Aaron Scheer has been interviewed by Painting at the End of the World about the techno-religious cult of Silicon Valley and how losing all the works on his hard drive inspired him to be a better artist.
In Dialogue: Aaron Scheer
By Ivan Goncharov
Painting at the End of the World recently had the opportunity to speak with Berlin Based artist Aaron Scheer about his recent activity.
PATEOTW: Hi Aaron, thank you for agreeing to have this conversation! Can you tell me about what has been happening in the studio over the last year? What’s happening now?
AS: Well, a lot has happened. I graduated with a Master from HDK in Gothenburg and moved back to Berlin, where I focused on working on new pieces, like my Smartphone Painting series that has a rather interesting history. Let me explain; not so long ago, my computer crashed down, while having my external drive being plugged in. And guess what, a lot of my works were lost and couldn’t be recovered. When I think about it now, a classic story of an artist working in my medium and the times we’re living in. All my Smartphone Painting files were gone, forever. So, I decided to work on new pieces. And I liked it. It forced me to further develop the series and rethink certain aspects of it. Now, the series is definitely on a different level than it used to be. I also had a few super interesting exhibitions, like a solo show with Off Site Project for The Wrong Biennale or my first major solo show with Annka Kultys Gallery in London. I also had my first solo booth at an international art fair in Mexico City. That was super exciting. I’m now represented by Annka Kultys Gallery as one of their gallery artists. A dream come true. Right now, I’m preparing a piece for a group exhibition happening during Gallery Weekend Berlin. The lineup is pretty dope. Otherwise, I started to build my own collection of emerging and mid-career artists. All very exciting.
PATEOTW: Oh great ! Who’s in the collection?
AS: Arno Beck, Gordon Berger, Peter lamb, Charley Peters and many many more.
PATEOTW: More generally, where/what did you study? You are doing a master’s at the moment?
AS: I studied at HDK – Högskolan för design och konsthantverk in Gothenburg. One of the leading art and design schools in Sweden. I actually graduated recently with a Master of Science, combining art, design, business studies and some social sciences, including philosophy. I was always interested in the intersection of things. Things that seem to be unrelated, or even contradictory. I’m interested in the relationship between things. That explains my interest in Systems Thinking, for example. I’ve always been studying various disciplines, reaching from natural sciences, to social sciences, to business studies, art and design. My Master enables me to work in various fields, applying some characteristic working processes. I also apply those working principles, at least partly, in my artistic practice.
PATEOTW: I saw a piece on Instagram titled Technocracy, tell me a little about that?
AS: Technocracy is a series that I’ve been working on in early 2017 and recently continued to develop. It thematises the techno-religious cult in Silicon Valley, inspired by corporate visual identities and life in nature. Starting point was an interest in the Whole Earth Catalogue, the bible of the US counter culture in the 60s and 70s, which paved the way for technocrats such as Steve Jobs. The catalogue describes a way of community living in nature, where futuristic technological tools help to live, survive and prosper on a day-to-day basis. The pieces play with the paradoxical combination of nature and technology, while using visual elements of both. The backgrounds of the works seem to reference abstract aquarelle landscapes (also an art-historic reference here somehow), though pixelated, while the graphical elements reference logos of some of the biggest Valley corporations.
PATEOTW: I wonder if you could talk me through the process involved in a piece like Virtual Matter, shown as part of Code and its Others? How does a work like that begin?
AS: Ok. So, in that very specific case, starting point was watching the series Big Bang Theory. Not really one of my fave series, but my girlfriend started to watch it and I kind of jumped on the train. Classic. They have these interludes, where astro animations are being displayed in the background of changing colourful gradients. As watching the series was more of a side activity, while eating, checking Insta, reading articles or replying messages on my phone, I needed to pause from time to time. And would by coincidence pause at a moment with one of the interludes. As I was looking at the screen, the static picture caught my attention. Resolution was not very high, so it was pixeled and a bit distorted as a result of the freezed moving video. An interesting moment in time. I took a screenshot, without thinking too much of it. In the course of some weeks, I continued to watch the series and started collecting interesting screenshots. More and more consciously. I then started to analyse the screenshots more closely. Things like structure, colour, composition. I started to manipulate the screenshots and think about the material that I had in front of me. I connected the collection process with a thought process that I started earlier. The idea to consciously discover material in the virtual space that is been overlooked by fast digital consumption in the age of Instagram and co. To find the golden nuggets in the overload of images: on my phone, my laptop and the internet. To upcycle lost and found material from the virtual space, in ways that it gives back value to digital (virtual) matter. So I expanded the collection of seemingly trivial digital material and experimented with collaging it together. This where the painting process really starts.
PATEOTW: Ok so in a piece like Virtual Matter, there is a form of content, however abstracted, that comes from a TV show. Is that content important at all? Or is the process of painting more significant?
AS: The process of painting is more significant. I’m obsessed with looking behind the scenes, quite literally, when something gets presented to me. In this case, it was the screenshot file in itself. And then my inner composition obsessive comes out and starts to play with the raw material. But the content still plays a role though. When using material from a pop culture series that has been created during one of my (unplanned) breaks, where I get distracted with messages floating in from my smartphone, it does say something. It says something about my lifestyle, where I hyper-efficiently combine light entertainment, with spending time with my girlfriend (at that point we were in a long distance relationship) and having dinner at the same time. And where my hunger for excitement and my urge to create lead me to screenshotting frozen video stills. A snapshot into the life of contemporary beings that is rather universal, I would say. One could imagine this scene happening all over the world, millions of times (maybe not the screenshotting part though). But it’s more of a reference. More of a story that I can tell when talking with others, like you, about my work.
PATEOTW: One of the fascinating aspects of your work is the very subtle use of massive amounts of detail, or data. Can you tell me a little about that? To put that in context, if we were talking about oil paint we might talk about intensity of brushwork, but in your work we have to approach that notion in terms of Wacom pen etc?
AS: Thanks. Yes, I am very detail oriented. It’s kind of an obsession that I can exhaust in my pieces, while not being able to act this desire out in other parts of my life. I probably provoke the feeling of using data, or even big data in my pieces, even though I do not directly work with it. For example, I’m not using algorithms in my creation process. I prefer to reference. Like a painterly comment on a phenomenon of our times. This process can take a very long time, as layers of layers of layers, with sometimes hundreds of small digital elements have to be created. The assembling can have characteristics of a contemporary production process. Like an automated warehouse with thousands of colourful containers that have to be sorted out, arranged, stacked etc. Again, my way of commenting. Still, I try not to get lost or caught up in details. The bigger picture is as important. That is why my compositions, hopefully at least, also work as a whole. Sometimes I go even that far to provoke a seemingly easy to access first impression. Attractive, maybe arguably a bit too easy at first glance. Nevertheless, the viewer might get the feeling that there is something deeper. At least I wanna provoke that. You once said to me that you were visiting my DaNA piece in Code and its Others all over again. That complexity started to unfold more and more with time. I was very happy to hear that. Something got across. Maybe it’s an inception kind of feeling. More and more layers start to unfold. The complex architecture behind seemingly trivial things starts to get unboxed. Like a perfectly designed UX website with a smooth user flow, embedding a hyper complex architecture of code. A painting like a closed system, which is (literally) open at the same time. One, but at the same time many. Or is it many, but one? Who knows. Nothing is what it seems. Everything is self-fulfilling. Let’s forget about the Wacom pen, I’m a believer of the trackpad and my fingers, haha.
PATEOTW: What would you say to me if I mentioned Hans Hoffmans painting as an aesthetic reference for Virtual Matter?
AS: I would say “Ok, have to google him”. And after having analysed briefly some of his works, I would say “Fair enough. I can see what you mean.” But then when looking at the compositions a bit more in detail, I would say “Well, close, but not too close.” And then I would remember another art historical reference that once curator and writer Luther Konadu from Public Parking was mentioning: Jules Olitski. If both artists would have made a painting baby, or would have a collab going on like Warhol and Basquiat style, we might end up at a good art historical reference for my “Virtual Matter” series. But then I’m also saying about my work that it’s some weird kind of “post-everything nowness”. Because so many references can be found. Not only from painting, but also collage and photography.
PATEOTW: You mention grouping and building, could you say a little more about how overall colour composition is decided upon?
AS: Puh, I’m not studying the compositions too much beforehand, when I create my pieces, to be honest. Best case, I’m totally in a flow kind of state, where my hand is just doing what it’s supposed to do (or at least it feels like that). Nevertheless, sometimes I have some phases, where I prefer a certain color palette over another: like a blue/ green phase, or a pink phase. But then I soon get sick of it and need to move on to a different palette. I’m also for sure influenced by digital culture, as well as contemporary design of all sorts. But also daily compositions can inspire me that I encounter either through some of my screens or in real life, like urban late night scenarios (think neon light and spray paint here), or Sunday strolls in the park. My mom used to say I’m a sponge. Soaking in my surroundings. And I think I really am. Some kind of medium, through which all sorts of (especially visual) signals are flowing in and are being processed. And then of course I’m also a little interested in color and composition theory, like analogous or complementary color codes, or the golden cut. But I’m not diving too deep into that matter. At one point, it’s rather counter-productive for me. I prefer to let go and just create.
PATEOTW: Sometimes you leave reference to the screen or interface in the work, tell me about that?
AS: Yeah, that refers back to my very beginnings, where I started to experiment around with daily digital devices, like my laptop and soon my smartphone. Back then, I found it interesting to leave some of the digital marks, like toolbars, apps or document descriptions in my works. Maybe it was some sort of statement: “Look world, I used to be a ‘traditional’ painter, but now I’m using other stuff, digital stuff.” I probably needed to tell that to myself as well. And it felt new. Like discovering a whole new world. And I wanted to make sure, people who look at the new pieces won’t miss this development in my work. So, I needed to shout it out. But I was soon more interested in let’s say subtle references to my digital doings. I was more interested in something that is ambiguous. Where you wouldn’t know how it was being made, in the first place. That’s also when I started to print out my works and experimented a lot with different papers and frames. I wanted to give my digital works a physical life. To create hybrids and ultimately more tension in my work. Remember when I was talking at the very beginning about the idea of upcycling virtual matter? Physically producing the final artfile is for me consequently the last step in the upcycling process. It somehow has to end with embodiment. Today, I’m embracing all forms, both digital and analogue. Both referencing more directly to digital culture and life, like in my Smartphone Paintings, or more indirectly, like in series such as Virtual Matter.
Thank you Aaron !