22 February 2010

Meeting Maciek Stępiński

Maciek Stępiński, Go with peace (work in progress 2008-2010), Israel
Fblog: What is conceptual art for you? Do you think it is still possible to practice conceptual photography today in the artworld today? There is a lot of searching around the edges of photography in your series “Sans Titre” – these night landscapes; the series very much deals with the differences in the viewing performed by camera, by photography and by humans; this is quite a “conceptual” striving towards the specifics of the medium.
Maciek Stępiński, Go with peace (work in progress 2008-2010), Israel
Maciek Stępiński, Sans Titre, 2007, lambda, dibond plexi, 80x80cm

Maciek Stępiński: At some point, Appolinaire named cubist painting conceptual art. In the 1960s, conceptual art was a response to the aesthetics of minimalism, and was based in the replacement of the art object, by art as an idea. What seems important for me is that it also put all the media of art on the same level. The most crucial element became the process of creating, rather than the effect itself. Has that changed? To what aesthetic trend is contemporary conceptual an answer?

I’m much influenced by Duchamp’s theory, which underlined the important part of chance as a decisive factor in the creative process. And this is photographic thinking. You might even be tempted to make the assertion that to take pictures is to deal with ready-mades. The very important part played by chance and error you may find also in my “Sclerosis” project, some sort of a ready-mades collection. The neon – “Idea” was the opening object of the exhibition in the Leto Gallery, Warsaw. The work consists of a single word “ideal, but the last letter was “broken” and didn’t come on properly.
Maciek Stępiński, Idea(l), 2009, neon, 125x25x11cm
At one point, I was interested in “meta-art” – as an extreme variation on the idea of conceptual art, created by the Art & Language group. They completely negated the visual side of an art object and concentrated their attention on the theory of art only. That was an interesting collision, because artists became theoreticans. Then, the only difference between them was the motivation, the intentions of their action.
Maciek Stępiński, Sclerosis, LETO gallery, Warsaw (installation view, Idea(l), 2009, neon)

Maciek Stępiński, Sclerosis, LETO gallery, Warsaw (installation view) 2009

I don’t know whether these night landscapes from the „Sans Titre” series can really be categorized as conceptual works, but they may be unconsciously inspired by constructivist and minimalist theories, and you know this square format, could be a straight tribute to Malevitsch…. (laughing). Definitely in this series, what we are dealing with is a searching for the edge of the visible (black), but equally “invisible” are Filip Francis’ “white on white” images or Francois Soulage’s monochromes. Here it was not a question of the specifics of the medium. The main reason to make this series was the dread I was under at that time and an attempt to escape the feeling by dealing with it like this. A part of these night landscapes emerged as preparatory material for large scale oil paintings, which however I’ve never finished.

Maciek Stępiński, Sans Titre, 2007, lambda, dibond plexi, 80x80cm

Fblog: You keep interfering in the photograph, the film or the canvas. In photography you act like a pictorialist – in the terms of Jan Bulhak, but maybe also in the terms of Alfred Stieglitz. You attach great importance to the print, and before showing it of to the world you keep working with it “post factum”.
Maciek Stępiński, Warsaw City Tennis Clubs, 2009, cibachrome 50x60cm
Maciek Stępiński: I guess I do many things uncounciously inspiried by the culture I grew up in. I think of it as a whole, of a unity – constituted by many parts. Anyway I don’t think I’m a pictorialist, or a documentary photographer! To be honest, I’m not inspired (consiously!) by old photography, and the history of photography I know rather superficially. I look at art history, again – as a whole. I do not divide it into techniques, but rather try to find the common ideas that run across it. Movies, music, poetry (lyrics) or even video games and the internet – these are my inspirations. Oh yes, and painting, most of all painting. And once again music.
Maciek Stępiński, W, 2008, lambda,dibond plexi, 80x95cm
This is why I haven’t got much in common with pictorialists such as Marian Dederko (the most important amongst them for me) who invented the “photonit” technique, which was to emphasized a strong retouching of the positive, then a reproduction of that positive and making a new positive from this new contr-negative. Wolfgang Tillmans today works in a quite similar way: enlarging photographs that are photocopies of tabloid and newspaper photographs or showing “wrongly exposed” photographic papers, while making from them other reproductions, changing the form of the prints, etc.
Maciek Stępiński , W, 2008, lambda,dibond plexi, 80x95cm

Maciek Stępiński, Warsaw City Tennis Clubs, Kordegarda 2009 (installation view, WCTC, cibachrome 50x60)

But techniques and technologies (their pros and cons) that’s the final touch. A cibachrome print will look good only if the chrome is well exposed. It’s not as much of a change as, for example, in HDR where the final outcome differs substantially from the original. In the case of “Warsaw City Tennis Clubs” it’s rather the reverse.
The choice of the cibachrome technique was the best to have exactly the same colours as on a diapositive, without lambda profiles, correction by machines or an operator, calibration of the screen, part of the paper or finally the use of chemical materials… Here a great deal was made possible thanks to a great contact and full cooperation with an extraordinary French technical specialist Roland Dufau, who printed in Paris these pictures for the exhibition in Kordegarda, Warsaw. It was the first time I could show prints I’ve always dreamed of showing (thanks to Magda Kardasz – curator at the Kordegarda and Zacheta Galleries) . So, yes, I put a lot of effort into the final print of my pictures, but in order to make them as near as possible to the original (or at least as I remember it (laughing)).

Maciek Stępiński, Paysage Urbain, 1999, C-print, 78x78cm
Fblog: Do you divide somehow your artistic work from your academic concerns? You work in France and Poland. Could you compare these two cultures – as far as we are concerned, i.e. young people approaching art and photography. I’m sure it’s quite different.
Maciek Stępiński: I try to divide these two types of work, but sometimes they interfere with one another and there are influences on both sides. There’s a satisfaction in both of them: meeting people gives a lot of positive energy, their criticisms and doubts about the photographic medium is a sort of encouragement to creative work.

Maciek Stępiński, N-113, 2002, lambda, dibond, 50x50cm

As far as comparison is concerned, I can’t make one regarding education, because I have never studied photography in Poland. Regarding the level photographic education in our country, I get information from friends who teach in Lodz in the “Filmschool” or from students from Lodz, Poznan, or from my students from the Academy of Photography in Warsaw and Cracow. The level of lectures and the equipement used during workshops unquestionably matches that of the top european schools. The difference I see, might lie in the motivation for undertaking such studies.
In countries like Holland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France, young people are well acquainted with art from the very beginning of their school education. There is undoubtedly a much wider range of schools, with more tightly defined profiles, because they have already been active for many years now. There is a clear division between artistic and technical-commercial institutions. A very big advantage is the scholarship programme, so students may focus on their projects, instead of taking every job possible to pay their rent. But here the main point is still not about money, but about the motivation. In my opinion Poland is going through a time of high and wild consumption, as France was at the end of the 60. That’s why some might perceive being a photographer as a quite easy way to become wealthy fast, through fashion and advertisement photography.
In conclusion, I would say that the Polish contemporary art scene is much more interesting and dynamic than in Paris or Marseille. And though there are ten times fewer people interested and familiar with art as compared to the rest of Western Europe, collectors and art merchants are much more frequent visitors here now.
Maciek Stępiński, LGV 2004, lambda, dibond, 80x80cm
Maciek Stępiński - photographer, painter and video artist, working in France and Poland. interview was made in dec09/jan10 by joanna and was inspired by Maciek exhibition "Warsaw City Tennis Clubs" in Kordegarda gallery, branch of Zacheta in 2009. more info and pictures: http://www.stepinski.com/


Anonymous said...

very interesting

Chris said...

Great interview, very intresting reading!