I’m very happy to share recent work by Ina Lounguine, who was first featured on Young Space in 2015. Staring Quietly at the Backwash is a blend of photography, video, and sound, which confronts the European refugee crisis. We chat about what drives her to make this work and how art becomes activism and vice versa. More at the links below!
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What first interested you in making art?
I have always been interested in the relationship one can have to arts in general, and how great of a tool it could be to convey a strong message. Especially in times of social chaos and political blur, it is, more than ever, the best way for us to resist and gather. I like the porous border between art and activism, and how it involves us in our political life.
Your recent work, Staring Quietly at the Backwash, brings attention to the mass human migrations taking place throughout Europe due to conflict in Northern Africa and the Middle East, particularly in Syria. Can you tell me a bit about how you began this project — was there a spark that prompted you to make it?
Definitely, it was two summers ago, when bodies where almost pilling up on the Mediterranean beaches, and no one really seemed to care that much. Efforts were lazy and besides drawing in ‘war porn’-like images, we were quite helpless. We were surrounded by the issue, but trying to ignore it. The stronger shock was to witness people going to the Mediterranean for vacations, facing the massive human disaster. To me, this water is tainted forever; this part of the world remains an open sky cemetery. I was extremely shocked by the events; I didn’t really know what to do and where to start, and then the state I was in gave me the idea of the project: a total immersion in the issue, with no real access to the problem.
What sort of research do you do for your work? Where does the imagery come from?
I did several months of research for this project and gathered images from all European leaders at the time of the events and soundtracks of TV news coverage, shot the video down there, and gathered hundreds of holidays photos. For this collection I asked the girls from the [Live Wild] collective to send me everything they had on the topic, and added my own images, and photos I found in yard sales.
This piece emphasizes the idea of “comfort,” even pushing the boundaries of what or how the viewer is comfortable viewing. What is the significance of this?
It summarizes the main idea of this work and why I decided to do it, which is our capacity to tolerate the outrageous. Thousands of people sleep in our streets, hundreds of thousands are fleeing, dying — in broad daylight — and we do nothing about it. As if we’re numb, we are not bothered by this misery. We keep leading comfortable lives, surrounded by the misfortune of others. That blows my mind: how we can tolerate these things and think is it OK to look away.
You’re a part of a collective called the LIVE WILD Collective. What is your history with the group, and has it influenced your work?
The collective was founded in 2014 by my cousin Camille, and so far it’s been an amazing experience, and a truly priceless motivation boost. Being part of a team really helps when you work freelance, and we communicate constantly about what we do. We work together and help each other out with editing, translation, writing, technical issues — it’s really cool. Also, there is a group dynamic, which is challenging you to want to be part of the wave, not just sit there and wait for it.
How would you describe your studio or workspace?
It kind of looks like shit to be quite honest! I am moving a lot, and work from either the coffee shop down the street or my living room, which is obviously no proper workspace, but this is all I’ve got right now.
What is a piece of advice you’ve received along the way that you’d like to pass on?
Cultivating your difference, and showing your work for feedback. I think it is really important to stick to who you are and have a genuine signature. And you can’t have too much feedback on a work; someone always points out something relevant you hadn’t noticed.
Is there any advice you’ve received that you’re grateful you didn’t follow?
“Work on pieces that can be sold.” It’s the stupidest advice ever. I’ll keep working the way I like to work, and spend time on projects that are crucial to me, even if I make no money out of it. I never started working on something for money; it doesn’t even cross my mind as a factor when I work. Though it’d be nice to somehow get funding from an institution to work more freely.
How would you define “success?”
I guess everyone has their own definition of success. For me, I’d say that it is being fulfilled by what you do, doing something that matters, and participating in a positive change. If you make it as an artist, and find time to work fully on the projects that matter to you, and pay the bills, then you look pretty damn successful to me. In the end it’s a question of balance.
What do you feel is the most daunting or challenging thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally?
Where we stand in the appreciation of our own work. It’s often hard to have the right distance from our own work and to judge it accurately. I think getting feedback from curators, gallerists, or photo editors is quite important in order to move forward and produce better work. It is also challenging to find the right balance between sticking to your guts and having your signature and flirting with conformity. If you make a career, for instance, as a photographer, sometimes you find yourself confined in something a bit boring because of commissions. Rare are the ballsy clients.
What are you working on right now?
A photo based work on perception and our relationship to sight.
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