MON STUDIO SESSIONS
“... What strikes me most in working online is the equality and suspension of nationality, gender and social status. The access barrier to culture is also lower than in a real exhibition space.”
Vienna, March 2021.
Interview with Christiane Peschek by Jan Gustav Fiedler
Christiane Peschek is a vienna based artist who explores the human body beyond its physical and biological restriction. Her art is multi dimensional, based in the cloud as well as the real world. Shapes and boundaries are being shifted both in the virtual and the analog world, leading to the characteristic fluid and tender aesthetics of her work.
Installation view at the Museum of Now "Hortus Conclusus" sculpture garden in Vienna
Dear Christiane, our paths crossed for the first time in spring of last year at the MON Salon in Vienna. Soon after you invited me to curate a sculpture garden at the Schloss25, where you exhibited with Monument 1-4 a position which explores both digital and analog aspects, questions our understanding of what we perceive as an original in general and the role of sculptures and monuments in a contemporary context in particular. You describe yourself as being "based in the cloud". Which interface between the virtual world or cloud, and the offline world is the one that inspires you most?
Dear Jan, thanks for inviting me to this interview. Indeed you are one of these rare real life connections I had last year which lead to the great opportunity to work together in the beautiful garden of Schloss25. What a nice memory... Let me elaborate a bit on your first question.
I define my presence as „based in the cloud“, and thereby associate myself with numerous artists whose expressions happen in an extended hybrid reality. I define the cloud as an empowered space of self-definition. In my case this territory is the rejection of sharpness and perfection, a space of openness that allows the undefined and the blurry to become.
I‘m very interested in how bodies are presented and performed online and how those identities influence our physical bodies and vice versa. I‘m fascinated about the unlimited potential we have nowadays by shaping our selfs through the extended virtual space, this game between rejection and extension of physicality and the important role it plays within our identity and the identity of a whole generation.
My latest online based works deal with the consciousness of our virtual bodies as an extension of our physical existence. We are existing on both sides of the screen, there is no longer a straight line which divides the worlds we inhabit on- and offline. I am particularly interested in this intersection, the perception of the body on both sides of the screen and its formations and possibilities.
Aceton on Latex print
When you talk about the extension of the body into the virtual space it means that the digital and the analog worlds need to connect in some way. One approach to achieve this would be your recent project "Eden", where you invite participants to explore digital visual and sound experiences through the means of meditation. You call it a "smartphone retreat for virtual enlightenment and body and screen practice." Could you give a little insight regarding the concept, artistic composition and first feedbacks from the participants?
If we take a look into the digital wellness industry, we find numerous apps for self improvement. The current human need seems to crave for calmness, stress relief and readjustment of body and mind.
With this hype of digital relaxation we tend to take over the responsibility for our mental health and physical fitness to technology. We found a shelter within a variety of well designed applications.
I find it kind of weird to hand over self-determination and freedom of choice to apps that in fact will create a certain tech-dependence sold for the price of self-improvement.
This way of exercising won’t really calm us down or free our mind and spirit, we rather become patronized by a capitalistic system.
All these apps are using the (mobile) device just as a means for the purpose of fitness or relaxation, but what about the relation with the device itself?
We use an app-based meditation instructor to relax offline. We use the device to get rid of the device. How should that work?
We should embrace the intimate relationship we have with our mobile devices and find a positive and healthy way of celebrating this connection. Our mobiles are already our mental and body extensions and that may remain constant in our life.
This was the beginning of EDEN. My aim was to redefine the behavior and use of online space and extend the definition of wellbeing towards our digital identity.
The concept of meditation is a bit misleading when describing what the browser-based project is about, as it definitely goes beyond the conventional understanding of guided meditation. Some people might be disappointed or even disturbed after exploring EDEN with this expectation in mind. EDEN moreover borrows techniques and a language that we might know from meditative treatments but the content of the single sessions is a totally different one. Set as a one time journey on the personal smartphone EDEN mirrors the users ideals, projections and digital desires on the way to a virtual eternity. By choosing decisions after each episode, every user makes their own way overcoming gender, body, projections and beliefs.
EDEN isn’t designed to give answers to our existence or beliefs but rather triggers and tickles possible scenarios to overcome physicality for a greater virtual longevity in the idea of a future archeology of our digital existence.
We’ve launched EDEN in November 2020 just before the second lockdown which brought a lot of users to the page. I was positively surprised by the huge amount of feedback I’ve received since then. As this project requires your full 40 minutes attention, users chose their perfect moment for the experience instead of consuming “one more digital entertainment”. And that quality pays off also in the feedback. I often receive long messages of thought flows EDEN triggered in the users. That’s beautiful and motivating and makes me believe that the virtual space has a huge potential aside entertainment and consumption.
Filmstill of EDEN
Thank you for the insights. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, art has become increasingly virtual and exhibition formats will most likely still be presented in some form of hybrid concepts once the pandemic is over. Just like Eden, which is a virtual journey via smartphone but also accompanied by a book.
Since the virtual world is open to anyone who has an internet connection, art in the digital space is way more accessible and less protected by gatekeepers. Do you feel like people show an increased interest in digital art and do you have some kind of hybrid exhibitions coming up in month to come?
What strikes me most in working online is the equality and suspension of nationality, gender and social status. The access barrier to culture is also lower than in a real exhibition space, I agree. Especially with the lockdown-closure of museums and galleries, the online space has become the primary space where art and culture takes place. It's super exciting because it allows you to be in so many places at once. On the other hand, this overabundance of content has also lead to an oversaturation of digital content. We communicate digitally, we get entertained, we work out, we relax, we date, watch porn, and now we also consume art online. Our attention span is increasingly degenerating, and by reducing art to audio-visual content, it also changes its aura. For me personally, hybrid working is therefore an important part of my work. For the EDEN project for example it was a logical continuation to transform the spirit of the work into an offline, pocketguide-sized publication and thus create the link between online and offline contemplation, both in a carry-on size.
In addition to this book, there is also an essential extension to the virtual work, for which there is still no equivalent in the digital space: EDEN carries a specially designed scent that is available for purchase as a contact gel in the EDEN online store. The gel intensifies the connection between the body and the smartphone screen when applied to the users hands. If you then make your way through the retreat you are almost at a multi sensory live happening. Love it.
Currently I’m showing my latest work GYM with Virginia Bianchi Gallery. The 10-minutes workout set is accessible via the gallery’s webpage. The idea is simple. Body-optimising spaces like gyms, fitness clubs and yoga studios have come to replace temples and religious locations: they represent new places of devotion - from an all-mighty God to a self-worship culture. GYM consists of a desktop-experience that aims to create an exercise of intimacy into the visitor's physical and virtual consciousness. This interdependence between virtual spaces, physical body enhancement and mindfulness, gives visitors the opportunity to get in contact with one's extended digital body and to reach complete physical and spiritual awareness through a compilation of high frequency streaming sounds and a RGB-color arrangement that effects the visitors emotional level.
Also in GYM there is the possibility to extend the virtual experience towards the physical. There are sports socks and a limited edition of Hoodies available which are designed with elements from the workout. The light-reflecting elements of the hoodie for example are an invitation to connect and interact with the work, merging body and object through the digital selfie.
I like the idea of translating objects taken out of virtual worlds into physical objects instead of transforming our real environment into digital remakes, because these two worlds don't really have much in common in my opinion. But by fusing both worlds I can achieve very much likely my own concept of reality and its possibilities.
What's next, a lot of things! EDEN is part of the CIVA festival exhibition, which started online on 19.02. and after that I'm working on a new installation for the group exhibition QUEER ANATOMY, which will be shown from 18.03. at Motherboard in Vienna. And until 18.04. my site-specific installation "above us retouched sky" is part of the exhibition STORMY WEATHER at the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris.
Installation view at
Centre Culturel Suisse
This conversation highlights something i have been thinking a lot about recently, the fact that there are people as well as institutions that are forward thinking and using their creative powers to improvise, adapt and eventually overcome challenges and in the process shaping a new way of the perception of the world, while others remain stuck in the paths they are used to and soon become irrelevant.
Seeing which way you are heading it is evident that you are able to grasp the current Zeitgeist and translate it into an artistic form. While doing so, do you feel as a singular unit heading its own way at its own speed or are you part of an artistic movement, surrounded by people that inspire each other and share the same vision?
This question took me a while to answer. I think it’s a very important question and difficult to answer for someone like me who is not a linear person.
I see myself as part of a movement by artists who deal with the non-binary conception of identity. At the same time, I'm personally very fluid between different areas of interest and movements. I am a very curious person and enjoy moving between a wide variety of communities and topics, both privately and professionally. To dedicate myself to a certain movement is not my thing. Of course, the opportunities for networking and community building are great and exciting and important in the digital reality we are living in to create visibility and importance for topics, but then I often lack the necessary energy to stay tuned. I need a lot of silence and time with myself, so I’d say that I rather stand outside of movement then being a first row activist.
Many of your works explore the possibility of digitally retouching the human face and body. These filters are basically digital make-up, what is the magic about adding one or more layers to your identity, potentially up to a point of total transformation?
I took my first selfie when I was 9. Already back then I was curious about the observing perspective on myself. My childhood was not staged for producing a lot of photographic memories so I had to get active myself. I often stole my mother's analog camera, an Olympus Mju 1, in order to capture a few self-images on the reel of film. These pictures were rarely great stagings but rather an inscription of myself in the pictorial space. My mother was very incomprehensible about this, she argued that it was a waste of the limited number of photographs on one film, space that could be rather used for meaningful shots like holiday sunsets or fun evenings with her friends, Moments that are more worth it to be captured in a picture. Of course, even over the years she has not understood what my intention to capture myself was and I could not yet name it myself. This was pre-internet era.
Now in 2021 I’m still obsessed with the observing gaze, though the technology and the world has changed a lot, as well as the role of the self image itself.
I love the comparison of deep AR face filter with the mirror of the evil stepmother in the fairy tale snow white: the black mirror shows us what we want to see rather than what our physical self looks like and thus will eventually change our identity and self awareness.
In my work I only use selfies from my private archive. My need for self-portrayal has of course changed since my childhood selfie discovery, now I am experimenting with the possibilities of an expanded self-portrayal that detaches itself from the surface of the face and becomes more of a mirror of expanded identity. Passing gender and digital pop culture I use face filters and face optimization apps on my selfies, which moreover standardized rather than underline our individuality, to create images of post-body identities.
I'm interested in the transformation of the face through the excessive use of these filters until the photo dissolves and becomes indefinable pulp. often the direct, staring gaze of the portrait then disappears, making it possible to linger and rest the viewers gaze on the portrait rather than consuming staged content. I a hyper exposed time I need this process of rediscover and retouch on order to inscribe my identity in a more honest way than the camera of a phone can capture.
Thank you Christiane for taking us on a journey and exploring the dialogue between the virtual and the analog world, insights into your creative process and reflecting on the self consciousness and trans humanism. To conclude this interview i would like to stay in the area of trans humanism and AI with the question regarding emotions in the digital cloud.
Since AI for instance is dependent on the information we provide it with, which impact do human emotions, positive or negative, have on virtual art now and how do you think it will develop in the future in general and in regard to your art specific?
I am a very emotional and spiritual person, all the relationships I live are very intimate, that is from great importance for me. I try to convey that in my work as well. One question I always ask myself is how the internet can become more emotional or align more with my personal emotional status.
I often experience digital art as cold and distanced, too technical and hard to access for users, that are less involved in the virtual. That’s why I wasn’t interested in virtual as my medium of expression.
But since spirituality got its online rebirth, I’m kinda hooked. There are a bunch of amazingly powerful projects online that address to our emotional and spiritual core. Spirituality is finally taken out of the dusty esoteric corner and merges with digital aesthetics that resonates a lot with the zeitgeist, in a time where we are all lost, craving for answers and guidance.
I believe that in the same way one can train the awareness for the physical body extension in the virtual, one can get conscious about the own digital emotionality and spirituality as well. My work is an invitation to pause our bodies and listen to the emotions that pop up. The problem is that the internet is mainly evoking the opposite, its designed to distract and to deliver answers even to questions never asked. I’m trying to work on the opposite end to archive a balance between stimulation and relaxation. It’s all about resonance. Our devices demand attention, same as we do. This is highly emotional.
I’m visioning the internet as a place of wellbeing not a place to avoid. I want to transcend the limits of space and time creating experiences that cannot be replicated, captured or re-explored, specially in a time of total surveillance. The internet is about the human with all their habits, desires, abyss and dreams. This is an emotional playground I will definitely stay with for the next couple of years. The big topic here is to fill the emotions that are triggered with sense. I’m very optimistic that also AI development will lead in a direction of an ethical and valuable use of the technology.
Filmstill of EDEN
Christiane Peschek in her studio,
captured by Elsa Okazaki
MUSEUM OF NOW STUDIO SESSIONS