1:1 Interview with Alexandra Ross


ALEXANDRA ROSS 1:1

David Krut Projects, 2 June – 9 July 2011


Alexandra Ross’ last solo exhibition in 2009, In Search of Lost Time (David Krut Projects), was a series of fake Polaroid drawings and prints.

  • The works created for your current solo show 1:1, are abstract and for people who haven’t seen your work since your last show here, they look completely different. What’s the link between those figurative “Polaroid” works and these abstract ink and oil ‘stain’ works?

In a sense, this work, like my “Polaroids” also emerged out of my interest in photography. I’ve always had parallel interests in painting and photography and the “Polaroid’s” from the 2009 show were partly an attempt to merge these two mediums into one form, and also partly a way to blur the boundary between original and copy, reality and illusion.

The Polaroid itself is quite magical and ephemeral in the way it emerges while you watch it. There’s movement within a static medium, which is a contradiction. That’s what I wanted to capture in my painting. These new “stain” works emerge like the “Polaroid” does – quite quickly, almost instantly, with no trace of the hand or brush, just very thin pigment moving on paper.

  • How did your stay in Berlin last year affect the work you are now doing?

In Berlin I found that I just couldn’t paint in the same way that I had been before. Part of it was about being in a new place, feeling overwhelmed and oversaturated with the volume of contemporary art I was seeing. I needed to retreat into myself in order to find my own voice, to make work that reflected something of my ‘new’, other, Berlin self. At first I was trying to make figurative oil on canvas paintings and I wasn’t enjoying any of them and, as these things happen, at some point I made a ‘mistake’ and in that accidental mark I saw the potential for something different to develop.

  • What was your experience like being back at DKW in the print workshop?

It was a different experience because the Berlin works were made predominantly in isolation and no one could see what I was doing and no one was looking until I chose to show them at the Berliner Kunstsalon (an independent art fair that runs concurrently with Artforum). It was a very direct one-to-one relationship between me and my work. But in the printmaking studio here, even though the process of making two monotypes off one original is very direct, for me making the work became a much more public, observed experience. As a result, these works tend to be larger, bolder, more brightly coloured… less intimate, more flamboyant in a way.

  • How did the title for this show come about?

I decided on 1:1 for many reasons and it took me a long time to find the right title. I wanted something that would communicate the multiple layers of meaning and reference within the work itself and the installation as a whole. I liked the graphic mirroring of the numerals on either side of the colon. It’s a perfectly symmetrical symbol, like the installation, which mirrors and copies itself. I also liked the architectural reference – the ratio of scaled models, which relates to my own model of the gallery hanging in the window. 1:1, or one-to-one, is also about intimacy and privacy. It’s an intimate conversation between me and myself, a conversation that originated in Berlin where I worked and slept in the same room for six months. Of course, the title also relates to the Rorschach inkblot test and the one-to-one relationship between patient and therapist and patient and self. The entire exhibition is like a giant Rorschach test – it holds up a kind of mirror to the unconscious. The viewer’s interpretation of each abstract mark probably tells more about the viewer than it does about the artist, so the works themselves operate as symbolic mirrors too.

  • A large part of your artwork is focused on mirroring the gallery space. Is the space integral to the meaning of your work?

Yes. It was a strong impulse for me to do something with the gallery, to integrate it into the installation and the viewing experience. To exhibit in a gallery is amazing because it gives an artist this great white soapbox to stand on and hold forth from for an entire month. It’s a position of power. I think it’s good to be aware of this power and, for me, to play with it and not to take it too seriously either. It’s great to create an environment that stimulates people to think and experience themselves differently in.

  • It seems you are influenced by modernist ideas around the deliberate accident, nothingness in art and the gallery as the hallowed white cube.

I am, but I’m also interested in subverting and inverting these ideas, often in a postmodernist way – in the sense that the installation is explicitly self-reflexive and contains multiple copies of itself. The ‘white cube’ essentially proposes the gallery as a neutral space, a void; an empty space to be filled. At the heart of this exhibition there is the sense of the void, or absence, because I’m setting it up as if it were a hall of mirrors, but of course it’s not really – it’s an illusion. If you were to stand in a real hall of mirrors you’d see yourself reflected and repeated into infinity. But in this illusion you aren’t actually reflected so you never see your reflection. In a sense, if you buy into the mirror illusion, you don’t exist in this space. But when you begin to interpret the individual abstract works or read into them, like the Rorschach test, you see something of yourself in your interpretation.

  • In conclusion, what are you saying with your work?

It’s a philosophical, but also playful investigation of reality, originality, the self, the gallery… But I’m not so much making statements or answering questions as I am encouraging different perspectives and experiences. I suppose an ephemeral quality runs through much of my work, whether it’s painting, drawing, photography or installation – it’s a quality that I’ve always been interested in – the momentary and the transient, impermanence and ambiguity… the experience of life itself.

Alexandra Ross Interview by Juliet White

18 May 2011, at the artist’s studio, Braamfontein, Johannesburg