Two Works

Thomas Broomé

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Q&A with Thomas Broomé

LYL: I like how in these artworks the text can be seen as subservient to the image/installation though in both cases the text also takes over the image/installation as well. This duality is something that is hinted at, I think, in the title of the first piece, "sometimes I see what I know and I know what I see". What are you trying to express through this duality?

TB: It is about how I perceive the world. It was originally a very fuzzy thought that first came to mind several years ago. I was up late drawing and suddenly it occurred to me that I could draw with words. For example a shelf was built up by the word "shelf", but by use of repetition, perspective, and black ink, the word (when the linguistic transparency is denied) transforms into the image of a shelf. It's a duality that could be described in classical philosophical terms, as a play with the difference between the superficial image quality of words and their linguistic significance, between "letter" and "spirit", etc. For me it is also a comment on our age of repetition, where the mass production of messages tends to eradicate the originality and the meaning of objects.

LYL: From your hugely popular series, ModernMantra, onwards, the mediating role of language in experience seems to be a huge theme in your work. Do you feel that language fixes our perception, thereby barring access to reality; does it preconfigure how we see the world; would you even say it represents a loss of innocence?

TB: From my point of view it is not language that changes the perception of an object. Language describes the primitive, the function of an object or an emotion, a city or whatever. A chair is something you sit on; the word "chair" does not describe the exact appearance of the object or even the experience of sitting in it. What else is a chair and how can we describe it better, is it even possible? I am reminded of the Shakespeare quote: "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

The loss of innocence has, in my opinion, to do with how we use language and the fact that we are moving more and more away from function of the object and towards fashion and vanity.

LYL: Your latest work (shown here) attempts greater intricacy, and continues your move away from the monochrome. Is this an attempt to evolve from the flatness and the opacity of the text (as Clement Greenberg put it) towards the more sensual quality of traditional paintings? Can you tell us more about this shift?

TB: The new paintings are based on a black surface, an empty space. From this starting point I have found a new and more elaborate working method, like the old masters I now work from darkness towards light. But it is all built up with lines, the words have, for now, played out their role. They took me here but presently the darkness in the spaces between the lines interests me more. It is more about the idea of the material, how it is structured, the tactility and the ever-lingering emptiness. I call it: "Dunkelskrift" [darkwriting].

LYL: I admire the installation piece "I know it's there even if I can't see it" very much for the contrasts it presents (smallness of the text vs. the monstrosity of the sentiment, smallness of the nail's physical reality and the monstrosity of the concept projected on it). Can you tell us what directly inspired this piece?

TB: I think that we have a tendency in contemporary society to split the world into dichotomies: good/bad, rich/poor, and so forth. I think that this is due to the capitalist way of constantly looking to be better, more, happier... Fashion and maximizing profit rule us, and the pendulum is swinging faster every day.

This is something that we all more or less know and we are fleeing into distractions to keep us from seeing the implications of our behavior. This escapism has to do with our belief in causality i.e. a butterfly's wings (you) are responsible for a hurricane (the end of the world) several weeks later.

I wanted to make a confession, but in a whispering voice that nobody hears and hence makes no hurricanes. So on the head of a golden pin, I carved: "I wanted too much". You cannot see the engraving with the naked eye it is so small, a marvel of a thing, something unique. That is why my vanity demanded it to be put under a microscope for everyone to see.

LYL: Lastly, both these works tackle the larger theme of knowledge. Do you find that art is itself an expression of knowledge or is it something more for you?

TB: The idea and concept of art is about knowledge, but the works are about the body that made them. It is about rhythm, subconscious decisions, materials, and the tactility of the eye.