Each month we will feature a different Artist where we delve more deeply into their work and get a better handle on who they are. Topics examined will include what motivates them, their technique, and the many influences that are expressed in their work.
This week’s feature is the Greek Artist Artemis Andromaxis.
Her gallery page can be found here.
Bentley Artist Collective (B.A.C): So before we talk about your work, tell us a little about yourself. What are your interests outside of Art?
Artemis Andromaxis (A.A): Ha! Well…I’m interested in a lot of things really. Perhaps its my Greek heritage or something…healthy body/healthy mind and a self-directed education based more around the ancient academies where a global intelligence was cultivated. Not too much specialization; or at least in the sense that you specialize to the exclusion of other studies. The two biggest areas I suppose would be Languages and board games. I’m especially fond of the ancient Chinese strategy game Go. But really I’m into anything that’s interesting…which really means everything.
B.A.C: So what languages do you speak?
AA: I currently only speak Greek and English fluently, but I have plans to learn as many as possible, perhaps 11? I know it sounds like a lot but most of the multi-lingual people I’ve read about say it gets easier after the first 3. Besides having that part of your brain exercised or trained in that fashion, you have existing (and usually related) linguistic frameworks to hang other languages. I guess in a way it’s like saying 3 or 4 languages down you’d be more than half way to 11 with respect to level of effort or time investment.
B.A.C: So which languages are you studying now?
A.A: Other than brushing up on my Greek I’m working on German, French, Farsi, Italian, and Russian.
B.A.C: Do you mean those are the languages you’ll progress through or that you’re currently studying all of those at the same time? If the latter – isn’t that too much?
A.A: I’m doing them all at the same time! But I’m not investing a lot of time in each one haha! I came up with the idea a while ago when..oh! Almost forgot about one of my other interests – sort of a guilty pleasure and related to the languages indirectly – Pokemon Go! After absent-mindedly playing for a few months or so I looked at the stats and realized I had walked close to 1000 km! It got me thinking about how some enormous tasks can be broken down into tiny chunks that you can just add to your day with little disruption, and that after a period of time the work you’ve done builds up.
I had always been interested in studying other languages and would have a crack every now and again but life would get in the way and I would have to cut back on study time. I also thought that if I started multiple languages at the same time I would be hitting the same stages in vocabulary and grammar – and that maybe they would reinforce each other. So because of this I decided to start those five but spend only a few minutes each day on each. It’s not a lot and after a while it gets easy to incorporate into your daily routine, but even if you only learn an average of 2 or 3 words a day (but in reality it’s often more) you’re close to a 1000 word vocabulary by the end of the year!
B.A.C: Interesting point. It reminds me of that thought “How good would I have been at ______ if I had spent 15 minutes a day doing it for the last 10 years”. It is about making something a habit I guess. With respect to languages – language itself plays a fairly important role in your Art. Can you expand on that?
A.A: Art is a form of communication in many ways. You’re having a conversation with the viewer in a language they might not be familiar with. You’re sort of like the archetypal American tourist waving your hands and shouting loudly in your own mother tongue hoping to get your point across to someone who likely doesn’t have the same background as you. Maybe you’re more subtle and you can find ways that are unspoken to connect with this other person and then all of a sudden you’re screaming and gesticulating less and finding that connection. If you’re really smart you’ll end up surprising yourself both with how much you share with this individual and how much “talking “can occur without a shared language. It is these moments that I’m trying to grab on to – those connections between concept and communication not linked to clunky words. But words! Words as well!!
I say clunky but I’m trying not to be pejorative. Words are magical – the symbolism we use to transmit ideas are incredibly efficient. The power of these imperfect languages is incalculable and I find inspiration in that as well. Math especially at the moment. The language of mathematics is the language of nature. It’s not something dependent on the culture you’re from or even what planet (if there are other intelligences out there besides our own). The grammar and vocabulary is identical everywhere in the universe, the only difference that will be found will be in the symbols used to represent these words and rules. The value of Pi and Pythagorean theorem will be true no matter where you are in any galaxy.
Sometimes I’ll include some very advanced mathematical equations in my work for this underlying power and connection. In a way it’s similar to those people who find solace or inspiration in ancient markings. They’re looking at an ancient language that hints at some greater power in a tongue they don’t understand and they find its inclusion in their life comforting or something…motivating? Whatever – it’s not uncommon for people to have these talismans. I’ll get the same kick in a way including it in my work – but even though I have absolutely no clue what is being said, I can know with a degree of certainty that these markings are literally describing an aspect of the universe in a language that is accessible to anyone, from anywhere, if they simply put in the time to study it. The same thing cannot be said of ancient markings or what they’re saying, because there’s no such thing as magic.
B.A.C: As you’re describing it seems you consider your role more as a direct communicator. The idea that a work of Art can be interpreted in anyway the viewer chooses doesn’t seem to fit so well with your analogies above.
A.A: That’s correct in a way. Sometimes the conversation is based around the piece (which is open to interpretation)…like…sort of like – I remember this episode in a novel – I think it was “King Rat” if I remember correctly, where the protagonist enters a home and there’s a toilet right in the middle of the living room. When he inquired about it the host said that it’s a great conversation starter. It’s not that you would necessarily talk about the merits of the toilet or even the toilet itself – it’s just something so out of place that it begged the beginning of a discussion of some sort…any sort. So it is with some pieces of Art I guess – in that the Artist isn’t necessarily communicating something specific, they’re reaching out and beginning a conversation.
That can be good as well – and obviously none of these things are hard and fast rules that are applied in a Draconian fashion.
I tend to gravitate towards trying to make a specific connection though. There’s something appealing about being stranded in another person’s mind like you would be another country and being able to get what you want without knowing their specific language.
B.A.C: You say there’s no such thing as magic but you often use words like ‘magic’ or ‘spiritual’ when describing your work or what inspires you.
A.A: We’re literally made of stardust, and yes of course so is garbage, but still.. stardust! The idea that the molecules in my body would be impossible without the cataclysmic destruction of unimaginably large celestial bodies excites me! Each atom has a story, each molecule an epic journey and every aspect about life as we know it is connected from the very beginning. This connection we have to all of life and the universe is a very real magic that I think is a better use of those terms than trickery.
When a magician demonstrates magic, they’re not doing anything than demonstrating how good they are at lying. It can be entertaining – don’t get me wrong – but their job is to fool, not create miracles. When you look at parts of nature you can see miraculous things like the evolution of the fig (an entire garden or ecosystem enclosed in on itself), the history of the matter that makes up our body, the connections between our different selves in different universes…I could geek out forever on this! But with respect to my Art the things which dazzle me most with their magic are the connections fostered between people and ideas through the use of language.
Spirituality is just my sense of awe at all of this.
B.A.C: Let’s talk about your work for a moment now. Tell us about your “In Code” series of drawings and paintings.
A.A: I was thinking about how information is stored, how that relates to our own symbols that we use to represent words and thoughts, and how a sufficiently complicated or nuanced system of rules could contain a great deal of information in a single shot. I envisioned an advanced alien civilization that could communicate incredibly complex ideas very clearly to one another in a single glance, and that this could be our own possible future at some point tens of thousands of years from now.
In a way we have in born reactions that sort of fall along these lines to people or things we have history with. When I see my lover I get a lot of detail about them, their personality, our history, how they make me feel, entire stories…all from just seeing them. Depending on how they’re holding themselves the direction of their current story, how they’re handling it, and how they may have handled similar things in their past will also creep up. This is a lot of information that blasts itself into our minds (much of it bubbling under the surface in a way) from a glance that could be measured in less than a second.
Now imagine if we had a writing system that included colour, a larger number of letters, words and ideas that were expressed as characters, associations and related directions based on angles, shared character features, and numerous other things besides. It could be a nightmare to learn, but this learning would provide a general machinery to be able to experience totally new stories and visions in the same way we currently experience reliving stories we’re already familiar with. So when I title a piece “Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky written in code” for example I’m trying to create an example of what that complicated writing style would look like. Everything from the history of the protagonist to his emotions, struggle, foibles, character flaws, and conclusion to the story can be contained in one impression. I’ve read the book so when I see the cover page I relive in some small part the whole story. I think it’s interesting exploring the possibilities of creating that same …I don’t know…experiential punctuation but without the viewer having experienced before.
B.A.C: So is it an actual coding of the book then?
A.A: No no no – that would have been an absurd undertaking. I mean it could be done relatively easy using computers or something I gather, but that’s not what I was exploring. I’m not trying to create a code that a person would have to solve, I’m trying to envision what a future writing system would look like to give everything I just mentioned.
B.A.C: To see if I’m understanding this – there is a language savant, Daniel Tammet who talks about different ways of knowing. He has a form of synaesthesia where he experiences numbers differently. When he hears or sees the number ‘1’ for example he experiences it like a starburst. When we look at a 1 we see a vertical line we have abstractly associated with the single unit. He’s able to perform what appear to be miraculous feats of mathematics and language acquisition in part because of how he experiences these symbols. Are you say that in a way you’re trying to envision a more complex linguistic and numerical system that people could learn from the beginning as an experience of this sort? That if in 100,000 years (to pick a number) we could be educated so that a flash of this writing would piece together everything a person would have experienced reading and imagining the novel in question?
A.A: That’s a pretty good way of looking at it yes, although I didn’t think of the synaesthesia connection.
Because I’m thinking about a future language that would require far greater mental capacity than we have now, or at the very least a comprehensive educational system far beyond anything we can imagine at the moment, I’m focusing just on picturing what it could possibly look like. The titles of the books aren’t chosen at random though. I’m thinking of something I’ve read the entire time I’m piecing together the drawing/painting. No idea if this informs the creation but it would feel odd to me calling it something else when I’m done so there’s probably some kind of ephemeral connection somewhere.
B.A.C: Does this style relate to how you explore language in your other works? “Great Big Fucking Universe” for example?
A.A: I suppose it does. In the case of that larger drawing I’m using symbols most people are already familiar with and jamming them together until I feel like I should stop. I also include written text that I might find hard to understand. A great source for this is a book I picked up 20 years ago called “Superstrings: An introduction”- it’s amazing that I can recognize nearly every word, all of which are arranged in totally recognizable grammatical structure, and it’s as foreign as an entirely different language. Also mathematics – sometimes a LOT of mathematics. I keep applying the layers until it feels “right”. Everything I throw, draw, or glue onto the board is deliberately created but stream-of-consciousness applied like a drip painting.
I guess the relation to the “In Code” series is tangential. The impression I’m giving isn’t very specific most cases, it’s more aesthetic or like I mentioned before – to start a conversation. The code group of work is about envisioning a system where the impressions are very deliberate and specific. All of the hard work and complexity being built into the front end of language acquisition so that processing stories, relating news, creating ideas, inventing things and maybe new ways of knowing become more a part of how our thoughts flow.by