Posted: April 17th, 2017 -
Exclusive Interview with British-Armenian artist Taline
Taline Temizian (b.1978, Fresno, USA) is a London-based artist who works with multiple media including paintings, kinetic & light installations, collages, using systems, signs and processes to explore the interplay between personal narrative and cultural history through science, art and poetry. Temizian’s practice is characterised by a wide range of influences, from modernist painting and anthropology to contemporary medical imagery and research, particularly that of cardiology and neurology.
Taline, you were born in the US, you grew up in Aleppo, Syria, and you are now based in London. Could you tell us a bit more about you and your background?
TT: I was born in California, in Fresno, but when I was forty days old, we moved to Syria.
My father was of Armenian origin and lived in Syria. His father – my grandfather – was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, so my dad was part of the first diaspora generation of Genocide survivor’s children. When he was older, he moved to the US and he studied there. He was a cardiologist, a scientist, and a transhumanist. He believed in the extension of the human life by scientific and technological means such as pacemakers and other machinery. My mother is also of Armenian origin, and was from Beirut, in Lebanon. She was a professional classical singer.
When I was forty days old my grandfather became very ill, and my father had to leave the States to take care of him, so we left for Aleppo, Syria. This was around 1979. I grew up there until the Lebanon war ended, but every year my father brought us to Europe.
He always told me that the world is a big place, you can’t just stay here, although he always wanted to die in Syria as he considered it his home country. I was 19 when he died. He was 54. He got cancer when I was 16, but neither he nor my mother told us. With his scientific knowledge he extended his own life and he lived three more years. He made up his own treatments, he injected himself. Chemotherapy never completely worked, especially in the 90s, and he knew that. I always used to see him putting things into his body and taking medicines.
He was a very, very successful cardiologist. People would say that he was like Jesus, bringing people back from the dead. He was more like a scientist than a doctor and so he forced me to study a scientific baccalaureate because of that. He said “I don’t care what you study after. Ok, you’re an artist but you have to think scientifically”. I was really bad at all of the mathematic elements of it, but now I’m really fascinated by these concepts.
I studied English Literature and Linguistics in Aleppo but because it was a department of Humanities I was really immersed in doing serious philosophical studies of Derrida, Chaucer and Shakespeare for instance which I was really into.
But I was also at art school for eight years in a place they called the Academy, run by Armenian and Soviet art teachers. These were serious art teachers who studied under artists from the Kandinsky “School of Art”. They had these fundamental rules of art and fine art, so when I left and came to Europe I was aware of just how different the conceptual school of art is to the technique driven process I was used to. It was a strange transition.
So how did that transition process unfold for you?
TT: For me, this transition occurred gradually over the years, but a rather strong catalyst was when I met Joseph Kosuth, who somewhat remolded that transition. After meeting him, I didn’t find artists like Damien Hirst to be incomprehensible anymore, whereas at the beginning I had a lot of resistance to it because I didn’t understand it. That changed, and now I can’t help but see things that way. One of the main things he taught me was that on a personal level you can understand a piece and that it’s a way of thinking, not just observing. “Art as idea as idea”.
What made you eventually decide to leave Syria?
TT: After my father died, I decided to travel to Paris and Venice. I told my mother that I felt I had a message to share but that I couldn’t express it in Syria, I had to get out. I felt that a war was brewing in Syria. I left when I was about 20 or 21. My brother was in Lebanon studying at the time. He’s a filmmaker, he now works in the advertising world but he’s a filmmaker. He went to Lebanon to study. Syrians were hated there. There’s a lot of history and hatred between the two countries because of religious and political circumstances. So I decided I couldn’t stay there anymore and I left for Venice and then onto Paris and went looking for myself. I felt like my creative process and my freedom was being blocked and it had to get out somehow.
And did that eventually change in Paris?
TT: My first experience of conceptual art was in Paris. I met a load of artists and ethnographers there who mentored me while I was in Paris. I created my first portfolio with their guidance. It was meant to be purely illustrative, but it became very conceptual, very freehand and very expressionist without me meaning it to be. I was playing with a lot of different materials and I was shocked as it was almost like an exorcism for me. It released me in a way, and it was the first time that I felt I could explore things in such a depth. I called this first collection “Burlesque at the Backstage of Theatre Gothic”.
Around that time, I was invited to a very important gala event in Aleppo. The kind of place you would see all sorts of high profile people attending. But it was a period of time in which I felt very depressed, like Syria had nothing left to offer me, it felt like an empty place, where my father had died. Then I saw this man at the party who looked very original, very different, and he started smiling at me. He was my now ex-husband. Our relationship evolved, and he later became the reason I came back to London, as he was from London. He was very progressive, very interested in human rights, he worked for Amnesty International, and was the reason I became interested in human rights issues. When Syria started to be drawn into war, I begged my mother to leave and ended up calling my brother from London saying “I don’t care what you do, tie her up if you have to but get her out of Syria!” She eventually smuggled herself out of the country.
Meanwhile, I had moved to London and was doing my postgraduate at LCC. I had done a lot of courses beforehand at Central St Martins that had already changed a lot of my views. St Martins did something to me where I started to understand the critical thinking of art, my conceptual moment. So I took my portfolio to LCC, not knowing what I wanted to do. I always knew I was an artist but it was never something I was brought up to believe as something you do to survive. I was also creating figurative canvas work at that time which has only recently begun to sell in the last few years. It was interesting to see how people who started buying the conceptual works wanted to see that progression and continuation and started buying my earlier works as well, to see the journey the work had taken. For years, I have developed my Cardiac series. I focused on the anatomy of the heart and had been greatly inspired by pieces in The Welcome Collection, such as Da Vinci’s and Gormley’s works, as well as studying Picasso’s writings. My final project at LCC was the Networks series which I got the highest mark on the course for.
You mentioned your father being a transhumanist. Did that influence your work in any way?
TT: Yes. The heart and the brain were his dominant interests. One of my mentors who knew me as a transhumanist looked at my work and questioned why I didn’t focus on the brain, since I had done so much exploration into the heart. I think that the brain is different, it’s about data and computing. It wasn’t until I met Joseph Kosuth in 2014 and became interested in Constructivism, Poststructuralism and Suprematism that I started thinking more about it. I was like Kandinsky becoming Malevich in my own head.
I was interested in all of this and reading about what was happening in London, when I got involved with a group of underground artists. The group was led by Vanya Balogh, a curator who shows with artists who are almost all outsider artists, outside of the blue chip circle. They are like the Duchamps or Acconcis of tomorrow. All of their work is so cool and cutting edge and I started working with them. I knew I needed to establish myself before having a solo show, so I engaged in group shows and exhibited with them. Just after that, in 2015, during the Venice Biennale, I met the Israeli artist Tsibi Geva who then represented the Israel Pavilion and was part of another creative school I got acquainted with. We later had our collaboration and show in New York, “Silent War”, which explored war and trauma, referencing the Forensic Architecture project. Our collaboration is ongoing for upcoming projects.
I did a few projects influenced by Amnesty International, one of which was “Camp Delta” (2003 – 2013), an installation featuring a Guantanamo Bay suit which I kept from my partner then who wore it at Amnesty demonstrations in front of N10 Downing street. It is quite an intense piece and not very easy to display in a gallery. Amnesty also supported a project for the Armenian genocide, so I did an installation there called “Sojourn & Passage to the Homeland” for the 2015 centenary.
What made you eventually decide to focus on the brain as an inspiration for your work?
TT: When I talk about memory and trauma, that’s my history. I grew up with a grandmother telling me how, during the Armenian Genocide, they drank water from puddles full of dead bodies and other macabre things that influenced me artistically. I’ve also got the trauma of losing my father, and my break-up and all that stuff as well. Then I started to explore the brain and how I can get over that trauma when every second we sit down our memory attacks us. It’s like flashes that are very visual. I spoke to an Iraqi war veteran who is one of our artists in the group and he talked about how he sits down sometimes and experiences that trauma as if it’s now.
These are things I started to explore with the brain and of course there are a lot of connections between the brain and the Network series. The brain is a network, so is society, operated through rules and meanings.
A lot of my works on paper explore this. One of them is called Construction which is almost the end of the heart era, the reflection of it. It’s reconstructing or breaking apart etc. Ironically, I wasn’t very well read in Rauschenberg but I used a lot of the ideas and references from his work. In the same way, there are a lot of references from other parts of art history. Some of these I was aware of but some of them I was unaware of, they just happened. I think as an artist you almost naturally take a journey through art history, without necessarily knowing where you’re going.
Can you talk a bit more about your previous series?
TT: Elegy for Red Cardiac is part of a series including Elegy for Blue, Elegy for Love and Elegy for Golden Years, as well as Elegy for Arrested Cardiac. There was also Elegy for Dad, of course a direct reference to my father, which is another piece that has not been out for show since a solo exhibition I did in Maastricht. It’s a huge piece almost directly inspired by Duchamp, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and the heart in the piece almost becomes the face of my father for me. The red piece is the most glamourous and the most passionate and beautiful one to me. The other ones have certain stories, such as the golden one, that is in private collection now. The idea of that is that it takes old memories and filters them through recent years. It’s a constant shift. For instance, when you are down, you try to borrow from your past to fuel your hope and when you’re remembering that, the black smog is still blocking some of your filters which is the trauma because some part of you never recovers. There were no immediate influences for these, more figurative imageries.
The kinetic piece TEXTURED MERGED NETWORKS was an important creation for being one out of the infinite possibilities of the Networks outcome, and because parallel to my conceptual work I was quietly developing but never publishing The Networks Project Material (going back to 2010). Later on, in 2014, I met with Philipp Keel at Art Basel in Switzerland, a good friend, artist and serious art publisher/photographer whose father, Daniel Keel, and mother, artist Anna Keel, were close friends of Federico Fellini. Philipp saw my Networks project series on my iPad, and he urged me to keep developing it. Philipp influenced my work in many ways by his refined viewpoint, perfectionism, and by showing me that I didn’t have to take myself too seriously and that it was okay to crack a joke in an artistic way, which requires a lot on notions of elegance and beauty as well.
The Networks project came a long way, especially after my further interest in physics, technology, science, and exploring the works of Nam June Paik, Vladimir Bonacic, Olafur Eliasson, Gretchen Bender, and other digital performance, video artists, and artistic movements. While exploring, the theories of Hans Ulrich Obrist and how new media, technology, and digital art became the central catalyst for my new works and new ideas. It originates from Roland Barthes’ book “The Fashion System”, which explores systems and signs, and it goes further into the realm of algorithm and art, putting the brain in the spotlight once more.
What about your artistic process?
TT: My work starts from a concept. A thought that immediately becomes an emotion. I don’t care about the image, I don’t care about the medium when I start, I’m just trying to say something which is pretty straightforward. That came from reading Picasso’s notes and hearing Joseph Kosuth and his aim at understanding the philosophical side of things. There’s also a lot of background there from Hegel, Heidegger, Derrida, Barthes and Saussure after studying all that and realizing that actually all that directly links to art. Otherwise what are you doing? You’re just making images without concepts. After that, the image making and the critical thinking started to come closer and closer in my art and formed a certain identity. There was always a disparity before. The Networks project, for example, came as a result of that union because there is a big conceptual preparation behind it, years of experimentation. The Networks project is currently in preparation for the coming stage working with engineers and scientists.
Taline Temizian will be exhibiting at the Venice Art Biennale in May 2017 and at Art Brussels. She will also be holding a solo show in Bahrain on the 2nd of May 2017.
Photograph: copyrights David Bailey, 2013, David Bailey studio, London