torna conversations #1
with Caitlin Franzmann

See 'Invisible Movements' exhibition here.



MERVE KAPTAN: Hi Caitlin. You are the first artist to work in torna for a long period of time to produce a set of works that are specially made for and inspired from the space.

CAITLIN FRANZMANN: It was wonderful to find such an intriguing space like torna. I could instantly understand why I was attracted. It exists in this underground hub of everyday activity - a little gem to be discovered by the curious wanderers.

MK: The sounds echoing through the passage and the pipes were constant reminders of the shared human presence in the building and streets. While the cafe owner reads the daily newspaper, a car horn blares at street level and someone showers in the apartment above. My initial eagerness to use technology to play with spatial perceptions was overthrown by the power and insistence of the actual sounds. Finding a way to bring attention to the sounds without interfering too much became more of an interesting challenge.

MK: Is the work monotonous?

CF: If by monotonous you mean dull and uneventful, then I’d imagine some would say yes. But there is also the potential to discover inner revelations and intricate details of the environment within slow moving moments.

MK: No. I didn’t mean that. What I was thinking of was how you describe your practice in general. In your artist's statement, you say that you 'encourage slowness' with your work . I really like this. Tell me what ‘slow’ is.

C: ‘Slow’ is lingering over a meal with friends or wandering without a destination. It is having a vegetable garden. ‘Slow’ is paying attention to the present moment.

MK: Does this pace relate to repetition?

CF: I guess it does. In the way that if I slow down I become more mindful of repetition in my life.

MK: What is the difference between a work being on a loop and a work using repetition? I just found this incredible quote by Gertrude Stein: ‘There is no such thing as repetition. Only insistence.’
To me, repetition in art feels more like a controlled order of things. You mean to repeat repeat and repeat. Whereas on loop it is more like saying ‘Now it is finished and the only way of recreating it is to loop it’.

CF: A loop is from the beginning to the end and starting from the beginning again, on the exact same path. Repetition, to me, also involves the beginning and end, but the path is never the same. Time doesn’t allow it. For example, the video work isolated is on a loop, however within the space it is repeating and never experienced in exactly the same way. I can repeat a word over and over and every time it will be spoken in a slightly different tone or speed. There seems to be effort required in repetition - sometimes from the repeater, sometimes the listener. Perhaps this is why Gertrude Stein speaks of insistence.

MK: What about flickering corridor lights? There is a sense of time and repetition in a light that is flickering. It is a weird feeling to watch it. It is quite meditative yet a little bit depressing. Probably experiencing repetition is the depressing thing. It is some sort of a reminder of failure of not being able to ‘achieve’ it in the first place...

CF: I also find the flickering light meditative. It is repetitive, but for me the imperfect rhythm creates this kind of fluctuation between consciousness and unconsciousness. I understand the sense of failure as depressing, but I also think that failure is sometimes necessary for understanding yourself and the world around you. Some would say repetition is futile, but I think it depends on what is being repeated…there is a difference between a child repeating the alphabet and an adult returning again and again to an unhealthy relationship.

MK: You have spoken a lot of time during your residency. What about time? How did you think of it for ‘Invisible Movements’?

CF: Time exists within every thing, being and moment and yet remains impossible to grasp. I have considered concepts of time, movement and rhythm a lot during my stay in Istanbul. Like in any city, time reveals itself through buildings, in construction and in people moving in transit or seated in a cafe. But it also exists in moments that are not so visible - in the beat of our hearts, the secret impacts of eye contact, and the feelings of togetherness that can exist in a street protest or at a dance party. ‘Invisible movements’ is an expression of my thoughts on, and experiences with, such moments.

MK: Tell me something from Einstein's Dreams, something that inspired you for this installation.

CF: “In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time. The first is as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The second squirms and wriggles like a bluefish in a bay. The first is unyielding, predetermined. The second makes up its mind as it goes along.”

MK: The drawings and the repetitive use of dots, as you call them 'black holes' , inside the newspaper you produced for the exhibition, look like a secret code. Would they look more familiar to me if i knew more about physics and time or are they more personal to you?

CF: They are my own personal speculations on time, which stem from established symbols for, and ideas of, time, movement and nothingness. What I hope is that the reader of this newspaper can enter their own musings on what they are. For example the tiny dots could be ants or they could be stars, the micro or cosmic.

MK: The video installation reminds me of some of the Spaghetti Western films, especially the beginning of Once Upon a Time in the West, how during the whole first 10 - 15 minutes of the film there is no dialogue. We listen and watch the silence, the wind, the faces of the men; men who are waiting, sitting and playing. Does this description make sense? Are we listening to Ali Bey's face in that tea room, listening to that blank screen when the image turns off and the light turns on?

CF: Your description makes a lot of sense to me. I often find myself drawn to films with little dialogue. Michael Haneke is a master at creating these scenes where little happens, but you get completely drawn into the moment to reflect on how the characters are feeling and how you are feeling at that point in time. Attention and imagination is stimulated. So yes, I like the idea of listening to Ali Bey’s face and imagining his thoughts as he ‘reads’ the black hole.

MK: Normally a static photograph is literally static. It is one image. But with video you include the time set by you, in which, if not followed by the viewer, can easily be the reason for 'missing' the whole work. Especially with such a work like yours.

We heard the comments at some of the viewings. When the screen went blank with the lights on, some people left the room thinking it was the end of the loop - is this our failure, the viewer's lack of knowledge in experiencing art or is it just part of that organic 'silence' the work produces? Perhaps that part of the work is supposed to be quite lonely, for people to leave it on its own when it happens?

CF: I try to allow for different ways to access my work. I hope that something can be taken from a short moment with it, but I do think that more time allows for the discovery of connections between components and a heightened awareness of the changes occurring within our own bodies as we move through the space. I like your idea of leaving a work alone. I just experienced James Turell’s permanent installation ‘within without’ at the National Gallery of Australia and it gives me great joy to think of the building itself revelling in the peace and beauty of the time caressing it’s walls.

MK: Why did you allow people to enter the room? You could lock the door, let people watch and experience everything from outside, which could also be very strong, Why is it important to be inside the room, sit on that stool and flick through the newspaper?

CF: The same reason that I focus on touch, sound and movement in my work. I enjoy the idea that entering in to a work and experiencing an intimacy with the space and objects can evoke emotions and thoughts that may not occur if viewed from a distance. I like to think of this in relation to architecture. I am much less impressed by phallic towers viewed on a city skyline than I am by entering into one of the hans in the historic streets of Istanbul.

MK: I really like how very unintentionally the video images sync with the sound installation. And how sometimes you don't hear it, and sometimes on the contrary, you hear it too much that it creates a block in front of the video. Do you ever listen to it?

CF: Listening suggests to me a more focused experience of sound than hearing. I try to create spaces that foster listening, as this is when those nice little synchronistic moments might be perceived.

MK: Inside the newspaper, you have a page with words: Revolve, Evolve, Resolve, Revolt. These words all start with re- , as if you need to come back to each one of them in order to finalise the process, or only in repetition will they be finalised. What do they mean to you?

CF: When writing these words I was reflecting on the idea of time being circular, but it was not possible for me to imagine this as absolute. Sure, there are cycles in nature, things are reborn and history repeats itself, but there are also moments of great change, revolutions and evolution. Time cannot be bound to such reductive concepts of circles and lines. This was something I was also contemplating when I came across the Islamic symbol for human presence – the three dimensional cross. I was fascinated by the notion of these three lines representing time, space and human spirituality but couldn’t stop questioning where chaos fit in to such ordered notions.

MK: Straight after the torna exhibition, you will reinstall the same work in a completely different location. You have a solo show in your home city Brisbane, in a very large white-walled space, quite opposite to torna. I have a slightly jealous feeling that it will look and feel really good at Metro. The viewers won't know how an Okey chip sounds like and have any familiarity to all the cultural indications that you couldn't escape from in the torna show. You will be able to use them as freely as you like in Brisbane. The visitors will not 'recognise' these elements so they will be more open to absorb the whole work. Is this quite pessimistic of me?

CF: I have the complete opposite feeling. I feel like the work belongs in torna and fear that transporting it to a gallery space across the globe may sterilise the elements. I can only hope that by giving the work a new life it can evolve into a space in which invisible movements of thought, emotion and feeling can flourish.

MK: Thanks Caitlin.

see more on 'Invisible Movements' here