In conversation with 280A

by Unseen December 12 2018

Key to Unseen Amsterdam's ethos is its commitment to talent development, with programmes set up specifically to support emerging talent in the world of contemporary photography. In our fourth interview with this year’s Talent Development award winners, we chat with artist collective 280A (AU), who were selected as the winner from 12 featured artists on the ‘The 2018 Art Trail, powered by Tesla’ for their compelling investigation of the collective in times of individualisation, virtualisation, digitalisation and ongoing fragmentation.

Why is the collective so important to you in times of polarised individuality?
We believe in the power of a strong international network in times of fragmentation. As a collective, our vision is to create an artistic network that provides opportunities for artists to present their work outside of conventional galleries and to free artists from the typical representation of the artist within a gallery, including the dependency this relationship brings. With our strong international network, we can reach a wider audience than a solo artist. On an artistic level, it is perhaps only possible through the dissolution of one's own artistic identity for the collective to really create intensity and connection.

Could you tell us more about the work VARIO that won you The 2018 Art Trail, Powered by Tesla?
Our work VARIO was created in collaboration with ten of our artists who submitted photographs engaging with the topic of emotionality and sentimentality against the backdrop of increased virtualisation. We asked them to rearrange all the submitted material into layered collages following the principle of ‘image content against individual authorship’. In the process of putting them together the individual positions merged into a collective representation. We asked how emotionally affected the artists were by trading their distinctive positions for a collective statement, particularly with regard to the sentimental value of the individual works.

Your work is evidently aware of the problematic nature associated with a virtual world but you also use that same digital space for the collective to operate. Is this something you are thinking about?
Absolutely. Our work is led by the sensation of sentimentality and the need for physicality in the age of virtualisation and the dominance of digital surfaces. Individual artistic positions merge in a collective form of presentation; in this way the participating artists are questioned in their quest for originality and at the same time their desire for symbiosis. Besides the digital workspace our aim is to hold annual gatherings. In these artist retreats, which function as a mixture between ‘off-time’ and a kind of curated symposium centred around a chosen topic, we invite artists to join us for 7-10 days at different locations around the world, usually in cooperation with art institutions. These retreats form the base for our publications and are more fruitful than digital manifestations. In 2018 we cooperated with the Austrian Cultural Forum Paris for our artist retreat in Cassis, which led to our latest publication Sentimental Defence.

280A operate in a way that put both the individual artist and collective at the forefront of the work. Do all of your projects try to foreground this dynamic?
Absolutely. We try to balance our egos but also allow ourselves the freedom to explore and experiment in a more anonymous way. We believe it is possible for our artists to try out new techniques and aesthetics without interfering with their solo work. We understand 280A’s work as an image production playground which we love to play around with.

What does 280A have planned in the near future?
2018 was great, but 2019 will be even better. We will start the year with our artist retreat Vacant Dream State on the Azores island Sao Miguel, which will be more of a post-human experiment than a typical 280A gathering. During the week of our stay, we will document the whole island with our six participating artists using devices such as 3D scanners, audio-tracking, smell and temperature detectors to create a true to life copy of the island. The first outcome of this experiment will be shown at EIKON Showroom in Vienna’s Museumsquartier as part of FOTO WIEN and later in spring transformed into a multimedia publication. We also have a couple of exhibitions planned but these are still works in progress.

Image: Void 1, 2018 © 280A