Metamodernism is a newfound cultural inclination which aptly describes the feeling of today's artistic production — oscillating between different poles, commonly between irony and sincerity, and being in an in-between state. As someone who is really interested in the potential for this way of thinking to help articulate the anxieties of modern life and aspects which constantly fluctuate, Josiane M. H. Pozi’s artistic practice feels like exactly what the cultural critic ordered.
Her work oscillates from ephemeral digital works, videography to painting, sculpture, found objects, to installation and scripted theatre, always with a heavy emphasis on emotion. Whilst we didn’t touch on strict metamodernism too heavily, Josiane and I focus on her past installation exhibition at Carlos Ishikawa in London, Through my fault, moving on to talk about her previous installation and video work. We oscillate between artist to audience, expectations to reality to disappointment, and staring at screens to seeing your future in a wishing well.
Tik tok, 2021 - Installation View - Josiane M.H. Pozi & Klein: Reunion, 2021, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin - Image © Josiane M.H. Pozi & Klein, courtesy the artists, Carlos/Ishikawa, London & Galerie Buchholz, Berlin.
You've spoken about how editing is a form of conducting the audience's emotions — a way of guiding their empathetic response. Can you talk more about how you conducted the audience of Through my fault?
In the exhibition overall I guess I wanted it to feel like a confession — my relationship to myself in different spaces — and for that confession to be projected back onto the audience through the film. The film is shot with these spy glasses to create a kind of first-person-shooter-type feel, perhaps so I could hide behind a sort of forced collective projection? I’ve danced in thinking whether, in relation to the video or installation piece, it’s either a failed idea that all people share the same anxieties that I do or whether I’m actually just projecting.
My experience of your installation was totally fluid. I kept oscillating between the paintings and the main plinth housing the video. Why did you choose to place traditional paintings next to the main plinth, which could be mistaken for an Apple product?
I didn’t clock the Apple product-ness of the plinth! When I was making the video, I knew that I wanted to house it in a well. For one, I like the idea of the audience having to activate their own participation in terms of viewing. I think that, because we look at screens everyday, watching a video can be too simple a bargain. I often don’t question that specific act of looking. You can walk into a room, and you see a screen, and now you’re watching whatever is on the screen, but there is no sense of accountability in that act of watching if that makes sense? There’s no trade.
I also like the idea of the well not feeling like it was birthed or erected from the ground, but instead to feel like an attempt at its birth. It was still an object, you could see the corners, the cables, the texture of the well didn’t completely match that of the gallery floor, or even that of a real well. The plexiglass inside the well is only an attempt at mimicking water too. The video, at its heart, is about attempting or trying, or performing and failing. I liked the idea of the well being surrounded by something that is more assured like drawings mounted on the wall in a gallery space, to have something more grounded to accompany the failed attempts at social interaction or independence within the scenes of the films. But that, in itself, is also an illusion of assurance. The drawings are also attempts or failures due to the fact that they aren’t consistent in style.
The whole show is an attempt at confession, which falls short because I’ve involved the participation of the audience in my own confession, so it becomes theirs too, not just mine. By having them see themselves mirrored back to them in the well, subjecting them to that reality and presenting it as their own, we both share it. And with the drawings, I always envisioned them as painted theatre backdrops to the video which was the theatre performance, trying to set a tone for something. I guess for the fact that the drawings are on the wall, there would always be a time when someone's back is towards the well, the audio for which you could hear regardless of whether you were looking at the piece or not. I liked the idea of that, the inescapability of it.
Do you often oscillate between different expressive forms as an artist?
Yeah I do, sometimes to my detriment. I’m most interested in how something makes me feel, so it can be limiting for me to stick to one medium if I think that there are others that can better express an idea or a feeling. And by doing things in different mediums it helps me think about the other in a way I haven’t before. The combination of mediums illustrates, emphasises, detracts from something in a way that serves that idea or feeling (laughs). This is something that other more articulated people have said before me. Language has never been my strong point. I really want to get good in all forms so I have like a stacked tool box which can help me illustrate an idea the best I can. In saying all this, maybe I can’t concentrate enough to focus on one particular medium and see it through. Will I get to 10,000 hours in each? Here’s to dreaming.
When I first walked in, I saw the main white sculpture as a Christian altar. But after peering into it and seeing my reflection in the screen, it started to signify a futuristic well, like Connla's well from Irish mythology but it’s feeding the Google data centres in Dublin. What influenced you to create Through my fault and did that inspiration change downstream?
Yeah, I wanted the video or installation to feel like a well, and the mythology of going to a well and seeing a or your future. In my head, and this definitely may not be true, but the idea of going to a well and looking into it was always looking into the future and seeing a reality that was better than your current one. With Through my fault, I guess the audience is being met with a reality which is somewhat dire and never-ending. The expectation of what may lie inside, the hope for a better future in the well, like mythology-type-thinking, and I guess the disappointment that follows.
These disappointments and expectations are a continuation from the last project I did which was a performance or play at the Serpentine as part of their Parks Nights. With that performance, the whole play centred around a couple who bought an Airbnb and takes place towards the end of their relationship. It follows the deterioration of the both of them in failing to perform in a way a husband or wife should - the societal expectations placed on a husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, etc. and the human disappointment of not meeting those for whatever reason. I think with Through my fault, I was interested in other spaces where there is an unspoken etiquette, or the pressures to perform in a certain way - the same expectation and disappointment. Both in terms of the video and the participation of the audience members. Or my own, the whole exhibition felt like a confession in that way, my shortcomings in my relationships to different spaces.
living room 1, 2023 - Image © Josiane M.H. Pozi, courtesy the artist & Carlos/Ishikawa, London. Photographer Eva Herzog.
I also didn't realise at first that the film was scripted until after I left — the way you capture the uncanny awkwardness of the conversation in the theatre is amazing. How did you go about writing the script for the video?
So when I had the idea for the video, I knew that I first wanted to write it as a play. I liked the idea of performance inherent in social situations — so like at a house party and in a relationship, or I guess even the couple watching the filmed play. And the etiquette of those situations: the etiquette of being at a house party, the etiquette of watching a play, the etiquette of being yourself in a relationship.
I tried to write it but it wasn’t working the way I wanted it to, so I opted to write detailed character studies of each person in the couple and had conversations with Klein and Asante about their characters and the idea of the play being this never-ending argument. I like the idea of it being an anti-fable, or not having a conclusion, and the Sisyphean nature of there not being a resolution because the character doesn’t feel like they're being understood, or are questioning whether the other person has understood them in the way they want to be and the separateness created if the other person is feeling and doing the same.
So we would rehearse it a couple times and I gave them a loose script of how it should go in terms of the premise and certain beats to hit in terms of restarting the argument, but apart from that I wanted it to be an improvised thing to feel more natural, or at least an attempt at improvisation. And with the house party play, I was at a house party and I would ask friends of mine to tell me random facts. I wanted to do this thing where I was taking small parts of conversation from different people and weaving them into my own. Or the audience’s own because I’m not in it. They’re in it because they’re seeing it in the first-person-shooter-type-beat. Then I guess to transcribe that in a play format for the fact that it was a performance, and people were performing in these real settings.
Unlike Through my fault, your previous installation piece 74 Cornwall Court features one major video piece. Although the audience was invited to sit down and contemplate Pingey they're still oscillating to and from different emotions as they watch. Looking back, how did you approach conducting the viewers emotions in this film?
I have a weird relationship with the film. I think I was primarily just wanting to understand what was going on in my life at the time but, looking back, I can feel the hand in crafting a narrative, and mimicking fictional storyteller devices in that which feels dangerous to me now. Like trying to understand what was going on through learnt visual and auditory markers of emotion learned from watching films, like a bit of a dangerous naiveness. And then I guess the danger is that people watch it for the fact that it is dealing with a subject matter which is based in quote unquote truth, and people are aware that it was my dad and me. With Pingey, now I look back and it feels too vulnerable, the visual and auditory markers of sadness, or it ending on a sad note. I think, for the video piece in Through my fault, it felt like a complete rejection of that, that more obvious narrative or subject matter. Instead of that route, in a way I threw a reality at the audience for my own satisfaction and complete disregard for them. I guess it’s only in hindsight that I can think about these things now.
The moment when you sing David Bowie is so fucking good. I wanted to cry and sing along with you. Tell me about how music influences your practice, and your broader life.
Oh damn that’s a big question! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully articulate how music does but it definitely plays a part when making work - especially the drawings for the show. I made a playlist of music for Through my fault and would listen to it while drawing as a way of anchoring myself in a feeling that I wanted to try to emulate in a drawing. So I knew the drawing was finished when it felt similar to whatever song I was listening to made me feel. I guess music is so amazing for that, you hear a song and are transported to a particular memory or a particular feeling.
You've spoken before about how you wanted to create films which explore the untapped arena of the mundanity of black life. Was this idea present whilst creating Pingey?
Yeah it was definitely present but wasn’t the sole driving force of making it. I think at the time I was just wanting to make sense of what was happening in my life and thought that channeling it into a video would help me understand things better. But damn — I got to retract the “untapped arena of the mundanity of black life” because these films do exist! I must have, at the time of whenever I said that, not seen that many.
Cinema is wild because out of all the mediums, for the most part, it feels indexical to our reality - like how those people were so frightened at the Lumière Brothers’ screening of the train that they ran out of the show. They were presented with this new medium that looked so similar to their reality. Growing up watching films on TV or in the cinema it felt reminiscent of that but I never saw myself or my own reality outside of the racialised stereotypes of black people in film.
So when making Pingey I wanted to create something that felt like it had no agenda other than understanding what was going on in my life. For me, mundanity is an act of rebellion. If you’re growing up on cinema that tries to push racialised stereotypes of black people but, at the same time, that same cinema can push movies centred around the mundanity of certain groups of people you’ve got to ask why. What is that agenda? If you don’t see yourself there are reasons why — visibility is everything.
Omegle, 2021 - Directed & Edited by Josiane M.H. Pozi; cover of ‘Today’ by Jefferson Airplane - Image © Josiane M.H. Pozi, courtesy the artist & Carlos/Ishikawa, London.
I see so much of the mundanity of being online in your other video work too. Tik tok and Omegle, both from 2021, reminded me of how Internet lifecycles can wrap around themselves so quickly — how the nostalgia train sweeps up an aesthetic leaving all the Internet detritus in its wake. Do you ever go deep diving for unseen Internet videos stuck at the bottom of Facebook pages created years ago?
Not so much Facebook but I do on YouTube. Mostly filtering out videos to the most recently posted, like within the day or a week that don’t have many views. Those tend to be the most interesting or most sincere, especially the videos of people covering songs.
Tik tok, and especially the way it's displayed in a window frame at Reunion, feels like this breaking of the interface of the phone screen. Do you see the Internet and reality as separate or intertwined?
I think that, for the fact of growing up on the Internet, there isn’t an alternative reality that I can remember where the Internet wasn’t part of my life. I think it comes down to what you deem as being real. The Internet for me is just an extension of my own reality, it’s as real as reality is.
I've read somewhere that your goal on Instagram is to get no likes. What stops you from selling your soul to social media?
I mean I sell my data every time I engage with Instagram. I think I was talking to a feeling of not caring, which is so easier said than done. I mean, it’s weird I feel like the older I get, the more conscious I am of myself, or of how other people are perceiving me. So, this whole Instagram zero thing is a reminder to do things without the expectation of anything other than your own satisfaction. If you like something that should be enough. Which, in theory, sounds fucking sick but can be hard in practice. Deep down, I think everyone wants to feel like they're being valued by someone else. I think it's a reminder that you have to be the one to value you before anyone else can.
You've spoken before about the way Klein helped you realise that time spent on an artistic work isn't necessarily indicative of its value. To you, what does make it valuable?
The work existing is the measure of it being valuable. Sometimes it can be difficult to allow yourself, or give yourself permission to make something. So if you can do that and you make something to the best of your ability at that time then there’s inherent value in that.
You can catch her work in Burning Down the House: Rethinking Family at Kunstmuseum St.Gallen, Switzerland, until 8th September 2024.
Untitled, 2021 - Installation View - Josiane M.H. Pozi & Klein: Reunion, 2021, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin - Image © Josiane M.H. Pozi & Klein, courtesy the artists, Carlos/Ishikawa, London & Galerie Buchholz, Berlin.
Installation View, Josiane M.H. Pozi, Through my fault at Carlos/Ishikawa, London, 2023 - Image © Josiane M.H. Pozi, courtesy the artist & Carlos/Ishikawa, London. Photographer Damian Griffiths.
Installation View, Josiane M.H. Pozi, 75 Cornwall Court at Carlos/Ishikawa, London, 2021 - Image © Josiane M.H. Pozi, courtesy the artist & Carlos/Ishikawa, London.