Selected by Ikono as part of their spotlight series, the artist Steffen Kasperavicius is hard to pin down to a distinct style. Working with sculpture, installation, sound, video and found objects, Kasperavicius moves fluidly between mediums, creating alter-egos and entering creative partnerships as outlets for his prolific practice. Highly conceptually driven, pieces by Steffen can either be the result of laborious planning and high technical demands, or simple contextual gestures, completed in minutes. In this way, Steffen is able to underscore the tension arising between a successful, completed work and a “failed” piece; his work questions the necessity of the realised object, the expectations of the viewer, and the perspectives offered by art historical timelines. I caught up with Steffen in his studio…
First of all, looking at your work I found it a very broad, difficult body of work to define.
-Most of the time, i have several themes i work on and jump between them. So I’m not really following a red line. Maybe it’s because I’m really easy to affect by visual or thematically input. It’s a constant struggle.
Can you look back at your work and think of a core idea that might come back and forth through your work?
There are two or three themes that have accompanied me for several years now: time, sequential processes, interaction and anti-interaction. I’m really interested in works that disturb common perception or expectations. Especially in the case of interactive work when you’re used to having an interactive installation, that there is something happening if you enter a scene; I like it if a work disrupts or interrupts this experience.
I’m also interested in used objects. I’m really interested in the surfaces and the values and how you can change these non-functional, outcast objects in an art context.
In your solo practice the works seem a bit more refined, slick. Are discarded objects more a focus of your work with ETAW?
I feel the practices are combining. I started this project two years ago, and I was starting to work on these combinations of objects. We found out together that we had the same ideas about it and we tried to put our thoughts together. Suddenly we had 30 works – it was really surprising! The mode of working with objects came into my work at this point, but my handling of it is a bit different.
You occupy a couple of different roles: you have your solo work, collaborations with Jorge in ETAW and your “Evil Twin” Achim. How do you see an artist these days? What do you think is the role of a contemporary artist?
-That’s difficult. Actually an artist shouldn’t play a role. He or she just has to work the heart out. But you also want to be noticed, you want to live from your work, therefore it’s absolutely necessary, especially in Berlin, to be a bit of an entertainer. You have to find and do solo and group shows, network, meet artists and gallerists, attend art fairs, applying to contests and scholarships, update your website… It’s really important to be very present. At the same time you have the chance to only be in your studio, invisible to everyone. Everybody handles it as he or she wants.
Do you find making works as Achim is a positive outlet for your practice – making works you wouldn’t normally get to make?
Yep, that’s definitely right. During my studies I was really productive, jumpy, not content with things going one way. I was really bored of discussing work, so I invented this second person for an experimental playground. Some people only know me as Achim Horn – if I go to an exhibition people say: “Hey Achim how are you?” (laughs). And the important thing is that you can experiment with other ideas. If you have one webpage with very diverse works it can seem unserious, unfocused. It was a really easy decision to separate the practices.
When you’re making these videos they’re obviously occupying virtual space, such as the pallet video “Transition Space”. When you have these spatial concerns as a sculptor, how much does virtual space enter your work?
-In this video, it’s very important. It’s expanding the view into the exhibition space virtually and something’s happening that may or may not be real. Therefor the space itself is protagonist and essential element. But in general, it’s not really about the space. It’s about the visitor’s perception. Nevertheless, space, as well as sound, is surely a basic component of my work, but more by necessity than choice.
Just to ask about “Tongspuren” (2007), the work where you were recording a year’s worth of sound in a space and getting the viewer to work with it as well, and also the work “The Throwing” (200), what is your role with the viewer about drying their expectations?
I can’t believe it, but I think I’m a bit didactic. I want to transmit a feeling with my work, and most of the time I want to transmit more negative feelings than positive, because I think it’s a more long term feeling than kind of a positive short joke. I’m trying to be a bit dark and serious.
I started years ago with paintings and drawings and there was always humour in it. That homour is still there, but it’s more layered now. The first side is a joke and then there’s something more serious.
You’ve had pieces like “Thank you for the Modern”, that would obviously have been made quite quickly, while works like “The Throwing” are more engineered and technical. Is there a common process you have in all your works?
-Yes and No. Generally it all starts with a mind snapshot caused by random input, like magazines, tv-news, films, discussions, and I note or sketch it down. Then one lends to the other. Some things need more engagement and time to realize, some are done in seconds. So I always got a never-ending archive to grab into. Bad tongues might say I’m a bit random, but I think it’s an advantage, not a disadvantage.
Talking about the Array series of works and “No shortcut possible”, the work dated for 2022, what can you tell me about presenting unrealised ideas?
For me it’s really important, in relation to conceptual art, where the idea stands before the finished or realised artwork. That’s a really interesting idea because you can expect the visitor to think the work ready, or to use their imagination to complete the work. You feed them information and something happens in their mind. I wouldn’t say it’s more important than a realised work, but really important to use.
In the future could you imagine more works that remain only in the mind of the viewer?
Yes, I think so. In early 2012 I decided to concentrate more on a very known object – the europallet – as a theme and a protagonist in a series of artworks. I started to model and combine these in a 3D space, even to learn more about this software.
After that I had an archive and tried to realise some of them; others of them are unrealisable because of aesthetics. But that’s a big part of it, there we are again at virtuality, there it’s important to show the viewers the difference between a realised work and a virtual one. I don’t know if I’ll continue this work, but the main idea is important for my future work, to test works that come from an idea archive.
Back on things being unrealisable, you were talking about disappointment in you practice. Where does this disappointment lie?
In my studies I did a lot of anti-interactive works, with the aim of disrupting the perception and giving a not-so-positive feeling. I don’t know why I arrived at disappointment, but it’s one of the most known feelings. You’re easily disappointed if your expectations are let down, and this was a good starting point for some interactive works. Then I had to decide what my diploma theme was and that was a good time to develop these ideas more.
With these Array works, was this a series where you needed skills outside of your own?
I had some assistance from a talented craftsman, but this was simply to cope with time constraints. I’m really into doing my own work. If you want to be a factory artist with employees, fine, but I want to be there from start to finish – to say that it’s mine. I wouldn’t have the interest in making it otherwise.
If we go back to the unfinished objects, where the viewer has to complete it in his mind, that’s different from having someone else build it.
With the wheel and cascade arrays, how were you able to choose the forms from your archive that you wanted to realise?
That was more random. I decided to build one array because I had an exhibition a month later and wanted to know what was possible in a month. With the cascade, I didn’t have to stick the pallets together, I simply had to cut the works and arrange them in the space. Earlier it was a matter of time, now I have more time, so it’s a matter of choice. With further arrays I may simply print the 3D images on aluminium and ask the question: Do they have to be real?
Yes, of course. I think the decision to play with realised or unrealised works is important. It’s like a trick sometimes.
I think my work is based on an archive system. I’m always archiving images and movie clips, combining them, mixing things up, watching and reorganising them. The main thing is to be organised; you work reflects your life, if you are well organised in your life you are well organised in your artwork.
How has moving to Berlin changed your practice?
It was a smooth transition because I went to art school in Halle, two hours outside Berlin, so I have regularly visited Berlin since beginning my studies. I moved to Berlin and was living in two cities, there was no gap between. I came from a very productive place, and then moved to Berlin and was also in a very productive place. I quickly got into networks, found friends, and it was really easy.
Does it get hard to continue practicing in berlin?
Yes, because the city doesn’t spend a lot of money on our scene. They tout Berlin as the most creative pool in Europe and yet they don’t spend enough money on its practicing artists.
The ideas you’re working with today, have they changed a lot from the ideas of 2007?
Yes, the ideas change, and I think that’s because you don’t have as many critics. Like your fellow students, you’re really working solo. Maybe it’s Berlin, maybe in this city you don’t talk as much about your artwork: you either enter your studio or you work at home.
Do you find this is healthy for your practice?
I’d rather have more discussion.
In terms of the materials you employ in ETWA, are you trying to give new life to discarded objects?
That’s one reason. We’re interested in the stuff people throw away and why. You can even create cool new things; it doesn’t have to be art, it can be design objects like chairs, desks and lamps. We’re interested in the surfaces and combinations, to give people the option to repave and rethink what they own. We try to examine the value and essence of old, non-functional objects by rearrangement. It’s a socio-critical stance against economic developments.
Who are some of your key influences?
- Of course Marcel Duchamp. My professional interest in art began by hearing about and understanding Duchamp and his influence to the modern and even post-modern. Also whole art movements like minimal- and conceptual art are a big source and very inspiring, Fluxus artists. Fischli/Weiss and Roman Signer, because they have a native sense of humour, they have an easiness, they use(d) the same material. Who else? Maybe Dan Graham.
And what are you busy with now?
I’m busy preparing applications for art fairs with my gallery. Plus I have one or two video works in mind, and I may consider working further with the Array works.
CONNECT WITH STEFFEN ON ARTCONNECT BERLIN