“Since 1997, I have investigated the process of “reverse engineering” by (re-)translating the abstract aesthetic language of virtual reality and 3-D computer modeling back into architectural environments by means of large-scale light installations. In this body of work, space is experienced as a second skin, our social skin, which is transformed through my artistic intervention.”
Q&A Intro: Erwin Redl creates outdoor public installations through the repetition of light, movement, and color. His work is inspired by his upbringing in the Austrian countryside as well by such pioneering land artists of the American West as Walter De Maria and Nancy Holt, Redl is renewing and updating the land art tradition of transforming urban landscapes into works of art. Redl, based in his Long Island studio space, spoke about his visual and sonic influences, landscape forming his idea of art making, and being a Colene Brown Art prize recipient.
Chenée Daley: Did you have any relationship to an artistic practice as a child? What was your first impetus?
Erwin Redl: Well my father had a little furniture making company and I was raised to take over the company. I was a very difficult child to say the least. I worked with my father in his shop but I also went to a Polytechnic high school for interior architecture and furniture making. I had a very solid visual education in sculpture with furniture making. I was very interested in music and took a different route, and through the computer, I was able to combine both media.
CD: Were your sibling artists as well?
ER: Oh no. I mean I went through a very typically European middle class and education. So we all learned an instrument. They went to museums and such, but it was in the countryside, so I have a very strong bond to nature. So it's kind of a very mixed picture. Very traditional upbringing, our countryside, very Catholic, religious.
CD: Do you feel like that kind of landscape has affected the things you make?
ER: Yes, I have spent a lot of time in the mountains, in the Alps. That landscape really formed my idea about art making because light is my main medium, and there's one group of light artists who are very influenced by the techno aesthetic. I grew up with techno and this was like in Europe really big when I was there in Berlin, but it was really just too loud for me to be honest so the aesthetic didn't really influence me that much. I was more influenced by very long processes that you see in nature. Just like the seasons or the sunrise or sunset. So my work is more influenced by that. If you look at James Turrell, he has a different aesthetic from Leo Villareal.
CD: In Austria, You first studied composition and electronic music, can you speak to your transition to art school and what exactly happened in between then?
ER: The music world can be very narrow. We spent hours each day practicing the instrument and working on our skills but what’s great about fine art is that, in some aspects of music there's an amazing liberation in the mind. For me a big link was John Cage. That drew me to the United States and to minimal and conceptual art. The link for me was the computer. I programmed a lot of music on the computer, then with synthesizers. It was just long loops, but I could use the same commands on the computer and trigger visual events on the monitor because the computer doesn't care, the computer has no soul. It's just a machine. So if that machine basically triggers a loudspeaker, or triggers a monitor, or I did large-scale projection projects, the computer doesn't care. And then I could apply the same structures to very slow structures. I could apply it to sound and to visual. And then the computer was kind of a very beautiful medium for that part, because if you tell him the musicians to play the violin. Now hold that note for three hours, you know, they'll go crazy. But the computer doesn't care. And also for me, the computer was just able to express a certain slowness, but also a certain precision, that humans just can’t really perform because there are limitations. A big composer that influenced my visual thinking was Steve Reich, the American minimalist.
CD: So we're going through a pandemic right now that has kind of changed everybody's routine and everybody's viewpoint. Have you been making art right now?
ER: For me, there was very little change. There's a difference in thinking, but my practice hasn't changed at all because I have a team of five assistants that work with me. We shut down for two weeks just to see what happens. And then they just came back and we wore masks and gloves in the studio. So for me, there was no stopping at all. It was maybe a two-week stop. But then we went full blast because I have so many large-scale projects lined up, and contracts and deadlines. No project was actually canceled, which was good. I’m very, very lucky and know not everybody was lucky, but I was lucky.
CD: What does winning the Colene Brown Art Prize mean to you?
ER: Oh, for me, I'm very happy about it because it's just being acknowledged in New York for what I'm doing, which is great because most of my work is outside the gallery because it's too big.
Listen to the full interview:
Interviews have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Interviews were conducted by Chenée Daley; a Jamaican-born, New York-based multi-genre writer, whose work encompasses poetry, prose, and song. Grounded in the tender narratives of personal histories where place and memory connect, her work has won the first place writing prize from the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Small Axe writing prize, the Denis Diderot [A-I-R] fellowship from Chateau Orquevaux in Ardenne, France and was recently shortlisted for the Eddie Baugh poet laureate of Jamaica prize. Her work appears in The Wall Street Journal, The Jamaica Observer, Small Axe Journal, The Cordite Review, American Chordata, and BOMB magazine. She has an MFA in writing from Columbia University.