DEBORAH ENGEL. THE SPACE THAT MOVES
© Deborah Engel from the series 'Paisagens Possiveis'
Could you tell us how you got into photography since your background is in psychology? How does psychology influence your photographic research?
Deborah Engel (DE): «Photography has always been a part of my life, I worked as a studio assistant in 1996, just before starting university. Later faculty courses awakened my awareness to subjects that are now part of my research. Such as anthropology, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and especially philosophy classes.»
Is there a particular teacher, tutor or artist that influenced your work artistically and/or aesthetically?
DE: I think all my teachers and all the artists I have worked with have influenced me. It would be difficult to choose those that influenced me the most, because all affected me in different ways, whether formal or aesthetic, or even in the way of experiencing it. I absorbed information that interested me, depending on the bond I had with those people, either in the room class at the studio, at exhibitions or while sharing lunch and beers.
How would you describe your work in general? Is photography the language most used in your work?
DE: My research is very much focused on the relationship between individual space and time. I strive to fathom out this relation poetically from the eyes point of view. It is way we view something that determines our first impression, and from that how we relate to our surroundings. I think that is the premise of my work. The founding language for this research is photography, though this can be interpreted in many ways.
© Deborah Engel from the series 'Loco in Loco', Capanema Palace-RJ
You recently performed in Rio and San Paolo at the exhibition: ‘O espaço que se move’ (‘The space that moves’) in which your works play with perspective, space, movement and time. You portrayed icons of the carioca architecture such as the Museum of Modern Art, Capanema Palace, Parque Lage and the Church of Our Lady of Bonsucesso. What can you tell us about the process of choosing these locations and how this architecture influences your work?
DE: Architecture always considers spatial relationships. This is crucial to my research. In these places I focus on the development of their architecture as well as their function. There is a special relationship with each space. Of course some of this work has a personal significance. The Museum of Modern Art was a place that welcomed me when I moved to Rio de Janeiro. I worked there for nearly ten years photographing the exhibits that took place, it was very significant to my artistic training. The Capanema Palace which houses the Funarte RJ also had great importance to me. I remember the day that I had to present a photo essay during Conexão Contemporanea in Maceio. During the introduction my phone rang and it was the lab saying I was pregnant with my first daughter. This happened in the room that I photographed. It was a real catharsis. The Parque Lage was where I started as an artist, where I studied and where I began to think about art. A real watershed. Even the Church of Our Lady of Bonsucesso, a place that I usually do not frequent (indeed, I do not attend churches) has a very strong symbolism not for being one of the first churches in the city, but for representing the spirituality, as a trip into a space in search of a catharsis. This relationship interests me. After finishing these works I did the exhibition at Studio-X River, which is a partnership of a foundation at Columbia University where people study urban spaces and their relationships. When I did the exhibition there I was very happy because it was this spatial relationship that I wanted to talk about; the individual and its surroundings.
© Deborah Engel from the series 'Loco in Loco', Parque Lage-RJ
Rosalind Krauss in his essay ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’ broadens our perception of the role of the artist as a multidisciplinary agent and of the expanded/widened field of sculpture. Consequently, we speak of the expanded field of art as a multiplicity of image appropriation, collage, a perception not only visual, but also in time and space. According to Krauss some sculptures explore the possibility of a non landscape - not architecture = sculpture. According to her, the sculpture may cover a much wider field of possibilities than (as) photography, books, drawings on the wall, mirrors, sculptures ... Do you believe that this concept fits into your work ‘O espaço que se move’?
DE: I believe so. Sometimes it is difficult to classify this photography work without referring to sculpture because it is a three-dimensional object. I think it moves between the two. This transit is fully a part of my research that speaks a lot about the transience. The non-sculpture, and non-architecture are part of a break that culminated this transitional route. I don’t see my work in this break, but within that route. I do not know where it’s going. There are many possibilities.
O Espaço que se Move installation view, Galeria Virgilio, São Paulo, Brazil
When I see the photos of ‘O espaço que se move’ I am drawn to think of Kinetic Art. Is there any influence or relationship with this movement?
It’s always there, it enters the pores, the air I breathe. I can say that kinetic art influences me, as well as Russian Constructivism or Rio Neoconcretism. I think it's a mixture of everything I'm consuming and digesting: art, music, cinema, literature and especially nature.
Could you tell us a little about your collaboration with Siri, your husband, since he is a musician and you a visual artist. How does this symbiosis, inspiration and working process match?
DE: I think his music influences me a lot. Its construction process through improvised loops that form songs that mostly are ephemeral and mantric, lead us to a mental state that intrigues me a lot. I think I follow this mantric way a bit. He is always absorbed in the musical process, even on the eve of an exhibition of sculptures, so I am always next to him giving my opinion. I confess that I have to control myself a little so as not to hinder, but he says, I have a view from outside that gives him new insight, another path is opened, and a new ideas come to him. The same happens the other way around, he arrives at my studio to see what I'm producing and makes a pertinent comment that super changes the course of the work. It happens a lot.
In your book, 'Olho no Olho' of 2010, you collaborated with various artists sending them an eye-patch that they clung in different places and then you had them photographed. Like your eye on another landscape or "your eye on the other's gaze" In this case, the image moves and unfolds into another image. Could you comment on that?
DE: This work began in 2005 when I started to distribute the stickers with the image of my eye. Since that time I was absorbed by the issue of the view from different perspectives, a view that was beyond me. As I mentioned, I work with transitory issues. This premise makes me produce work that relates to the eye of the beholder, how he will get the message of the image. In this book, the viewer becomes active when he records how he gets this message. It is interesting to keep track of who views the work, and to give it a new dimension. In Loco in Loco (‘O espaço que se move’), the observer's point of view will also be decisive to the work, it is not just registered as with ‘Olho no Olho’. In the case of Loco Loco, the space moves according to the perspective of the viewpoint, giving the image a different dimension to each subject of that tape (staring, what I would consider as a first contact with the work). The format of a book was quite appropriate to demonstrate the meeting of these perspectives of viewpoints.
© Deborah Engel from the series 'Olho no Olho', by Rosangela Rennó
Deborah Engel, 'Olho no Olho' book signing, photo by Carlos Senna Jr
© Deborah Engel from the series 'Olho no Olho', by Luciana Benaduce
In the work ‘As paisagens possíveis’ (‘Possible Landscapes’) you also appropriate magazine images, especially from National Geographic, and you insert them into another context and geography that often leads to a collage as a magazine extension. Again, you explore the image within another image, which configures another image… Could we literally say that photography has no limits and no longer works as a representation of a certain reality?
DE: I believe that photography has several functions, which are ever expanding. Today, with the new applications, there is an excessive accumulation of images made by all kinds of people who can express what they want, what they think, what they are and what they want to be. There appropriations of other images, everything is possible. If we think of the photography that I do, it is so unique that it can be difficult for me sometimes to treat it as a photograph, but it is. Though the field is expanded so much that the picture turns into other things, it’s still photography. In the case of the work ‘As paisagens possíveis’ I appropriate photographs of landscapes and photographs from someone who recorded other landscapes and form a new landscape which only exists in that photograph. I think it has to do with this accumulation of images that pass us by, often unnoticed. It’s the registration of another landscape, that gives a new meaning to the initial image. I like the idea of collage in a world that accumulates so many images.
© Deborah Engel from the series 'Paisagens Possiveis'
Any suggestions of books and artists that inspire you?
DE: Wow, this question is difficult, there are so many. As I said, everything inspires me. Strolling down the street to get an ice cream with my daughters inspires me. Today I read a lot about Uspensky, a Russian philosopher,who said that the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century is the fourth dimension. He associates the fourth dimension with intuition. It is fascinating. I was introduced to him by Fred Coelho, who brilliantly wrote the text of my last work exhibitions in Rio and San Paulo. These are things that add up to an evening at a café and do not let me sleep at night.