“The concept of identity has been one of the basic notions of philosophy since antiquity. Derived from the Neo-Latin for „unity“ or „unity of essence“, identity refers to the totality of peculiarities that characterise an entity, a subject or an object. While in analogue life the identity of a person can be proven with a fingerprint or identity card, in the virtual world identity is based on diverse, fragmentary sources. Going beyond the mere exploitation of data, the internet itself becomes a generator of identity. Who are we online? And how sovereignly can we shape our digital identity?
With Plan D, Darja Shatalova thematically takes up the question of data disclosure and utilisation in the digital space. Based on the online exhibition history of periscope, Shatalova develops a site-specific installation that examines the structures and interactions in the construction of digital identities of individuals and organisations, visualising them three-dimensionally. Linking to former performances and installations, the meticulous, manual recording of a defined data set forms the starting point of the artistic research. Publicly accessible information on periscope‘s exhibition programme since the launch of their online presence in 2014, such as the exhibition title, the name of the participating artists, the project period and the type of exhibition, is incorporated into graphics, lists and tables. Initially captured in artists‘ books, the ordered and structured data is manually coded and transformed through a series of probing steps and rules that mimic the input and output of a computer. However, unlike artists such as Hanne Darboven or Vera Molnar, the mathematical rules do not dictate the final form of the work. The deliberately associative use of colour and the subjectively chosen symbolic elements subvert the functionality of classical notation and alienate the scientific functionality of data handling.
In a creative process of generation, duplication, transfer, reduction and abstraction, strict systems of signs are transformed into structures and patterns on the drawing surface. Graphic overlays of the codings form complex collages, which are then transferred with colour foils and permanent markers onto twin-wall panels in the digitally common aspect ratio of 9:16. Each layer shows one year of periscope‘s exhibition programme. Inserted into a construction of aluminium profiles, a spiral-shaped interlaced cuboid is formed, depicting the exhibition space on a scale of 1:2. In terms of a timeline, the work develops chronologically outwards, beginning in the middle of the accessible installation with the year 2014. Similar to Shatalova‘s artist‘s books, the visual overlays of the various panels form a cartographic density, that at the same time dissolves the certainty of a linear understanding of time, an order in the past, present and future, creating alternative correlations”.
Text: Hanna Schoenhof
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
My work begins with observation, research and the collection of data. All this information is written down in sketchbooks, which form an essential part of the working process. In the next step I structure the notations by creating encoded systems, assigning meaning to symbols, colours and shapes. This process is closely related to the architecture of the exhibition space, which sets the parameters for how this data can be visualised and transformed into a three-dimensional work. The recordings accompany the entire creation procedure and also form a part of the work, which is usually presented in a printed version as a limited edition of artist’s books. The site-specific work can be an installation or a performance, incorporating sound and light, or an interweaving of all these components.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
Structure, system, code.
Plan D is your newest art project’s title. How this name is related to your body of work in this installation at Periscope space in Salzburg?
The proposal for the solo show was already written in 2019 and the exhibition was planned for 2020, was then postponed to 2021 and finally opened between a just ended lockdown and the winter holidays. As the topic of the exhibition space’s annual programme was digitality and identity, it was clear for me to create a work based on the venue’s online accessible data, so D stands for the rapid process of digitalisation, which intensified even more during the pandemic, but also for the search of alternatives – if plan A doesn’t work, there is a Plan B, but what if that one is no longer applicable either? Perhaps we arrived already at Plan D in our decision-making.
Could you share with us some insights on your installation? What is it about? Is there any particular story behind the artwork?
As mentioned above, Plan D is centred on the online archive, which creates the digital identity of the exhibition space through its website. Information such as the duration of exhibition, the artists and curators involved and the type of the show serve as source material for developing the structure of the work. The ballast of databases is transformed into a site-specific installation, showing new ways of dealing with and interpreting (virtual) archives. In the multi-level codification process that imitates the operations of a computing machine, the data is executed finally in an encrypted, analogue manner and assembled into an accessible construction, whose dimensions represent the exhibition venue on 1:2 scale.
Regarding your visual language, do you plan every single work in advance, or does your creative practice rely on random interventions?
My works are usually created in a long-term process with various intermediary stages, transformation and adaption steps, involving many aspects of calculation, construction and systematisation. Although almost all components of the work have a certain definition and meaning, there are a lot of unpredictable moments that occur during the production process, flowing into the course of creation and contributing to the final formation of the work. I find this interplay of structuralisation and planning and the relinquishment of controllability very intriguing.
Has the pandemic offered you any inspiration somehow during all the lockdowns?
My self-employment as an artist started officially in January 2020, shortly before the announcement of the pandemic by the WHO, so that my entire artistic practice was somehow linked to the new circumstances of producing and exhibiting conditions. My previously formed focus on the collection and translation of data has acquired a whole new dimension in the last two years through the omnipresence of numbers and statistics.
Is there any particular theme that utterly triggers you to engage your art with?
In general, the creation of art is for me a journey of exploration, a search for knowledge and comprehension of the principles of our daily life. In a continuous process of (mathematical) abstraction I aspire to discover the patterns underlying the multitude of singular events and the abundance of information.
Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
It varies a lot where I take my inspiration from. It may be a certain artist, an established or an emerging one, living 500 years ago or today. It is the moment of resonance that draws my attention and evokes a process of engagement, in which the perceived information is inserted, adapted and developed further into my universe of understanding.
What about the place where you work? What‘s your studio space look like?
My studio is located in the second district of Vienna, in a renovated substandard flat and in the same house as my apartment, which is the ideal combination for me. It gives me a lot of flexibility in terms of working hours and the alternation between phases of creation, daily necessities and resting times. As I look for structure in my environment, having a structured workplace is also important for me – all materials and machines are well ordered, which allows me to create a precise and concentrated work flow.
Which are your plans for the near future?
In the last two years I have participated in numerous exhibitions and created many unique, site-specific works, which is great to me, but also means to develop a completely new project each time and to source all the material needed. In 2018 and 2019 I did a couple of works that were a transformation of previous works by taking the original material and reinterpreting it under new conditions. This is something I would like to envisage for some of my upcoming projects and which seems to me – in the context of the collage technique of my artist books – a logical continuation also in three-dimensional terms.