Constructing a Mouse’s Skull @ SIGN – part 1

Part 1: Virtualisation

The current exhibition a Mouse’s Skull presents works from Elif Satanaya Özbay, Jaehun Park and Tomasz Skibicki, concluding a working period at SIGN Gallery in Groningen. Our reporter Michiel Teeuw traced their process, and together they discussed virtuality, actuality, construction, accumulation and working itself.

As happened in the last few months, I send out a videocall link to all the artists. Tomasz is the first one to pop up on my screen. He tells me he’s still in the workshop at the moment, cutting a piece of wood. Slowly after him, the other two also join. To start things off, I ask Elif to introduce each of the group members.

Elif Satanaya Özbay: “Let’s start with Jaehun; our first introduction was through email. His work is a combination of 3D renderings and spatial installations, which respond to each other. I think the core of his practice is challenging the idea of capitalist symbolisms. Did I nail it?”

Jaehun Park: “Yes. Exactly!”

ESÖ: “Great. Then there’s Tomasz, he’s a sculptor, but also not- He is pushing limits of certain materials. Whether that be filming, video editing, wood, textile, he will always look for the boundaries and explore that. There’s also narrative building in his way of working. His sculptures portray a strong visual image that is sometimes nostalgic. Correct me if I’m wrong, Tomasz!”

Tomasz gives us a thumbs up.

ESÖ: “Myself, I’m an artist who mostly works with video and film installations, and I work within the frameworks of horror and explore within them speculative narrative structures to challenge stereotypical images or stories about diasporic experiences. So in my work, I try to understand how to create fiction that could alter these realities of a diasporic experience.”

So far, the artists haven’t worked together in the actual space yet. I ask Jaehun how that’s working out.

JP: “We had a meeting at the SIGN gallery almost ten days ago. It was quite a meaningful timing, we gathered in the actual exhibition place and shared how we collaborated there. Before that, we also had five zoom meetings. We discussed our common subjects and materials. We read text together to make titles- the “Mouse’s Skull” came from this process. Still we are sharing our ideas, and also in the actual space this week we’re going to start merging together.”

I ask Tomasz to take us on a tour through the exhibition. Not the actual exhibition – they haven’t started setting up at this moment – but merely describing how he imagines it to be(come).

TS: “So still a couple of things might change, because if you take a look at the space of SIGN you can actually divide it into three spaces: you have the entrance space into the gallery, which is kind of like this cubicle long space with the two doors at the exit. But actually I forgot something crucial- which is the actual entrance to the space. So SIGN starts already outside. You have two big windows, one big window divided into two, you could say. And then you have this 35 degree entrance to the door. I think the door is like 90 centimeters wide. You have this stainless steel security grip floor that you usually have in industrial places. I think it’s very interesting to highlight that this place used to be a butcher’s shop. It was fully tiled. But SIGN decided to take it down…

Constructing a Mouse’s Skull @ SIGN – part 1
“Alright, so yeah, look: I have here a couple of papers printed out with images of the space.”

So the first space is kind of like a Limbo, Jaehun planned to show there a screen attached to a pole, an iron pole- Jaehun, is this still actual?”

JP: “Yeah, I bought it actually!”

TS: “So we’re talking about an iron pole that is used to construct a new ceiling, a new level in a building. It consists of two tubes that go up into each other and you can extend them. It’s a piece that comes from solid housebuilding. And Jaehun is going to attach a 65 inch LCD screen, with 3D animation on it that is going to be looped and combined with sound. The screen will face the windows, so you might see it from the outside already. But this is also something that is still not fully decided on, cause we’re not in the space, and it’s a very – let’s say – it’s a draft. It often happens that you enter the space, and the expectations don’t meet with what you finally have. The great thing about this solid iron construction material is that it can be relocated within the space easily. 

Then a second option is that Elif will also show something in the space as well – let’s see, maybe not, we still haven’t decided. She will work with hair, that’s going to be woven into some kind of net structure. One proposal was to show it on a white leather pillow. It’s either on the ground or slightly levitating in the space, from the wall. 

From here, you go to the office, and find a lot of bureaucratic accumulation of the SIGN space and Ron and Marie-Jeanne sitting on their iMacs, and answering emails. This might be a place where maybe some work could be planted but we’re still not sure about that. 

Then if you walk further, there’s a small hallway space. From there, one door is the toilet, one door is the storage room and the third is actually a door frame without a door; where you end up in a garage. So the garage looks the best when the lights are out. In the garage you have finally a kitchen that probably won’t be used, and we have again this undecided limbo situation where either Jaehun’s or Elif’s work can be shown. LCD screen, dark space. So I think Elif plans a video piece which is still in the works. When you enter the space, you might see the backside of the screen.

But if you rewind, and go backwards, back to the first space, this cubicle space, there is this possibility to go downstairs, I have it printed out somewhere. You end up in this weird lower level which is interconnected with these grids through the first level. Actually, I totally forgot about that… Jaehun discovered that the four LCD screens that SIGN has are 60*80cm, and they fit exactly into the grid. So Jaehun plans to install a four-channel video installation, under the grid. Sounds very poetic right?

So if you go from the first story to the second story: on that wall, a 4x4m thing, I plan to install a wall piece of plasterboards. I laser engraved a pattern on them and I will install them in eight pieces. I want to coat the staircase handle in the material that I’m always using. It’s called woodmash, a mixture between sawdust and wood glue. It looks something between fried chicken or vomit. So it looks either tasty or horrifying.”

I thank Tomasz for his very detailed answer. I ask Elif if it’s still worth it to visit the exhibition now that it’s already “put up” in the virtual realm of text. She talks about how the pieces might work on instagram as pretty pictures, but how they are engaging with each other in the space, and about the rich experience you will have when entering the space physically. During my preparation-research, I notice that all the artists have a strongly personal way of navigating the spaces, each using their own terms.

I begin with asking Jaehun what the “limbo”-space means for him. 

JP: “For me the limbo space is a liminal space. It’s also in between space from heaven and hell. I describe our current state as a kind of limbo-state; the war, the pollution, the violence happens around. Also in the YouTube space, in the internet shopping mall, every single day: New product. Like yesterday, Apple released the new iPad Pro. Every day is like Christmas day. Yeah, everyday a new luxurious product comes out. I also want to describe the inbetween space of the actual space and the virtual space. I think we are living in the actual space, but also our mind, our memory, neural system don’t have a physical substance. It’s a kind of hauntology. We know it’s non-linear, non-reasonable. This kind of state, I would like to describe it through the real-time limbo.”

Tomasz describes his practice as nomadic; I ask him what this entails.

TS: “Well, currently I’m not nomadic, because I’m a resident at the Rijksakademie. Lifestyle-wise, my way of working has changed a lot. The years before I’ve been traveling around a lot- developing works and shows on the spot. Now that I have a studio, I started exploring more studio-based techniques, like laser-engraving.”

He also describes that he’s not on site at SIGN in Groningen right now, and that the surroundings will influence his way of working strongly. “I think I’m also very open to those things. Where is the SIGN space located within the city? What is it surrounded by? What are the paths between departure and arrival? What is along the way of those things? The moment of this spontaneous encounter hasn’t happened yet.”

At last, I ask Elif what it means for her to be diasporic.

ESÖ: “If we’re talking about diasporic being, we’re also talking about an experience that is not necessarily represented wherever you’re living. Not really seeing yourself in the “mirror” of the society, like a ghost or vampire, actually gives a lot of creative freedom. This causes you to look for representations that do exist- that are solidified; combinations that make sense to you. It sounds like it’s a good thing, but it’s actually a coping mechanism. Being a ghost or vampire is in a sense othering by proxy. You don’t become that yourself, it’s a cloak that is put on you by societal structures and systems. Creating a narrative that just ODs on contemporary references. I’ve used movies as education. It’s a really fascinating framework to explore if you’re looking for unstable but interesting references. Watching movies is how I got certain references, how I learned a lot of things: narrative structures, plot twists. Seriously, that’s how I learned English. I think language is also quite important here because I don’t necessarily feel like I’m a native Turkish speaker or native Dutch speaker – I do speak both languages, but I feel like I’m disabled in both of them and I feel much more comfortable in English.”

Earlier in the conversation, we spoke about the idea of hauntology: A term coined by Derrida, described by Elif as the refusal and collapsing image of the future; not going to the future anymore, reliving the same kind of memories. Somehow, this part of the interview didn’t allow itself to be recorded. We try to remember it.

ESÖ: ““A building can be a ghost; an area can be a ghost, experience wise. It’s about this loop. This sort of circling back, which is also the circle of this parasitic being. It detaches, let’s a seed grow, again detaches, and it’s this repetitive behavior- but there’s no future, it’s just an endless loop.”

Tomasz recounts that Elif talked about diaspora, using the image of a parasitic plant looking for a host and dropping it’s seeds again. How that in a sense defies “registration”.

TS: “Elif’s words are quite hard to reconstruct. It’s very blurry in our memories, and it’s almost an archaeological work in itself. So it’s interesting that especially this sequence got evaporated. It can’t be an incident. The medium is the message, baby!”

Constructing a Mouse’s Skull @ SIGN – part 1
Luc Besson, Lucy, 2014 (still)

This also reminds me of ideas like the intergenerational, and the passing on of knowledge, like how seeds carry information. I ask Elif if she resonates with that.

ESÖ: “I guess automatically yes, without thinking about it. Like no matter what you do, you do leave information behind everywhere, with every move you make. With every breath, information is left behind. We leave behind our hairs, skins, mucus.”

It reminds her of a movie with Scarlett Johansson, Lucy. It talks about this character who reaches a 100% brain capacity, by using an advanced drug. This accelerates the body and she can suddenly travel through time- being in the past, present and future simultaneously.

ESÖ: “So it’s a little bit out there, but still the movie is incredibly linear, that’s the way that it goes. But then the end is that her body cannot handle it, so she transforms herself literally into a USB stick with all of her knowledge. All the answers to questions we would ever have, it’s all on this USB stick that was once this physical body and now it’s a data body.”

To be continued… tomorrow with part 2 about the actualisation