Thank you, Alexis, for submitting your works to be featured on Burning House Press! You mentioned in our email exchange that you don’t work in themes or projects, rather that the images arise in their own time – the same goes for the works’ titles. Is chance a huge factor in your photographic process?
Thank you, it’s my pleasure!
It depends what you mean by “chance”, if you mean events that happen by forces that are beyond the control of the individual consciousness then yes, chance is very important. My practice is deeply connected with this surrendering to the flow of life; this is why I mostly conceive photographs as happenings rather than doings. Today I wrote this small note which feels relevant to this question: Creativity is not a doing, it is an alignment with the cosmic unfolding, in which there is no separate doer.
What is your relationship to writing and is it important to your process as a photographer?
Writing is also something that happens from time to time, I usually write small notes or pointers, as things become clear or reveal themselves. I don’t know if it is important to the image making because I tend to see thinking and seeing as two separate functions, this is why I say sometimes that my photography is non–conceptual, it’s another way to say “enjoy and don’t think about it too much!”
How did you get into photography? Were you always someone who worked visually, with the camera? Do you also work with other formats (videos, writings, etc.)?
I got into photography through some friends in high school and then I started shooting daily while I was studying art history in Bologna, this is around 1997. My inner pull was to use photography as a way to empty the mind, to stop the flow of thoughts; this is when I started to see my practice as a form of mediation. Yes I do other kinds of images as well, not so much video as much as graphic design or collages.
Where did the title “Variations of Presence” come from – how did it arise from the works you showed us? Or did the images come after the title?
In this case the title came after the edit of the images, sometimes it’s the other way around; the title as most of the titles I use points to the experience of presence, of being here now. The “how” is always a mystery, I don’t really know how, even though sometimes my mind thinks it does, this title felt right with the particular edit but I don’t have a long term relationship with these groups of images or the titles I play with, on the contrary I wouldn’t like to allow them to solidify in the mind, some of those images will become soon parts of a different edit, and some of these words parts of other titles. I like things to be in constant motion, it feels natural this way. The images and the words are like toys that I move around and play with, they don’t have any fixed meaning or reality in themselves they are open to all different kinds of possibilities and that is something vital I feel, to not close oneself or the work in a particular groove of any kind.
You prefer the term “edits” to indicate finalized pieces, suggesting that the photographs are ever-changing. How would you describe your process when taking photographs and your process with editing or finalizing an image? How do you decide when a piece is ready to be published, shown, or exhibited?
As a result of playing with pictures on a daily basis for many years, I have a big archive of different kinds of images and what I like to do for the last 5 years is to mix these images, these mixes I call “edits”, and I consider these as the works rather than the single images. What I find the most interesting in non-linear editing is the unexpected associations that arise from juxtaposing heterogeneous imagery; it’s a bit like experimental music.
In more general terms my process is based on the appreciation of the ephemeral nature of phenomena and of the life itself, this is why spontaneity and improvisation at all the stages of the production are the essential elements. All of it is a form of dancing with the light, with the energy of the moment and the deep stillness out of which all the beauty of this world arises. Even the aspects of the process which require planning arise from this.
So my idea of a “finalized piece” is closer to the idea of a “temporarily finalized piece” J
It is finished for now; all we know is for now.
I don’t decide when a piece is finished, I simply recognize it, it says “I’m good to go” 🙂
and so it goes.
In a blog post you shared with me, you wrote, “In my view the photographs don’t come from a story nor do they contain stories, the photographs are empty of concepts, and in their essence they are pure energy.” Is there a rejection of narratives or a rejection of interpretation in your photography? Can you elaborate on what you mean by “pure energy”? (Perhaps give us an example of how you see your own works, with specific reference to the edits in “Variations of Presence”.)
No there is no rejection, I don’t reject interpretation or conceptualisation if I did I wouldn’t use titles or concepts. I just find the experience of direct, non conceptual perceiving much more natural and fulfilling and I am only pointing out this possibility because it’s closer to my experience, but I am also aware that it goes against all of our conditioning, specially the academic conditioning. Ultimately for me there isn’t so much to talk about when it comes to images, it’s all about what you see, not what think, that’s why I feel quite often that the discourse around fine art photography or art in general comes from a form of restlessness or inability to keep quiet and yet the silence that beauty brings in our minds is the greatest gift of art.
Take a picture and start looking at it, for a moment leave aside every thought or idea that arises in relation to that picture, don’t give any attention to the mind. This is seeing the pictures as pure energy, when you are not projecting any ideas about what you see, what remains is the pure energy of the image.
Have you observed an audience’s reactions to your works? What are they like?
Yes I have. I recently had a solo show at Can Christina Androulidaki gallery in Athens and I observed various kinds of reactions, most of them where very warm hearted. The truth is that I keep a little bit of vigilance in not allowing my mind to enter too much in the idea of being a creator, because it is very easy to develop arrogance if we think that we are creators, Kabir expressed it beautifully when he said:
Nothing is done by you,
what has been done is not yours,
For if you had done anything,
there would be another creator.
There is only one creative force in this universe, whether we call it life or consciousness or God, doesn’t matter so much, what matters is to realize this fundamental unity and merge in it.
Do you think, by obsessing over stories, the viewer/audience is missing out on the presence of the image in front of them?
As long as we identify ourselves with a story, our perception will inevitably carry the smell of a story. So yes in a way we are missing what is when we identify strongly with what we think it is, because we project a self on top of what is basically universal and impersonal .This is why self -knowledge is very important because it helps us to stop identifying with the mind and its projections and by doing so, our perception returns to its original innocence.
Going back to “Variations of Presence,” there is a strong sense of solitude in these photographs. The two individuals lying on an edge, for instance, with their backs facing us (and you, the photographer) and this vast space beyond them where light diffuses into fragmented sea foam greens in the water. The photograph itself urges one’s mind to be quiet, to observe the captured moment and be part of this moment of observation. It seems carefully constructed. Do you think about composition when capturing or editing photographs?
I’m happy to hear that this is your experience because the images come from this quiet, this moment of observation that you are talking about happens every time we are present and we are seeing from presence. No I don’t think about anything when I photograph, it simply happens. The editing is more complex and at times it involves a bit of thinking.
In an email, you wrote, “…spirituality is the true context of art, if you remove art from this context it becomes just another product in a world which is full of products.” Has this always been your view on art-making? How much of this point of view is influenced by your regular visits to India? (Tell us more about why you go there, what your relationship to your Guru is like, how this affects the way you see and the way you make art).
For me art is a love affair with the Absolute and by “absolute” I mean what is, the essence of all things and the purpose of spirituality is to reveal this timeless essence to us, not theoretically but experientially. This is why I say that the true context of art is spirituality.
Yes in a way I’ve always felt that art is deeply connected with our search for truth but I didn’t know how until I met my Guru. I don’t know how much of my point of view is influenced by my visits to India because it’s not about holding on to any particular point of view, it’s not an ideology, it’s all about recognizing and being who we truly are.
I went to India for the first time in 2004 to search for my Guru and I had the good fortune to find him in the presence of Sri Mooji, and ever since I visit India regularly to be in his company. My relationship with my Guru has taken different forms over the years, but because ultimately the Guru is the formless, this relationship is beyond description, what is describable is only the perfume which is pure bliss, love and gratitude. All I can say is that until we meet somebody who has transcended the ego-mind we will have only our intuition and the hints of the scriptures but not the proof. The Guru is the proof that it is possible for a human being to be liberated and this proof is like an anchor inside the heart of the being, it doesn’t let us go back to the forest of identification for long, it pulls us back from the noise of the mind to the silence of the Heart, such is the gift of the Guru’s grace.
You mean how spirituality affects the way I see and make art?
Spirituality is a form of deconstruction of the ego-identity and once this deconstruction starts taking place inside the Heart, what is revealed is that one is not a doer nor a thinker nor anything in particular, as a result of this understanding one is allowed to be nothing again and so to rest, to not identify with the activities or the roles of life.
From this perspective all is well, art is happening by itself and life is taking care of life.
If the house was burning and you could only take one book with you, which book would you take?
The book which says: let yourself burn in the fire of the Beloved. J
Who are some artists or writers who have influenced your growth as a photographer?
Here are a few beloved ones:
Luigi Ghirri, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Basho, Peter Fraser, Rumi.
What is next for Alexis Vasilikos?
I don’t know, I keep the planning to a minimum, there are thoughts about making a new book and there is a talk about doing the transition of Phasesmag, from the web to the print. We will see how it will play out.
Thank you for all your wonderful questions, I wish you all the best – Alexis
Thank you, Alexis!
Courtesy of CAN Christina Androulidaki gallery
Dhiyanah Hassan (interviewer) is a visual artist and writer, and the Arts Editor of Burning House Press.