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Interview with the artist Miķelis Mūrnieks about the exhibition “Behavioral Sink” at Kim?

Our attention has been directed to the need to be more fluid — in times of dynamic change, it will become a valuable tool for managing everyday life. With the capitalist work rhythm dictating the tempo of everyday life, a hypnotic state can be reached that is as though gazing at the ceaseless flow of water. The sculpting of this formless substance is the primary material common denominator for the works displayed in the exhibition. Drawn in a whirlpool of the mass of various rules, consumer illusions, and systems, the viewer is invited to explore the environment in which the artist untangles deeply personal yet, at the same time, socially descriptive experiences that are hidden behind a dreamy yet fragile shroud. The threads of contradiction and incomprehension are reflected not only in the world of ideas but also in the manifestly visible — surprising variety of states of water. Curator of the exhibition Elīza Elizabete Ramza


Conversation between the artist Miķelis Mūrnieks and RLT Project Manager Assistant Veronika Bátfai.



Veronika Bátfai

What is the latest thing that you learned or realized about your artistic practice?


Miķelis Mūrnieks

[Laughs] Big questions, I don't know. 

Well, basically the exhibition we just did in Kim?, I think it's a big summary of the development of my artistic practice since I moved to Amsterdam for my studies. It's hard to point out one thing that I've learned. I'm in this stage where I try to sharpen up the path I want to go through.


The main thing I enjoyed in doing this exhibition is that we came up with a systematic approach to each work and how to combine each unique state of water with a narrative explaining peculiarities in the animal world that functions by the same tenet as the state of water. So I think that is the latest thing I practice or what I try to go for.



VB

Yeah, actually the next question is in a pretty similar arena to what you started to describe. What does your thought process look like while making an artwork or before making an artwork?


MM

Well, that's a good question because I wrote my master's thesis about it. After I finished my first year at Dirty Art Department I was quite confused, everything was new and exciting, but then at the same time, the tutors and the whole group dynamic forced me to try other things and to go in the danger zone. They said doing masters is the last time when it's possible to fail. At the end of the first year I was so confused, they accepted me because of my portfolio, and because of stuff I did before, and now they're asking me to do something else. But then in the second year, I understood that it was just their educational method, that they would try to break you down, and after that you try to rebuild what you were doing before, but with a completely different confidence. 


And then getting back to your question, during this whole experience and especially in the beginning of the second year I understood like okay, doing masters is a good moment to do an overview of what I've been going through, and what are the patterns in all of the projects that I've done before, and what are just the things that I enjoyed the most. What kind of system or pattern is there?… and then I just started by pointing out some things that I always do to come up with an art project.


I wrote this whole thesis about how from a weirdly shaped rock, or I don't know an architectural failure, or something, - I call them visual triggers - how you can use these things to create a narrative. I hate the word mind-map, but I guess it's the most accurate one to explain… but basically I put my object of interest in the middle of everything - which in the case of this exhibition (Behavioral Sink) was shaping water - and then I just make this chain of associations through different aspects, like cultural context of the thing, how this thing has been used in art before, scale, materials, history of it, and I'm trying to expand this mind-map as far as I can go. Then at the end, I'm stepping back and pointing out things that kind of makes sense in between. Basically, you were to the exhibition, right?…


VB

Yes, of course.


MM

…for example, in this whirlpool installation, where an infinite vortex is going on, the story of this… it's called “Ant Mill”. It’s about how ants end up going into this dead spiral, because they fail to follow the pheromone of the queen ant. They go into a spiral until they run out of energy and die, and this water does the same spiral movement. I'm trying to put together things that function by similar principles so that I can use it as an analogy in the storytelling.


VB

Where do you think that comes from? But you also partly answered it, does it come from the Dirty Art Department…?


MM

I guess so… I don't think that it's their goal to make me feel or think this way, but I think this whole experience just led me to decide where I'm gonna take my artistic practice… and I quite quickly understood that I really like to work with sculpture, and then my main goal is to come up with a way that I can make those sculptures into stories and how I can tell stories through these installations…which I’ve already done multiple times, but I never paid attention. And then when I was in Dirty Art Department, the main goal was to come up with a way that I can use every time, no matter what is the point of interest. I take this and I just go through it like an algorithm, and I have a thing in the end.


VB

It's really interesting because the first thing I noticed about your work, especially with the Zuzeum one was like, okay this is similar to applied arts or graphic design thinking, just very to the point.


MM

Yeah, I’m using daily symbols and just put them in a different context and turn the whole thing around… but I think at the same time I really don't want to be an artist where you go see a show and it's hard to get what's going on. One of my goals is to make this whole spatial experience for everyone. 


You can go there and see oh, wow, it's weirdly shaped water. It's fun. It's a lot of bricks. It feels weird to be in this kind of a space. But then at the same time if you wanted to go into self reflection, there is also a lot of room for that, there's multiple layers behind each piece, and you can dig as deep as you want.


VB

Yeah, we also talked about this with Anete (RLT Project Manager) that your work is like, yeah, I get what's going on, but also it says something.



It's really like cool and also ballsy, and talking about ballsy… How did your artwork "Art of Gambling" (2019) made it into the Zuzāns Collection?


MM

Oh, that's a funny story actually, because when I was making it, it was my bachelor's degree in art academy and my supervisor was like, are you sure you want to do this? I was like yeah, why not, I want to graduate with a bang. I did it, we installed it, and at the opening of the show… I wasn't ready for this chaos, mess and publicity that this work gained. It was a bit crazy, I hadn't even presented yet but there were already people with cameras coming in, like newspaper.… I was like wow … and it was funny because that was my first time experiencing that an artwork can do something like this.


In the end, a good friend of Zuzāns bought the piece and gave him as a present on his birthday, and it was two weeks before the opening of Zuzeum.


It ended up on display at the opening, it was next to this Purvitis (Vilhelms Purvitis, 1872 –1945, painter, educator, one of the founders of the Art Academy of Latvia) painting, and I was like… this turned out well. [Laughs]



VB

Wow… Okay… Let’s talk a bit about your latest exhibition, Behavioral Sink at Kim? Contemporary Art Centre. What did the process of working with the curator Elīza Elizabete Ramza look like?


MM

Amazing, well, I’ve known her for plenty of years already, we always had a great relationship. She’s just a person who is very easy to talk to, for me. I think as a curator, her main goal is to help artists transcript all the craziness that's going on, and put it in a nice order.


We were searching for references, and she helped me understand which things we should lean on more, and which we should drop. It was a really long process. I think we were working on it almost for a year. The most challenging part was that we were working remotely because she lives in Paris and I live in Amsterdam and we were doing the exhibition in Riga… a bit tricky. I went to see her in Paris a couple of times, and she came to my graduation here in Amsterdam, so she saw this monkey sculpture already back then. 


I did all the small-scale models and sketches in Amsterdam, and then I came to Riga five weeks before the opening and I produced everything there from scratch. I only had the monkey sculpture that I brought from Amsterdam, and we did everything else in five weeks.



VB

Since you work in the field of graphic design as well, why did you feel like asking Valters Kalsers to create the visual identity for the exhibition?


MM

I like his work, and I’ve already known him for some time now. I think also before coming to Sandberg Institute my artistic practice was authoritative, I was doing everything on my own. At some point I understood, okay I can't be the best at everything, and and I think by collaborating with people, you can go much further than on your own… then I worked with Valters a bit before on some projects, and then I asked him if he wants to do this, and I think he never did like exhibition graphic design before… yeah, it went easy, so I am thankful to him. It was enough for us to do, so asking for some help felt rational. 



VB

Yes, I can imagine. What was the most interesting part of the process of making the artworks - or the exhibition as a whole - for you?


MM

Well, I think yeah, I enjoyed everything we did.

I really enjoyed using all my previous knowledge of where to hustle the materials, where to do that, where to manage this, how to bring bricks from 100 kilometers away, and how to bring them into the space. Also, I had an amazing support system, who carried bricks,… just helped with doing stuff. I felt really happy that I had such a nice group of friends. 


Also, we were really excited to do the show in Riga, because it would take three times more budget and a lot more time to produce this same show, for example, in Amsterdam… and I don't think that in Amsterdam I would even be able to put like 16 tons of bricks in some gallery. They would never allow me. [Laughs] 


So yeah, I was really trying to put all my knowledge and to hustle everything I can with the budget we had, to make this the most epic solution that we could do, and I really enjoyed that. That was fun.


VB

My last question is… what artists inspire you lately?


MM

Funny, but I was thinking about this question a couple of days ago, while I was riding my bike from the studio. I was like if somebody asked me right now which artists I really look up to at the moment… well, I love Maurizio Cattelan, his work. Do you know him?


VB

No, I don’t think.


MM

Yeah, well, his most known piece is the duct-taped banana, but there is plenty more besides that.


VB

Ah, okay, yeah. [Laughs]


MM

And then there's a girl whose work I really like. Her name is Magali Reus. I really like how she's working with sculptures lately. So those are the two that I would point out.


The exhibition “Behavioral Sink” at Kim? can be seen till 19 May.


Also, don't miss the chance to see this exhibition at Riga Last Thursdays event on 25th March from 18:00 till 22:00!


Interview by Veronika Bátfai


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