Words by Anthony Thomas

The external environment, be it built, digital or natural, plays an integral role in every aspect of our lives. This might seem obvious but to many it’s not. Space and our engagement with it, consciously or subconsciously, influence and shape our behaviour. For instance, marketers and advertisers armed with an arsenal of blatantly subtle (oxymorons are fun) techniques, strategies and cues, continue to tarnish the built environment with carefully crafted messages designed to influence our consumption patterns. In the same vain but minus malicious intent, architects and interiors designers construct spaces that illicit desired functionality and emotion through considered use of materials, colour, lines and objects. It’s hardly surprising that complacency and boredom have emerged as society’s catalytic response to the continual bombardment of information. But what if we stopped for a second? Stopped to turn off our inner autopilot by reducing the noise and streamlining our decision-making processes? What if we stopped and did those things through intelligent and thoughtful use of space? These questions are the framework of Brisbane artist, Catlin Franzmann’s practise. Heavily reliant on visual stimuli and interaction, it’s work best experienced live or explained by the artist. You can do both; by visiting the Foundation’s Edge exhibition open until late May at the QUT Art Museum and by reading the interview that follows.

Tell me about yourself. Who are you?

I am an artist. I’ve just finished studying honours at Queensland College of Art. My main focus was sculpture and installation and using video and sound. I also have a background in urban planning, so I’ve come to the visual arts in a later phase of my life after working in planning for several years.

Does planning influence your artistic practise now?

I pushed it away for a really long time. I wanted to do something completely different and tried to completely ignore that history but it constantly came up again and again. It’s inherent in a lot of my work. Just the ideas of space and how people negotiate and interact with urban environments, buildings, streets, I find really interesting.

What particular aspect of the interaction do you find interesting?

Often when I come into the city, especially when I’m working the nine-to-five job, I observe people in automatic mode. I’m interested in this idea of sensory overload of information; constant sounds, visuals, advertising and media presented to us, which can be mentally and physically exhausting. I’m interested in the idea of slowing that process down through architecture and design.

How do you plan on doing that?

I’m starting in the art world; looking at the gallery space and the way and pace art is consumed. It’s a very visual process quite often, but I’m interested in focusing on all of the senses. I use sound in a way that can take that focus away from the symbols I see in front of me, and opening up the meaning to something a little less tangible; allowing the participant to feel a bit more.

So your art is completely impressionable on the individual viewer?

Totally. With a lot of my work, every single person has a different experience. There are ideas of shared experiences but also very individual experiences occurring at the same time. When I say shared, I mean when someone’s interacting with the work, there’s going to be other people viewing that interaction and then there’s this different experience happening in the back ground.

A little network of experiences happening in conjunction with each other?

Completely, but also that idea of the constant shift between mind and body. You’re feeling and experiencing something and you’re brain is going, “well what’s actually happening here,” and there is perhaps a little trick in the work that makes you start questioning that again. It’s not always 100% clear, there’s a little bit of mystery involved.

As an interactive artist, where do you see traditional mediums fitting in with the changing art environment?

I think there will be always be a place for traditional mediums. I know personally, I can experience a flood of emotions from looking at a painting. Perhaps what I’m arguing against is the excessive intellectualisation of art, in terms of having to read the little statement next to work to understand what they mean. 2D work often has that idea that symbols and metaphors are all there and, “This means this, and this means this, and okay, the work is related to this concept”. Whereas when I feel those emotions from a work – a painting – it’s usually when I’m drawn deep into the work and it allows me form my own interpretation.

It’s funny you say that about the intellectualisation of art because I came across a quote that described your work as, “Challenging purely aesthetic and conceptual tendencies in contemporary art.” People with no idea about art would look at that and think, “What does that mean?” I mean what the hell does it mean?

That’s a little bit incorrect in terms of purely aesthetic because the word aesthetic derives from the Greek word meaning ‘perception through the senses’. So aesthetics is exactly what I’m trying to achieve. I think what they mean by that is probably purely visual. The work in this show does lean more toward the visual, although I try  to focus on other senses. To me, other senses can include movement and touch. I encourage the viewer to touch and play with the work. Those two on their own are important elements that you don’t often experience through a painting.

You use a lot of light in your work. What is it about light you like?

It creates a mood. It’s linked to that idea of movement in that it can draw a participant through the space. For example, one of my works is this room within a room and the light source is coming from a door in the smaller room. So in a darkened space, the audience is drawn to that door.

I enjoy the process of responding to a site. Sitting in a space and imagining the possibilities of that space. One site responsive work I did at my solo show at The Hangar was placing a video and sound work in a small hole in the concrete floor. The work positioned the viewer to look down and become conscious of their interaction with the work.  That progressed onto something else and I ended up casting that hole and recreating a concrete block version of it. It’s nice being able to progress things; take elements of a space and take them into another realm.

Going back to the idea of information overload. Do you see potential for art and technology to be used together to help us better decode the info-sphere?

There’s something interesting about using technology because this entire sensory overload is created from technology. So I’m using that same technology in a very different way to negate that. I’m interested in the possibility technology presents in drawing a person in to interact with the work. I’ve used a lot of live video feed to do that and it’s simple technology that’s all around, like security cameras, so in a way it’s critiquing that idea that we’re always being watched. I just see technology as the same as paint or a pen. You can manipulate it and create art from it. Technology presents so many opportunities, but it can also have a darker side. I was watching this news report about the American armed forces creating these robots to replace soldiers on the field and it was like a scene from Terminator. It’s how we use and control technology that is the issue.

You’ve shown the work you’re exhibiting at this show before?

I’ve actually shown the work twice before in different forms. The first time around was at The Hangar in a solo show I had with Level ARI. It was placed in the entrance, just a simple cube and a projection onto a brick wall. It was in quite a raw state.

Do you like the idea of continually developing a single project?

To a point. I’m ready to move on from this work. I like the idea of being able to show the work to a broader audience. This work was shown in my honours grad show but it was quite hidden and I think a lot of people missed it, so in that sense it’s nice for it have a new life. Every time I show the work, it is different. In that particular exhibition, it was in a very closed and darkened space; very quiet as well, which I think worked really well. This time around, the space is completely different; there’s columns and the lighting isn’t as controllable, but this can add something new and unexpected to the work.

Well if you’re ready to move on, what’s next?

I have an exhibition called, Focus, open at the moment, which is a collaboration with Courtney Coombs. In it we created these two connected helmets that essentially force people to face each other and maintain eye contact. That was a really interesting project because again it plays with that idea of individual and shared experience. There was a different sound work in each helmet. One helmet was geared to amplify the discomfort of the situation and the other was calmer, trying to talk the person through the situation. For the future, I’m keen to work in spaces outside of the gallery environment, which can be difficult to do because of the all the variables to negotiate.

Damn those Council regulations.

[Laughs] I know, right! I like that idea of placing an intervention in the street that isn’t just for regular art goers, it’s for any person walking by, and will offer them a moment of curiosity or thoughtfulness.

Published on Moustache Magazine’s website.