Traces – In conversation with Joshua Zielinski

 © Joshua Zielinski
© Joshua Zielinski

Your new solo exhibition Traces opened last Friday at Pavillon am Milchhof, in Berlin. Could you tell me something about it, the story behind the exhibition?

Over the last year I’ve been working with found materials and combining them with my own images. I am interested in making works with an incoherent or at least not a clearly evident past, to open a space for possible narratives and to allow viewers to construct their own narrative conclusions and meanings. For me my works are an investigation of the relationship between an image’s material, its history and how it communicates.

I met you this summer when you were in residency in Paris, at Cité Internationale des Arts. Originally you come from Michigan, and currently you live and work in Berlin. How does this vagabond lifestyle affect your work as an artist: do you experience sometimes difficulties when starting again in a new context, or is it something necessary for your creative process? How do you conceive the notion of traces and (re)beginnings when working?

I think that it is necessary for an artist today to be mobile. Not only to meet other artists and gain experiences and but also to learn from others and exchange ideas. At times it can be quite challenging starting out in a new place, having new problems with a language and meeting new people. It is however just as rewarding when you meet others who are interested in what you are doing and can exchange ideas. It can be difficult and sometimes exhausting, but it is definitely a positive experience for my creative process and for me very inspirational. I hadn’t thought of it before but these works are related recent experiences and to my own re-beginnings. Moving from one place to another one brings their previous experiences. There is never a total break from the past, in a way it is present and it influences the future. I think that this notion of starting again with the traces of the past has influenced my work.

 © Joshua Zielinski
© Joshua Zielinski

You work a lot with found materials, questioning the perceptions on history and its representation. I imagine that this is something that enables you to form new narratives: what do reality and fiction mean to you?

You are right, found materials give me inspiration to form new narratives. I use them in my work not as they were previous intended but in a new way. I am more interested in the object itself. I think then the actuality of the object comes forth even though I’m using it for a different purpose. In this way, I feel that the line between reality and fiction are blurred. For me it becomes more about storytelling.

Your body of work features several different media: sculptures, installations, paintings and analog photography. Despite this versatility of working methods, I couldn’t help noticing a certain absence of technology in your work, an often featured trend lately in the contemporary art scene. Do you intend to explore the possibilities offered by the digital? What is your relationship to technology?

I have also recently discovered the absence of technology in my work myself and have often questioned why I work like I do. I am actually interested in technology and have experimented with digital photography and video. Maybe in the future I will work more with them but right now I haven’t found it to be my material. There are lots of possibilities with the new technologies and they are quite exciting, but also with older materials. I don’t think that just because a technology is new makes it better, especially in regards to making art.

© Joshua Zielinski
© Joshua Zielinski

One of my favorite pieces among your work is Untitled (Tapestry) from 2014, could you tell the story behind this piece?

This work was made by a series of happy coincidences. I found this paper in the garbage. I couldn’t read French but understood thermal on the paper. I figured the paper reacted in a special way to heat. I was curious and took it in the studio. There I experimented with lots of different ways of making marks with heat. Everything from hairdryers to candles, to lighters even to cooking plates. After experimenting with a variety of ways to make marks on this strange paper. I learned how I could control the images I was making. This primitive way of making drawings with basically only with fire and water influenced motifs. Animals hunting and other primitive images emerged. At the time I was, and still am, very interested in the relationship between man and animal, nature and culture, this work is in a way my reflection on this relationship. I was also visiting some of my favorite museums in Paris the Musée national du Moyen Âge – Thermes et hôtel de Cluny and the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature and was inspired from the collections there. The material itself influence me as well. The dimensions of the work developed from the fact that the paper was on rolls and I was extremely fortunate to have such a studio with high ceilings to be able to create this work. With these ideas and combinations of influences and studio space I was able to make this work and am pleased with the results.

What would you consider as your strength and weakness as an artist? What do you find most fascinating about the creative process?

I think my surfaces and textures I make with my materials is a strength of mine. I find these aspects of an artwork very interesting and I am interested in how through working with this facet a rhythm can be developed and materials can then communicate. I think a weakness of mine is trying to control my work too much and not let it develop on its own. It often takes me quite some time to realize where my work is going and to develop an idea further. I think letting go and experimenting more would be good for my work. For me the most fascinating part of the creative process is a moment of discovery. It can be something very simple but it changes the work and leads me to more realizations. For me it often comes by chance or at the end of the workday. When I think that the whole day was a waste. I find something positive in the work or see an aspect differently. I think that this is a very important part of making work. It keeps me coming back to the studio.

© Joshua Zielinski
© Joshua Zielinski

The idea of traces and history, past and present are clearly transmitted through you work, but how does it correlate with the temporal conditions of exposure when it comes to arts?

I think my work correlates with exposure by being made now. I don’t believe that art is a linear development from a to b and further to c. I think that it is a field where the past is current or can be current. My work reflects on the past while being present. I see the temporal conditions of exposure correlated to reoccurring themes in the arts therefore for me the past is just as current as the present.

One could define your work even as something primitive, when working with coarse and harsh materials, with connotations to mythology along with ephemeral dark moments. What is your relationship to nature while being surrounded by a highly urban context?

I think you are right. I have also found my work to be related to something primitive and I think it does have some sort of essential relationship with nature. I love nature and the natural world. Living in an urban context is great and it offers many opportunities. It can be sometimes quite draining though and I long for a more natural setting without the planned idea of nature in the city. I think my relationship to nature is then one of desire and longing.

© Joshua Zielinski
© Joshua Zielinski

Could you tell me about your upcoming projects for this autumn? What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working on applications for exhibitions and residencies, but this coming September a very close friend and I are going to make an exhibition at Kultur Palast in Berlin. I am really excited for this exhibition, my friend Thomas Korn is a great artist and we have shown a few times together. It is always a good experience to work with him and I am excited to be able to again.

Your dreams for the future?

Dreams for the future, I’m not quite sure exactly. I don’t have everything planned out. I would like to do another residency. The Cité Internationale des Arts was a great experience for me and I learned a lot about myself and about art. Overall I would just be happy to continue my growth as an artist and an individual. To keep learning and to strive to be my best version.

Traces, the solo exhibition of Joshua Zielinski at Pavillon am Milchhof, on view until August 24 .

Joshua Zielinski

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