empusae:: As a modest addition to the few samples of Nicolas van Meirhaeghe’s written thoughts to his listeners, the creative force behind Empusae – Sal-Ocin by his pseudo name – has offered a few more insights about himself during our discussions for O.D.K. (the Organic Disharmonia Kollective).

:: In one of the interviews you mentioned that you have discovered “dark underground scene” when you were 16. Which bands and projects impressed you the most at the time? Who did truly inspire you to compose/record/play your own music in the beginnings?

The bands I discovered at that time were Einstürzende Neubauten, Das Ich, Current 93, Coil, Death in June, these are the ones I can recall so far, but it was very eclectic actually. Just the music I discovered at parties and radio (real old school radio, not online), those were the ones that inspired me the most during that period. Ah yes, there was Lacrimosa in his early compositions, and the first release of Sopor Aeternus as well.

:: Yet you were also close to the industrial scene, and didn’t derive towards the “gothic” side of things that much, but on a more occult, if not otherworldly area, through some “landscapes of lost realms” of the mind as one might see them how would you describe your “visions” or sources of inspiration that help you create what you now create? A bit of a.. detail on the obvious parallels with lost civilizations.

Yes, I listened to a lot of gothic at the beginning. Though Empusae had a different concept of what I wanted to express (and still do) – more atmospheric music, more melancholic, there is still something “Goth” in this project, but definitely not the style of music, go figure what exactly… don’t know myself.

:: I would say there is an occult discipline in sound, a certain luring motion with something primitive, yet uniquely delicate, and well balanced. What is the story behind the name Empusae? In Greek mythology (Empusae – pl. for Empuse) is a vampire-like beautiful demigoddess seducing men and a one-footed hybrid. She also was the guard of the roads and devourer of travelers. Which of the meanings impersonates “Empusae” as a music project better?

The initial idea of choosing “Empusae” was actually for the specific kind of praying mantis.

:: Yet you did take advantage of its many meanings.

Its aesthetic fits the sound and feeling of the music perfectly – delicate, dark and threatening and yet scary and devilish. The discovery of it being an ancient vampire was revealed later, which was a nice discovery, me being a fan of vampires at the time.

:: After watching some of your live performances on the web, I have observed that not all of them are accompanied by projected visuals, although smoke and dim light-works are omnipresent components. In case these visuals make part of your stage activity, do they tell the same story as an aural segment or they are just a background ingredient?

The images are so to say, random… in the sense that there is no meaning at all behind the visuals. Just some extra input to stimulate the fantasy; this might change in the future though… working on that.

:: Indeed, your music may well be adopted as a soundtrack for one’s own thoughts and fantasies, I do agree that they can be well augmented by visual stimuli. I always had a somewhat limited view on music that imposes on the listener, which pushes him to see something, sometimes in a way they may not agree with; this is obviously not the case.

Yes, me too, unless it’s music with a very concrete concept or message but that indeed, is not the case with Empusae.

:: As another side note, there was some controversy amongst some of my acquaintances about your collaborative track with Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio (happens to be one of my favorites, along with “Error 404..” album); they felt as ORE has been “stripped by their power, and rendered cold” What was the overall vision of the song, from an artists’ point of view at the time? it does sound very haunting, as if it came from a ghost enshrouded in great pain.

The concept of the album was to offer some songs to the collaborators, pure instrumental and they could do with it whatever they wanted, as long as it was only with vocals. I choose the artists for their voices and power of poetry.

:: I understand, a medium for their voices and words.

Yes, that’s it.

:: I’m keen on seeing your next collaborations, as I haven’t seen many artists who would venture successfully in a veridic “symbiosis”, rather than superficial attempts, especially with different “ingredients” When can we expect some new projects in near future?

I can’t tell you more now; too early phases, but exciting.

:: I would never doubt it

I realize I might disappoint some fans.

:: What do you mean?

As I did before with “Symbiosis” compared to the “Hands” era, and now with “Sphere from the Woods” as well.

:: Are you referring to the “migration” of melodic lines?

Empusae isn’t “Seygot” anymore. Less electronic or industrial, but I follow what Empusae tells me; it doesn’t think, it acts. No, merely to the fact that it really changed style I guess, although it’s an even truer Empusae-essence than before. I’m getting closer to it after each release, but symbiosis was kind of different I needed this experiment to find where I was going to with this project; it helped me figure out some aspects and “Sphere from the Woods” is the result.

:: If the essence of it manifests and grows, transforms and refines itself, I would only appreciate the listeners that get transformed together with it, or at least accept and embrace its true nature.

Well, some of them might not, which is understandable sometimes, you keep the image of something which hit you in a strong way in the past had to let it go, and expectations can be dangerous.

:: Indeed, an understandable phenomenon that happens, and a wise response to it. You experience it as a listener and I’m sure as an artist as well, and life, evolution as it goes – since one might receive a “package” at a point in time they might not be ready yet to receive after a certain time, they might evolve, and go back to that “package”, which in this case can be a work of art, and understand and embrace it fully then.

Yes, within time… who knows? If not, too bad, no harm, just memories… Time will tell… or not.

:: A part of your (few) “disappointed” listeners will come back to Sphere in the woods, maybe in a year, maybe in a few months, maybe less maybe more, and understand it and love in the end, I’m sure of it.


:: Speaking of which, each time you come to a new country for a gig, how do you feel and what are the things you are trying to do first-off?

I usually don’t have time to visit anything, but I like to mingle with the local people. When I know the organizers a bit, or when they’re ‘open’, it’s interesting to get to their place to have a meal/drinks etc.; I’m more interested in the people than buildings or whatever, but when I have some extra day of course, it’s always nice to have a guided tour. However food, drinks and chats are more my kind of thing; all is depending on the relation with the organizers (on a personal level).

:: What are your usual interests in people generally? (Also as a personal curiosity) and I will not influence the question with any suggestion or example.

Hmmm, I like human warmth as a matter of speaking, don’t like cold people, you see what I mean humor is important as well, and also being an enjoyer of life’s virtues (drinking, eating, art, music, etc.), and I prefer more quite, laid back people instead of loud and stressful.

:: As I’ve witnessed the rather small, crowded venue in which the Gent concert was held, and changed a few impressions afterwards, I might already know the answer to my next inquiry. Taking into consideration that your fan base differs from one country to another and you have played all across the Europe and overseas, what would you appreciate more, a large venue but less “fan” – concentrated or a smaller gig with fewer but more of them as the “true” fans?

I would definitely choose for a smaller venue with enthusiastic audience instead of a bigger crowd which has no affinities with the music. The thing is, when people expect something specific from a concert (let’s say they expect Empusae to be Dark Electro or Rhythmic Industrial) they might just be disappointed and not be open to what they see & hear. The atmosphere is very important for me, especially for this project, being all about atmospheric music.

:: At the end of our small exchange of thoughts, would you have any specific words to address to your listeners in general, or directed especially towards O.D.K. and Romania?

I want to specify the fact that Empusae has always been and will always be an evolving project. Let’s say you could consider it ‘organic’. This is also a specification of the Empusae as insect (praying mantis) it changes skin several times during lifetime. Each time, it grows more mature, changes a little bit of appearance until close to the last metamorphose, where it really reaches its state of beautiful though horrific state As for the fans in Romania, I really hope to visit your country one day (the sooner, the better), share some passion together and enjoying local customs and beverages.

:: Thank you once again for your warm interaction and openness, added to your unique compositions. Until next time!

answers by Nicolas van Meirhaeghe

photo | Nicolas van Meirhaeghe. Empusae. Courtesy of the artist




:: The Signvm Imperii staff talks, today, with TRIARII, a reference act for the martial industrial genre.

:: Hello, Christian and welcome to SI. We’re all preparing for the upcoming event in February 2015 in Bucharest. Would you like to tell us, in short, for our newer readers, who is behind TRIARII and when did you start?

TRIARII is a one-man project and was founded in 2004 by me. Of course I’ve worked with music for many years before. A friend of mine brought me in contact with the former label Eternal Soul Records and they had the courage and interest to release TRIARII. Unfortunately the label stopped its work in the beginning of 2014.

For several years, I’ve been live supported by the label chief himself and Axel Frank of Werkraum. Nowadays, I am live supported by Nicolas van Meirhaeghe of EMPUSAE.

:: Your last performance in Romania has been monumental and has remained with us for a long while. Is there anything that has stuck to memory since then?

Oh there are several memories still present. It has been a great club and atmosphere, great hosts and I’ve been surrounded by many friends of other bands. We do not see each other that often and so this gathering in Bucharest made it memorable.

Besides a few unwanted political ideological narrow minded people, the audience was enthusiastic, friendly and generous.

I’ve recognized a fascinating language. Bucharest itself was quite disturbing for me. Old buildings from the era of the Art Deco / Art Nouveau. Quite sad to see how shabby they partly were; crumbled and in bad condition. They must have been very beautiful in former times. On the other hand several new capitalistic malls and the socialistic signature of the Ceausescu regime. All side by side… Impressive, but still disturbing in a way.

:: On the same note, is there anything special that you’re hoping for with your next visit?

Of course I hope for a great show that pleases the fans and for a good time with the hosts and the audience. In opposite to last time, we are able to stay a little bit longer in Bucharest, so I hope to see some more of the city.

:: Before we delve deeper into the symbolism and ramifications of TRIARII: if you were to be able to silently observe any moment in history, any place, what would you think would be interesting to see?

Though TRIARII comes along like a bombastic overrun, my main focus actually lies more on the subtle things. I am not interested in visible descriptions and obvious actions and appearances, because I think that they are mostly false or at least partly incorrect. Indeed I’d like to observe all those situations where political decisions between empires, politicians and emperors have been made. Irrespective of the outcome that we know from historical literature. Everything we present as human beings is often covered; to protect ourselves, to appeal, to hide our innermost thoughts, feelings and longings. The obvious visible output is not always displaying what’s really going on inside.

:: TRIARII eulogies Europe both as symbol and geographic reality. Are there still perennial values that cement an European unity?

First of all the geographical reality of the continent itself. Besides people in history who often tried to shift borders; but that belongs more to the longing for extending a single country. I can accept the definition of the European continent of nowadays. I don’t believe in a all those manifold visions of pan-whatever-unions who are claiming certain territories.

I still believe in the Europa of cultural co-existence; where different people do have different opinions, different languages, different cultures and living in different countries with their borders that they were fighting for; to accomplish and becoming what they are today. The huge diversity fulfilled its function for years and decades. I appreciate that my neighbor countries are different. It contains the possibility of enrichment and still leads to me to myself; where I am from and where I belong to. As long as you have an open world view, your restriction of your cultural identity can make you open for the others around you. Sounds like a paradox, but I think it worked like that for a long time.

Trying to make Europa a kind of hardcore-economical-super-state, where everybody is equal in the sense of irrelevant, is no good. I appreciate the European union as construction that makes trading and traveling easier, but the doubtful story that one currency makes everything better for every citizen is not proven for me. So far it brought many positive effects for a few and a lot of negative effects for the majority of people.

:: Amongst the traditional values of the past era, it is sometimes harder to find new genuine values in the third millennium. Do you think we’ve managed to completely erase our capacity for valor, or is it in fact a hidden backbone of the 21st century that we’ve yet to fully grasp?

Humankind accomplished traditional values over several decades and centuries. In past times, those values differed a lot and they’ve changed over time. They’ve been edited and transformed to what we find suitable. And they will change again. Maybe backwards to an earlier point, maybe transformed to something we cannot think about right now.

Especially nowadays, I see, that traditional values becoming more and more important. People do rely on them because they experienced them as helpful and suitable. In times where social, economical and political structures are going to erode, people are falling back onto traditional values because they are giving shelter and keep us grounded; as long as they are not too hardened.

The challenge is, not to fall back into structures, which already have been experienced in an inoperative way. Foreign structures and anything new often causes fear. But to generally refuse them and falling back into old well-known structures often means to make a roll back and to repeat without accomplishing something helpful for the future – but doing all faults over and over again. The task is, to carry useful traditional values to the future, to look at new structures differentiated and then to select and to separate the useful from the irrelevant. Carrying the old traditional values without forgetting them but enriching them.

You can see what the fall back into old structures brought… Mostly irrational fear, war and the denial of structures or ideas that are much more easy to integrate than people think.

Nonetheless, traditional values are important. A root that formed cultural identity, has its influence on personal structure and can be helpful for accomplishments in the future.

But of course, humankind is quite restricted; so we will walk on with our traditions on our back; but only in very small steps. We will accomplish something, then denying, falling back; not onto zero, but to a certain point in the past, accomplishing something new, moving forward, denying, falling back… Moving slowly forward by repeating.

:: War is a constant theme on TRIARII albums used to “document the misery and cruelty of war and destruction”. Would a technological war be a good material for a TRIARII record?

War is a constant theme for every human being alive. The themes on the TRIARII albums appear provocative and sometimes striking, but in the end it all goes down to our innermost feelings and beings. The warfare that took and take place is just one of the biggest and most obvious forms of a disastrous expression.

Metaphorically, we are all going to war many, many times in our lives; and it doesn’t need to appear like the historical wars we know. It is very subjective. We are fighting opinions, we are fighting people, we are fighting against our inner drive, etc.

The human being is constructed to destruct things and then to start over again. Renewal, blossom, war, destruction… and renewal again.

So yes, war also contains relief and is the most destructive way to cause a change… if it is for good or for bad needs to be decided afterwards.

Everything that lives, needs to die… sooner or later…. why should this not count for ideologies, political systems or states? We are way too small and unimportant to think that we or our creations are eternal.

Besides that, a technological war is none of interest for me to work on. The music of TRIARII doesn’t suit that theme. It would be necessary to step into very artificial synthetic-techno-sounds; and those would not fit to the sound of TRIARII… But who knows.


:: Listening to a song like “On wings of steel”, it comes to mind the figure of Mishima and his mystical relation with hunting planes. Is it this machine-man symbiosis that gains new meanings in wars, a prefiguration of the new man or do you rather visualize a reinterpretation of the Greek-Roman hero in the future?

“On Wings of Steel” refers to the lust for destruction and depravity. Referring also to the wars of the 20th century where airplanes came up and a huge industrial step forward made it possible to bring such new forms and possibilities to destroy ourselves. For TRIARII, it is the proclamation to destroy the world from high above; to let something reveal that might be better than what stupid humankind is doing.

:: The culture of German expression has succeeded in drawing attention with its expressionist sharp and bombastic style. Once past the so-called Werther syndrome, the German becomes firm, resolute and positively affected. Can you illustrate in few words the German spirit?

I hardly doubt, that the so called “Werther-Effect” stands in causal relationship to a kind of “German spirit”. Although in historical incidents, the behavior of the Germans often was quite self-destructive and very aggressive, I would not describe them as suicidal. Maybe narcissistic when it comes to their belief and in a way convinced by what they do.

Maybe I am wrong, but I think the Germans are not more or less suicidal than people in other countries. I think the rate of suicides in a country depends more on personal issues and on facts like the lack of sunlight, political oppression or loneliness.

I can agree, that there are differences in the way of how to express and how to handle situations and issues, but I assume that this has more to do with social-cultural and social-emotional sources. I am just one person, so I definitely cannot generalize my behavior and spirit and make it one for all Germans.

Many people having the prejudice, that Germans are firm, resolute, quite unhumorous, always on time, exact, strict and accurate, parsimonious, very much down to earth, conservative and restraint. Prejudices are often quite helpful to categorize people; there is no other need for them. They are partly containing truth due to experience, but are also partly false and embellished to concretize in a simple way.

Some of the prejudices from above suit me, some do not.

:: If you were to choose between a concert playing Wagner versus one with Brahms what would you head for? Or you have other classic composers on your list?

I would go for Brahms. I understand, that my huge orchestrations are partly compared to Wagner, but actually I don’t like Wagner that much.

:: Can you recommend us some albums that you’ve cherished most in 2014, and some of your all-time favorites?

No, not really… the more I am involved into music, the less I am listening to music that is not made by me.

:: Nowadays you perform live with Nicholas van Meirhaeghe (Empusae). How did you come across him?

I met Nicolas a few times on various concert occasions.

After the split up with the other live supporters, he offered to step in.

Nearly everybody who comes across TRIARII first assumes something radical or politically doubtful, but he understood the intention and what’s behind it and can support what I do. To work with and to display any forms of “isms” doesn’t mean necessarily that you support them.

Meanwhile we are having a very good friendship and I’d call him one of my closest friends; though he is far away in Belgium and we do not see us that often.

:: Do you have plans for a new TRIARII release? On what project(s) are you working these days?

Yes I do have several ideas and plans for future releases.

2014 was definitely a very bad year music-wise. The same I hear all around me from my musical friends and partners. It felt like an invisible border, like a bubble where creativity was forbidden.

The “Muse” is like a lifetime partner. You cannot force her to appear when you want it. The attempt to do so mostly ends up badly.

After each release, I need time to rest, because it steals so much energy. It feels like being completely empty and exhausted. The title of “Exile” already contained the announcement to  make a withdrawal. I’ve focused on my new life on the countryside close to the German Alps and on other personal things. I’ve started again, but the sudden and unexpected end of Eternal Soul Records made another change necessary. There are several ideas and concepts which are taking too much time and which are way too big to bring them onto one release. I needed some time to accept, that some things are impossible… at least at this point.

In the meantime I’ve increased my working possibilities.

I am quite a perfectionist when it comes to my own creations and even if everybody would be fine with the result, it is mostly not assured, that I am thinking the same. My inner drive pushes me to make it better, bigger and more complete. It’s getting worse from release to release. On one hand good for the results, but on the other hand quite a handicap sometimes; to try to fulfill something that maybe cannot be fulfilled this time… maybe will never be fulfilled.

At the moment I am working a lot for the new TriORE album. The theme concept and several songs are made… But still a few steps to go. TriORE has always been a kind of “side-kick” for Tomas Pettersson and me and should not interfere too much with our main projects. So the only matter that plays a role, for finishing the album, is time.

The EP “Farewell all my Cumrades” is already late but we hope to release it as soon as possible.

I am in contact with a label that I am considering to work with, but we will see if my high requirements on quality and the CI of TRIARII and TriORE can be fulfilled.

My high claims, restrictions and requirements have always been worth it.

:: Is any collaboration with other artists possible in the near future?

Yes it is…  if nothing serious interferes, it will be born, raised, finished and released in 2015.

:: As with many bold ideas and imposing presences in the cultural world, there come some controversies along the way. Would you like to add a message to our readers about the core essence of TRIARII, what drives you forward?

As I’ve already mentioned many times before: “Art is never only left or right nor is it only black or white… Life is not that simple.”

If people accept, that everything that appears contains something under the surface, and are willing to let the bombastic overrun of TRIARII opening a gate to the innermost; to let it happen and then try to see and feel what’s happening inside – with all the inner refusal, compliance and any other feeling that might appear; far beyond any stupid ideological restriction; then you might be on half the way to understand.

I can understand, that living a life in ideological restriction is much easier,
because very much is predetermined. This kind of simplicity makes life much easier, but it means to neglect or to segregate a huge content of personhood and human being.

Humanity was not only made for this.

:: Thank you, Christian, and looking forward to seeing you in Bucharest in February.

 answers by Christian Erdmann

photo | Christian Erdmann. TRIARII. Courtesy of the artist



The following article was published in N-SPHERE Omega.

Following their concert at Brave Exhibitions in London this June, we sat down with Die Selektion to discuss their influences and current projects. Formed in Stuttgart, this young band that combines the live fierceness of early DAF with glacial synths and emotional trumpet melodies, is bound to make an impact on the minimal wave scene.

How did you guys form the band?

Luca: I’ve known Hanne since we were six, we went to school together. And then we met Max three years ago, at a concert. My old band with Hanne split up and that’s when we decided to form a new one, called Die Selektion.

I’m sure this is something you hear often, but why did you choose this distinctive instrument, the trumpet?

Max: (laughs) Everybody asks us this question and always have the same answer: we didn’t think of it. Hanne played the trumpet and we decided to give it a go.

Do you have a musical background?

Max: I’ve been making music for a long time, I tried many different things. I also play in a noise-rock band called Die Nerven or making techno music. I didn’t stick to just one thing.

Hanne: I’m the only one who studied music, I studied the trumpet.

What other projects do you have?

Luca: Max plays in a noise-rock band called Die Nerven. And it’s a kind of a techno/electronic project, like he said. And I’ve been working for a long time on a dark folk/neo folk project, called Death of Abel.

Hanne: I’m involved in a classical music project, I play in an orchestra.

Do your colleagues in the orchestra know about Die Selektion?

Hanne: Yes, they know about it. We play modern music in our orchestra and I can see parallels with our band. But basically all music is based on classical music.

What bands do you listen to currently?

Max: I really like the new album from Agent Side Grinder. Also Xeno&Oaklander. And I’m really into a German noise-rock band called Mutter.

Luca: For one or two years I’ve been listening daily to Death in June and Current93 as well. These two bands are currently my favourite bands.

Hanne: Well, I still listen to bands like Motörhead, but I still like the minimal wave stuff, like Xeno&Oaklander.

And in terms of the aesthetics of the band, who’s in charge of the visual aspect and what’s the concept behind it?

Max: We like to keep the focus on the music because they’re too many bands and take music to the background. We just want to keep the design and the appearance very clear and simple so that people can concentrate on the music.

In terms of new bands or bands that you played with, who do you admire?

Hanne: For me the guys from Berlin, Schwefelgelb. They’re quite young and their music is new and somehow similar to what we do.

Have you been compared to them?

Luca: Yes, but I don’t mind.

Max: I don’t know why people have to compare, but they have to. It’s quite difficult to find a band that is similar to us.

And you are often compared to DAF.

Max: Yeah, but the main influence from DAF is their energy, the stage presence.

Luca: And the idea behind it. In the early 80s, they wanted to make punk music with synthesizers. I wouldn’t say that we want to make punk music with synthesizers, but the point is to create powerful electronic music.

So it’s very important for you to create a powerful live experience. In terms of stage presence, who do you admire?

Max: I think Agent Side Grinder have a really great stage performance. There are many bands that make great music, but they’re stage presence is bad. There’s this band that that have amazing live performances, but I don’t really like their music. I think it’s called Future Islands.

Luca: I saw John Maus play in Berlin. It was just twenty-five minutes of playback music, but it was great, the energy was incredible. He goes completely mental and crazy.

What are your next projects?

Luca: We’re playing more and more, in Russia, Austria and so on. And we’re planning to do a second album.

questions by Simina Neagu

photo | Die Selektion. Kai Fischer. Courtesy of the artist

Full article here.



The following article was published in N-SPHERE Omega.

What: Exploitation. The Movie

Where: The Netherlands

When: October & November 2012

Director: Edwin Brienen, Independent Filmmaker

Soundtrack: Enfant Terrible

Exploitation is the new film by dutch independent filmmaker edwin brienen. Enfant terrible produced the soundtrack for this gothic-noir satiric fresco. 90 minutes of music to be enjoyed both as true soundtrack as well as a sequel to previous enfant terrible compilations… but more dramatic and ritualistic in the way the record is building up… it will please fans of minimal electronics and (post) industrial music but also moves into different styles such as idm, tekno, angst pop and chanson… while always keeping a dark and cold mood and/or dream state feeling throughout…

Exploitation uses the so-called mise en abyme principle and shows a fict tious film in the film, called apoca­lypse, part 3: a breathtaking abendland of dreamy pictures and nightmarish vi­sions. It’s all there: baphomets, paganism, bizarre costumes. Especially some old-time obsessions of the director are highly celebrated here: the esthetics of death in june, the works of painter arnold böcklin, or aleister crowley’s thelema spirituality.

photo | Exploitation. 2012. Filmstills by Dong-Ha Choe. Courtesy of the artist

Full article here.



The following article was published in N-SPHERE July 2012 issue.


:: Hello, Benoît and welcome to the Spheres. We are glad to have been introduced to your interesting works. To get us started, could you tell us a bit about what you do and when did you start this project?

I started this project more or less twenty years ago. At the beginning, I was studying Plastic Arts and at the same time I was very invested in an artists’ associations creating events. There were some places we needed to furnish and I have created a series of tables and chairs in an »art-brut-industrial« way,  composed of mechanical parts recovered and welded. I was  asked by the school of art to answer to multiple conceptual questions and justifications that were more castrating than liberating, at least, from the point of view of the furniture, I could just »sit on my work«. With time, my objects became more sculptural than functional and the recovery parts disappear, giving way to fully hand-made metal. So now I make sculptures with a very organic aesthetic. I mix species of the living, each sculpture being a new open way to the following sculpture.

:: In the biography on your site, it is mentioned that you have lost interest in academic teachings. What is your educational background and how relevant was it for your present artistic project?

I think I just wasted my time at the University of Arts, or rather, I spent there the time required for maturation, but I did not learn much. This teaching was purely theoretical and literary, with almost no practice in a workshop. From a technical point of view, I am completely self taught. »It’s by forging that one becomes a blacksmith« (Practice makes perfect).

:: Do you believe that some art schools nowadays are still focusing on auto-conservation and building more or less closed networks?

I don’t really know, I stopped going to schools, but it is indeed a great tendency of schools to operate in a closed circle.

:: You’ve exhibited your works in many places, how have they been received so far?

I think very well. People are generally impressed by the very organic structure I give to the metal, although generally they do not realize the work implied. Most people think that the pieces are molded and cast, and not that is handmade.

:: You’re constantly adding interesting pieces to what is growing to be a vast bestiarum. How do you choose the subjects for your sculptures and drawings?

In general, this comes by itself. I have different themes linking the bios and the mixture, the remix. The forms the feeds the technique and the technique gives access to new forms. Also, I constantly feed my imagination by visiting the museum of natural science, looking at works on insects, plants, underwater life.

:: The sculptures seem almost real, revealing a careful attention to details. Is it important for your works to »seem« real or to »become« real, thus enabling mutations?

Yes, of course! Even if they are still made of metal, the material is only  a medium that offers great opportunities from a formal point of view, in fact, all the possibilities, it is only the technique that can limit form, and our imagination, but the technique and the imagination can always be exceeded, this is what makes this research inexhaustible.

:: Your body of work seems to be very much in connection with the times we are living in: the apparent nature-technology dichotomy is not only a consequence but also a condition to functioning as a human being. How do you re-problematize this issue in your works?

No doubt that it is a strong impression given by these forms of nature embodied in the steel which is material usually used to create structures, machinery, cars. Conceiving these very organic beings in their totally opposite medium, the iron coming from a mineral and technological world, therefore a rather cold universe, gives a strong and very fertile impression for the mind when one sees the sculptures.

:: Do you believe that nature and technology should be seen as two opposing poles or it is more of one being the extension of the other?

We clearly live in a society where these are two opposite poles, but it would be good to reunite them, as far as we can. Like for instance the shamanic societies that have a lot of things for us to learn from them, and besides, more and more people bring this kind of teaching to us.

:: How does metal convey the organic feeling of your sculptures?

It is certainly the technique. I wheel a lot, for smoothing, I also work only with curved shapes, not even a piece is left without a change in shape. I come back, more and more, to a matter that is  more textured than smooth, and I work more and more with high temperatures, in the forge or with a blowtorch.

:: What are you working on at the moment?

Hmm… food orders especially, mostly furniture. There is also a large sculpture of big dimensions around a tree at the corner of a street in Brussels. For personal work, I regularly shift from a theme to another, for the moment, there is the floral theme dominating, but I had left it aside for several years, what will it come after, skulls, bones, insects, shellfish? I think that the hysterical underwater theme will return at full gallop.

:: What elements are part of your artistic sphere, in terms of inspirations and things that you cherish?

All living forms, wholly or in detail. First, the wild forms of the aquatic world, then the bones, plants and insects, and finally the insects. In fact, all that is natural but surprising, where we can find a certain uncanny strangeness. Regarding art, what inspires me is art nouveau, the fantastic arts and the low-brow movement.

Questions | Diana Daia

Translation from French | Maria Bungău

Artwork | Benoît Polvêche. 2011. Vanitae. Courtesy of the artist

Full article here.



The following article was published in N-SPHERE June 2012 issue.

»What distinguishes the heroic from the decadent death? (…) What difference there might be resolves itself into the presence or absence of the idea of honour, which regards death as »something to be seen«, and the presence or absence of the formal aesthetic of death that goes with it, in other words the tragic nature of the approach to death and the beauty of the body going to its doom.« [z]

In 1949, then in his early twenties, Yukio Mishima publishes Confessions of a Mask, his first novel which also brought him to international attention: it portrays the largely autobiographical character of a young Japanese man who, throughout his childhood and his youth, come to build a complex but painfully ill-fitting persona in order to satisfy the pressing demands of the post-war Japanese society, most notably in terms of his sexuality. A decade later, we find Yukio Mishima, his own homosexuality a relatively open secret, somehow continuing where his character was left in the story: now married he is expecting his first daughter, Noriko.

In the meantime, on the other side of the pacific, merely three years older than Mishima, sociologist Erving Goffman publishes a book that will change radically both the material and the method of his discipline: The Presentation of the Self in Every Day Life argues that human interactions are best interpreted as those of characters acted out by actors, and that places and objects can, or must be, perceived as sets and props. Goffman’s work and it’s powerful latent aesthetic participated, with Borges, Burke and I in setting the foundations for the mise en abyme narratives championed by Charlie Kaufmann, but also certainly planted the seeds that would grow into what Mathew Wilson Smith coined Total Performance, that is life in its entirety, as a performance and a work of art.

The metaphor of theatre for social life is by no mean an invention of Mishima or of Goffman: the Latin root persona means a mask and the analogies of theatricality were long used to discuss a variety of diegesis and mimesis: the ins and out of characters and social roles, the Socratic dialogue of Ion of Ephesus or even the Platonician duality between the real the staged stand amongst many others in a variety of cultures (»At first tragedies were brought on the stage as means of reminding men of the things which happen to them, and that it is according to nature for things to happen so, and that, if you are delighted with what is shown on the stage, you should not be troubled with that which takes place on the larger stage.« [y]. But Goffman seems the first to have interpreted social life, as a whole, as a form of theatre. The ensuing approach that developed we call social dramaturgy and this was to take part in some major shifts in the arts in general and in performance in particular.

»All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant«

Whereas Goffman sees the theatrics and the dramaturgy in every day life and the most common interactions, Mishima will dedicate his life to re-writing and hijacking not only his harshly shortened take on Shakespeare’s seven acts, but also of the entire performance of modern political history. His very failure on the political stage, will be the necessary condition for his spectacular achievement in the drama of his own life.

»Politicians are concerned with the effect of an act, and effectiveness  is not my motivation. My responsibility is to the act itself.« [v]

Yukio Mishima, born Kimitake Hiroaka had a very sheltered childhood, due to a feeble disposition and an overprotective grand-mother, and was of his own confession, left out of the social life of boys until he reached adulthood – some biographies expand on hints present in Confession of a Mask, asserting he was attributing his own homosexuality to those circumstances, while others of his works most notably Forbidden Colours or Sun and Steel could suggest different interpretations; However he developed early a very bookish disposition and immersed himself, in this isolation, in Eastern and Japanese traditional culture which were to take under his pen, a distinctly eroticized aspect:

In his most famous story The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956) he develops in many ways the aching urge for the sublime that lead him throughout his life: whereas he himself and critics occasionally regard others of his works as superior in their maturity and insight (After The Banquet or The Sea of Fertility) the short story seems to capture both the romanticism and youthful boldness of his earlier work, and the more articulated expression of his world view as fulfilled in his death.

In the next 15 years or so he will perfect his style and write many novels, short stories, plays and films, defining a literary style that meshes the refined and traditional aesthetics of Japanese poetry with a modern, angular, sometimes brutal narration, contrasting painfully human characters with their otherworldly aspirations. The label of nihilist that was apposed to him (and which he co-opted) came lately under increasing questioning and is in my eye misleading given the transcendental quality of his ideas of nothingness – yet, if the looming sense of the futility of all action is not present in all of his work there was certainly a deep misanthropy that took part in leading him to the radical idealism he lived and died for.

»I was there alone and the Golden Temple – the absolute, positive Golden Temple – had enveloped me. Did I possess the temple, or was I possessed by it? Or would it not be more correct to say that a strange balance had come into being at that moment, a balance which would allow me to be the Golden Temple and the Golden Temple to be me?« [u]

His books often tell the us of an encounter with the sublime, either in the form of the sacred or in the form of transgression: it seems that for him the two remain inexorably bound together, whether it is the sacred that free one of the absurd and degenerate conditions of the norm, or the transgression that reveal a world of beauty and absolute behind the heavy curtain of the quotidian. His stories, unlike those of his celebrated contemporaries Tanizaki and Kawabata, are in terms of structure closer to the occidental traditional model, and despite their exotic aesthetics, provide the reader with a rewarding dramatic development, which probably part-took in his western popularity. And this is one of the many reproaches the Japanese (and some of the Occidental) medias have been wielding against his ghost, and one that can hardly be denied: for all of his heroic, intransigent nationalism, Mishima was aware, and fond, of his occidental recognition. For a celebrated high-brow writer he was indulging in a variety of unexpected incursions in the domain of pop-culture, as many »publicity stunts« would say his detractors, from acting in popular action gangster-flicks to posing nude or commenting on an astonishing number of sometimes odd cultural phenomena.

»Dress my body in a Shield Society uniform, give me white gloves and a soldier’s sword in my hand, and then do me the favour of taking a photograph. My family may object, but I want evidence that I died not as a literary man but as a warrior.« [t]

This enthusiasm for gaudy popular forms is reminiscent, in its wide sweeps across high and low culture, of another of his American contemporaries, Andy Warhol. Although Mishima’s dedication to ideal beauty and sacrifice seems worlds apart from Warhol’s endorsement of ruthless, individualistic capitalism, and his disturbing fascination for its paradoxical shortcomings, there are beyond political differences, striking similarities. Warhol’s practice made an extensive use of self-portrait and can be regarded as an attempt to enforce absolute control over his public persona: »Business Art. Art Business. The business Art business«. As he writes in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975), involves his taking self-marketing to radical new heights. From his screen prints to the 1967 Utah impersonated lecture, in flooding mass culture with products and representation in every form and at every level, he discredits alien accounts or interpretations that could potentially hi-jack his image (as exemplified in his famous ad »I’ll endorse with my name any of the following…« in Village Voice).

Mishima’s media conscious character was never perfected to the level of Warhol’s one, nor included the in-built intricacies that made the American so difficult to use or to tarnish. The Japanese writer did share his want for total control over his life, both from within and from without: One of his biographers, Henry Scott Stokes, quotes him confiding »I want to make a poem of my life«, and to achieve his grand project Mishima needed complete control. This pursuit is apparent in his interests in body building and martial arts (The Sun and the Steel) and I find his much derided outings in the realms of the mass media to be attempts at devising an equivalent discipline to master his »public body«.

But unlike Warhol, his dabbling in mass media never made him the two-dimensional, inhumane signifier that Warhol was: his life and his work still appears to us as contradictory, imperfect, flawed and deeply human: in Sun and Steel (1968), defining tragedy he writes »when a perfectly average sensibility momentarily takes on to itself a privileged nobility that keeps others at a distance and not when a special type of sensibility vaunts its own special claims«. One can be tempted to see in his acting for Black Lizard or Afraid to Die, a portrayal of that »perfectly average sensibility«.

In interviews Mishima was reportedly keen to compare himself to Don Quixote, certainly echoing his fondness for the Spanish golden age – but obviously the analogy does not stop here. Cervantes’ character peculiar form of madness springs from having read too many chivalric novels and transposing, inadequately but with great perseverance, those ideals into the real world. This attempt at re-uniting the original duality of the real and the ideal is clearly present in Mishima’s glorification of the man of action, but he also wants to be both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, both the idealist and the witness. The very comparison he draws between himself and the Spanish knight evidence his awareness of that fact, as he probably lacks the necessary, tragic madness to truly believe in his political windmills. His heroic quest, void of the necessary madness, becomes a performance.

»17. Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.« [s]

Mishima’s hubris left him no place to act out any »plan for life« but the one would write. According to his biographers, Nietzsche and Oscar Wilde left him the biggest impression after his teenage readings. If Nietzsche’s pervasive influence can be felt throughout the influence of Wilde certainly part-took in the building of his total performance: in his short dialogue The Decay of Lying, Wilde dispenses his provocative theory: it is not, as established since ancient philosophy, art that imitates life, but life that imitates art.

»If it drew some of its strength from using life as rough material, it drew all its weakness from using life as an artistic method.«[r]

Wilde attacks realism for being dull and, ultimately for being wrong: art, in the words of his main character originated in abstract forms, that were later imitated by life (»Art begins with abstract decoration, with purely imaginative and pleasurable work dealing with what is unreal and non-existent. This is the first stage. Then Life becomes fascinated with this new wonde«”) – for Mishima art begin with the idealized, heroic Japan of the Hagakure, that is on the brink of fading away for ever from modern Japan, which fails to perpetuate the tradition of beauty. For Wilde, lying will restore art in its proper position that realism has pretty much extinguished.

The idea of decay, and decay of lying, is very present in Mishima’s work: a Spenglerian sense of imminent doom permeates most of his work. Societal, individual and possibly metaphysical decline is nowhere as central as in the tetralogy The Sea of Fertility, and, as for other traditionalists, attempts at interrupting the process corruption appear to the author futile but none the less necessary: in Wilde’s text, at the very end of the dialogue, the main interlocutor, betraying half of his previous argumentation against nature and fresh air, command his friend to take a stroll outside, proving that the argumentation, in its entirety is ultimately a lie and therefore an artwork.

»The Nihilist, that strange martyr who has no faith, who goes to the stake without enthusiasm, and dies for what he does not believe in, is a purely literary product.« [q]

Throughout the sixties, while Mishima and Warhol are at the top of their career, from the fallouts of Action Painting and the rising political awareness, performance art is blossoming all around the world with movements such as Fluxus or Gutai.

From Austria rose one the most virulent expressions of this new form: in the space of approximately ten years, the Viennese Actionists staged a variety of Aktionen in an orgy of blood, bowels, scat and sex giving rise to a wave of indignation that would lead them to regularly experience legal pursuits and sometimes jail. »Performance art«, in the eyes of the Actionists, was aimed at creating an artistic manifestation that could not be commodified by the state or the system. We find here a clear echo of Mishima’s own political concerns, and it is interesting to note that the Mühl/Brus Actionist manifesto share its title Art and Revolution with one of Wagner’s first texts on the relationship between politics and aesthetics: Mishima was to pick Wagner (predictably) for the music of his short movie Patriotism prefiguring his own suicide.

Of the four core members of the Vienna Actionists, three adopted a relative unconcerned but similar approach, celebrating chaos and transgression on the backdrop of a pagan cathartic ritual, while the fourth character remain a lot more enigmatic: Rudolf Schwarzkogler produced few performances and they were often little documented, he died in tragic and relatively mysterious circumstances in 1969. The case of Rudolf Schwarzkogler shed a particular light on Mishima’s death a bit more than a year later: the actionist’s death was reported by Newsweek as having resulted from one too many an extreme performance, when, attempting to chop his penis into slices he would have lost too much blood and died on the spot. Years later it is now widely accepted that this version of the death of Schwarzkogler was constructed either for sensationalist purpose or to cover the real circumstances of his death following a fall from a window – whether the fall was intentional or not has not been certified yet but the more glamorous option of a suicide remain the dominant narrative.

»To place oneself in the position of God is painful: being God is equivalent to being tortured. For being God means that one is in harmony with all that is, including the worst. The existence of the worst evils is unimaginable unless God willed them.« [p]

Schwarzkogler’s pursuit is more difficult to define, because of the scarcity of theoretical documentation, and because of the form and mood of the one that reached us – ascetic dietary suggestions, disjunct and esoteric instructions for future performances, and a number of lists whose purpose could not be identified. At the very opposite of Warhol’s permanent media awareness, the Austrian performer seemed a very private individual, who performed most of his rare Aktionen in front of an extremely limited audience, if any audience at all. Those performances generally took place in his own flat and involved a highly controlled environment and a restrained aesthetic, miles away from the Dionysiac celebrations of the rest of his fellow actionists. For example, from his notes one can gather that his performances incorporated important colour symbolism, yet most are documented in black and white: This lack of suitable documentation and the total disregard he showed for either press or audience in his work led many commentators to see his practice as being eminently personal and sometimes therapeutic, cathartic, imbued with an urgency that keep them on the verge of outsider art.

»Lord Naoshige said, The Way of the Samurai is in desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Commonsense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate.« [o]

Hagakure is an XVIIIth century book describing in detail the prescriptions of the author concerning the ways and beliefs of the proper samurai – the book enjoy a unique status in Japanese culture for crystallizing the chivalric ideals considered as the height of the tradition, while also being deeply tangled with Japanese nationalist thought, kamikaze and militarism in general – if a comparison had to be drawn, Wagner springs to mind again: although presented by the nationalists as the epitome of vitalism and martial value, Hagakure was actually written in a time of peace were samurai-s were more rarely drawn to fight than to administrative duties. A fascinating read it is also ridden with nostalgia for a lost era of valour and dignity, values it presses the young to adopt less as a tool towards achieving anything than as a method to live a life one can die proud of.

In 1967, Mishima published On Hagakure in which he develops on the central role that the text played in philosophy. One core concept in his interpretations is centrality of death in the proper existence of the samurai. The Hagakure ceaselessly invite the samurai to think about his own death to the point of becoming so familiar with the idea that it would arouse no fear. One should, Mishima adds, not only welcome death but even actively pursue it: as the most absolute embodiment of the beautiful ideals leading  the warrior’s life.

»A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.« [n]

Less emphasized by Mishima but certainly determinant for his future thought was the importance of the daimyo, the master, for whom the samurai total and unconditional dedication has a mystique (or erotic for some commentators) appeal – for a XXth century civilian like Mishima, the direct, individual relationship with a daimyo is impossible and his blind faith is therefore deported onto the last remnant of the transcendental hierarchy, but also its most axial figure, the emperor. Mishima’s relationship to the emperor is a complex one – the national catastrophe that put an end to WWII and initiated the American occupation striped the emperor of any political function but did not abolish the imperial hierarchy, and Mishima held this bastardized condition in awe, sometimes even more than he did for the fully westernized post-war economy.

But that criticism, obviously, was not enough to distract from him the ire of the radical student left which was, in Japan as everywhere in the western world, arising to criticize American hegemony which in Mishima’s country was all the more literal. Red Army groups flourished around the country ultra-left student groups were regularly confronting the authority – their political program, as opposed to Japan’s forced Americanisation as Mishima’s own diatribes were, was also internationalist, communist and materialist in ways irreconcilable with the novelist’s Samurai ethics. Although Mishima repeatedly expressed sympathy for the radical left he was occasionally insulted and mocked by figures of the left and students. Following fifteen years of American occupation and growth oriented politics, in the sixties, Japanese culture produced a large amount of books, films, theatre, music and comics, and the particular Japanese outlook started getting renewed interest in the west, spear-headed by charismatic ambassadors like Yoko Ono, Nagasi Oshima or Kisho Kurokawa. Yukio Mishima himself, although supported and promoted by the older and very popular writer Kawabata, became increasingly alienated from the Japanese literary scene, who, predominantly left-wing, stomached with difficulty his repeated vows of allegiance to the nationalist cause.

Mishima seemed to gather more popularity in the movie industry: maybe his professed preference for actions over words lent itself better, at the end of the day, to performance than to writing. A close friend of Donald Richie, the most prominent expert and promoter of Japanese cinema in the west he acted and directed a short film called Yukoku, based on his much celebrated short story Patriotism (1966). His incursion in popular movies is also pictured in Terayama’s classic counterculture movie Emperor Tomato Ketchup, if in a certainly less ceremonious fashion…

Yukoku in many aspects refuses to submit to even the most fundamental contemporary conventions: the plot, following precisely the short story builds no momentum or suspense. The film itself is shot in black and white and uses scrolls to replace dialogues, while the set design and the acting, slow, calculated and ritual, is referencing Noh theatre. The story depicts the ritual suicide of an army lieutenant and his wife in support of an attempted coup to restore the glory of the Japanese empire: it is of course an other one of Mishima’s oracles as to his future destiny. It is interesting to note that of all his text and plays Mishima picked this particular short-story and went to stage it as filmed theatre, rather than one of his many theatre, Noh and Kabuki pieces.

He was also known for his disdain of Bunraku, the elaborate Japanese puppetry, which he dismissed as being devoid of the essence of performance: film seemed to have in his eyes lacked »the essence of performance« just as much. This tension between the classicist tradition and the new media, between his rigorous inner life and his need to perform it to an audience, is to be found throughout most of his non-literary output: Ba Ra Kei, his modelling shoot with celebrated Japanese photographer Eikoh Hosoe, captures, at times movingly a certain vulnerability and awkwardness in his public persona, possibly revealing of his fundamental inability to reconcile his heroic longings with lascivious abandon of mass-media.

»Before Hosoe’s camera, I soon realized that my own spirit, the workings of my mind, had become totally redundant. It was an exhilarating experience, a state of affairs I had long dreamed of.« [m]

The German terminology of Gesamtkunstwerk, roughly originating in Wagner’s project of fusing music, poetry, painting, theatre, dance and all other arts he could include, hints at a seamless artwork, a microcosm of sort under complete control of it’s creator. In his book The Total Work of Art, Mathew Wilson Smith draw a daring parallel between the »spatial« Gesamtkunstwerk à la Wagner and the total performance of the self, as represented by Warhol, and, to me, by Mishima and maybe by Schwarzkogler. Indeed the lives of those artists in the burgeoning age of the mass media involved many forms of arts, from their original practice in painting, writing or graphics, evolved to encompass music, film or happening – but what they strived to achieve, and Bayreuth couldn’t ever dream to fulfill, was the fusion of those many artistic practices with the artist himself, with the art of living – and the art of dying.

»I just finished the novel on the very day of my action in order to realize my Bunbu-Ryodo. After thinking and thinking through four years, I came to wish to sacrifice myself for the old, beautiful tradition of Japan, which is disappearing very quickly day by day. I wish you the happiest and healthiest life.« [l]

The Japanese terminology Bun means Culture Arts, Bu means Warrior Arts and Ryodo stands for Synthesis. The Bunbu Ryodo is part of the traditional samurai ideal and involves an all around knowledge of traditional Japanese arts, from music to calligraphy, floral arrangements or poetry. It is traditionally complemented by the concept of Bunbu Ichi, the »Unity of the Culture and Warrior arts«.

Throughout his life and his writings, as his existence was coming to a close Mishima’s interest in literature seemed to wane, or at least he liked to pretend so: as best exemplified in his commentary of the Hagakure and Sun and Steel, the influence of the Yomei philosophy lead him to a mystical glorification of action over words, as if, to realise his Bunbu-Ryodo, much action was needed to balance all the words of his literary career.

Such an ambitious synthesis for Mishima like for Wagner, sits somewhere between romanticism and modernism. In a Japan were tradition and modernity or action and theory were becoming ever more polarised, this pursuit was bound to create conflicting aspirations, conflicting allegiances too, and death appeared throughout his work as the absolute solution for those situations as for all compromises. Too fond of beauty to be Warhol and too keen on public attention to be Schwarzkogler, Mishima was hovering somewhere in between on the scale of the total performance.

Mishima, Warhol or Schwarzklogger, each in exercising such unrelenting control over their public persona, had the intent of transcending the dramaturgic paradigm, the separation between the genuine and the pretence. Warhol’s approach to the »total performance of the self« differs radically from the one of Mishima: Warhol wanted to extinguish the actor, to leave only a mask, and to make the void behind the mask all the more conspicuous whereas Mishima attempted to fusion the mask and its wearer, for the actor to become his character. At any rate both wished to dissolve the fundamental diegesis as outlined by Goffman – for Warhol this was death of the conscious, the dissolution of the individual in the image and the product, but for Mishima, to achieve this death was the only solution.

Sources |
[z] Yukio Mishima, Sun and Steel, 1970.
[y] Antoninus xi 6
[w] Jacques in William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II Scene 7
[v] Mishima, reported in a posthumous article in The New Yorker 12.12.1970
[u] Mishima, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
[t] Yukio Mishima, Letter to Kanemaro Izawa on 24.11.1970 containing instructions regarding his own suicide.
[s] Epictetus, Enchiridion
[r] Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying – An observation, 1891
[q] Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying – An observation, 1891
[p] Georges Bataille in Bataille, Feydeau and God, interview in France-Observateur, 1957
[o] Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunemoto, 1709-1716
[n] Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunemoto, 1709-1716
[m] Yukio Mishima, Preface to Eikoh Hosoe’s Ba-Ra-Kei, 1961
[l] Mishima in a farewell letter to an American friend, as reported in The New Yorker 12.12.1970

artwork | Yukio Mishima & Shintaro Ishihara. 1956.

by Bertrand Marilier

Full article here.



The following article was published in N-SPHERE June 2012 issue.

:: Hallo, Thomas, and welcome to the Spheres. We were happy to come across your visual work. When and how did you start doing photography?

The pleasure is all mine. I’m happy to be featured in such a creative company of outstanding artists. Unlike most photographers, my professional and artistic interest in photography came up quite late, in my mid-twenties. After working solely with words all my life (I got my degree in literature, philosophy & psychology in 2004), I was looking for another medium to express myself, and I found out I had some talent for photography. I was looking for a job, but I didn’t want to do one boring internship after another, so I decided to make my living with photography — which seemed crazy and impossible first, but it worked out over the years. I’m completely self-taught.

:: Have you also worked with analogue? Does digital photography offer more advantages in this field?

When I started, digital was just at the point where you could achieve quite good results on the technical side, so I went for digital. But the further I get with my work (esp. the artistic projects), the more I miss something… right now I’m mostly shooting with digital medium format (which produces a truly brilliant picture quality), but all I do then is to destroy this technical brilliance by adding high-contrasts, grain, and so on. Shooting analogue will be the next step. It also interests me from a theoretical point of view because it’s more direct and aleatoric than the binary logic of digital. The effet de réel seems stronger to me on analogue photographs – which is quite strange because from an iconic standpoint, analogue depicts reality worse than a state-of-the-art digital camera. But it becomes quite clear when you see a photograph primarily as an index, like e.g. Roland Barthes understood it with his concept of the »punctum«. Metonymy is so much stronger than metaphor!

:: You currently reside and work in Augsburg, Germany. How is it living there and what projects are you working on at the moment?

It’s in the middle of Bavaria… what can I say… there’s a lot of history, pork and beer… I’m living in a nice place on the outskirts in a part of an old villa once inhabited by the owners of a huge textile industry… I have large and high rooms which is quite good for taking pictures, and I have my huge haunted fairy-garden… so I’m quite in my own Sphere… though I travel a lot, I feel most comfortable when I’m in a big city.

There are lots of new projects coming during the next months. I don’t want to reveal too much, but many of them will have one common theme: deconstruction of binary gender concepts. I’ve also started a new surrealistic cycle called Hypnos & Psyche where I depict images that appear in my dreams or that come into being by following a non-conscious dream-logic. The first ones are already up on my Tumblr, among them a portrait of my old friend Alexander Sterzel who was already featured in the Spheres.

:: Turning to the photos featured in this issue: you intended to name your series Deterritorializations, following Deleuze and Guattari‘s concepts. How do these ideas surface in your works and why were they of relevance here?

A Thousand Plateaus is one of the books that had an extraordinary influence on my way to think and to work: a jocund, crazy and exceedingly intelligent revolt against the patriarchal, binary and teleological principles of western culture. Since ancient times, we tend to think in dichotomies like good–bad, sane–ill, inside–outside, male–female, and so on; our whole linguistic system is organized that way, we even discipline our bodies to function according to this scheme. Everyone has their assigned place, their »territory«. And everything outside the known, speakable and knowable system is considered as alien, hostile or negligible.

It is this otherness that always fascinated me, everything that couldn’t be classified within a known linguistic or social taxonomy. I was always convinced that life in all its shapes, varieties and strangest mutations was far too magnificent to be forced into simplifying structures. And I always refused to be classified myself in whatever way, so discovering the Thousand Plateaus was one of the most striking intellectual occurences of my life. I had read de Sade, Nietzsche and Bataille before, and each of them has deeply coined my way to think, but all the three of them are still strongly bound to the dispositives they were writing against: de Sade and Nietzsche to the christian god, Bataille to god, Nietzsche and Hegel. Deleuze & Guattari instead appeared to me as the »free spirits« Nietzsche was foreseeing and desiring through all his works. Aren’t their exuberant, sometimes playful, yet always highly concentrated reflections the most gaia scienza possible? In their paratactic-rhizomatic way to rethink what it means to be human (a way without subjectivations, but more than a thousand connecting points) – a way on which they even took out the modern substitute of god, the Freudian father –, they pointed out the most brilliant »lines of flight« to escape the global dilemma of being a pre-defined subject and nothing else… – tertium nondatur: the Law of the Excluded Middle respectively as one of the most fatal sentences ever passed…!

Following Deleuze & Guattari‘s thought means leaving behind what I »am«, i.e. what I’m supposed to be (deterritorialization), letting »myself« go and becoming something else (reterritorialization), a semiotic process which never comes to an end.

Transferred to the photos in this feature: I wanted to put myself and my models into these centrifugal games of »forms and metamorphoses« in which they’d become something else, something loosely related to sub-conscious images, but something not recognizable through a classifying psychoanalytical approach. I wanted to short-circuit different image-spheres in order to transform the bodies into something different (their otherness-es) by playing out their existing but not obvious possibilities.

:: How do props and clothing convey those ideas?

They are on the one hand indispensable because they form the rhizomatic syntax of the picture by building a »plane of consistency« together with the body. On the other hand their combination is quite instinctive: most of these pictures came into being like a surrealist artwork, like an écriture automatique. It was important to have a huge repertoire from which we then could associatively select. I wanted to create deterritorialized bodies that would somehow touch the subconsciousness of their viewers, but as a mere notion, not as a clearly recognizable archetype. For all the self-portraits I was completely alone, letting myself go while the camera was set to shoot sequences.

:: With whom have you collaborated for this series?

I’ve only worked with people I already knew. First of all my partner, Chiara Padovan, who usually is the first person who hears about my plans and ideas and accompanies me from the conception till the publication. Beyond that, she’s the only one who understands my often cryptic way to think and to articulate myself, and she’s brilliant in translating my theoretical concepts into moodboards for a photoshoot. She’s also done a lot of styling work for the Deterritorializations, together with an old friend of ours, the creative genius-designer-stylist-performer Lorand Lajos. We worked together countless times since we all started with photography / fashion, so we know what we can expect from each other. Besides that, we all have this fascination for dark and creepy but beautiful things. Just look at Lorand’s jewel mask or his crocheted full-body suit, both worn by a wold-class dancer (who by the way just starts an amazing career as a choreographer, with guest shows in the Paris Opera, Moscow’s Bolshoy, ecc.): Stephen Delattre. I met him when he was engaged in Augsburg years ago, and since then we come together at least once a year for a photoshoot.

The girl with the iron spades is Kate Welsh (Major Models), a fashion model working in New York, Paris and Munich. I met her when she came for a test shoot in my studio last year, since then I don’t miss a chance to work with her, as she’s a real artist/performer who can wonderfully interpret any role you give her. Sigurd is a newcomer from my area, he also came for a test in 2010, whereupon I sent him to TUNE Models in Munich to start as a fashion model. The make-up was done my Maren Endrass, a friend and make-up artist from Augsburg with whom I regularly work.

:: Is it easy explaining the people you work with where you want to go with specific works?

It’s not neccessary to explain the full concepts to the whole staff involved in a shoot. It isn’t relevant for a model or a stylist or a make-up artist to get a sketch of occidental philosophy in order to do a great job. The important thing is to invent a good story. Everyone has to get into the spirit of such a project. We also do a lot of moodboards.

The most crucial moment though is when you’re on the set. A perfect picture is just a side-effect of a perfect situation. It needs the utmost awareness and concentration, you have to create an atmosphere between the model and yourself where everything is possible. Noone ever explained that (although in another context) more beautifully than Georges Bataille: »Communication demands a flaw, a fault: it enters, like death, by a chink in the armor. It demands a coincidence between two lacerations, in me and in the other.« [z]

:: Would you argue that fashion today could be regarded as a trigger for achieving a »body without organs«, as Deleuze formulates it?

Yes, totally. That’s what I love so much about fashion, and that’s why fashion plays such an important role in my shoots. I don’t mean the most commercial branches of it, but labels like Rick Owens, Rad Hourani, the Belgian and Japanese designers. Alexander McQueen of course, and many more, not to mention all the awesome small and underground labels. By overforming, underforming, (re-)segmenting, extending, restricting, de- and recontextualizing the body, they enable their wearers to create »lines of flight« in the Deleuzeian sense. By following these lines, the »subject« deterritorializes itself from the attributions that society, religion, even biology has put upon them, providing the means to re-territorialize themselves inside infinite »planes of consistency« or Haecceities / intensities beyond all metaphysics of the »subject«.

»The plane of consistency would be the totality of all BwO’s [= Bodies without Organs], a pure multiplicity of immanence, one piece of which may be Chinese, another American, another medieval, another petty perverse, but all in a movement of generalized deterritorialization in which each person takes and makes what she or he can, according to tastes she or he will have succeeded in abstracting from a Self [Moi], according to a politics or strategy successfully abstracted from its origin.« [y]

Aren’t these thoughts on the BwO a wonderful definition of fashion? – a fashion not understood as an economy-driven industry, but as a social technique.

Clothing works – similar to language – through a combination of single »tokens«, and just like language it can generate three formations: enforcing ones (the Peirceian argument: law – uniform), constative / plain ones (dicent: practical language – functional / everyday clothing), and poetic ones (rhema: poetry / literature – fashion).

The poetic forms are the most interesting ones because they are open to interpretation, they are self-reflexive and they work with a coded sign-system which is constantly altered and extended through its use (rhematic-indexical legi-signs according to Charles Sanders Peirce‘s semiotics, later perceived as the aesthetic sign-function by Max Bense and identified as the »open self-reflexive logics of signs« by Hans-Vilmar Geppert) [x].

Furthermore, these are the only forms that create something »new« by katachrestically combining single pieces in an innovative way and thus closing a »gap« in their respective system. But then, they do not petrify in their meaning, they go on, and with the next dress / line they add new layers (planes) of articulation that can question or even contradict the earlier ones. They never let you distill an unquestionable meaning or »truth«. Thus, fashion, like poetry, in its highest forms can never be totalitarian.

According to Deleuze & Guattari, we are bound by »three great strata [...]: the organism, signifiance, and subjectification« [w]. What they then say about the BwO is absolutely true for poetry as for fashion like I understand it:

»To the strata as a whole, the BwO opposes disarticulation (or n articulations) as the property of the plane of consistency, experimentation as the operation on that plane (no signifier, never interpret!), and nomadism as the movement (keep moving, even in place, never stop moving, motionless voyage, desubjectification)« [v]

:: You have worked with big magazines like Vogue. How was that experience?

That wasn’t commissioned work, they just printed my pictures. Vogue Italia in the context of their New Talents scouting, Vogue Deutsch for an advertorial of a jewelry client. So I can’t really tell you much about it, but I was happy to see my images printed in some »A-list« magazines.

:: Fashion these days seems to have switched its focus more and more on niche visual and music artists, probably trying to re-define itself. Do you think it has always been the case of incorporating and even swallowing these more underground segments? Is it just a passing thing?

I think this is a common cultural dynamics nowadays. A century ago, fashion was a social »trickle- down« phenomenon, getting its inspirations from the upper classes. During the second half of the 20th century, it opened more and more up to influences from subcultures until the point you’re speaking about where you get the impression fashion(s) absorbed them completely. I don’t see this procedure as a big problem though. If a sub-culture is soaked up by an established system, it probably wasn’t strong enough. A truly nomadic sub-culture will always withdraw its core from consumption. The »system« can’t even conceive it because it’s beyond the system’s terminological restrictions.

Punk e.g. is not dead even though almost all of its elements have been grabbed by high fashion. And the fetish / BDSM scene will not die out because Topshop is selling latex leggings.

On the contrary, fashion can even have an educational value by recollecting bygone eras and decades. Right now we see the 90ies everywhere in fashion, today’s teens didn’t experience them, but learn about them through contemporary fashion. It’s what Walter Benjamin describes as fashion’s »tiger’s leap into the past« [u].

:: Most of your works are completely desaturated and angular. How does monochrome help convey the mood of your photographs? Is it just an aesthetic choice?

When I started this project, I decided to take anything out of the pictures that wouldn’t be necessary to create the dream-logic that I wanted to depict, so I kept the images as minimalistic as I could. They should be surrealistic, but also clear and sharp as a knife. I couldn’t find any reason for colour to be part of them, so I went for black&white. It makes them more decisive, just like the graphic, sometimes almost geometric lines and shapes. I’m totally conform to B&W myself by the way, a lot of the clothes used in those pictures are my own, and they’re all black or grey…

:: Some of your photos also play with motion and blurs, almost creating an »aesthetics of dissapearance«, as Paul Virilio phrases it. Does digital photography generate a sort of visual epilepsy, or on the contrary, leads to a visual awareness in precisely those overlapping blurred pixels?

I think both phenomena that you describe are equally true in the sense of a coincidentia oppositorum: if you push two opposite movements on a line far enough, they coincide at a certain point.

The effects of motion and blurring in my pictures aren’t added in the post-production. I love to shoot with special lighting techniques and long exposures, so you could shoot these images with these effects also in analogue. A photograph tends to suggest that it has an essence or »substance«, I think that’s because of its predominant iconic quality. But as I said before, I find the metonymical vectors inside (and beyond) a work of art far more interesting than its iconic assertions. By putting movements into the picture, I can underline its temporal dimension, Deleuze & Guattari’s »becoming«:

»For if becoming animal does not consist in playing animal or imitating an animal, it is clear that the human being does not really become an animal any more than the animal really becomes something else. Becoming produces nothing other than itself. We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.« [t]

:: You also model in some of your photos, but the facial features are not your main focus most of the time. Is that intentional?

For the pictures featured here it was fully intentional. Society’s assemblages of power usually overcode the face by activating a »semiotic of the signifier« [s] which is disciplining the bodies by »overwriting« them with specific meanings. »The face is a politics« [s]. By covering or alienating the face I wanted to set the body free to get rid of its overcoding and to become something else: »becoming-woman, becoming-child; becoming-animal, -vegetable, or -mineral; becomings-molecular of all kinds, becoming-particles« [r].

One of the most wonderful truths of the Thousand Plateaus: »Yes, the face has a great future, but only if it is destroyed, dismantled« [q].

:: And last, but not least: how would you describe your »personal sphere«? What are you interested these days in terms of music, literature, visuals?

I love Soap&Skin, I was listening to her album Lovetune for Vacuum on maximum volume while I was shooting my self-portraits. Another outstanding musical discovery is Thomas Feiner & Anywhen: The Opiates – Revised is probably the most ingenious album I know. Besides the writers and thinkers already mentioned in my answers, I love Thomas Pynchon a lot. Gravity’s Rainbow is one of my favourite books. I should also mention Foucault here, I’ve just shot a fashion editorial inspired by his thoughts on the Panopticon. But I also read lots of less sophisticated books, e.g. I collect antiquarian curiosities, especially erotica. The only things I spend lots of money for besides photography are clothes and books. And the clothes are worn off after a season or two, in the end only the books remain…

Sources |

[z] Oeuvres complètes, Paris 1970-1988: Gallimard, Vol. V, p. 266. Engl. translation taken from Amy M. Hollywood: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History. Chicago / London 2002: Univ. of Chicago Press, p. 300.
[y] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translation by Brian Massumi.
London / New York 2004: continuum, p.174.
[x] Bense, Max: Die Unwahrscheinlichkeit des Ästhetischen und die semiotische Konzeption der Kunst. Baden-Baden 1979: agis. Geppert, Hans-Vilmar: Welchen der Steine du hebst.’ Charles S. Peirces Semiotik und ihre literatur- und medienwissenschaftlichen Perspektiven, in: Geppert, Hans-Vilmar: Literatur im Mediendialog. Semiotik, Rhetorik, Narrativik: Roman, Film, Hörspiel, Lyrik und Werbung. München 2006: Ernst Vögel, pp. 9-36, p. 27 [Thomas Sing's
[w] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translation by Brian Massumi. London / New York 2004: continuum, p.176
[v] ibid. p. 177
[u] Walter Benjamin: Theses on the Philosophy of History, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, London 1973: Fontana/Collins, p. 263. For a comprehensive understanding of fashion’s underlying mechanisms I can strongly recommend Caroline Evans: Fashion at the Egde. Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness. New Haven / London 2003: Yale University Press.
[t] A Thousand Plateaus, p. 262
[s] ibid. p. 201
[r] ibid. p. 300
[q] ibid. p. 190

artwork | Thomas Sing. model | Stephen Delattre. styling | Lorand Lajos. Courtesy of the artist

questions by Diana Daia

Full article here.



The following article was published in N-SPHERE May 2012 issue.


:: Hello, Mateusz, and welcome to the Spheres. To get us started, we are curious about your work and background. When did you begin painting and drawing?

Well, one of my early memories (of which I don’t have many) is sitting at a table at my grandmother’s place in Vienna, where we were staying while my parents were sorting out emigration from Poland to Canada. My grandmother asked if I would draw my favourite thing. I proceeded to render a large, rather bubbly, but nonetheless, formidable Panzer tank, complete with an armed and helmeted General protruding from the fox hole at the top. This was around my 5th year of existence, so I guess I have always had a pencil in my hand.

:: What are you working at the moment?

Right now is a busy time, which I do prefer. For 6 months I have been painting a new body of work, that I’m quite excited about. It’s oil on canvas and the pieces are the largest that I have been able to work on since moving to London. The detail levels I’m working to are pushing a new standard for me (on canvas), which makes me quite excited to see where these pieces will end up. Over the past half year, beyond painting, I have had several illustrations published by a London based Magazine called Stalking Elk (www.stalkingelk.co.uk), and I have collaborated (created various animations and video projections) on a performance piece called The Body, which ran for two weeks at the ICA. I’ve also taken up a new direction on the commercial side of things, namely traditional sign writing www.facebook.com/mjoarts, which has been gaining momentum for about a year and a half.

:: What tools of trade do you employ?

I’ve been quite a dabbler over the years, I tend to explore any mediums that are available to me, but I certainly do have my staples. First and foremost would have to be pencil and sketchbook; I’m never without these trusted tools. Oil paint has become my medium of choice for canvas work, although I have been using a lot of watercolour to work out ideas lately. I do most of my illustration with Staedtler pigment liners, or Pigma Microns. When sign writing I use One Shot enamels, and I have to mention the Mack »Virus« line of brushes, truly superb professional tools that respond beautifully to my every move. I will say also that I do employ a computer in many aspects of working (mostly on commercial projects), but in recent times I try to keep the infernal machine to minimal usage.

:: You seem to cover a lot of areas and not restrain yourself solely to illustration. Is it important to blend territories?

I think it’s one of the most important aspects of developing new work. It’s a similar process to evolution, as mediums, techniques and territories merge and in a sense battle for domination, the most useful elements of each rise to the top and combine in new and unexpected ways.

:: How and why did you start working with video?

I started working with video in the late 1980′s. At the time I had two vcrs, a 386 mghz pc with an incredibly primitive video capture card, and a korg poly six synthesiser. Around that time I came across a tape of video edits created by Dwayne Goettel, the keyboardist of Skinny Puppy. The tape was of edits created to play on tv screens during live shows, and was a pandemonium of video and sound from a myriad of sources. I loved what I saw, and the sense of disjointedness and intensity I was left with after watching, so I started trying my hand at the medium. From that point moving image work has always been a branch of my practice.

:: Which would you consider to be your most important project so far?

This is a hard question to answer, perhaps I will treat the word project more in terms of »category of work«. I think the best thing to say is that my ultimate destination is painting. When I paint freely, I’m at my most honest, and direct. The only filters are mine, the connection to the work is organic and visceral. When working with clients on design, illustrating with guidelines, or even working on my own animation, the work is never truly mine, as it is processed through client needs, hardware limitations, or timelines.

Painting, is for me, the sublime moment.

:: You also dedicate yourself to graphic design. Does painting help you in your typographical work?

For many years my mentality towards the two disciplines was very separate. I did not see too many ways to connect the two fields beyond the general principles of image making. However, in recent times the connection between these two sides of my practice are finding an ideal arena in which to merge and truly combine to a new functionality. The arena is sign writing, which I started exploring around 2010 while working with Shunt. Since starting the sign work, I have come to understand a whole new depth of typography through the practice of hand lettering with a brush, and as such, painting is now a major influence to how I approach design, and typography.

:: Your works plumb the depths of the City, revealing a dystopic atmosphere. Do you use the urban space as a main source of inspiration?

Well, the urban space is what I know, it sets the context of my experience, but I’m not sure if it is, distinctly, the inspiration. I’ve always seen the inspiration to paint as a more visceral protagonist, it’s the sensation of disconnecting from my surroundings that keeps me coming back to the canvas. As I paint I tend to let go of expectations and thoughts of anything specific and the work starts to reveal itself only when I stop looking for what may be there.

The underlying themes of my work certainly carry a sense of dystopia. I view the systems and institutions we inherit generation after generation with a great foreboding and melancholia, as sources of great strife to the pursuit of wholesome, unencumbered, self- regulated existence. Around the age of 14-15, I was greatly taken by A.Huxley’s Brave New World, O.Wells 1984, and several of Carlos Castenada’s Yaqui Way of Knowledge series. I had always felt a sense of uneasiness towards institutional systems, but it was these words that really helped me to formulate a foundation of reasoning on the subjects of personal freedom, state intrusion, and power hierarchies.

In formal terms I would say that geometry is the foundation of most of my painted works. Each piece starts with a dissemination of shape and/or pattern, often leaning towards ideas of sacred geometries, occult chart systems, or simple symmetry. From there the process is one of ambiguity, working with flow, rhythm, form, until I’m looking at something that I can no longer deny has emerged. This process repeats itself many times per canvas, until (hopefully) I’ve pulled the whole of the narrative through, at which point I detail, finalise, frame, and move on.

:: Some of your illustrations step out of the frame and extend on walls, buildings, glass. Do you regard your work as symbolic mediation between you and the urban space?

Well, if by mediation, you mean therapy, then YES, ABSOLUTELY! (loud laughter). My relation to the urban space is quite romantic (and stressed) when it comes to showing work. When I see one of my pieces invading an unsuspecting public in a common setting, or in a gallery, a multitude of emotions is conjured, »I am the propagandist«, »I am naked on stage in front of the whole school«, etc. It’s exciting, but also very uncomfortable.

I also commune with the city during the process of creating work, which is a very different experience for me. I’ve spent countless hours on coffee shop, and pub patios sketching and people watching, where the flow of traffic becomes as soothing as the flow of a river. I’ve worked on transforming locations for film sets, painted signs on buildings for days on end, and whenever I find myself out there in the world just doing what I do, the process, I feel at ease.

:: How is it living in London for a visual artist?

Absolutely Insane! Absolutely Impossible! Absolutely Worth It. (plus you can have a half pint of Guinness for about £1.60 under Francis Bacon‘s portrait at the place he used to hang out!)

:: Do you feel more connected to your hometown in Poland?

When I came back to Europe in 2005 (my family left for Canada in 1981, and I had not been back since), I spent a month living in Poland. As I first walked out on to the streets of Bytom in November, I was left in a strange awe. Before me in every direction were shapes and colours that I had been painting for as long as I can remember: washed out beiges and blues, gritty grey, splintered panels, certain pitches in the roof angles… It was a moment of unexpected discovery that gently shook me to my very core. The next 3 years I basically stopped painting. I worked in sketchbooks, and did design jobs, but painting simply ceased. Once my impetus to paint returned, I found myself floundering as my relation to the process had profoundly changed. It was an experience I would liken to being in an accident, and having to go through physical therapy to regain the ability to walk. My connection to Poland is somewhat ambiguous now, but having been, certainly had its impact.

:: Is it easy to meet people in the visual arts area in the cultural turmoil from London?

Meeting people in London is a strange endeavour. I am very fortunate to have worked with Shunt under London Bridge. Each week the massive railway arch network was curated anew with artists, performers, musicians, and film makers from all over Europe and beyond. I was there for about three years and got a very interesting view of London and European culture. As with becoming involved with Shunt, almost every meeting of like- mindedness has been a most random experience. I will say there seems to be a larger statistical likelihood of coming across interesting people in a place filled with 8 million possibles!

:: In one of your illustrations from dA BEAtEN series you write: »We all find our little bit of loneliness, if we search long enough«. How would would you describe isolation in relation to your work?

Isolation is a state so very deep and filled with treasures and pitfalls. It’s the landscape of the self where you confront your personal demons, angels, shamans, and dictators in that blinding reality of your deepest and ultimately vulnerable primordial essence. It is the sublime state, the nirvana, the Hades, in which pure truth and pure being simply exist. It is the comfort zone from whence my painting work flows most freely.

:: Do you think that, paradoxically, while we are gradually connected through technology and motion, we become more isolated somehow?

I do think there is a dichotomy between the original aims and the observable outcomes of technology and travel. The original intent of technological connection has turned to an observable impact of disassociation in social situations, just as easier travel has opened a door for many to seek new lives in a wide spectrum of locations, leaving the travellers displaced from their homes and families. At the same time, I don’t see it as a snowballing effect that will one day render all people as drones plugged into machines, never to interact with one another. I think it’s like anything »new«, when first introduced, the impact is visible and intense; as time passes and the new element is fully diluted into the system, it’s overall impact equalises and integrates. I feel with technology we are slowly transitioning towards a period where the »wow« factor or that initial explosion is losing ground to an approach of practicality. Perhaps there is hope for us yet!


questions by Diana Daia

artwork | Mateusz Odrobny. 2011. Cymmerian Lamb Of Silence. Courtesy of the artist

Full article here.



The following article was published in N-SPHERE November 2011 issue.


:: In Slaughter Natives is the brainchild of Jouni Havukainen. Active since 1985 In Slaughter Natives paved the way for future generations of dark industrial acts together with such acts as Brighter Death Now, Maschinenzimmer 412 and Ordo Equilibrio on the legendary Cold Meat Industry label. Over the years In Slaughter Natives used many different approaches, from Industrial stompage to complicated dark ambient pieces but always attained that special touch which many artists could only strife for.

:: When did you decide to release music under the monicker of In Slaughter Natives?

At the end of 1987, Roger at CMI asked me if I could release something with them. I had some material laying around that I had made after quitting playing in some bands. Was not enough for a release, but an OK start; after a couple of months it started to be enough for a release, but no name for the project. How cool would it be to release under your own name? Not ‘specially much! Not back in those days. I did know I wanted “In” and “Slaughter” in the name, I have no idea where/when “Natives” appeared, but it ended up in the name after all. Not grammatically correct, but who cares…

:: Throughout the years you have used many different approaches, are you satisfied with the way In Slaughter Natives evolved?

Yes, I think I’m pretty satisfied. Maybe I miss a bit the harsher side or tendencies, but it’s never too late for bring in an harsher direction in the future.

:: Any regrets regarding past releases?

No regrets so far. Maybe just some few minor doubts, doubts that hopefully can be corrected with reworks. Some new versions already have and others will see the light in the future. Going to be interesting to see what sort of new attributes the newer technology could fertilise from some of the past releases.

:: Your last album Resurrection – The Return of a King got released in 2004. You deployed a much darker and almost soundtrack like sound compared to the guitar driven madness on Sacrosancts Bleed. What inspired you to take this direction?

I guess maybe just by chance, reflecting thoughts and feelings I had for the moment. Usually, I have no real plan about the outcome of an album; it usually speaks by itself in the process. The creation of Resurrection and also the other releases are mainly coincidences collected together, collected from ideas and improvisations slowly merged together, moments of collected visions made out of many small fragments of chaos, some fragments of self birth, some fragments of just emotions, one leading to the other, guiding and hinting me on the straw to the goal. As long as I think it feels OK, I have to trust my intuition, nothing else. To which direction it’s leading, is not important any more.

:: Resurrection – The Return of a King was your first album since the much acclaimed release of Purgate My Stain in 1996. Did you work on any other projects during the 8 years between these releases?

I made only some tracks for compilations. I was working on a new album that I lost due to a hardware crash. It was not totally ready material, but it had something special. I said fuck it, defeated ’cause of the technology, so after that I spend some years doing other stuff instead, ’till the need to create a new album grew up big enough and I, once again, found and had the right moments of insanity.

:: You seem to have a deep interest in the unexplainable and obscure aspects of life, how do these aspects appeal to you personally?

Many times the obscure, unexplainable, weird and insane aspects make it worthwhile to wake up and climb out of the bed.

:: I also sense a certain nihilistic and misanthropic sentiment when listening to your music, the aesthetics and terminology used throughout your albums reinforce these sentiments. How did religion affect you and your music?

Everyone should follow their belief and should have the right to express themselves openly in whichever way they want, need or feel, but of course, it might have a price. I am and ISN is non-political. I usually don’t care about the political situation in Sweden or in the world, but for sure it reflects me, especially these days more than earlier years. My view of politics: the container of money and/or religion walking hand in hand with humanity’s need for dominion and power. This stupidity will probably, given enough time, create a natural response to the way we evolve, with everything ending up in total war. It can also end up in another way: humans are the only animals that carry out their thoughts in pure act. Can it be that humanity’s damnation is the thought, the knowledge and the greed?

About religious aspects: the symbolism or possible ideology that might be reflected in ISN are more an intent to offend the Judeo-Christian standards/values and their split morality. We are surrounded by hypocrisy, it seems to have become a part of humanity, so why not give these standards a kick? I have no problem with spiting on all that religion is about. Never subordinate yourself through others’ religious or political ideologies or views.

:: You are the sole member of In Slaughter Natives, you do however deploy other musicians when playing live. Which musicians make up the current live line-up of In Slaughter Natives?

The current live line-up is: Kathleen Binder (Polarlicht/Transistor) & Nicolas Van Meirhaeghe (Empusae). Former or for the moment resting live members are Peter Andersson (Deutsch Nepal), Tomas Pettersson (O.R.E) & Peter Bjärgö (Sophia/Arcana).

:: Many artists inspire each other through their art. Which artists inspired you during the creation process of your own music?

Sorry, but there are no other inspiring artists during the creating process, only the state of mind for the moment or the material itself, that can inspire, depending of the progress it makes, what emotions it gives and what direction it takes, to something bad or something good.

:: You collaborated with Tomas Pettersson (Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio) on more then one occasion, how did you meet Tomas and can we expect more collaborations in the future?

I have known Tomas, one of my best friends, since the beginning of ’90s. We grew up in the same small wasteland city Linköping. There was no way we could have avoided each other. The same goes for many of the other original CMI bands, many of us are from or have a connection to Linköping.

:: Are there any other artists with whom you would like to collaborate?

Maybe with other projects, but not for real with ISN. ISN is a content of my ego and moments of collected visions, it’s a birth of my need to create something I myself want to listen to, without others to be involved in it.

:: Most of your works have been released under the wing of Roger Karmanik‘s legendary Cold Meat Industry, how do you look back at this fruitful cooperation?

The early years were something special, CMI was as a big family, but things can change by time, due to reasons out of control.

:: It’s no secret that Cold Meat Industry went through some rough times the last couple of years resulting in many artists, including In Slaughter Natives, to leave this fine label. Can you shed some light on what happened?

Hmmm… the past is the past, it’s better to look forward. I wish CMI all the best, but for me it became a matter of moving forward.

:: The music industry is changing rapidly, many record-labels and artists are forced to dissolve due to downloading and the economic crisis, should record-labels and artists rethink their strategy when it comes to marketing? And what are your own experiences in these troubled times?

Of course ISN feels about these changes and movements. But my belief is that if a product is unique enough, then there are always some prepared to pay the price. Nothing would stop me from creating music, released or not. But, of course, the income from music helps enormously with giving the time to create, instead of trying to survive with spending all time hunting an income by other means.

:: Recently you have worked on the score of a documentary called Psicofonías – Las Voces Desconocidas, can you give the readers some information about this project?

I got an offer with free hands, to create the score to this Spanish production. The subject interested me a lot, so it wasn’t difficult to say yes. I don’t have more information for the moment. Let’s hope it works well with broadcasting. It’s supposed to come out as a DVD release in the future.

:: Can we hear your music in other video productions?

In some parts of a short film, Estigmas, in the MTV produced Dirty Sanches and three ISN tracks in an upcoming US produced movie with the working title The Lot with a release date in 2012.

:: What can we expect from In Slaughter Natives in the future?

The new album is taking form, it’s progressing in the right direction, but it needs about two more months for finalizing details, some arrangement and voice recordings. Beside the 3CD Digibook Live/Mort aux Vaches release, the new album will get released at the same time with a secret content release.

Photo | In Slaughter Natives. By Tomas Pettersson (www.ordo-rosarius-equilibrio.net) Courtesy of the artist.

Questions | Jim Breedveld

Full article here.



The following article was published in N-SPHERE August 2011 issue.


:: Gertrud Stein is a relatively new project in the electro/new wave scene. How did it come into being?
Gertrud started it in my bedroom with the cover of Tanze Samba mit mir, after the unearthing of my old post-punk tapes following a particularly cheesy disco night. It has also been suggested it might have been a reaction to the artistic concept of the band named Nouvelle Vague.

:: For the moment, there is only one person behind it, also for the live shows. Is this set-up ideal for what you have in mind, or do you want to expand it in the future?
Well, Gertrud is a bit like a retro futuristic folk singer… Think of Tracy Chapman in a spaceship, i.e. I have the computer and synths instead of the guitar. So Gertrud basically sings whatever comes to her mind whenever and however she needs to say it. That leaves little room for someone else – particularly if this someone else were to write lyrics for example. But Gertrud collaborates on occasion with other people. She is currently trying to convince a friend to come and play the ukulele for the next gig. People are welcome. All, except drummers.

:: While seeing one of your live performances in Berlin, an instant thought regarding the aesthetics was the film Liquid Sky. Was that a conscious choice? How do those visual elements fit together with your project?
I have never seen the aforementioned movie, except for the little bit that’s on Youtube. The fashion show. I like it. I like the aesthetics. But the music is dreadful.
No, the inspiration to the video band comes from the Jilted John video on TOTP. And I’ve actually robbed the idea from a friend who had his flatmates dancing on a video while he was playing guitar. I thought that looked awesome. Oh and stupid playback performances on TV as well, where the instruments don’t match with what you hear. I think that always makes great TV.
And anyway, having no band members I thought it would look funnier to have Gertrud and a false band playing rather than just watch me fumble some buttons and dials on a synth. I can’t sing and play at the same time anyway, so that would have sounded awful.

:: Interesting name reference for your project. Gertrude Stein asserted at some point that »everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.« She almost seems to have predicted the information overload we get nowadays. How receptive are you to the music, film and media surrounding you? What influences you during the work process on your songs?
I am going to disappoint you: I didn’t know much about Gertrude Stein when I chose the name. It actually comes from a song on an album by Jeff and Jane Hudson. They have a song called Gertrude Stein. I just liked the sound of it, and the fact that Gertrud is a totally silly name…! Now I have read a few of her things. But I don’t refer to her writings at all.
I have very little concern for the prevailing trends in contemporary music, in particular the mainsteam output that’s thrown at us. I am actually most happy when I am sitting quietly in a field, somewhere in the green, away from the city and the noise.
Of course I also have my little cocoon of Scandinavian cinema, and movies with a surreal touch, of listening to drama on BBC, and the music I like. Mostly 80’s stuff… some classical, some foreign stuff… What inspires me most is actually some kind of longing for better things, it’s a feeling.

:: Gertrude Stein also coined the term »lost generation« referring to the condition of artists in XXth century America. Do you believe we could talk about a »lost generation« nowadays in relation to music, and if yes, what does it gaze at and what does it oppose?
In connection to your project: why the interest in Modernism? How have Modernist writings/artworks influenced you through the making of your first album?
Not really. My music doesn’t deal with this. I don’t refer to it.

:: You perform both in English and German. Would you in a sense consider German more »effective« for electro/new wave related tracks because of its rhythm flow or maybe simpler structures?
Simpler structures in German?!!? No English has easier structures I think…But it’s true that I like the German rhythm… It works well with some songs… DAF wouldn’t work in another language.
English is my thinking language… my intimate language… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.
It just comes to my mind in one language or the other. I have tried translating stuff sometimes from one language to the other but it just doesn’t work, so I just leave it in whatever language it comes to my mind. Occasionally one song will start in English and finish in German… whatever.
One language I will never sing in though is French.

:: Regarding your live performances, you seem to be focusing on creating effective minimal sets for both the audio setup and the visuals. What instruments do you generally use?
I have a couple of retro synths, drumboxes and a computer. I have a complete studio… but I have given up doing most music from home… Most of the ideas happen under the shower anyway, so by the time one gets to the studio it’s gone. It’s a lot more practical.
And I don’t care about good mics etc anymore… I used to care a lot about sound quality – recording etc… I am a trained sound engineer and I used to produce electronic music like techno, minimal electro etc. I would put hours into polishing a snare drum sound for example… Now I don’t give much shit about it anymore… Of course I like it when a track sounds nice, but if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t…

:: Concerning your visuals – how do you usually make a video and what do you use as material/setting during the process?
Well I had just one month to do the video, so I bought a camera, and we went to a friend’s place, covered the walls with black curtains, and went filming… Very very basic really. I then spent a few long nights editing in my room.

:: Would you say that Gertrud Stein is ideal for an indoor listening or does it become more powerful onstage, in a live a setting?
It’s best listened to while standing atop a collapsing dam.

:: Besides doing music, you are also a DJ, what interesting events have you been involved in so far and how pliant are you concerning your playlists? Do you have some tracks that you enjoy spinning no matter the event?
I just want to be able to play the stuff I like. Sounds like a very basic demand, but it’s not always as simple to implement as it sounds.
Regarding tracks I enjoy playing, I must admit that I have this taste for Schlager that has the unfortunate tendency to manifest itself after a few drinks, no matter what musical direction the night is. That has sometimes caused a few strange looks. But in the end they were all dancing away. Gertrud knows what’s best!

:: On your official myspace page, you’ve included: »Gertrud is happy to play anything pre 1988. Gertrud is happy to play anything post 2001«. How come the gap between 1988 and 2001? Would you also draw a parallel between some of the music released during the 80s and post-2000?
Well most of the music was shit, wasn’t it… What did we get? Losers in pyjamas unearthing the rock’n’roll poser thing… or doing the rap poser thing… The great blossoming of the bimbo. It’s all shit. It even gets worse during the 00’s… In the beginning of the 90’s we did get early techno. That was fun at least. And I liked the whole Madchester Britpop thing… What now? Just trying to think about it is mind numbing… There is so much stupid music around. Or conversely music that takes itself too serious for its own good …
I quite enjoyed the electroclash thing… but I suspect that many were also doing just their version of the poser thing by copying what they perceived as being only a pose… namedropping Depeche Mode because it sounded cool to do so…
I felt more love for the posing than love for music in that scene. Very narcississic…  and not in a funny way.
Now a few years have passed and you don’t see or read anything about the electroclash people anymore, so their music has become quite enjoyable.
Gertrud is a bit my impersonation of the ideal 80’s… The 80’s of the awesome music, the amazing haircuts, the pointy shoes, the make-up, the new romantics. The 80’s as a mirror counterpart image of everything that sucks nowadays. That’s Gertrud.

:: I think we’re witnessing a resurgence of the 1990’s in music, growing especially in the self-entitled witch house/ghost drone scene – many musicians seem to have adopted colourful 90s aesthetics in their projects. What’s your take on that and do you think it could become a point of interest for Gertrud Stein as well?
Well, I have already uttered my mind to the 90’s.


questions | Diana Daia

answers | Gertrud Stein

photo| Gertrud Stein by Aurélie Genoud-Prachex. Courtesy of the artist

Full article here.