ArtAttack Interview: Westminster Graduate Pascal Colman on Meditation, Experimentation, and Documentation

There’s something about the Art Student community in London. Although there are thousands of you, it’s so easy to get to know familiar faces, perhaps mainly because the free alcohol at most private views tends to bring everyone together, but also because it’s the kind of environment where collaboration across schools is one of the best ways to survive the pressures of making in this city. Not too long ago, this ArtAttacker was involved in one of these projects, ‘You Have Got my Bone‘, a collective exhibition in Soho that was many months of work in the making and encompassed works from students at the Slade, Westminster, Goldsmiths and Central St Martins. During this long process, I had the pleasure of getting to know one of the main brains behind the operation, then Westminster student Pascal Colman (who graduated just a few short weeks ago, and has my sincere congratulations). When he wasn’t nursing the massive headache that arose from organising rental costs and an intimidatingly large-scale clear-up mission, Colman was setting up his own piece, entitled ‘Presence’ (2015), which he since has reformatted as an installation at both his degree show and a one-night only exhibition at Austin Forum. At ‘You Have Got my Bone’, the soundscape existed in its own sunny room in the disused bookshop space (pictured). Although overlooking the mania of Charing Cross Road and those troublesome building works at Centre Point tower, you would never have known it once you sat on the floor and closed your eyes. It was a tranquil oasis where visitors could slip into a meditative space, both psychical and metaphysical, as cassette players hummed around them – if called to, you could enjoy that ancient ritualistic effect of turning over a tape, something I personally haven’t done since circa 2001. The same effect was achieved at the Westminster Show, only this time there was a pilgrimage involved, because of its location in a 4th floor seminar room far-flung from the rest of the exhibitors. ArtAttack was so impressed with it that night, we immediately decided an interview was in order, particularly keen on his insights into remaining so cool under pressure –  thank god, Colman has kindly obliged and shared some of his secrets with us.

pascal
‘Presence’, Pascal Colman, 2015

ArtAttack: Did you always know you wanted to be an ‘artist’? What made you decide to go to art school?

Pascal Colman: My interest in being an artist started young, although my definition of what an artist was didn’t stretch far beyond batman illustrations. What I enjoy doing now -I guess – still rests within the expanded definition of what a contemporary artist is although I’m not sure I like the term ‘artist’…seems a bit stuffy and self-conscious – artists all read overly intellectual books and wear silly hats. I think the decision to go to art school was largely on account of my inability to come up with a better alternative. AA: What would you say is the most important thing art school has taught you?

PC: I’m not sure quite what art school has taught me beyond the fact that I find institutional critique very irritating.

AA: According to you, your work is based in meditation. Art is often seen as a meditative or therapeutic process, but do you ever find it stressful? Artists often have to consider a lot of issues involving money, time and equipment etc., which seems like it could get quite disheartening sometimes. And equally, do you ever just get ‘artists’ block’ where you have no ideas? What do you do if you feel like giving up or you are frustrated with how things are going?

PC: Any practice which can break down the blocks of anxiety that arise largely as due to the subjection of our minds (spirits if you’re that way inclined) to the constraints of the societies and cultures we inhabit is therapeutic. Meditation does this by the embracing in of the void and art by inducing a state of play. Having no money is stressful, having no time is also stressful and the way of the world is that you never have enough of both at the time when they’re needed. The one good thing about stress and obstacles is that they force you to problem solve, thickening the plot of the process and sometimes bringing you to a much more interesting unforeseen conclusion than the crows-flight easy option that you couldn’t afford or didn’t have access to at the time. Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 15.30.42

AA: Do you feel the need to document your work or is it better to you that it remains ephemeral?

PC: Documenting is invaluably important especially regarding non object based works – it’s just a shame that I never do it.

AA: As an artist, you need to make a living. I’m thinking about the practicalities of selling your art – how exactly would this work? Is there any way to ‘sell’ an installation or do you only sell prints and film?

PC: I think it’s possible to sell anything as long as you market it right. Experiential art works that exist purely in the moment – performances, happenings….are documented and the proof that they once occurred is bought. Installations are bought and stored and big shipping crates by individuals who want to invest in art as a quaternary industry. You can’t sell an experience, you can’t objectify an experience but you can buy any physical ephemera that it leaves in the material world and assume ownership over something which in reality you’ve never had…It’s all a bit depressing.

AA: Is it important to you that your work has an online presence? Is it detrimental to the work or do you think it adds something when it exists in an online space?

PC: Having an online presence is vital to anything in this day and age. People are so involved in their digital existence that it dictates how the physical operates. I think the internet can be very detrimental to art in any form by going beyond demystification and the shattering of aura to – in quite an abstract sense – commodifying it in data and over exposing it in an insubstantial capacity. Everytime something is translated into digital form it loses a large proportion of itself in the process, and due to the attitude of complacency nurtured in the perceivers – people are contented with the insubstantial digital translation and actually feel no need to seek out the physical experience – the art begins to exist just as a pixelated figment of what it actually is. This is one of the reasons why I try to avoid online exposure and rigorous documentation of my work – it is about the experience and I’d prefer to have nothing at all as opposed to a substandard representation of what the experience was. Beyond being idealistically sound, this attitude unfortunately presents a lot of practical problems when applied to the real world.

AA: In your degree show, I thought there was something nice about having to look for your work (as it was hidden on the fourth floor), like it was a hidden secret place to come and take time out. But the disadvantage of this is that not many people knew it was there, meaning less exposure for you as an artist. Is this a problem you struggle with? Would you rather more people experience your work or is the point that it is slightly removed?

PC: I like having my stuff being secluded and slightly removed – I always try to position it (or I) out of the limelight and never as the primary object of focus. In saying this the space in my degree show was a bit beyond slightly removed – the difference of being a bit off the beaten track and being hidden in secret cave at the top of a misty mountain – completely inaccessible…which was a pain because aside from the people who I personally took there no one experienced my work.

AA: You mention John Cage as an influence. Obviously his work is minimal, like yours, but to me at least, not in the sense that it is ‘pure’ – maybe he didn’t want his art to be removed from the world but perhaps instead to make sense of it. Would you consider your work ‘pure’? Are you creating havens away from society or is the point about remaining connected?

PC: I am indeed a fan of Jon Cage as both a (sort of) composer and a lovable purveyor of good ideology. I think that both me and John – and I know that in saying this I am making assumptions – make work that is free/purified of society. Cage sought to free sound from our conceptions of music which is a societal construction. He sought to break down the art/life boundary by placing his works as part of the life experienced, as opposed to keeping them secluded within the confines of the experience of ‘art’. I like to think of my works being part of the larger experience of life as opposed to just that of art appreciation – I don’t know if they are – you’d have to ask someone that experienced one…but that’s where I’d like to place them.

AA: I would definitely agree that your work is part of a larger experience! So similarly, do you work better alone or do you prefer to have a network of other creative people around you? Your work sometimes suggests isolation, but I have seen you work really well in a team.

PC: I like working alone very much. I get scared in collaborations that, as my process is laid bare and visible, others I’m involved with might cotton on to the fact that I’m not actually a very good artist and then the game would be up…but I think I’m getting over it. I’ve actually had some pretty good collaborations in the past but generally with people I know well. I think they both have their merits and – insecurities aside – I think I like them both equally.

AA: I’ve worked with you, Pascal, and have never been anything other than impressed! You have organised a lot of shows in your time – what advice would you give to other artists who want to put themselves out there? Do you think it’s important that artists are active in putting on their own shows, and what can they expect from undertaking such a project?

PC: Go do it….invite me. At worst it’ll end up just being a bit of fun, at best you could get something really interesting going. Think advice would be: don’t try to do everything yourself as you’ll be liable to literally explode.

Thank you so much to Pascal for your time and honesty – we wish we were as cool as you!

– Olivia Bladen

Pascal’s website can be found at: www.cargocollective.com/lifewithoutteaispointless

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