A couple of weeks ago a remarkable photography exhibition by Petros Chrisostomou opened at Fuchs Projects. The magical photographs of Chrisostomou may appear heavily Photoshopped but, in fact, the only thing manipulated here is your assumptions.
Chrisostomou photographs ordinary, everyday objects. He photographs them in familiar and unremarkable environments but the notion of scale is disrupted to such a degree that the work becomes surreal. A viewer, jaded by the digitally altered imagery of today, can easily forget how painstaking creations such as these can still prevail. The pleasure in Chrisostomou’s photographs becomes the search for imperfection – the identification of a human creator.
We met Petros in his studio on Bogart Street to talk about how he achieves a strikingly contemporary aesthetic using an almost-antiquated practice.
Bushwick Daily: I know from your website that you went to art school in England. What did you study?
Petros Chrisostomou: I went to St. Martins College where I studied sculpture.
BD: Did you seriously study sculpture at St. Martin’s College?
PC: (Laughs) Yep.
BD: Did you have a thirst for knowledge?
PC: (Laughs) Are we both singing Pulp in our heads?
BD: (Laughing) Yes! I wasn’t expecting you to say sculpture. Let’s start with that. How has sculpture influenced your photography?
PC: I was really influenced by Richard Serra and Jessica Stockholder. They make these huge freestanding structures. Beautiful pieces. I wanted to make that sort of work but I could never store it. I realized that only through photography could my sculpture work have any permanence. When I needed a space for my sculptures, I decided to build it.
BD: (Confused) You built your own exhibition space?
PC: Yeah, the miniatures. That’s when I started building miniature sets.
(Petros leads us from the living room into his studio space. It is a world of miniatures that he has meticulously built by hand.)
BD: Oh my goodness! Okay, I see what you’re saying. Yes, you still are a sculptor. I mean, you’re a photographer, too. But that is sort of secondary to all this, isn’t it?
PC: I build this thing, which is the artwork. Then, I photograph it and that becomes the artwork. It asks new questions in this new form. Which part of this piece is the artwork: the sculpture or the documentation of the sculpture? What remains is the idea of the artwork, not the artwork as it was originally. I enjoy that.
BD: Like Christo’s wrapped landscapes?
PC: Yeah. There are countless examples. I agree with Boudrillard’s idea that the simulacrum is not [an inferior] copy of the real, but its own truth. I guess I try to explore these ideas with my work.
BD: What happens to the sets once they have been photographed?
PC: The photograph is the end product. I think as an artist you want to control the way the viewer sees the work. In the end the sets are pulled apart. I hang on to bits if I think I can re-use or re-fashion them, but the set disappears.
BD: I am just amazed at what you’ve built. They are very detailed architectural models. How long do they take to make?
PC: It depends. These are all at various stages of completion. I could spend a whole day looking for bits and pieces and come back with nothing and that’s a very disappointing day. Sometimes a project can’t continue because of a delay in the process, like if I can’t find a specific piece or can’t make it myself. It can take up to six months to build a set for all those reasons. Moving studio spaces always sets me back as well. Everything has to be disassembled and packed into boxes; it’s a nightmare.
BD: I am just so excited by all this. It’s so tactile and playful. These tiny little washing machines! Where do you get all this stuff?
PC: Some things I buy, some things I find and appropriate, and some things I have fabricated. For example, if I go to a doll store they will never have the sort of grimy office furniture I need. But I might go there and be able to appropriate something.
BD: (Laughing) I love the idea of a grown man rummaging around a doll store all day.
PC: Oh please. They know me by name. There’s only one in Manhattan, on 77th and 3rd so they know me by now. I know a lot of these things are online, but I want to be able to see things in person to get a sense of color and size.
BD: How much is Photoshopped?
PC: None of it. It is traditional photography. Somehow we think we are seeing this fantastical, impossible space. But it’s all there. People have been doing this still life tradition for centuries. It’s crazy to build all these things; it’s crazy and obsessive. But that gives it meaning. It’s poetic and beautiful. When we live in an age where things are so superficial and artificial it’s even more important to make work this way.
BD: Let’s talk about the photography process for a little bit. You have this beautiful large format camera. When did you learn your camera craft?
PC: (Laughing) I taught myself. I think I’m a terrible photographer. I always use available light, and sometimes I shoot five or six frames just to get the one that I’m happy with. I probably shouldn’t admit that on record.
BD: (Laughs) I think you’re doing okay with five or six to one. Why large format?
PC: It has to do with the size of the images. I always wanted really big prints. I wanted them large enough so that the viewer feels like they are walking into them, but still small enough to feel it as an artwork. I was shooting on 35mm film early on and I had them printed at nearly six feet long, but they were really grainy. I didn’t mind – there is a certain beauty in that – but people started recommending that I focus more on image quality, so I did.
BD: What is your routine? What does your work week look like?
PC: My mornings are spent checking my inbox. Time zone differences make things difficult. I work with a gallery in Athens, so they are seven hours behind. I end up working a lot in the evenings and on the weekends. I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time online, but that’s the way it is. Sourcing things is so time-consuming. Communication is a killer, too. Sourcing and quotes, material approval, printing details, all the administration involved is all so time-consuming. But I guess you learn every single aspect of the art world when you have to do it all yourself.
BD: Do you enjoy living and working in Bushwick?
PC: I moved to Bushwick two years ago and started to feel comfortable right away. It’s great here. Now that Fuchs has this space I feel like part of a gang. We go to openings together. It’s really made me feel part of something. I was a Greek Cypriot in London, so I feel like I’ve never really had a “clique.” The greatest thing about Bushwick is that people have come here from all over the place.
BD: Do you go out in Bushwick?
PC: I would, but I don’t think I’m cool enough. (Laughs) I like Wreck Room. For me, that place is everything that this neighborhood represents. The Anchored Inn is kind of nice as well.
BD: I don’t know the Anchored Inn…
PC: Well we’ll just have to go there some time.
BD: Immediately, please, if not sooner!
Keep your eye out for interesting things brewing at Fuchs Projects. And then invite me along, too.