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Interview:

by Daria Tuminas

28 August 2017

Daria Tuminas: Where does the collective’s name Radical Reversibility come from?

Sjoerd van Oevelen: It’s a term art historian Yve-Alain Bois coined about El Lissitzky – the famous avant-garde artist from the Soviet Union – in a 1988 issue of Art in America. According to Bois, ‘radical reversibility’ was a characteristic of many of El Lissitzky’s works, as they presented multiple perspectives in an image. These multiple perspectives were not interesting per se. What was interesting was the effect they created, namely the viewer’s feeling of movement between them. The never-ending switching or reversing of perspectives is what connects our current research.

DT: Radical Reversibility aims to reverse the paradigms of contemporary Western visual culture. What defines this culture for you?

Elodie Hiryczuk: Primarily, linear perspective. Today, images are mostly lens-based. People see the world through a camera and forget there are other possibilities for producing images, which don’t follow the logic of linear perspective. Radical Reversibility is still interested in using lens-based media but in a manner that questions the homogeneous space these media normally create. We would like to introduce other ways of looking.

Martine Stig: Linear perspective is related to the dominance of the anthropocentric view on the world. In Western culture, the human being has long been the measure of everything; therefore, the dominant visual perspective was at eye-level. With the advent of new technologies, Google Earth or drones, for example, we are getting used to views from high vantage points or to multiple perspectives. The ‘eyes’ are not connected to a human body any longer, and this needs to be addressed.

El Lissitzky, Proun P23 No. 6 (1919)

DT: The concepts of top-down perspective and multiple perspectives also existed in the Medieval Period, so they are not necessarily tied to new technologies, are they?

Frank van der Stok: Yes, that's true; these concepts can be seen from a trans-historical perspective. The trans-historical idea is very important. We recognise that people from different disciplines and different times have been investigating the same phenomena in which we are also interested. We are, in a way, radical not to have a linear or causal approach to history. We prefer to present remarkable interrelations that are overlooked or undiscovered. For example, our first presentation featured a large reproduction of a multiple exposure image called In the Studio (1923) by El Lissitzky. The reason we included him in the presentation as a like-minded artist and alongside contemporary works is because he was a pioneer of letting go of gravity and the monocular way of looking.

EH: I was once visiting a temple in Japan. People there don’t say that the building was built in 1500; they say this temple is 517 years old. That presupposes an idea that something is lasting in time and is not enclosed in the past. We propose to see the work of, for example, El Lissitzky, as lasting as well. It still has an impact. We want to build on ideas and things, not to replace them. Thus, we also refer to past concepts from art movements, science, and philosophy.

El Lissitzky, In the Studio (1923)

DT: What non-Western notions of the image have you applied to your works?

EH: We discovered the Japanese concept of Ma. There is no English equivalent for this word. It is best described as the space between things: in-betweenness. You can find it in almost every aspect of Japanese culture. In flower arrangements, the space between the flowers is of equal importance to the flowers. We try to find Ma in an image.

SvO: Untitled (1940) by the Japanese photographer Shoji Ueda is an example of Ma in a photograph. It shows a man on the left and a woman on the right. If you look carefully, you can see sand in the middle. The human subjects are located on opposite sides, forcing you either to look at the right or left figure. Gradually, you start to feel that the middle ground, this in-betweenness, is the main subject. We also introduce the concept of Ma in our works.

Shoji Ueda, Untitled (1940)

MS: Trying to find alternatives for linear perspective, I studied Orthodox icons and their use of ‘reverse perspective’. What used to be seen as a deficiency might reflect a current worldview: it places God at the centre rather than the subject. I also looked into Arabic ways of depicting reality. What the Western viewer might consider to be geometric patterns also represent a particular worldview. They depict the world but not in a mimetic way. I don’t openly refer to this research in my works, but it greatly determines my ideas.

DT: Are non-Western cultures simply using alternative conventions?

EH: Yes, of course, but we need to be aware of the fact that Chinese and Japanese people, for example, have studied the Western way of looking and even adopted it on a grand scale. At the same time, in the West, we don’t know much about their ways of looking and how different they are to ours. It’s important to get inspiration from other cultures. The future is also there, not only here.

Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain

FvdS: At its core, our collective is interested in finding non-anthropocentric viewing models, where human measurements and viewpoints are no longer the universal points of reference.

DT: Could you talk about your individual projects under the umbrella of Radical Reversibility?

MS: I am busy with an artistic research project called Vertigo, which is being carried out under the lectorate of AKV/ St Joost, Breda. I am researching the influence of new technologies on our perception of space and our representation of space through film and photography. Let’s take the satellite view as an example. Since the introduction of Google Earth and consumer drones, we are very used to it, but can we also see it apart from its usual context? In my film