Q&A with Imogen Stidworthy

Imogen Stidworthy is participating in Bergen Assembly. KUNSTforum asked her some questions about her art and what inspires her.

Imogen Stidworthy,

Imogen Stidworthy, A Crack in the Light, Alexey, 2013 ©Imogen Stidworthy.

The  Bergen Assembly triennale is taking place in several locations all around Bergen, all renamed as fictitious “research institutes”. Stidworthys work is a multi-screen sound installation entitled A Crack in the Light, and located in “Institute of Pines and Prison Bread”.

Can you tell us about the project and how you came to choose this subject matter?

The installation starts from two images: one is a man called Sacha van Loo, a wiretap analyst working for the police in Antwerp. He has a special gift for languages and extraordinary sensitivity in listening, which helps him to read and interpret the voices on wiretap recordings. He doesn’t appear in the installation but ideas related to his life, his listening and his ambiguous relationship with his work, do.

I saw a connection between him and his work in 2013, and a fictional figure from Solzhenitsyn’s novel In the First Circle, which is set in the 1950’s in a Soviet ‘Special Prison’. The character Rubin (played in my work by Alexey Kolubkov, who played the role in the Russian TV adaptation of the novel) also has an ambiguous and complex relationship with the auditory surveillance technology he is forced to develop in the prison.

The other reference is a piece of dried up bread that Solzhenitsyn was given for his last supper in Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, before he was deported from the Soviet Union in 1974. He put it in his pocket when they came to take him away, he kept it, and it’s now in the Solzhenitsyn Archive in Moscow.

The reading of voices and the reading of the prison bread are the basis of the work. The title is a reference to a poem by Rilke, in which he describes a blind man making his way along the pavement as being ‘like a dark crack in the light’.

Imogen Stidworthy, A Crack in the Light, Bread 2013 ©Imogen Stidworthy.

Imogen Stidworthy, A Crack in the Light, Bread 2013 ©Imogen Stidworthy.

Your work are concerned with language and its structures: speech, pronunciation and dialects. What is it about language that you find interesting?

Many things. I’m especially interested in the thresholds of language, where we fall outside or in between its structures. It is not about the linguistics of a language, but the materiality, the non-linguistic voices so to speak.

How would you describe your work process from idea to work?

Images I come across in actual situations, or writing, or visual material, are very important. They often launch a process of trying to make sense or understand them, in different ways. A lot of my work comes from the tussle that springs up between images and language, in that process.

Imogen Stidworthy, A Crack in the Light, 2013 ©Imogen Stidworthy.

Imogen Stidworthy, A Crack in the Light, 2013 ©Imogen Stidworthy.

What are your main influences when creating a work of art?

It must be what I’m learning about the subject I’m working with, or on, through dialogue and research – it might be a person, an object, a certain condition – on one level, it’s in any case an image, first and foremost.

Can you name an artist/artwork or exhibition that has inspired you?

Most recently I was taken by surprise by an extraordinary painting by Robert Ryman, in the fantastic exhibition When Attitudes Become Form (2013, Venice – the restaging of W’, Bern 1969). 

Imogen Stidworthy, A Crack in the Light, Subtitles, 2013 ©Imogen Stidworthy.

Imogen Stidworthy, A Crack in the Light, Subtitles, 2013 ©Imogen Stidworthy.

Can you name a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your works?

Since we’re here in Bergen talking about A Crack in the Light, I should mention Solzhenitsyn’s novel, In the First Circle, which is very present in the installation and has also been a central reference in a group exhibition and another installation. My interest is not so much because of its literary qualities, but by the ideas it addresses about language, power, technology and identification.

Then I’m very interested in the aspects outside the story itself, the fact that it’s based on Solzhenitsyn’s precise observation of his personal experience, which gave it such political power, and that it went through so many revisions and self-censorship, being adapted to cross linguistic and ideological thresholds; these aspects make it interesting also as a phenomenon, even as an object, marked by the traces of those histories.

Why is art important?

Is art important? Sometimes it is.

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