Interview with Artist Erika Vogt, Speech Mesh – Drawn OFF, The Hepworth Wakefield

Erika Vogt’s Speech Mesh – Drawn OFF is currently on display at The Hepworth Wakefield’s contemporary art space, The Calder. Comprised of a number of sculptures and videos, the exhibition is Vogt’s first UK show. At the centre of the artist’s work is an interest in the physical process of creating images and objects and she draws on her background as an experimental filmmaker to produce multi-layered environments. Aesthetica speaks to Vogt about the unique name of the exhibition and her approach to The Calder’s space.

A: Your new exhibition is named Speech Mesh – Drawn OFF, where does this name come from?
A friend recently gave me Anne Carson’s book, Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Ceos with Paul Celan. We saw Carson read in Los Angeles at Hollywood Forever in 2012 while I was working on a group of work called Grounds and Airs. Sprachgitter (1959) is a poem by the poet Paul Celan that Anne Carson writes about as she compares the two poets and their relationship to poetic economy. Concerning Celan’s use of the word, Anne Carson writes: “Sprachgitteris a word Celan uses to describe the operations of his own poetic language, in a poem about strangeness and strangers. It is also the name of his third book of verse, published in 1959. The word is a compound of two nouns whose relation is ambivalent. Sprach refers to language; Gitter means some kind of lattice, fence or woven mesh… Celan sees himself ordering language through mesh. Mesh limits what he can say but may also cleanse it”. I have been thinking about art as being like meeting a stranger. This phrase – Speech Mesh – articulates this for me in the installation at The Calder where sculpture, video and sound are brought together into a single installation that fills the space.

A: The exhibition is a site-specific installation, how were you able to engage with The Calder as a space?
EV: The Calder comprises a system of ropes and pulleys that I have been working with since 2012. They create a series of counterbalances between sculpture placed on the floor and others suspended in space. This system allows the installation to expand or contract depending on the space of the gallery, so it’s really inherently site-responsive. The space at The Calder is vast and the work was able to really expand across it in a way that was really exciting to see.

A: Speech Mesh – Drawn OFF features sculpture, film and sound work in dialogue and you frequently work across multiple media. What draws you to create this mix?
I have never been interested in one specific medium. I freely work across all mediums and I am interested in changing course frequently. In many ways my gallery installations become something of a translation of the way I work in the studio space. We readily accept how things are defined for us and much of the way in which I use various forms together is about challenging these assumptions and preconceptions.

A: Many of your works challenge our expectations of the object. For instance, your sculpture can be seen as drawing or video read as sculpture. What reaction do you hope to achieve from the audience through this?
It’s not something I really think about but I am more interested in the unknown and having an experience that is different from what is expected.

A: How does your background as an experimental filmmaker influence your work?
My experience working with experimental filmmakers was really influential. At CalArts in Los Angeles where I studied, Thom Andersen and James Benning would argue that there is no such thing as an abstract image, meaning that everything is a representation of labour or process or human endeavor. Working with this generation of filmmakers first-hand was important for me because it was one of the moments where art and film overlap significantly. I wanted to know as much as I could and I was interested in the stories and background information behind the work. Prior to grad school and to moving to LA, I worked with feminist and queer video artists and filmmakers where representation was crucial to the work. Mostly, I’ve been interested in making the work physical. I’ve been interested in dirt and noise and have not regarded any medium. The videos and prints and installations have been catch-alls for everything.

A: Which artists inspire your work?
EV: I see a lot of art, read mostly fiction, and watch many films. There are random things that speak to me. Right now I am interesting in thinking about how to feel work without any knowledge about the artist or artwork before hand, so for example, I’ve recently been looking a lot at the work of Agnes Martin and how that work makes you feel. I’m currently also working on organizing a group exhibition which will take place in a black box theater space. All of the work by different participants will be put into time and layered over each other. One of the works is based on Antonin Artaud and so I am currently reading Susan Sontag’s essay on him, which is shaping some of my current thinking.

Erika Vogt’s Speech Mesh – Drawn OFF, until 6 April, The Hepworth Wakefield, Gallery Walk, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 5AW.

1. Erika Vogt Stranger Debris Roll Roll Roll 2013, installation view at the New Museum, New York NY. Courtesy of Overduin and Kite, Los Angeles.