BUENOS AIRES | Interview in Photographic Museum of Humanity

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Saturday, October 17th, 2015
Boris Eldagsen

Interview conducted with Simon Hall, Buenos Aires

“Without being aware of it, I always felt myself connected with artistic movements that have dealt with the unconscious: from religious, mystic and magic practice to Romanticism, Symbolism, Surrealism, and beyond.” German photographer Boris Eldagsen talks about the subjects and inspiration behind his work THE POEMS.

Boris Eldagsen grew up in the South-West of Germany and studied photography and visual arts at the Art Academy of Mainz (Vladimir Spacek & Klaus Vogelgesang), conceptual art and intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague (Miloš Šejn & Milan Knížák) and fine art the Sarojini Naidu School of Arts & Communication Hyderabad, India (Laxma Goud). His photomedia work has been shown internationally in such institutions and festivals as Fridericianum Kassel, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, CCP Melbourne, ACP Sydney, FORMAT Derby, Voies Off Arles, Noorderlicht Groningen, Encontros da Imagem Braga, EMAF Osnabrück, Videonale Bonn, Edinburgh Art Festival, Athens Video Art Festival, and Media Forum Moscow. Here, Eldagsen talks to PMH about his series THE POEMS.

SH – To open, Boris, I will begin by asking about your professional background. Where did you study? Who inspired and influenced your practice when you were emerging in the art framework?

BE – I am a bastard of places and cultures. I grew up in Germany’s South-West where history has put layer upon layer – from Celtic ritual places, roman temples, medieval churches and castles, to the bunkers of WW1 and WW2. I studied in Cologne and Mainz (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic) and Hyderabad (India), lived in Melbourne (Australia) for eight years and travelled throughout Asia. All this expanded my interest in researching the human condition.

Without being aware of it, I always felt myself connected with artistic movements that have dealt with the unconscious: from religious, mystic and magic practice to Romanticism, Symbolism, Surrealism, and beyond. I loved the light of Rembrandt, the longing of C.D.Friedrich, the darkness of Böcklin, Klinger, Kubin, the eroticism of Dali, the humour of Ernst, the twisted obsessions of Peter Greenaway’s movies, and the spiritual weirdness of Alejandro Jodorowsky. In photography I loved the absurdity of Anna and Bernhard Blume, the poetry of Sudek and the abstraction of Drtikol. Roger Ballen’s work blew me away when I saw it. Music inspires me, other art forms such as painting, theatre, film. Anything can be a source of inspiration when you know what you are looking for.

SH – Your series ‘How to disappear completely / THE POEMS’ is currently featured in PMH Stories. Can you explain to us what this project is about? What conceptual methodologies do you explore?

BE – I call my images POEMS to show that they are not stories, but a creative use of the medium that requires entering the conversation with your own feelings and memories. A poem uses words in creative ways to evoke feelings and memories. It is much more open than a story. You need to finish it with your mind, heart and soul. Much of contemporary photography sticks to the surface or runs around a documentary or rational concept.

The task I have given myself is: can I create a timeless image that has an impact on an emotional, unconscious level and cannot be translated into words? Can I show an internal psychological structure by using material that is in front of the camera? This is a paradox and the most interesting task I can imagine for a photographer.

SH – How do you compose your images? Who, or what, are the subjects of your images?

BE – The composition is built from my intuition, my unconscious. On top of this, I try to get rid of all elements that are not necessary for the composition. Working at night, those elements can disappear in the dark elements of the image.

My subjects are either found out in the streets or they are people that know my work and like to become my model. I get the best out of models through a complex process in which we map our subconscious minds. Once we have found the intuitive intersection, I start developing ideas from there.

SH – The vast majority of photographers today work with a defined series or concept. Your work is comprised of individual shots that can then be organized into different groups that suit your needs. Why do you work with this artistic approach?

BE – In 2010 I changed my way of working. I got rid of all aspects of production that annoyed me. I wanted to enjoy the process itself. When I began working artistically in 1989, I was inspired by painting, thus the thinking of working in series has never appealed to me. It was imposed on me as a student. And after working for 20 years in series I finally got rid of it.

THE POEMS is a meta-series with currently over 100 images and 8 videos, which will continue to grow. Each work can be combined in endless possible ways – according to the subject of an exhibition. My site-specific installations feature photographs in 5 different sizes on large-scale wallpaper. The images are clustered, hung like groups of connected emotions and memories. The size variations force the viewer to change roles and distances: from being the giant looking at a tiny picture to being a small person walking through huge wallpaper. Videos are projected on wallpaper or via mirrors. This is just the beginning. Right now it feels like a new love, so many things are still to be discovered and experienced.

SH – In your artist statement you declare that you “want to create pictures that are inaccessible to the rational mind, compelling the viewer to turn to their own memories and feelings.” How did you become interested in this idea of creating an alternate reality?

BE – Is it really an alternate reality? What is reality? From a philosophical perspective, there are over a dozen theories on reality, each one based on an invalidated assumption. Reality is always fluid, not absolute. And such is truth. And if there is no absolute truth, no all-encompassing reality, how can a machine such as the camera fix it? It can’t. In the end it is just an extension of the photographer’s consciousness – or unconsciousness. I pursue a conscious use of the unconscious. If I succeed, my images are no alternate reality but variations of timeless archetypes that are rooted in our collective unconscious and echoed in multiple ways.

SH – Why do you think it is important for people to explore the unconscious workings of their mind?

BE – It is the major source of our drives, motivations, decisions. It is an unknown universe inside of us, as big as the universe above us. We are not the master in our own house. The less you know about yourself, the more you repeat patterns and past vicious cycles. Your past and the past of your ancestors. This is Sisyphos’s punishment, it’s hell on earth and the opposite of freedom.

SH – Your work can be seen as a combination of staged and street photography. Why is this an appealing blend of styles?

BE – I am not interested in style, but in images. I want to transform outer reality (the world in front of the lens) to create images that work on an unconscious archetypal level. Whether I adopt the techniques of street or staged photography is of no preference to me. I can take the left or the right door, the red or the blue pill, both lead to the same room: my room. Reality is fluid and subjective. In the past I had many reviewers recommending to ONLY show staged or street photography. I asked them to pick the staged and the non-staged images. All of them failed. And this is why I mix them.

SH – When presenting your work in gallery or festival spaces you present your work in a non-conventional manner. What do you hope viewers take away from your exhibitions?

BE – Most viewers approach art in two ways: either rationally, by first looking at the title and reading the explanation and making sense of it, or by letting the work sink in, by feeling the effect it has on them. Then it is the unconscious at work. This is why I refuse to give long explanations or descriptive titles.

I also want the presentation to be immersive. As an artist I do not have to stick to any convention, style or agreements, such as commercial photographers have to. I got sick of hanging 10 images of the same size in a line. It bored me to death and I wasn’t happy with the result. I like the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Visitors cannot escape the work.

SH – And finally, Boris, I will conclude by asking about your plans for the future . . .

BE – The future is now. Plans make you miss this single moment. But if you are planning to come by to one of my exhibitions, check it out here and say hello: www.eldagsen.com/shows.

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To learn more about Boris Eldagsen’s series How to Disappear Completely | THE POEMS, visit his PMH profile.
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