I know what I am doing
Sophie Reinhold and Yorgos Sapountzis (Villa Romana Fellows 2012) in conversation with Angelika Stepken.
What has the change of location from Berlin to Florence meant to you? Leaving your normal context of Berlin and working somewhere else for ten months can disorient, motivate, or have other effects on you...
(YS) It was really good. But that is what I expected. It was good to get out. I kept saying to myself, you will never experience this moment again. It will only happen once. I have to enjoy it. And I did enjoy it.
What does "enjoy" mean to an artist?
(YS) For example, I enjoyed seeing things like the full moon over a city that I will probably never see again. Everyone likes to live in big cities, but I enjoyed the context of the nature around me. I tried to take everything in.
Did everything go smoothly for you, working flat out as an artist in this natural Florentine context?
(YS) Work is always a reflection of nature. Nature is the be all and end all, and it influences you. I have been living in Berlin for ten years and know a lot of people. That is where my day-to-day life is. It is good to get away from that for a change and be all on my own, or with a couple of people here. It is another mode. You notice that the way that your thoughts reflect on the environment is different here. These reflections are much more speculative. I was able to pursue things I had thought about again - even 30 minutes later.
Because there were not as many distractions here?
(YS) Yes, everything comes back again. I remember my first year in Berlin. I did not know anyone - it was an entirely new world to me. Berlin was the first place I have spent a long time in - apart from my home town of Athens. Everything was new and you can hear your thoughts far more clearly. That worked again here. At the same time, you can see all these artworks in the museums here that you otherwise only know from art-history publications; you can understand the effect they had and the effect that they continue to have today.
(SR) It is only a year ago that I completed my Diplom. The stipend was therefore a kind of crossover into the next institution. For me it was particularly important to have time to consolidate the work that you are unsure about when you leave school. When I arrived, I was still at the stage where you suddenly experience a feeling of disbelief, relief and gratitude when you hear a compliment. The large amount of time on my own here allowed me to develop an incredibly good sense of self in my work. I leave knowing what I am doing right now. I think that would have been impossible for me in Berlin.
(YS) It was the same for me.
Is solitude necessary for this self-assurance?
(SR) So goes the cliché. When the time came to put my art school applications together, I went to the countryside. I thought I could let go of everything there and let everything come out without any distractions. Then I was suddenly among these trees by the lake and it was just impossible. I could not get anything in the slightest bit genuine down on paper. So I went back to Berlin. I think at the time I needed that whole Berlin information overload. I arrived here with a lot of knowledge that you assimilate over the course of your studies. Since the Renaissance definitely has a big influence on my art, it was good to see it where it happened and in spite of that then be able to distance myself from it contextually. I know what I take from it and I also know that I am not just copying. I am not hiding behind Renaissance art.
Can you briefly outline the extent to which the Renaissance plays an important role for you?
(SR) What fascinates me about the Renaissance and its style of painting is the transition from abstraction and geometry into the realistic, from a transcendental representation of religion to an terrestrial one. This subtle border of light that painters endorsed at the time ... Arriving here as an artist, you see this Tuscan light and understand these colours and this subtle transition between gold background and colour, between Giotto and Pontormo. This way of seeing light and the environment really inspired me. There was also a demystifying effect for me to see everything in reality, for example, when the sun sets and the sky goes umber. As a painter, experiencing the influence that seeing it actually has was very powerful.
(YS) For me, it was the architecture that was most influential in Florence. The architecture was revolutionary, but not particularly successful, so it also has its faults. I like that. The Renaissance was about introducing rhythm into architecture. It is fascinating to see how elements of this architectural era can still be found today. These structures can even make me laugh.
Sophie, on the one hand your work is painting on canvas, but on the other it is also very much concerned with space. This year you created different pictorial spaces / settings for exhibitions. Is your work on the picture and the picture within the room always conceived in relation to the viewer?
(SR) It is supposed to be that simple. It is about the very simple relationship between viewer and picture, but with the awareness that you are looking at something in this very moment. In a way, it addresses seeing. What was really quite interesting was how the audience felt during my performance at the Open Studios: they knew that they were standing in front of a wall and looking through a hole, but how long they could stay there was not certain.
So it is about the distance from the picture?
(SR) Yes, it is about the distance from and movement to the picture. I was a bit tired of this obvious and predictable pictorial space. You walk in, there is the picture, you look at it and walk back out or just walk on by. These interventions in the space do not reflect my frustration; they resemble an environment, really: you walk in and are part of what you see and do.
What I find exciting about this is that it is not about a dialogic relationship between viewer and picture; it is about complex spatial situations.
(SR) I see the architecture of the space as a picture. That is to say that the wall itself is actually the image.
But without it taking on a theatrical role ...
(SR) What I have noticed this year is that although the pictures are produced as individual images, there are no longer any individual images once they enter the room.
Can you tell me a bit more about your work in Carrara's marble quarries?
(SR) This work came about because I have always thought about spending time and working there. Because I work with marble dust I was of course, very interested. I wanted to investigate the material as you do in scientific research - but without viewing it too conceptually. The first time we were in Carrara was in March or April. It is simply magical there. I have always tried to explain why this is, both to myself and to other people. This strong contrast between abstraction, by which I mean the steps that have cut into the marble by human beings, and the natural mountain. It is like the pyramids: geometric, extraterrestrial forms versus terrestrial ones. It is an incredible combination for the eye.
You created a picture in the marble wall, a 3 x 4-metre polished marble surface, but you have also made a film about the picture.
(SR) In the beginning the idea was just to grind. Then came the idea of the film. The work can be seen from 200 metres away and the film was actually shot from this distance. It starts with a huge zoom-in on the work and then zooms back out for 35 minutes. During this time you lose any reference to proportion and the surroundings.
That is to say that this work led you into issues of Land Art?
(SR) Well, I do use a pictorial format. This rectangle was deliberately chosen as the parameters for a display. The opening was an incredible moment: the only people who clapped were the quarrymen.
Yorgos, you have worked on location in Uruguay and Copenhagen and prepared for this work here.
(YS) Yes, I always used my time at the Villa to rest or prepare. I was able to think in peace here. I was always happy to come back in between the three solo exhibitions. It was a kind of nest for me. There is no doubt that the book that I made here would have been quite different if I had made it in Berlin. With a book, you have to choose what is valuable and what is not. I was able to do that well here. As I have said, I was able to tune into myself very well here.