Email interview conducted by N. Elizabeth Schlatter, curator, December 2012
Your piece Pneuma, fits most obviously into the theme of this exhibition because of the interplay of flowing light on the telephone cables. But more subtle is the reference to communication flow and specifically to obsolete means of communication. In a previous interview, you remarked that once, upon seeing a mountain of discarded cables at an industrial dump, “I could almost feel the buzz of all the information that had circulated through the piles of cables.” 1 What is it about conduits for conversation, amongst other kinds of technology, that appeal to you?
I’m very interested in how technology blurs our bodily boundaries, and how communication technologies extend our sense of self. I always visualize telephones as devices that stretch out our ears through the wires. As so many of us, I’m seduced by access to the endless communication that the Internet promises, but also overwhelmed by social networking, a feeling of always lagging behind (with emails, for example) and an inability to process the barrage of information constantly being hurtled my way. The mountains of discarded cables I find in junkyards summarize that attraction/rejection I feel towards our highly networked society. Works like Pneuma allow me to marvel at the engineering miracle of technological communication and to regain appreciation for the almost magical quality of energy flowing through our modern communication networks.
The word “pneuma” has various meanings derived from classical sources, including breath or breath of life, spirit or soul, and air or a mixture of air and fire that circulates in the body. You’ve used Pneuma as the title for a few related works. Can you describe what you consider pneuma to mean in relationship to these sculptures?
Technologies that surround us seem so alive in their behavior. The Greek term “pneuma” is about the “fire of life” present in living beings. To project such a model on inert machinery is an animistic approach that I catch myself doing all the time. I rationally know these technologies are not alive, yet a part of my psyche can’t help but relate to them as if they were. The Pneuma series is about that contradiction.
Light, color, and movement are critical components in works such as Pneuma to help transform the quotidian material of telephone wires into something almost mysterious. How do you think about and determine the flow of light in these works? What kinds of effects are you seeking for the viewer’s direct experience with the pieces?
When creating the Pneuma series I was attempting two kinds of effects: beads of light that imitate data transmission through cables, as well as more rapid lightning-like sparks that would suggest synaptic firings in the brain. As the series unfolded, I also became interested in video animations in red and blue hues that would remind the public of anatomical renderings of arteries and veins. The bundles of telephone cables also helped me reference other body organs: hearts, lungs, etc. I want the viewer to be surprised when discovering that there is no actual energy traveling through the cables, as well as discovering how simple the effect of lines of light scanning the cables actually is.
And the shelves that support the wires, lights, and additional hidden materials are so carefully constructed and positioned to heighten the magic of the piece. Would you ever consider these works to be like minimalist altars? And if so, what would they be dedicated to? Are they things to be revered or feared?
Pneuma’s shelves were actually inspired by Donald Judd’s work. When I was trying to figure out how to encase the projection equipment for this piece, I saw a Judd installation and thought how perfect it would be to have the sculptural telephone cable connecting two of his shelves. I have always felt uncomfortable with the immaculate perfection of Post-minimalism: they elicit a desire in me to “mess things up.” My Spanish Catholic upbringing, more tuned to baroque excess, seeps into a lot of my work. The Pneuma series is a good example of this: It’s Post-minimalism with a baroque twist. There is nothing more baroque than an optical effect, which is what the experience of light traveling through the sculptural cable really is.
By using discarded electronic materials, do you ever feel like you’re sentimentalizing these objects or are their “histories” just a portion of what they contribute to a bigger idea? And why is it important that these wires be discarded as opposed to new or unused?
I’m really not into nostalgia. I rather think of my approach as using today’s technology to update the old, or said in another way, an attempt to make the old look extremely new and of the present. I don’t want to get stuck in nostalgia, but rather use the past to figure out how to proceed in the future. I’m particularly attracted to markings left on objects we use: such markings are witnesses to the fact that we were actually alive, triggers of otherwise evanescent memories. Discarded technologies seem to carry the memories of their past users, the voices and data that once flowed through the telephone cables for example, which is why it is important for me that in the case of Pneumas, the cables have a past.
In the same interview mentioned above, you said, “It’s difficult to respect the sometimes unpredictable pace of the creative process when you have to meet exhibition deadlines, but I know my best projects are the ones in which I’ve really let the creative process carry me along. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. But there’s nothing more thrilling and exhilarating than being swept away by the powerful torrent of creation.” That statement sounds just like the experience of flow in creation that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has researched. Is it fair to say that you experience this flow when you create? And how do you try to maximize your opportunities for unbridled creative process?
We often romanticize the creative process. It’s mostly a huge struggle, sprinkled with some moments of blissful flow. I procrastinate, I meet obstacles (most of them in my mind), I am plagued with self-doubt and fear never being able to produce anything of interest again. But when I finally get on the road, take those first few steps, I lose a sense of self-awareness and become utterly absorbed by the process itself. The feeling of creative flow is so powerful that I am willing to endure the difficult prelude of getting a new art project started. I think most artists find tricks to short-circuit the difficulties; for me, it’s all about paying attention. I consciously silence the inner-babble of my mind and start really focusing on my immediate environment. Walking around with my camera usually helps to open up to my surrounding, take things in and notice small details that were always there but only now have entered my consciousness. This heightened state of attention is usually the beginning of my creative flow, and in the past has lead to some of my best work.
Daniel Canogar (Spanish, born 1964) earned a Masters in Photography from New York University and the International Center for Photography. He has exhibited in the Contemporary Art Museum Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; the Palacio Velázquez, Madrid; Max Estrella Gallery, Madrid; Filomena Soares Gallery, Lisbon, Portugal; Hamburger Banhof Museum, Berlin, Germany; bitforms Gallery, New York; the American Museum of Natural History, New York; the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburg; and the Borussan Contemporary Museum, Istanbul, Turkey, among many other museums and galleries. His recent work includes his interactive video projection “Asalto New York” in Brooklyn (2011); “Vortices,” a commission for Fundacion Canal Isabell II in Madrid (2011); the installation “Synaptic Passage” in the exhibition “Brain: The Inside Story” at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (2010); and two installations at the Sundance Film Festival 2011. Canogar has created numerous works of public art throughout Europe and South America.
Read more about Canogar and his work
- Cecilia Andersson, Process in Dialogue: Daniel Canogar and Stephen Dean (San Sebastian, Spain: Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa, 2010) accessible at http://www.danielcanogar.com/entrevistas.php?lang=en ↩