Homo Gestalt: Yann Novak

— Interview

Taken from Vol.1; a very intriguing and interesting interview about site specific works and the impact of an audience, really loved Yann’s thoughts and i enjoyed picking at his brain for this

Q1. how would you describe yourself as an artist who those who have not seen your work? it is quite interesting the combination of techniques that make up your work.

I have been asking myself this question a lot lately, I feel like I am at a shifting point in the studio that is exciting, confusing and a little scary.  I used to talk about the collection of field recordings and photography in relation to an autobiographical narrative, and that the collection and transformation of these documents was the crux of my practice.

Lately I have started to look beyond that, as it began to feel more like a description of what I do and not what I create.  Now I like to think of myself as a creature of immersive spaces, both literal and figurative.  Field recordings and altered photographs still play a huge role, but I now see them as devices that allow me to create or change spaces.

As you can see I don’t quite have the ‘elevator pitch’ worked out for it yet. I think it’s never good to have that to well rehearsed though as its a sign you have been standing in place for too long.

Q2. what is the significance of the use of geometric shapes you use in your works, in regards to the symmetry of your works in relation to the spaces you have exhibited in and also the making of site specific work?

Balance and honesty are two of the most important things to me once I get into a space to install.  For me, a piece is never finished until it has been installed in a space. So the time in the space installing becomes an extension of my studio practice.

Once in the space things always change, the projector throw doesn’t work as I imagined, one wall can’t be drilled into, etc.  When things like this inevitably happens, the installation process becomes about working with the space to frame the work in a way that makes sense conceptually and offers the audience some kind of balance or harmony when they experience the work.

The other thing I do when installing is be honest with the situation, my materials and my means.  I often don’t have a huge budget and more often than not I use my own equipment. Instead of trying to hide this, I fold them in and see what happens.  A number of works have been totally transformed by the circumstances of the installations and these shortcoming or roadblocks have turned into epiphanies.

Q3. Some of your works are quite long in duration, eg snowfall, in residence etc. this is interesting to note the evolving of the work not in regards to the actual work but how the space is used, what can you say about this? especially how you have suggested the audience can come and go as they please. does this slow time span of an evolving work relate to your performance works using a physical presence ie a person/performer?

I have always been really interested in what I will call omnipresent sounds.  When working with sound I never wanted people to hear the start or end of a sound.  I want them to experience it the same way one would an air conditioner. The listener enter a room and the sound is present and already happening, maybe the listener notices, maybe they don’t. Then the sound disappears only when the listener leaving the room.  My intent is to create these sound fields or spaces that are directly related to the audience. So within their own experience, their proximity to the work is what delineates the start and end.

In my installation works, I make each piece as long as possible, so fewer audience members hear the loop point.  If I could afford it, I would run all my work off computers, I would make 10 hour versions of everything, so there was never a loop point.

Snowfall was the first performance that I incorporated this concept and though it was physically taxing, I felt it was extremely successful.  The average stay was around 30min, with one person who stayed for 3 out of the 6 hours.

A lot of this kind of slow and subtle work can make people very uncomfortable. In an age of smartphones where we never have to be alone, sitting and listening can be uncomfortably introspective.  I think taking away the expectation for the audience to stay for any set duration allows them to let go in a way they never could at a scheduled concert or a video installation with credits that mark its duration.

Q4. I think its quite interesting you mention the idea of “standing in place for too long” as your work invites people to come “sit” or “stand” in place to watch your works, could it be possible your work doesn’t need to have it all worked out as it is quite emotionally involving?

There are competing trajectories in my work for sure.  Within each piece I am striving for stasis, I want to create this unchanging world where the composition or depth of the piece is measured by the audiences engagement. My intent is to be gesture-less and to create a situation that seduces the audience into staying in that space. Then as they inhabit it more layers are revealed as they get accustom to their initial impression.  Its about changing the audiences perception through a durational experience rather than creating a composition to follow.

On the other hand from piece to piece, both in concept and execution, I strive to constantly change and evolve.  I started working with field recording because each one is different, you can’t just throw the same processing techniques at any recording and expect to get the same result.  Working with them began to feel like a duet between me and the material because no matter how much I wanted to do something, there were times that the recording just didn’t budge.  Then there were other times when I would be trying to do one thing and discover something new that only that specific field record could show me.  This relationship has gotten carried over into both my performances and my installation works.

I even go so far as to destroy all my work files once a piece is at a place I like it (every math teacher ever would frown on me for it).  I don’t want the temptation or ability to go back and ‘see how I did something’.  It does make learning slower, but I think the work I make is more honest because of it.

Q5. how did you make that jump from sound into a performance and installation kind of art practice?

My first art making efforts were photography in high school and Djing rave music with no relation between the two.  As I got older the Djing got more experimental and I started making very amateur painting, they were still disconnected, but getting closer. This was in the late 90’s in Madison WI.  I sold all my gear and art making supplies to make the move to Seattle WA, just before the move I saw a show by Bill Viola that included the piece The Theater of Memory.  It had video, sound, an uprooted tree (which gave the room a smell), the piece hit every sense. I also saw Philip Glass’ Monsters of Grace that had a 3D film set to his work.  Both were very influential on me, but I didn’t realise it until years later.

After a few years in Seattle I was able to start making amateur painting again and was very unhappy with the results. At the same time I was able to buy my first laptop and everything fell into place.  I was invited to participate in the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival as a ‘non-filmmaker’ to make a film. I did a score for the film I made and that lead to a choreographer friend inviting me to score a number of her pieces.

I am still trying to understand the influence those pieces had on me, but the overarching theme was integration, that the walls between art forms are only as tall or as strong as you make them.

Q6. “Roadblocks into Epiphanies” these kinds of issues always seem to be involved with artists who work in regard to space and installation, but is quite a poetic idea of the honesty you put into your work and possibly the meaning of the works, is this something you want people to understand when they enter the space?

Sometimes its more integrated into the work then other, but I don’t want or need a literal realization of it. I just don’t try to hide it.  It began in 09 when I used the same stereo system I have for my TV at home in the installation Relocation.Vacant.  I wanted the piece to have a connection to my own home because the piece was about my living space. It was also all set up for me to test the piece on.  For that same show I got a projector for Relocation.Dislocation.  Through that show I got comfortable with the equipment and have never been in a place to upgrade it, so I just keep recycling it to see how it will react to different pieces, places and spaces.

Q7. when people come and go, do you think there is a feeling after they leave there are parts of installation they don’t get to see? is this something you also try to get across that as the day goes the installation evolves and changes and is different every time?

With my installation work it generally isn’t that much different from one minute to the next, I make things so slow or even static so the audience will very quickly understand that this is not a traditional video work or moving picture.  My intent is for that to become apparent very quickly.  I want the experience to be more like viewing a painting or sculpture, where you get to experience it on your own time and don’t feel that you missed anything.  This way some people can spend 5 minutes and others 45 minutes depending on their enjoyment of the piece and attention span.

Surprisingly I have a very short attention span, and I often will judge video works with a narrative unfairly or too harshly just because there durational requirement does not fit my current mood or attention span.

In Snowfall, my first, but not last durational performance, I performed the sound live which is only around an hour long, but is composed  it to be cyclically so I can perform it for long periods of time.  The idea here is to be in the space with the audience actually participating and present.  Because I am doing it for so long the audience knows they can’t and don’t need to stay for the whole piece, but I want them to know and see that when the come I am there performing for them.  Because its so long there is also never a critical mass, so I am often performing for just a few people at a time.

Q8. But you could say that even though there isn’t a critical mass, that makes it a little more intimate, the experience is more closer for a person as they could feel like this work was just for them, is that something you have considered?

You are exactly right.  For Snowfall that was my intent, but it was much more profound than I imagined. I wanted to reference the hushed aloneness one can experience when being outside in a heavy snow, even when other people are around.  But the ebbs in attendance were much more powerful than that.  My participation felt the most important when there was only one or two people present.

When they walked into that empty space with me already performing, it became just for them. I was there with them and we were sharing a moment.  I had worked on pieces before that were three performances a night for 20 people each, but nothing could prepare me for the intimacy of one on one.  It was a connection I cannot describe.

When you are an artist there is a constant ebb and flow of self doubt and accolades.  You work in the studio alone for weeks, months or even years for a 3 hour gallery reception, or you release a CD and wait for weeks for someone to write about it.  But in this performance, I knew that one person was there to see the work and I was there to perform it for them.  There was no other exchange and yet it made me want to be less popular so this would happen more often.  The performance ended with an applause of 2, my partner and the curator, but I have never been happier to see so few faces or to hear so little applause.

Those last lines echoed with me as i read them, as I myself work with site specific installation it really made an impact on me.