Date 2 NOVEMBER 2009

For Visual Foreign Correspondents Simon Faithfull made a new work combining two previous works that he made during previous visits to Berlin, ‘12 Postcards from Berlin’ (2006) and ‘A Murder’ (2008). In the first series the prominent Berliner Fernsehturm (TV Tower) is always depicted somewhere in the frame of the drawings, the drawings circling the centre point of Berlin with its unseen revolving restaurant. ‘A Murder’ shows flocks of crows that inhabit the streets and open spaces of a city like a parallel society. Both of the works existed as records of his point of view at the time. Combined together the traces of real moments create a new imaginary space – shifting the reportage towards fiction.

Interview with Simon Faithfull

You’re well known for your PalmPilot drawings, could you explain what this technique is and why you choose to work in this way and how it relate to your other work?
Drawing is only one part of my practice but has always been an essential tool in my arsenal. I enjoy the clash of modern technology and antiquated drawing skills. Usually my other video or installation works start with a simple drawing of diagram made on my PalmPilot or laptop, so in a sense drawing underpins everything.

I have always been a pathological drawer. But at a certain point the importance of the paper or, even more, the preciousness of the artists’ authentic mark started to annoy me. I started drawing with a computer as a way to make a simple drawing without the problems of a unique object – a set of lines unattached to a surface that I could then dispatch out into the world in a number of ways. The PalmPilot was an extension of this method that allowed to me to a have a very crude digital sketchbook that I could take out into the world and make really old-fashioned observational sketches of things that I see. The drawings are very restricted in their detail because of the tiny screen with its paltry number of pixels. But I like this discipline of making something meaningful with such reduced means, something akin to an economy of line.

In an interview (by David Lillington) you describe your drawings as ‘unattached’, because they are not on paper and because of their digital nature they can ‘slip between surfaces.’ Could you elaborate on this ‘slip between surfaces’? Is it also reflecting on the economy of the line?
As I said earlier, I was essentially interested in the line and not what the line was unhelpfully attached to. Making drawings using a digital device meant that the lines were then essentially autonomous of a medium. There was no longer an original or a ‘correct’ medium that they should exist on, or in. The drawing only existed as a recipe for a set of ‘on’ or ‘off’ pixels – this configuration could be dispatched through the ether by email, made into a wall drawings (by re-enacting the drawing pixel by pixel using units such as post-it notes or mirror tiles), etched into stone, developed into animated vignettes, etc. – the lines or recipes for lines, where at large in the world unshackled by medium.

You have been travelling all over the world and lived in many places, from Antarctica, New York to Berlin. Not just any ordinary places, what are you looking for in these locations? Is there a special connection between them?
I think I am trying to measure the world – to check whether it exists and whether, when I am not here, that I still exist.

Some of the places you visit carry strong connotations either political, social, environmental or a combination of these, do you take these aspects into account in your own work?
I am interested in the maps that we create in our heads. These maps are a combination of our immediate locale (the humdrum everyday world we move in) and the other psychological world that we hear of from afar. The far-off news-stricken spaces percolate into our lives and dreams. My main impulse is just to report back – both from the banal reality of my life and from the far corners of the globe.

Measuring the world, the economy of the line, although differently executed, remind me very much of the work by conceptual land art, for example. How do you see that relation?
Artists such as Smithson or Richard Long were big influences for me particularly for the more performative side of my practice. The video work 0º00 Navigation you could say is across between of Richard Long and Buster Keaton. You are right that the drawing work does not look anything like a conceptual practice but it is in fact closely related. I am concerned that a sketch works formally as a drawing but I also see it as a record of a human standing in front of something, looking and trying to fix that impression as a set of lines. The fact that I use a digital device to sketch with leads some people to ask why I do not simply take a digital photograph. That misses the point though. The practice is an entirely subjective filtering of the world though the wet folds of my brain and then trying to get my hand to form a record of that experience.

I think your work is very personal both aesthetically, poetic and almost fragile, and in the way you present many of your projects. For example, the distribution of books in your LOST project where you literally left books in a certain area for people to find them, at the same time encouraging individuals to record their finding on a website before leaving it for someone else to discover. As well, your postcards from Berlin were first sent as single drawings with a bit of text by email to individuals. How does this relate to screening your work on large urban screens? How do you view the impact of urban screens in public space?
I enjoy artworks existing in the world unframed, un-introduced and unannounced. Stealth is a useful tactic to circumvent people’s misapprehensions or prejudices about ‘art’. The screens will mostly be encountered in a casual way, which is a good frame of mind to encounter art.

Many of your works deal with the anti-heroic or the failure, which nevertheless is depicted in a humorous and at times heartbreaking way, strengthened by your aesthetic. Is this how you view humanity, a hopeless entity struggling to survive in a crude and instable environment?
I wouldn’t say hopeless. Entropy is something that fascinates me – that everything in the universe is coming undone, collapsing, simplifying. But that is also part of its beauty. We spend our lives creating elaborate patterns that will only exist for moment in time but their transience itself is heartbreaking and moving.

Going back to the theme of Visual Correspondents, what do borders mean to you?
I love borders. I love the strange spaces created around borders. Where different systems try to negotiate how to meet. I once got stuck in a small place on the French/Spanish border called Cebere. This one-horse-town is totally unremarkable except for its enormous railway station. The French and Spanish rail systems used different gauges of track and so all rail passengers had to swap trains here. After 11pm the only place you could buy a whisky was at the train station bar. The bar was a strange kind of smoky limbo of lost, tired souls waiting for a connection to a different system – an indeterminate place where people met out of sheer boredom and confusion.

While you were in Berlin, how did you personally feel the impact of the wall and in what way did it influence your work?
As a visual correspondent I was about 15 years too late. The wall exists for me only as a ghost. I live next to the boundary between Kruezberg and Treptow but it is impossible for me to imagine what the reality of this division would have been. I know lots of people who lived on either side of this split and their stories have the quality of myths or stories from an alternate universe; stories of no-mans lands populated by rabbits and dogs on wires.

In your new work for VFC you mix the postcards of Berlin with a series of Crows of Berlin, nature versus man-made city architecture. Could you elaborate on this opposition or parallel worlds?
A number of times I have montaged different drawings together to create a simple time sequence. The drawings exist as records of things that I happened to be standing in front of. Combining them together shifts this a little away from reportage towards fiction. The traces of real moments are combined together to create a new imaginary space. A space that maybe reflects the organic kind of maps we make in ours heads out of our experiences and imaginings.

Interview by Annet Dekker

Simon Faithfull
 (Great Britain)
Over the past decade the work by the English artist Simon Faithfull has been shown in numerous international solo and group exhibitions. His practice is as extensive and unpredictable as some of his experiments, ranging from outdoor installations like his recent project ‘Shy Fountain’ for Haus am Waldsee in Berlin, a fountain in a lake that has to be observed very quietly and only functions when no one is there, to ‘Escape Vehicle no.6’, a video of a live event during which he hung a domestic chair dangling in space beneath a weather balloon making its journey from the ground to the edge of space (30km up). The works reflect his dedication to exploring the boundaries of the world, the conquest of gravity and time. Another side of his practice are his PalmPilot drawings. He uses the commercial business device to register his findings and log his journeys around the world. The crude drawings show the limitations of the technology. At the same time the uneven lines and broken pixilated circles are poetic, captivating and sensitive resembling rough observational sketches.