Interview – Mona Varichon

 

Article by WB

Hi Mona and welcome to a WB interview!

WB: Obviously looking at work online doesn’t have the same essence as the physical experience but I notice the beige borders around your work, can you explain the importance of this presentation and is this something that you do on your print work? 

MV: Yes, those beige borders are actually a simulation of the way that I print this work. The photos are inkjet prints on 18×24” sheets of newsprint paper with a thick border around the images, and it’s become hard to dissociate them from that mode of presentation, which makes them much more into objects or artefacts than pure photographs. I’m hoping to add some actual documentation of my prints on my website sometime, but in the meantime I quite like the ambiguity of the digital border, and how it already changes the images.

 

 

Images © Invitation To Archaeology Pt 1

WB: Where does your fascination with archaeology stem from?

MV: It all started with a visual fascination for construction sites, which are often reminiscent of archaeological sites. I started putting together the words ‘urban’ and ‘archaeology’ in my head, not knowing that this was actually a sub-category of archaeology, and it all escalated from there when I met an urban archaeologist, who I interviewed as part of the project. Now I’m still very much fascinated by the visual aspect of archaeology, how it reveals what’s below the surface, and exposes a ‘crust’ or ground plane. But I’m also interested in the analogy between the photographer and the archaeologist, who are both looking for clues towards an uncertain goal, and whose work is mostly about looking, collecting and making decisions. With the interview I want to reverse the assumption that archaeology is about searching and photography about looking. With that in mind, I’ve been experimenting with lots of different subjects, as well as making things specifically for the camera. Ultimately I’m as interested in different forms of knowledge or inquisitive impulses as I am in the depictive possibilities of photography.

 

WB: Your work invokes a very natural and inquisitive nature, would that be a fair comment?

MV: Totally, I think my work directly emerged from inquisitiveness and intuition. I used to be a quite skeptical person, more into the thinking than the making process, although I grew up with artistic parents. I studied sociology in college and was about to engage in that field when I decided to pause everything and spent one year teaching myself art and photo history, making collages and writing cheesy poems, and taking photos with a shitty digital point-and-shoot that I hardly extorted from my dad. I just wanted to make art really badly, so I did everything I could to make it happen. Fortunately it’s become a little more informed and mature, but it’s still a constant search and discovery.

 

 

Images © Invitation To Archaeology Pt-2

WB: It’s an easy question but what is your favourite read? State of Mind has me captivated by the front cover!

MV:Tough question actually! In terms of fiction I love Italo Calvino, especially his books Mr Palomar, Cosmicomics and Invisible Cities. His stories are incredibly inventive and visual. When it comes to art books, I’m a big fan of Labor magazine, because it has such a rich and unpredictable content, and so many magazines today can be very empty and repetitive. And I rely a lot on BOMB magazine’s conversations between artists, their archive has so many people that I’m interested in. Also, Pamphlet Architecture 6 by Lebbeus Woods, about his Einstein Tomb project, which is one of my favorite pieces of art, accompanied by incredible writing (you can read it on his blog here). I’ve read it so many times and it still blows me away. Finally, I’m really interested in urban theory, and The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape has been a very important book for me in terms of understanding the impact of architecture and urban planning on our life and social behaviors. It’s really funny and easy to read but there is so much to get out of it.

 

WB: Let’s speak a little about An Ocean in the City, what inspired you to showcase other people’s work?

MV:I started An Ocean in the City more or less at the same time as I started making work seriously, so it came out of a desire to share my new concerns and findings as well as try to understand other people’s practice better. It was also a kind of reductive attempt of the immensity of the internet, and having met a number of real collaborators and friends through it, I can say it worked out pretty well. It’s truly been an educational tool for myself, but also a great way to meet people and create dialogues. It really grew with me, and went from being pretty naive and straightforward at the beginning to hopefully more complex, but all coming from the same place of wanting to share my discoveries.

 

 

 

 

WB:Looking through your site there is clearly a sense of enthusiasm and passion towards the arts, how do you find translating that onto an online space?

MV: I think my blog was literally born out of passion and enthusiasm, and wanting to be a part of a larger online conversation around art and photography. It’s helped me feel that I could hold on to something tangible when I started exploring all the online photography vastness. Building up an audience and getting positive feedback from real people has definitely made it more exciting to share things that I find interesting, and with the abundance of other photography blogs, it makes me want to maintain a worthwhile and fresh content.

Lately though I’ve been getting more and more into video and text-based pieces, and feeling somewhat limited by my blog being very photo-oriented; I hope I’ll be able to break out of that soon and to keep sharing things I’m truly excited about. 

 

WB: What qualities about other people’s work grab your attention and have you wanting to find out more?

MV: I like work that has a unique voice, and challenges the way that we look at things. It doesn’t matter if it’s abstract, formal, set up or candid, as long as I can feel that the photographer is invested in some sort of formal or conceptual inquiry (or both).

 

WB: Can you give us an insight into what it is like working in San Francisco, is it a good place to get inspired?

MV: San Francisco is a complicated place to live in lately, because it’s becoming exponentially expensive, with galleries closing down and artists moving away everyday. It’s rare to go one day without hearing a debate about the place of art in the city; this makes today a pretty interesting and probably historical time to be living here, which I’m trying to see as an advantage. The local art community is somewhat sparse but it’s a strong one, and I’m really thankful to have experienced it. That being said, it still has some great gems, in terms of bookstores, underground cinemas, food, galleries, hikes, artists and characters… it just takes some time and dedication to find them in the maze of super yuppy, predictable spots that spring up every day.

As far as landscape, San Francisco is a very picturesque place, which makes it really enjoyable but not very inspiring for the kind of work that I make. It’s hard to take a photograph here and not have it look like San Francisco, but it’s been a fruitful challenge to overcome, and I think it’s actually made me shift my focus in terms of photographic subjects.

 

WB: In times where you are feeling uninspired what do you find yourself doing to get out of a creative rut?

MV: I like to try and put myself in drifting situations as often as possible. That can mean getting lost in a new neighbourhood or in the depths of the internet, checking out a strange museum or store, traveling, inventing tasty dishes, running up my favorite hill (with no music), hunting for new books… all of those things help air my brain and get ideas flowing. Riding my bike places without trying to get inspired also tends to bring unexpected good ideas. And I try to watch at least one ‘good’ movie a week, meaning, one that will get me thinking about the decision making process behind it, which is something so foreign and interesting to me. I don’t think this ever directly reflects onto my own process, but it keeps me challenged and excited about different ways of making art and spreading ideas. Oh, and I play the French horn in an old community orchestra, which is a pretty good break from the art world! (and fulfills my love of being around old people)

 

Mona Varichon / An Ocean In The City