Peter Rösel
"The Fata Morgana Painting Project"


12th September - 27th October 2001
opening party :11th September from 6pm


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Sometimes an exhibition takes longer to come about than others. Sometimes an artistic project can seem stranger than others. It is in this way that Peter Rösel, nearly four years ago now, embarked us on a mirage hunt. The project was put back year after year, allowing him the time to capture in their infinitesimal subtlety these mysterious landscapes which only exist momentarily. The back drop is Namibia, a country mostly sought out by diamond hunters. Deserts scorched by the sun and a long coastline bordered by an inhospitable ocean. In the middle of this no man's land an artist with his jeep, water bottle, his easel, canvases, tubes of paint and a little manual to learn to paint landscapes. For it must be pointed out that Peter Rösel is not a painter, or more accurately wasn't a painter. He is most of all an artist who embraces his projects without privileging a particular technique. Beyond the timeless quality of the Fata Morgana Painting Project, the work also translates a very personal and pertinent viewpoint on the already lively debate on virtual reality.

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Peter Rösel - "The Fata Morgana Painting Project"

-- How did the 'Fata Morgana Painting Project' come about?

- Around 1995 I was reading articles on meteorology. I noticed that most of the data used in these types of studies is collected by machines. However, one thing should be collected by humans, the visual phenomena like clouds, but also mirages. Furthermore, at the time (in 1995) numerous articles on virtual reality were appearing in art revues and the authors often compared virtual reality to Fata Morgana, or mirages. On the subject, they used information found in nineteenth century literature (Laurence of Arabia) or Hollywood films. So, perhaps in quite a naive way, I decided to go and see myself what really existed there, to get as close as possible to the Fata Morgana.

- Your first choice for this project was Namibia, why was that?

- I first thought of the Sahara desert, because the most information is available on this area. But I went on a trip to Namibia where I saw a lot of mirages. I finishes off my stay on the Squeleton Coast where mirages are frequent because of ideal meteorological conditions. On top of this the temperature is quite low in this region enabling work in the desert.

- What were the main difficulties that you were confronted with on site?

- Right from the start I knew that I wouldn't be able to plan for everything. Of course, lots of things happened to me, but I don't think that these anecdotes had any result on the final work, that is to say the paintings.

- What was the reaction of the locals?

- For the Namibians, the mirages don't have the same mythological significance which one finds in western culture. What surprised me was that by looking at my paintings they could immediately identify the place represented. Whereas here, on the contrary, people are lost in these landscapes which they believe to be invented. Despite this, the titles I use (the geographic co-ordinates - GPS) allows one to find the real landscape.

- For the article that you created for our journal, you reproduced an extract from a text by Robert Wood entitled 'How to draw and paint landscapes and seascapes'? Why?

- In a funny way it is a resumé of my experiment. Even though I had already painted previously, the act of painting in nature is an experience in itself. I made a lot of notes, I read the note books of other artists. But this text describes exactly what I went through.

- And how are you working on the project right now in your studio in Berlin?

- I first of all worked directly from the motif, I tried to capture the landscape in the most precise way possible. But faced with the rough conditions of the terrain, it was always very difficult to paint. I finally decided to work with the sketches made on site, and to look at working in the studio in a new way. With hindsight, I felt the need to introduce familiar elements into the paintings to make them more accessible. This is why I placed human figures and cars into the works, corresponding with what I had seen on site. I think that it is not at all necessary to create an authentic painting which recreates exactly what one sees at precise moment in time. With my intense experience of the area, distance helps to create images. The assembling of the elements is a completely different process, of which the result has to be authentic.

- You still seem to be haunted by the desert, are you still in work process in the interior of FMPP?

- I think some things remain to be explored. I still want to gather things. My skill is improving as began from zero. In the studio I can try more challenging experiments in painting as well as larger formats. I shall be working in the studio anyway, but I will also go back to Namibia. In particular to study human figures in the desert.

- How does FMPP fit in with you work in general ? It is notably a very different work from the series of sculptures created from German army uniforms.

- It was be more suitable for an art historian to reply to that question one day. But I do put that question to myself as well. I am often attracted by strong contrasts which in the end form an ensemble. In the former piece, it was about eroticism and the feeling of being strong and untouchable. In the series of paintings on the tins, it was about savage nature and industrial production. With FMPP, it is the desire to go towards the unknown, to attempt to communicate this experience in an authentic way and in another way, the need to have a …. in order to create an authentic painting.

- A large part of contemporary artistic production places itself in and around urban considerations, whereas you develop a project that is in an isolated and deserted context. Has this project, which you've been working on for five years now, changed your relationship with art?

- I don't think that I work in general in a state of isolation. I am frequently in contact with a number of people for the preparation of my projects. But the actually painting is more a solitary time. In the end, isolation in a desert or in a studio aren't so different.

- The paintings of the FMPP are done in oil on canvas, in other words a very classical technique. What is the state of painting in contemporary art in your opinion?

- I can only speak for myself. I chose painting because it is obvious to all that the image is completely and consciously constructed by me. Another reason, is that our conception of painting goes back to the Renaissance, to the history of painting itself. Where photography is concerned we are conscious that it is not reality, but at the same time we consider it as a proof of reality.

- Today, everybody talks a lot about new technologies and of virtual reality. What is the link between virtual reality and Fata Morgana for you?

- At the start, as I said, my reaction was quite naive in respect to this question. I think that the exploration of reality is also an option. I don't find virtual reality very interesting, unless I can park my car in it.

Extracts from a discussion between Jean-Paul Felley, Olivier Kaeser and Peter Rösel. Geneva, 10th September 2001

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