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