by Anmol AhujaOct 15, 2021
Through multiple iterations and permutations of the binary code, a universe existing between the 0 and the 1, an invisible, digital bridge helped forge contracts beyond constructs. Paradoxically enough, in a year as disruptive as the last one, collaborations unlikely to happen owing to geography bore fruit through a glass screen, a wry metaphor for the window. It’s as one of the speakers of this quasi tête-à-tête, artist Arik Levy articulated, “The beauty of repetition is the binary code, 0 and 1. It’s the repetition of these two figures, but the way they are repeated, the rhythm, and the juxtaposition of these two creates ‘us’ in an image, talking to each other”.
The barrage of such media and conversations over Instagram and several blogs served a unique chance for revival and relevance, especially for the creative industry. As our physical lives trudged and our digital presence soared, ‘inspiration’ became available at the palm of our hand, and the inspirer and inspired came together in a simulated union. However, the sheer quantum of such media, and of the faces on screens, brought me back to the elementary ‘why’. What did we establish, getting several of these professionals out of a seemingly creative hibernation, and onto a screen? Surely, there was something greater than cosmetic inspiration and futile bandwagon-ing behind this phenomenon. There had to be.
The need for humans to connect is expanding and expressing itself again. – Frida Escobedo
For us facilitators, it is a unique albeit perplexing spot to be in. I have always associated a degree of perversion, an almost voyeuristic predisposition, in eavesdropping on such collative conversations, even if to observe, or to transcribe and crystallise. As aptly stated in the preamble to this conversation by moderator and STIR’s founder Amit Gupta, it is akin to drawing from a well. However, following a customary closing statement towards the end of the hour long talk between industry stalwarts, Mexican architect Frida Escobedo and French artist Arik Levy, the latter rose up with the suggestion to do this again, but every year. For a decade, or two.
The 58-year-old interdisciplinary artist’s proposal stemmed from a firm belief that the current chat would, in retrospective, help him see how far both he and his conversational muse, Frida Escobedo, would have come in 10 years or so, professionally, personally, and spiritually. The talks would become his personal archives, while at the same time serving as a bank of creative wealth in the public domain. The simple notion served as an immense cue to lend me a new, zoomed out perspective.
For me, the world is about people, and that’s it. It’s only because of people that things exist. The presence of people is one thing, but the importance of the actions of people is a great motivator to me. – Arik Levy
Apart from serving as remnants of a time that was the harbinger of the new digital normal, and a testament to the ‘opportunity in crisis’ adage of humankind, there lies immense archival value at the heart of these e-discourses: pandering to a future with a creative spur in the current. Observing these two enlightened minds breaking away from the conventional structure of an interview, indulging in a truly free flowing, organic conversation at ease with themselves and each other, was the equivalent of laying a brick for a virtual library of sorts.
Pitting Frida, one of the youngest to be commissioned for the Serpentine Pavilion in London, with Arik, who brings a lifetime of experiences and prestigious exhibitions and commissions globally to his name, came as a spiritual successor to STIR’s Cross Border Conversations. Transcending borders, both physical and metaphorical, Arik and Frida’s conversation shifted from microcosmic to macrocosmic in instants, as they dabbled between talking about everything, from their works, styles, philosophies, studios, personal lives, and experiences that made them the people they are today. Despite facing a two dimensional screen, it was elevating to see them talk as if the two had actually met in a café in France, or in Frida’s beautiful garden backed by scenic hills near the city of Guadalajara in Mexico.
Both Arik and Frida started out early, practicing on their own in the initial stages of their professional lives. A sum total of interesting life experiences and stories, the two creators carry these with themselves like a lineage borne, and are constantly influenced by where they come from. Arik, who describes himself as a “beach bum”, with his first commission being painting a surfboard, has had a particularly nomadic early life, not just geographically, but disciplinarily as well: something that seems to inform his transdisciplinary ethos of work. “I specialise in non-specialising,” he states. Frida, on the other hand, harbours an immense love for her homeland and its structures, and her practice has been itinerant in exploring and representing a new modernism in Mexico. Her work in the social housing realm particularly underlines her egalitarian stance and style.
Architecture is always inhabited, it’s constantly flowing. To me, it’s almost like a mineral: this beautiful geomorphic form that has lots of layers to it, and it’s almost telling a story of their creation. – Frida Escobedo
In the days leading up to the chat, Arik and Frida had already exchanged emails about how the conversation hosted by STIR would be a “blind date” for them. The playful naïveté in the term used by Arik first, and concurred on by everyone present at the table later, better described the conversation than hours of literary confounding would. Flowing rather whimsically, almost in a reverse chronology, from what they did, to where they came from, to who they were as individuals, Arik and Frida, along with us onlookers, moved towards uncovering a common genesis between their works. The recurrent strand of DNA that connected an inherently sculptural body of work for both the artist and the architect: from fractal to fabric, from the smallest repetitive element to the iterative, evolving, fabric-like form of both, Frida’s buildings, and Arik’s products and sculptures.
That commonality gains a deeper grounding and a better perspective when we look at Frida and Arik’s most significant, and possibly their best works yet: the Serpentine Pavilion, a lattice assembly composed of a reinterpretation of the Mexican "celosia" breeze-block wall with concrete, and Arik’s Rockgrowth Hermitage public sculpture, resembling mineral shards originating from a space-vacuum. Terming themselves as “masters of transformation”, the two steered the conversation from ‘constitution’ to ‘consequence’, and what their work, their practice, and the ‘style’ that guided them meant to them. While Frida believed the creative process to be cyclical and wave like, Arik described his process as unconsciously constant, and omniscient, his “uncontrolled muscle”: never leaving him for a minute.
As a fine testament to that and in anticipation of the chat, Arik crafted a hollow wooden block, complete with connecting grooves, akin to the concrete blocks Frida often employs in her buildings, proposing a tectonic shift in thoughts pertaining to construction. Possibly eluding to an incline towards a more collaborative style of work, and the probability of an actual “cross border collaboration” between the two weaving, sculpting crafters, he foresaw a trend in practices of creation, or intuited one.
We don’t screw anymore, we glue. – Arik Levy
A shift in perspective awaits. An imminent stir.