A conversation with Vika Eksta

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[Click here to go back to the show]

PAOLA: Hi Vika. The first question I want to ask you is pretty simple: when, how and why did you start creating your GIFs?

VIKA: Hi Paola! It all started in August 2015, after visiting an exhibition organised in an abandoned building in Riga that formerly hosted a bank. The artists who were in charge of the event allowed me to come back the next day and use the bank’s amazing office rooms for a photoshoot. Very instinctively, I decided that the best thing to do was to try some improvised interaction with the space through self portraits. So, I borrowed some clothes from a friend who actually works in a bank, did a good manicure and went there. I shot with a self timer set on five images per click. A couple of months later, while editing the resulting material, I realised that these images were actually more interesting as a little moving sequence. And thus I googled “how to make a GIF in Photoshop”…

V: My question to you: dear Paola, how did you come up with the idea of this exhibition?

P: When I saw your GIFs for the first time, I immediately felt catapulted in a fictional world. Even the simplest action represented in your “moving photographs” evoked a sense of intrigue and mystery, as if it was a single part of a larger storyline. So, the connection with fictional narrative as a format was quite natural to me. In particular, I wanted to explore if and how the photographic representation of an everyday activity or scenery could lead to different possible interpretations, and eventually to unexpected turns within a wider plot. Suddenly, I had a flash-back. When I was a child, I used to read Topolino (the Italian version of Mickey Mouse comics), and I particularly loved the “storie a bivi” there were sometimes published there: they were basically a kind of gamebook – that is, a work of printed fiction where the narrative branches along various paths. This allows the reader to participate in the story by making choices, typically through the use of numbered paragraphs or pages. At that point, I was sure I wanted to recreate the same experience by using your GIFs, and the online gallery was simply the ideal space to do that, perfectly combining this intention with the digital image.

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P: Now I am curious to know: what was your very first reaction when I wrote you about my idea (including the “Disney reference”)? And which element in particular did convince you to accept it?

V: Your proposal made me happy and I accepted it with pleasure, because it encourages creative experiment. I especially appreciated the idea of interactive stories, the possibility of creating something where the viewer has an operative part. In my opinion, the option of makings choices that lead to multiple endings is somewhat close to what we call “everyday life”. I read some texts by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips where he talks about the “unlived life” issue – when people come back to their discarded decisions and missed situations, imagining how their life would have proceeded if they would had made that particular choice; and how this can often lead to mental disorders. My GIFs are somehow linked to these texts, as well as to my own personal history.

V: Dear Paola: now that the process of creating the exhibition is coming to an end, does it correspond with your expectations, or is the something really different?

P: Well, in a creative process, the output is always different from what is expected! Especially in a project that is strongly based on collaboration, as in our case. We have established a real exchange, with a lot of talking and a lot of listening: to depart from the very initial image of the final result is a natural consequence. Moreover, while proceeding in the creation of the exhibition, my expectations have tuned into the curiosity of witnessing how the people will interact with the show, and how they will react to it. I would actually love to receive as many comments and feedbacks as possible from the visitors. Of Snakes and Ladders, I like the fact that is entertaining, in the best sense of the term – like cinema can be. And cinema is undoubtedly a substantial reference that conditioned our choices.

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P: Vika, would you like to talk a bit more about it? I mean, how have cinema influenced you in this project, and more broadly as an artist?

V: I am also really curious about the feedback of spectators, because this exhibition is quite an experiment.
Talking about cinema, I should mention that I studied Theory of Cinema for my BA and later had different jobs related to film and archival research. That has surely played an influence on the imagery I employ in this project and in my interest in how to achieve movement combining several still frames. I am especially inspired by silent cinema. When I was doing an internship at Austrian Filmmuseum, I worked on the digital restoration of a short excerpt from a silent film by Vsevolod Pudovkin, one of the Russian montage cinema classics: I spent many hours retouching those  images and studying how they were put together. It was a gypsy dance scene, so the editing was really fast and special.
Conceptually, GIFs are related to early cinema because each of them evoke just one scene (like the famous arrival of a train by the Lumière Brothers) that should be able to capture the viewer’s attention through a kind of “attraction”, as Tom Gunning defined it.  The relation to cinema was one of the reasons why we decided to make a trailer of the project, and is also camouflaged within the textual part of the show.

V: To this end, Paola, could you elaborate on the process of creating connections between the GIFs and the text lines in the exhibition?

P: Being the element that supports the interaction of the viewer with the show, for me the textual part is as important as the visual one. On the other hand, I wanted it to be minimal and discreet as the GIFs are. At the very beginning, I considered to involve a writer, but eventually we ended up being the two of us. At that point, I decided that it was better not to write anything ad hoc at all and I thought of playing with the use of quotes from cinema. So, all the texts – in their efficacy, banality and rhetoric – are actually sentences taken from different movies. I imagined it could work well in a show that is rich in references, but is also very light and playful. I see it as a ghost track that has to be seeked after, an additional level of involvement for the viewer. What else to say… enjoy the show!

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