A conversation on occasion of the exhibition Dry Garden by Angyvir Padilla and Yoel Pytowski at Notus Studio.
Interviewer: Karolina Aleiferopoulou
Interviewees: Angyvir Padilla and Yoel Pytowski
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: Would you like to tell me a few things about yourself and your artistic practice before we talk more about Dry Garden?
Angyvir Padilla: I am from Venezuela but I live in Brussels and my artistic career started in Graphic Design, but I did a Master in Sculpture and then Fine Arts. I work with installations in general and, depending on the project, I use clay or plaster or photographs and different things. Recently I am working a lot with sculpture, mostly with clay because I am interested in the material, as it can be really fragile when you manage it but when you put fire it’s different. The recent project that I did before Notus was in an abandoned monastery, it was a collective exhibition where I made an installation with several pots of raw clay that were sitting in a salt lake so they were decomposing and in the center there was an image of the moon reflected in a tea-cup, as well as a version sung by myself of a Venezuelan song - so it created an intense atmosphere. My work is very materialistic but linked to my identity somehow and to a nostalgic feeling. It’s linked to the idea of homesickness.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: I saw on your website this installation, a tree on a pedestal of some kind, its branches covered with foil, and everything was wrong about it somehow, it was high above the ground, the earth in which it grew was exposed, not contained in a pot for example, the tree on the other hand was itself covered, so there was a feeling that everything is somehow wrong, not as it is supposed to be.
Angyvir Padilla: That was a long time ago. It was a reference to this thing that people do to protect trees in the winter from the cold. This action is meant to protect nature but at the same time looks asphyxiating, which is a very human behaviour I think. I wanted to show this contradiction and also to completely exhibit the fragility of the living tree. So it was made like a character being protected and loved but breathing underneath, struggling with suffocation. The work was accompanied with a text by Octavio Paz which is in fact the prologue from a wonderful book of poems “Àrbol de Diana” by Alejandra Pizarnick, an Argentinean poet whose work shows us life in a very beautiful and dark way at the same time.
Yoel Pytowski: I grew up in Argentina, but I was born in Israel and I have been living in Brussels for the last 15 years. I first studied drawing for five years where I was more concerned with the sculpture regarding drawing than drawing. Then a few years later I did this Fine Art Masters also in Luca School of Arts. For the last five years my practice is mostly installations with architecture and a lot of use of concrete. Most of the time the installations are quite immersive and I am dealing a lot with the idea of trying to intersect architectures and spaces with one building going through another building for example. Now in the last works it was done in a way so that the spectator could see the back side of the installation and see the fragile aspect of architecture which from the front looks like concrete but from the back you see it’s like any wood panel or plaster board just covered with a thin layer of concrete and that it’s all quite fake actually. I am more and more interested in this back side and how the intersection is done with the space through architecture to show how fluid it is.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: You also play with the scale of architecture. I have seen one of your works exhibited here in Athens before.
Yoel Pytowski: Yes, so it was an enlarged scale print where it seems like a photo of a proper space but actually it was a detail inside a maquette, a small scale work that I enlarged. I liked the idea of the scale shift but it’s also a lot about construction and deconstruction, timings and space.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: And a little unexpected elements, like buildings coming out of the floor or an entrance that leads to a floor fully covered in concrete.
Yoel Pytowski: Yes, I often use concrete on the floor in order to relate to the building of the space but on the other hand to make you doubt how deep the space is.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: I can see the combination of your work and the themes you each work with in the installation presented here, but I mostly feel it’s a new approach, a third thing. So how did it come to this project, what was your initial idea?
Yoel Pytowski: We were invited by Notus to work here and the departure was the floorplan of the space and the relation of the garden outside to the floorplan. Also the fact that we really liked, not only the building, but also the floor with the mosaic. So we started working from there.
Angyvir Padilla: We also wanted to find a way to do something together, not just have some of my works on one side of the exhibition space and some of Yoel’s works on the other.
Yoel Pytowski: We wanted to do something together that would be as much Angy’s work as mine. We worked with the floorplan because we realized that it is actually quite similar to the shape of the garden outside and we wanted to work with the relationship between them. So we thought, ok let’s maybe make a third shape inside Notus that would be a combination of both. We kept the same scale and shape of the floorplan in a way and created this.
Angyvir Padilla: We also worked using the construction materials we observed this space is made of. Every material is different, for example depending on the region it is from and as we came here, we didn’t know the story of the building but we saw the natural resources that are really beautiful and worked with them. We started researching how we can take back all these construction materials from the “fake” shapes they now have to their natural shape. So we decided to make a dry garden, with all the natural materials, stones, sand, etc. as they are before they become construction materials.
Yoel Pytowski: We tried to deconstruct all these materials. Think for example how glass comes from sand. The dry garden of the title is synonymous to the Zen garden, which is obviously fake, curated, an idealization of nature. It is also made to be seen from a single point of view, because the person who makes it sees it from that point. But we liked the idea to try to make a kind of landscape with the materials of Notus and instead of having one point of view from which you can see it, to have as many points of view as there are windows in the actual building.
Angyvir Padilla: Yes and the idea of contemplation is important here, because dry gardens are for meditation. It was interesting to us to have a dry garden but more in the form of a maquette.
Yoel Pytowski: Because it usually looks like a scale model of a bigger nature and here the whole thing looks also like a scale model, not only because of the kind of landscape we did but also because the walls are super thin and everything is very exposed. We let you see the back side of the building and you see the materials as they are. We kept the backs of the construction visible, you actually see the plasters, so you can see the construction as something ephemeral and fragile.
Angyvir Padilla: We like the brut materiality, the fragility of architecture.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: So Dry Garden is very honest about the materials that construct it, it’s very honest about what it is made from. I understand there’s no order in the way you have it in dry gardens, there is a landscape that the different materials form on the ground but not in a symmetrical way, there is not much curation and it looks like it happened on its own. And at the same time it’s inside a very strictly measured architectural frame.
Yoel Pytowski: We tried to let the materials get their own position in the space, instead of trying to curate and say this is a mountain or a shape like this, or whatever.
Angyvir Padilla: We liked the idea that these are building materials but they are from nature, they behave in their own ways.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: The viewer has many accessible points of view and can walk along the installation through the exhibition space. The work is closely related to the space and actually creates three levels to it, the one inside the dry garden where the viewer does not enter, the exhibition space of Notus and the actual garden outside. The relation between the three is very intense.
Yoel Pytowski: We wanted to have different levels when we started. It’s a repetition of the shape and floor plan of Notus in three levels.
Angyvir Padilla: I think it was the idea to have these three levels for the people to have access from inside the space, through the windows we created like the windows of the actual space, as well as from outside from the garden. You can reflect when you are outside in the garden, then you enter and you see the installation. That’s why we removed the lights from the gallery space and only lit the installation, because that creates a different feeling to the actual space and accentuates the installation. It is not only a maquette or a building or a scale model but it works in relation to the space and the garden, even if it’s not immediately obvious. I usually work with a smaller scale, with ceramics for example, so I am always interested in how they relate to the space. For this we really wanted for people to feel like it’s not only that, we wanted the idea that you are engaged, the three levels that we created are exactly to create this feeling of the space. It’s important that people see it’s not only conceptual but maybe you can feel the space.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: Also Vaggelis Savvas said a very interesting thing that he sees here, that the space that is left, let’s say unused, in the studio loses its identity as such because it’s a zone from which one compares the two gardens. That make it a different thing in a way, a negative space. It’s somehow an exhibition space but at the same time it’s a corridor, a place for observation.
Yoel Pytowski: It becomes like a passage.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: I see it as an architectural game of sorts, creating spaces within other spaces and there’s also the materiality of the objects, like stripping architecture down to its fabric and substance.
Yoel Pytowski: It was the idea of putting the materials back to nature, not in such order as you see in Zen gardens but to have them in a more natural, which means more chaotic, way because nature is mainly chaotic I think. And also there was this idea that we liked from a book about traditional houses in rural France, where the author talks about the fact that architecture is like people, always in transit and has its way and time of evolving. We liked this idea. When you see this work here you may wonder, is it what was before the building of Notus or is it what will be after its destruction? It is very ambiguous if it’s some kind of ruins or a landscape of what the materials used to be.
Angyvir Padilla: Also this is a way of looking at the materials, because we tend to look at architecture as separate from nature but it’s not, because you have the intellectual approach that separates the thing from what it’s made of, but actually it’s just a transformation.
Yoel Pytowski: It’s a transformation of nature into human shapes. If you think about it there is so much concrete being used that the deserts and sea sides have less and less sand globally, which is very sad but it also makes you think that the buildings you see are actually deserts and seas in another shape. So that is an interesting perspective to have, because the glass windows are actually sand or beach or desert in another shape.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: So all of the works of human civilization are built by reshaping, rearranging what is on Earth.
Yoel Pytowski: Yes. Of course, but we didn’t want to do it like a pamphlet about going back to nature. We just wanted that perspective shift on construction materials and architecture. There is a kind of anthropological approach and we also both like that the projects we do stay quite open, available for different ways of thinking about them, so people can project whatever they think onto them.
Karolina Aleiferopoulou: Is there an emotional aspect in this work for you?
Angyvir Padilla: Maybe, but we didn’t have much time to process it. For me every work gives many possibilities. Emotionally everything about Athens makes this work what it is. Maybe if we had done it in Brussels it would be different. So everything we found here played a role in how it was made. But this is my view, because I am more of an animistic kind of girl and I think that materials talk, spaces talk so for me this is the feeling. “Let’s use light, let’s use colors”, that happened here but maybe in another space or another country it would have been different, I don’t know.
Notus Studio, June 23rd 2019