In Conversation with Kristelle de Freitas
We sat down with Kristelle de Freitas to chat about her upcoming exhibition at Goodspace Gallery, Soft Remarks. Read on for a discussion on anthropomorphised drawing machines, the return of analogue processes, and photocopy envy.
Find more info about Soft Remarks, here.
VERTIGO: Do want to start by giving me a bit of background on Soft Remarks?
KRISTELLE: It started off as a bunch of experiments, just working in uni I had been given this drawing machine to play around with.
V: Yeah, I read that in your bio for the exhibition and I was like, what is a drawing machine?
K: (Laughs) Well, it’s kind of more simple than it sounds. It’s basically a printer with none of the shell crap hiding what it does, so its a single arm that runs on two axes and you can give it any drawing device that you want—I like to use charcoal—and it will just plot an image. It’s really simple, which is good because it seems technical and code based, which it’s not, and I can’t do any of that stuff.
V: So, the whole idea was borne out the the equipment you were using?
K: I was meant to be using [the drawing machine] for my masters. Long story short: I’m no longer doing my masters but I still liked using the machine, I kind of grew an attachment to it. We named it Ernest, because he kind of earnestly does what you want it to and it’s really sweet.
V: So, what’s the product you’re left with after using Ernest?
K: He’s essentially a printer. I run a series of prints through him and that’s what we’ll have in the exhibition. I am, I guess you could say an amateur photographer; it’s really something I do in my spare time. I’ve been using an analogue camera since about 2011. I’ve never really intended to go anywhere with it, but I really like just playing around. So I’ve got this huge collection of random stuff from my life, I guess, stuff that kind of seems like nothing. Like a shit-tonne of photos of trees. So what I do is I pass them through the computer and I get Ernest to draw them out for me. I’ve got this small collection of sketches by him and not by me, which is kind of a reflection of my own practise and how it has moved away from myself a little bit.
V: That’s so interesting because I was going to ask you about the process you followed to execute your concept, but it seems like you concept was borne more out of your process.
K: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s a very me thing to do. My honours work in visual communications was practise based; you kind of do your research and document your making, and my research and making were all about this idea of process. Specifically asking: how does analogue process and digital processing relate? I found myself being obsessed with process, so it’s kind of sweet that you picked up on that.
V: Right now we’re seeing this trend, or a shift back to people wanting to use analogue things, film cameras, we’re going back to vinyls. Do you want to speak to why young people have this need to be tactile again rather than everything being instantaneous in the digital world?
K: I’m not sure we really ever departed from it. I mean, I grew up being tactile like that. I think it’s just returning to the things we always have been doing, making it clear that we aren’t just this overtly digital generation. I was showing my Dad a camera over the weekend, and he was talking about how he sees kids coming back to film, and I was like, “Dad, I never really left it, you gave me your cameras, I started using them.”
V: Did you encounter any challenges when you were working on this project?
K: Well, I never really intended for this project to go anywhere. It was just this fun thing where I was like, “what would it be like to get a machine to start using charcoal?” I don’t know if you’ve seen but on Twitter there’s a lot of drawing machine videos that go around —
V: I’d never even heard of a drawing machine before this!
K: Right, I think it’s this weird insular world I live in (laughs). But anyway, there’s so many ideas of these machines doing the same thing, just using a pen and drawing the same geometric shapes, and I got really sick of it. I wanted to go one step further to the left, and gave it something messy like charcoal, which it made into something beautiful, so I kept making more and I was left with this pile of stuff and I was like, “maybe we can hang them up in Goodspace Gallery!” So I can’t really speak to any challenges because I didn’t know what I was doing, and I kind of leave all the mistakes in my work as well.
V: Is there a story line which runs through your piece, for someone who wouldn’t know how you serendipitously created this project, is there a through line or a narrative?
K: I think the through-line is my own practise and me trying to understand what that is. In my byline for the exhibition I mention photocopier envy, because when I was little I used to try so hard to draw super realistically, and I got to a point and I thought I could draw to a level of a photocopier — which is not true. It’s such a kid thing to be that proud, but I have this memory of wishing that photocopiers didn’t exist so I could do their job. Ever since then it’s been me trying to figure out what can I do with my work and where I sit within a world where there are digital machines making art. I reached this point of being fine with it, and I can let Ernest finish the work.
V: In terms of inspiration, where did you draw from?
K: It started with my masters work, which was a lot of digital materiality and new media art, so there are a lot of figures in there which influence the work I make now. People like Wendy Chung, who looks at the feminisation of digital media.
V: I think this is a common theme of drawing inspiration from mediums outside the one you’re working on, like a musician looking to literature or film. Do you find inspiration in spheres you’re not exclusively working in?
K: My inspiration is often from the people I’m working around, and the things they are talking about, it’s kind of huge and so personal it’s kind of hard to pinpoint it.
V: Maybe this is a personal question then, but how much is your art a reflection of true life?
K: The quick answer is that art has always been a huge part of my life. At a simple level I’ve always enjoyed making it and thinking about it. Lately, because I studied design, I’ve departed from this idea that I do art and rather that I just make things and think about materials, so whether its a reflection of life, or if it’s more a reflection of my thinking.
V: If we flash back, what kind of a role did art play in your life as a kid?
K: God, that’s a hard one. Art was no big deal as a kid, just a way to spend quiet time on my own. I had a large family so having your own space, sitting at your desk to draw, is something of a safe haven. I’m quite quiet and a keep-to-myself kind of person.
V: (Laughs) And I’m here interrogating you!
K: I’m pouring it out! The exhibition is kind of the same feeling. I’ve never really shown stuff on my own. I have this feeling where I don’t really know why people will want to see it — which I know is dumb and that there’s value in all work.
V: Do you feel particularly vulnerable putting your work out into the world?
K: I definitely do. It’s getting feedback, or worrying that people will try to read too much into my work because there’s not this huge underlying concept.
V: I’m kind of curious to ask you about art and accessibility. For people who don’t have a background in art how accessible is not just your exhibition, but modern art in general to young people?
K: I think places like Goodspace definitely facilitate comfy casual places for young people to experience art, and I’m kind of glad that’s where I’m placing my work. Art has a history of being inaccessible; I myself used to be intimidated of art in galleries, maybe because of the myth of the “artistic genius”, because we think there’s this big, huge person, often male, behind the work, which is entirely false. That’s maybe why people are intimidated by trying to interpret art, but is just stuff made by people, it’s just conversation, and in places like Goodspace there’s no need explain it in one way, you can just absorb it in anyway you want.
V: So following that is there a specific message or take away you want audience to leave with after seeing Soft Remarks?
K: (Laughs) No, not at all, I just want them to enjoy it. I’ll hopefully have the drawing machine working there so it’s a chance for people to acquaint themselves with him. People can spend time with the machine and not be intimidated by machine art, because it’s so beautifully simple.
See Kristelle and Ernest’s work at Goodspace Gallery this Wednesday. Find more event information: here.