Above: The Erratics (wrest #11), C-type © Darren Harvey-Regan
Today I’d like to share a very special interview, one of those treasured spaces where two artists speak about photography from shared experience.
Darren Harvey-Regan is a London-based artist whose work has been featured in a number of international exhibitions and publications and is held in the permanent photography collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. After solo exhibitions in Pisa, Amsterdam, London and Exeter in the past several years, his most recent exhibition The Erratics was presented at Copperfield Gallery, London this past winter (2015 – 2016) and is presently part of the MAC International exhibition in Belfast.
The Erratics contained photographic and sculptural work engaged in a compelling discussion between form and abstraction. In geology, an ‘erratic’ refers to a rock that differs from its native environment, having been carried and deposited there by a long-vanished glacier.
Naomi Itami is a cross-disciplinary artist working in mixed media and sound. She was formerly an international opera singer and holds several masters degrees including one from the LCC in Photography. She writes on the arts and is a frequent contributor to various publications and monographs. Below, Itami interviewed Harvey-Regan to find out more about the background to the works and text in The Erratics, after discovering she had also been to and photographed the same desert in Egypt that appeared in the exhibition.
NI: I understand that this body of work originated in the White Desert of Egypt. When I went there the landscape struck me as lunar— with obvious themes of erosion, obsolescence, and emptiness. It occurs to me that these adjectives speak as much of the inner workings of the mind and heart as they do of the outer world of geology and matter. Can you tell us how you came to travel there, and whether you sought out this unique remote landscape for the purposes of creatingThe Erratics?
DHR: I sought it out to make work, though I didn’t know what work I was making when I first found it! Finding an image of the desert online to arriving there with a camera all happened within a matter of weeks, and I remember wandering alone through these vast chalk forms at night, this near-mythic landscape so at odds with life in London, feeling overwhelmed I was actually there. I was thinking then about tipping points – the fragile choices and occurrences that can pass unnoticed yet at some point cause an idea to become a reality – I remember trying to trace the lineage of those that had led me to that point in the desert and they vary, from conceptual to personal to practical; it all becomes about which narrative I choose to tell as to which become prioritised, since different phrasings suit different contexts.
My exhibition statement follows the more conceptual line in considering abstraction as a form, intention and process, but it’s interesting you talk about the mind and heart in relation to the work since there is a more internal, personal narrative implied there, one I’m exploring through writing as a part of an upcoming bookwork. It focusses more on the elements an exhibition can’t encompass so well, a reflection on the doubts and drives of my own creative process and a need to disrupt a deadlock I found within my studio-bound practice at the time.
NI: Those giant, abstract chalk formations were formed over eons. When compared to the click of the shutter, does it make time itself an abstraction? Were notions of time integral to this project, and if so, in what way?
DHR: Photography naturally speaks very clearly about time – something I’ve tried to cloud in the past by showing photographs alongside the exact objects they depict. While that considers the interplay around the translation of object to image – a photographic object being located at an intriguing point of overlap between the two –The Erratics does attempt to reach wider, bringing the flattening of that forth dimension into the picture, using subjects and process that literally and poetically speak about time: as surfaces stilling time I see rocks themselves as a type of image, and my own incremental carving of collected chalk with razorblades is like a gestural re-enactment of the erosion that so slowly shaped those formations photographed in the desert.
Rosalind Krauss writes about the idea that perspective is the visual correlative of time, that one thing follows another in space. A lot of the studio photography in this work makes use of forced perspective – a type of rephrasing of physical relationships. I like the idea that this has an echo of re-presenting things in their relationship to time. The more I write around the work – drawing on my memory of the desert and the process of carving chalk while using the photographs I’ve made as things to think with – the more prominent a theme time becomes.
NI: In your practise the interplay between photography and sculpture (or objects) seems to be fluid, with each medium commenting on and complementing the other. I wondered if you could tell us which comes first: photography or sculpture?
DHR: I have a longer relationship with photography and to that extent it feels like my native language, other disciplines become like learnt secondary languages always translated – internally at least – through my mother tongue. That means I approach sculpture from the perspective of the photographic, but not necessarily that the photographic precedes the sculptural in a work.
NI: I noticed at Copperfield that the sculptures on plinths, as well as the framed b/w prints, were quite formal in their presentation. The sculptures’ relationships to the plinths also suggested a melding of sorts, with the angles and planes of both often in alignment. Could you talk about this decision and its origins?
DHR: There was certainly an intention to present the work under the guise of tradition – photographs as framed objects and sculptures on plinths – since essentially I feel the thinking and process involved in making the work are where its ambiguities exist, and I thought a more neutral presentation allowed a quieter work to not become eclipsed though a louder, heavier styling. So there are very defined formal choices that set the work and their presentation into an ordered system, but one I think the work’s subjects and slowly shifting reading begin to undermine and erode.
NI: The connection between the monoliths you photographed in Egypt and the sculptures you created out of chalk from the south coast of England points to a slippery slope in terms of perception and experience. Was the act of physically carving flat planes into the rough chalk pushing sculpture toward the flatness of the photographic image? Was it your intention to forge a kind of truce or sympathy between the body and the mind?
DHR: For the studio photographs the raw material of the chalk was being physically shaped towards the image plane it would become – like some kind of preparatory ritual for its own visualisation. And the physical sculptures in the show – largely different to those within the images – enacted a type of reversal to this, where surface and shape were pulled out of the idea or appearance of two dimensions and mapped into or onto three. So while their physical presence as framed photographs and sculptures is unavoidable, they both certainly address perception – or the mind – directly.
However, the process of their making is very physical – my entire studio being covered in chalk dust for months on end with me white and messy, leaving cloud-like traces everywhere I went! I would never be entirely comfortable with the impassivity of photography as a technical medium without also being able to touch and mould and mark, without something in my process being immediately gestural.
I think at a personal level this work has been about trying to integrate the tendencies I feel that pull in different directions, types of creative fulfilment such as embracing natural beauty alongside a desire to strip it all away in preference for abstracted line and form; working in both the mess of real matter and the purity of the flawless surface; allowing narratives based in my experience and feelings to entwine with those guided by ideas and by medium.
It’s been a very slowly evolving work for me and one I feel very close to.
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