Wysing Arts Centre Fox Road, Bourn, Cambridge, CB23 2TX

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Artist Interview: Florian Roithmayr
Wysing Arts Centre Residency Programme 2013: Convention T
Interview by Beth Bramich

Over the last five years Wysing Arts Centre has experimented with different programmatic structures in order to support artists to make new work. During 2013 they will be further exploring how structures, some visible and others implied, might be used to uncover meaning, narrative, paradox or indeed certainty through their prestigious residency programme. This year there will be two sets of residents, the first group is made up of Anna Barham, David Osbaldeston, Charlotte Prodger and Florian Roithmayr. The programme title, ‘Convention T’, refers to logician, mathematician and philosopher Alfred Tarski (1901-1983) who applied logic to sentence structure in order to make the truth visible through language. Tarski created a structure, a meta-language, that could be applied to real, everyday, language in order to generate true statements, known as T sentences - ‘A and B’ is true if and only if A is true and B is true translates as Snow is white if and only if snow is white.

The first of two interviews with this year’s artists-in-residence is with Florian Roithmayr, who was born in Germany and now lives and works in London. His previous work has involved the presentation of hand-crafted, sculpted and cast homages to the production of objects ranging from the wall tiles in a German subway station to the cave paintings of prehistoric man, and often refers to patterns of withdrawal, disinterest or internal retreat.

BB: You took part in a retreat at Wysing last year: why did you apply and what happened while you were there’

FR: The theme of the retreat was notions of the self and how this might inform or be used to challenge different kinds of practices. At that point I was looking at cognitive behavioral therapy and using its strategies in my studio practice to challenge the choices I am comfortable making. I don’t apply for a lot of things because it takes a lot of time and I don’t want to write tentatively, but this one took me maybe ten minutes because it just made so much sense. Also I was invited to apply, which made it easy to formulate a proposal. At the retreat I experienced something very intense. When talking about the self in ways that lean towards psychiatry, inevitably you ask fundamental questions, which you need to be comfortable with each other to do. As a group we would finish the programme each day and another kind of work would take place between us. We really bonded through these extra-curricular activities.

Following the retreat there was a group show, ‘Solid on our Source Planet’ in Wysing’s Gallery. Could you explain how one led to the other’

I’m studio-based and I work things out through materials, so after the retreat I felt that I needed to start making. Four days is not long enough for a theoretical engagement but it definitely allowed us to achieve something. We left saying that we had to come back in three weeks when there was an open weekend, which we hi-jacked a little bit to bury a clay sculpture that we had made. But this was also so that we could reminisce about the retreat and ask about its future. Wysing were very generous in facilitating this discussion and invited us to make an exhibition. All of us brought work but also things that facilitate or kick-start it. We were not just making a presentation for an audience but also something for ourselves.

Having returned for the residency are the ideas developed through the retreat still informing your thinking’

For me it follows, it doesn’t always happen that people who take part in the retreats then apply for the residencies but I saw it as a logical development. The notion of the tangent came up quite often on the retreat and I was wary of this because it’s a good starting point but it is a bit inconsequential as well. A tangent is where a circle and a line meet in a single point, and I think you should walk the line and actually leave the point entirely. It seemed for me that to apply for this residency was to keep walking that line.

What does ‘Convention T’ and its connection to the logician, mathematician and philosopher Alfred Tarski mean to you’

We have been reading parts of Tarski’s biography as a group and we are really lucky that Anna Barham is here because she studied maths and was able to explain things like algorithms and systems. I still don’t understand the theory but what’s interesting is the meta-language he used. It comes back to this question of knowledge, particularly the sort that is very clear for you but you can’t necessarily explain in full. Maybe Tarski would have called it a paradox in truth. I would line Tarski, who was Polish, next to Michael Polanyi who was from Hungary. Polanyi was a chemist rather than a mathematician but they were both part of one specific scientific discipline and out of this asked bigger questions about life, with Polyani about knowledge and exchange.

At the start of your residency there was a day-long public event that you participated in. What did you present’

I presented a fugue, which is a type of musical composition. If you take a theme, ‘row, row, row your boat’ for example, it is repeated in a canon, but in a fugue there are lots of different formal variations: it could be reversed by one voice so you sing against each other, or it could be slowed down so it takes twice as long. There are almost recipe books about how to compose fugues and there are masters like Bach who composed many. I was interested in this very rigorous composing as a way to structure themes in my own work. I don’t write music but it is a bridge to help me think about ideas.

How would you compare your time at Wysing with your experience of other residencies’

It is almost not comparable because the support here is incredible. The amount of feedback and attention - it’s absolute luxury. I particularly like different times of the day here. I come here to the reception in the late afternoon to read and then go back to the studio. I don’t experience it as incredibly rural or remote, more as multifaceted. I don’t work in so many different spaces in London, at home and studio, whereas here there are spaces in between.

What has this residency allowed you to do that you would not normally have been able to’

As I said, I am normally studio-based so I wanted to not make something while I was here. It came out of the questions that emerged when applying to the retreat about how production and knowledge might relate and inform each other. To go underneath production, or the knowledge that comes out of production, I needed to stop processes that I would normally engage in and instead create the groundwork for something new, a new chapter maybe. I started to look at how another person’s expertise can be shared or transmitted through the relationship between master and apprentice, or teacher and student. I worked with a car wrapper and that became the focus of my time here, participating in his production.

And this is how your new work ‘Arrest’ for which you have customised Wysing’s Renault Kangoo came about’

I wouldn’t say that this is an outcome of my time here; it is called ‘Arrest’ because it’s a stoppage. It is almost like this moment and this period of Wysing has arrested into the wrapped Kangoo, which will stay here without me, but my participating in someone else’s production is not over and has no clear outcome. I also made a video of the process and this is the first time I have made a video. I’ve not started editing because this does not need to happen so quickly. This is the part that has not stopped yet, has not become a result as such.

Do you think the residency will lead to an exhibition as with last year’s residencies’

I think it is to do with the nature of this year’s theme; the questions we have been considering are not aimed at specific material outcomes, or finished products, they’re more tacit or tentative, so it doesn’t feel so necessary to realise this in something as concrete as an exhibition.

To finish off your residency you will be taking part in an ‘alternative’ round-table discussion with the other artists-in-residence, in which there will be an element of random ordering to the presentations. What will you show’

I’m not sure actually. It’s not a question of the material but more that it does not have a format yet as a picture or a piece of text. It is to do with whether I want to narrow it down and how I would do this. There is a tendency to look for connections and to establish a great narrative but I see it more as oblique angles, which can jar with each other and maybe end up in a failure rather than a resolution. In Tarski’s biography there are interludes where it moves from his life to his theories. Reading this together has led to what we are planning for the final event, where we will be exchanging what we have been looking at here as almost a polyphony. I still don’t know what the others will show but we are mixing it up, for ourselves as much as for the audience.

So does your research and your relationship with Wysing continue beyond this residency’

I don’t feel at all that something is coming to an end. I would love to keep working here. But I also think this is how Wysing is understood, that this is something long-term, not a moment in time but a continuation, the opposite of an arrest or a stoppage.

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