Federica Giallombardo and Ola Vasiljeva

When we come into the presence of a work by Ola Vasiljeva (Latvia, 1981), what immediately strikes us are the daring, towering glimpses, which with their poetics of objects illusorily overstep ceilings and walls filling them with light, colours, wonder; the coherent glare of the spatial quadrature; the visual focus on an ideal point, effective practice of contemporaneity that reflects more social rather than material distortions in a mastery that is never too bold. A multifaceted artist, who divides and reunites her essence between architecture, scenography and narrative and with semantic bents as physical points of reflection. Vasiljeva’s installations unravel new possibilities of optical illusion of the urban views, using interminable expedients such as the realization of the work on site and the synergy with the exhibition space. The use of artefacts that dramatically give themselves up and dissolve in their details – three yellowed mirrors, one box with newspaper clippings, two cellophaned jackets on the floor with a childish drawing, a pair of Japanese Geta sandals in the Turin solo exhibition presented at Quartz Studio, Qualcuno si è seduto sulla mia sedia [Someone Sat on my Chair], promoted by Fondazione Sardi per l’Arte – takes advantage of personal experience in the immediacy, almost flattering itself with its possible temporality.

Federica Giallombardo: Let’s start with what I saw at the Quartz exposition in Turin. What immediately struck me was the choice of a large format drawing. It was as if the work subverted a sort of “social order”, considering that it was inspired by a tailor’s workshop (a “humble” work). A great format for “humble” objects, but which become noble when you transform them into an installation. It reminded me of a novel by Pirandello, La mano del malato povero [The hand of the poor patient]: the protagonist wants to stay in the hospital bed for all his life just to observe the world from the bottom up, because according to the character it’s the only way to see “the truth of things” (and, not surprisingly, the protagonist describes his neighbor in the next bed, precisely as a tailor). I was wondering, in general, what was your point of view about things, the perspective with which an object, according to you, becomes art and part of your work.

Ola Vasiljeva: I guess I view the elements in my installations rather as parts of an interior or ambience than objects in some specific medium: drawings or sculptures. Perhaps as a drawing this element might seem of large scale, but if we view it as a wall in the space, then it is simply a wall. I prefer to keep the line blurry between what testifies an art work or just an interior object of the space. This wall for me was some sort of a screen, a curtain which promises more behind it. Hides, but teases and promises at the same time. I was indeed inspired by the humble interior of the tailor’s shop next door and it is exactly this sensibility in his vitrine that touched me. Something was shown, but more was hidden: some fragments of garments, some unfinished works, some finished yet already preciously and privately wrapped. This moment of premonition always moves me and in a similar way I aim to immerse the viewer and agitate their perception of the environments I create.

FMG: Observing the history of your works, you notice a strong “literary” sense. I think of titles like What Were You Expecting, Mr. Milquetoast, a Plot? or, in fact, Qualcuno si è seduto sulla mia sedia. Your works almost always bring back to my memory those of great writers. In a sort of short circuit, your poetics is “prosaic” and seems to refer more to the narration of stories (or scripts) rather than to metrical poetry. Considering also your great ability to model or follow different materials and techniques, how do you make the narrative process possible? What creates it (what “writes” it) in terms of intertextual references between object, subject and plot that unites them?

OV: My work is full of references from literature indeed, fiction always attracted me. I would not say that my work tells stories though, but maybe it has something to do with transforming a narrative structure into spatial structure. These narratives are though often multi-layered and fractured. I often start off with a certain idea, a glimpse or a mood and it brings on first few physical objects, which then are the axis of the installation. I work very intuitively and spontaneously, most of the time the work develops in situ and these fragmented narratives and moods slowly become physically palpable. Yet I try to stay away from telling one kind of a story, I prefer to leave gaps, so that the viewer can rely on their own sense of direction.

FMG: Francesca, how did the link with Ola’s work come about and how is its signifier connected with the philosophy of Quartz?

Francesca Referza: In conceiving Quartz as a production space, before an exhibition space, my education as an art historian and my career as a curator have played a role. The choice of each artist – in this case of Ola – is always the result of considerations that are partly linked to his/her position in the art system, but also and above all based on my eye as a connoisseur. I saw for the first time Ola’s work in June last year, at Liste, Basel, in the stand of the Parisian gallery of Antoine Levi. In particular, I was struck by the fast and caricatural mark of her drawings, surprisingly démodé. The project started with a site visit from which the artist began to build the pieces of what has then become a fairy tale titled Qualcuno si è seduto sulla mia sedia. Those entering Quartz are invited to imagine the story, stating from the many elements and clues scattered here and there in the space (drawn characters, abandoned objects, a door, some rebuses, etc.) Another very fascinating element of the exhibition is, in my opinion, the chromatic sensitivity (almost pictorial) with which the artist has related the various works to each other and with the space.

FMG: Ola, in En Rachâchant (Vleeshal Markt and The Oceans Academy of Arts “University”, Vleeshal Zusterstraat, Middelburg), you have dealt with denial and refusal to learn. In a historical moment in which the logic of the market dominates all fields of teaching and requires that knowledge has merely economic evidence, this show mounts a playful assault on this ideology. The dialectic between educational and antipedagogical, populated by works that manipulate motives related to the theme of disobedience as a learning course, seems to emerge in your works more or less voluntarily. How do you relate to the idea of teaching and leaving an “educational” message through your works?

OV: En Rachâchant dealt not as much with denial or refusal to learn in general, but rather playfully approached negation and disobedience as well as celebration of nonsense. The exhibition borrowed its title from the short film by Straub and Huillet based on the children’s story by Marguerite Duras. It takes a humorous look at de-hierarchizing the educational process through the character of a 7-year-old Ernesto, who insistently refuses to go to school because it teaches things he doesn’t know. He proposes his own ‘nouvelle methode’ of learning which he ambiguously names ‘en rachâchant’. In the course of this exhibition as well as within a few other projects, I proposed a few programs for children which celebrated the absurdity and let the imagination triumph above the rigid austere logic. I never saw these projects as part of teaching practice, but rather as part of my practice which remains committed to celebrating fragmentation and nonsense as opposed to obeying one kind of absolute truth, logic and knowledge.

FR: Indeed, in Qualcuno si è seduto sulla mia sedia, many of the characters whom Ola sketches on the surfaces (of paper, glass, cellophane, etc.) and whom one comes across here and there among the various devices built ad hoc to induce the viewer to move in the space paying attention to the smallest details, are united by an irreverent and mocking nature. Mischievous and unstable positions characterize the protagonists, THE MAGICIAN and PHALL, who physically loom over the visitor at the entrance, but also other characters with a funny round head, a witchy profile or a tree-body, who are SOMEONE, without any other specification, lead us into an apparently illogical and joyfully nonsensical dimension.

published on arteecritica 91, spring 2018