“AZIZ + CUCHER: LANDSCAPES AND INTERIORS” CATALOG ESSAY BY CAY SOPHIE RABINOWITZ

Published in a catalogue of Aziz + Cucher works for an exhibition at
Artereal Gallery, Sydney, 2006.

In an early discussion of their series of photographs titled Interiors featuring walls, corners, entrances, stairs, and columns lined in skin, Aziz + Cucher refer to the phenomenological experience of turning inwards that leads to ‘ a sense of disorientation and identification’. Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first person point of view. But here the turn inwards that reveals something disorientating or unexpected is not limited to the viewer. Discrepancy and reversal is built in to the work. The viewer’s experience emerges from an encounter with the work – and exchange of information. The image presents an entirely uncanny situation: living skin transposed onto architecture; the human grafted onto the inhuman. The compositional strategy in Aziz + Cucher’s work involves making an image stand for a state of mind. The equation is based on substitution, whereby the artificial interior situation is modelled after an organic interiorised state.
   
 Though the epitelial surfaces of these floorscapes have been readically altered by photo manipulation techniques, the scars, acne, eczema, and irregular lines of exposure, old age, and poor hygiene are left – or rather made- visible. Counter to the cover girl priniciple of using an airbrush or Photoshop to conceal blemishes, in Aziz + Cucher’s Interiors the skin’s irregularities are brought into the open and even enhanced. This series of photographs neither promoted the proverbial beauty ‘skin deep’ nor does its skin imagery celebrate choice formal or compositional characteristics. Neither as beauty revealed through a process of concealment, nor as beauty concealed beneath the surface, this is not a work about beauty; rather the skin is here as a stand-in for what lies deeper, namely,  the self. This anomalous scenario of applying the human exterior to build interiors and making the skin stand for something that can never be revealed involves a poetics of contradiction, a paradoxical form of metonymy.

Contradition is so much a part of this project. The inside is made of an exterior, the self is made an other, the outside becomes enmeshed within, and the body becomes enmeshed with its surroundings. Like an animal that can camouflage itself in its natural environment, the artists have described the Interiors  to be about a subject “incapable of demarcating the boundaries of its own body…[a subject] lost in the immensity that surrounds it”.

If Interiors represents in initial attempt to collapse, erase, even dissolve the separation between subject and environment, Aziz + Cucher’s most recent Synaptic Bliss series further explores possibilities for rendering the disorientated subject who can no longer distinguish the interior from the exterior. The still images in this series are divided into two groups Synaptic Bliss – Nocturnes and Synaptic Bliss – Landscapes, with additional detail studies titled Odas . In these seemingly classical landscapes vistas, diverse forms are superimposed, become intertwined, and slowly emerge from an intensively colored flurry. Kaleidoscopic clouds evolve into trees, branches, meadows, flowers and undergrowth. Each individual shape seems in constant flux, becoming distinguished by a shift in tone, orientation, or size of its colored texture. The works in this series appear like electronic impressionism with almost hallucinatory, disorientating effects.

The Synaptic Bliss  video work involves a steady stream of sensual data. Its fractured animated forms are often dense and diffcult to orient. Aziz + Cucher created their first SB video installation at the Parc de La Villette in Paris. The conditions for this installation represent an ideal situation for the work. For this exhibition, a four-channel video and sound sequence was projected onto four walls of a built structure to surround and envelop the viewer. Synaptic Bliss: Villette was optimally designed to exploit the peripheral visual area. Aziz + Cucher’s work is decisively contemplative, not interactive. Their digital-virtual environment offers new possibilities for exploring perception by linking viewers to the totality of a sensory field.

For shorter video works the artists have adapted their four part Villette narrative to single channel versions constructed cyclically like nature evolving through the four seasons. But the experience is unlike any conventional consideration of a landscape changing in time, for one becomes part of a transformation not bound by a beginning, middle, or end.

   Being present with and in the sound and image sequence of SB_Etude (2006) can inspire deep reflection, heightened stimulation, or even disregard for time. Ultimately this work affords a new artistic and social experience of the world, a virtual but organic environment concept that includes audiovidual stimuli and a body that percieves. A thoroughly composed scenario designed to achieve aggregate experiences in the viewer, Synaptic Bliss  is concieved as a total work. Historically, the notion of a ‘total work’ involves radical social as well as formal consequences.

More commonly discussed as a ‘total work of art’ following Richard Wagner’s term of the Gesamtkunstwerk, this nineteenth century idea is inseparably tied to the process and the impact of modernisation and industrialisation. In Britain, William Morris introduced a comprehensive architectural surrounding somplete with fine art, wall coverings,furniture, carpets, and much more. Morris’  ‘total work’ was not an exclusive realm for art; rather he considered an envelope for human experience, and all embracing skin of sensuality where man was supposed to be unalienated from the disfiguring forces of modern life. In the tradition of Morris but with significantly more optimism about the potential of technology, Verner Panton’s ‘Landscapes for Living’ (Wohnlandschaften) were meticulously designed and boldly colored totalities of furniture, lighting, carpets, and  wall coverings that embraced and influenced the body with warm colors, soft textures, and organic shapes. It was a powerful experience of a coherent an thoroughly worked out whole in which the entire gamut of means to achieve effect played their part. In the most radical rooms the new ambiences were underlined with music and perfumes. Panton’s “Phantasy Landscape”  from the Visiona II exhibition in 1970 was his most extreme example where facilities for sitting and lying grew out of the wall coverings and up from the carpeted floor, and the entire room was upholstered and illuminated through the differently coloured textiles. This total experience effect was of a passage into the body. ‘It could be both experienced as a journey in space and as a journey into a microscopic universe, into the body’s organs and around the blood’s circulatory system’2

The diverse forms and figures in Aziz + Cucher’s photographs and videos become likewise enmeshed in the surface structure of their environment, and in the complexity of one’s consciousness. This total sensorial experience is about merging exterior and interior, and thus as a total work it represents an attempt to stimulate and reveal the self within.