Walter Hugo and Zoniel
Seeing Somebody You know
The Soho Revue
14 Greek Street, London
July 15th-August 20th, 2015
By GREGORY DE LA HABA, JUL. 2015
LONDON– From Liverpool to Miami, Walter Hugo and Zoniel have the power to surprise and delight. Whether they're installing an enormous, back-lit water tank filled with hundreds of radiant jellyfish in an decrepit Toxteth, Liverpool warehouse or transforming a Little Haiti, Miami home into a surreal and massive one-of-a-kind jellyfish-fishtank, the young dynamic duo behind ‘The Physical Possibility of Inspiring Imagination in the Mind of Somebody Living' (the title given those dazzling jellyfish installations) are making noise, grabbing attention, and holding it. Whitehot was first introduced to Walter's work back in 2013 when London based art consultant and curator Scott of Carrie Scott Represents invited us to his first New York show, Implicit:Explicit, in the sixth floor gallery space atop Turnbull and Asser on 57th street. Then word had it he teamed-up with Zoniel and in no time at all the two orchestrated a performance work at Tate Britain, executed an installation at The Venice Biennial, participated in numerous group shows, pulled-off the jellyfish stunt both sides the Atlantic and still found a moment to tie the knot. Whitehot caught up with Carrie Scott and the hustling duo before the opening of Seeing Somebody You Know at The Soho Revue, London.
WM: Carrie, you've watched their work evolve for a number of years, what's the biggest change?
Carrie Scott: As with any true evolution, new strengths and strands have popped up in their work. As these strands emerge, the conversation between them –as individuals in an artist duo– become more palpable. Take, for instance, Reflecting the Bright Lights, compared with Making Memories. Both series take up the topic of how the past shapes and maybe even informs the future, but the union between concept and practice has grown more apparent. With Reflecting the Bright Lights the medium echoed the concept –capture fleeting glass portraits of the creative scene in London today. The portraits are on glass, with an 18 second exposure. They are fragile in their makeup, just as this moment in time is. With Making Memories this tie between concept and medium is even more intrinsically linked, by creating contact prints from flames of their own childhood photos burning, we see the layers of memory laid bare. Simply put, the work has just gone from strength to strength and hasn't deviated from the single objective of trying to work out this moment in time.
WM: Walter, for some people, the hardest part about moving forward is allowing themselves to let go of the past. As you keep hold to 19th century photographic techniques, what mindset or daily ritual aid in the mojo for creating distinctive works of art in the here and now?
Walter: Well, I wouldn’t say we ‘keep hold’ of 19th century techniques but rather 19th century techniques are reappropriated and turned into something new. Every moment we live exists only because a previous moment existed before it. Yet, to live fully in the present requires a relinguishing of the past. This is something Zoniel and I are very much aware of and think about. As much as possible, we start our day meditating together which works to attune the mind on many levels. Being in the present moment is a key element of our work. When production begins our practice does tend to be very ritualistic. We work so intensely together just the two of us, sometimes seeing no one else for weeks on end.
WM: An example of which?
Walter: When we were creating Life With and The Nature Of Interdependence series we were out in the middle of nowhere in Scotland and we had to set up a schedule in order to create some parts of the work during the night and some during the day. Everything was bizarrely timed to work around that particular process. Our creations are definitely the highest priority in our lives, so it can sometimes feel like the work itself sets the rules and we are just making an offering of our time to it.
WM: You both believe "art within the public realm has the potential to inspire." But so too does art in the private realm. What works do you keep hanging around the home? What artists are inspiring you these days?
Walter: Absolutely, art in all realms should have the potential to inspire. But we especially enjoy making pieces for the public realm. The juxtapositions that one must work around in public settings can be very interesting and the circumstantial nature of art out on the street can relate to people in entirely unique ways from that of an gallery environment. Art, in our minds, should have the ability to absorb or transport the viewer. In terms of creating work in the public domain, we just like playing with the idea of making that transportation available in the middle of someone’s day or night and when they're least expecting it.
WM: Yes! Spontaneous and unexpected voyages and psychedelic roadtrips for everyone!
Zoniel: Our inspiration tends to come from life and nature and things around us, circumstances, travels, troubles, contemplations. We are firm supporters of other artists though and its always fascinating to see other people’s expressions and creations. We have been working on a Formationist movement at the moment, so we've been particularly talking with other artists who create work that fall into that category where the process and the concept are present in equal measure and are essential to the piece, interdependent if you like. Suz Pettigrew and Millie Brown are both good friends and artists in that manner. Hayden Kays’ work we both love because it has a completely different take and humor to it.
WM: The Physical Possibilty of Inspiring Imagination in the Mind of Somebody Living, installed at 53 High Park Road in Liverpool last summer was off the charts magical, surreal and outright gorgeous. The title of course is a nod to Mr. Hirst. Is he a patron of Walter Hugo and Zoniel? Eitherway, tell me about the Hirst title connection. And I'm dumbfounded I haven't found any reference to it online. Maybe I missed it?
Walter: The title is a tongue-in-cheek Hirst reference, yes. It’s a response to the piece of a similar name. We were aiming to create something diametrically opposed in essence, whilst having similarity in form.
Zoniel: We purposefully didn’t put a press release out or tell people beforehand that the piece was unveiling somewhere. Our goal was to have people from the community discover the installation by chance and in so doing see what effects the art conveyed upon their daily situation. As it happened, the locals took to it immediately and claimed it as their own.The response was phenomenal and it exceeded by far anything we imagined. As word got out via texting and Instagram, we had hundreds of people coming out to see The Physical Possibilty of Inspiring Imagination in the Mind of Somebody Living every night.
WM: Fantastic. So how much do jellyfish cost?
Zoniel: Between £30-£40 each.
WM: Your latest DIY camera fits into a leather carrying case created in collaboration with the British luggage firm Globe-Trotter. How did that come about? Do you have any other brands you're working with?
Walter: It was a natural collaboration that fitted very much with the style and ethos that we had in mind. We are used to having to build our own equipment. Most of the items we need to make our artwork don't exist and we often have to build cameras for this purpose. Globetrotter is a lovely traditional luggage maker that has been making these cases since 1897 so they liked the modern / traditional take on the camera being made from their case. Its always interesting to collaborate with brands that have a creative and open mind like that.
WM: As showcased at Cob Gallery most recently with Nature of Interdependence and Life With series, materiality is a significant component to your work. Marc Quinn's blood portraits immediately came to mind. Discuss your fascination with subject as material.
Zoniel: Its been a line of thought that we've been exploring for a little while. We're very much into the cyclic nature of things and the interconnected nature of the universe, so once we struck upon the idea it was a natural path for us to explore. It just feels right that the work itself can be constructed or added to by the object, environment, or person that you seek to capture in photographic form.
Walter: Our latest installation and performance piece was at the Tate Britain using the sweat of the sitter to create a salt print of their face, aptly called Salt Print Selfie. It's such a fundamental part of our life existence and something we wish to explore further.
WM: Walter, I can see why Zoniel is your wife. She's beautiful. I get it. Congratulations. But whose idea was it to be partners in art as well? Do tell how this came about? Was she your model first? Discuss the real 'nature of interdependence' here, please.
Walter: We've been collaborating since we first met. I guess you could say we are both muses to each other as we develop and inspire ideas with each other. Together for most of the 24 hour day, seven days a week, it is a unique and fascinating environment for creation. We have an intensive connection and synchronicity that is the basis of our communication and work, and yet we retain individualistic takes on the world. This dynamic means that each work we make begins with a kind of explosive connection of thoughts –starting with our similarities and then our differences– and necessitates an wonderful growth of new ideas. We don’t know how it started. It just is this way.
WM: The sense of wonderment your work generates is great, positive and uplifting. What's next for Walter and Zoniel so that we who hunger for wonderment in art can look forward to?
Zoniel: We always have several ideas working at once, waiting for the right moment, the right circumstances to realize. We literally have notebooks that could fill the rest of our days with production. But we're super excited about the exhibition at the Soho Revue which is a complete collection of all the different mediums in portraiture completed thus far. Each medium captures a different element of the person sitting for us. Some were shot on glass from the giant camera which have up to 30 second exposures, so they have a real connection within peoples’ eyes as they have to stay still for that long without blinking. Others are salt prints from the work we made on site at The Tate Britain, where the prints are actually developed using the salt from the sitter’s sweat so it is physically and visually ‘them’. The most recent practice we're working on is using each sitter’s old childhood photographs to expose the portraits as contact prints, filming the sitters as they tell the story of their photo as it burns to create the light source.
Walter: We'll be taking this piece as a performance to Miami Basel in December, 2015.
Zoniel: And we're working on another giant public installation for the next Liverpool Biennial, a piece that operates on a performative, playful and interactive basis. And lastly, a project this autumn which will see our work beamed into space! We're very excited about that. So, not to be cryptic, but you’ll have to wait and listen out for it.
WM: Most certainly. But only because we're sure you'll surprise and delight us.
Gregory de la Haba is an artist and writer from New York City.view all articles from this author