Photography & the Sculpted Image | Interviewing Agatha A. Nitecka (Part 1)

To go straight to Part 2 of this interview, click here.

I cannot understate the importance of online art connections. They provide critical exposure to the work of artists across varied mediums – and this in turn encourages contact, collaboration and direct inputs into reviewing the art making process and personal development.

After viewing her work, it was clear that artist Agatha A. Nitecka was sensitive to the beauty, frailty and possibilities of engaging the human body through sculpture, still and moving images. A muted palette, selective cropping and minimal props are characteristics which often lend her work a meditative, classical restraint – a refreshing alternative to some of the chic sensationalism and irony present in much contemporary art.

Agatha took some time out from her busy schedule for the following interview. It will be the final Art Catalyst feature for 2009 and will be posted in 2 parts. I trust it will provide some fodder for readers and artists reflecting and seeking new inspirations for the coming year..

[PR] Agatha, you initially studied sculpture, though have ventured into film and self-portrait photography. What influenced this shift in medium for you?

[AN] It wasn’t really a shift, more of a realization. I remember a comment made by the head tutor of the sculpture department during my initial interview. He seemed to think that my sculpture portfolio was instead made up of photographic work—with light being the most important component (it still was sort of documentary as the photographs featured my sculptural body of work). After his comment I was sure I wouldn’t be offered a place at the college. But I was, and once enrolled I kept making sculptures, clearly to just photograph what I’ve made or use it for an image or a scene I already created in my mind.

When sculpting I think about the outcome in photographic dimensions, but I never thought about myself as a photographer. It was just that the photographs of my sculptures are far more important to me than the sculptures on their own—perhaps because they end up reaching a wider audience. Anyway, after few years I met with the same tutor, he asked me what I was up to, and when I told him that I mostly work in photography he just said, ‘you finally got it!’. Sometimes I wish he had told me this earlier, it would have saved me some time figuring things out. Yet I think I wouldn’t be where I am without this sculptural background, it is a very important part of the way I create an image, but it was a long – and not the most straightforward – road.

[PR] What was the most distinctive moment/s you can recall from your time as a student – who or what were the key influences on your visual concepts and folio development?

[AN] Actually I had a hard time being an art student. It wasn’t a great experience for me. I come from a rather traditional art background, so when I found myself at Chelsea, where the emphasis is on post-Duchamp art, I encountered an unfortunate clash in that I had been trained to speak in pre-Duchamp language. I did try to develop contemporary references and while they ended up being interesting, were not that deeply inspiring in the end. Maybe I was already too formed, which prevented me from absorbing as much as I could. All my references where more than a hundred years old—I couldn’t and I still can’t help it, that’s how I associate, think and create. Neither my references, nor my traditional way of working (i.e. in the foundry or stone carving) were much welcomed.

I don’t think it’s often mentioned, so I will risk it here, that art colleges can actually kill-off any creativity or the best aspects of what you do instead of nurturing and bringing the best out of you.

It’s not all gloom and doom though! I met two amazing tutors who definitely influenced my theoretical research and further interests. Writing my dissertation was a breakthrough, and the time that I enjoyed the most. That’s when psychoanalytic theory came strongly into play.

In terms of studio practice though, with every month I spent at art college, I just got more frustrated. Dust in a corner, or a few sticks leaning on the wall is not art for me, and sorry if I seem limited, but I think it’s a load of rubbish really. It took me a few years to go back to my default creative mode, where I expressed myself freely, disregarding the Chelsea experience. Therefore all I can say now, looking at my past experiences, is to be cautious. Or make sure you keep your distance. Perhaps I didn’t keep mine and really wanted to embrace the experience, which didn’t work for me, and which rather hurt to be honest.

“A relationship between feeling, seeing and touching..”

[PR] How did your degree in Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies inform your work?

[AN] A few days ago, while talking about photographic theory and practice, I heard someone saying how one should be very wary of applying psychoanalytic theory to photography. I mean – really? I can’t disagree more. Both deal with a relationship between seeing, feeling, and touching. Both explore beauty, emotion, texture and distance. Both weave the inside with the outside. Both somehow exist in a transitional space. The importance of time is so crucial for both. I think that even on a literal level, just looking at the processes involved, there are strong parallels between them.

I can see how easy it is to pigeonhole psychoanalysis with regards to photography; I guess it started with Laura Mulvey’s work and the gaze in film, which often is applied to photography too. But to think of psychoanalysis as dealing only (or even mainly) with the gaze and sexuality is a crime! (I am referring here to psychosexual development, economy and dynamics, not necessarily sexual activities). Psychoanalytic theory has a lot to offer. Trust me on that one. Just avoid the ‘arty’ reading lists, as you’ll end up repeating the same stories over and over again. Instead, have your own take.

A very important aspect of undertaking this degree was that it removed me from the art world for a while. I wouldn’t be where I am without this time away from the art scene. I think it’s fantastic to be distanced from the art world, without any fellow artists around, to spend some time with people who might have no interest in art whatsoever. I mean it; try finance, sciences, law for few years and a whole new world will open in front of you and it may be the most rewarding thing ever.

[PR] Your photography has explored a range of responses to the human body in natural and constructed environments. What motivates your approach to presenting the body in these spaces?

[AN] I love the fact that you are a painter—it makes you look at my work through such a different framework…very refreshing. I think what I do has its source in sculpture, yet again. You can’t have a sculpture without a space, can you? It is simply impossible. And although in photography, just like in painting, there is no need for a space to be featured in the actual art work. I guess I operate in this dual photo-sculptural framework, where when I think about sculpture I think photographically, and when I take pictures I think sculpturally. Therefore I could think of myself as a sculptor, but working with light predominately.

So a sculptural awareness motivates my approach to representing the body in any sort of space. Even on a more personal level, I was very space-aware since I was a child. At 5 years old I was building these ‘environments’ with chairs, tables, and sheets and blankets. I especially loved using white fabrics, as I knew they would let some direct light into my structure (I thought it was pure magic, I still believe it is). I also used to play and hide under tables—I just wanted to have my very own space. I’m afraid there is nothing of a choice here, that’s just the nature of things… And I also like corners. I like the place where two walls meet. Or a wall with a floor/ceiling; Quiet, spatial encounters that we’ll never understand.

[PR] Depictions of the fragmented human body have many precedents in contemporary art. What draws you to representing the human fragment and does it pose specific challenges compared to depicting the full figure?

[AN] Somehow I don’t like the idea of the ‘fragmented’ human body. I don’t think I am interested in it at all. I’m more interested in focusing/zooming as I wish. Though, maybe we are actually talking about the same thing. I just can’t think about fragments of the body, or of an object. I always think about the whole object—the weight and presence of a whole object is crucial for me.

Often the light would shape the form in a way that parts of the body would almost disappear. Or I use focusing to bring out the texture a bit more, control the composition, create a spatial awareness of the subject/object and play with closeness and distance.

I would use it to achieve less or more of a narrative context as required. And I often need to have less spatial information in the photograph. I’m most at home with the ‘less is more’ approach, which I can tell you’ve guessed by now…

To read Part 2 of this interview click here


Born in Poland, Agatha studied briefly at the Master School of Film Directing in Warsaw. In 2004, she moved to London and studied sculpture at Chelsea College of Art and Design. She later graduated from UCL with the MSc in Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies, which resulted in her working predominantly with moving and still image. She continues to live and work in London and exhibits internationally.



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