Interview with Pari Ehsan on 'Just Breathe'

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Leyla Fakhr: Pari, we are excited about your exhibition Just Breathe on Verse. Could you tell us about your curatorial approach?

Pari Ehsan: I’ve been thinking a lot about this pivotal point where there's all this talk about virtuality. But still, the technology isn't quite there yet to onboard us into the metaverse. So we're in an in-between period. And I think it's more vital now than ever to engage with artists who are changing the way we see the world around us. That is something that these artists, Jason, Geoffrey and Alicia, have done for me or how I see their work. It is so idiosyncratic to the way they see the world around them. They've all been using technology as a tool in their practice and also incorporate human elements within their work, whether that's through words as in Alicia’s work, or for Geoffrey, the characters and the worlds he creates have kind of that tension in between, strength and fragility. For Jason, on the other hand,  it's almost like he uses technology as another limb - as an extension to orchestrate these performances that he makes objects perform. So that's kind of where I started. And I'm excited to have these artists gathered in one space.

Leyla Fakhr: Geoffrey, can you tell us a little more about your work? Because you describe it as docu-fiction? Can you tell me what that means?

Geoffrey Pugen: Well, my practice started long ago, when I was using Photoshop and video to portray these fictional worlds. But I would create them by documenting reality and then altering them through the digital realm. So in the video, I would use documentary techniques to create a story, like interviewing people, improvising and then changing the meaning or re-contextualizing what they're saying in the edit. I would do this to create a kind of future and a utopian world. In the photos, I would do very similar things where I would add or take away from work using Photoshop or different programmes, which would alter the meaning. However, it would always start with a place in reality or a subject in history that was based in fact, but that would then slowly be fictionalised through the creative process.

Artwork by Geoffrey Pugen
Geoffrey Pugen Mantis Monstera, 2022

Leyla Fakhr: How does the NFT that you are exhibiting on Verse relate to your previous work?

Geoffrey Pugen: Well, it's interesting because during the pandemic, I was able to go back to school, and I've always wanted to upgrade my skills. And take it to the next level by learning 3d programmes like Maya and Nuke. I was able to integrate that into the new work. I’ve always been interested in the praying mantis and how it's such an elusive creature and how it's very transformative and goes through seven stages. The way it encounters the natural world is exciting. I created this kind of character through these programmes in this digital realm. And then that's what I think makes the work interesting is that, through that process, I was able to integrate different concepts into the colouring of the 3d model. Like, for example, weather maps.

For my last exhibition, I was very interested in predicting the future and what that looks like based on human understanding or the human obsession with trying to predict the weather, for example, or to predict anything, whether that is the stock exchange or anything as a means to prepare to what for what's to come. I think that's a natural thing, and it's inherent in all creatures, not only in humans, and I think it's very present in a mantis. And so, this project combines those worlds, where the Mantis’ wing is based on a weather map. So the Mantis is predicting the future as a metaphor.

Leyla Fakhr: How about you, Jason? How do you feel about the element of the future related to your work?

Jason Gringler: Well, it's, it's interesting because I tend to have very nihilistic tendencies in terms of how I think about the world, and also operating in a very human way, where I see what's happening around me in on a macro scale, and it's very dystopian to me. So actually, my art practice is pretty reflective of the world around me. I'm also creating more of a microcosm where the work is developing more about my human labour. And as opposed to a virtual space. I'm looking more and more inwards rather than outwards, so the production is, or maybe it always has been. But it's about what I do in the studio, the utilitarian nature of the activity, so metalworking, working with glass working with photography. And as I succeed and fail with different bodies of work, I turn further inwards. And I use those successes and failures to creating a stepping stone for future bodies of work. And so, in a way, I'm creating something much more insular with my work going forward. Even though I'm a big fan of technology and very up-to-date, in terms of what's going on, technologically speaking, or as much as I have time for my work tend to deviate from a macro outlook and it becomes more inward or micro as time goes on.

Picture of Jason Gringler artwork

Leyla Fakhr:  Can you tell us about your NFT included in Pari’s exhibition? We were fortunate to have your work in the launching show and now have a second and third piece in this exhibition. Could you tell us about the works?

Jason Gringler: The NFTs come from the same series of video works from 2016. And in a sense, the pieces are kind of anti-technology. And it's pretty much the opposite of Geoffrey’s work because, at the time, I was using the rudimentary tools I had available in the studio. I must have been using an iPhone five, maybe. And at the time, you couldn't edit videos on the iPhones, so I would download cheap apps that cost $1 to do the editing for me. So each time I uploaded my video to one of these apps, the quality would decrease, so it almost has a vintage aesthetic.  This makes sense because, predominantly, the videos were made from leftover materials like waste materials sitting in the studio. I found it interesting that I had all this waste material, and I needed to find a way to dispose of it, so I started producing these videos to dispose of the waste material and use it.

Sometimes in your life as an artist, you come up against the limits of your creativity. And, you know, I spent most days in my studio, and there are times when I don't have any interest in my own work. And sometimes I become very inventive when I have those days. And those videos were also at a time when the work I was producing wasn't inspiring for me, and I needed to change things. And the videos, of course, became another body of work, although it wasn't intentional at the time. I derive much information from those videos because I use video stills for photographs. Those photographs become collage elements in larger glass paintings and things of that nature.

Leyla Fakhr: Yeah, but that's interesting, in a way similar to Geoffrey, where the playful aspect within your work then suddenly creates a new body of work. I think it is an essential aspect because I believe in the NFT realm, some works aren’t great because the artists haven’t had enough time to play with the art or have given it enough space to breathe. It seems so much is created at pace and is instantly presented online, which doesn’t always work to their advantage. What do you think about that?

Jason Gringler: Yes, it’s so funny how the tech caught up, in the sense where there was never the right opportunity to exhibit these videos. And now, the technology is presented on the blockchain, where we can have a permanent exhibition space as an NFT; it's fascinating. And it was just a matter of leaving them on my hard drive until the tech caught up with the proper exhibition venue.

Leyla Fakhr: Pari, can you tell us more about Alicia’s work, which is also included in your exhibition?

Pari Ehsan: I came to know Alicia’s work through this treatise she wrote called Wings of Encouragement, which are the words on the paper and what's been read in the video. She always prints them on these very vibrantly coloured pieces of paper. And when I read it, I thought it was mighty. So essentially, she wrote these Wings of Encouragement pieces to connect with people in her community. And then, she used the camera to document them reading the letters as a way to connect them to the divine.

Alicia Mersy Wings of encouragement, 2021
Image of Alicia Mersy Wings artwork

Leyla Fakhr: When you say her communities, where are those for her?

Pari Ehsan: Well, she's filmed people reading the Wings of Encouragement worldwide. I know she did some in Palestine, but she lives in Brooklyn. So she'll give them to people around her neighbourhood to read them, and then she'll document them. But there's something extraordinary about it and how she's empowering the individual and the community through her work, which is what her practice is all about.

I think it's about creating these moments of symbiosis between technology and human beings. Within that, so many other exciting qualities bubble up to the surface.

Leyla Fakhr: Yeah. And is it for her the first time creating an NFT too, and how does she feel about being exhibited on an NFT platform?

Pari Ehsan: Again, she's been using technology and these different programmes for a long time. That's how I see my role in this space, to onboard artists that have been using technology but have yet to engage with NFTs.

This interview is an excerpt of the Verse Talks podcast

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Pari Ehsan

Pari Ehsan is the creative director behind Pari Dust, a digital platform for art and fashion. Pari Dust explores new ways to combine the elements of our visual world, offering windows into contemporary art, fashion, and the built environment through a unique lens. In an ever-evolving space, Pari seizes opportunities to engage in conversation with influential minds; and to collaborate with artists, brands, fairs, galleries, museums and retailers who share her vision. After earning a degree in architecture she was nominated by The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) for its inaugural Fashion Instagrammer of the Year. Ehsan has worked with MoMA, The New Museum, Tate Modern and brands including Chanel, Cartier, Dior amongst others. Pari embodies the nexus between art and fashion and her stories and fashion shoots offer insight into the most creative and compelling movements in both fields. She celebrates the interactions and influence of art, design, and commerce, and how they merge to define our contemporary moment.

Geoffrey Pugen

Geoffrey Pugen is an artist experimenting at the intersection of technology and nature through video, photo and installation. Thematically, Pugen contemplates speculative futures, transhumanism, the impact of nature on society and conflicts between the virtual and the real. His most recent sculptural work integrates video screen technology into architectural forms, creating spatially-synced multi-screen installations. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Museum of Moving Image in New York, WRO Biennial in Poland,  Bienal De La Imagen En Movimiento, Buenos Aires,  Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Germany, Rotterdam Film Festival.  He is a recipient of the K.M Hunter Award for Interdisciplinary Art.

Jason Gringler

Jason Gringler was born in Toronto,Canada and spent a decade living andworking in New York. He located to Berlin in September 2017. His work has been exhibited internationally including in exhibitions at König Galerie (Berlin) Steve Turner (Los Angeles), Brand New Gallery (Milan), Parisian Laundry(Montreal), Galerie Stefan Röpke (Cologne) and Ashes/Ashes (New York).

Leyla Fakhr

Leyla Fakhr is Head of Programming at Verse. After working at the Tate for 8 years, she worked as an independent curator and producer across various projects internationally. During her time at Tate she was part of the acquisition team and worked on a number of collection displays including John Akomfrah, ‘The Unfinished Conversation’ and ‘Migrations, Journeys into British Art’.

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