Artist interview: Monika Tichacek - Art Collector

16 May 2011

Monika Tichacek's latest exhibition at Karen Woodbury Gallery in Melbourne is a departure from the video work she was primarily known for in the mid 2000s. The reason? A life changing trip to North and South America, which has shown her new ways of thinking about the place of humans in the ecosystem.

Monika Tichacek, the space in everything, 2011. Gouache, pencil & watercolour on paper, 92 x 115cm. Courtesy the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne.

You spent some time overseas recently. What were you up to and how long were you away?

I was away for two and a half years from mid 2006 until the end of 2008. I spent most of this time in nature in an attempt to make a deeper connection with the land and to learn about the way animist cultures view the human life experience.

Since my travels I am experiencing a much deeper connection and relationship with the land. I live out in the bush now, which feeds me and my work.

My work now is conveying this relationship of self with nature, as well as the sitting in and exploring of existential questions, the great mystery of our lives here on earth.

What are you showing in this current exhibition at Karen Woodbury Gallery?

I am exhibiting a series of drawing-paintings done with watercolour and pencil. I wanted to convey a sense of the micro- and the macro-cosmos.

The large diptych of the tree was done to human scale so that one has to stand at a distance to experience that grandness of such a presence and at the same time the immense detail of the small life within such a large organism.

Furthermore I aim to convey a sense of the cycles in everything - death and rebirth playing out in everything in and around us.

There is also a performative element, titled Beauty shattered all ideas of who I am. Here I am alluding to the human place in the ecosystem, which is deeply interconnected but yet essentially mysterious. I am challenging the overemphasis that is placed on the intellect and our scientific understandings.

In this performance I am engaging with sound and a tree log with roots – metaphors for the manifest solid reality and the unmanifest invisible elements that interact with us.

Monika Tichacek, to all my relations 1, 2011. Gouache, pencil & watercolour on paper, diptych, overall 244 x 300cm. Courtesy: the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne.

It seems like quite an evolution from the video work we saw from you in the mid-2000s, pieces like The Shadowers, for instance. What’s changed in your life since then? How have your ideas and interests moved on?

I am still very interested in the experience of self, still investigating myself personally in relation to what is present in my inner life. While this is the constant, the environment where the self is engaged has changed.

My earlier works reflect my sense of self being very anchored in the physical and social constructs of femininity with an air of oppressive confinement and constriction.

The Shadowers I dove more deeply into the psyche, portraying parts of the ego through distinct characters. Habituated workings of the mind were exposed as self-limiting and self-torturous. The relationship to the natural world was portrayed as conflicting and disturbed. The behaviour of the different characters was controlling and destructive.

And yet throughout the darkness there were many glimmers of light, literally communicated via the use of light and sequinned jewels and rubies glistening in images of death and decay.

During my past years, with much time spent in silence in nature, I was able to see my western cultural inheritance – our approach to nature, one of domination, control and destruction, [and] our cultures obsession with superficial surface appearance.

The Shadowers was an outcry at this condition, like taking the lid of the pressure cooker. Since then, and in my travels, I have let nature teach me and I have spent much time investigating the nature of the mind.

Now my interest in the experience of self is investigated via my interest in the complex workings of our ecosystem, which I believe is a metaphor for the internal workings of the body/mind experience.

Above right: Monika Tichacek, The Shadowers No.14, 2005. Lightjet prints, edition of 6, 120 x 90cm. Courtesy: the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne.

So this new exhibition is mainly drawing. What’s prompted the shift from video?

I am finding that drawing is very intimate and very kinaesthetic. There is not so much separation between me and the process (in the sense of embodying the process directly).

I felt that with the video works there was a lot of process, which was very practical and to do much with planning before I would get to the physical embodiment of my ideas. With drawing the process is happening right in that moment, I have to be intensely present.

Monika Tichacek, transmission, 2011. Pencil & watercolour on paper, 150 x 125cm. Courtesy: the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne

What’s the significance of the title you’ve given the exhibition, To all my relations?

The title has inspired an understanding that all animist cultures’ peoples have who live in close relationship to the earth. We are all related, we all exist in an interdependent system.

The ecosystem is such an unbelievably complex, harmonious system. Every drop of rain, every insect, every micro-organism has its place for the perfect functioning and health of nature.

Science has only barely touched the surface of the mind-boggling intelligence of this planet’s ecosystem. Most animist cultures seem to have a deep awareness of this and somehow their myths and laws have always protected this delicate balance to ensure harmony with the land, which is sustainable.

All the honouring of spirits and sacred places of the land, while seeming to be superstitious to our intellectual society, have a very practical and important purpose of keeping the balance in this reciprocity.

The title
To all my relations is an acknowledgement and honouring of all that is live-giving, every little element that makes up the big picture of life on earth. Sadly we have done some serious damage to this system, due to ignorance and corporate interests.

Monika Tichacek, birth of generosity, 2011. Pencil & watercolour on paper, diptych, overall 70 x 114cm. Courtesy: the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne

I’m interested in how you see the shamanic traditions of South America, having had the opportunity to observe and experience them first hand. To an outsider like me they seem quite exotic, but to be honest the word shaman in English also has an odour of deceit for me.

I have always participated in shows at artist-run initiatives and collaborations with other artists are an informative part of my practice.

I think art is primarily a social and political activity and don’t believe critical acclaim or commercial success are prerequisites for a significant contribution to art.

Involvement in an initiative such as Ocular Lab allows for experimentation and dialogue. It’s mostly driven by strong friendships and mutual concerns.

I am generally humbled by art and artists and don’t consider isolation or indifference of any kind as potential healthy attributes to my practice.

Sometimes being away for a long time, you come home to see your “normal” world with fresh eyes. Has this happened to you?

Yes it has, but I would hardly call this world normal.

Jane O’Sullivan

Monika Tichacek's current exhibition,
To all my relations, is on view at Karen Woodbury Gallery in Melbourne until 28 May 2011.

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