Multidisciplinary artist Olivié Keck went on two residencies, one in Mexico and the other in California. To flood one’s senses with smells, sounds and sights in an unfamiliar environment can be a rejuvenating experience for artists wanting to break humdrum routines, find freedom to push the boundaries of their existing ideas, and allow new impulses to influence their work. Whimsical and other times goal-orientated, residencies give creatives insights into the processes of other artists and often, their own work.
Now back in Cape Town, Olivié has been flooding her Facebook page with a new body of work that will be exhibited at her upcoming pop-up exhibition, O.K. Cupid later this month. With bright colours, witty titles and an abundance of pink, these illustrations contemplate romanticism and intimacy in our contemporary digital landscape. We chat to her about her exciting travels and one of a kind mid-morning exhibitions.
Your exhibition is called O.K. Cupid. Tell us about the process of choosing a mini exhibition title and what inspired this one?
I’d like to start off by saying that arriving at a title for any exhibition, no matter the size, is a formidable challenge for most artists, myself not withstanding. One is required to distill a multitude of little conversations, which are happening in individual works into an encompassing squeeze that gives the content of your exhibition the appropriate crescendo – it’s tricky, but when you find it, it’s one of the best feelings I know.
O.K.Cupid is primarily focused on the cult of digitalism. In this show I’m contemplating questions like:
How has the prolific rise of platforms like Tinder, OKCupid, Match.com, resulted in the reimagining of romanticism? How is the aesthetic/language of digital platforms being used to create new legacies of intimacy and exchange in a posthuman realm? Is the ‘age of understanding’ limited to the emoticons provided?
I think it’s fascinating to be a young artist philosophising about the present. Of course it’s risky because you don’t have hindsight to lean on, but at the same time it’s liberating to grapple with being a wide-eyed pilgrim journeying towards ‘The Now’.
The exhibition is a pop-up and only up for a day. What’s most enjoyable about having a mid-morning studio event, rather than a formal gallery opening?
The mid-morning studio events have always meant to exist as a space for experimentation. The O.K. mini shows are a kind of preliminary litmus test for the starched white walls of the gallery. I value the flexibility of duality, and this is an extension of that manifesto. I always get a lot of information from these shows. I learn a lot and that’s ‘the juice’ for me. Thus far, I’ve really enjoyed the crowd that comes to these events, and the conversations I’ve had with an audience I didn’t necessarily know I had. In a way, I feel like the viewer can be more honest in a casual environment. Maybe this type of event positions the artist in a more approachable light, unlike the slick gallery experience, whereby the title as ‘artist’ appears to be framed in a preordained light.
Last we chatted was in 2014. How do you think your process and work has evolved since then?
To me, it feels like most of what I do is continuously evolving. I believe my longevity as an artist depends upon reflecting new ways of seeing and capitalising on the insight gained from a spontaneous moment. With regards to my material process, most notably I’ve begun working in ceramics in the past year or two. It seems to be a good fit for my incongruent sensibilities. However, I think my practice will always involve an intermingling of different mediums, this openness is part of the thrill that keeps me engaged in the craft of art.
How does working in Cape Town inspire your work?
Cape Town is definitely the place I call ‘home’, but the geographical location of ‘home’ doesn’t form the root of my inspirations as an artist. However, the people I associate with this place are what gives me great insight into my work and offer me the ‘food for thought’ that keeps me motivated and engaged. My inspiration is a melting pot of different influences, most of which are not based in a physical terrain or tangible location. Ultimately it’s not the place that holds me here, but rather the people that inhabit this great city, who continue to arouse my creative interests.
Recently, you were in California and Mexico on residency. What were your first impressions of each place and how did they influence your work and choice of medium?
It is not a seamless transition going from South Africa to Mexico. There were paradoxes at every street corner where ‘ancient’ and ‘innovation’ was abruptly slapped together in ways I could never have predicted. The confident use of colour and patterning, the iconographic fetishes, and the amalgamation of everyday life with spirituality were some of the most influential elements for me. Chiapas, the region where I was situated, is known for its mastery of textiles and ceramics. I had the good fortune of being invited to work in studio with a Mexican artist, Jeronimo Morquecho Bonilla who was taught by the well known Mexican ceramicist Gustavo Perez. This afforded me the opportunity to work on location, gain new insights into different processes and make ceramic works that were directly instigated by the nuanced experiences I witnessed during my two-month trip.
In California, I spent two months as an artist in residency at the Kala Institute in Berkeley. This is an international printmaking program for artists wishing to spend an intensive period working on a particular body of prints. The atmosphere of San Francisco and The Bay Area was one of the main reasons I applied for this particular residency. There is an overwhelming sense of fast-pace progression and technological innovation in this area and I was excited about the possibility of being exposed to some of the worlds leading innovations in technology, academic theory and art. I was not disappointed; Berkeley and the surrounding areas surpassed my expectations. I accumulated a number of interesting points of reflection based on conversations with other artists interested in a similar trajectory. Attending exhibitions and lectures gave me a wealth of material to draw from and helped me to contextualise the direction I am currently exploring in my work.
Art has the power to have a universal currency, which is an idea that I had not engaged with or anticipated prior to this.
What prompted you to partake in those residencies, and did you have a specific goal for each?
Mexico was not a goal-orientated trip. It was more of an experiential phase that I wanted to have, at a point in my career where I felt it was necessary to be overwhelmed by difference. Making work in Mexico was not a pre-orchestrated intention, but it ended up being a valuable two months for me. In addition to absorbing visual inspiration, I also learnt a lot about different ceramic processes and methodology specific to the region’s craft.
The Kala AIR program in Berkeley was far more structured and preconceived. I went there with a specific body of work in mind and with a rather rigorous itinerary. I chose to apply for this particular residency for three reasons. Firstly, I wanted an environment I could work freely and consistently with the printing press to create a series of works. (Cape Town does not have a space like this for artists wanting to make a body of work, which I think is a huge shame). Secondly, I wanted to meet a new group of selected artists from all over the world. I wanted to engage in ideas with artists that have different backgrounds and upbringings. Thirdly, San Francisco and the Bay area was particularly interesting for me because it is at the forefront of digital inception, which is of particular interest to me in relation to my current body of work. I wanted to be immersed in the sorts of conversations people where having about the future of art making and its role in depicting future realities.
What surprised you most about your time away?
I was struck by how possible it is to make connections with all sorts of people through the dialogues I have in my work. Art has the power to have a universal currency, which is an idea that I had not engaged with or anticipated prior to this.
Residences are often viewed with an idyllic and romantic lens. What did some of your daily rituals and activities entail?
In California, I was living very near to where I was working so I could cycle to work in the mornings and spend the early hours setting up my print station and preparing my print surface. As I got to know my way around I found new places to explore with other students at the institute. In the second half of the day I would print an edition and then clean my station ready for the next day. This cycle was ongoing for two months and would often run into the night. I was working part time, which meant I had two days a week off to travel into San Francisco or visit the surrounding areas. I spent this time to maximise on the wealth of galleries, shows and museums that were in San Francisco and Berkeley.
Some of the pitfalls of the residencies became apparent about a month in. I felt I had to make a concerted effort to get involved in other art activities in the area, whilst my personal project was hard work, I felt it would be a travesty not to engage in any opportunities that arose. As a result, this would often leave me feeling quite exhausted. This was challenging, but I have no regrets about the experience of doing this. Like most big cities there is always something to see, but transport and distances involves having to pick and choose your events. If you suffer for ‘the fear of missing out ‘ this can be a tough exercise!
What advice do you have for artists who are contemplating applying for a residency?
I think one of he most crucial things to consider when applying for a residency is reliability. For instance, “How will this particular residency benefit my work and add to my encompassing interests as an artist?”. Any residency can be exciting, but I find the truly advantageous/memorable programs are the ones that allow you to unearth a personal unknown and spark a desired trajectory in relation to the world. Different residencies prioritise different things. Some residencies offer isolation from worldly distractions, whilst others promote unadulterated engagement. I chose the latter, because that is what I wanted at this particular time in my career. Artists’ objectives are very personal and time specific, which is why there are so many different types of residencies. There is no significant formula.
Are you busy with any other exciting exhibitions or projects we can look forward to this year?
Currently I have my eyes on a number of different projects. I am exhibiting in Iran on a group exhibition with No Man’s Art Gallery in May. Later on this year, I hope to be exhibiting a new solo show with works I have made during my residency in California and Mexico. However, I’m already looking to apply for new residencies abroad; once it’s in your system you just want more.
O.K. Cupid takes place on 28 May. Visit here for details.