whitehot | April 2008, Interview with Igor Santizo
©Igor Santizo 2008 unfoldingwhole: Attaché Gallery, Vancouver
Amarie Bergman interviews Igor Santizo
“Individuality is only possible if it unfolds from wholeness.”
Attaché Gallery is literally a black, hard-shell briefcase. It’s a mirthful, original concept. Having a lot more sturdy portability than a lidded glass crucible, the case surpasses its original purpose yet retains its practicality. And it is a perfect container for the alchemical themes within unfoldingwhole. Each time the director, Lee Henderson, clicks the locks and opens the gallery he performs a ritual that is truly aligned with Igor Santizo and his experiments. Santizo’s work is partially revealed, its secrets hidden in folded layers, waiting the unfolding of instantaneous revelations.
Amarie Bergman: Energy, coil, fold, wave, ascent/descent are the signature dynamics of three series of small works in this exhibition. The caduceus is prominent. We are most familiar with this symbol of two snakes wrapping around a wand via its use in Hippocratic / modern medicine, but the caduceus has a much longer and richer history than this. What’s your fascination with it?
Igor Santizo: These explorations were initiated during a residency in the Czech Republic in 2006, where I collaborated with Velcrow Ripper & Lesley Ewen. We were there to explore the theme of alchemy, being that Prague has a history with its practice, flourishing during the Middle Ages under the eccentric poet patron and king, Rudolph II.
The caduceus is a multivalent sign in much of the alchemical cosmology, including as Mercury’s staff, with Mercury being both planet and god of communication, medicine, and travel.
To begin, what I understand alchemy to be, as I gathered from Carl Jung, is as a layered intersection of material proto-science, psychological projection / process, astronomical meaning-making and cosmological mapping.
Now my interest in alluding to the caduceus is partly as a multi-dimensional cipher that speaks about a similarly layered or ascending / descending integrated reality of: mind, body and spirit. As the often mythologized alchemist figure Hermes Trismegestus reductively outlines the territory: “As above, so below.”
AB: Large single dots appear in the Alpha Index series. Each is a perfect circle, an Avery label all pink fluorescence that can’t be missed. This series of work immediately reminisces the sun as coral disk in Claude Monet’s iconic "Impression, soleil levant” 1872. Rather than zigzagging the sun’s reflection in the same coral pink as true-to-nature Monet did, you opt instead to make a black ink line that sinuously insinuates itself as the main event. In several, the dots interrupt the line, causing a moment’s pause. Was this your intention or something completely different?
IS: Circles and dots have featured in my work in various ways. They have functioned like formal focusing devices, index markers or as void nullifying forms. Inspired by “bindus” or “bijas,” that is: spiritual points or “seeds” of energy, which is something I became aware of through Ajit Mookerjee’s Tantric Art books from the 60’s. My dots and circles have often taken the form of: black or red dots, day-glo stickers or consumer use labels, and are kind of a personal brand or a tag. I think of them as: pointed attention. Through repeated use the dots also begin to function within a constellating personal vocabulary which is always evolving.
AB: Alchemically, black is associated with individuation and purification, while red is related to the unification of man with god, and, if that wasn’t enough, unification of the limited with the unlimited. By limiting the choice of colour do you find the compositions take primary precedence and you can concentrate much more freely on your themes?
IS: Well, one thing that I find fascinating about alchemy is that signifiers don’t always mean the same thing. Granted that there are some common themes, i.e.: the balancing of chaos personified in the sun and moon (or also seen as silver and gold, or male and female), or say processes of transformation like: putrefaction or purification. Alchemical texts however, often would be quite ambiguous, contradictory, full of secrecy and misinformation to guard recipes. Alchemy was an interpretive open work that led Jung to speak of it in psychological terms; it is more poetics and waking dream than its progenitor, chemistry. Alchemy was an interesting pre-enlightenment meeting of superstition, science, art and spirituality, that included yet often went beyond gold-making.
Many alchemists were Neo-platonists, so there is very much a dialogue between the real and the ideal, or limited and unlimited if you will. I have always been interested in ontology, which for me includes both this territory of immanence and transcendence. Using black ink or cloth, silence, voids or references to light are tropes that I have found useful. They are material pointers that, like the Zen proverb, point to the moon. Direct experience, suggests the proverb, comes from not mistaking the finger doing the pointing: the teachings or language, for the moon in itself: realization.
AB: At Attaché, Henderson invited me to feel, hold and carry the work, if I wished. An unusual privilege! I worked in the clerical field and never noticed the sensuality of an old manila file folder before now.
What place does found paper like vintage office stationery and blank sheet music, as well as other found objects, have in the procession of your work?
IS: I have often used found objects, i.e.: in small sculptural works or in found percussion sound work. Using found paper always made resonant sense. I especially love the fact that with collected papers like this, a character, texture, color, shape that is quite unique comes through.
An index card is a simple tool for cataloguing and organizing information, again a pointer. I have done various projects with index cards, including be/hold at Les Gallery where I gathered a large quantity of them with drawings on each. (In part thinking about an exploded sketchbook, and the issue of the one and the many.) Those drawings also included red dot stickers within the image. They function as point, color, capital, multiplicity; while other aspects within the exhibit related to emptiness.
In the case of unfoldingwhole, the materials seemed to fit quite well. Documents, index cards, file folders found within what would be typified as a business class carrier case, an attaché.
AB: How does your use of sound, particularly using found percussion instruments, complement your oeuvre?
IS: Sound work is another platform of interest, another branch for exploration and play; it is a place to test things out, discover and communicate. In the past I have worked collaboratively with Shane Baron, Intermission Artist Society, Mark Brady, Lee Hutzulak and others.
Although my sound work has been solely reduced to working on soundwalks, with folks like Hildegard Westerkamp, Jean Routhier and Stephanie Loveless, in effect making sounds has been transformed to framing attention and listening alone.
My interest in soundwalks is primarily experiential - most often inspired by the writings of John Cage, Pauline Oliveros and the sound works of local artists. I see soundwalks as a great opportunity to allow reality as is to be appreciated by simply being, paying attention, listening, walking. The work can sometimes cross over into the territory of meditation. Again here enters mind and ontology.
AB: “Experimentalism was one of alchemy’s hallmarks,” said Lawrence M. Principe, a historian of science at John Hopkins University. “You have to get your hands dirty, and in this way alchemists forged some early ideas about matter.”
You have been described as a producer of experiential discovery and experimental communication. Self-described, you say you are unsure about how things will evolve. So is it possible for you to backtrack and isolate the original idea for these series of drawings? Also, can you tell me a little bit about the sequence of the organic process as you made them?
IS: Part of it came from seeing alchemical art including the caduceus itself, (while we are on the subject, I here would highly recommend Alchemy & Mysticism, Ed. Alexander Roob out on Taschen, a fantastic book!) …so, yes you are correct in that it was organic; feeling my way through the snaking, wave, coil form. This process also included trying out variations and isolating or simplifying elements.
I also saw a parallel between this shape and illustrations found in Indian depictions of the energy body’s anatomy, i.e.: the shushumna, or the central energy column in the body that parallels the spine.
As far as the making of the drawings, I do choose to be in a relaxed and alert state while very slowly with an ink brush “painting” the form out. I think of these works as drawings and as simple active meditations.
Though I should say that this wave motif is one of various others forms I have explored, my approach has not been singular but more of a chaotic strange attractor, with figures like: rays, complex churning-type doodles, objects like rulers or receipts, constellating into a variable language. I like thinking as play.
AB: David Bohm was a theoretical physicist who participated, by chance, in the Manhattan Project (the development of the first atomic bomb) although better known perhaps for his writings about such topics as the nature of the human spirit and the higher order that forms our mind. How much have Bohm’s investigations influenced you and your work?
IS: Well, I am not an academic although I love ideas a lot. So information gathering and theories also follow an organic process of desire, curiosity and creative reflection. Bohm has produced quite a lot of work including high-end physics, which are beyond me. I first became interested in him through his dialogues with the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti. I found some of these fascinating. To answer simply I would say: the holographic universe and wholism.
Wholeness is something that I have gathered from diverse teachings, personal healing, intellectual considerations, as well as personal observations and altered perceptions. It is worth mentioning the work of integral philosopher Ken Wilber as a big influence. Wilber takes a kind of “theory of everything” approach, while creating very sophisticated maps of human knowledge-endeavours within a “spectrum of consciousness”. Later discovering Bohm’s writing about holistic physics caught my attention. A closer look at his work is still on my reading list.
A favourite of mine, yet simple and profound way of communicating what I gather from all this is through an old metaphysical saying: “One Root, Many Branches.”
AB: Curiously, Bohm also initiated dialogues in the form of free association. They were conducted in groups of people to discuss ideas with no predefined purpose in mind besides mutual understanding and exploration of human thought. This is remarkably akin to Lee Henderson’s modus operandi every Thursday evening at the Army and Navy Legion on Main Street at 23rd, Vancouver. The place has a wonderfully warm community vibe. Spanning all ages from card-carrying Legionnaires to those weaned on the Afghanistan fracas, people meet to talk with old and new friends, play shuffleboard or cards, throw darts, gamble, watch TV and / or drink. Henderson opens exhibitions, including your own, Igor, in a collective atmosphere of open dialogue. Do you participate in this scene or other gatherings of this type?
IS: One of my favourite ideas is the concept of “cultural ecology”. I find cultural monoculture too vanilla for my adventurous tastes; I appreciate having different lenses and ways of speaking about culture and creative endeavours. Crossing-over and hybridity is exciting!
I certainly appreciate having an omnivorous cultural diet, these days I am enjoying the more popular-vernacular salad bar: European interior design, FFFFOUND! an online image-bookmarking magazine, Michael Red’s underground reggae / dub parties. I was happy and felt confirmation to see Fastwürms at CAG. I have been using much of my creative energy towards home-making and nesting, which includes wanting to be a better cook. All to name a few highlights.
Community wise, in the past I was catalyst of an informal salon, called The Four Hidden Jewels, where Creatives with an interest in consciousness, metaphysics, psyche and spirituality, would meet and have discussions or outings.
An interesting thing I’ve found through this network building is that there are many artists who have closeted beliefs and hesitant interests into this territory. There is a lot of stigma and judgment around these issues, and understandably so. This is a complicated issue…the word spirituality would cause many artists to run the other way. But I am also finding many Creatives with affinities who are interested and wanting to bring these ways of seeing into their work.
This reminds me of Wilber’s use of the blind-men-wishing-to-identify-the elephant parable to illustrate the point of a greater wholeness made up of varying perspectives. Why not have a larger playing field?
AB: Yes, why not! You’ve said your work is currently going through a reinvention process. Any inkling about what we can expect next from you?
IS: Well, this playing field of becoming - ontology, psyche and consciousness, healing and wholism, transcendence and immanence, embodiment, spirituality and art - I still have not found a satisfactory or comprehensive enough way to describe it all in dialogue; is very much of importance to me. It is tall and it is deep and it is wide, it is inside it is now. The reinvention is all about renewing the vehicle, the how.
Experiential navigation, reflection and dialogue, creative processing and actual object making will certainly continue to be part of my personal alchemy.
An ongoing project of mine is one started for the Helen Pitt Gallery during the Performance Art Festival. Through a soundwalk and informal meditations in people’s homes, I am attempting to talk about what is eventfulness and attention in the context of performativity. In a way they are tabula rasa works. I do have some unreleased works including some small collages about yoga that have yet to see the light of viewership.
What I can finally say is that I am currently: churning, allowing, listening, and asking questions. I love the idea of it all: simmering…
Igor Santizo is an interdisciplinary artist and a teacher interested in Being, Consciousness and Art viewed through a syncretic and holistic perspective. He creates drawing projects, makes objects, experiments with found percussion, and writes. His work has been exhibited locally and abroad, including in solo ephemeral projects at: the Western Front, the Or Gallery; and in various group shows, including: the Belkin Satellite, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Metropole, White Columns, Cultural Exchange Station in Tabor (CESTA), Czech Republic. Most recently Santizo participated in projects at LES Gallery and Gaff Gallery and is excited about the underground Vancouver art scene.
The Attaché Gallery is a not-for-profit portable commercial art gallery. It opened in February 2006 and since then has shown international artists such as Joey Haley, Scott Zieher, Mark Delong, Carrie Walker, Kevin Guest, Brad Cran, and Sonja Hebert. A few shows have been documented for YouTube, including unfoldingwhole:
Lee Henderson is the author of The Broken Record Technique, stories, and a novel to be published next year called The Man Game (both Penguin). He's a contributing editor for visual art magazines, Border Crossings and Contemporary.
To locate mobile gallery and arrange for viewing of Santizo’s exhibition, unfoldingwhole see Lee Henderson's Myspace
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief