Life is No Argument
Fragments from an interview with Konstantinos Dregos by Nick Hackworth
- This Talk has been conducted in the studio of the artist on Saturday 3rd March, 2018 -
NH: We were talking about the ideas that form the foundations of your work…
KD:Yes, there are a couple of questions or challenges that, I suppose, underscore my work. You could almost regard them as bullet points to understand my approach. For me, the first, is to see if can I avoid limitation or, one might say, impoverishment… by which I mean, how can I avoid the exclusion of the real that results from the necessary attributes of material form?’ The second, following question, is ‘how can I, or how can the work, or me doing that work, denote the opposite of these attributes of form?’
NH:Those attributes being the tendency of the material form to exclude the real?
KD:Yes, exactly. How can I work in a way that communicates raw, unmediated subjective experience?
NH:So we’re talking about an attempt, a necessarily doomed attempt, to avoid the violence inherent in all representation, be it through language, or visual or material forms…
KD: Yes, yes! In that case the precondition of accepting the representational on the level of an Illusion is the tricky part… and I am not an illusionist. I'm not representational at all. My position is almost nominalistic you know… It's like questioning, doubting even canceling everything until I feel free enough of trying to figure out stuff from the start, capture things in their beginnings.
NH:In practical terms does your attempt to avoid representation in your work boil down to an attempt to avoid or sidestep intentionality in your process? Whenever discussing this topic I think of Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery in which he describes a particular school of archery in Japan whose method revolved around an attempt to bypass interference from the conscious mind to improve their accuracy and efficiency.
KD:Yes, well intentionality is a difficult subject. The example you just gave seems rather a contradiction because it sounds counter intuitive to avoid intentionality by intending not to! [Laughs] You cannot really separate the two because, in order to do so, that pre-assembles an action. In that very action, those two things, meaning the interference of the conscious mind and the urge to gain distance from it come together, even if you are willing to separate them. In that particular action they fuse, melt together and become one thing again. So maybe instead what should be discussed is the question of if there is ever a pure observer outside of the system…
NH:Well actually the approach by the so-called Zen archers that Herrigel studies is one of and bypassing the conscious mind by physical actions made routine and instinctive through years of practice and application. But anyway… what we are saying, in reality, is that your work is a gesture towards this idea, because of course, it can never be the thing in itself.
KD: Of course, of course... Or, well, maybe it can be, but not in that extent that you can, you know, one having the illusion that it can be 100% representational... which in that case would mean dead... even the opposite of that idea would have to suffer under rationalization, but we are lucky to be able intuitively accept giving that slack, as we do when we are standing in front of Michelangelo's Giants…
NH:Ok. Can you describe to me, simply, the process you go through to make your work?
KD:Sure, yes. Hmmm… well, to begin with I don’t make preliminary sketches. All these paintings, they just happen, ad hoc, you know? Each of them only takes… might take maybe a few days, to make? But the process is that I work through from beginning to end. After I start painting, I don't sleep and only stop when it’s done. Even if it takes three days.
NH: Really, you don't sleep? That's interesting. Why? Is there a reason for that? Not that there has to be a reason…
KD:If I dial into something and get into it, I can’t come back from that place till I’m finished. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s it.
NH:Is tiredness useful, in the sense that it’s a good way to dampen down, one might say, excess of consciousness or intentionality? If you're tired, your work becomes… a bit more.... automatic?
KD:Exactly. I think this is the main reason I work like this, but I didn't want to talk about it. but as you’ve started…
NH:You didn't want to talk about automatism?
KD:No, because it's overdone. It’s a little bit like, [laughs] an overcooked meal, automatism, because it has been used and talked about in ways that I don't agree with. Automatism is a state. It is not a situation that your body will, you know, will get into just because you say 'And now I will work automatically …' you know? It's not decisive, it's something that needs to have time and the right circumstances to emerge. You can intensify the conditions but you cannot intentionally trigger automatism... It’s more likely that intentionality cancels the possibility of automatism… you can only rely on one’s own impetus and that makes me a very moody person.
NH:[Laughs]. Oh yeah?
KD:Yeah! I trust… I have full trust in my mood. A hundred percent. For me that’s my first priority... If a possible thing or action does not fit my mood I don't do it, or, rather, I do exactly what my mood says. I'm very delicate with my mood, is what I'm trying to say. And this is, why, I suppose, I chose this method, if you may call it a method, of working. Because the mood is not intentional… it just happens... that’s why. It’s a state that you cannot force or train or learn, it just happens and if you are ‘in the moment’ and susceptible then you get the chance to exist in a different way. If that makes any sense…
NH:Ok, so talking more specifically about the actual paintings… What's going on with this one? The one on page 8 of the book? I like this one a lot, with all these V signs on its surface.
NH:Do you want to tell me what's going on with them? What are these little V’s or arrow signs? Are they anything?
KD:No, not much. I mean, I can’t really tell you much, specifically, about any of these paintings. Once they’re finished it's extremely hard for me to... to reconnect with them. Once you’re out of the act of creating, you’re out… I can’t find any access.
NH:Well actually I think that’s a nice exchange to put into the book. As it happens I’m much more interested in writing around the thing in itself than about… although actually, it looks like you've stenciled the word 'Kant' onto this work.
KD:Yes. It's just a coincidence.
NH:There’s an arc that runs through the three major bodies of work covered in this book: Ars Ex Machina, Lapsus and Labrynth. Do you see them as a continuum, or are they discrete bodies of work?
KD:Both because the one doesn't exclude the other. The same theme runs through all of them.
NH:What's the theme?
KD:It's all about the error and mistake. The lapsus. The inherent Error..
NH:We talked about this years ago… A mistake in the gnostic sense… the gap between thought and the world?
KD:Yes. Because an error creates its own reality.
NH:Like the world?
KD:Yes! [laughs] And this in itself is a Labyrinth. The labyrinth has always been a metaphor for the world, the way we cope with our existence in that world is through following a thread of information that we consider as valid. We have been told that Dionysus is the philosopher, the seducer, he is the one who lures us, we need to get in the labyrinth and turn that experience into gold.
NH:There’s a great passage by Nietzche in which he says something like, to paraphrase; the apparent concreteness of the world should not fool us into thinking that the world is necessary because amongst the conditions of life there may be error. Or something like that.
KD:[Laughing] I couldn't agree more than that.
NH:So we should put that quote in the book somewhere?
NH: Where does the title of this show and this book come from?
KD: From a short piece for writing by Walter Benjamin. It’s a beautiful, expansive text. In it he describes getting lost in the labyrinth and the notion of the labyrinth for the way that memory is structured…
NH: You mean as an metaphor for memory?
KD: Yes. But what I found very intriguing about that particular theme was to ask the question, what if the labyrinth is not the building, by itself, but the thread?
NH: What do you mean by that?
KD: Well the thread is a chain of information and the information can mislead or lead you to where you want to go. In the original story of the labyrinth Ariadne gives Theseus the golden thread so that he can enter the Labyrinth, kill the monster and get find his way out again. But in order to find your way out you have to get to the middle of the labyrinth. So the labyrinth is a metaphor for getting to the heart of the matter, of finding yourself by losing yourself. This is what philosophy does for me. The thing is, this search, is not necessarily about a certain truth. As we’ve said, an error creates its own reality, you know? So even if the Labyrinth is a false reality, it remains a reality, and so it depends on us, to use the information we have to navigate through the world… I call it the chain rule of inverse drive.
NH:[Referring to two elements collaged onto the surface of X painting] So, these bits of felt... is they a nice Beuysian reference? Or not really?
KD:No, I don't think so.
NH:Fair enough. I guess Beuys doesn't get to own felt, as a reference.
KD:[Laughs] But funnily enough you mentioned heroes earlier and if I do have artistic heroes, then one would be Beuys and the other Leonardo.
NH:Wow. That’s a punchy selection. Why them? Is there a connection between them?
KD:Well they mean a lot to me, and I guess the connection between them is alchemy. Which is not to say they were actual alchemists but rather, for me, they bring the idea of a certain kind of alchemy into the world. It is enough that alchemy appears as an idea, even if not in reality.
NH:Why? Because it represents the possibility, even if slight, of transcendence?
KD:Yes. Both Leonardo and Beuys brought together the scientific and the mythological. These are the only two people that I know that succeeded in that.
KD:To me, what makes Beuys so important to me is that he points out our inability to connect with our great past, with nature, or even with our with our social role… with society.
NH: He's highlighting modern alienation…
NH: Is that why you find the idea of alchemy so exciting? Because, it's the promise of transcendental connection to a greater reality that lies hidden beyond the limitations of our perceptual knowledge?
KD: Yes, exactly. It's supernatural. You know, exactly. It's the possibility of connecting with the transcendental level of existence.
NH: …and thus annihilating alienation…
KD: I believe that there is… how can I say this properly in English? I think that there is a lot more to experiencethan can be embodied by the forms of the given world. And that, I think, as an artist, is what you look for, what you search for…
NH: To reach behind the forms?
KD: Yes… to reach behind the forms behind the forms. That’s a good way to put it. I don't cancel forms. I don't reject or dismiss them. I just think that they are not enough.