Interview – Mark von Rosenstiel – USA

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What are you trying to communicate with your art? Which media do you prefer? Installation, video/performance, painting?

I come from a mathematics background, so have always been interested in the way objects (sculptural or mathematical) take on identity through their relationship to other things. When you think about it, sculpture and mathematics are very similar in that they are constructions of foundational parts (materials or axioms) and the relationships between those parts. Recently, I’ve been trying to think a lot about how narratives of objects are created, specifically how they carry some sort of “personal” narrative of their own. This personal narrative of the object is interesting because it means that it can engender change in the viewer, moving outside of the scope of “thing created by a person” to something that has its own identity: hammers, umbrellas, etc have all been used outside of their intended purpose, to create new futures. These futures are their stories as much as ours. I don’t really have a favorite medium. I like wood because of its smell and metal because when something isn’t working you can really beat the shit out of it and get your frustrations out. Working with tech itches a part of my brain that working with my hands can’t reach. I think the important thing is to minimize clutter and confusion. If I’m not quite sure of the core of an idea, my first instinct is to pile on more layers to a gesture. Usually that’s a terrible idea: it just muddies the waters with more materials. I like to make sure each material/process is holding up a really specific part of the aesthetic and/or idea and try to not make too much overlap.

You use a lot of different objects in your works, all of which are powerfully evocative. Could you speak to us about the poetics of those things?

Wow, that’s a super nice thing to say. When I think about becoming a good person, I think about minimizing the distance between my purpose and meaning. By this, I mean that the ways I find meaning in the world are based on things I find value in — friends, love, sex, a love of basketball, etc — and then trying to create action that maximizes the engagement I have with those things. In order to be happy, I think I also need to minimize the things of value to the very very necessary. Like if I was going to build a table for a glass to sit on, it doesn’t need 17 legs and a 2 square meter surface: it needs 3 legs and 10 square centimeters for the surface. So my overall goal is to find the most basic things that can still give me meaning and then I can have the most authentic expression of my purpose. Making objects/gestures is the same. The idea/narrative of the object is held up by its most fundamental pillars and these pillars are each carefully expressed through the relationships of materials/processes. There has to be intention about every choice.

Could you tell about the process of designing and installing your works? How long does it take to move from an idea to an installation? And for the process of installation, which is time- and energy-consuming, and almost like a performance in itself. Is it like a ritual for you?

Usually my works start with something I read. Right now I’m really into this idea of Duration as expressed by Henri Bergson, so a lot of the thoughts I’m having are about modularity and the divisibility of parts of Self. Usually an image of an object will just pop into my mind, which I then mull over. This can be a day. Or a year (actually currently I’m playing with a new sound piece that has been evolving in my head for over a year.) It feels a bit like organizing a kitchen: I keep moving things around until it seems like a good space to cook in. Installation is not so much a ritual as a meditative practice. A LOT of things can go wrong and I usually have to work hard not to go into some spiral, thinking I’m fucking it all up. I think a lot of my maturity in the past few years has been rolling with the punches and executing better at this stage. This growth is tied to getting out of an artistic mindset during installation and into a manager role. Like if I run out of phillips head screws, I’m not going to lose it over having to use square heads (depending on use). I think part of this is also realizing, even in a finished piece, it’s all still part of an ongoing process. Nothing is ever finished.

You were born in the US, lived in many places, and you’ve exhibited works all over the world. Do you think that culture and self-identity play a part in your art, whether consciously or subconsciously?

Definitely. In my work, I like the idea of trying to create a feedback loop with an object, where the viewer becomes aware of a facet of the object that is very surface level and through an interest in this facet, they are drawn into more subtle or layered parts of the experience. In general, I think this aspect of my work draws from my experience of participating in other cultures and wanting to understand myself in those contexts.

Why did you decide to come to Belgrade again? How did you like it this time?

I came here about 2 years ago with Koós Gábor, a good friend and artist based inBudapest. We were here only for a few days (and it was in the middle of winter and the city was covered in snow and being buffeted by some bitter cold wind), but we had a really amazing time. I’m a big science nerd, so originally I wanted to come just to see Nikola Tesla’s ashes. On arriving, though, I immediately was impressed by how the city felt so raw and vibrant: good food, really friendly people, nightlife, music, and art. I’m also always drawn to the structure of cities that feel like they tell a story all on their own; Belgrade is like this. It’s a hard quality to really describe WHAT it is, but Belgrade seems to tell stories as you walk around it, because of how the buildings and streets all lean in together like people around a campfire. This time here has been even more engaging. With more time I feel fortunate to have met some people that have shown me around the city and allowed me to feel like I’m deeper in it. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have all these sunny days instead of snow. This city seduces.

What would you like to accomplish in the near future and how do you keep your ideas fresh?

That’s a hard question. I guess it’s easy in my practice to get frantic about not doing enough, or showing enough, or being seen enough: feeling like my portfolio isn’t good enough, etc. I’d like to keep being able to feel like my head is on straight: making sure I don’t forget to look up every once in awhile. In the documentary The Woodmans, one of Francesca’s parents made a comment about at the very least you should just sharpen your pencil’s every day in the studio. Having a life focused on process means just remembering to put one foot in front of the other and to keep doing that. For me, fresh ideas come from reading and then trying to find those ideas in the world: forcing myself to find parallels and references in actual physical things. As I mentioned before, I’m currently on this idea of Duration, which has meant trying to find static systems that also hint at the idea of motion. So I take that idea and come here to Belgrade, or walk around my studio in Los Angeles, or just lean on a lamppost on some street and take in a part of the world I haven’t before— I dig into anything I can — and try to find ways to inform what this idea is.

Any advice to artists who wish to visit Belgrade

Don’t wait: come.