Susanna Hill: As I understand it in your work the act of producing the artwork is part of the artwork itself, how do you see this as part of the final piece? And is it important to you that those experiencing the work register that labour?
Evangelia Spiliopoulou: Yes, it is true that my work, especially the latest drawings, is the visual manifestation of the physical and mental labour invested in it. It is a study of the physical and mental processes which contribute to the formation of a picture and a study of the borderline between the physical and the metaphysical which goes beyond (Greek μετά/meta) the limits of physical abilities. Labour is one word to describe intensive work. But I would feel more comfortable to use the word rigour which evokes a conscious process. Labour, nowadays, is something of a fetish word. Intensive work is understood as a necessity to reach an aim. But we all know that there is no necessary connection between hard work and rewarding ends. So in working environments as observed during the Industrial Revolution by Engels, labour was becoming more and more unrelated to the result or aim for an improved life and I get shivers when I realise that this is still the case for most of the population in the so called ‘developed world’. The ethos of physical labour has given us an alienated working class, the ethos of mental labour has given us book-eaters who are unable to connect knowledge to a conscious inner development and even for a technocrat the ethos of labour is only an excuse to compensate for the hard work by luxurious forms of leisure. So, regarding the concept of labour, I rather suggest a speculation on the term and a more conscious approach to the processes that could replace it.
SH: Your work considers how the ideas of ‘desire and struggle’ combine in the work of the artist; how do these factors play out in your own personal practice.
ES: ‘Desire’ and ‘struggle’ are words loaded with a heavy significance in our culture. One suggests an ideal, a goal beyond our immediate reach, the other evokes the intensive efforts needed to reach that goal. The combination of these two suggests a purpose-oriented process which generates polarity but decreases the chances of exploration. In my view the concepts of a wish and aim are characteristic of our times and the consumption driven culture. To me, desire and struggle can only become integral in the working process when they raise questions about working habits rather than becoming the motivation for work.
ES: The exhibition is pretty much a curatorial operation of Sophia Crilly and Mark Kennard and their remarkable way of perceiving art. I believe that the connections and contrasts that they find between Assunta’s work and mine are informed by both their own artistic integrity and their curatorial experience.
SH: Where do your ideas tend to grow from?
ES: My ideas come from experiencing everyday life and some reading that I do when I can find the time. In reading I find the intellectual support for my concerns and anxieties. I would say that my aesthetics is influenced by everything that I encounter in everyday life. I am just a bit more sensitive when I identify pairs of contradiction or coincidences in phenomenally homogenic settings. It is a critical ability that I have gained through my journey so far and my studies in Art are part of it.
My academic training was in painting and I enjoy looking at paintings and being able to read through the pigments, brushstrokes and composition. I appreciate particularly the painters of the Italian Renaissance and what followed in Holland, Belgium and Germany. I somehow believe that the existential issues which were posed then have not been resolved yet and I also appreciate the contemporary painters who still carry on in this tradition. But I would like to think that my work is influenced less by other artistic practices than by the manifestations of life’s variations.
SH: And finally, might you be able to tell me a little about the project you are working on at the moment, and how your ideas are currently developing?
ES:I usually don’t work on projects. I have been making drawings almost non-stop since I was five years old. It is a life-long preoccupation for me, almost a natural process. It can take years of focusing on one concept until I move on, as it happened with the Office Drawings series. I never conclude. It just stops for some time when I have nothing more to say or do about it. This is not a lack of commitment. I guess it is the opposite: an open commitment to the process of creation. It has to develop with me and change with me.
Currently, I am having some time off the urban life in a community in Portugal whose very clear political vision sharpens my long term perceptions and my ways of acting on them in many areas of life. It is incredible how much people can create when their purposes come from the inside rather than being dictated by external needs. So, if you want, this is a ‘project’ for me for the years to come: to assimilate the qualities of intimate and caring life of a small community in the urban environment and the artistic community. It is difficult because our environments and life styles are diverse. But art is everywhere. If you are sensitive enough, you identify its presence and its various manifestations. So, I think that working on projects, with all the connotations of advance planning, is not really the way to develop knowledge and practice but the way may be in the conscious living and a harmonious coexistence with people who share beliefs and ethics similar to ours.
On Physical Work is on display at Bureau Gallery until the 29th October 2013.
Susanna Hill is a writer and PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, considering the collecting of Outsider Art in the UK. She is also working part time at Manchester Art Gallery.