I recently made an interview with the lovely people over at artconnect, which was woven with the following introduction:
'Matthew Coleman could be described as a contemporary Renaissance Man, whose interest for the world and for human beings has been taking him across all fields of culture and science, in an attempt to expand his understanding and find his own means of expression.In this Spotlight you will find inspiration not only in his photographic works, but also in the meaningful insights and sparks given by his words that will encourage your mind not to ever be sated with knowledge.'
1) In your latest works you’ve been focusing on the relation between light and shadow. How has this apparent opposition been inspiring your research and what are your thoughts and feelings regarding this topic?
Initially, regarding this subject, I would probably quote myself with what you posted from me before, in that darkness and light is the oldest story of our universe, the very first narrative ever to be born as the big bang released light and energy and matter into the dark nothingness that proceeded it. Perhaps this is why so many of us are drawn to it, as it is, in a way, our very origin, as we go from the darkness of non-being into the light of being, and are thrust into this transient existence that makes up our life.
Opposites or dualities, which seem to be at the very foundation of everything in our known universe. In the ancient times of China, this was well known, which is represented by the symbol of yin and yang, born out of the Chinese philosophy, medicine and martial arts. Here, two opposing opposites come together to create a greater whole, where one cannot be, or exist, without the other (there is a lovely description to illustrate this point in the form that shadow could not exist without light). It is also worth noting that the discoveries found at the Large Hadron Collider revealed to us recently that every particle has its opposite, or anti-particle, which are identical but have their own opposite charge (I shall refrain from going into supersymmetry, string theory, the ominous and unknown world of dark matter or the murky, difficult realms of quantum mechanics!). It's an alluring world, from where I sit to write this, which has started to slowly play out more and more throughout my work, for good or ill.
2) What does photography mean to you and how would you describe the role of art in society?
One of the initial reasons I came back to photography, in 2009, from writing and video work, was feeling like I gained more of a sense of the here and now. At the time I was grappling and struggling with the past I could no longer change and a future that will never happen, and photography became a way to step out of this paralysing cycle. I would walk, watching my surroundings, observing the way light falls, the motion of the people who whirled around me, looking for a small detail in the great flux that makes up our existence that bombards us (especially when living in the capital cities of the world). Photography, if even only fleetingly, pulled me out of the internal spiral that can be created through one's own thinking, a trap and a prison if you will, and to move outside of one's own self, for a few and gloriously infinitesimal short moments. It felt awfully liberating during that time, especially when life can feel like an illusion, something completely pre-fabricated and totally unreal, shaped and moulded and manipulated through the media that dominates our waking, and sleeping, life.. we wake up each morning, we go to work or do whatever it is that we do. The sun sets. The night descends. We go here or we go there, or we stay settled where we live, before going back to bed. We repeat. We repeat. We repeat. The days accelerate at a dizzying pace, and sometimes I don't know whether I'm coming or going, or if a certain moment or experience actually took place, or if I dreamt or fantasied it into being. But photography leaves me impressions, small glances into a time that may have taken place, of what I saw, or to reveal what I didn't see in the moment that a particular picture was taken.
But, I think what is more important than one's own subjective reflection on the meaning of photography, is how long art has been within this world, and of its seemingly intrinsic importance to us as a species as a form of expression. If you look back to the earliest cave paintings we've found so far, namely at Chauvet Cave, in Southern France, the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia, the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain, and the Coliboaia Cave in Romania, places where we have our oldest examples of art, which date back to over 35,000 years ago (with the exact dating that are contested by some). But, either way, these extraordinary creations are unbelievably old, and what is even more interesting is the mystery of how these even came to be in the first place.. what compelled our earliest artists to go into the depths and darkness of a cave to create the outside world internally, in the belly of our earth, where rock became the canvas for their expressions? What drove them to do this, and why? Was it coming across natural, psychoactive drugs, or embarking on a representation of what came to them in visions, dreams, or hallucinations? Was it a way to create a homage to the natural world in which they lived and died? We will never know, for certain. But it has been there, locked deep inside us, which has spanned thousands and thousands of years.
On a side note, we also have many examples of sculptural works and music that goes back through our collective timeline, the latter of which to around 42,000-43,000 years, in the form of flutes carved from bones. And music is certainly the most instant of the arts that we have, as with a single bar of music we can be instantly transported back through our life to a certain moment, to a memory locked in those notes that have been woven into our life. Thus, the arts have been singing in our collective fabric for a very, very long time, and will undoubtedly continue to do so for as long as we can, and shall, continue. We must, we have to, we do, and like a Catholic going to confession, we purge and release our secrets and fantasies and our dreams. We shape and carve them into being, we release them or we hold them back from the world, but we continue to do so, necessarily so, in the absolute.
3) What do you think about the bombardment of images we suffer every day and the way social media have changed, sometimes de-contextualized, people’s perception and awareness?
It is a complete virtual reality and a pre-fabricated illusion that we put forth of ourselves and the experiences which we go through, where we feel compelled to share, immediately, with our virtual audience. There was an interesting TEDtalk by the Cultural Analyst Sherry Turkle, who described it as the Goldilocks effect, where we remain "not too close, not too far, but just right", from what we reveal to the world. And so we edit and delete and chop and change the reality in which we live and the way in which we project our lives, in order to be perceived the way that we wish to be perceived, as a construct in our own minds. With this we often escape, and can fall into the illusion that the global, virtual village has brought us all together from the far flung places of our planet. But, an amusing paradox has taken place, in the form that we are becoming ever and ever more separate from one another, that we chose to speak to one another through social media platforms as language is eroded through abbreviated forms of communication with text message talk, and its bastard offspring that is the acronym and emoticons. Our attention spans are increasingly shrinking, it appears, and we are ever more pre-occupied with the reward part of our frontal lobe with our ego's justifications of 'likes' and 'loves' and 'reblogs', which is creating a knock-on effect to our own psychology, in a negative context. It's always interesting to see these kinds of things in the works, as it were, by joining a large event of some kind, and there, before you, is a great and illuminated sea of smart phones, each held aloft and high and recording the event as it happens, in real time. The event is viewed through a phone, and then quickly transmitted online. It is the opposite way in which a writer works, who will view and watch and sink themselves into the experience at hand, only to transmit it at a later time, once it has been digested and understood, thought out and considered. Our modern means of capturing life this way creates a wall of separation from the reality/or hyperreality that takes place, as we have an object fuelled by the binary code of 0's and 1's from which we cling to, for dear life. What's worse, is that this is only accelerating, and our dependence on our tools has reached obsessive, all encompassing states of being/non-being. There is a splendid talk by the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, called 'The Reality of the Virtual', which goes into some interesting territory about the virtual image that we create for ourselves.
4) Your interests range from photography, art, literature, philosophy, ancient history to science, physics, biology, astronomy. How do you manage to find your way to make the best out of all the inputs the world gives you and your curiosity craves for?
We live in an incredibly diverse universe that has supposedly been undulating for around 13.7 billion years, which is made of matter and form and particles that shape everything. Every element and object and living creative that makes up our planet is only here because a star collapsed onto itself and died, and in the intense furnace of its final throes of death, great bursts of energy and heat create the building blocks to everything, including us. And so, I think the varied interests has been a means of trying to understand the whole, or as much of it as I can cram into my head and understand. I have huge gaps in what I know, vast chasms that eclipsed the Grand Canyon, but I've an insatiable appetite for learning that still lingers within me. As for making the best out of it, this seems to be my own eternal question that lingers on my lips without the whisper of an answer. Each time I try to sit down to write up a visual concept to describe Greek myths, legends, dualities, ancient history, astronomy, astrophysics or the ongoing, repetition of story, the ideas got so blown out of proportion that I would need a suitcase full of money and a stage as big as a Hollywood epic to achieve it. There is an irony within this all as well, which I discovered within myself a few years ago, that within my quest for understanding and learning it actually created a kind of prison for me, which in turn shaped a sense of artistic impotency - I didn't know where the hell to even start untangling all the information I'd consumed into a tangible picture! I was left bamboozled and half-cracked and rooted to the spot from which I stood!
Thus, I started to go back to writing and to think more, to see things as they are rather than with a compulsion to completely understand everything in its finite detail. It was a marvellous shift for me, in a way, seeing that we are all moving on a cyclical path of repetition. As a species we endlessly playing out the same stories, doomed to repeat our history over and over and over again, without learning and being able to grow from them, collectively. There is an amusing quote from Einstein who described insanity as 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.' And this is what we are all doing, whilst putting all our hopes externally to be saved, in the new and ever more sophisticated tools that we create, whilst missing the point that has been known in the East for a very long time, that we all need to go internally. The hilarity of ironies, as we all swim within a great ocean of them!
5) Is there anything or anyone who’s been of fundamental influence for you and your work?
My earliest and first influence was film, which was, in a way, a means to explore the world, through the various outpourings of world cinema, right across its history. Since then, there have been many, many painters and poets, photographers and writers (perhaps too many to mention) who have had a big impact upon me, and each one at a different point in my life where they resounded the most. Artists who threw sticks of dynamite that would explode behind my eyeballs, people who would start fires in my imagination, feverish as I was for intensity, to feel things in a magnified sense. I've always liked my films to grab me by the throat, to shake me to my core, and in a way I was drawn to this same reaction through the written word or by a photograph or a painting. I wanted, and needed, to feel something, and I mean to really feel.
I will go into something I wrote last year, which explains how, and why, I went back into my obsession with light and shadow, which describes how it influenced what I am doing now. And so, like a film editor at a reel, I cut the film in time, back through my life, where there has been a certain aesthetic I have kept seeing that has provoked something within.. I think back to being younger and watching Marlon Brando running water over his head in 'Apocalypse Now', barely visible in the near complete darkness from which he sits, and then the scene where he reads T S Eliot's 'The Hollow Man'. I think back to the majestic mausoleum I saw in Norway, belonging to Emanuel Vigeland, where from the darkness of its interior shapes and forms of people (representing sex and death and re-birth) would, ever so slowly, be seen amidst the shadows of the space he created. I think back to my favourite renaissance painter, Caravaggio, who for me was the most intense painter of that period, filled with the deep rooted drama of human existence (imbued with a similar perspective of the comedy and absurdity of humankind that one can find in the Greek myths), with its figures and tableaux sunk into the shadows of his pictures. I think back to certain Dutch renaissance painters, like Rembrandt, and their use of darkness in the portraits of their people. I go back to seeing Edvard Munch's woodblock prints when I lived in Oslo many years ago, or Goya's Black Paintings. I think back to Akira Kurosawa's 'Throne of Blood', his masterful cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth', and of a scene where Lady Macbeth floats above the floor towards the camera from the darkness of a room behind her. I think back to the Asian shadow puppetry of yesteryear. I think back to Bill Viola and Chris Cunningham's early work. I think back to all of these things, of the reaction each one provoked within me when seeing them for the first time, each of which have struck sparks within my mind and whispered something to the depths of who I once was.
6) Which direction are your projects taking currently?
It seems that I am going back to writing, with two books that I'm working on as well as weaving words back into my pictures, as titles or as memory or as fantasy. I did this when I first began photography. I came from a background of writing, and in a way it can be immensely difficult to sum up what is before one at that moment in time when a picture is taken (there have been very few photographs in its history that completely, and succinctly, did this, especially when it comes to one's own emotional response). And so, writing was a way to add an extra layer to a picture, to bridge the moment of the shutter fixing the world in a frame, to my own personalised perspective of what was felt or thought about in that instant. It has been an interesting experiment, and perhaps it will lead to a dead-end, though the act of doing is an enjoyable one. But of course, this will always create a different reaction in the person who views any of these works. It can subtly shape how they perceive the picture, rather than leaving it to their own judgement, but in a world of massive over-saturation of images, I have ceased to mind about this, as photographs are consumed at incredibly rapid rates. If you think about the forum of Instagram, where vast sums of pictures are uploaded every second, and the quickness in which we devour them on such a small scale. Pictures that have taken time and energy and love and thought to make are looked at for a split second, judged, and then rolled over as quickly as they came. It seems like a waste of time, on behalf of the creator, though this seems to be the direction in which we are moving in. But of course, one could never substitute the reaction you get from seeing a good, solid exhibition, where one can spend time savouring each element within its composition.
There are also a few ongoing series I am working on, one of which is a new project called 'Berlin Bohème', where various Berlin artists will be captured in and around the area in which they live or work. These consists of an hour or two of walking, of listening and talking with each person, at night, whilst looking for those pockets of light in which to capture them in. Time, as it always does, will be the judge, and so onwards we go into the great unknown, fuelled by some unknown, essential need in which to express ourselves, like our earliest of artist who went into the shadows in which to make their marks, to give shape and form and life to the world around them.
Though, the biggest influences I've had since moving to Berlin is the people I've met, in the streets, beside the water, outside or inside a bar, or simply sitting around around a table. So many great and interesting lights that shimmer through these Berlin nights. Every conversation or exchange made and shared that is really alive, with a kind of pulsating energy between people, brought together in that moment of time. I've had so many enthralling conversation in Schöneberg, around the kitchen table of mien liebling, the painter Maria Gimenez, that I long ago lost count of bursting and smiling from the inside out. This is where life seems real, or where it is tangible, a kind of salon of conversation, where all one needs is open people willing to discuss ideas, experiences, thoughts or fantasies, without any boundaries, without any restrictions. It is remarkable with what can be conjured out of a single, wooden table, with people sitting around it. Music from an old record player that turns as the words do. A kind of cosmic churning of beings, throwing what has been smouldering away in their minds into this cauldron before us, to see what comes out of it, of what can be produced from the ingredients that is spoken. Perhaps this is the only place where we can all make an active, thought-out change, where we inspire one another to be better people, more rounded artists or philosophers or simply as human beings, the fundamental thing of everything that transcends race, colour or creed, which is what we essential all are. Each of us breathing on a planet that spins at a speed of half a kilometer a second beneath our feet, where the gravity and the atmosphere is perfectly right to support a whole network of life. It can bend one's brain when looking inside and outside of our world, with how it all came to be and is. And so these are the things that is inspiring me ever more, that take me into exciting places that really touch me, and that really matter.. beyond the illusions, the smoke and mirrors, the lies, the hypocrisy and corruption, there are so many people out there who shine, and so brightly, who streak through this world like comets, and what a wonder it is to catch their light.