Sunday, 27 December 2020

Toby Deveson: embracing the most sacred depths of souls


Toby Deveson: embracing the most sacred depths of souls 

Dance as the narration of a magical story; that recites on lips, illuminates imaginations and embraces the most sacred depths of souls. [Shah Asad Rizvi]


Before becoming a photographer, Toby Deveson wrote music. ‘Avant garde, atonal and arrhythmic’ is how he describes it. ‘Jarring and jolting.’ Even his use of alliterative adjectives – whether intentional or not – has a sense of the lyrical, and, born and largely brought up in Italy, he is certainly a passionate Romantic, in the true sense of the word (originating from a Romance country). Although his photographic journey began as one of documentary, his preferred genre these days is landscape: always black-and-white, always analogue, always full-frame negative. Deveson, in part, still approaches these images as if they were documentary, however: he seeks to capture not a story, per se – that, he says, would be too simple – rather the emotions of the place and the moment, that je ne sais quoi which will provoke a reaction and, he hopes, move the viewer to tears.

Deveson’s photographic compositions are infused with his talent for musical composition, and his approach, too, is similar. He speaks of finding the geometric pattern in the viewfinder, abstracted to the point where you almost don’t see what it is; you don’t see the textures or the shape, you just see the overall jigsaw. As Henri Cartier-Bresson said: ‘Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing,’ and Deveson, likewise, describes building a foundation – a solid and stable structure with science, knowledge and experience – on which to then let his instinct loose to do something ‘nebulous and creative’, to dance as the narration of a magical story. 


Musician Brian Eno uses the metaphor of gardening for his compositional process: ‘The gardener takes his seeds and scatters them, knowing what he is planting but not quite what will grow where and when’. Deveson, similarly, admits to not necessarily knowing why he pours a certain chemical where and when he does, why the result is as it is, or why it looks good (or not!) – he simply learned what he needed to know through time and habit – he is largely self-taught – and follows his intuition.

But his compositional process is not a solo dance, it is a pas de deux with a quite extraordinary and demanding partner – Mother Nature. Nevertheless, Deveson takes the leading role – after all, as Ansel Adams made clear, ‘you don’t take a photograph, you make it’. ‘You’re having to let what’s in front of you into the camera, but also put yourself into the camera from behind,’ says Deveson, who sees the process as a two-way conversation – indeed, a dance, or the intimate – and often intricate – choreography of a relationship. ‘It’s exhilarating,’ he adds. ‘A relationship infused with wonder and awe, passion and fear. A relationship with an undercurrent of playfulness and power and a constant sense of potential danger.’ As in any union, it’s a case of holding one’s own shape, while respecting that of the other – meeting midway, caressing, moulding a little to each other’s form, becoming a ‘we’, but ultimately remaining two ‘I’s. Deveson speaks of the immense challenge of placing his style and emotions on to something as vast and imposing as Mother Nature: ‘To not be engulfed by her, and to not rely on her to provide you with a stunning image, but to work with her and create something unique from something so universal’. 

To this end, Deveson travels widely, frequently driving for hours at a time, a vague plan half hatched, his route being steered, nevertheless, by his wayward dance partner. He seeks to experience as much of her as he can, to celebrate her gifts, to rise to her challenges, to capture that elusive moment in their relationship when everything changes, when something is learned and can never again be unknown. As with most significant realisations, these often only come later, when he returns to his darkroom and exposes the fragments of a partially recollected dream, reliving them all the more vividly for their bright monochrome. The dream as a whole, however, can never be fully resuscitated, leaving Deveson – and, in turn, his viewer – with the narration of a magical story, weaving in the unique stance of the present, and that of the individual’s past. Cartier-Bresson coined his famous term ‘the decisive moment’ to describe the fact that ‘photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression’. Just as no two performances of a given dance will ever be identical, the event itself is necessarily ephemeral, but the image Deveson makes represents the essence thereof, recites on lips, illuminates imaginations and embraces the most sacred depths of souls. 


© Anna McNay, 2020

Image © Toby Deveson, 2020

See also Spanish and Italian translations on the Metralla Rosa site

Monday, 21 December 2020

Interview with Katharina Grosse


Interview with Katharina Grosse

Katharina Grosse (b1961, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany) is known for her large-scale, often site-specific and in-situ paintings, which draw the viewer in, disrupting and redefining hierarchies and boundaries, and shifting perspectives. For Grosse, there is no distinction between painting, sculpture and architecture. As well as her smaller studio canvases, she paints on found materials, cast-metal sculptures and lengths of draped fabric, creating fully immersive installations.

Currently showing as part of the all-women group exhibition Push the Limits, at the Fondazione Merz in Turin, Italy, Grosse talks to Studio International by email about her views on time, energy and meaning.

Read the full interview here

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Interview with Trulee Hall at the Zabludowicz Collection


Interview with Trulee Hall 

Following her sold-out opera commission just before lockdown in March, the Los Angeles-based artist Trulee Hall (b1976, Atlanta) has returned to the Zabludowicz Collection in London to create her first solo institutional European show. Comprising works from the collection (acquired from her major LA show last year), elements from and a video of the opera, and a number of new pieces, the exhibition is fully immersive and promises to transport visitors to an alternate reality – “Trulee’s world” – where dichotomies are set up, only to be broken back down and questioned, and layers of meaning are offered, to be peeled back and explored at the viewer’s whim. 

Hall spoke to Studio International via Zoom, offering insight into her musical background, her use of symbols – and the meanings associated with her golden corn-on-the-cobs – and what she thinks of her work being described as “erotic grotesque”, and following in the psychosexual artistic legacy of such artists as Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley.

Read the full interview here

Monday, 7 December 2020

Interview with Susie MacMurray at Pangolin London


Interview with Susie MacMurray 

Former classical musician Susie MacMurray (b1959) retrained as an artist during the era of the YBAs, but she is as far removed from their style of “one-liner” work as could be, focusing very much on the materiality and poetry of a piece, combining unconventional materials –  such as red velvet, feathers, wax and barbed wire – to create seductive yet misleading installations, which lure the viewers in, but then cause them to step away in surprise and ask questions. Vulnerability and resilience, danger and attraction, mystery and wonder, life and death – these are all present in MacMurray’s work, which, like a fairytale, centres on alchemy and transformation. 

With an exhibition at Pangolin London, including a site-specific installation – or “drawing in space” – and some new bronze works (MacMurray’s first time working with this material), made in the Pangolin foundry, the artist spoke to Studio International about her collaborative and repetitive way of working, her love of dualities, and her self-discovery as an artist later in life.

Read the full interview here

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Interview with Emily Jacir


Interview with Emily Jacir

Emily Jacir (1972, Bethlehem, Palestine) creates works of art across many mediums, exploring histories of colonisation, exchange, translation, transformation, resistance and movement. Books, libraries, etymology and the act of translation are also fundamental to many of her works, which are frequently diaristic in form, and impacted by direct experience, community interaction, and intense research.

Currently showing a large stone medallion as part of the all-women group exhibition Push the Limits, at the Fondazione Merz in Turin, Italy, Jacir talks to Studio International by email about the origins and meanings of this work, as well as some of her other key projects.


Read the full interview here