Q&A : Dagmara Genda

Q)  Can you please briefly touch upon your practice as it relates to your consciousness? How has it been altered and shaped through the evolution of your artistic practice?

For me, making art is about how we make sense of the world. Where do we draw lines between things? How do we organize and identify things? Boundaries are exceptionally arbitrary and we usually take them for granted until something radically redraws our sense of place.

Through my own work, I think I’ve always just tried to reorganize reality into something else, something I didn’t see before. I first started doing that by tracing strokes of paint with brush and ink. Within these gestural marks I was drawing out figures, limbs, waves, explosions—whatever I could see. It helped me devise new ways of making marks and seeing things. But that quickly became habit too. I got used to drawing lines in a certain way. So I tried to figure out ways of mixing things up again. I ended up turning to collage. When I cut out all the snow from a book on the arctic, I made a vocabulary of shapes that was somehow related to the paint I was tracing before. These abstract blue-white shapes, by virtue of being cut out, were also traces. But traces of what? Snow? Landscape? Photography? Together, they constituted their own language. I was interested in using this other vocabulary to make new images.

Q) Within your works, the binary between organic and inorganic is present. How does this relationship operate vis-a-vis and within your understanding of society?

Dichotomies interest me. They are reductive and largely arbitrary. Structure vs chaos, natural vs artificial, art vs design, us vs them. Again, it’s about where we draw lines, and where we position ourselves within them. I think those questions are far more fundamental than politics or culture though they are most obviously manifested in politics and culture. Just look at our highly polarized political environment right now. Everything is oversimplified and reactionary. But these questions are ultimately far more fundamental. I think they have to do with perception, with how we think, and even with sensation. The ancient Greeks had no word for the colour blue because the pigment was not yet developed. Homer described the sea as being the colour of wine. That might seem like a pretty benign example but it makes me wonder what is around us, obviously in front of us, that we simply do not see because we haven’t been able to delineate it. And conversely, what do we see that is not there simply because we have chosen to shape the world in a particular way? Perhaps they are one and the same thing.

Q)  How does the idea of “representation” play into your works?

I don’t like to think I’m representing anything though I think all images exist within a complex web of signs. Nor do I think I’m discovering imagery or the inner workings of my own consciousness. I think all these structures are frail and contingent. They are dependent on each other to make any sense at all.

I would never say I’m free from representation though. Whatever I make ends up looking like something else, drawing meaning from somewhere else. Even for those who work in pure abstraction may be caught in the trap of representing forms that have already been canonized through Modernism. And then the Modernists saw themselves as reducing all visuality to some sort of preceding or transcendent essential truth. Kazimir Malevich thought he was making visible what was already present in all the old art of the masters. Abstract expressionists thought they were representing radical interiority, or perhaps exhibiting evidence of it. Minimalists wanted to reduce the art object to nothing more than just an object—so no expression, no artist’s hand, no recognizable imagery. Yet what this lack looked like took a certain form as well and I think that came from representations of logic and analytical thought. Minimalism is still seen as a very intellectual movement and Modernism seems defined by the figure of the square. Anyway, I don’t think you can get away from representation but I don’t think I’m representing anything in particular. To that end, I hope to make people look at the world and see that it represents nothing in particular too.

Q)  A lot of your works involve the process of repetition or and layering. How does your process affect your overall practice and final artwork?

I think my process has so much layering and repetition because I just can’t get things right. I wish I could effortlessly make an airy composition that feels fresh, immediate, and urgent. Instead everything piles, layers, obscures and contradicts. I feel like there is an obsessive quality to it, an attention to detail at the cost of the whole. But hopefully, that might draw the viewer in and let them get lost in that detail as well. Maybe the big picture will just fall apart around us. One can only hope.

Q)  What are some projects in the future that you are working towards?

I want to go back to working with paint. But I want to do it in a way where the ground on which it’s being applied takes just as active a part in the work. I don’t want the drawing to sit on a page that purports to be a neutral ground. I want to paper to be a mark as well. I’m still figuring that out.

01 02

1-2: Screamers and Bangers : the wallpaper project (2008), Walter Phillip Gallery, adhesive vinyl in 24×24 built room.

03 04

3-4: Beating the Bush (2015), Dunlop Art Gallery (Sherwood Branch), installation