Interview with Anthony Koutras

Entitled “Explication”, you can view Toronto-based artist Anthony Koutras’ latest work at the Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.  The exhibition runs from  April 15 – April 24.

Anthony Koutras' "Pylon", 2010, Courtesy: Stephen Bulger Gallery

Q.: What is wrong with a “passive encounter with the everyday”?  After all, can we not assume that sometimes a garbage can is just a garbage can?
A.: I don’t feel that there’s anything necessarily wrong with a passive encounter with the everyday.  I find that people become familiar with things and that creates our personal definition of everyday objects.  That’s why travel to other cities and countries are of interest to a lot of people.  Traveling to other places exposes you to an unfamiliarity of the everyday.  Your usual recognition is thrown for a loop.  It’s this recognition that’s interesting to me, and what I’m exploring through this new work.
As an artist I try to look past the recognition that creates our perception of the everyday.  I find myself really looking at my surroundings and curating my own surrounding elements.  As I walk through the public space I constantly find fleeting compositions and objects that are visually interesting to me.  In choosing a garbage can to photograph it has to hold certain characteristics that are personally interesting.

Q.: Does an object have to be disconnected from its original context in order to be viewed differently?
A.: No, I suppose objects can be viewed differently without their being disconnected from the original context.  I suppose it would require the viewer to take it upon him or herself to consciously think about viewing it differently, while the original form, location and function of the object remains in front of them as they do so.

Anthony Koutras' "Cardboard Box", 2010, Courtesy: Stephen Bulger Gallery

Q.: Removed from its context, can’t the meaning of anything be altered?  Why not simply take the pylon and place it in an art gallery?  Why use photography?
A.: It’s true, and Duchamp addressed this issue with his readymades.  I think I continue to use photography because I’m drawn to photography’s inherent ability as a medium to record exact depictions of what the lens of the camera captures.  I’ve found through working with photography over the years, I began to look at the medium itself and the qualities it holds.  Essentially it’s an encapsulation of space, scaled and flattened into a two-dimensional depiction. The question I ask myself is, “what can I do with those qualities?” Through that investigation, over the last 8 years I developed an interest in creating art with an association to the public space. My work expanded into a somewhat interdisciplinary practice, incorporating aspects of photography, sculpture and installation, and was predominantly sourced from the public arena.
In my current series Explication, I take the approach of using photography to speak to the medium of photography itself.  I’m assigning the work the task of opening a dialogue about the mediation of the photographic image.  I incorporate elements of my practice from the public through the use of streetscape objects as a vehicle to speak to this topic.

Q.: What attracts you to certain objects?  For example, why this garbage can instead of that fence?
A.: I found that in this current body of work, the original streetscape object tended to be freestanding and somewhat close to a human scale, mainly because the objects were designed to be functional.  I began to see a physical correlation between the objects and us, each object holding it’s own unique individual character traits much like a personality.  The Hot Dog Garbage was one example of an object that I felt was funny, unique, and somewhat reflected our society through remnants and traces left on the object.

Q.: There is a sculptural element in the way the objects are presented.  All of a sudden, the everyday becomes akin to installation and sculpture and, as such, becomes “art”.  Does this not risk that the object, viewed as art, will lose all of its “reference of origin”?  In other words, garbage can as commodity (it could be argued this is what it becomes the moment it enters the gallery) is no longer a garbage can.  It is art.  Therefore all reference to its history is moot.
A.: Oh, for sure there’s a sculptural element. The large-scale photographs are actually photographs of an 8-inch tall folded photographic composite I made.  The print is refolded, curled and glued back into a sculptural depiction of the object.  The original objects on the street are directed through a series of forward moving embodiments, away from the actual source object.  It’s completely true; the work is an art object that’s shown in a gallery.  It’s absolutely severed from the source. It’s a hollow representation of the perceived object, an example of an object stripped of the original function.  The photographs in the gallery have lost the direct reference of the origin and I would like the loss of origin and the pure recognition of that object to create a playful duality and tension in the photographs presented.
I don’t actually feel that the process I put the objects through renders the history of the object moot.  The history is still there and we tend to want to know where it was located and possibly a story as to how I came upon it.  It simply comes down to it becoming a more complicated history than first assumed.  I’m interested in the history seen through the veil of multiple translations of visual information.

Anthony Koutras' "Hot Dog Garbage", 2010, Courtesy: Stephen Bulger Gallery

Q.: How do you, as an artist, maintain the object’s “history”?  What role, if any, does the “history” of the object play?
A.: To me the history is important, but specifically in relationship to the history of the photograph used as an archive tool. The selection of the object within the photographic frame is inherently tied to a preservation and archive of something: a moment in time or an object in danger of disappearing. I feel images have been adopted to act as a surrogate for memory and retain details that would otherwise be forgotten or altered. By way of photography, we attempt to hold on to the passing moments. By photographing these commonplace objects—a memorializing action—I give them importance. The geometric form of each object becomes a sponge, taking in a multitude of written communication, weather, damage and decay: each object indexing time.

Q.: How would you describe Canadian Contemporary art?
A.: I think Canadian Contemporary art is full of amazing artists and Canadian work is being shown in more places than ever before.  I feel Canadian Contemporary art is where it is today because of the talent and creativity of so many, combined with the development of support systems to foster individual artists and collectives. Those who worked so hard early on to establish artist run centres, commercial galleries, publication opportunities, and grant systems are all owed a huge thank you.  They helped create a setting to ensure Canadian Contemporary art keeps moving forward in a the positive way it has been in recent years.

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