One of the reasons TaikaBox is particularly excited about this TaikaTalk is that collaboration with Niklas Zidarov has been our dream for a while, and this conversation happened – unlike most of previous TaikaTalks – before we have actually met and worked together.

Niklas has been our inspiration for a long time – we greatly admire his installation works that are informed by natural sites and their relationship with humans, and we identify with his attitude to the interaction of humans and technology…

‘Mein Verstand Steht Still’ – on display in Stuttgart

Nature seems to be your major inspiration and a theme running through much of your installation work. Do you feel the Covid-19 situation has made artists (and people in general) rethink their connections to nature? Or finally consider climate change a problem?

The Corona virus has definitely triggered a lot of rethinking, because we are used to having mostly everything under control. Now we just seem to notice that this is actually not true.. And, we’re not the only “creatures here on Earth”… The human arrogance of assuming everything belongs to us and can be controlled by us is slowly fading.

Of course, the Corona virus has also influenced the topic of climate change – this is also about admitting to be losing control. Climate change is seen through the amplifying prism of the Corona reality – the one that actually is apt to change people’s behaviours by making them notice things… There is no confidence, however, that this effect might be a long-term one. I’m quite afraid that after things get back to “normal” people will just go back to their old habits.

Do you remember the turning point when you made a choice to become an artist?

My parents supported my brother, sister and me in our attempts to play the piano and other instruments and our choices to study media. They trusted us, and the art grew in me through the years. I was into music, My parents supported my brother, sister and me in our attempts to play the piano and other instruments, and in my choice to study media. They trusted me, and the art grew in me through the years. I was into music, making it on the computer, as well as graphic design, web-design, and finally I became a camera-man and worked with different media. It all turned into the media arts in the end. I like the combinations of the art forms and how they can interact with each other and with the viewers/ listeners. Digital and media art sound perfect to me because you can combine everything. Though having only pen and paper in the start, I can engage every sense of perception. So, there wasn’t a true turning point . It just naturally developed.

Blackout Area – interactive audiovisual installation

Do you create the sounds for your installations as well, like in Blackout Area?

Yes, at leYes, at least parts of them. I often work with a sound designer – who further carries out the ideas that I provide more in detail. Mostly I have quite precise ideas, but I also enjoy having the input from the sound expert. Our collaborations seem to be fruitful.

PRISMA – 2 channel video installation

When you were creating PRISMA – a video installation on wall and floor picturing the sea and the waves ”running” on one’s feet – did you try to make an emotional paradise? The audience’s reaction amazingly shows how this site brings them to peace and appreciation of the now. Has that made you wonder how to make this state of mind sustainable, so all aggression sunks in those waves or disappears over the sea horizon?

Yes, exactly, I focused on the feeling of calmness in the installation PRISMA. People have personal stories about the beach, one of its images being how the water comes to one’s feet on the shoreline. I enjoyed playing with this tension and relief. In the real ocean or in the installation PRISMA, you never know how far the water goes with the next wave. You stand there, watch the ocean and wait whether the wave reaches you or totally comes over you… Some people have said that they do feel the water around their feet in PRISMA!

In PRISMA, there is also a different aspect, with the water coming out of the wall – this is not what you usually experience. A lot of people asked me when they see a video of the installation: ”How did you put the water running out of the wall?” They sincerely thought it was real water, not a projection. It is about this feeling in the end, and the calmness that can be reproduced by focusing on these moments – watching nature and feeling it in the moment of now…

Your other installation has the opposite effect. “Blackout Area” looks very comfortable at first – cozy armchairs, vintage floor lamps – the objects are inviting to let go and feel no worries about anything. Until they turn the space into a horror movie, creaky sound accompanying the flickering lights, with creepy accuracy turning the lounge zone into a bad trip. Do you think this is inevitable for art and the people – to painfully leave the comfort zone sooner or later? Or is it just a hope for you? 

It is important to break the comfort zone because only then can there be development and change. The Black Out Area was created after I read the book ”Blackout” by Marc Elsberg – it’s a book about what happens if our electricity system goes down and how it affects our lives. We’re taking it for granted: we rely on it and depend on it, yet we are mostly not aware of it.

The installation plays with the idea of what could happen if the electricity which provides us with all that safety and comfort became independent and acted on its own. It would disrupt not just cozy situations with little lights, like in “The Black Out Area,” but of course have much more far-reaching, catastrophic impact. Of course, I exaggerated and put choreography into the light-sound situation to break the expectation of peace suggested by the cozy living room set-up…

Blackout Area

The horror is partly achieved by electronic objects connected to coziness taking control of the situation. Normally its us who switch the light on and off… 

Exactly. Initially, when one person sits down onto an armchair, the light goes on but only next to that particular chair. The second person sits, and the light turns on only on that chair. As soon as a person leaves, the light fades off again. But then, if all five chairs are occupied by people, so the whole system is at its limit, the chaos begins: the flickering comes and you can’t stop this anymore. It’s completely out of the participants’ control for a duration of about 8 minutes. It’s inviting and at the same time disturbing…

You must have witnessed some funny reactions when people lost control. What was your favourite one?

Many people have told me that the situation seems familiar and very cozy at first, and then when the first light bulb starts flickering they try to hold on to that feeling of control over it for as long as possible… The control fades away very slowly… 

Niklas’s mobile workspace

What was your personal comfort zone you had to leave to carry on the artistic research?

For example, in “Mein Verstand Steht Still” I carried 45 kg of luggage (camera and camping equipment) on my bike for two weeks in Icelandic autumn. It was cold, windy and rainy. I was physically exhausted. But, by choosing this- much slower- way of traveling I gained different insights into the landscapes surrounding me. And I found the right sceneries, which I may have missed had I chosen a more comfortable mode of transport. But also making my installations public for me means leaving my comfort zone – getting them out to the audience, keeping contacts with the gallery spaces’ curators… It would be nice if I could just do the installations and people would come on their own and ask to see them (laughs).

still from ‘Mein Verstand Steht Still’

Funny, how you use digital media in your installations, but tend to keep the complexities hidden and present a simple scenario. Your work seems to be about the relationship between the viewer and your original idea, where the art actually exists on three levels: in the idea, in the presentation of the physical representation of the idea, and in the experience of viewing. How do you think digital media installation art compares with more traditional forms of art in this respect?

For example, there is a picture in front of you and there’s a viewer. The viewer has to go and look at the picture. I want the picture to look back to the viewer. So you have to provide that interaction – the digital media art gives me that possibility. The installation reacts to the person, looks and feels back – interacts. I think it’s just a different level of involving people into the idea than the traditional forms might give.

As to simplicity, people do seem quite surprised when they get to know how things work in the installation. If possible I try to stay on the periphery of the exhibition and watch how people react. I like witnessing how and at what point they “get” the interaction: it shouldn’t be too obvious and at the same time they shouldn’t miss the idea. In the installation Mein Verstand Steht Still – the one based on the landscape from Iceland reacting to people’s movements in front of it – some people don’t immediately recognize that they themselves are the ones causing the disturbing images. I like that the reactions are never the same…

How do you think the connection between a viewer and an art piece was influenced by the Corona reality?  Do you think it has affected the content of art, blurring the borderline between the personal and the global, the lyrical and the political as it triggered massive – uncomfortable – change both in private and public life, which is hard to ignore nor avoid reflecting on?

The change is, of course, huge. For a long time I couldn’t exhibit anything due to the lockdowns. One evening I went to town and I saw all those closed shops, cafes and different places. Why shouldn’t I do something exactly at this point, I thought. Here I am, passing by together with many people, looking at the places which are dark and closed…

So in December 2020 I started an exhibition series. The Iceland nature installation – Mein Verstand Steht Still – became something the pedestrians see, making them the audience. The installation was projected from inside onto the window, and when they passed by, it reacted to their movements. It brightened up those dark places and seemed to cheer people up. At the same time the owners of the places were happy to get some attention. That was my approach to the Corona reality and an attempt to blur the border between the inside (the installation at the window) and the outside (the people passing by).

Mein Verstand Steht Still installed in a shop window
PRISMA in action

How did your artistic research change due to that borders’ blurring? 

Apart from the different ways of presentation, Corona hasn’t brought much change to my art. The topics are still the same – long before the pandemic came I was interested in nature and human beings’ interaction with it, and who has more influence on whom. There are a lot of bad things triggered by the virus, yet I hope that people rethink their behaviours and connection with nature…

How has the balance between the official and independent art scene changed recently, in your perspective?

I have a feeling that the powerful institutions literally stopped existing in the artistic agenda. The big power stopped existing – and all the independent artists have more opportunities to be seen and heard. People who love art can’t go to museums anymore the way they used to. So maybe they became more open to independent artists who find their ways without the big institutions.

Northern Light – experiment with interactive light beams

What is the next site you plan to explore in your art and why?

The project I started to work on involves a desert. It’s a video installation playing with emptiness and the element of sand being carried through space by the wind . I traveled to Morocco in 2019 to shoot the video footage. So now I can continue work on the project without having to travel for it anymore. I don’t have a concrete idea for a project there quite yet but I think the areas in Scandinavian countries are very exciting to explore. Maybe one day I will come to Finland!

Static – work in progress

You are very welcome, and desert is a powerful image especially now, when lockdowns made deserts out of what used to be crowded cityscapes. 

Exactly. Emptyness is exciting to explore.

Dancers performing in PRISMA

Niklas Zidarov was talking with Lölä Vlasenko

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