Interview with Aoife van Linden Tol
conducted by Phoung Quan
conducted by Phoung Quan
Phuong Quan: How did you get the idea for your work with explosives?
Aoife van Linden Tol: Discussing chemistry with science student friends one night I discovered that one of them used to make and play with explosives in their teenage years. I realised that this might be a way I could combine my interest in chemical change and reactions with making art. It also appealed due to my interest in cosmology. In fact explosions in the universe have been the most important events in shaping everything that exists and, of course, the creation of the universe itself. From then on I started researching but it wasn't for another year and a half, as my third year at university was approaching, that I decided to realise the idea for my final project.
PQ: What are the main inspirations for using explosions?
AV: It is the nature of an explosion that seems to express effectively many of the elements of life that fascinate me. Like power, the mathematics and symmetry of nature, death, change and exchange, cause and effect, the perception of time, matter and density. For instance, the observation of events that occur over time scales that are too fast or to slow to be within the realms of human perception. Ultimately it is understanding the exchange of energies and the balance of forces in the universe.
PQ: What are the main strands of your personal investigations into using explosives?
AV: The work I have done seems to have developed into four distinct areas so far. At first it was necessary to look and learn about explosive and their effects in a very literal and physical way. So the initial work comprised a series of experiments where I set about discovering how to manipulate the explosive forces to achieve specific variations in texture and form.
This then led to the meta-formations work where I wanted to utilise the usual perception of an explosion being a destructive and dangerous force. Using sheet metal to form rips and scars that are reminiscent of torn flesh. Enhancing connotations of death by tapping into the natural instinct to compare oneself physically to the wound the object has received. This work is very much about the matter and chemistry. It is meant to be rough and jagged.
PQ: And how did this lead to the other two areas?
AV: I think I wanted to change direction after that and became more concerned with the actual being of the explosion. Capturing a solid representation of the negative gaseous space. Using clay to capture the shape of rapidly expanding gasses and then casting the positive in plaster. I used these to briefly investigate the surface texture as a material in itself by making latex samples of the plaster casts and experimenting with this as a fabric. And although this was then the third or fourth staged removed from the explosion itself it raised interesting questions about the representation of an event and the place for it. Should this "fabric" be worn against the skin when children are getting blown up in Cambodia from being as close to a real bomb?
The next, and for me the most interesting, area are the works with layers of paper. This work became about time and movement. It is surprisingly delicate and emotional work. You travel with the explosion through each layer of its journey. The pages reveal the mathematical balance of the forces at play as well as capturing fragments of moments that we could not possibly observe in real time.
PQ: The work could be seen as quite controversial, how do you react or defend the work against those who might find it sensational or insensitive, considering the way explosive devices have been used in war and terrorism?
AV: Its interesting that this question has been asked quite a lot and yet there has actually not been any resistance to the work at all, so far. It is also seemingly unusual that the people who do have experiences of the type of events mentioned have responded with the most interest and understanding. I think the general public enjoy having their preconceived ideas about explosives changed through such an unusual and unexpected form of dialogue. And it allows those who are familiar with explosives to take a fresh perspective on something they take for granted. Also I am not the first to use explosives to create my work. Recent examples include Cornelia Parker for her Exploded Shed and, of course, Cai Guo-Qiang who specialises in using fireworks and gunpowder in much of his work. He even collaborated with Yohji Yamamoto and used gunpowder on garments for one collection. There are also many examples of works using fireworks and explosives since the 1960's. So I don't believe it really is that controversial or even sensational, not anymore any way.
PQ: Do you think that the use of explosives in your work will encourage individuals to pursue their own independent homemade explorations of explosives?
AV: Well, it may help to introduce the use of explosives in art more as a tool, rather than as a one off event or only used by those in a specialised field. Artists are constantly finding ways to utilise phenomena that exist in the universe for their work.
But in terms of homemade antics, no I don't! If people want to be violent and are going to make bombs, they will make them. And they do. I think in London we have been aware of the reality of this for some time. I don't think anyone is more likely to take the kind of risk involved, just because they saw my work.
PQ: Which genre of art do you feel your work belongs to or is closest to?
AV: It would be hard to say at the moment, there is so much out there it is impossible to know who your work will be grouped with. Sometimes I make my work with no concept in mind, except those that the explorations of the material, or technique, lead me to. So my philosophical identity cant really be grouped with anything else.
I guess it I would simply say it is sculpture. In a way I feel my work is quite traditional. Artists, especially since the beginning of the last century, from Marcel Duchamp to Lucio Fontana, to Tracey Emin, have all tried to explore ways of expanding what we "create" with. It is a universal desire... not at all unique to any one genre. It is an important motivation for what I try to do. What is a material? I ask myself this all the time.
PQ: Do you also mean to ask, "What it is to BE material?"
AV: Yes, exactly. But also "can I try to view something from the perception of something other than human?". If an explosion passes through a diary in one billionth of a second then each page is a day in its life. "What is it to be time?" or "what is it to be force?" this is what concerns me. The observation of matter that has experienced force is beautiful in itself. It tells a story, it has a life. I see all kinds of matter as living.
PQ: Why is it important to create a spatial sculptural work rather than say a media piece?
AV: Explosions happen in a three-dimensional space and for me it is important to explore it in terms of its true existence. The concepts are in many ways tied to the relation ship of the work with the viewer and so should communicate directly in a physical space.
PQ: Why is the choice of materials important to the work.
AV: It is important for me to use a variety of materials for individual pieces because I want to try to highlight the extremes and balance the ephemeral and permanent properties of different substances. Because each material's reaction to an explosion is completely different it is essential that I choose the right medium for the right idea. One 12,875,000th of a Second may have been a successful work if made with steel sheets rather than paper, but it would have conveyed a completely different emotional concept.
PQ: What is the relevance of constructing your own pieces to blow up? Why not blow up objects that already exist?
AV: To blow up an object is to blow up all our ideas and associations of that object- it's a kind of a statement about its specific meaning. As my studies are more concerned with materiality and of the actual explosive forces, I don't want to confuse the issues. The only slight exception to this was the use of books in The Diary of an Explosion and Once upon A Fraction of Time. Even then an empty book is similar to a blank canvas. It's meaning only comes from what is created within the cover and how that translates in the mind of the reader.
PQ. What is your role in the creative process?
AV: As most of my work is about process and discovery, following the initial conception and design of the work it is really important that I follow through the realisation of the work myself. On the range I do have a staff member from the ISSEE (International School for Safety and Explosives Education) working with me. Usually Dave Praulins. His knowledge and experience is invaluable and we work together to achieve what I want.
But, inevitably, something always happens that makes me think, "ooh, how did that happen, I like that, lets try it again but this time..." It's not always so easy. Sometimes you don't know why something has happened and so you have to work through it, using a process of elimination. There is a delicate balance between all the factors surrounding any explosion. But it is this influence, that the conditions and environment have on an explosion and the uncertainty of the result, that make me feel that I am working with a very natural tool.