STEPHEN BLAISE INTERVIEW FLOFFERZ MAGAZINE 2014
THE UN NEW BY BYRON HAWES
Featured in exhibitions, screenings and events at the Centre de Pompidou in Paris, the MoMA in New York, the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, Art Basel Miami and the FOAM Museum Amsterdam, New York based artist Stephen Blaise has come to be known for his work with video and has been called an artist of the new medium by many.
But it’s a curious thing, New Media. And Blaise will be the first to point this out.
In fact, his concern is less with the newness of his medium, or the technology he employs, but more with the final result. A means to an end. For Blaise, a picture drawn in crayon has the potential to communicate an idea equally as “new” as a work of great technical intricacy.
Blaise speaks to Flofferz about context, categorical expression and the obsoletism of “new” in New Media.
Flofferz (F): The first thing one encounters when looking you up is the video montage on your website, stephenblaise.com. It’s a pretty compelling flurry of images. Is there a thread that ties those images together? A coagulant, thematic or aesthetic? It’s quite a bold introduction, obviously.
SB: Thank you, I hope it’s obvious that it’s a giff and the viewer is supposed to click on the montage…an organic grouping of images from one series or project to the next. A cross-section of interests and explorations over the years; napkin sketches, postcards, constructions, anatomy, physicality, textual directives, fashion-based narratives and circles. My life…memories, perception, a combination of reality and dreams.
(F): Much has been made of the democratization of more technologically complex artistic output, with low-cost and open source hardware and software. Do you think that the easier means of expressing artistic ideas has had a positive or negative impact in general?
SB: I never consider the expression of ideas easy, regardless of how it appears on the surface. Serious work usually means hard work in one way or another. There is so much more involved than what one sees. Everything evolves, including technology as well as other means of expression. I’m really not interested in the technical aspect of things only so much as it is a means to an end. I’m (more) interested in ideas. If something develops that will benefit a presentation of work, great, but that’s not where my primary interests lie.
(F): Who or what do you see as influences in your work? Do you ever look back at completed works and recognize elements of homage to artists who’ve come before?
SB: I’m inspired by what I don’t know. Unanswerable questions, the unknown, humor and paradox. Everything created today is created on the shoulders of the artists before us. All work is in some way a self portrait and connected to the time we live in. We all have our hidden struggles and personal truths. My work comes from that. The challenge of something thought impossible inspires me. Artists who consistently challenge themselves inspire me. If I had to list every artist or work that has influenced me, it would fill your magazine and this interview would never end.
(F): You do a lot of video work, which would traditionally be classified as new media. Do you think that sobriquet still applies?
SB: New media is not such a new platform and moving images, text, sound and still images have been around a long time. Perhaps the only difference is the delivery system. New media is just another tool with greater reach. It‘s a very living, vibrant medium which has not yet been exhaustively explored. It’s possibilities are open and unknown. I find this incredibly exciting. With regard to my work, whether viewed in a physical space or on the web, I’m most interested in viewer experience, and the memory of the experience.
Often, it takes time to understand the relevance of work and new mediums. Context is everything, and the context has changed. Art is ideas.
(F): What do you feel is the essential difference between video artworks and more traditional narrative film? Is there one?
SB: Some of my friends call video art ‘endurance art’. That being said, I don’t think video work should inherently negate it from possessing a narrative structure or being entertaining. If a work is too easily accessible or enjoyable, does that mean it cannot fit into an art context?
More than any other medium, video has the potential to completely engage the viewer emotionally and psychologically, while leaving a lasting imprint in their memory. Our brains are hard-wired to process video. Our Mirror Neurons allow us to read visual codes, structures or experiences outside of ourselves as our own. This instills within us feelings of connection and empathy.
Motion Picture editor Walter Murch, who attributes our brains acceptance of hard cuts in film to the the physiological mechanism of blinking, has said, “Film is like thought. It’s the closest to our thought process of any art.”
In our time, and in my work personally, I find video an incredibly accessible and relevant tool for exploration of culture and the human condition.
(F): Image and video have become near ubiquitous forms of communication in contemporary society. Instagram, Vine, Vimeo, Youtube. Nearly every post-millennial is a videographer of some sort, consciously or not. Do you feel that this somehow trivializes video work? Legitimizes it? Or is completely irrelevant?
SB: Back in the day, communication was banging on a tree stump with a stick. Believe it or not, the communication had little to do with the stick or the hollowed out tree stump. The importance was the substance of the content…what was being conveyed. For me, communication, social platforms and art generally differ in function and intention. That being said, art rises from all aspects of culture and can appear in seemingly trivial platforms of communication. Art is ideas, consciousness and transcendence. The medium is not important. The work’s strength rests in the artists voice, vision and intent. Ultimately, this is what determines whether art is recognized amidst all the white noise.
Regarding the ubiquitous availability of content on the web…today’s culture has accepted the idea that everything has to be shared. There’s an expectation of sharing in the Facebook vision of the world. People are private to different degrees. Myself…I’m an extremely private person. Some of my work lives on the web, but I don’t post anything personal there. It’s common for people to record their personal experiences with friends and make those experiences public. i.e. Taking snapshots during a private dinner, then uploading and labeling the experience “My dinner with friends”. Access is a beautiful thing, but not all things need to be or should be shared.
Emerson described the great freedom of American life as the freedom not to participate in the life of the culture…to shut the door, to close the curtains. American heroes are almost always solitary figures in our literature.
(F): There’s a strand of exploration of latent hedonism in your work. The intoxicating death wish inherent in smoking, the gluttonous consumption of sugary desserts, the metaphysical pleasure of orgasm and the compelling possibility of love. Do these speak to your thought processes at large? Do they imbue your greater observation methodologies?
SB: Absolutely, the idea of ‘Latent’ desires interests me and connotes something unexpected and unpredictable. Pure hedonism is obvious and already over explored. Beyond what I present on the surface with regard to smoking and consumption, I’m interested in exploring human frailty, our behavior, our struggles and why we do what we do.
Something else, which interests me, is the seemingly superficial surface of things. Regardless of how things may appear, without exception, there are always larger themes existing beneath. There is a school of Buddhism that teaches that all desire leads to enlightenment. It‘s impossible to remove desire from your life. Even the desire to live is a desire. Your desires, pain and personal struggle, everything comes from that. That‘s what defines us. Hopefully, it‘s where my work is based, where the most interesting questions are raised.
(F): What’s your process when creating new works? Are you a flash of lightning eureka’ creative, or more methodological?
SB: In reality, I do what I feel, often not knowing until later the actual impetus for initially doing something. It reveals itself in time. Though lately, I’m becoming more and more conscious of my areas of focus and why. And YES absolutely, I’m both methodological and a flash of lightning!