“A tragicomic sense permeates throughout.” Teresa Cos’ binary deconstructions and ritual auditories

Introducing Teresa Cos (1982), an Italian artist based in London and Brussels, with a longstanding portfolio based on a psychoanalytic approach for social critiques which she embeds into her audiovisual installations. Formerly a resident artist at WIELS, Cos will be unveiling her latest exhibition The Measure of Disorder at Argos this Saturday. If you’re a film lover, then you’re in for a treat.

At its core, what is your work about? How would you describe it?

I work with moving image and sound, for their intrinsic bond to the concept of repetition, to investigate the contingency of one’s inescapable condition of birth against a given sociopolitical scenario. I explore the inescapability of death, on the other hand, as an affirmative drive to create other conditions, as opposed to reiterating those which came as a given. I would say the work always comes from a very intimate place, but the reason I make it is to escape self-referentiality and cosmic loneliness!

What is its starting point and statement?

The starting point is the understanding of my very own condition of birth and how that influences mine and other’s potential of becoming-other. I think a lot of my questions revolve around notions of “home” and “belonging” and how, by taking the position of the nomadic subject/citizen, one can escape binary definitions. I’m interested in exposing and exorcising the patterns of repetition in my emotional and thought processes and in social organisation, with the belief that the mechanisms behind both are comparable and codependent. In this sense I try to distinguish repetition which leads to learning from that which leads to alienation.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

For the most part my work is nothing but a reorganisation of elements that are already there; a form of active observation aimed at presenting the familiar as something to be rediscovered. I keep shifting between micro and macro-scales, as if focussing on an object whereby size is nothing but the distance from it can be seen. The auditory is a sort of ritual space instead, where I try to get lost in improvisation, to let value emerge out of that state. A tragicomic sense permeates throughout.

What characterises your work?

I make use of looping and reiteration techniques in film editing and musical composition in order to research their possibility of being creators and disruptors of rhythms. I have a visceral approach to editing and am interested in the raw quality of film and sound material. I explore the spacial qualities of sound and projection and the experience of cinema as open installation, where music is not reduced to soundtrack but rather has an autonomous function alongside the visual, which is that of substituting verbal language. I’m more inclined in this sense to produce fragmented attempts at feeling something, rather than a fluent discourse.

How do you actually work on a piece, from start to finish?

I have a keen interest in different approaches to psychoanalysis and social critique, which I believe is at the basis of everything. I normally start with a place, a story or an event that opens a constellation of personal memories and desires, whilst at the same time being evocative of some historical and contemporary concerns. I would then position myself where I can collect real and imagined traces of these suggestions in the form of visual footage, relating more to “objective chance” than to a prewritten script. I leave these material to rest for a while and at some point start putting things together, editing short sequences – normally silent – and see how they feel. In parallel, I work with music, building my archive of improvised looping sessions where I create repeating phrases using voice, guitar, percussions and found instruments and select fragments from there to play with. Eventually I put image and music together and let synchronicity do the work! What emerges from this moment is what informs the final edit, even though in this sense it’s also always just another possible version of it.

What series and / or project are you currently working on?

I just completed a new audiovisual installation The Measure of Disorder which will be presented at Argos throughout the autumn season. For this work I’ve been following the traces of Ludwig Boltzmann, a scientist who lived in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century and who’s remembered as a radical thinker on the subject of entropy as much as he is the unheard prophet of the atom, and who took his own life during a holiday in the Adriatic coast near Trieste, very close to where I grew up. The video is a non-linear reconstruction of his last travel along the Südbahn Railway, an engineering marvel which fostered the empire economic and touristic expansion across the Alps, towards the Austrian Riviera. Transatlantic incursions are also present in the form of memories triggered by the music composition, which plays with forward and reverse sounds throughout.

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice?

Without a doubt the artists and mentors I encountered during artist residencies and workshops throughout Europe, in particular some amazing human beings I met through the Jan Van Eyck Academy, WIELS and Tacita Dean’s workshop at the Botín Foundation. Our relationships and support systems keep growing over time, no matter the geographical distance which separates some of us. In general I am grateful to all the people who trusted me before I was “ready”, and those who helped me understand that I didn’t have to choose between visual art and music.

I have a keen interest in different approaches to psychoanalysis and social critique, which I think is at the basis of everything.

What are the challenges you face as an artist working in Belgium today?

The weather! Boring I know, but to be honest I can only think of advantages for now. Sure, language barriers can pose a challenge when it comes to applying for public funding, but then there are amazing organisations like nadine who helped me step by step.

How do you see yourself fit into the country’s contemporary art scene?

I don’t think there is just one scene and that’s precisely what I like, since I’ve never felt like a fit anywhere specific. My personal experience is very much related to Brussels where I was lucky enough to have the support of institutions such as Argos, WIELS and Q-O2. Through them I got to know diverse networks and practices across film, visual art and experimental music, all so amazingly unique and at times intertwined.

Eight Chapters in Four Movements

Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?

This is the best thing about living in Brussels: I feel blessed to be surrounded by an international and diverse group of people, some of whom I’m becoming more and more close with, enjoying a constant human and intellectual exchange. In particular I found a lot of energy in some visual artists and experimental musicians that like me are eager to contaminate these practices and with who I’m looking forward to keep exchanging and performing. Then there’s the vibrance of independently run spaces, like Kantine, which gravitates around an artist studio space where I (didn’t!) share a desk this summer.

What does success look like to you?

That moment when I’ll be able to decide on a place to live in, regardless of the work opportunities related to it.

Which Belgian artists do you follow, look at for inspiration? Either from the past or the present.

I have a soft spot for Agnès Varda – I truly love her, how can one not! I think she has a very important place in the history of filmmaking and is a role model for artists of all genders. And Francis Alÿs for sure, I’ve always looked up at his work with great emotion and respect.

On a more personal note, how does your everyday inform your work?

There wouldn’t be any work at all if it weren’t for my everyday. I became an artist after years of being engaged with architecture, urban studies, documentaries and street photography. This will always influence my way of seeing.

And what do your parents, your family, think of what you do?

My family has been making timber rooftops for four generations in Latisana, population 15,000, where contemporary art is not on the agenda if not for some occasional incursions from “the weirdos”. My mother especially always pushed me to travel and study abroad, though. It was never clear what I was going to do and I changed direction more than once, but she never questioned me. When I go back now people don’t even ask me anymore what I do, even if they do support me unconditionally – which is the only thing that really counts anyways. I could not be more thankful for this kind of upbringing, as it functions in my life as an everpresent “reality check”.

The Measure of Disorder will be on display at Argos between Saturday 22nd September and Sunday 23rd December.