Sunday, 9 September 2012

Art: Interview with Janis Rafailidou

Janis Rafailidou, born in 1984 in Athens, Greece, has spent the last seven years studying in UK. She has been awarded the Arts and Humanities Council scholarship for her PhD (2007-2010) and MA (2006-2007) in Fine Art at the University of Leeds. She has been nominated by AXIS as one of the Selected Graduates and has been awarded Best Newcomer at the Leeds Art Fair 2008.

In the past four years she has exhibited in group shows and commissioned events in Leeds and Athens. She has also participated and collaborated with a number of organisations including: Henry Moore Institute, Leeds City Library, Situation Leeds, Light Night, the Black Dogs, BBC Leeds, and Leeds Visual Arts Forum. Last year she exhibited at the Leeds Art Gallery along Georgina Starr, Annelies Strba and Rosalind Nashashibi.

Janis kindly took time out of her busy schedule to talk to Art Fist about her involvement in the 195Miles exhibition currently being held at Project Space Leeds.

Jon: “What is ‘195Miles’?”
Janis: “PSL [Project Space Leeds] got together with Whitechapel. It’s a collaboration between the two galleries to choose four artists from Leeds and four artists from London. They put us into pairs to collaborate, kind of like a blind date, we didn’t know whether it was going to work or not.”

Jon: “What was it like working with artists from London? Is their work noticeably different from artists in Leeds?”
Janis: “When I met the artists from London, it was a completely different form of practice. It had a different feel, you know, conceptually. The artists from Leeds seemed more experimental. The artists from London have different way of working, their work is more sculptural and has an obvious commercial value.”

Jon: “How did the collaboration work for you?”
Janis: “For me it was more of a dialogue. I’m not sure if we knew whether we were arguing or communicating at points. I brought what I was working on at the moment into the exhibition and tried to build the works together, so the dialogue was more about how we can use the space.”

Jon: “What can you tell me about the work you are you showing at the exhibition?”
Janis: “The work I’m showing is a work I made in Greece. It’s a film about immigrants, most of them illegal and most of them are male. They walk from Pakistan to Greece and they work in horse riding clubs on the outskirts of Athens. I spent a lot of time with them; they live and work in these primitive stables for minimal wages. It’s kind of a documentary, but also fictionalised; it’s quite surreal. They asked me to take photographs of them so they could send the pictures home to find a wife. One event that happened, which is one of the main stories in the film, is about when I went with them to get some new cameras; we had to do this illegally. It was a new experience for me to make a narrative film”

Jon: “Horses seem to feature a lot in this work. Is this important for your message?”
Janis: “It’s a lot about horses; more about the symbolic nature of them. If you see it, it makes sense. The wall where the film is being projected is made of bales of straw. I’m going to take a live horse into the gallery for the opening. I’m hoping this will bring into focus the physical dominance that the horses have within the film. It’s an experiment in the approaches to communicating this to the audience through different mediums.”

Jon: “You’ve spent a number of years working in an academic environment; to what extent do you think that you can still have a spontaneous creative impulse? Is your work always prefigured by the conventions of academia and ‘art theory’?”
Janis: “That’s a really interesting question. I have thought about this a lot over the last few months, it can get frustrating. There are a lot of problems in relation to a fine art practice-based PhD. It can be difficult to balance how your practice relates to theory, how it relates to your analysis and writing. I think I’ve felt a bit suffocated and frustrated, because, how do you divide the time? How does one fit into the other, conceptually? I go through phases where I create a lot and then I look back and try and analyse it, I try and situate it with what is happening with contemporary art.”

Jon: "Can you ever really analyse your own work?"
Janis: “All I’ve ever done is analyse my own work! I’ve never analysed anyone else’s, which is bad I think, maybe I’ll have to change that now. [laughs]. I actually think that people make their best work just as they come into university, as soon as they start understanding how the university works, they stop being spontaneous. I think I’ve actually used the PhD to help me focus on my practice, so now I think I’m more creative than I have been before because I’ve learnt how to be independent but still work in this academic environment. I think withdrawing from the academic side of things makes me feel more creative. The trouble is that some PhD students work too closely with theory and become stuck, they try and make work to show that a theory works but then realise that it’s impossible, or at least seems impossible for them and then they just talk about the impossibility of making work. I don’t think I could do that. For me, the priority is making.”

Jon: "Do you have any advice for new artists working in Leeds?"
Janis: “It’s a matter of being active. Trying to get involved in things even if it’s just a small event, your work will improve and develop by doing that. There are things like the Art Market, Situation Leeds, Black Dogs, Peripheral; it’s just a case of jumping in and getting involved. They help to keep you in contact with people and it’s a really good way to see what other artists are doing. Being in Leeds is a good place; in London I’ve known artists getting obsessed with getting to show their work, they spend their time trying to show their work and getting contacts rather than making a good body of work. I think if you’ve got a good body of work, people will start to become interested. Don’t be afraid to explore and experiment.”

This article was originally printed in Art Fist issue 5.

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