Rollerblading with I: text as experiment in the work of Ekaterina Luzgina and Mike McShane

Concrete letters, words in a radio broadcast and poetry in three dimensions. After they graduated from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2016 the married couple started to make art together as well. In April they completed a month-long residency, titled Text As in Campbell Works in London, where they let their mother tongues of English and Russian collide and started the search for a collective vernacular. Their work was on view previously in group and solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, London and Moscow. I spoke to Kat and Mike about their collaboration, the importance of place and the formal aspects of language. 


MULTIAUTHOR MULTIMEDIA 

J

You work together, but also as solo artists and in collaboration with other artists, through different media and disciplines: how and where do you start?  

MK

Our story began at Art College 6 years ago when we shared a studio for the entire 3 years. Then in our final year it all got too much and we started dating as well. However, we only started working together after we had graduated. Kat needed a photographer/driver for her project Where does sculpture go when we cannot take it home? and Mike offered to help. At that point we realised that we share a lot of common interests and decided to begin working together. Since then we have done numerous shows as a duo. However we have quite different approaches to our work.

For me, inspiration comes by setting up a method of working that allows chance or instinct to dictate the results; I like to construct games for myself and to work with pairs of things that I then aim to fuse together. I will often begin with a question that I set myself: usually that involves seeing or reading about something and then using a specific material, I will see how that idea can be translated or re-materialised into that medium. I am interested in how ideas can exist simultaneously as objects, words and images. Through my practice I am looking for how an idea changes as it moves and is translated across these mediums. 

K

As for me, inspiration comes from different experiences of my body in architectural and urban spaces; rollerblading, walking and climbing through these spaces informs my sculptural approach to the work I make. It also reflects in the materials I choose to use, especially when it comes to concrete and scaffolding. Another big inspiration for me is language and its potential to transcend meaning. Ideas usually come from a crossover of these two areas of inspiration and the journey from an initial idea to the outcome is when the logistics, aesthetics and context for the work is worked out.

MK 

When working with each other we start with a conversation based on a similar interest in something and, because we approach the same idea very differently, we often work individually on the same idea and then synthesise the results. During this synthesis we can be very direct and passionate with each other which can sometimes lead to emotional rollercoastering. However, through this conflict we as a pair are able to produce more thought-through and vigorous work.

When working with other people we follow a similar process but we act much calmer and are less shouty.


WORDS & WORK 

What were the outcomes of the Text As residency? Did you arrive at a collective vernacular? 

MK 

The idea for the Text As residency evolved from a show in Russia that we had done two months previously. The show was called какие слова (Which Words) and had stemmed from us revelling in and reflecting on our own miscommunication with each other in English and Russian. Having enjoyed working in text for that show we then wanted to use the residency to see how the meaning of words changed across mediums rather than languages. The manifesto printed during the Russian show ended up being used as the template for how we structured the residency: each of the four weeks was dedicated to a specific medium (printmaking, casting, performance and broadcasting.) Each medium used the works produced in the previous week as a material for the next one. We then decided to open up the residency to the public, through a series of workshops to see how people would engage with our ideas and ways of working.

K

I really enjoyed the printmaking week both as a way to develop my own practice and as an experiment in producing co-authored text works with participants of the workshops. Before the residency Mike and me developed a method that we called sequential poetry, which we implemented into the printmaking workshop. It is based on each participant printing a line of text, one after another, forming a rather abstract and vivid flow of narrative and structure that is not in the control of a single person. This way the text appeared so alive and the meaning was constantly changing after each addition made to it, gaining a performative quality.

M

My favourite moment was during the week of performance. The Gallery space was filled with the printed and cast concrete pieces that we had made so far and we invited a group of 15 students to come and create installations out of the objects surrounding them. Working sequentially, each person would choose either a print or sculpture, and then reading aloud the text on its surface they would arrange the pieces within the space. It created a truly spatial poetry: a fusion of gesture, spoken word and constructed visual landscape. It was at this moment I believe that we were the closest to creating a truly collective vernacular.

MK

The project is definitely still open, and very much informs our current practice. Ultimately we would like to produce a publication that summarises and develops the ideas and work that we have explored so far.

How do you feel about the relationship between art and writing on art – since your work itself investigates reproduction of text, meaning and finding new dimensions of interpretation? 

M

That’s a very difficult question. Writing about Art at its best can provide new ways of looking at Art: reinvigorating the old and expanding the new. However it can also be used as a crutch or filler to support Art that is overly opaque. It depends upon the language used and the intention of the text that is produced. Personally, I prefer texts that add something to the Artwork in a creative or narrative way, that do not rely on overly clichéd academic terms and instead interact with the image or object presented in a simple and thought provoking way. Similarly, when using text within an artwork I am looking at the interaction between what it means as writing and how it is presented as an object: i.e. text has the same potential to create images or ideas within the mind of the viewer as the form of a sculpture or the image of a painting. When you begin to combine these elements, each act of collage creates new potential interpretations. It is about playing with the anticipated meaning of words in the same way you would with any other material or image.

K

When I use writing in art it is to create a space within which a narrative can unfold. However, this narrative is never a definitive one but instead made from fragments floating in and out of conscious meaning. They exist in the same way as I experience dreams. 

J

Do you like other people’s interpretations of your work; do you both share the same interpretations?

MK

Yes, other people’s interpretations of our work are always brilliant to hear. We like to think that once we have finished a piece it is then separate from us and has a life of its own. 

No we do not share the same interpretation of our work.

TRANSLATE/PLACE 

J

You have had solo and group shows in Moscow, London and LA, using your native tongues which use different scripts for the work displayed in these different contexts.  Do viewers respond differently to the work, depending on the languages they know? Do you keep the language of the viewer in mind?

MK

Before we started working with text there was less concern for the possibility of misinterpretation or alienation of viewers from the work depending on the language they speak/don’t speak, because it was possible to contextualize our works in both languages. Moreover, every time we exhibit in different spaces or for different audiences, even if they speak the same language, we keep the specific context of the show in mind and try to make our work accessible but also open for various interpretations. 

Nevertheless at the core of our work together we are interested in how text can exist beyond a purely linguistic sign: how it can be broken down into a pattern forming an image, as shape forming a sculpture or as the rhythm of sound in space. Our aim as Kat said earlier is to find a way for words to transcend their linguistic meaning.

M

In terms of how viewers have responded to our work in different countries I have found that it depended much more upon the culture of that country and its relationship to our individual nationalities than the ability to understand the language of the work. As soon as text of a specific language is present in an artwork, viewers are able to signify what culture that artwork comes from, and that can affect how the artwork is interpreted. In some ways you could say it depended upon what they were looking to find in the work as a reflection of themselves and their perception of us.

K

When we were preparing for the show in Russia we had to select works that made sense for a Russian speaking audience. For works in English we came up with tailored translations and I got to show text works made in Russian, which were more appropriate for that show than any other show in the UK.

J

I think there are a lot of different levels of translation happening in your work, especially of course with regards to Text As, where apart from using different languages you also translated words and their meanings into different materials and actions. How do these levels of translation intersect and connect for you?

MK

These levels of translation make a lot of sense in our practice, because they eliminate direct, ordered and grammatical ways of dealing with language, which we both are not that interested in, and instead they appear as a playground full of possibilities of material, conceptual and even performative engagement.

J

Do you feel tied to a specific place and is place important for your work? What does London mean for your artistic practices?

K

Place always plays an important role in my practice because I have lived between Russia and the UK since I was 16 and a lot of my inspiration comes from the contrast of architectural, social and linguistic elements of both countries. I also feel like the theme of home and belonging has been a prevalent one in my practice, especially in my text works in the Russian language.

M

The location of where I am making work greatly affects the kind of things that I am thinking about and the materials that I am able to use. The spatial restrictions of where I am making something or where I am showing something creates a challenge that will feed into the end result of what I produce

MK

For us being in London means having a great studio space that we have spent a long time looking for and then adjusting to fit our needs. It is also the city where the community of artists that we have worked and will continue to work with is based.  Also, here we have the support of institutions we are allied with and a lot of opportunities. However, it doesn’t mean that we are tied to this location and not considering the possibility of moving.


FUTURES

J

In conclusion: where do you both see your artistic practice move to?  

K

Working together feels incredibly empowering and makes me feel as if we can do anything, of any scale and complexity. We keep on expanding our shared practice committing to experiments and projects that I wouldn’t attempt on my own, and having each other to bounce ideas against. I see our future being full of great discoveries and challenges.

M

I feel as though doing the residency and working with Kat over the last three years has hugely informed my practice and opened me up to many new ideas and ways of working. It feels as if we are at the beginning of something exciting with many possibilities for the future. I wouldn’t want to close it down with anything too specific though, as I think both of us like to instinctively react to change.

You can view more of Mike & Kat’s work on their websites: www.ekaterinaluzgina.com &www.mikemcshane.co.uk – you can find out more about Text As here: www.instagram.com/text_as_ &www.campbell.works/project/text-as

Julia Alting

Author: Julia Alting

Julia Alting graduated from Amsterdam University College with an Honours BA in History of Art and Cultural Studies and a thesis on alternative online curatorial initiatives. She is currently studying at SOAS, University of London for a semester as part of her Research MA Arts & Culture and MA South Asian Studies at Leiden University. Her interests lie in the intersection of aesthetics and politics within contemporary art practices; recently her research has turned towards conceptions of time in relation to the discipline of Art History from a decolonial perspective.