Interview with Tatiana Wolska on recycling, artist’s physical work and her latest achievements.
Anna Tomczak: Recycling is a key word of your practice as an artist. You reach for various “recycled” materials ranging from plastic water bottles to thoughts and ideas. Where does that need to transform the material that you found come from?
Tatiana Wolska: I believe that this has something to do with my Polish descent. It results from the way of life that we were used to. We gathered everything, to the last crumb and then we changed it into something different. We used to eat sweets made of sugar and water, a piece of board would be put aside so that it could be used somehow again. At least, this is what I have been taught.
AT: Your mother made your clothes…
TW: Exactly. In fact, it was my father who did the sewing. He made my first bathing suit using scraps and snips of fabric. I think it was a peculiar period in our country’s history. For that reason, I am not surprised by the whole ideology of the French who try to recycle everything. I also try not to spend too much money unnecessarily.
AT: Recycling is becoming increasingly popular, I mean the mainstream “eco” lifestyle and frequent public discussions and demonstrations connected to serious climate change caused by our economic expansion.
TW: Incidentally, it correlated with the beginning of my adult life. In Poland, it used to be obligatory but now it stems from awareness that everyone has. Besides, everything has its origin.
AT: Do you think that our culture can be described as recycling culture – reaching for the past and reworking outdated /passed ideas? Perhaps it is a consequence of exhaustion but at the same time the need to search for something new.
TW: I am not sure I can totally agree, especially when we consider my case, which is quite peculiar because of my education in École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts in Villa Arson, Nice. Here we were told from the very beginning that art has to be explicable, logical, intellectual, rational. Actually, we shouldn’t do anything with our hands or a paintbrush. And surely we shouldn’t trust our intuition and do this thing ourselves… Every element of our works created manually was rather perceived in a negative way. In this context, that is where my perverse need for physical work comes from. I definitely missed that. I stayed after class I tinkered around different strange things and came up with some absurd concepts. I spent hours on one sketch or made holes in plastic. I was perceived as “little strange autistic”. I am not sure if it is a return to a given time in art history. It may result from my frustration that I wasn’t able to allow myself for manual art. It was totally unfashionable, forbidden in fact.
AT: Only conceptual art?
TW: Yes, I suppose so.
AT: You have lived in France for 15 years, what are your relations with Poland? Do you see it somehow in your works?
TW: I haven’t given this much thought. I have a family in Poland. However, I’ve been observing huge changes taking place in this country every few years. I have been in touch with artists who also work abroad: with Dorota Buczkowska, I invited Joanna Rajkowska to cooperate with me in Nice last year.
AT: You have recently opened an exhibition in Palais de Tokyo. Did you manage to carry out the projects that you had planned?
TW: Unfortunately, I did not manage to carry out all my initial plans. I wanted to use “scraps” that were left behind from the works of artists who had had exhibitions in Palais de Tokyo, In this case it was Parreno’s exhibition. From this, I wanted to build my architecture. I was offered a limited budget, so, as a sort of a protest, I wanted to build a structure that I could stay in during assembly and exhibition. It turned out to be much more complicated to carry out. There weren’t many things to use after Phillippe Parreno’s exhibition, which was surprising considering the monumentality of his project. As a result, my project turned out to be impossible to carry out physically. Next, the time for assembly was reduced by a half, which petrified me. I cannot imagine making a sculpture or an installation in just a few days. Finally, this decision was also changed but such conditions are not the basis for stable work.
I also thought about another project, which would be architecture built of scraps of someone’s works too. This free material would allow me to use the money that I received from the institution to buy a piece of land where I could place my structure after the exhibition. I looked at random all over France. This structure would exist in this place and everyone could stay inside for a while if they wanted to.
There were other ideas, but it ended up on a four metres sculpture made of pieces of wood, which were supposed to be burnt, obtained from a company operating in Corsica.
AT: Is it still a sculpture suitable for staying in?
TW: No. This sculpture is too small. The funds did not allow me to be extravagant, I was also limited by transportation. The work had to fit into my small van… The final outcome was a sculpture which is a piece of furniture storing light. I am quite happy with the result though. The idea for a similar series of sculptures has been at the back of my head since school. I wanted to make furniture that is not very functional and which literally crams all room or flat. So it is one of the works that I wanted to make and make it exactly like that. However, I thought I would be able to carry out something bigger and more exciting in Palais de Tokyo.
AT: You received a prize of Salon de Montrouge. This exhibition usually slightly resembles an art fair: every artist has his corner, a piece of wall, one close to another. Your work was also pushed in the corner, though in this case it correlated well with its limited form. How did you feel in this situation?
TW: It was indeed a frenzied atmosphere. Two square meters of exhibition space and people who push through to move further. There is no space to catch your breath. I presented installation there, a kind of a piece of furniture sculpture, one sketch from new series and a plastic sculpture…
AT: What do you mean by furniture-sculpture?
TW: It is actually a fragment of my series of sculptures, some of them still in my head. The basis for each of them is an element of furniture, for example a pile composed of pieces of wood grows out of legs of an old piece of furniture. On top of this sculpture, there is again an element of a piece of furniture, leg or something else. It is a kind of furniture-sculpture parasite. I think of eccentric propositions of designers, with which you do not really know what to do.
I once made such sculpture, which I never completed and it was burnt in Corsica. It was an enormous trunk of an oak tree, a few metres high. I sanded it down and made only one small hole in it and called it Porte Plume. I like the idea of such furniture which takes up half of the house and its functional aspect becomes drastically reduced. Somewhere between design and art.
AT: Within your artistic recycling you also collect ideas of other artists.
TW: I have collected very few of those ideas so far, less than fifteen along with my own projects that I had put aside once and now I am coming back to them. I have asked the artists for their old ideas which they knew were thrown away in a sense and they would not come back to, and they would agree to give them to me. I have them all written down and it is up to me if I carry them out or appropriate them.
AT: You take them and adopt them signing your own name, is there somewhere information about who the idea, that you reworked, comes from? What is important here, the processing of the idea or the final effect?
TW: The process is of course very important, information on the origin of the work seems essential at the moment. I inherited those ideas, I carry them in me and I am still not sure what I will do with them, whether to adapt them or carry out literally/ precisely. As in the case of architecture in Palais de Tokyo I have already mentioned, it is of great importance to me that the recycled piece of a board or a podium is taken from Parreno or some other artist. Surname does not matter here, I do not care about that. What counts is that it is recycled. It seems crucial that those inherited projects will not be thrown away, that the scraps can be reused, that they are given a second chance…
AT: I suppose that you work with artists that use different techniques than you and have different interests. Would you like to try things that you haven’t done so far?
TW: Yes, that is why I got interested in this idea, that is why I have taken it up. It is a bit like learning a new language or reading a new book. The difference is that it interferes in my life more. Stepping off the beaten track is a sort of a challenge.
AT: In an interview with Daria de Beauvais, the curator of Palais de Tokyo, when you were asked about your need to create fiction at the exhibition you perversely answered: “Why create otherwise?”. My perception of your works is that they are deeply rooted in reality, they stick to certain stories like for example in the project of recycled ideas we have just discussed. In your view, where does fiction begin?
TW: We can start with an obvious matter: my material. The bottles that I would take out of the bin at school because I did not have anything else at hand, that scraps that we automatically get rid of – I transform them until I obtain a form which is difficult to identify and associate with the initial material. This fact is fiction. It is a bit like all the noise that Korwin-Mikke makes was published in the form of volume of verse…… or an idyll… I am often asked where I get the materials for my sculptures from, where I get pieces of wood of a given shape from…. It quickly turns into a story.
AT: What are you working on at the moment?
TW: I am thinking about what to do with the prize that I had won in Salon de Montrouge, that is a six-month exhibition in Palais de Tokyo. I wonder whether to introduce the elements I had worked on previously. I still don’t know what conditions I would get carrying out the exhibition. I am also collecting scraps of ideas that are of interest to me.
AT: Thank you and good luck in carrying out of your projects.
interviewed by Anna Tomczak
translated by Monika Mokrosz
Tatiana Wolska (born in 1977) works in Nice. She has lived in France for 15 years. In 2007 she graduated from École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts in Villa Arson, Nice. She works using her own technique reaching for materials previously used by others. Undergoing a laborious process of transformation they are given a new function and meaning. Mineral water bottles so deformed that they are impossible to be identified, scraps of fabric, wood or fleeting thoughts are the materials in her artistic practice. The winner of Grand prix du 59 Salon de Montrouge. She opened an exhibition in Palais de Tokyo at the end of April 2014.
Anna Tomczak was born in Wrocław; currently lives in Lyon. The cultural studies program’s graduate. Since 2008, an assistant and a curator in Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw. Right now she is taking part in the 23rd session of a curatorial training programme at École du Magasin in Grenoble.