Questioning whether humans will be able to retain control over images or get lost in automatically created images, Thomas Albdorf experiments with automated processes where software determines the final outcome more and more. But his main, original interest lies in photography and sculpture, and in the intersection area were both practices meet, which he’s been exploring for some years now. In this interview, we discuss with him about the importance between real and artificial, man versus machine, how does he get to experiment all the time, and his upcoming major solo show at Foam Amsterdam.
Who is Thomas Albdorf?
Originally an alter ego I came up with maybe around 2012 because my actual second name is unpronounceable, unspellable. Over time, it became me.
Your main interest focuses on photography and sculpture. What have you discovered during your artistic process, what interaction is there between the two practices? What is their status quo and how do you foresee the future of these mediums?
When I started to experiment with photography, my artistic practice was mostly dominated by sculpture. As soon as I discovered artists like Fischli & Weiss, Roman Signer or Koki Tanaka, I realized how photography (and also video) could extend the sculptural space and enable constructions that were not possible in reality. Nowadays, as we constantly move towards images that are created automatically by software without human intervention, I am more interested in settings that are largely built digitally in post-production, or even created by software altogether.
How different are your own projects deriving from the genuine inspiration from the commission works where you have to get more flexible?
It's a tough question, I'm never sure. In general, with commissions, there's a relatively specific goal and a deadline, so I am limited in experimenting with different things. In my personal practice, making an actual work might be a process of testing an idea for several months without getting somewhere, and then suddenly I understand what I've tried to achieve and can finish it. So basically my art is simply more time-consuming.
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Your photographs are composed of natural and artificial elements, staged scenes, weird objects, outer interventions, etc. Where do you think your photography is heading to?
Currently, I experiment with automated processes where software determines the final outcome more and more. I'm asking myself whether we, as humans, will be able to retain a certain control over images, or will get lost in automatically created ones that even though look photographic, were never recorded with a camera but simply created by neural networks and we won't know the difference anymore.
Let's go back and dive into some of your old photo series. Actualities, from 2012, concentrates on different objects you have staged in abandoned urban peripheries creating contrasting contexts. Can you tell us more about the background of this project and its realization?
It's linked to what I have described before regarding sculpture and photography. I tried to extrapolate ‘photographic sculptures’ mostly from urban surroundings either by simply recording given situations with my camera or by applying minimal gestures, like putting few things on top of each other. All the actions and scenarios are minimalistic, not much is happening, but there's something there.
Former Writer is a continuation of seeking and finding rejected and littered objects in raw locations but with one difference, you brought graffiti back. What kind of flair or meaning did spray paint give to your compositions?
I started to write graffiti ages ago, and I wanted to somehow incorporate spray paint again into my art back in 2013. At the same time, I started to experiment with digital alterations like making sculptural objects via tweaking things in Photoshop after recording an image. I realized that it would be fairly easy to mix actual spray paint with its fake, digital counterpart so that I could test their specific qualities. Many of the images of Former Writer are digitally altered; the depicted objects did not exist in that way or in that colour. I tried to figure out if the difference might have been recognizable and, if so, whether it would have been important or not matter at all.
With Forest Chants, you question the concept of authenticity regarding photography. Nowadays, it got harder to guess whether things are authentic or not. How does the artificial transform or influence the real and vice versa?
I am pretty sure we will lose the real in the long run, at least in our everyday image consumption. Let's see how this turns out, I'm frightened but also amazed.
“I experiment with automated processes where software determines the final outcome more and more. I'm asking myself whether we, as humans, will be able to retain a certain control over images.”
The series named I Know I Will See What I Have Seen Before is your experimentation on reconstructing and abstracting the given visual space via various methods of image production. What are these methods and generally which tools work well for you in getting the intended results?
In this series, I took a closer look at my home country, Austria, and how it is constructed and constituted within a common image space. The concept of mountains, of an alpine landscape that functions as a surface for multiple projections, is prevalent; be it within the classic 1960s Heimatfilm, advertising, or political propaganda. I Know I Will See What I Have Seen Before aims towards reconstructing and abstracting this mountainous visual space via various methods of image production, ranging from appropriated scanned material, digitally altered photographic images, studio settings, etc., whilst also discussing the images’ production circumstances.
Largely, my works are multi-layered. The image might start as an analogue negative of a landscape I exposed with my Mamiya that might be scanned, printed out again, staged in the studio, shot again, digitally altered, etc. Most of the times, I lose track of where it all started, but it's also not that important for me in the end. However, many different methods go into creating an image, so it's a constant back and forth between different approaches.
In 2017, you showcased your project General View at DELI Gallery in New York and at Webber Gallery Space in London. What does this series investigate, and might you be planning a new exhibition any time soon?
General View is a series about how the devices that link us to the Internet (and the Internet in general) shape and influence our perception of the world. I based all works on images that relate to Yosemite National Park in the United States, which is one of the most intensely mediated nature sites on earth. The series questions the need of travelling and recording additional photographs of a place that has been photographed innumerable times. If countless images of a specific place are readily available, has one been there already? A part of General View will be displayed in an upcoming solo show but as I am already working on a new body of work, I do not have plans to show it on its own in the near future.
What are you working on currently?
I will be having a solo show at FOAM in Amsterdam that opens June 15, so that was my main focus during the last twelve months: creating a whole new body of images and video works.
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