The contemporary artists Olena Newkryta and Titania Seidl present their work in a duo show at the Gallery Raum mit Licht.
The exhibition called Domino gradually grows week by week into a full group show reaching its peak by June.
Titania and Olena had a zoom conversation which served as the source for their text.
Titanias text is in English and Olenas German text is enclosed at the bottom.
It’s a grey March afternoon in 2021, the one year anniversary of Austria’s first lockdown was just a few days ago.
As I enter my studio, I see I will need to make room amidst the clutter covering my table: small paintings, finished and unfinished, sketches, a variety of palettes, paintbrushes, a set of containers filled with water and turpentine, an array of books and catalogues.
I carefully push it all aside to make room for a glass of water and my laptop.
Olena appears on the screen, framed by the objects on my table. As is customary these days, I meet her as a half length portrait, seeing only her head and upper body.
Behind her, I can catch a glimpse of the artist’s studio - white walls, a sliver of a white door, a black shelf displaying spines of books, and two reels of film. -Titania
Olena: I can see your painting standing behind you, have you decided if that’s what you want to show?
Titania: Yes, I think so, the three paintings that I’ve sent you before.
And you, did anything change about the work for the exhibition?
Olena: Yes, I restructured the work a little bit.
The images won’t be printed on one large textile, but they will be split into single images instead.
I’ve had eight images printed on canvas and I think I will make a selection, the chats will be printed on a plastic foil and either placed on the wall or on the floor of the gallery, depending on the entire installation..
Titania: Can you tell me more about the text?
Olena: The text is a chat protocol of my conversation with Tareq.
Tareq is a digital worker offering all kinds of services related to digital image production and manipulation.
I’ve hired him through an internet platform established especially for self-employed, “visual” workers from different corners of the world.
So, I’ve asked him to photoshop around 30 images showing the Veil of Veronica and isolate the object from its original background, leaving only the hands that hold it and the piece of fabric without the face of Jesus on it.
Titania: So all that’s left is the bare veil.
Olena: Exactly, only the bare veil is visible.
Scrolling through the chat, you can read how I requested his services and how much it cost.
The chats are all about this commission situation.
I usually don’t deal with painting in my work, also it’s the first piece that I’ve printed on canvas - I’m very happy that we’re participating in Domino together. You studied painting, didn’t you?
Titania: Yes, I studied painting and animation film at Angewandte in Vienna.
This is also how I came across your work in the first place, because you studied there too.
After reading your diploma text and visiting your exhibition, I thought, I would really like to talk with you one day, because I found both your ideas in the text and the show fascinating.
I’m glad that we get the chance to talk to each other in this context!
I’ve also seen photos of another work of yours, a printed fabric hung on a metal construction - is that related to your work for the show?
Olena: Yes, I’ve produced a scarf that is actually meant to be a merch, it’s an artwork in a way but first and foremost an object to be used and worn, without a fixed edition or anything like that.
For this piece, I have used the image of the Veil of Veronica for the first time, and have also extracted the veil from its original context.
The idea was simple: The body of the future wearer should inscribe itself into the scarf and into the image.
(Sometimes during our conversation, there are pauses, as in any good conversation.
I find it hard to tell whether it’s a moment where we collect our thoughts, catch our breath, reflect on what we spoke, or if it’s a technical stutter, a delay in the connection.
I make a lot of affirmative sounds to assert that I’m present, sounding like a strange metronome. )-Titania
Olena: Back then, I had started to collect different representations of the Veil of Veronica, and decided to pick them up again for this upcoming show, as Domino is also about accumulation, gathering artworks in the space over time.
This curatorial idea relates to the way I have worked on this piece-collecting the images over and over again since 2018.
So, this exhibition seemed like a good opportunity to edit the collection and show it in a physical space.
Titania: How did you come across the Veil of Veronica in the first place?
Olena: It was more of a coincidence.
I’m not religious and as I was born in Ukraine, where the depiction of the veil isn't really famous, I didn’t know the motif for a very long time.
But I’ve examined religious images a while ago, after I got inspired by an Orthodox custom, where pictures are kissed by the praying people.
I think this physical approach towards an image that you kiss and adore is beautiful. During that research, I came across the Vernicle.
I thought it was very interesting how this piece of cloth tells a lot about the economy of images when looked at from a contemporary perspective: The veil itself was supposedly created by the imprint of Jesus’ face and not by a human hand.
Therefore-it got incredibly precious, an invaluable relic, but exactly because it was unique, people started copying it and proclaiming that their piece would be the original object. Later, attempts to stop the process of reproduction and efforts to find the original veil with scientific methods have been initiated.
Those interventions render visible the hierarchy of value between original and copy as well as the conditions of image production in general.
The circulation of those images and their entanglement in economic structures interested me, which is why I’ve started collecting and manipulating them.
But I also wanted to address the invisible labor of digital workers inscribed in the circulation of digital images.
That's how I decided to hire Tareq and make that commission readable by displaying the chat alongside the images in the gallery space.
The erasure of the imprint on the veil is also a nod to Rauschenberg’s “Erased De Kooning Drawing” from 1953, where he performs an artistic gesture that’s not additive but subtractive - in a way that work has a dual authorship.
In my own practice, I also like to pass or share the authorship of an image.
(Again, there is a short break in our connection, or rather, I’m not even sure if it’s long or short.
While I look at the frozen image on my screen and wish to hear Olena finish her thought, I silently plead with my internet connection to please come back on.
When the sound returns, the sentence is not lost but compressed, words that were spoken over the course of a minute tumbling out of my speakers in mere seconds.)-Titania
Titania: I have looked at older works of yours online and one work that really held my attention was “To Hand. A Projection for the Palm”.
I was reminded of this piece again when you were talking about physical contact with an image, because that is somehow connected to this earlier piece of yours - an imaginary touch that actually happens merely on a visual level, by light touching skin.
Olena: This topic appears repeatedly in my work, not only in an obvious way, as a connection through physical touch, but as a search for communication or an attempt to establish contact with someone else.
Which was also the case with Tareq, who is -just like myself- working mainly with images, but approaching them differently.
That got me motivated to get in touch and develop a piece together.
This search for contact through the artwork itself, is also the foundation of other works, in which the visitors are directly or unwittingly contributing to the work - usually by leaving a trace.
I sometimes use photosensitive material. For example, in the installation “Gestures of Collectivity” I place a piece of photosensitive paper on a table that is covered with a piece of “focussing cloth” which is used in analogue photography.
The viewers are invited to lift the cloth in order to see the image below. That image is the imprint of the cloth left on the paper when touched by light, and if they lift the cloth, this imprint shifts.
I like the idea of one viewer creating an image for the next one, while the imprint keeps moving and shifting.
Titania: Image production as a collaborative work.
(Our conversation continues through a broad range of subjects - we touch on painting, different modes of collaboration in art works, bodies and physicality, and the relationship of a viewer’s body with a work of art.
Sometimes during our talk, I forget that we are not in the same room, connected only by the glow of our computer screens, and I’m only reminded of this when Olena tells me about the Ghent Altarpiece.) -Titania
Olena: I think especially with painting, where it’s really important to experience the texture and physicality, questions of presentation in a virtual space become important.
Do you know the website Closer to Van Eyck, it’s one of my favorites?
Titania: No, I don’t think so, let me write that down.
Olena: The website was created only for this altarpiece. The altar has been documented with high tech photographic resources, so in this virtual presentation you can really zoom in deeply into the texture of the paint.
It is totally absurd, because I’ve been to Ghent before and I’ve visited the altar in its real space, where you are separated from it by a sheet of bullet proof glass.
You can’t get very close to it, and the glass itself is covered with smudges and traces of the people that were there before you and touched it or rubbed up against it.
Of course it is great to be able to move around it and see its wooden backside, but on the website, you can travel through the painting millimeter by millimeter.
(I suddenly notice the traces on another sheet of glass, the glass on my laptop screen that separates me from Olena.
I see traces of grease and little dots of thin paint, some I’ve clearly tried to scrape off with my fingernail which only resulted in sharp crisscrossing marks covering the surface, and I see the layer of dust that has accumulated on the backlit rectangle through which Olena and I continue talking.)-Titania
You can find the original German text below.