technology allows me to have a closer and slightly different look at nature. It is a medium, a means to an end, like comfortable shoes, that help one to hike a mountain.
ABO: I am curious about the initial objects that you photograph “disassembled tools, toys.” Where are they coming from? Do you collect them on the streets, recycling sites, or do you use what you have in your own house? I can't really recognise any of them in their original form.
MV: I've been collecting all kinds of materials and broken things for many years... I also take apart my old machines and appliances. There is pleasure in that part of the exercise. If you look at my work and start trying to name the objects, I'll feel that I have failed. ... Any single object can produce many kinds of visual information, and when I intersect objects together, the possibilities multiply. Among the things I photograph are drawings (both by hand and digital), patches of ink, geometric patterns. The camera always alters them, sometimes slightly. Their regularity is slowly chipped away, giving them a liveliness that I can't achieve any other way.
ABO: From the first glance your beautiful work reminded me... of the avant-garde style of Constructivists who at that time still believed in the new world... Is that kind of art of the early 20th century (Russian Constructivism) of interest to you, or am I reading too much into it?
MV: My background is in graphic design, and so Russian Constructivists, as well as leaders of the Bauhaus and other visual experimenters are part of that legacy that I am familiar with. Before that, I began my studies as a Math major in college, so abstraction, geometry, and pattern are all part of my vocabulary. Although there is a wonderful legacy of abstraction in photography, it is often overlooked, at least historically…
ABO: Perhaps because your photographs are black and white and often there is very seductive soft lighting, they invoke a very strong feeling of nostalgia. Also it might come from your careful process of looking, reconstructing and rejuvenating otherwise discarded objects. Nostalgia and futurism in one.
Do these Machines have souls? Are they like robots, which have a specific functionality, or are they creatures of the future? Is there a possibility to see them in motion? They are very cinematic .
MV: My main interest has always been the relationship between pieces to a whole. Everything is related to how the individual parts clash or fuse together. That is the metamorphosis for me. The metaphor of the machine came as the series developed. Since I was using old machine parts, and since they were in a sense reassembling, I thought that these were the "new machinery". Furthermore, when we think of the machines we are surrounded with today, many of them are invisible to us. Whether they are hidden cameras, or embedded software, or even algorithms, they are all around us measuring and collecting and manipulating. So now I think of all these things as I put the work together.
ABO: How does living in San Francisco influence/inform your work, if it does, which way?
MV: I suppose the unexpected juxtaposition of neighborhoods informs my interest in boundaries and borders, stopping and starting. My last studio space was in an industrial area South of Market. At first I didn't like the environment, but learned to love it, especially how it butted right up to the convention center, the startup community, and a local homeless shelter. That kind of constant negotiation is electric for me.
Learn more about the artists
This virtual conversation was conducted correspondent-style; while the above does not represent the discussion in its entirety, the artists' questions and answers are shown without alterations.