Kai Wasikowski

In Issue 43, Sydney artist Kai Wasikowski chatted about the raft of ideas and inspirations informing his photographic practice – from Instagram and Crocs to glaciers and technology – as well as the complex processes that have shaped his most recent series.

With an experimental approach to photographic processes, my work incorporates readymade materials and multimedia to draw together signifiers of technology and nature, exploring the increasing intimacy of these terms and the emotional environments their meshing creates. With overarching themes of ecological disaster and human implication, my practice reflects on personal feelings of anxiety and dissonance brought about by familiarising rapid environmental and technological change.

Both of my parents are photo media artists, so my interest in the medium developed early on. Mum used to let me print my own versions of her colour negs in the darkroom – a win-win situation as it bought her more time printing after school hours and I grew to love the analogue process and learnt a lot about colour.

Nowadays I rarely take photographs with the intent of showing them as photographs. I find shooting documentary or seeking to capture a ‘decisive moment’ in daily life to be really distracting. It also feels arbitrary or nostalgic when smartphones not only do a great job of this, but have oversaturated real life experience through social media to the point where I’m not even sure what a moment is anymore.

So I have turned my camera towards this uncertainty and through constructed photography I am trying to understand how digital technology is impacting structures familiar to me such as ‘nature’, ‘technology’ and ‘humanity’.

Most of my photographic work is staged in the studio, and documentary photographs are often the starting point. I sift through my archive of scanned negs and digital photographs and envisage how to reimagine them and shape them into ecologies that may look more unnatural but feel more real.

My Handscape series (2014–15) prompted my interest in the photograph as tangible subject matter. In looking at how one perceives their surroundings and distinguishes between environments, I think the camera and its kindred technology is shaping this ecological awareness in really interesting ways. Making the Handscape series led to a realisation that the idea of nature instilled in me as a child – a place without artefact – was a place not only cognitively and emotionally separate from my highly consumptive lifestyle, but embodied for me a personal escape from it all. The Handscape works set out to explore how one could effectively pull nature from its safe and organic background into the technological and ethically-troubled consumer foreground.

Learning the lenticular process for my next body of work, Foliage (2015–16), allowed me to manipulate and distort photographs. By misrepresenting familiar images of garden foliage, photographed near my childhood home in Canberra and later in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney, I was able to address the confusing push and pull between spaces deemed natural and spaces that aren’t. When the Foliage works perform their lenticular effect there is no clear or defined space for the viewer to inhabit. The photographic window is disrupted by the illusion that responds to the viewer as they move around it. This displacement encapsulates my relationship with nature. Experiencing a pristine or ideal nature often feels contrived or simulated in some kind of commercial context. Where does the urge to be ‘in’ nature come from? Are we not always ‘in’ nature?

Early last year I undertook a trip to the retreating glaciers on New Zealand’s South Island. I took photographs while hiking there and ended up using these in my most recent series, Realtree (2017). Seeing the glaciers highlighted the abundance of information that connects global phenomena to our daily actions. With this in mind I wanted to explore the disassembling of nature as a stable backdrop to everyday experience and reconstruct Romantic renditions of it into more synthetic and hybrid ecologies.

The Realtree works incorporate a printing method called hydrographics – a water transfer technique typically used in firearm, hunting and automotive applications to render 3D or curved surfaces with graphics such as camouflage. Having set up a wet-process studio in an unused bathroom block at my studio, I printed impressions of my landscape photographs from New Zealand onto synthetic plants. I placed these plants in staged dioramas that I built up in the studio and photographed this as the end result.

My interest in hydrographics first peaked when my Instagram feed suggested a video that demonstrated a camouflage design being printed hydrographically onto Crocs (the footwear I had purchased on Amazon the day before, along with a number of garments that featured Realtree™ camouflage designs). So in a strange way I have to give credit to the big data algorithms behind our major multinational corporations for that particular body of work.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 43, 2018

Oceans from Here
7 September – 20 October 2018
Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney


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